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Archive for December, 2016

Hope

I have always kept my blog about movies and avoided anything political, but we are in strange times.  Britain elected to leave Europe without a plan or idea what so called Brexit looks like.  America has elected a clown who somewhat appropriately has a name that is slang for flatulence.  The war in Syria has spiralled out of all control and creating a refugee crisis that we in the west have failed to help with.  The deadliest mass shooting in US history took place. France, Germany and Belgium have suffered terrible terrorist attacks.

rogue-one

While movies can’t save the world, they can remind us that it can be saved.  They remind us of the one thing that will save us, hope.  If they do nothing else, movies can remind us of this hope,  whether it be the new trailer for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in one of last year’s best movies, Mad Max: Fury Road.

Lets hope for a better 2017, happy new year.

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To end the year, a recap of all the films I have seen at the cinema this year: 

Joy: Another David O. Russell / Jennifer Lawrence collaboration. Lawrence is brilliant as you would expect. The film is enjoyable but a little thin. The story never seems to set out of second gear.

JOY

The Danish Girl: Like Joy, The Danish Girl is an okay film with great performances. Last years best actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne got all the initial plaudits, Alicia Vikander provides the films best performance. Clearly the leading role, I an not sure why she is nominated in the supporting category.The Danish Girl

The Hateful Eight: Quentin Tarantino’s second western. Sumptuous visuals are coupled with Tarantino’s fantastic dialogue. The film is too long and self indulgent, but this is easily forgiven. Great to see Walton Goggins getting a decent part.The Hateful Eight

The Revenant: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s visceral story of survival and revenge. Stunning photography from Emmanuel Lubezki (third Oscar in a row?) and a brilliant performance from Leonardo DiCaprio.The Revenant

Creed: Revival of the Rocky franchise that at times feels more like a reboot of the original film. Predictable but hugely enjoyable. Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone are both excellent.Creed

Room: Another film that is more notable for its acting than the film itself. Brie Larson is sensational. A good film but not one that lives up to the hype that surrounds it.'Room' is a journey out of darkness, director says

The 5th Wave: It was only a matter of time before Chloë Grace Moretz (now 18) made a YA adaptation. Unfortunately it wasn’t a good choice. An unmemorable movie that offers nothing we haven’t seen done better in other similar adaptations. Maika Monroe (almost unrecognisable with black hair) impresses again and has fun with the films most showy part.The 5th Wave

The Big Short: Based on the true story of the people who predicted the financial crisis and profited from it. The serious subject matter makes an intriguing story told in such a way that it is often devastatingly funny. All the ensemble cast are brilliant particularly Steve Carell. My one criticism, Marisa Tomei is too good to be given a one dimensional character and nothing to do with her.The Big Short

Our Brand is Crisis: Loosely based on the documentary of the same name about the 2002 Bolivian presidential election. Sandra Bullock is excellent as she usually is when give a decent role. The political message is far more cutting than the surface comedy would lead you to expect. Unfortunately it appears to have sunk without trace at the boxoffice.Our Brand is Crisis

Spotlight: The true story of the reporters from The Boston Globe who investigated allegations of child abuse in the catholic church in Boston. The delicate subject matter is perfectly handled. The film is understated and old fashioned in the best possible way. The entire ensambe cast are brillient not just the two who received nominations.Spotlight

Youth: Paolo Sorrentino’s Felliniesque meditation on aging starring Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel as old friends on holiday in the Swiss Alps. Caine and Keitel are great but I would have liked to have seen more of Rachel Weisz and Paul Dano.1280x720-XpB

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi: True story of the attack at a U.S. compound in Libya. It isn’t Black Hawk Down, but it’s the best thing Michael Bay has directed since The Rock 20 years ago.13 Hours The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Surprisingly enjoyable riff on the idea of a zombie outbreak in the middle of Jane Austen’s novel. Having never read Austin or seen the adaptations, I am sure half the jokes went over my head.Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Point Break: Pointless remake of Kathryn Bigelow’s action movie masterpiece.Point Break

Goosebumps: Fun comedy horror helped by a great concept. Jack Black is only slightly annoying.Goosebumps

Deadpool: After the misstep of his appearance X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Wade Wilson / Deadpool gets the film he deserves. Devastatingly funny at times, it could be this year’s Kingsmen.

Concussion: True story of the doctor who discovered the link between concussion and brain damage in American Football players. The film is a little flat but Will Smith is great.Concussion

A Bigger Splash: Remake of La Piscine (1969). The cast (Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson) are all excellent, particularly Fiennes. Intriguing but doesn’t reach the level it is aiming for.A Bigger Splash

Triple 9: Heist movie centred around corrupt cops and the Russian Mob. Topped and tailed with great action scenes but a little flabby in the middle.Triple 9

Secret in Their Eyes: Remake of the Argentinean Oscar winner from 2009. The top cast does a good job but the film lacks both the suspense and the context of the original, the post-9/11 setting feels a little forced.Secret in Their Eyes

Hail Caesar: The Coen Brothers most Coen Brothers movie in years. The film looks great and the ensemble cast is fantastic. As cleaver as it is funny.Hail Caesar

How to be Single: Dakota Johnson is engaging and Rebel Wilson is devastatingly funny in this surprisingly good comedy.How to be Single

The Witch: Horror thriller tale of an English family in 17th century New England. As bleak as it is beautiful, the films greatest achievement is the way it makes the viewer doubt and question what they see. It’s hard to believe it is Robert Eggers’ directorial début.The Witch

The Divergent Series: Allegiant: Half of the weakest book in the Divergent Series is the basis for what is by far the weakest movie in the series so far. Shailene Woodley deserves better.The Divergent Series Allegiant

Anomalisa: Stunning use of stop motion and an intriguing concept are hampered by dull storytelling.

