Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016's Best Films (Part 2: 10-1)




10. Nerve

Emma Roberts and Dave Franco's techno-thriller Nerve is a colourful package exuding excitement and intensity while ensuring it has just as much substance as style. The chemistry between the two leads is effervescent and they lead the audience through an increasingly risky game of Truth and Dare, examining the usage of mobile phones and social media in an effective way. It's refreshing to see new ideas came to the screen, bringing originality in abundance and being executed in such a successful way. The makers of Catfish have done a terrific job with Nerve and it remains one of the most underrated gems of the summer.




Nocturnal Animals is the dark, beating heart of the adult thrillers this year, with an icy sophistication and equally beautiful and brutal tone packaged neatly in Tom Ford's second directorial effort. Lead by the exquisitely captivating and compelling Amy Adams, it features some of the best editing of a film this year and excellently excels through its peculiar structuring which weaves in and out of stories seamlessly, ensuring audiences are on the very edge of their seats for the entire runtime. Blisteringly tense and feverishly absorbing, Nocturnal Animals is a cinematic art form that, if tightened a little more, could have easily have shot even further up this year end list.




Another film getting more love from me than anyone else is The Girl On The Train, pulling in at number eight. With a sensational lead performance from Emily Blunt, the suspenseful trail followed a similar path to 2014's Gone Girl (a best-selling novel, esteemed cast and director, soaring expectations) disappointed most, but to me it was an intense, suspenseful and totally captivating tale exploring dark thematic material that makes it a nail-biting ride. It's excellent and unpredictable structure ensure momentum builds towards the final reveal and reflects the unreliability of Rachel, the lead protagonist/antagonist. Audiences are kept in the dark regarding who can be trusted and the film succeeds because of this cloud of mystery that hangs over the thrilling film.




Disney's live reimagining of The Jungle Book is not only a terrific example of the wonders of CGI but also an example of how to do a remake right. While certainly recognisable, the 2016 version strays just far enough to allow it to stand on its own two feet and shine in its own right. A star has been born with Neel Sethi as Mowgli, who brings the charm, authenticity and playfulness of the boy-cub that the animated animals cannot; they are, however, perfectly bought to life by the enthusiastic voice cast, who give it everything they have and can. It's a joy to behold and demonstrates the possibilities of computer-generated imagery, while ensuring it never distracts from the upbeat and insightful story it tells.




Who ya gonna call? Paul Feig to direct your remake and Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig,  Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones as the female Ghostbusters, saving the world from the supernatural presence. Anybody who knows me understands just how much I championed this film and it did not let me down; humorous, thrilling and so damn fun, it was the most exciting release of mid-summer blockbuster window and all tied up in an exuberant, colourful and vivid picture with terrific special effects and overall direction from Feig. Of course, the four female leads (and the terrific and surprisingly hilarious Chris Hemsworth) absolutely steal the day, with each of them given their moment to shine and capture the essence of not only what it takes to be a Ghostbuster, but the importance of putting woman at the front of your blockbuster. While five other pictures come above it, no one of them offer the fun, excitement and joy I felt during Ghostbusters: Answer The Call.




2016s Best Picture winner is a captivating and grounding take on a subject matter that could potentially be a very sensitive topic to consider. Historical child sex abuse is a very sensitive area to discuss but Spotlight understands this and delivers the information in an insightful way that never rests on its laurels or becomes squeamish when the going gets tough, so to speak. It looks at the journalists involved in the investigation and scandal with a refusal to lionise them and prevent the film from dissolving into a melodrama, thanks to the script, director and five leads who give committed and understated performances. It's a difficult but necessary watch, worthy of its Oscar win because of its unflinching display of a story that deserves to be told to a wider audiences.




By a country mile the best superhero film of the year, Captain America: Civil War is the Marvel Cinematic Universes' best release to date, showing exactly what the genre can achieve and showing up everyone else that even bothered to try (and most who didn't). Featuring a huge cast of superheroes, Civil War still manages to focus on Captain America and the moral dilemma at the heart of the film - whether or not the Avengers should be governed to ensure they are not slowly becoming vigilantes. It manages to combine a whole load of excitement with a genuinely thought-provoking twist that pits our favourite superheroes against each other in a chapter that will have huge effects on the Avengers moving forward. Civil War teaches not only what a good superhero film should be but what a terrific blockbuster on the whole should be.




Finding Dory could have very easily become a quick and desperate cash-in for Disney Pixar and fall in with the likes of Cars 2 and Monsters University as sequels we do not need. However, Dory takes all the magic, charm and wonder of its predecessor, enhances those elements and delivers a touching, warm and stunning animation that improves on the original - there, I said it! Dory sets the once sidekick on her own adventure, voiced by the enthusiastic Ellen DeGeneres as she travels across the deep oceans in the search of her parents. It avoids feeling like a complete retread with its own set of rules, and for spending a chunk of its runtime out the ocean and in an aquarium, which offers a whole new colour palette and ingenuity tom play with. Gorgeously animated, rich in its themes and unwavering in its amount of heart, Finding Dory is a wonder to behold and an absolute win for Disney Pixar.




Arrival arrived when the world needed a film as profound, inspiring and awe-inspiring as this. It is infused with a pure emotion that grabs a hold of you from the minute it begins until well after you leave the screening - in fact, it's been over a month since I had the pleasure of seeing this film and it still plays on my mind every day. Simply put, Amy Adams deserves an Oscar for her performance as linguist Louise Banks, with her unfathomable ability to convey so much emotion both in her dialogue, expressions and characterisation, all of which are neatly framed by director Denis Villeneuve who puts the theme of humanity where it belongs - at the front and centre of everything he does with the film. It's difficult to convey quite the power this film has, from the smallest detail to its plot twists and turns.  It features an elegance and beauty in its visual, themes and message that makes Arrival the new sci-fi masterpiece of a generation


And, my number one film of 2016 is....


