Monday, 19 December 2016

How this works

Each post has one big review with a series of smaller ones. Normally just a selection of films I have seen recently (I don't have the time to talk about everything I see because I see a lot of films). I will also discuss other stuff from time to time if I feel so inclined. Sometimes I will make posts everyday and sometimes I will wait a month to post, it just depends on how much free time I have. Older posts may have rankings but I have done away with that.

La la land and more

La la land 

I absolutely loved whiplash back in 2014 so when I heard Damien Chazelle was making a musical in the style of the 70s I was unbelievably excited. Despite this, I did not anticipate just how much I would be blown away by this film.

The first two acts of the film beautifully plays homage to the beautiful musicals of the 70s. The music could not have captured this era more perfectly, though as a general rule, they are not as upbeat as one may expect (there is really only one number that I would describe at "catchy" because that is not what the film is aiming for). More often than not the early parts of the story are told through slow ballads or jazz instrumentals, which were extremely captivating but won't leave you coming out of the theatre singing the songs. As a musical style jazz (a dying art in and of itself) is an inspired choice of music for a film playing homage to a dying art.

The beautiful music is complimented by the film's beautiful look. The cinematography felt very personal, while leaving us a lot of room to breath. This helped me to stay truly invested in the characters without feeling trapped within their skin. This look is obviously aided brilliantly by the sets and costumes, which are build beautifully to often contrast the stunning bright optimism that the film is built on with sporadic dark backdrops. These often feel at once encouraging and romantic but also discouraged and frustrated. While my knowledge of dance is limited, the choreography appeared (at least to the untrained eye) to add work wonderfully with the aesthetic that Chazelle and his crew had created.

This is all exactly what I was expecting, a beautiful homage to a lost art that looks and sounds great. Having seen whiplash I was very confident Chazelle would be able to pull that off beautifully. What I didn't anticipate how it would completely transcend this to create real dramatic tension that offers one of the most optimistically heartbreaking final scenes of any movie I have ever seen. I really do not want to spoil it in case someone ever reads this review but seriously the final sequence in this movie is simply perfection. Between this and Whiplash, I must say Chazelle seriously knows how to end a film strongly. One of the final moments involves a simple smile from Ryan Gosling, which was so perfectly captured that you could feel every ounce of emotion running through the veins of his character.

Speaking of which, I could go on and on about the aesthetics of the film but it would be nothing without the fantastic central performances. Ryan Gosling gives probably his best performance I have ever seen as Sebastian, who is an obsessive jazz pianist. This is met wonderfully by the absolutely perfect Emma Stone as Mia, an LA waitress struggling to break through as an actress. Both sung beautifully (often live I believe) and managed to convey such emotion that you really believed these characters. Neither character felt a single bit one-dimensional (as musical characters often do) and they share an unbelievable amount of chemistry.

To sum up I absolutely adored this movie. I struggle to find any single aspect that was lacking. It sounded and looked great, the acting/ characters were phenomenal, the writing felt real and allowed for multi-dimensional character and the final act just seriously knocked it out of the park. No final scene has ever affected me as much as this one did. I will not forget this movie in a hurry!

Julieta (Spanish)

This is possibly the most real film of the year. The characters are all extremely well realized, albeit in an understated way and this allows for every single moment to be completely believable. Its a film predominantly about motherhood and relationships and it left me with a lot to think about and discuss in the context of a situation that seemed like it absolutely could have been real. Additionally the acting was all very good (especially Emma Su├írez in the title role), the film both looked and sounded great and the plot was perfectly paced.

Life, Animated

A really wonderful documentary about an autistic boy (Owen) whose obsession with Disney movies allowed his parents to get through to him. As an adult he is a truly wonderful human being to see on screen and the director, Roger Ross Williams, brings handles the subject matter so delicately but truthfully that you really see Owen's personality shine. That is all I really want, its fantastic and definitely worth the watch.   

Suicide Squad

So director David Ayer is definitely a butt guy. The first thing I just cannot help but mention is how frustrating his obsession in with shots framed around Margot Robbie's butt as she walks. I guess he thinks "I find this butt sexy when it walks so despite the fact that someone is talking so it would make sense to face the camera at that person, I will just point the camera at this butt". Yeah, classy shit. But if you can get past that (I really can't, it makes the film nearly unwatchable) it is not a good movie anyway. They spend almost half the movie introducing the characters through a series of extremely contrived flashbacks that (I guess) were supposed to get us to relate to the characters but none of them felt the slightest bit authentic and they all went on way too long. Then once we have finally been over-introduced to these characters, they go in and unconvincingly fight some terrible looking CGI monsters and nothing that interesting really happens. Credit where its due, Margot Robbie is fantastic, but beyond her performance I really don't see any real reason to watch this movie (unless you really like butts).

Elle (French)

This film is dark, bizarre and kind of masterful. A film about sexual assault that doesn't shy away from occasional humor and moral ambiguity. I finished it with heaps to think and talk about (as I think is important for a good film). Isabelle Huppert is fantastic in the lead role and she is supported by a great ensemble of actors. It looks great (in a horrendous kind of way), it sounds great and it is ballsy enough to dive straight into complicated ethical situations where our lead character acts in ways that seem so illogical in the most human way. A worthy watch, but a very dark one that could be very divisive and is at times difficult to watch.

Rogue One

A very worthy addition to the star wars franchise. They bring together a diverse cast of really interesting characters to tell a basic and compelling story. I must not understate how great it is that Disney is choosing really diverse casts for these and actually turning them into fun characters. At the end of the day it is nothing more or less than a super fun ride with a bunch of fun folks. The visual effects (as you can imagine) are wonderful, blended with many practical effects. The original score is effective (even if it is just trying to mimick the sound of the original John Williams scores rather than being its own thing). If I have one complaint (it sounds minor but its actually very noticeable) its that they revived a bunch of characters from the original trilogy using CGI and you can tell immediately that its not real. But beyond that its a really fun distracting that will keep you engaged and interested throughout.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

23 November (forgot to publish)

I'm not good at this noting down movies thing but here we go, let's try to carry on. I've watched dozens and dozens of films since last post so these will be really short.