10 Cloverfield Lane: Claustrophobic thriller that very different from Cloverfield. Depending on your point of view the title is either a great benefit or significance hindrance to the plot. Either way hugely enjoyable film with great turns from Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman.10 Cloverfield Lane

High-Rise: Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel about society condensed into an apartment block. Not without flaws but ultimately stunning and thought provoking.High-Rise

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: There are lots of good things about DC’s attempts to catch up with Marvel, most notably Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne / Batman but ultimately it is disappointing and a little dull.Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice

Disorder: Moody and French. Matthias Schoenaerts is excellent. What on the surface is a home invasion thriller is really a deeper story of PTSD. Worth looking out.Disorder

Eddie the Eagle: Dexter Fletcher’s take on the true story of British ski jumper Eddie Edwards. What could have been a joke is actually, warm funny and uplifting.Eddie the Eagle

The Huntsman: Winters War: Part sequel, part prequel to Snow White and the Huntsman (2012). The cast including Charlize Theron, Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt deservers better. The visuals are good, but the story is confused and falls flat.The Huntsman Winters War

Midnight special: Jeff Nichols moves into sci-fi with a film that manages to tip its hat at Spielberg without ever feeling like a pastiche. Like many of the best sci-fi it’s a film about people and relationships.Midnight special

The Man who Knew Infinity: True story of self taught mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan. Well acted by Jeremy Irons and Dev Patel but the story telling is a little pedestrian.The Man who Knew Infinity

Eye in the Sky: Thriller that explores the pitfalls and moral complexities of modern drone warfare. Often tense, but not without comic moments. A great film elevated by performances from Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman who are on top form.Eye in the Sky

Bastille Day: Silly action thriller set in Paris. It lacks the nastiness and xenophobia of many similar films. It is also helped by the always watchable Idris Elba.Bastille Day

Louder than Bombs: Told in a mixture of present day and flashback, a man and his two sons deal with the death of his wife. A mesmerising film thanks in no small part to a monumental performance by Isabelle Huppert. A brilliant little film that deserves a bigger audience.Louder than Bombs

Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle writes, directs, produces and stars in this sort-of biopic of Miles Davis. A hugely entertaining caper movie that gives a good backdrop to Davis’ music. It however total fails as a biopic. Cheadle is great, however it’s a film that would have been far more interesting if made 30-40 years ago with Davis playing himself.Miles Ahead

Captain America: Civil War: The collateral damage of their actions cause a showdown between super heroes. Sound familiar? The idea is largely the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. However, Civil War succeeds in just about every way that Dawn of Justice fails. It is coherent and fun, it even manages to avoid the biggest failing of the MCU, an original final act, not a rehash of previous movies.Captain America Civil War

 

Zootropolis: In a world of anthropomorphic animals Judy Hopps dreams of becoming the first rabit police office. A fun movie with some great jokes and a good message.Zootropolis

The Jungle Book: Real life, or to be more precise animation rendered to look real adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s jungle book. I wasn’t that keen to see this but found it surprisingly enjoyable.The Jungle Book

Sing Street: John Carney’s story of a teenager who starts a band in 1980’s Dublin to impress a girl. It does nothing particularly original but is funny and charming.Lucy-Boynton-Sing-Street

Our Kind of Traitor: Adaptation of a John le Carré. Ewan McGregor and Damian Lewis over act and Naomie Harris is criminally underused, at least Stellan Skarsgård has a fun with the part. Not the greatest le Carré but worth seeing.Our Kind of Traitor

Everybody Wants Some!!: Richard Linklater describes his 1980 set collage movie as a spiritual sequel to Dazed and Confused. Not his greatest film but still fun and funny.Everybody Wants Some

Florence Foster Jenkins: Stephen Frears tells the true and often absurd story of the New York socialite with a desire to be opera singer, unaware that she had a terrible singing voice. Surprisingly warm and funny. Meryl Streep is as good as you would expect, Hugh Grant and Simon Helberg are the real stars.Florence Foster Jenkins

Green Room: A punk band get caught up in events that don’t concern them and end up trapped in the green room of the title after a gig. Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to Blue Ruin is violent, bloody and visceral. I’m sure many viewers will hate it. I loved it.Green Room

X-Men Apocalypse: The third and weakest instalment of the X Men reboot/prequels, but what did you expect? ” At Least We Can All Agree The Third One Is Always The Worst”X Men Apocalypse