1. Room

A film like Room has to be experienced to be understood. As with Arrival, it is difficult to put into words how deeply affecting, powerful and inspiring it is without seeing it first. In the role as Ma that won her the Best Actress Oscar earlier this year, Brie Larson offers an enthralling performance that displays a mother's determination to protect her child despite the personal battles she is experiencing in the face of unimaginable odds. Jacob Tremblay is equally as fantastic as Jack, her five year old son, and delivers one of the best child performances of all time, in a role that, quite frankly, should have won him an Oscar. Just as spectacular as the two central performances is the delivery of the rousing themes presented in the wonderful script and screenplay by Emma Donoghue; perseverance, courage and unconditional love all power this survival tale, translating it into the life-affirming, harrowing and rewarding cinematic experience Room is, demonstrating the true power of Hollywood and cinema at its very best.



There we have it, my countdown of the year's best films (at least, in my opinion). Be sure to share your own lists with me (I'd be more than happy to check them out and discuss) and check back over the coming days for a Letterbox'd link with my ranking of every single films I have seen this year.

Thank you to every single one of you who has read my blog, shared their opinions and interacted with me through this blog over the past few years. Here's hoping and wishing you a wonderful 2017!


2016's Best Films (Part 1: 20-11)



You've seen my worst, my underrated and overrated, so let's begin the countdown of my favourite films of the year! Below you will find the smashing films that have made the list in positions 20 to 11 with the rest of the list just a few hours away! Be sure to share your opinions with me as not only have a few 'Best Of' favourites made the list a little further down than one would expect, but a number of films making others 'Worst Of' list get some love in mine. 

Honourable mentions: Passengers (Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt's sci-fi extravaganza that I loved more than most), The Purge: Election Year (a terrific addition to the horror franchise with a timely bite), Sully (an engaging and compelling true life biopic starring Tom Hanks), Queen of Katwe (an moving Disney gem celebrating diversity) and The Fundamentals of Caring (an emotional road trip with a real sincerity and its fair share of humour).



20. Moana

One of Disney's many entries on my year end list, Moana teeters on the edge but manages to secure its place because of it visually stunning, culturally deft and well-spirited animated tale it tells. It works in proving exactly why Disney have monopolised the genre, succeeding by continuing to demonstrate their determination to honour and celebrate diversity in their films. It is one of the most luscious animated films of all time, with the beautiful tropical setting coming to life with such detail and precision, all topped off with the beautiful music that sets this apart from the rest of the year's fine selection. It's not always innovative and it should take a few more risks but that doesn't stop Moana being one of year's finest - and it's incredibly uplifting! The songs won't leave you for days!




This film will certainly be making many 'Year End' lists but I'm pretty sure it will be on no one else's Best list; The Boss is an absolute barrel of laughs for the majority of its runtime, with Melissa McCarthy on top form as business tycoon Michelle Darnell. Even when the story becomes a little thin and the third act becomes fixated on creating a more serious tone, McCarthy still surprises and ad-libs to her heart's content, with the film being home to two of the most hilarious and memorable comedy scenes of the year. It's not the most revolutionary comedy or even the most consistent but it does what it absolutely needs to do - humour people - and with a lot of charm, acting as another rock solid vehicle for McCarthy's talent.



18. Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Pumped with charm and wit, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a terrific little gem of a film that deserves a wider audience. A beautifully poignant message is often disguised behind a farcade of dry humour and unconventional means but that doesn't make the film any less powerful and affecting. Most of this is down to the spectacular work from leads Sam Neill and Julian Dennison, who craft their characters as a force to be reckoned with - despite their flaws - with personality traits being revealed and developed as the film continues, ensuring we engage with them continually and root for them as they attempt to escape and evade the law. It's heartwarming and entertaining, while at the same time harbouring a beautiful message about loss.




This honest and poignant coming of age drama-comedy came out of nowhere and surprised me by the sheer amount of humour, authenticity and emotion contained in Kelly Fremon Craig's script and Hailee Steinfeld's performance. The Edge of Seventeen is an insightful look into a time most of us would prefer to forget but would give our life to live again, perfectly striking this balance in its main character and the two genres it straddles. It doesn't quite reach the heights of stablemates such as The Perks of Being A Wallflower and Mean Girls but it sure as hell comes close.



The Wizarding World of Harry Potter found a new instalment courtesy of J.K. Rowling's new prequel series, Fantastic Beasts and it continues the magic of the world in this fun adventure with a sharp allegorical reflection of real-world issues. Eddie Redmayne is a terrific choice to carry the weight of the franchise moving forward and Newt Scamander is a compelling character worthy of audience's time and attention, matched with impressive special effects that ensure the beasts themselves come to life before our very eyes. Despite fears, it manages to form its own identity within the ground-breaking cinematic series, rather than becoming a direct continuation or a cheap cash-in. And if it follows in the footsteps of Harry Potter, this is only the beginning of what should be a healthy and vibrant franchise.



15. Zootropolis

Disney's first animation of the year is pretty terrific, even though it is structured in three acts that progressively weaken. I absolutely adore the first act, its smart and sophisticated world building and the political parallels crafted are astounding; the second act begins to introduce a problem to the narrative that, while still compelling, doesn't always nail its allegories; and the third act seems a little contrived in trying to find itself a route to a climax. Even still, this doesn't stop Zootropolis from being an astonishing piece of film-making from Disney in which they absolutely deliver an entertaining and thought-provoking picture in a way that can be easily accessed by the younger audiences, while eye-opening to the older members of the audience. It is a deft piece of animation that really would be a lot higher if it tightened its final act.