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016)

This was a really fun movie. I love the idea of continuing the Harry Potter universe without any connection to the original story as the universe is vast and interesting but any attempt at revisiting the original characters would likely feel forced and unnecessary. I really hope they keep it that way as the Harry Potter easter eggs were one of the more disappointing parts of the movie. There were several really obvious moments where you could just feel the characters nudging you as they mention a person or situation mentioned in the earlier movies (luckily they could not do this too badly as most of the Harry Potter characters are not alive at this point - although they do try their hardest).

The main cast create a bunch of very fun characters. Eddie Redmayne is wonderful as you would expect and Dan Fogler is a lot of fun as a non-magical character that is picked up along the way - although one criticism I would have is that he is often used rather lazily as an excuse for Eddie Redmayne's character to explain plot points directly to the audience. Topping out our team of protagonists we have Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol who both bring their own quirky energy to the mix. The supporting roles beyond these all feel a bit weak, the main antagonist (who I will not name in the interest of spoilers - although everyone watching will have guessed it anyway) is very one dimensional far too predictable. Beyond them, supporting characters all felt disappointingly like plot devices, with no small parts standing out in the slightest.

One really great thing I did keep noticing about the acting is the choreography, even in the simplest situations. The way everybody stands and holds themselves seems to have been thought out really well. This then translates into any sequences where magic is involved as everyone seems to have their own style. This is a small thing but it gives each character a really unique feel.

As for the actual plot, it gets somewhat stuck between two competing movies. Where the movie opens up and focuses on our protagonist magi-zoologist finding or interacting with his creatures we get some truly magical scenes with such originality and wonder. Unfortunately, at times throughout the movie and more particularly ramping up towards the third act JK Rowling decides that there isn't enough of a movie in this so we need a generic story with an evil wizard and dark forces. This feels very tacked on as if it was saying "oh yeah by the way here is the story that goes with the actual fun movie". Just about every development could be guessed a mile before it happens because it has all been done before.

On a more technical level, this is directed by David Yates who made the final four Harry Potter films. Because of this you have a pretty good idea of how this movie will look and feel coming in. The set pieces and costumes are brilliantly designed - as was the case in the Harry Potter films. So too were the visual effects. I cannot stress enough how magical some of the creature scenes were - everything looked and felt absolutely exquisite. Topping this off, it was shot in a very non-intrusive way and had a familiar (because of the 8 similar films that came before) but lovely soundtrack. 

All in all it is worth the watch. Eddie Redmayne makes for a fantastic protagonist and the main characters all make for a team (even if the rest of the supporting cast are a little weak). It looks and sounds great and there is true magic when we are watching the movie that its title suggests we are getting. I really hope that the sequels build on the best elements of this and do not feel stale.

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)

The 70s were a great time for musicals. They got inventive with them and ended up making just about any genre they wanted into musicals. We seem to have lost our touch with this in the 21st century so it is always a delight to go back and visit the greats. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory really is one of the greats.

The feel of the film is simply perfect, it does not feel like it has aged a day in the nearly 50 years since it was released. The look of the film is crisp/ interesting and the sarcastic wit sprinkled throughout gives the film an instantly endearing quality. This is, of course, helped a lot by the near perfect casting of the late Gene Wilder, who recently passed away. The rest of the cast are great too, as is the music and nearly every line of dialogue. I absolutely adore this movie if by some miracle there are those who have not seen it, they really should.

Pete's Dragon (2016)

Pete's dragon is wonderful. Its not terribly inventive or original but very delightful. The CGI is pretty decent (although the dragon's face could do with redesigning). Every character and situation feels very familiar but it doesn't feel too repetitive. Its also looks and sounds very good. Its by no means the best movie I have seen but it is a good distraction.

The Light Between Oceans (2016)

I found this to be relatively disappointing. Alicia Vikander, who I usually absolutely adore, needed to be seriously toned down - every expression, stance and movement seemed to have been thought through so much that it was overdone and ceased to be believable. Michael Fasbender on the other hand was fine, although the accents in general were all over the place. On a positive note, it looks very pretty (despite the occasional bad shaky cam) and has a wonderful score. Also the overall story is something that could very easily catch my attention, unfortunately the pacing was quite uneven leaving some parts feeling like they were stretched paper thin. There is plenty to like here and there are often hints of a very good movie poking through the cracks but the acting needs to be toned down and it feels like more time was needed in the editing room.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

5 September 2016

Its been a while since my last post. I have watched a fair few films. I will probably have forgotten a bunch here so I will catch up on those later. Because there are so many I will make my blurbs smaller than usual (if I can I will try to keep some of them as small as a single sentence).

99 Homes (2015)

99 Homes is timely, deep, engaging and very well shot. This is a perfect companion piece to watch after the big short (which I should revisit one of these days). It is very well acted with Michael Shannon putting in a particularly strong performance. At times, however, it is not an easy watch. It really saddens me how people can be so driven by greed. Regardless it is well worth the watch.

Midnight Special
What happens when Spielberg meets King? You get an engaging drama with plenty of heart. The suspense in this film is great, I simply love the feeling of watching a movie and wondering what is going to happen next. Additionally, the whole cast give great performances, particularly Micheal Shannon (again) and Joel Edgerton whose slightly gruff personas work very well together. It is also shot very well. That being said, the ending was much more simple than I had hoped for and the second act felt lie it dragged on a little too long at times. Regardless, a fun little film that is made with a lot of love.

Into the Woods

Into the woods is a fun, if middle of the road musical. There are some really great and fun moments and some really good music. There are some great performances, particularly I thought Chris Pine really surprised me in a comedic role very unlike what I would normally expect from him. Additionally, Emily Blunt and James Cordon are great in the lead roles and Meryl Streep is fine (if over-rated) as the witch. I was somewhat disappointed with the rest of the cast. I found in particular that Anna Kendrick's voice (which is really great when paired with the right music) was not well suited to this material.