Whisky Tango Foxtrot: Tina Fey stars as a war correspondent based on the book The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan by Kim Barker, based on her own experience. Enjoyable and interesting, Fey and Margot Robbie are both excellent but the film doesn’t have anything new to say about war or how it is reported. Would made a good companion piece with last month’s Louder than Bombs.Whisky Tango Foxtrot

A Hologram for the King: There are two things you can be assured of with Tom Tykwer, his films are always interesting and no one can agree how to pronounce his name. Based on Dave Eggers novel of the same name about a washed-up salesman pitching a new technology to the King of Saudi Arabia. A slightly confused narrative but interesting and shot with great flair.A Hologram for the King

The Nice Guys: Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling play a mismatched pair of deceives in 1970’s LA. The movie is a snarky and funny as you would expect from Shane Black.The Nice Guys

Money Monster: Director Jodie Foster keeps the pace up in this timely thriller and enjoyable. A little preachy at time but well acted by George Clooney, Jack O’Connell and particularly Julia Roberts. Money Monster

Warcraft: The Beginning: Based on the popular game. It looks good, the acting isn’t terrible but the script is. Some enjoyable moments but on the whole, no better than OK.warcraft

Race: The story of legendry athlete Jesse Owens culminating in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Beautifully shot and well directed but limited by an unimagantive anf by the numbers script and structure. Stephan James is excellent as Owens. An interesting side point, Leni Riefenstahl (played by Carice van Houten from Game of Thrones) appears as a character in the story, she is more sympathetically treated than in other films and documentaries about the era.Race

The conjuring 2: Worthy sequel that is only really let down by its lack of originality. There are tense moments a scares aplenty, but it does nothing we didn’t see in the first film. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmigaare excellent, Franka Potente is wasted in a small part.The conjuring 2

Independence Day: Resurgence: Surprisingly enjoyable sequel hits all the same notes as the original. Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman are as great as you would expect. Liam Hemsworth and Maika Monroe are the standouts of the new cast. Enough fun most of the time to forget the absence of Will Smith.Independence Day Resurgence

Now You See Me 2: Now you see me came out of nowhere. I saw it as a secret screening not knowing anything about it before going in. It was fun thanks to a sharp script and a charismatic ensemble. Now You See Me 2 is an unnecessary sequel that falls into every sequel trap trying to bigger and better, it is bloated and confused with is story that is overly contrived and unbelievable even within the films fictional setting.

Now You See Me 2

The Neon Demon: Nicolas Winding Refn films always divide opinion, this one more than any other. Existing in an almost dream like trance for most of its running time, it never feels real. As a viewer you never feel like a voyeur looking in on the characters lives, it always feels one step removed, like a dream, or a nightmare. The film oozes with influences of other directors, possibly: Lynch, Jordon, Mann, Schrader and Carpenter. More a work of art than a movie, I can see why many people hate it, I loved it.The Neon Demon

Ghostbusters: There has been so much said about this film, mostly before it came out, that it has become nearly impossible to criticise it without being accused of misogyny. In truth, the Ghostbusters being played by woman is irrelevant as they are largely good in their roles. The problem is with the script, it just isn’t funny enough. All the best moments involve nods to the original film (including cameos) or improvisation that stands out from the. An okay but disappointing film that people who didn’t grow up with the original will probably enjoy more than those who did. Worth seeing for Kate McKinnon who has dived opinion but stole the whole movie for me.ghostbusters

The Legend of Tarzan: Not well reviewed by critics but people I have spoken to who have seen it seem to have enjoyed it. I really enjoyed it, more than Ghostbusters. Shot largely on green-screen, the setting looks stunning, but the animals aren’t as effective as in The Jungle Book. Alexander Skarsgård makes a good hero but is totally overshadowed by the brilliant Margot Robbie. Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson play Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson, this is never a bad thing, no one eats or has a pleasant conversation with menace like Waltz! It doesn’t offer anything new to the well told story but is a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and that is significant, it resists the temptation to outstay its welcome with a two hour plus runtime.The Legend of Tarzan

Star Trek Beyond: Star Trek Into Darkness was a solid film that everyone seemed to like when it came out but rapidly fell out of love with it. The main problem was twofold, a lack of fun and interaction between the main characters. Like the best of the original films The Wrath of Khan and The Undiscovered Country, Beyond brings back the fun and the banter. The final act is a little Marvel in its execution but it does earn it with what goes before.Star Trek Beyond

Jason Bourne: Nine years after the trilogy seemed to be wrapped up nicely Paul Greengrass and Matt Damon decided it was time to bring him back. As with the earlier films the story is topical and reflects the time. As you would expect from Greengrass the action and fight scenes are fantastically staged. The only criticism, it doesn’t do anything we haven’t already seen in the earlier films. Jason Bourne

Suicide Squad – On the plus side, Margot Robbie, Will Smith and Viola Davis are all excellent and perfectly cast. On the negative side; DC has all the best villains, if you are going to turn them into heroes you are left with a rubbish villain. When you add to this a disjointed story you are left with a decent film that should have been a great film. You can’t help thinking how much better Marvel would have handled it.Sucide Squad

Nerve – Emma Roberts is 25, it’s about time she stopped playing 17 year olds and developed a career. The film is largely disposable fun, best not to think too much about the plot and it massive holes.Nerve