Nicolas Winding Refn's arthouse horror The Neon Demon garnered rather divisive reviews upon release, with audiences either loving or loathing the picture; thankfully, I am a member of the former. Stylistically and visually blistering, the Elle Fanning-led picture is almost hypnotising and absorbing in its use of vivid colours, striking imagery and pulsating score all of which are tied together by a script that allows the horror to manifest slowly and the dialogue to be stripped entirely back. Most of the time, style over substance is an issue in film, but Refn ensures that it works to his advantage by having it build the intensity to almost indescribable levels.


Anthropoid is one of the most deeply affecting films of the year and is terribly under-appreciated. Based on true events, Anthropoid is so deeply shocking and sobering that it refuses to leave you long after the film ends - a true sign of an incredible film. Cillian Murphy and Jamie Dornan deliver understated but powerful performances as two agents attempting to reclaim their homeland and help delivery the hefty thematic material and subject matter with the dignity it so richly deserves. It successfully escalates the tension as the story unfolds and the problems increase, structured effectively in order for the final scene - the church resistance - to become the most heart-breaking scene of the year and a truly unforgettable thirty minutes of film-making.


Relentless in its intensity and powerful in its message, Eye in The Sky features a moral dilemma at its centre that demands your attention for the entirety of its runtime. It features a number of high power individuals, played by a superb ensemble cast featuring Helen Mirren, Alan Rickman and Aaron Paul, in which they must decide whether or not to launch a drone attack to prevent a terrorist attack despite collateral damage being a certain. Playing out almost in real time allows audiences to become absorbed in this moral debate, encouraging you to construct your own opinions and never, ever trying to manipulate. It's upsettingly relevant and timely, defying conventions and stereotypes to offer a genuinely moving and harrowing depiction of modern-day war and the effects it can have on people - from the people in charge to those caught in the crosshairs.



11. Joy

Jennifer Lawrence kicked off the year with the surprisingly terrific Joy, the true life story of the lady who invented the Miracle Mop. Never in a million years would I have settled down to watch a film like that if Miss Lawrence's name wasn't above the title but it manages to free itself from the dubious preconception one might hold. Lawrence is, of course, the shining star in the film, offering a sensational performance that depicts the struggle of Joy Mangano with great detail and passion. Her inspiring tale often sparks the titular emotion and settles for deft equilibrium between comedy and drama, demonstrating the skill of Lawrence and director David O'Russell. It's charming and rousing and manages to secure a spot just outside the top 10 despite being released at the very beginning of 2016.


Keep your eyes peeled for the top ten and see which film has taken the top spot!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

2016's Worst Films (Year End)


Many people suggest that 2016 has been a bit of a stinker when it comes to the film industry, particularly after a rather lacklustre summer and while I heartily disagree with them (they're simply not looking in the right places), this list of the year's worst will not alleviate those claims. Of course, I do not hate myself enough to sit through the glaringly terrible and those I have no interest in (Nine Lives, Warcraft and Mother's Day) and those I didn't hate as much as others (Alice Through The Looking Glass, X-Men: Apocalypse and London Has Fallen), so this list is complied of only the films I have had the (dis)pleasure of seeing this year, based on UK release dates...

Dishonourable mentions (aka they were bad but not bad enough to make the end of year bad list): How To Be Single (a comedy that should have been a whole lot funnier), Suicide Squad (the year's most disappointing and frustrating superhero film), Miracles From Heaven (a mawkish and heavy-handed religious tale), Inferno (Tom Hanks eye-rolling' threequel) and The Accountant (Ben Affleck's action thriller with a problematic and convoluted script).

So, from best (by default) to worst, all in the name of building intensity, my list of the year's top/bottom ten are as follows (with links included if you want to wallow in my dislike for the films for longer and some other links you may find interesting)...



10. The 5th Wave

Following in the footsteps of Katniss Everdeen, Chloe Grace Mortez's Cassie Sullivan pales in comparison due to a weak script, poor characterisation, a lame story and film that is shoddily put together, in a rush to be 'the next big thing' in the Young Adult adaptation world. To its credit, the film works far better as a survival film that the science fiction thriller it tries so desperately to be, but everything here feels like a direct rip-off of the sub-genre entries that came before it, meaning it struggles to find its own identity and barely succeeds in even the basics. 




Having only caught the original the day before the sequel landed, it was hardly as if I was expecting a sci-fi masterpiece, as the original didn't impress me too much and the genre isn't my usual go-to. However, Resurgence still felt like a disappointment if only due to a complete lack of originality. Essentially, Resurgence is exactly the same as its predecessor other than the spaceships are a little bigger and badder. Unlike most, the new characters and story thread engaged me far more than the returning characters and while the visuals are decent, it's never enough to distract from that lingering sense of deja vu. It continually feels like the set-up to a sequel that will now never come to fruition and it only has itself to blame.




Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is one of the laziest excuses of a film this year. It feels nothing less than a desperate cash-in while on the search for the next big action franchise with little in the way of character building and/or a decent storyline. The once reliable Tom Cruise dials in a phoney performance in which he looks as bored as the audience becomes, with yet another generic and monotonous action film that barely scrapes its own identity together. Even worse than a boring film is a lazy one and Never Go Back just so happens to be both. Let's hope this franchise is dead and buried.



7. The Forest

Natalie Dormer is an underrated talent but that notion will continue to stick if she isn't given better roles. Her dual role in supernatural horror The Forest rewards her absolutely nothing playing twin sisters with no other characterisation beyond the fact that they are indeed twins. What's worse than the poorly-sketched characters is the fact that this horror is really rather boring, with so little intensity that one cannot help but lose concentration and become completely disengaged. It is rather a shame that a setting such as the Aokigahara couldn't be utilised in a better film, and that Dormer can't be rewarded with a more substantial part.



6. Our Kind of Traitor

Only a matter of weeks ago did I watch Our Kind of Traitor but I genuinely cannot recall what happens. It features a solid British cast and is adapted from John Le Carre's novel of the same name, who experienced a greater success with the translation of his The Night Manager on BBC earlier in the year. It's an incredibly forgettable jaunt and not nearly as striking as The Night Manager; I cannot comment on whether this is down to the original source material or just the way it was handled but I won't be watching Our Kind of Traitor again to find out, I can tell you that much!