The set-pieces are all nice as you would expect, as are the costumes (with the exception of whatever Johnny Depp was wearing). I did struggle to love this movie though. It sort of feels like they started out trying to make something wacky, out there and slightly dark but then reined it in too much. It ends up sitting in that in between space where it is too wacky to be played straight but not wacky enough to be as much fun as it should be. Overall though it is fine and there really is a lot to like. I just wished it was more.

David Brent: Life on the Road (2016)
What a disappointment! I am personally a big fan of the office. I think David Brent is a very well developed, strangely likable and funny character. I was therefore cautiously excited for this movie because despite feeling like it was a tad unnecessary I felt like it should be at the very least entertaining. Unfortunately it wasn't. 

It started out fine, introducing an interesting group of new characters, which had me thinking yeah they could definitely do something with these. Then the second act came along and joke after joke started falling flat. It really wanted to be outrageous but I feel like it wanted too much to have a low age rating too. This meant that when he tried to go for the big shock laughs (which were 90% of the jokes) they were reined in too much to have any impact. 

As far as positives go, it had a very strong third act that would have been quite affecting and emotional if I hadn't been too bored in the second act to develop a feeling for these characters. The supporting cast are also pretty great. Doc Brown really impressed me (a name I had never heard before this film. In the end, however, I cannot call this movie anything other than a disappointment. The jokes fell flat, the scenarios mostly felt stale and the character has, by now, probably worn out his welcome.

Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)

I am a big fan of studio Laika but after The Boxtrolls I became worried that they may have run out of good stories to tell. I am glad to say they hadn't. Kubo is fantastic. The stop-motion animation is as gorgeous as it has always been in Laika's films. The characters are interesting, the jokes are funny and the story is engaging. One thing I have not mentioned is the action. My god is it well staged. I just had so much fun watching the creativity unfold in this beautifully realized world. 

As far as characters and voices go I absolutely loved Matthew McConaughey's character, known only for the majority of the story as Beetle. McConaughey seemed to be having a refreshingly fun time with the character. I thought Charlize Theron's mostly serious, overprotective "Monkey" makes for a good contrast to this. The rest of the voice cast were great too.

If I really wanted to criticize it somewhere, I would say that the big plot reveal before the third act was way too easy to guess. I would not say that is too much of a problem though. They did not put much effort into hiding it and part of the fun was knowing what was going on before the main character did. Overall I adored Kubo, it is funny, smart and just really fun to watch.

Lord of the Rings (2001 - 2003)
As a New Zealand film geek (and well, as a film geek in general) of course I love the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. I recently rewatched it and just like every other time I have watched it, I remembered why I loved it so much. 

I do not feel there is much point in reviewing individual movies because they fit together as if a single movie such that I do not feel a need to distinguish between them. Regardless, what is not to love: the characters are well crafted and well cast, the set-pieces, costumes and CGI are very impressive (especially the practical effects). 

The cinematography is great, the action is very well staged. It has heart, it has soul, it is just simply a beautiful series. Then there is that score that is just to die for. If I had to criticize anything, it possibly has one too many endings but after so many hours of wonder, fuck it just let them have it! Seriously, this movie is as close as you can get to perfect.

The Nice Guys (2016)

The Nice Guys is over the top, outrageous and absolutely hilarious. Is it at times a tad contrived? Maybe. But that doesn't stop it being fun. Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe are a much better pairing than they have any right to be and seem to be enjoying the shoot far too much. I laughed a lot and felt surprisingly engaged in this overthetop, never-ending thrill-ride.

Irrational Man (2015)

Emma Stone and Joaquin Phoenix in a Woody Allen movie? That sounds like a pretty good pairing to me. That is until I actually saw the movie. I am struggling to find something I liked about this movie. I could not believe in, let alone empathize with, any of the main characters. When they weren't explaining to the camera how they were feeling, they were giving a narrative on how they were feeling or giving long, dumb expositions that were supposed to sound smart and sophisticated. 

I guess some of the cinematography was pretty I guess but there was really nothing else I could think of to praise this movie for. When it started out I found myself thinking "okay the needless expositions will finish soon and we will start to get a decent movie" but then they didn't and the point that I realized where the movie was heading was the point in which I realized just what a mess I was watching.

But then the third act came along and it got even worse. The characters all started acting in ways contradictory to the way they were set up earlier and the whole plot seemed to be going for "how shocking can we be" but rather than shocking me just ended up pissing me off. I guess I have give it half a mark for being somewhat pretty at times (although its far from Woody Allen's best) but beyond that this movie is simply awful.

Sing Street (2016)
Its official, John Carney is the most underappreciated filmmaker working today. With a cast of completely unknown stars, Carney makes a deeply moving, heartfelt film about friendship, brotherhood and the desire to fit in. It manages to put itself out there while still staying very much grounded. The cast are great, the music is great, its very well shot. This is a movie more people should have seen. It was an absolute delight and I would thoroughly recommend it.

I am sure there are plenty I missed but I can add them to the next big post. I still need to do a post about the animated shorts at the film festival (I will make it short) and one discussing the Harry Potter films (which I just rewatched).

Friday, 19 August 2016

New Zealand International Film Festival

Lately most of the films I have seen have been at the film festival. Here are my opinions listed from worst to best, I haven't included the animated shorts, which will get a post of their own.

Heart of a Dog 
I hate to say it but this film is lunacy at its finest. It comes across as if the director wants to put us through philosophy 101 without having ever taken a philosophy class. The whole movie consists of the camera zooming onto something and putting an ugly filter on it while Laurie Anderson gives narrative that is supposed to make you ask deep questions about life. Instead it simply left me wondering where she got her education.