The Shallows – Entertaining but silly woman against shark movie elevated by a strong, largely solo performance from Blake Lively. Shot with a lustful gave on its female lead that falls somewhere between shampoo commercial and the pornographic gaze of Michael Bay. You could argue that it is gratuitous, or that it is the point of the movie, who am I to say.The Shallows

Julieta – Pedro Almodóvar returns to the family drama focusing on female characters. While I love The Skin I Live In, this is what Almodóvar does best, and possibly better than any other Auteur. A treat for fans of Almodóvar or just fans of cinema.Julieta

Lights Out – Effective horror with a great concept, a perfect, short run time and some great performances particularly from Maria Bello.Lights Out

Swallows and Amazons – Enjoyable version of Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s book. The introduction of the spy story subplot works surprisingly well. The unknown child cast are good, Kelly Macdonald, Rafe Spall and Andrew Scott are all good in the adult roles. Purists will bemoan both the lack of sailing and how poorly the sailing scenes are filmed.Swallows and Amazons

The Purge: Election Year – A direct sequel to the second Purge film ” Anarchy ” with Frank Grillo reprising his role. The only criticism is that where the second film moved things on, this third film offers nothing new.

The Mechanic: Resurrection – Unnecessary sequel to an unnecessary remake. There is some good action, Jason Statham is fun as you would expect. Jessica Alba, Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Yeoh are all wasted. The makeup department should have given Sam Hazeldine an moustache to twirl.The Mechanic Resurrection

 

Brotherhood: Noel Clarke’s third and possibly final part of his “Hood” trilogy.  Clarke writes, directs and stars and does a great job of all three.  The best made of the trilogy and his performance is immense.    Great to see it doing well at the UK boxoffice.brotherhood

Hell or High Water: British director David Mackenzie takes on the modern western with a top script by Taylor Sheridan.  Set in small town West Texas it is very modern post fanatical crisis story.  Comparisons to No Country for Old Men (2007) are inevitable, while it isn’t as good as the Coen’s movie, it is a worthy entry into the genre.hell-or-high-water

Morgan: An exploration into humanity rolled up into a slick Sci-Fi thriller.  It is a surprising choice for director Luke (son of Ridley) Scott’s feature debut as it has many echoes of Blade Runner.  Surprisingly not that well received, I really enjoyed it.  Directed with confidence that belies a debut director; the film is lean 92 minutes, it looks fantastic and is well cast with standout performances from Kate Mara and Anya Taylor-Joy.morgan

Cafe Society: Woody Allen’s 47th feature is set against a backdrop of golden age Hollywood.    It their third film together Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart have great chemistry.  The story ambles along without any great conclusion or revelation.  Not as good as Allen’s recent best Midnight In Paris and Blue Jasmine but still worth seeing especially for a fantastic Kristen Stewart.cafe-society

One More Time With Feeling: Documentary exploring the recording and creative process of the album Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.  Made at a time of great personal tragedy for Cave it is a more sombre than 20,000 Days on Earth but still has funny moments and is totally engrossing.  Shown in 3D that is occasionally effective but largely pointless, like 3D in most movies. And the album is fantastic too by the way!one-more-time-with-feeling

Don’t Breathe: Director Fede Alvarez follows up his pointless Evil Dead remake with home invasion movie with a twist.  Quite nasty at times, it is a great little film for fans of horror/thrillers.  Unlike Hell or High Water, it only plays lip service to the economy subtext.dont-breathe

Anthropoid: True story of Operation Anthropoid, the plan to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia.  The first half of the film is a dark and tense thriller, the second a bolt and brash war movie, both work supremely well in an enthralling movie.anthropoid

The Girl with All the Gifts: British zombie is probably the best and most original of the genre since 28 Days Later.  It works on a surface level as an exciting and enthralling film but also explores themes of humanity, ecology and morality.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

Blair Witch: Part remake/reboot and part sequel to 1999’s phenomenally successful and influential The Blair Witch Project.  Taken on its own merits it isn’t a bad film, it just lacks the impact and originality of the original.blair-witch

Hunt for the Wilderpeople: Taika Waititi follows up the brilliant What We Do in the Shadows with a more conventional movie.  A dysfunctional relationship between an outsider kid and a cantankerous adult,  we have seen it all before but rarely done this well and with a minimum of sentiment and cliché.hunt-for-the-wilderpeople

The Infiltrator: The true story of Robert Mazur who goes undercover in America’s war on drugs in the 1980’s.  A gripping if a little old fashioned story.  Bryan Cranston is fantastic in the lead as are Diane Kruger, John Leguizamo and Joseph Gilgun in supporting roles.the-infiltrator

Kubo and the Two Strings: Stunning Stop-motion animation from Laika.  Moments of comedy, horror and action keep the viewer enthralled as do the great voice cast, the real star is the stop motion animation.kubo-and-the-two-strings

The Magnificent Seven: Unnecessary but largely enjoyable retelling of the story.  The villain is updated to give a vague hint at a modern subtext.  Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt do a good job playing Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt leaving Ethan Hawke to be the most interesting and only nuanced character.the-magnificent-seven