5. Grimsby

Ah, Grimsby. So many memorable scenes but for all the wrong reasons. Whether it's to do with elephants, AIDS or Rebel Wilson farting, no one can claim that it doesn't try to stand out; but it does so for all the wrong reasons. A couple of crude laughs are scored but it relies on this crude, rancid behaviour all too often that it becomes stale and banal. It becomes extreme for the sake of pushing boundaries and all seems rather forced, with an unlikeable character at the centre meaning it doesn't have the charm and affection of some of Sacha Baron Cohen's other offerings. This is a comedy to avoid at all costs, unless you just fast-forward to Wilson's humorous appearances.




War Dog's message and themes were totally mishandled. It has no idea what it is trying to say, do or be and it suffers because of this lack of direction and clarity. It lacks the humour to be called a comedy and the emotional heft or interest to be labelled a drama, somewhat uncomfortably straddling genres because it doesn't know what it wants to be. It suffers from a predictability and an increasing sense of melodrama that plagues the film so much moving forward that you simply do not and cannot care for the characters involved. Miles Teller and Jonah Hill do the basics well enough but it should be better than it is, quite frankly, what with an Oscar-nominated director in the mix. But maybe I should have seen that coming...



3. The Legend of Tarzan

In one of the most lifeless performances of the summer, Alexander Skarsgard's Tarzan is simply portrayed as a beefcake with not a lot else going on and the film itself doesn't have any more substance either. It's tedious, monotonous and generic and summarises what most people see the 2016 blockbuster season as, devoid of life, originality and charm. It struggles to inspire or engage despite being aligned as the first part of a franchise. meaning any hope that this will continue past this dull start-point is dead in the water. Despite director David Yates' filmography and the film's substantial budget, this film cannot be lifted into more interesting territory. I'm sick of Margot Robbie finding herself stranded in terrible films as an actress with so much potential, as this is just one of three appearances on this list and its 'dishonourable mentions'.




Superheroes have certainly taken a beating this year but it was audience's that suffered with the DC Extended Universe's second film, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - a dull whirlwind of special effects, uninspired performances and a paper-thin story. Pitting two of the world's most famous superheroes against each other could have resulted in a cultural phenomenon last seen with The Dark Knight but this project was woefully mishandled from the word go and it is blatantly obvious in the end product. Even with such a huge production budget, the visuals overwhelm and are drenched in a dull colour palette meaning they struggle to actually engage audiences and is encapsulated by the phrase 'style over substance'. It truly suffers because the franchise attempted to run before it could even walk, with an onerous attempt at building this world - with stakes and consequences - before audiences were even invested in it. Dawn of Justice has probably done more harm than good. To steal a phrase from Forbes' Scott Mendelson, can this franchise be saved? I truly do not know.




And my number one least favourite film of the year happens to be an Oscar-nominated picture that happens to feature on many's year-end favourites. Ain't life/Hollywood funny, eh?

Messy, unbalanced and a tonal disaster, The Big Short is one of the only films I truly hate. I dislike a lot, but I really hate this one. Despite looking strong on the service, some of these performances are so paint-by-numbers that you can see the brushes' strokes and the story is plagued by being both overlong and lacking a clarity and depth. It comes across as incredibly condescending and patronising, with the film cluttered with characters you don't care about saying and doing things that make you hate them even more. Not one shred of humanity is present in this film or the characters and this potentially potent piece of satire lacks a clear direction or execution that inhibits any irony coming to fruition. It crumbles under the eight of its own self-importance and pride just moments after it begins and it doesn't even attempt to recover itself. Woefully mishandling its subject matter - the 2008 financial crisis - is the least of its problems, although that in itself is facile and laborious enough to make you hate this film as passionately as I do. My search for the year's worst film began and ended in January with this horror.


Wednesday, 28 December 2016

2016's Most Underrated & Overrated Films (Year End)

It's time to wrap this film year up and begin my end of year lists, the first being the top five most underrated and most underrated films of the year. These will be measured by a combination of their box office takings, critical reception and general audience's response and popularity. I suspect many of them will be a little controversial, so remember the importance of an opinion in all of this and be sure to share your picks for each list with me!

Links have been added to these film's which will take you straight to my full review of the film, which take a look at them - flaws and all - in far more depth. Enjoy!


UNDERRATED:


Melissa McCarthy does no wrong in my eyes (expect the stain that is Tammy), so I certainly braced myself when heading into the screening of The Boss after the onslaught of extremely negative reviews. My surprise then, when I found the whole thing hilarious. Like, really funny. It features two of my favourite comedy scene of the year - the opening dance number in which Michelle Darnell arrives on the back of a golden eagle and the street fight, in which girl guides are flying left, right and centre. It has issues with its third act and some of the supporting characters are a little forgettable, but it is, at the very least, consistently amusing and a light-hearted watch and McCarthy genuinely riffs incredibly well here.



We all claim to want new, original and innovative ideas from Hollywood, but when Nerve came along, most people passed it by completely. It has a real charm and individuality about it, moving along at a zippy pace that ensures it is continually engaging and thought-provoking with its analysis of tech-culture. Nerve is a hidden gem from this year's cinema, with smashing neon visuals and cinematography, as well as performances from two terrific leads - Emma Roberts and Dave Franco - with chemistry to spare. It received mixed-to-positive reviews with a relatively weak box office show, but one can only hope it finds a new lease of life somewhere down the line.




Expectations were incredibly high in the days leading up to the release of The Girl on the Train, adapted from Paula Hawkin's best-selling novel and starring Emily Blunt in the lead role. Many expected Gone Girl 2.0 because of the film and novel's similarities, and the film suffered because of this comparison. Emily Blunt's sensational performance is the emotion core of the film and she deserves far more attention than was awarded to her in a genuinely engaging and intriguing storyline. In essence, the film fell on a double-edged sword through no fault of its own and simply struggled to live up to the lofty expectations most had for it. We can hope people are kinder to it in the future.