I hate to shit on someone for doing something different but I cannot give a pass to something this stupid, ignorant and pandery. I am sure plenty of people will give it good reviews but that is only because most people watching it will not be academic so may not realize how dumb the whole thing is. Of particular annoyance is when she decided to weigh in on the NSA (a certain sabotage quote comes to mind, which was unintentionally hilarious) and 9/11. I guess as a non-religious skeptic, I am not the right crowd for this movie but honestly, surely being Buddhist is not synonymous with being stupid.

The Road

- Trailer not available
I found The Road fascinating in that it was all over the place. Filmed in China it may have appeared as though they pretended to be pro communist in order to get close to the negative effects of the communist party. They, however seemed to have forgotten to take the pro-government aspects out. What you are left with is a confused film that is on one hand following the construction of a road and showing off how the government did not care who they hurt in making it. While on the other hand you also have a film  championing the great achievement of the road (especially in the final moments of the film).

On top of this the pacing could be a bit slow in parts and it had a habit of needlessly repeating itself, Ultimately though, it was not a complete failure, there were some good moments and I did learn from it.

Jim: The James Foley Story

 - Trailer not available
The James Foley story is in many ways an important story but in other ways a story we all knew very well. From the word go it was kept quite a long ways off Jim as a person. This is probably for his own privacy but I felt like I did not get to know who he actually was particularly well throughout the film. It would have also been nice to get a little bit more of the other side of the story - why the US would not help much with his release. There was also little to no mention of a failed rescue mission, which certainly occurred.

There were many interesting and informative pieces of the story. It was especially engaging during talks with the others held hostage along with Jim. These were, however, somewhat degraded by poorly staged and unnecessary reenactments. Overall it is a film that had to be made. It was put together by the books and felt a little too safe but it was still informative and gave you some insight into the whole situation. 

Land of Mine
Do not get deceived by how low on the list this is. From here on everything I saw at the  festival was great and they could easily be rearranged as I have time to ponder them over the coming months. I put this lower than some other films only because this was the film I forgot I had seen when I came to make this list. While in hindsight I thought it was really terrific, this must , to some extent, mean it had less impact on me.

Regardless this film is shot very well and tells a balanced, informative, and at times even touching, story. The acting is all superb, the tone is set wonderfully and I absolutely believed in every single character.

The Red Turtle
This internationally produced film looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. I came to the red turtle expecting something much more storyline driven (such as something Studio Ghibli would have made themselves) and this is definitely not that. The actual story in the red turtle is relatively light. Instead it puts a major focus on metaphor, poetry (in the unspoken sense) and beauty. Fully enjoying the red turtle requires a lot of thinking but it is worth it. If you are with the right crowd it is also an excellent conversation starter.

Swiss Army Man
I hate having to put this such a long way down my list too. Swiss army man is wonderful. It is touching in the most bizarre way. While the film is also very funny (and this is a lot of what people will be talking about after getting through the abnormality of the whole thing), concentrating on the humor is sort of missing the point. At its core, Swiss Army Man is a creative way to ponder the arbitrary rules we have set up in our society, which governs the way we act. 

I do not want to spoil the ending in case some poor, unsuspecting fool happens upon this blog, but while the ending is left up to interpretation, you absolutely believe in the wacky friendship that our two leads build throughout the course of the film. I should say, HOLY SHIT is Daniel Radcliffe good in this. It is probably the best work he has ever done and Paul Dano (who is always wonderful) matches this perfectly. Also to be noted is the absolutely gorgeous cinematograph, which will probably go unnoticed by many, and the wonderful original music, which will almost certainly not. This film comes thoroughly recommended for anyone can cope with entirely wacky.

I, Daniel Blake

Made to highlight the difficulty and cruelty of the welfare system in the United Kingdom, "I, Daniel Blake" is a tough watch. It does get right to the a major aspect of why film festivals exist "to showcase films that highlight real issues with the aim of making change". The script is put together in such a way that I was constantly engaged and you are always rooting for the main character. It is not, however a fun time at the movies. It is tough to watch and extremely sobering, however enlightening and necessary.

The actors all do wonderful jobs (together with everyone else involved) to create such well-rounded real characters to the point that it often feels real. It is shot in a simple, non-intrusive way as it should be to keep the emphasis on the characters and not on the film. Hopefully films like this will continue to be funded and help people to take notice of issues in our society to bring about change.


I was always interested in Anthony Weiner as a person because he has, in my opinion, always been a good guy who stands for good things and is the right person to bring about change when change is needed. He just did a few very dumb things. I was, therefore, interested in this documentary but I did not expect it to be this good! No matter what I say I will not be able to sell this documentary well enough.

It is one of the most personal documentaries I have ever seen, to the point that large parts of it taking place inside his home to see what he is like as a normal human being. Together, this and the unique, almost manic way it is put together give the film a modern, refreshing feel to it. It also manages to be very informative about a life in politics and what that entails without feeling boring or draggy. Ultimately, I think this will do very well because people will take from it what they want to take from it. I can come out feeling I have got a really good feel for a brilliant but somewhat unstable man, whereas others may come out feeling they are glad he is no longer in politics.

Toni Erdmann
While I struggled to order the 2nd to 4th best on this list, from the moment I had seen this I knew nothing would top it. I could say that Toni Erdmann is easily the funniest film I have ever seen, however it is one part of what makes it so brilliant. The film blew me away at how it could talk about depression, discontent and family relationships (along with what can happen when kids leave home) in such a lighthearted tone, yet be so effective. There are so many layers of depth going on but they are all buried beneath hilarious comic relief characters carrying out cray skits. The happenings are also, simply said, extremely engaging. It never once felt boring or slow even with a long running time and very few locations.

The two lead actors are absolutely fantastic (I certainly hope that Peter Simoneschek gets some recognition for his fantastic work in the title role) with characters drawn up so intelligently by writer-director Maren Ade. It is a hard film to sell but almost two weeks later I am still in shock at just how great it really is. At this stage it may well be sitting atop my best of the year awards.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

August 2nd Recently viewed

Okay so I haven't posted anything in a while but I have still been seeing films so here is a big dump. I am certainly missing heaps but I can add more later. Also I have been at the film festival lately. Will add those in later.

