Dec 022016


I watched a total of 32 films in November, about what I expected. Most of these were focused on eliminating a number from my end-of-year watchlist. I worked out that if I watch 35 films in December – which is probably a tad out of reach – I will have hit 365 films again. Perhaps for the last time. I haven’t been trying to achieve this goal, it has just happened.

Outside of films, not much has been going on. Reading has dropped off (though I still have two more books to finish to complete my goal of 40 for 2016) and TV will be focused on completing some series. I have one more ep of Black Mirror S3 left, 5 eps of Halt & Catch Fire S3. I’d also like to work through O.J: Made in America and Westworld throughout December. A tall order.

I will be looking to drop my Favourite Albums of 2016 in a couple of weeks, and my Best of 2016 Film list (in a similar layout as last year’s list) at the end of December. The 29th or 30th.

Thoughts on most of what I watched in December (there were a few I didn’t discuss) after the jump:


In-Cinema Viewing

I, Daniel BlakeAn understandable and deserved Palme d’Or winner, if not the film I would have personally selected. Ken Loach, at age 80 and still a terrific filmmaker, has been making socially critical films spotlighting stories of the lower class for decades. His latest – so resonating today, and conveyed here with an uncomfortable authenticity – is a profoundly upsetting, deeply cynical humanist drama. When an ill carpenter, the eponymous Daniel Blake (Dave Johns, superb), deemed unfit to return to work and yet must ‘seek’ work to gain state welfare, finds himself in a frustrating bureaucratic loop. His bond with a desperate single mother of two, also in need of state support, leads to them navigating the challenges together. I felt so devastated watching this film; and its because it cuts very close to the bone. (4/5)

ArrivalWill still be percolating for a while, but considering the state of the world right now, so timely. Builds a gloomy global puzzle, understood through the one individual. Adams and Renner have terrific chemistry and it is both grandly cinematic, yet earthy and intimate. (4/5)

A United KingdomAmma Asante’s follow-up to Belle is a little soppy, but efficiently details both the conflicts and change catalysed by the union between Seretse and Ruth. Looks lovely and the always-charismatic Oyelowo and Pike work well together(3.5/5)

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – Not so nimble at coordinating playful (and genuinely adorable) creature mayhem with darker subplots about cursed children and civil war, but nevertheless an enjoyable alt-entry into Rowling’s magical world. I liked the dynamic between the cast, especially Fogler and Redmayne, who makes Newt Scamander his own. I think I would happily follow him on future adventures. (3.5/5)

The Salesman – Appreciated the compelling performances, the patient and detailed build-up, and the escalating increments of dramatic conflict and misunderstanding, but this was sorely missing the subtlety of Farhadi’s other recent work and the final chapter became disappointingly tedious, manipulative and, simply, hard to accept. The connection to Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’ was also a stretch, but this story of one man’s gradual loss of decency and moral corruption – fuelled by shame and revenge – has truthful and powerful moments of domestic tension. (3/5)

AlliedPerfectly watchable. A weird hybrid of tones and erratic scene-to-scene quality and aesthetic consistency. A few old-fashioned spy thrills (including Diehl reprising his Inglourius Basterds role) but SO CORNY! Pitt and Cotillard just never gel, despite expectedly impressive individual moments. And shiny costumes. (2.5/5)

Nocturnal AnimalsI wish this was all about Michael Shannon’s character. There’s not much here, and so many sequences feel haphazardly injected without purpose. Amy Adams’ character spends most of the film reading a manuscript by night-light and looking concerned. Neither of the overlapping stories satisfied, and Ford makes some very curious decisions. (2/5)

Doctor Strange – Weak Marvel. Very weak. Cumberbatch is terrible here and Strange is simply a drag. Clunky plot-wise and somehow humourless, but nifty VFX. But seriously, gave me no reason whatsoever to care about any of it. (2/5)

Bad Santa 2An all-round disgusting movie that doesn’t seem to care at all about entertaining its audience, and lacks any of the wit, sweetness or character that has made the original a holiday classic. Shockingly unfunny. (1/5)



The Little PrinceHard the fathom that this made its worldwide premiere on Netflix. I wish I had seen it in a cinema, but how great it is that so many people can experience it. A magical film. I was mesmerised by the stunning blend of animations, and overwhelmed by the film’s affecting, multi-layered themes. Plus that voice-cast is perfect. It has been such a strong year for animated films, and this is one of my favourites. (4/5)

Chasing Asylum Wow, an incendiary take-down of the Australian government’s immigration policies, and by far the most vital and shocking film to come out of Australia in 2016. Essential for the secret detention centre footage, and the candid interviews with former Red Cross civil servants alone, but this is an accomplished package that hopefully makes some international waves. (4/5)

Sully – Clint’s best film in ages (since Million Dollar Baby?), and there is no better portrayer of supreme competence than Tom Hanks. I loved the workmanlike approach to this story – shots of Hanks jogging through the night, settling his nerves as he enters a press conference (or a bar where he might be recognised) – and this is a film that celebrates everyday people simply doing their job and doing it well under very challenging circumstances. As Sully re-iterates, it was the work of hundreds of different New Yorkers that saved the lives of those on board that day. He was just one of many doing his job. It is such a calm and modest representation. I couldn’t believe this was the same man that made the hideous American Sniper. (4/5)