Swiss Army Man: Marketed as the farting corpse movie, it is actually a very intimate movie about mental illness. It is a film that has really divided critical opinion receiving both one and five star reviews. I can appreciate what the film makers were trying to do and through both Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe were excellent but I didn’t enjoy the film.swiss-army-man

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: Eva Green was the only good thing about Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012), it is therefore good to see he has found a much better vehicle for her. With a plot reminiscent of so many of his previous movies you would be forgiven for thinking this was a Burton original idea, it is actually based on the book of the same name by Ransom Riggs. A fun and charming film with a nicely dark side, what Burton does best and hasn’t done often enough in the past decade and a half.miss-peregrines-home-for-peculiar-children

Blood Farther: I love trashy B movies and genre films and found this Mel Gibson vehicle a real treat. Playing a character who has issues and past transgressions that mirror the actor, Gibson is perfect for the part. Don’t expect anything original or new but take it for what it is and you may just like it, I loved it.blood-farther

The Girl on the Train: It was never going to be possible to do justice to an adaptation of a book that consisted of mainly in inner monologue of an unreliable witness, however The Girl on the Train is as good as it could be. The change of setting from London to New York has no impact and Emily Blunt excellent.the-girl-on-the-train

War on Everyone: John Michael McDonagh has set the bar very high for himself with The Gard and Calvary. War on Everyone doesn’t reach those heights but is still an absolute hoot. The ever reliable Alexander Skarsgård and Michael Peña are on top form and their deadpan delivery is often devastatingly funny.war-on-everyone

American Honey: Andrea Arnold has been one of Britain’s most interesting directors in recent years. For her first American movie she has taken on the most American of genres, the road movie. A cast of mainly none actors work well alongside Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough who are both on career best form. The real star of the film is Sasha Lane who is just as impressive as Katie Jarvis was in Arnold’s Fish Tank. The 2h 43min runtime flies by.american-honey

Deepwater Horizon: The true story of the oil rig disaster in 2010, manages to work as a 70’s style disaster movie while still showing a certain respect and dignity to people who lost their lives just six years ago.deepwater-horizon

Inferno: Ron Howard and Tom Hanks are back bringing us a third instalment of Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon. As with the first two films, the plot consists of equal quantities of running and exposition and is as bad if not worse than the other two instalments. Further hampered by a plot twist a blind man would see coming, the only novel thing about the film is that it kills the main villain in the prologue, sorry if that is a spoiler, but it is in the trailer.inferno

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back: Tom Cruise’s second outing as Lee Child’s phenomenally successful book series. A bigger and more cinematic, but not as interesting story as the first film. Cobie Smulders plays well opposite cruise having a much better character than Rosamund Pike did in the first film. Like the books, fun and enjoyable without offering anything particularly original.jack-reacher-never-go-back

The Accountant: Ben Affleck plays an accountant with a difference. An interesting and enjoyable thriller that is well structured with flashbacks drip-feeding the characters back story. There are a few of nice twists and turns in the plot, some more obvious than others. The always brilliant Anna Kendrick is largely wasted.The Accountant

Train to Busan: How do you do anything original with a zombie movie, it’s all been done, hasn’t it? The setting on a train offers some really interesting scenarios, but there are a few new characteristics to the zombies that also work to great effect. To top all this of it is a genuinely good story with compelling characters.train-to-busan

I, Daniel Blake: Ken Loach explores the inequities and bureaucracy of the welfare system from the point of view of a single mother and working man who has recently suffered a heart attack. A powerful story with all the gusto of Loach’s best work if not it subtlety.i-daniel-blake

Doctor Strange: Marvel have done it again, introducing a ridiculous character and scenario that takes the MCU even further away from reality, but it works. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfectly cast as both the cocky surgeon at the start of the movie, and the hero he becomes. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen and Tilda Swinton are all as good as you would expect but Rachel McAdams is totally wasted.null

Nocturnal Animals: Fashion designer Tom Ford decided to make a movie, A Single Man; it was amazingly brilliant if a little depressing. Colin Firth was better than in The King’s Speech where he won an Oscar. Seven years passed, Ford’s involvement in the film industry didn’t seem to go beyond dressing James Bond so it appeared he had scratched the directing itch and walked away, far from it. His first film was good, Nocturnal Animals is outstanding. The story within a story narrative is brilliantly handled but he brilliance lies not in this subtext, but the overriding subtext. As you would expect Amy Adams is the standout, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson all provide great support.nocturnal-animals

Arrival: Denis Villeneuve enters the world of Sci-Fi, but there is so much more going on than a simple alien first contact movie. Amy Adams second Oscar worthy film of the month. The cinematography is stunning without being showy with resorting to pretty pictures. It is impossible to say any more without giving away key plot points.arrival

The Light Between Oceans: A childless couple find an seemingly orphaned baby, everything is great, until it gets complicated. A beautifully shot film with amazing performances from Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander and Rachel Weisz fails to reach the heights it could have because of an overly contrived story and an overwrought score.the-light-between-oceans