Good will Hunting (1997)

So, for the first time since I made this blog I have re-watched my favorite film. This movie is about as close to perfect as you can get. The film has a wonderful script from Ben Affleck and Matt Damon and a great ensemble lead by Matt Damon in a role that kick started his career. The standout of the ensemble is Robin Williams in a career best performance that blends humor and heart with believablity and realness (yes its a word).

This film is smart, funny, heartfelt and real. Its characters are whole, real and deeply moving. The casting is perfect, the music is perfect, it is paced perfectly and it is shot in a simple, non-invasive fashion, which makes it easy and pleasant to watch.Would thoroughly recommend to anyone.

Finding Dory (2016)

Finding Nemo is a film I have great affection for. Its far from Pixar's best and it is relatively basic but it is colorful, pleasant and easy to watch. This made the prospect of a sequel seem a little odd and unnecessary. I am, however, pleased to say that Finding Dory is the smart type of sequel that is not just Finding Nemo done again but instead takes the characters and does something entirely different with them.

The idea basically boils down to "remember that comic relief character that you enjoyed laughing at in the previous film? Well what makes her that way is actually a serious childhood condition she has been struggling with her whole life". That is an interesting way to go and actually gives the fun little fish film something to say. Beyond that, it looks exactly as pretty as you expect, the characters are otherwise how you remember them and the plot moves along at a fun pace. 

Those who have raised a kid with mental disabilities will probably feel like they have been hit by a ton of bricks. However, for the rest of us it is a fun distraction that will not change your life but will give you a couple of hours with a smile on your face.

The BFG (2016)

Steven Spielberg shows once again that he has still got it. The BFG is one of the best looking films you will see this year. The motion capture work is very impressive, as is the whole production set. It also features an original score from John Williams, which is as beautiful as anything he has done. The script is very well written with infectious humor scattered throughout.

What makes this film truly special, however, is the way Mark Rylance and Ruby Barnhill act together. Rylance is continuing to show himself as one of the most talented living actors and Barnhill makes an excellent film debut. If there is one issue I had with it, it is that the story lacks tension at times with rather one-note antagonists. This ends up being somewhat unimportant, however, because the movie is really about the relationship between our two protagonists and that is the stuff Spielberg excels at.

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

The Star Trek reboots have taken a lot of flack from avid Star Trek fans recently. I, however never got into the original series so only judged them as action science fiction films and as far as that goes have rather enjoyed them. The latest is a bit of a mixed bag. I found the first act to be sort of messy. It is obvious Justin Lin is not used to shooting action in confined spaces and the editing gets very choppy early on when a lot of action is occurring on a ship. Eventually, the crew end up separated on a planet and things start to pick up from there.When Justin Lin is given space to breathe he shows that he can direct a hell of a spectacle. 

The plot is rather thin but there is some great character development, especially between Spok and McCoy. As usual the usual actors all do a great job, I should mention that Anton Yelchin will be sorely missed. Idris Alba does a good job as our main antagonist. He comes across somewhat one-note for a large portion in the movie but is brought back to reality much more in the third act. All in all it is enjoyable and with some great moments. Far from the best I have seen this year but well worth the ticket.

 Dazed and Confused (1993)

I must admit, while I am a huge fan of Richard Linklater, I only just got around to watching Dazed and Confused. When it was getting started, I found myself thinking "really, this is what people refer to as Linklater's masterpiece?" but as the film progressed the film snuck up on me and by the end it absolutely had me.

Like many of Linklater's films, this is light on story, high on character and it is very real. It is clear that he has very strong feelings for this part of his life: carefree, fun, wild but in a way oppressed and desperate for freedom. The characters are all people who easily could have existed and while I am a generation or so removed from this time, even I can relate to many them. The film also has an understated, timeless look to it and wonderfully timed music throughout. I would thoroughly recommend that this film is watched with groups of people from different age groups because it will create conversation. In my opinion, it is not Linklater's best, but still a wonderfully realized conversation starter with great character and some decent humor spread through. Well worth the watch.

Song of the Sea (2015)

I promise I will stop watching so many animated films one day. Song of the sea is a colorful, fun, unique, interesting experience. The story is engrossing, the characters are brilliantly realized and music is hauntingly beautiful.

This international collaboration brought together aspects of many different countries and cultures in the way it was made. This gave it a special feel to it that leaves you with the realization that there is not anything else like this. It comes complete with a refreshing art style and diverse voice-work. Would thoroughly recommend.


Brooklyn (2015)
This is the 4th time I have watched Brooklyn in the small amount of time it has been available. Saoirse Ronan gives the performance of a lifetime as a young woman who moves from Ireland to America in the 1950s and falls in love. Brooklyn is understated in the best sense of the word. It is simple, elegant and thoroughly engrossing. 

The cast sells the variation between Ireland and America in those times, giving us a real glimpse of what it must have been like for a woman such as our main protagonist. The cinematography is gorgeous, focusing often on artistic close up shots of our main character. Ronan suits this style of film as she is an impressively expressive actress. The score gives it that added touch to really hold you in. I found myself absolutely entranced by this film and would strongly recommend it.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Movies from the plane and repeats

Plane Movies

So I recently took a trip so was on a plane for a few hours. The following were some films I saw on the plane. Therefore I may not have seen them at their best.

Frozen (2013) - Repeat viewing

Frozen is an excellent movie. To start with, the animation is stunning. From the character models to the scenery everything is gorgeously made. The voices are impeccably well cast. I would put emphasis on actors who are particularly good in this, however I would be mentioning the whole cast. Additionally the music is nearly perfect, the story line is constantly engaging and the comedy is brilliantly timed.

What makes this movie truly special, however is that it is daring enough to take elements of the princess movie sub-genre that have been cemented for years and completely transcends them. In doing this it also has a lot to say about sisterhood and love. For this reason it has become one of the biggest animated films of all time.