As I stepped into the screening for The Huntsman: Winter's War, to say I was skeptic would be an understatement; the original did little for me, as I found the entire thing rather dull, no reviews had been dropped for the film (typically a sign that studios are trying to hide it from critics) and a rather quiet lead up suggesting it was going to die a quick death. Imagine my surprise then, when I came out of the cinema really rather enjoying myself. Winter's War's luscious production values (seriously, the costumes in particular are Oscar-worthy) and four stellar leads that each hold and demand their own attention. What could have bene a quick cash-in resulted in something really light-hearted and enjoyable - at least in my eyes; critics trashed the film and it died a painful death, barely scrapping back its production budget. The film is far superior to the original and an enjoyable watch if you fancy a fantasy adventure. I get why it failed but I didn't deserved to.


Admittedly, Passengers - one of the year's final big releases - should have been better than it was, on the basis that it starred two of the world's best and brightest actors, directed by an Oscar-nominated talent and featured  one of the most popular 'unproduced' scripts of 2007. Rather than 'incredible', Passengers is 'great' - but that's not quite good enough for most and the film fell on its own sword and victim of high expectations. Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are marvellous, as are the special effects but the film is plagued by an uncomfortable twist that changes everything else moving forward. Still, there is more than enough here to forgive and forget the film's flaws and you will still be impressed by the chemistry of the leads - in which the dynamic is ever-changing - and the visual scope of the film.


OVERRATED:



God, I hate this film. Among 2016's Best Oscar nominees was my favourite film of the year and my least favourite film of the year, with Adam McKay's The Big Short dishonourably taking the latter title. Despite featuring some strong actors, a lot of their performances are phoned in, not helped by a script that turns the characters into walking pillars of arrogance and self-importance, without one shred of humanity to allow us to care about them, or ensure we see things in their light. Themes that worked well in the superior Wolf of Wall Street from the previous year are woefully mishandled and sloppy with all-round poor execution making this fast-paced political satire really rather boring. Quite frankly, it's terrible (but I'm yet to find someone that agrees with me).




This vulgar 'adult-only' comedy could have (and should have) been a hilarious riff of the animation genre, with an ingenious narrative and premise promising a unique and individual take on the Disney-monopolised genre. Alas, it was not all it was cracked up to be by the critics who gave it a 'fresh' rating and claimed its ingenuity and hilarity. The jokes run dry very quickly and when the film rushes to do something even more outside of the box, it stumbles rather glaringly. It has its moments, but most of them are in the trailer so the rest of the film resorts in having a sausage swear. It's a major misfire and even more of a wasted opportunity; there's a sequel on the way but I'm not too sure if it's even worth the time, judging by how disappointing this first go round was.



Deadpool

I don't actively hate Deadpool, I'm just flabbergasted by the positivity it seems to radiate. Ryan Reynolds does a smashing job as the Merc with a Mouth, but it is never as funny or as subversive as it believes itself to be and there exists a great smugness to the whole proceeding that makes it all more annoying. It's R rating adds a little more oomph but it is otherwise a generic superhero origin story hidden behind fourth-wall breaking and the promise of something new and innovative, to which it ultimately fumbles. I'm not giving hope on this franchise yet but Deadpool is not only disappointing, but terribly overrated - yet, it manages to be one of the better superhero films of the year...




Marvel does wrong too. Once again, Doctor Strange is not actively bad, but it's not too good either. Spellbinding special effects and a decent central performance aside, Doctor Strange is another disappointment in the superhero genre that really needs revitalising, mainly because of an uninspired script that once again bends to the typical convention of a superhero origin story. It feels boringly low-risk and it suffers from being out on its own playing field, with the intention of taking a break from the Avengers and introducing a new wave of heroes, but I still need convincing with it. Marvel fanatic who can't listen to a bad word said of the MCU franchise may need to turn away now, but they have only had a few flashes of brilliance over their run - let's just thank god that Captain America: Civil War was one of them, as this year's superhero genre would have been truly dire.




Going for it, The Revenant has stunning direction and cinematography with a committed performance from Leonardo Dicaprio (and a bear) but pretty much everything else goes against it. The supporting cast is either miscast or useless and the ending is forgettable (beside a bloody brawl, I genuinely can't remember the last half an hour of this film).  Pretty damn dull and uninspiring, The Revenant runs on far too long that is necessary, resulting in a plodding mess (but at least it's gorgeous to look at) and isn't worthy of sitting in a Best Picture category with the likes of Room, Spotlight, Brooklyn and Mad Max: Fury Road.


Be sure to check back over the next few days as more film and television lists will be revealed, including the big 'top twenty' on Saturday!

Friday, 23 December 2016

Moana (2016) (Review)


It is a widely accepted fact that Disney are the absolute powerhouse of cinema, summarised perfectly by their record-breaking box office year, succeeding where their counterparts suffered major misfires. Their work - be it their Pixar or Animation branch - appears infallible, particularly over the past few years where they have surged to the pinnacle of animation. But will their oceanic tale Moana, following the terrific Zootropolis from March of this year, manage to marry up their extortionately high standard or wither in its shadow and success? Let's see...

Always intrigued by the water, Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) takes to the ocean on a quest to save her Island from an increasing drought in food and supplies. Maui (Dwayne Johnson), a demigod, who once stole a powerful stone that caused the darkness plaguing the island, joins her voyage across the vast Pacific - where they encounter monsters, dangers and impossible odds in the hope of leading her fellow villagers to a new land. As 'the Frozen phenomenon' attempted in 2013, it is a new take on the 'princess' sub-genre, with obvious feminist influences included, such as championing the female lead for her talent and skill rather than her looks. However, like my good friend Ryan from over at MorrisMovies pointed out in his review for the film, "(Moana) does exactly what Frozen so desperately wants to do", allowing Moana to stand head and shoulders above its musical counterpart in its portrayal and representation of its female star and the theme of feminism in general.