Loving Imagine if this film was made by a studio? There would have been so much fanfare about the court case and by trying to fit in so many historical signposts that the essential element of the story – Richard and Mildred Loving (wonderful performances by Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga) – would have been forgotten. Jeff Nichols has made another understated and sensitive humanist drama, telling this extraordinary and still timely true story with a quiet contemplative power and usual handsome lensing. He is one of the best filmmakers working today. (4/5)

White MaterialDon’t have to much to say about this, other than it was completely riveting. Challenging subject matter, but I found the approach to be fascinating. Impeccably well-made. Just my second film by Claire Denis. I have been meaning to explore her work for some time4/5

Ingrid Bergman in her Own WordsIt feels like a privilege to view this film. What a generous gift for fans and classic cinema lovers. This is a cinematic love-letter, obviously put together with great care and admiration, for the great Ingrid Bergman. The details are immense, but with the sparse use of interviews the elegantly accumulated scrapbook of clips, images and anecdotes reveals so much. Her personal letters are narrated by Alicia Vikander, and a lot of the home movie footage of her family and children, and experiences on set, were actually filmed by Bergman herself. (4/5)

The Beatles: Eight Days A Week – The Touring YearsAs a big Beatles fan I relished in this superbly edited document of Beatle-mania. I had seen little coverage of them performing as young men, and Howard allows plenty of time for the performances. I had no idea that they stopped touring after Sgt. Peppers, and if there is a fault here it is that Howard brushes over their final five albums, and doesn’t delve much into how their change in image and musical direction came about. I guess it is all there in the title – this is about the ‘Touring Years’. (4/5)

The Innocents Something you don’t see everyday – a female directed film about women dealing with crises of faith. Set in 1945, this is a squeamishly unsettling, and powerful true-life drama about a Polish convent ravaged by war (including sexual assault by Russian soldiers), who harboured a number of pregnant Benedictine nuns. When a Red Cross nurse is fetched for assistance, she covertly leaves her post to help the women as they begin to give birth. Lovely craftsmanship of sequences and really strong performances – from Lou de Laage, Agata Kulesza, Agata Buzek and Vincent Macaigne. (4/5)

The BFGThe adaptation of the beloved Roald Dahl novel (which I read many times as a kid, but possessed limited memory of) received a bad wrap during its theatrical run. It bombed at the box office, but true to Dahl’s very unusually dialogued tale this was bound to prove divisive. I just loved what Spielberg managed with his camera here, creating a wholly immersive world within the BFG’s home, and the bonkers second half is consistently hilarious. Mark Rylance’s motion-capture performance is also one of the finest in the technology’s history. (3.5/5)

Into the InfernoOnly Werner Herzog could create a documentary about volcanoes – offering up terrifying, yet jaw-dropping footage of magma eruptions and lava rivers, and humans operating dangerously close to them – that isn’t really about volcanoes at all. He is more interested in how spirit of the volcanoes have influenced history and perpetuated myth, and how these natural wonders have influence the lives of the people that live in their shadow. It is a journey into several different cultures – his camera observing each of the fascinating tales and myths as unique truths, without judgement. (3.5/5)

Central IntelligenceThe winning duo of Johnson and Hart (who is particularly good here) distracts from throwaway spy plot. Pleasingly good-natured, above average studio comedy. I laughed a lot. (3/5)

Almost Christmas [All is Bright] – A very strange Christmas movie – mostly melancholic, with sparse charm – but after spending enough time with these characters I was committed to seeing their story through. Paul Giamatti – an ex-thief out on parole, finds that his wife is now with his former partner, and his daughter thinks he is dead – re-partners with his now romantic adversary (Paul Rudd) in the Christmas Tree sales business. Making the journey from Quebec to set up their site in a dusty patch of New York earth, they try and yield enough money from sales to satisfy their family, and overcome their differences. It trucks along without much emotional resonance, or dramatic fanfare, and Sally Hawkins is a bizarre co-star as a Russian (?) house-sitter who befriends Giamatti’s character. (3/5)

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the HouseFavours mood and atmosphere over plot, and for the most part better for it. Anchored by a compelling performance from Ruth Wilson, this haunted-house mystery conjures up some stressful images, and several set-pieces take you aback. It does run out of steam – you get over the repeated ghostly whispers, and then it just ends – and the key sub-story is given little attention. But, in a year of strong horror entries, this DTN (direct-to-Netflix) effort is worth a look. (3/5)

Down Under – Divided by dislike and admiration for Down Under, which runs Krueger-armed through conflicting zones of comedy and…horror (multiple times within the same scene). Atrocious at times, but its subject is tricky, and it sure leaves its mark. (3/5)

KrishaPlenty to admire here, but it felt like there were key scenes missing and the storytelling priorities were all askew. Plays with real family dynamics and performance, and uses a grating sound design to set up familial tension we expect to escalate to an exploding point. Best when the cast (and camera) are active, and the scenes are allowed to breathe. (3/5)

NerveVery silly, becoming impossibly so, but zippy escapism with ugly truths regarding social media obsessions and thrill-seeking insta-fame. It’s okay. (3/5)



Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation – 4/5

The Princess Bride – 4/5

The Night Before4/5

Jerry Seinfeld – I’m Telling You For the Last Time – 4/5



O.J. Simpson: Made in America E1

Black Mirror S3 E2-5

Seinfeld – Various Eps

Halt & Catch Fire S3 E1-5