Tangled (2010)

It is unfortunate that I watched both this and Frozen on the same day. While also a very good film, Tangled is in the same genre as Frozen so it is hard not to compare them and Tangled is a much more simple movie. That is, however, not necessarily a bad thing.

The film does not try to be more than a good looking, funny, fairly basic princess film and it succeeds at that. The animation is great, the characters are interesting, I found myself relatively engaged in the plot throughout the film and the music was excellent. Overall it does not reach the heights that Frozen does but not a lot of films do. Taken on its own merits it is well worth watching.

Everybody Wants Some (2016)

Richard Linklater is one of my favorite directors. He seems to have a good, somewhat philosophical understanding human emotion and this shows again in this film, a spiritual successor to one of his previous films , Dazed and Confused. This film assembles an excellent cast and has them relive the American college experience from the perspective of a testosterone filled guy on the baseball team. As with many of Linklater's films there is very little story but a lot of heart and it feels engaging throughout.

I did have a few problems with the film but they are largely my fault and not the film's, This is because, while Linklater obviously feels great affection towards these people, I never managed to get along with these types and they often remind me of people I do not care too much for in real life. Regardless he manages to argue that they are not so bad in the end and no matter who you are its hard to argue with the film. In the end it did have some of an emotional connection to the film so it must have worked.

Hail Caesar! (2016)

The Coen Brothers are also directors I have a lot of time for, unfortunately this is probably one of their worst films. That being only because they are yet to make (entirely) a bad film as far as I have seen. Hail Caesar is bright, colorful, preposterous and fun to a point. It is melodramatic, over the top, silly and full of great actors who all look like they are having a ball.

For a large portion of it I had a ball. To some extent the whole movie could be described as very entertaining.  Unfortunately at around the halfway point the schtick starts to wear old and I found myself getting tired of how theatrical, pointless and needlessly excessive the whole thing gets. It is certainly not a bad movie but it could just do with taking itself a smidgen more seriously and being toned down a notch.

Here are a few films that I re-watched over the past few days. Note they are all films I re-watched because they are films I really enjoy and are therefore all rated highly.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

After watching Frozen on the plane I felt I should rewatch what I believe to be the behemoth princess films. Beauty and the Beast, in my opinion has the best songs of any Disney feature. It blends in to this music an extremely relatable lead character, voiced wonderfully by Angela Lansbury along with a mansion of memorable, fun, interesting characters. Most of whom are literally furniture.

Every single aspect of Beauty and the Beast is picture perfect. The voice cast, characters, sound, story and dialog are all perfect. It is relatable, funny, heartwarming and downright fun. It is also fantastic to look at. Every aspect of it has been drawn in a gorgeous way from the amusing talking candelabra to the beautiful, grand mansion. I could not fault a thing with this film.

Bridge of Spies (2015)

I believe this to be the most well made movie from last year. The film had a story to tell with a point to make and it made it look effortless. Tom Hanks continues to be one of the most likeable actors in the world and Mark Rylance, who is mostly known for his stage work, managed to do the impossible by making people from the western world care about a man who was a Russian, cold war spy.

The film looks great, with excellent production design being particularly noteworthy and sounds great with a fantastic musical score. The biggest strength in my opinion is the script. Its dialog is snappy, interesting and funny in the most emotional and real kind of way. The pacing is perfect and I found myself consistently interested and engaged.

Love and Mercy (2015)

This film went under the radar of many people last year. When I went to see it in the theatre last year I was expecting "another safe, dull musical biopic" and I could not have been more wrong. This is an unconventional biopic that gives us a good look into the head of a brilliant man.

Both actors who play the lead character, Paul Dano and John Cusack, paint Brian Wilson wonderfully as a stange, brilliant, kind, wonderful, slightly messed up human being. The rest of the cast, especially Elizabeth Banks, also do a very good job at giving the film a wonderful, unconventional heart. The filmmakers managed to get the rights to the original music of the beach boys, which is played perfectly throughout the film and gives the film almost the entirety of its wonderful sound. This is a warm, quiet, wonderful, strange biopic that absolutely should have had more exposure than it did.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Concussion (2015)

This is a tough one for me to write about. Simply put it is about subject matter that should absolutely be talked about and is made with the best of intentions, but, unfortunately, is not very good. The film takes place less than ten years ago, making the ideas presented timely and all the more worth discussing.

The film follows a Nigerian pathologist, living in America, named Dr Bennet Omalu. He is a hard working Christian who performs autopsies for a living. One day, upon performing an autopsy on an NFL player who had gone crazy later in life, he discovers a brain disease caused by repeated head traumas. The movie follows his attempt to get this discovery noticed, while the NFL attempts to cover it up and get him discredited.

The problems this movie has are of the nature that it teeters on the edge of being a good movie. Therefore many of my criticisms would not necessarily be problems would it not be for how they fit together as a whole. The most obvious example of this, and also my largest problem with the film, is the slow pacing. There are many great films that tell stories in a leisurely way to progressively build character and tension and this is what the film seemed to be going for in this case. Unfortunately it often does this by needlessly reiterating points throughout the film and eventually starts to become tedious.

There are many scenes in the film that are interesting and necessary and when the film is at its best there are glimmers of greatness. Between these moments, however, there scenes of characters almost directly telling the audience what happened in previous scenes. This happens almost as if the filmmakers do not think the audience can understand it on their own. Together with these are too many obvious close ups and landscape shots to ensure that the audience knows how to feel at a certain time. Again, this is an example of a technique that, if done right, can help to make a movie great. It however is used so often and obviously that it becomes tiresome. Some of these scenes do, however look very nice.

While a tad obvious, the cinematography generally looks very nice as far as individual shots are concerned. These can, however get tiresome. The camera is kept very close to the dialog to attempt an emotional feel. This makes sense in aid of getting the message across. I unfortunately found myself at time wishing they could take a step back and properly show us the story.

On a positive note, the movie is very well scored and acted. Particularly, Will Smith as our lead gives one of his best performances in years. This is aided by a great make up job giving him a refined, mature look.