Disney films have always had the magic of looking absolutely incredible, but Moana takes that to a whole new level; it could very easily be their most exquisite and gorgeous picture to date, blowing pretty much every other genre stablemate out of the water entirely. Animated with such rich detail and populated with such exuberant, vivid and vibrant colours, there is always a marvel to behold, with the tropical Hawaiian setting coming to life as we have never seen before. From the movement and fluidity of the water - which plays an important role in the film and is often very difficult to appear natural - to the lava demon and the island goddess, is it continually engaging on a visual level and demonstrates the magic that can be achieved within the genre. As I only saw the 2D version of the film, I can only imagine how spectacular it looked in 3D - but if the conversion is nearly as wonderful as anticipated, it is probably well worth the increased ticket price if the option is there. It continues to demonstrate why Disney films are such a success, meeting and even exceeding the pinnacle of animation they are already associated with, all explored terrifically by Ron Clements and John Musker.

Moana's characterisation is top-notch here, evident through the titular character herself; Moana is depicted as a skilled, warm-hearted and kind-natured girl on a journey to discover her true identity, creating an inspiring tale that deserves to be taken to audience's hearts as they did to the female leads of Frozen - if not, even more so. Cravalho's passionate voice performance is magnificent and infectious, making her the perfect fit for the role, coming across a very sweet but headstrong character - very often at the same time. She is one of Disney's most well-defined and sketched characters of all time, with her determination not going unnoticed in a moment of film's entire runtime, giving the film a great focus through and through. Maui is far more one-dimensional than Moana but even he is awarded his own character arc that depicts his realisation that Moana is far more skilled than he gives her credit for, with Johnson capturing his journey with great enthusiasm. The story is one that, although not revolutionary and sometimes in need of a little shake up and few more risks being taken, is an inspiring watch and totally engrossing. Moana's first act features some of the best work in the genre of all time, acting as a masterclass in introducing characters, building a world and setting-up a story without ever overwhelming audiences. A few minutes could be trimmed from the second act, including an entire scene where the pair attempt to recapture Maui's magical fishhook, which feels squarely aimed at younger children while only slowing down the thrill and enchanting journey for everyone else (it feels more Illumination than Disney), but the runtime generally races by in a whirlwind of beauty and inspiration. Its feminist influence, while clear, remain subtle and nuanced enough to avoid feeling completely forced upon audiences, whilst still managing to inspire those smart and mature enough to understand them. 

Moana also comes to life from the very first moment, with the music making for a joyful experience. While never quite as memorable and defining as Frozen's Let It Go, the music in general is of a far higher calibre, with some beautiful melodies and lyrics that fit perfect into the story. Musicals, particularly those from the ever-cheery Disney, can be a difficult ground to tread, with the need to avoid lyrical and thematic copies: Moana perfectly avoids falling into this trap, with each song feeling as distinctive as the last with a beautiful uniqueness to each one - topped off with strong musical performances from the two leads in particular. The music enhance the emotion of the scene without ever overwhelming it, creating a charming addition to the film that encourages it to stand out from the pack this festive season. It was surprising to see the film consider so many different tones too - it was funny, thrilling, scary and silly (not always for the best but we can forgive and forget) - once again confirming that this features something for everyone. 

Moana is a terrific film that proves why Disney have become such victors in the animation game; the film's sheer beauty and authenticity, wonderful voice performances - both their acting and singing - and inspiring lead and themes ensure this goes right into the 'greatest' folder and tops off the year perfectly for the film studio. It's heartily refreshing, not for this story to be told, but for it to explore Hawaii and a culture (Polynesia) almost entirely absent from our screens and with such encouraging themes to be handled and present in a film aimed at families. It is never quite revolutionary or unique enough to be one of Disney's more defining efforts but it doesn't need to be; it does the basics well enough, and more importantly, to Disney's high standard, to be throughly enjoyed as the coming-of-age animated adventure it is. 

(8/10)

Summary: Moana is a visually stunning, culturally deft, well-acted and thematically deep coming-of-age animated delight that confirms again why Disney are at the pinnacle of their field.

Highlight: The first act is absolutely brilliant animation. It honestly cannot be faulted. If it kept that up, it would very easily shoot straight to the top of my year-end list.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Passengers (3D) (2016) (Review)


Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt are two of the hottest actors on the planet - almost everything they touch turns to gold, or in Lawrence's case, nabs her an Oscar nomination. When the news broke that they would be teaming up, alongside Oscar-nominated director Morten Tyldum, it seemed like an unstoppable film was in the making. Understand the surprise then, when reviews were rather unfavourable and any chances of Oscar potential was dashed within the first wave of critical feedback and reception. Is it truly a bad film, or does it simply suffer from inflated expectations and become a victim of its own potential?

Jim Preston (Pratt), a mechanical engineer and Aurora Lane (Lawrence), a journalist, awaken thirty years into a one hundred and twenty year trip aboard the Starship Avalon heading to Homestead II. While initially struggling, they slowly begin to accept their fate and make the best of the situation and begin to fall in love. However, a dark secret is revealed that changes everything, just as the ship begins to experience more severe malfunctions that puts the 5,000-plus passengers in jeopardy. Undeniably intriguing and equally as thought-provoking, Passengers charted on the 2007 'Black List' of the most-liked unproduced script or screenplay, so it is questionable as to why the script is the film's biggest problem.