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years: Brilliant documentary, I don’t need to give a synopsis as the somewhat awkward title says it all. A mix of archive footage and talking heads that is both fun and informative.the-beatles-eight-days-a-week-the-touring-years

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them: Cards on the table I am not a big Harry Potter fan, I have seen the films and enjoyed them but was never a massive fan. The Art Deco New York setting looks great but the direction lacks any flair or originality. The best characters and performances all come from the supporting players: Alison Sudol, Colin Farrell, Dan Fogler and Samantha Morton.fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them

A United Kingdom: If like me, your only knowledge of director Amma Asante was from her part in Grange Hill in the 1980’s then Belle (2013) would have come a little out the blue. But if like me you had seen Belle, you would have been eagerly anticipating her next firm. A United Kingdom does not disappoint. Set in the 1940’s, the true story of Seretse Khama (David Oyelowo), the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) and his marriage to Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike) a white Englishwoman. At a time when many British people are developing a rose tinted picture of what the British Empire was, this film comes as a timely reminder of how poorly we behaved as a nation in the past. The story of tolerance and understanding is very timely.a-united-kingdom

Paterson: Nothing much happens in this movie, but it all happens in a beautiful and poetic way as you would expect from director Jim Jarmusch. This is somewhat appropriate as the film centres around an armature poet. There isn’t enough going on for many viewers, but I loved it. Adam Driver is always interesting and watchable, here he is also really good.paterson

Allied: Given the setting of the first half of the film, comparisons with Casablanca are understandable, the film actually has more in common with The English Patient. It doesn’t live up to either of these two but is better than many critics will have you believe. Brad Pitt is good, Marion Cotillard is sensational.allied

Edge of Seventeen: The best and most original teen movie in years is made even better by a fantastic lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld and fantastic support from Woody Harrelson.edge-of-seventeen

Sully: The true story of Chesley Sullenberger the pilot who landed his damaged plane on the Hudson River following a bird strike.  Directed with a light touch but a strong political message by Clint Eastwood. sully

Snowden: The true story of Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor who leaked thousands of documents exposing government surveillance techniques.  As you would expect from director Oliver Stonesnowden

 

Rogue One: Described as an anthology film rather than one of the episodes, it is actually a direct prequel to the original 1977 movie. Essentially a war movie set within the Star Wars universe, it has action, adventure and comedy, but it is also darker than any of the other movies. The cast is fantastic particularly Felicity Jones in the lead.rogue-one

Pasengers: Lightweight but largely enjoyable Sci-Fi.  The concept isn’t entirely new but has enough new ideas to keep it feeling fresh.  The execution is a little ham fisted and all surface but does hold the interest largely thanks to strong visuals and a likeable cast. 

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  1. Arrival – As with Sicario and Mad Max last year my top two are interchangeable.  I plumped for Arrival for various reasons; Denis Villeneuve missed out on the top slot last year, I gave movie of the month to Nocturnal Animals, but most importantly, Arrival is the film I am most looking forward to seeing again.  It is impossible to talk about the film without giving away key plot points, all I can say it is an unmissable film.
  2. Nocturnal Animals* – While Arrival is unmissable, Nocturnal Animals is an acquired taste.  The bold and visceral nature of the story is both its greatest appeal and the thing that will turn many people off.  The story within a story narrative is brilliantly handled but he brilliance lies not in this subtext, but the overriding subtext. As you would expect Amy Adams is the standout, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson all provide great support.nocturnal-animals
  3. The Hunt For the Wilderpeople* – Taika Waititi follows up the brilliant What We Do in the Shadows with a more conventional movie.  A dysfunctional relationship between an outsider kid and a cantankerous adult,  we have seen it all before but rarely done this well and with a minimum of sentiment and cliché.the-hunt-for-the-wilderpeople
  4. Julieta* – Pedro Almodóvar returns to the family drama focusing on female characters.  While I love The Skin I Live In, this is what Almodóvar does best, and possibly better than any other Auteur. A treat for fans of Almodóvar or just fans of cinema.julieta
  5. Sing Street* – John Carney’s story of a teenager who starts a band in 1980’s Dublin to impress a girl.  It does nothing particularly original but is funny and charming.sing-street
  6. Green Room – A punk band get caught up in events that don’t concern them and end up trapped in the green room of the title after a gig.   Jeremy Saulnier’s follow-up to Blue Ruin is violent, bloody and visceral.  I’m sure many viewers will hate it.  I loved it.green-room
  7. American Honey* – Andrea Arnold has been one of Britain’s most interesting directors in recent years.  For her first American movie she has taken on the most American of genres, the road movie.  A cast of mainly none actors work well alongside Shia LaBeouf and Riley Keough who are both on career best form.  The real star of the film is Sasha Lane who is just as impressive as Katie Jarvis was in Arnold’s Fish Tank.  The 2h 43min runtime flies by.american-honey
  8. Hell or High Water – British director David Mackenzie takes on the modern western with a top script by Taylor Sheridan.  Set in small town West Texas it is very modern post fanatical crisis story.  Comparisons to No Country for Old Men (2007) are inevitable, while it isn’t as good as the Coen’s movie, it is a worthy entry into the genre.hell-or-high-water
  9. Spotlight* – The oldest movie on the list having been release last year in some territories and in January here.  Possibly the least cinematic film on the list but it is also the only best picture Oscar winner, so far.  The true story of the reporters from The Boston Globe who investigated allegations of child abuse in the catholic church in Boston.  The delicate subject matter is perfectly handled.  The film is understated and old fashioned in the best possible way.  The entire ensemble cast are brilliant not just the two who received nominations.spotlight
  10. Rogue One – A late entry to the list.  Described as an anthology film rather than one of the episodes, it is actually a direct prequel to the original 1977 movie.  Essentially a war movie set within the Star Wars universe, it has action, adventure and comedy, but it is also darker than any of the other movies.  The cast is fantastic particularly Felicity Jones in the lead.rogue-one