Overall, while the movie looks nice, sounds nice and features a great central performance I was left disappointed. This is a story worth telling and with only a small amount of refining could have been a movie worth watching too.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

When Marnie Was There (2014 in Japan, 2015 in the west)

(I have only seen this in its native language (Japanese) with subtitles so cannot comment any dubs)
It is rumored that this is going to be the final film from Studio Gibli. If this is true, I can happily say that they went out on a positive note. This is a sweet film that, in true Studio Gibli fashion, should appeal to a wide audience while pondering deep, topical themes. In this case they chose to focus in on depression, especially where it related to both parenthood and people who grow up without a true family.

The film is centered around Anna, an introverted 12 year old girl who has lived with foster parents most of her life. She suffers from asthma and is consequently sent to live temporarily with relatives of her foster parents where the air is cleaner. While living there she discovers an abandoned mansion where she meets a mysterious girl named Marnie. She agrees to keep a secret Marnie a secret from the rest of the world as they use each other to keep themselves mentally stable.

It was written and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayshi based on the young adult novel of the same name. Hiromasa Yonebayshi had his directorial debut in 2010 with Arrietty, a film I believe to be one of Studio Gibli's greatest (among a large list of gems). I consider him to be one of the most exciting directors of animated features to watch moving forward as he has shown, for a second time his top-notch instincts.

The characters are created with such layering and detail that you could believe them to be real people. In particular, it is hard not to get taken in by Anna and Marnie who truly enhance one another and Anna's kindly caregivers help to give a warm overall feel to a film that could easily be too draining. There are arguably very few villainous parts in the film, with life itself being the main focus of tension (although tension is largely unnecessary due to the film's ponderous nature). 

The animation is, as expected from a Studio Gibli picture, absolutely top notch. The hand drawn look to the backgrounds are beautiful, with the abandoned mansion being a particular stand out. The character animation is also very well executed. Marnie particularly, is beautifully drawn to have the look of someone to be envious of but also feel truly safe around.

The script is sharp and captivating with a story that will keep you constantly fascinated. However the film is also warm, ponderous and will leave will leave you emotionally enthralled. The greatest aspect of this film to me is that while it is made for a young audience, it is not afraid to be filled with deep, adult themes. Most studios will not even consider discussing themes of this nature in an animated feature aimed at children. 

The original song, Fine on the Outside by Priscilla Ahn, gives the film a fittingly harmonious finish and understated score helps to keep the viewer drawn in throughout the film. I would recommend this film to absolutely anyone. It is an pure delight that is not to be missed. 5/5

Saturday, 25 June 2016

X-Men Apocalypse (2016)

The X-Men movies are one of those franchises that can go both ways for me. For the most part I have thoroughly enjoyed what fox has done with the franchise. Some entries, however, have fallen very flat and recently others are have been starting to feel a little tired. Somehow, X-Men: Apocalypse manages to embody most of what can frustrate me about the franchise, while also not being an altogether terrible film.

This film takes place in the prequel story-line, following on from days of future past. The story this time involves an ancient mutant by the name of apocalypse waking from a long hibernation to announce himself as king of the earth. He quickly comes up with a plan to destroy everything "weak" in the world including all non-mutants, leaving the Xavier and the other X-Men to stop him.

It should come as no surprise at this point that Magnito is initially on board with this plan much of the tension in the film involves an attempt to stop him from getting out of control. To say this scenario is getting tired in the X-Men universe would be an understatement. Despite this, Michael Fassbender is still a perfect actor for the part, as is James McAvoy in the role of Charles Xavier. They both play so brilliantly off each other, that you are almost willing to forgive the fact that similar scenarios have been exhausted in the previous two films. Nicholas Hoult also continues to bring depth to Hank/Beast, despite having less screen time than in the previous two entries.

Oscar Isaac is one of the most expressive and versatile actors working today. Unfortunately he is nearly unrecognizable beneath a very fake looking prosthetic and is given dialog comes across stiff and emotionless as Apocalypse. The same could be said for Sophie Turner who is introduced in the role of Jean Gray, a character who should be the most interesting in the entire series but comes across dull and detached. The rest of the large ensemble cast give fine, if unexceptional, performances with Jennifer Lawrence looking exactly as bored as she did in the previous two entries in the role of Mystique.

As with most of Bryan Singer's X-Men films, the film has a slightly dated look, with serviceable special effects and action choreography. There are, however, a few impressive sequences early on as Apocalypse is being introduced. Adding to the unspectacular special effects, the costumes, makeup, set pieces and props all look like they're made of plastic, making the film look almost messy. To top of the look of the film, the color palette is rather confused, as if the Bryan Singer wanted to both give the film the bright, colorful look of a comic book as well as keeping a dark, gritty look. These looks clash rather badly leaving us with the worst of both.

Its not all terrible though, despite similarities with previous films the plot ticks along at a decent pace and the writing allows the characters (exception of Jean and Apocalypse) to feel as animated as you can expect. The film also still manages to retain a certain sense of fun despite its shortcomings. It can be recommended as a serviceable popcorn film, which may not have any lasting impact but will also not offend anyone's sensibilities. 2.5/5

A bunch of films I have watched recently

Here I am doing a bunch of very short reviews of films which I have seen this year. This is far from all the films I have seen and am not doing longer reviews for but it is the films that I can remember most vividly (as such it is probably some of the better or more noteworthy films I have seen recently).

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
This film has been on my radar for years but I only got around to watching it today. An absolute treat of a film. Particularly strong are the performances by both Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey and the screenplay by charlie Kaufman.