Sold on the concept of 'Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt in space', the film excels based on their sensational chemistry and performances and the pair manage to command every moment of the runtime. Despite being largely a two-hander - with Michael Sheen popping in every now and then as Arthur the Android and serving his purpose - Lawrence and Pratt make such a compelling duo that no one else is needed; we care deeply for these characters and sympathise with their plight and, without too many spoilers, understand their actions even when they are morally flawed and/or questionable. Sci-fi can often come across as cold and technology-centered, but Passengers is very character-driven at its core, thus making it far more emotionally resonant than is expected of the genre typically. Lawrence's character is afforded some solid character building through her 'character profile' while Pratt's Jim is a little more complicated (more on that later...) but their chemistry - almost a third character in its own right - is the strongest here. Their performances, particularly Lawrence as she is rewarded more range to work with, is spectacular enough to make this film worth a watch and journey out on these cold nights.

Spectacular in its effects as well as its acting, Passengers features some very well-realised special effects and production values which seamlessly integrate into the real-life, offering a luxurious visual treat. Using the latest first-rate technology, one scene in which Lawrence's character is swimming when the spaceship suddenly loses gravity, is one of the strongest uses of SFX this year, terrifically capturing audience's with breath-taking visuals which impress even further with the 3D conversion. It's an imaginative and detailed example of world-building, giving a fresh and occasionally synthetic look to the setting - a facade which slowly begins to crack as the ship's malfunctions dramatically increase. Just as the effects come together, so do the picture's experimentation with a number of different genres (romance, sci-fi, adventure and a fair sprinkling of comedy) that cement this as a blockbuster for all of the family, while still remaining sharp and smart enough for the adults. It explores a genuinely engaging and thought-provoking premise, even if it only occasionally hints at some of them with little consideration past that; class division is one area that really could have elevated this picture even further but it only touches upon this idea briefly. Still, this is a tremendously compelling character drama that just so happens to be set in space, among futuristic technology and practises.

Passenger is certainly not without its flaws. One element of the story kept well away from the marketing (no spoilers here but you can probably take a well-educated guess) undermines the moral complexity of the film and sets an uneasy tone in the lead up to the second act reveal, treading in delicate territory that comes across, well, sexist and invasive. It's a little bit of a struggles to shake off that problematic tone, with the film playing its card way too early (while the first act is great in setting up the film, it sometimes feels a little bit too compulsory). It's not ill-intentioned and doesn't mean to come across as offensive but it's problematic nonetheless. It can be overlooked when the story heats up, Lawrence's character comes further into the fold and you become absorbed in the premise and the (admittedly flawed but still compelling) love story between Aurora and Jim. 

Passengers suffers greatest from inflated expectations and becomes a victim of its own potential. As with The Girl on the Train's own journey earlier this year, a generally solid and entertaining film is delivered in the place most expected an Oscar-worthy masterclass, thus seeming like a disappointment in comparison. Issues with the narrative and a couple of the accidental themes aside, Passengers is pretty enough, compelling enough and superbly acted by its two leads to be well worth the price of admission (even more so if you decide to splash out on a 3D ticket - after all, it is Christmas!).  Don't come expecting a masterpiece and you will be sure to enjoy this for what it is - a two hour escape at the movies.

(8/10)

Summary: Passengers excels based on the excellent performances of Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, as well as the sparks they create through their effervescent chemistry, leading to an interesting premise, visually-beautifully but narratively-flawed piece of film-making.

Highlight: The chemistry between Lawrence and Pratt - they are an absolutely brilliant pairing and could rule the world with a more solid script and story to work with.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Why Him? (2016) (Review)


Never one to turn down free cinema tickets, I snapped a couple up for a preview screening of the new Bryan Cranston and James Franco comedy, Why Him? The trailers for the Christmas-inspired film amused me but not to the degree of convincing me to catch it in cinemas, so ShowFilmFirst's exclusive screening offer tempted me just enough to head out on a Wintry night to see what I would have otherwise been missing. Was it worth the petrol? Should I have waited until it was released on Netflix? Or should I have taken a hard pass altogether?

Ned Fleming (Cranston) and his wife Barb (Megan Mullally) visit their eldest daughter Stephanie (Zoey Deutch) for the holidays, alongside their 15 year-old son Scott (Griffin Gluck). She shocks them all by introducing them to her surprise boyfriend - the famous, wealthy and often vulgar Laird (James Franco). Disapproving of her choice in boyfriend, her father takes particular offence - even more so when Laird reveals his plan to propose to Stephanie on Christmas day. With Ned struggling to accept Laird's brash personality as the rest of the family begin to warm to him, it is bound to end in disaster for one - or both - of them. Directed by comedy-staple John Hamburg, does the film end this year's comedy drought?

Possibly more so than any other genre, a solid ensemble cast (as well as the script, of course) is the absolute key to unlocking a decent comedy and unfortunately, the very central piece lets the whole film down: Bryan Cranston is not a leading comic and it very obviously shows. As one of this year's Best Actor nominees, Cranston fails to come across naturally in this lead role, with every joke and riff feeling more like a stiff and laboured effort than an organic energy, as the rest of his cast demonstrate, who are all more typically associated with the genre - and it really rather shows. His lead co-star, Franco, does a far more convincing job and manages to translate what should be an irritating and obnoxious character into a far more likeable and general funnier character than expected. Megan Mullally is also worth a mention; the Parks and Recreation star has a rather small role but manages to make quite the impression as Barb, even when the script doesn't quite serve her well enough, including a prolonged scene in which she is determined to have sex with her husband - this same plot was employed with absolutely hilarious results in Parks and Rec (in which she played the outrageous Tammy Two) but it falls completely flat here, through no fault of her own. It's another example of a committed performance ploughing against all the odds. Talking of ploughing, the absolute star of this film is the youngest cast member - Griffin Gluck is continually hilarious and awarded the script's biggest laughs, but it is his conviction and joyous performance that secures these laughs, making him the most memorable element of the film, even with the lowest-billing of the main five stars.