 

* Indicates movie of the month winner.

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Happy Christmas.  I am a cynical movie snob.  If you ask me what my favorite Christmas movie is I will probably answer with one of the usual suspects:  Trading Places (1983), Gremlins (1984), Lethal Weapon (1987), Die Hard (1988), Batman Returns (1993), Bad Santa (2003), Go (1999), Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005).  However, there are a few more Christmassy, Christmas movies that I like:

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): If you read an honest synopsis of It’s a Wonderful Life you probably wouldn’t want to see it.  A Dickens inspired story of a banking and a suicidal man at Christmas.  But its Frank Capra and Jimmy Stewart and it is as wonderful as the title suggests.Its-a-wonderful-life

Miracle on 34th Street (1947) there are too many versions of this story to keep track of.  Overall the 1947 version is probably the best, and it has Maureen O’Hara.  The highlight of the 1994 version is Richard Attenborough.miracle-on-34th-street

The Apartment (1960): The least Christmas movie on the list, but as with It’s a Wonderful Life the key scenes are set around Christmas.  Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon are a perfect combination on their own, add Shirley MacLaine to this and you have an a sublime movie.The Apartment

The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993): There is nothing like stop motion animation to bring the kid out in us, on top of this the story is always both fun and funny.a nightmare before christmas

Love Actually (2003): You would be forgiven for lumping Love Actually in with shit like Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve, it has the multiple story ensemble but this one is different.   Of the ten stories, most are fun and believable and are populated with great characters, to top it off the cast is amazing.love-actually

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I will publish my top ten favourite films of the year on Christmas Day. Below, in no particular order are a few films that just missed out:

The Neon Demon: Nicolas Winding Refn films always divide opinion, this one more than any other.  Existing in an almost dream like trance for most of its running time, it never feels real.  As a viewer you never feel like a voyeur looking in on the characters lives, it always feels one step removed, like a dream, or a nightmare.  The film oozes with influences of other directors, possibly: Lynch, Jordon, Mann, Schrader and Carpenter.  More a work of art than a movie, I can see why many people hate it, I loved it.The Neon Demon

Anthropoid: True story of Operation Anthropoid, the plan to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich in Czechoslovakia.  The first half of the film is a dark and tense thriller, the second a bolt and brash war movie, both work supremely well in an enthralling movie.anthropoid

The Girl with All the Gifts: British zombie is probably the best and most original of the genre since 28 Days Later.  It works on a surface level as an exciting and enthralling film but also explores themes of humanity, ecology and morality.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

One More Time With Feeling: Documentary exploring the recording and creative process of the album Skeleton Tree by Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds.  Made at a time of great personal tragedy for Cave it is a more sombre than 20,000 Days on Earth but still has funny moments and is totally engrossing.  Shown in 3D that is occasionally effective but largely pointless, like 3D in most movies. And the album is fantastic too by the way!one-more-time-with-feeling

A Bigger Splash: Remake of La Piscine (1969).  The cast (Tilda Swinton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Ralph Fiennes and Dakota Johnson) are all excellent, particularly Fiennes.  Intriguing but doesn’t reach the level it is aiming for.a-bigger-splash

Hail Ceaser: The Coen Brothers most Coen Brothers movie in years.  The film looks great and the ensemble cast is fantastic.  As cleaver as it is funny.Hail Caesar

High-Rise: Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel about society condensed into an apartment block. Not without flaws but ultimately stunning and thought provoking.High-Rise

Train To Busan: How do you do anything original with a zombie movie, it’s all been done, hasn’t it?  The setting on a train offers some really interesting scenarios, but there are a few new characteristics to the zombies that also work to great effect.  To top all this of it is a genuinely good story  with compelling characters.train-to-busan

I, Daniel Blake: Ken Loach explores the inequities and bureaucracy of the welfare system from the point of view of a single mother and working man who has recently suffered a heart attack.  A powerful story with all the gusto of Loach’s best work if not it subtlety.i-daniel-blake

Edge of Seventeen: The best and most original teen movie in years is made even better by a fantastic lead performance from Hailee Steinfeld and fantastic support from Woody Harrelson.edge-of-seventeen

I would also recommend:  The best B movie of the year: Blood Farther. The beautifully understated Paterson. The years other intelligent sci-fi: Midnight Special. The leftfield and unexpected sequel: 10 Cloverfield Lane. The thoughtful: The Witch. The new take on the comic book movie: Deadpool. The underrated: Morgan. The surprisingly good addition to a franchise: Creed. The best animation: Zootropolis. The mesmerising: Louder Than Bombs. The gruesome horror thriller: Don’t Breathe. The superior supernatural thriller: Lights Out. The fitting conclusion to a trilogy: Brotherhood.