This is an optimistic yet slightly melancholic look at modern day relationships, with depth and heart to spare. While being very moving it can also be very comedic at (albeit in a heartfelt way) with strange, witty characters that are hard not to fall in love with. A real gem that comes thoroughly recommended. 4.5/5

The Jungle-book (2016)
One of the most visually stunning films I have ever seen. For a film that is entirely filmed in a studio the jungle looks very real and absolutely gorgeous.The character animations are extremely impressive and the voice actors are impeccably well cast. Of particular note is Bill Murry who may well be perfectly cast in a comic relief role as Baloo. A beautiful score gives the whole adventure a magical feel, which is topped by several well timed musical numbers from the 1967 animated feature.

Neel Sethi is a fantastic discovery as Mogli. My one criticism is that Neel does occasionally appear unsure what he is acting to. This is, however, forgivable considering his inexperience and way the film was shot. Overall this is a thoroughly recommended film. 4.5/5

Batman vs Superman (2016)
I don't have much to say about this one beyond that while trying to emulate the gritty, meaningful, interesting nature of the dark knight trilogy Zach Snyder has simply made a dreary, tepid, uninterested mess of a film. This is not helped by an uneven screenplay where characters often find themselves explaining the plot (although its generous even calling it that) to us directly.

I get it, the dark knight trilogy is great and a deeper, darker look at the characters is an interesting idea... In theory. However in order to pull off what Christopher Nolan did, one actually needs to have something to say. Unfortunately Zach Snyder does not and instead the film ends up looking and feeling scattered with too many badly staged clusters of CGI. Ben Affleck's casting, however, is a saving grace of the film and I am interested in what he can do with the character when he develops his own script. I also believe Henry Cavill could make a great superman with the right director/ screenplay.   2/5

Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Civil War is a lot of fun. It contains excellent choreography, cinematography and effects in the main battle sequences. This is in true Russo Brothers style, where anyone who enjoyed the winter soldier will more or less know what to expect from the film. The characters you have come to love are still the same great as always, with excellent castings/ performances of/by Tom Holland as Spiderman and Chadwick Boseman as Black Panther.

It is exactly what you expect it to be, that is a fun, not too serious, witty, interesting movie that will leave you with a smile on your face. What you may not expect is a much deeper look into the emotions of these characters in the third act. This helps to make the fun, which is had in the second act, to feel much more earned. My only complaint in the film is that some parts of the script are a little contrived, especially when building to the main confrontation in the second act. 4/5

Deadpool (2016)
Okay I have written about a lot of superheroes in quick succession. This is the last of them. Daredevil is a near perfect version of exactly what it wants to be: a fun, silly, energetic, over the top, R rated superhero movie.

Deadpool is intentionally light on story but is as consistently funny as anything you'll see this year. The action is very good looking and Ryan Reynolds is basically the most perfect casting in the part. A thoroughly recommendable R-rated comedy. 4/5

Eddie the Eagle (2016)
I had a large struggle to determine my feelings on this film. On one hand it, at least on the surface, is the sort of cliched, predictable,"based on a true story" film that normally comes out in December pretending to be important to try to get Oscar buzz and flops. On the other hand I kind of enjoyed it. For a start Taron Egerton, who plays the title character, is shaping up to be a very fine young actor and both he and Hugh Jackman commit head-first to the cliche riddled script.

What also stands it apart from other films of a similar nature is it is filmed in a non-invasive fashion, without any failed attempts to be overly creative. This, in a sense, could be a criticism because it adds to the unremarkable nature of the film, however this is the exact reason why it doesn't fail hard like so many similar films before it. It knows its not remarkable. The filmmakers have been happy to make a fun little distraction of a film that is never going to change your life but is always gong to be watchable. 3/5

Zootopia (2016)

The idea here is that Zootopia is large urban city akin to New York or San Fransisco home to all kinds of anthropanthropomorphic (human-like) animals. In Zootopia it is said these animals can live simultaneously free of discrimination, where anyone can be or do anything. Unfortunately when our main character "Judy Hopps" a bunny who has always dreamed of being a police officer moves to Zootopia she finds that finds a society much less equal than she had imagined.

If that descriptions sounds a little familiar to you, that is what I thought coming into this film too. Little did I know the Disney movie about talking animals walking around on two legs could end up being one of the best films of the year. I cannot think of a single aspect of the film that I would change if given the chance.

Both the scenic and character animation are absolutely gorgeous. The world detail has particularly being meticulously designed, hilariously allowing for many different species to coexist despite being vastly different shapes and sizes.The voice cast all do a very good job, especially Jason Batemen and Ginnifer Goodwin who are impeccably cast in the two leading roles. Also to be mentioned is Shakira whose original song "try everything" perfectly captures the tone of the movie.

One of the largest strengths of the film are the beautifully written characters throughout the film. Together with a deep, engaging story-line they make for a funny and moving film. This is enriched by the often hilarious satire and epanse that comes from Zootopia being, at its core, a metaphor for discrimination, acceptance and racial profiling within our society.

This is a rich, layered, gorgeous film, which gives a breath of fresh air to the tired "talking animal" genre. I absolutely fell in love with this film and it is a must see for people of all ages who enjoy animated movies. 5/5

A plan of attack

So I decided that before I make my first post I should figure out what format this will actually take. I wish to include my opinion on as many films as possible, however, I have seen hundreds of films and am not about to review every single one of them now. Therefore I will use this post to provide an outline for how this may work. So without further ado let a tacky list be created:

  1. I will start by providing a brief review of some of the noteworthy films, which I have seen this year. I will label each of these to simplify any searches undertaken.
  2. Films will from thereon be reviewed when I see them or as a list when there isn't enough to talk about or I get lazy (most likely the latter). Reviews will be very short form because I do not have a lot of time in my life and wish to include as many as possible.

    • Films will be assigned a rating out of 5, which will not necessarily mean much at all. I will occasionally provide lists of favorite films and they may not fit together cohesively with rankings. 
    • A 5 does not necessarily mean the film is perfect, as this is in theory unattainable. It will instead mean that a film is all that I could realistically hope for it to be.
  3. I will occasionally make posts showing trailers or any other stuff I feel like mentioning, this may help me compare how hyped I am for a movie to how much I actually like it.
  4. I will add to this list whenever I feel it is necessary.