Sporadic attempts at humour can be found throughout - it just cannot be maintained, with some scenes dragging on far too long and others being totally devoid of humour, even with the cast trying their damn hardest. Zoey Deutch is given a total disservice, lodging as the 'woman in the middle' rather than a character in her own right; despite the script's proclamation that 'it's the woman's choice!', it feels very half-hearted coming after a solid 100 minutes of anything but that. Basically, the script has the right intentions but a totally mishandled execution. I willed the laughs to stick harder than they did, but more often than not, they missed the mark, hindered by a little bit of conventionality. Everything seems blatantly foreshadowed and a little bit predictable. It's the characters and the cast that provide most of the laughs but you can still manage to find a little bit of charm in the goofy nature and playful tone of the film. Still, it's remarkable that this is still one of the more watchable comedies of the year (expect The Boss - The Boss was hilarious and I hate everyone else for saying otherwise).

Even after all that, Why Him? hints at some interesting generational and class differences that, if with a firmer grip and direction, could be a whole lot more successful. It becomes increasingly frustrating with its refusal to give its committed cast and relatively interesting characters more to work with. It clocks a few laughs that just about tide you over, most of which are from Gluck, Franco and Mullally and their general riffing, opposed to when they are sticking by the weak script. Only in a comedy film could an Oscar-winning actor be the weakest link in the chain and, in all honesty, I am just as surprised as you that his performance is the most unconvincing one here. When will a comedy film trust its fruitful cast to reap hilarious result? Even the other Christmas-themed film of the year, Office Christmas Party (which I liked more than most), struggled with this exact concept, as well as the aforementioned Melissa McCarthy vehicle, which didn't trust arguably the biggest comedy star to riff of her own accord. Still, if you like the cast and want a chuckle, you could always check this out in cinemas - just not before the superior cineplex offerings of the moment..

(5/10)

Summary: Why Him? squanders a talented cast with a weak script and a lead whose comedic ability, unfortunately, fails to come across as natural.

Highlight: 'Heck, yeah, I cuss!' 'You do. What's your favourite cuss word?' 'Titties'.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Sully (2016) (Review)


Despite being just 96 minutes long, it was difficult to think that an entire feature-length film could made from a 208-second incident that, while miraculous, was rather short-lived. Sully utilises the star-power and talent of director Clint Eastwood and lead actor Tom Hanks to sustain the rest of the runtime, with a compelling and engrossing play-out that is as interesting as it is intense.

In January 2009, Chesley 'Sully' Sullenberger (Hanks) and Jeffrey Maslow (Aaron Eckhardt) make an emergency landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, saving the lives of all 155 passengers and crew members. Subsequent publicity and investigation leads to scrutiny of the pilot and whether his decision to make a controlled water landing really was the only way to save the lives of those on board.

Sully works terrifically well because of how effectively the film is structured. Eastwood's use of in medias res - opening the film in the middle of one of Sully's nightmares, caused by the trauma of the event - allows the action to be balanced efficiently across the entire piece, with sporadic bursts of the day in question intercutting through the usage of flashbacks and visions. By placing most of the 'Miracle on the Hudson' in the film's second act, with a meticulous recreation of the events that is worth the price of the ticket alone, the film never lags or overruns. Eastwood has a strong grip of the film's pacing and an even tighter one of the film's budget - every single penny of the $60 million production budget is clear on the screen, from the middle centrepiece (sprinkles of which can be found in both the sandwich-ing acts) and the generally impressive special effects outside of this, including Sully's visions of planes crashing in the city. Tom Stern, the film's cinematographer, does an outstanding job here - it really is worth seeing on the largest screen possible.

Hanks brings in a reliably stellar performance in a far quieter role than initially expected, with an understanding of the real Sully's dedication and genuine love for his job. He never sees the landing as a heroic act but rather an requirement and necessity of a pilot's job role. Few, if any, 'Oscar' moments are awarded to him, yet he still creates a continually impressive and nuanced performance with powerful characterisation and control. Eckhart, while very much needed in a supporting capacity, offers some humour to proceedings and interacts well with Hanks - they make a great team, as demonstrated in the water landing. Another important player in this film is Christian Jacob, who works alongside The Tierney Sutton Band to evoke a genuinely moving and emotional score that emphasises some of the most powerful moments in the script with a profound effect. For example, the scene in which the passengers are being rescued from the wreckage is powerful enough on its own - but the score enhances this emotion beautifully and really sends shivers down your spine.

Sully is a solid film with just a few flaws, one being it's jarring editing; its robust runtime seems to signal the need for speedy chops and changes. By affording the film a couple more minutes runtime at the very most, it could iron out evidence of rushed-editing and create something wholly more seamless. It is in the transition from the first act to the second, and the second act to the third, that this wooden detail is most noticeable and off-putting, and the only example of the in medias res not working quite as well. Furthermore, when the third act begins to tread water a little (sorry!) it seems to lessen the impact of the verdict, disrupting the pace just slightly. And finally, the role of Sully's wife, while well-acted enough by Laura Linney, adds very little to the film; in fact, her role could be removed entirely and the film would be relatively unchanged. These are very minor complaints in the grand scheme of things, and Sully remains a compelling piece of film-making - but with a little tweaking, could have been firmly inside my year-end top fifteen.

Sully is a sturdy piece of film-making from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks, proving exactly why they are top of their respective games. With a slim runtime and excellent pacing, it is a compelling piece of film perfectly suited to the big screen, with stunning visuals and cinematography. Sully demonstrates the Miracle on the Hudson with a great deal of detail, ensuring it is an engrossing watch, as well as one that educates. It deserves to be viewed on the biggest screen to truly appreciate the stunning visuals, so be sure to see it while you still can!

☆☆
(8/10)

Summary: Sully uses the talents of both Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood to craft an engaging and compelling feature-length out of a 206 second incident, succeeding because of its excellent pacing and solid visuals.

Highlight: The rescue scene is magnificent and so emotional.