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Movie A to Z, 2016

AAmy Adams, the multi Oscar nominated actress gave two fantastic performances this year.nocturnal-animals

BBeatles – The subject of one of the best and highest profile documentaries of the year.the-beatles-eight-days-a-week-the-touring-years

CCloverfield,  10 Cloverfield Lane was the most random sequels, it came totally out of leftfield, but really worked.10 Cloverfield Lane

DDeadpool, for bringing the fun back to comic book movies.

EEdge of Seventeen, the best teen movie of the year, the best teen movie for many years.edge-of-seventeen

FFord, Tom Ford, for proving he had more than one great movie in him.tom-ford

GGreen Room, the best horror/horror thriller of the year. Green Room

HHarley Quinn, The one great thing about the otherwise disappointing Suicide Squad.Sucide Squad

II, Daniel Blake, the best social realist movie of the year. i-daniel-blake

J Johnson, Dakota Johnson, who proved there is so much more to her than Anastasia Steele with great performances in How to Be Single, A Bigger Splash and briefly in Black Mass.penelope-lannier-a-bigger-splash-dakota-johnson

KKubo and the Two Strings, best animation of the year.kubo-and-the-two-strings

LLa La Land, Ok, so this one is a cheat, I haven’t seen this film and won’t until 2017, but it has great buzz and I can’t think of anything for the letter L.la-la-land

MMag Crews, American Honey introduced us to this uniquely American profession.american-honey

NNoel Clarke, the one man British film industry completes his Hood trilogy with Brotherhood.brotherhood

OOscar whitewash, all nominations in the major Oscar categories where white this year, Michael B. Jordan being the most notable snub.Creed

PPedro Almodóvar, after the brilliant but very different The Skin I Live In and the disappointing I’m So Excited! Almodóvar returns to what he does best with Julieta.pedro-almodovar-julieta

Quentin Tarantino, the always interesting director returned with a novel spin on the western with The Hateful Eight.quentin-tarantino-the-hateful-eight

RReacher, Jack Reacher, returned for a second outing.jack-reacher-never-go-back

SSing Street, one of my favourite movies of the year that seemed to come from nowhere. sing-street

TTaika Waititi, the New Zealand director follows up the brilliant What We Do in the Shadows with the equally great Hunt for the Wilderpeople making next years Thor: Ragnarok suddenly interesting.taika-waititi

UUnited Kingdom, In the year of Brexit and Trump, A United Kingdom reminds us that as a nation we weren’t always as great as we have been let to believe.a-united-kingdom

V Villeneuve, Denis Villeneuve – The director of the moment whose movies will make my top ten for the second year in a row. denis-villeneuve-arrival

WWill Smith, with three movie releases and a couple more in the can, one of the biggest movie stars in the world is well and truly back.will-smith-deadshot

XX Wings, more great X Wing action in Rogue One proves The Force Awakens wasn’t a fluke.x-wing

YYelchin, Anton Yelchin, star of green room and Star Trek who was tragically killed this year. STAR TREK

ZZombies, British zombie flick, The Girl with All the Gifts is the most original take on the genre in over a decade.the-girl-with-all-the-gifts

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Star Wars Spoilers

Please not this article only contains spoilers for Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), if you are reading this you have probably already seen it. 

There is a moment in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) where Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) puts his hand out, the shot cuts to Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber nestled in the snow.  The weapon sits in the snow reminiscent of when Luke dropped it at the start of Empire Strikes Back, this time it was dropped by  Finn (John Boyega) after he is defeated by Kylo Ren.  We see the lightsaber move as he wills it towards himself with the force, just as Luke did in the earlier film.  However it doesn’t reach his hand, it flies straight past him into the hand of Rey (Daisy Ridley) who proceeds to kick his ass, until they are interrupted by the small matter of the moon they are on blowing up.  It is the stand up and cheer moment the film has been building to, a moment that we knew this or something like this was coming as soon as Luke Skywalker’s Lightsaber was introduced to the story. Not only was it kept quiet, attention was diverted by all the images of Finn with a lightsabre.   rey-daisy-ridley

Why am I talking about this now?  After watching the film I was taken by the fact I had not seen an image or clip of Rey with a lightsaber in the build up to the release of the film.  I searched for it online a week after the film’s release but couldn’t find it.  This is the power of the Disney machine, not only that they prevented such a spoiler getting out, but they had the confidence not to use it in the marketing.  We are seeing more of the same with Rogue One due for release on 15th of this month with all reviews embargoed  until the 13th.  I know nothing about the film other than what I have seen in the trailer and believe this is the best way.  In a world where trailers give the whole plot away, I want to be surprised, even in a  prequel that I think I know what is coming.  I want Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to have that moment.

Check back next week, I am sure to have something to say about Rogur One, I hope it is as good as The Force Awakens.

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