Jan 022017
 

I spent a lot of this month catching up on a few 2016 releases I had missed, and making sure I caught all the essential theatrical releases in December. The result was surprising: only a few of these viewings left an impression on me. I remember last year seeing The Revenant, The Big Short, Carol and Spotlight in December. This year Jackie, Your Name and The Edge of Seventeen stood out, but I still have a number of the Oscar candidates to see – Moonlight, Manchester By the Sea, Hidden Figures, Silence, Lion and Fences. At this point last year I had seen all eventual Best Picture nominees save for Room. 

The absolute highlight of this month’s viewing was the tremendous Westworld. I was hooked after one episode, and for me this is a demonstration of the rarely-met potentials of TV. Layers upon layers of interconnected story arcs and thought-provoking ideas that utilise the 10+ hours. The intrigue is never relinquished here – the twists are shocking – and the writing, acting and production values are all exceptional.

2017 goals = unknown. With a baby on the way, I have no idea what kind of time I can dedicate to movies, TV, books and games. I expect I’ll still probably see in the vicinity of 200 films throughout the year, but very few will be at the cinema. Most will likely be on VOD catch-up. I have set a reading goal at 20 novels for 2017. This year I hit 40, so I think this is realistic.

After the jump is a listing of everything I watched in December. I needed 36 films to hit 365 films for the year. I wasn’t trying for this number, it just happened. I didn’t make it anyway, ending with 27.

Oh, and if you missed my 25 Favourite Films of 2016, be sure to check it out.

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Dec 242016
 

After another year of 200+ new releases, one of the pleasures I take is reflecting on everything that I watched and creating a list of essentials. These feelings are subjective and ever-changing, so if I were to revisit this list in five years, having re-experienced some of these films and caught up with others I missed, it might look completely different.

Much was said a few months back about this year’s dire blockbusters, and documentary filmmaking hasn’t been as potent in 2016, but it has been a terrific year in other areas. Take animated films and horror films for example. Not only in terms of box office success, but the depth of inventive and high-quality releases. When you explore the list below you will notice there are several representatives from those genres. A few other obscure facts about the list: ten films screened at the Sydney Film Festival, five are written and directed by female filmmakers, four are divided into chaptered sections and three had first-run availability on Netflix.

The rules: simply, everything knew I saw in 2016 that had a release date somewhere in the world in the vicinity of 2016. Some of these films had a late 2015 U.S release, others have screened only at international film festivals. All were accessible (via an Australian theatrical release, film festival, SVOD service or TVOD service) to me in 2016 in one way or another.

Of course, I didn’t quite get through my watchlist. Some films I missed or didn’t get the chance to see include Tower, Camerperson, Things to Come, Neruda, Sunset Song, The Love Witch, One More Time With Feeling, My Golden Days and Evolution. There are also some films releasing in Australian cinemas in January and February that are amongst the awards discussion that I have not yet seen. These include Moonlight, Lion, Manchester By the Sea, Fences, Silence, Hidden Figures and Patriots Day. 

I apologise for the erratic lengths of the commentary. Some of these films I had written about already – so my thoughts, in often quite lengthy detail, had already been published. Others I was wracking my brain to find the words to describe how they made me feel. After the jump, check out my list of honourable mentions and 25 Favourite Films of 2016.

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Sep 042016
 

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August was quite a tough month so I busied myself with work and found comfort in films. I ended up watching 33, another hefty amount, from a whole assortment of different periods and genres. Dark Horizons’ Garth Franklin set me a viewing challenge before the end of the year – ten ’80s/’90s classics shamefully on my blindspot list. Amongst the ones I have checked off so far: Wargames, Big Trouble in Little China and They Live. 

I also caught up on quite a few films I missed in cinemas (The Meddler, Maggie’s Plan, Miles Ahead and Mia Madre included). Incredibly, this month includes not a single episode of TV.

My favourite books this month were Poirot & Me, David Suchet’s fascinating autobiography about portraying Agatha Christie’s iconic Belgian detective on TV for a quarter of a century, and Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, soon to be adapted into a TV series. If you haven’t watched the trailer things are looking promising.

Thoughts on some of the films I watched in August after the jump.

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Aug 182016
 

The Shallows Duo

The Shallows is the latest film from Spanish director Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan, Non-Stop), who has developed a loyal fan-base with his ability to liven-up the tired tropes of mass-appeal genre films. After a trio of Liam Neeson-led shoot-em-up action entries (including the pretty decent Non-Stop, which was effectively an Agatha-Christie-on-a plane) he returns to horror, where he last worked in 2009 with the underrated Orphan. In what is perhaps his best film to date – on the simplest terms Jaws meets 127 Hours – he tells a gripping and visually arresting survival story of a desperate but determined woman clinging to glimpses of hope, and using her substantial wits and capabilities to fix and manoeuvre her injured body, and navigate the safe havens at her disposal. With a game, intense performance from Lively, and some vicious shark take-downs this is a particularly strong entry in the oft-tried sub-genre.

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Jul 132016
 

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John Carney (Once and Begin Again) has become the master of the romantic-musical-dramedy, and his irresistible latest film Sing Street, his most personal – mined from his own experiences as a youth – and best to date, is a charming feel-good portrait of ’80s Dublin. With a truly awesome nostalgic Brit-pop soundtrack featuring The Cure, Duran Duran, Hall & Oates and Joe Jackson, likeable, engaging performances from the talented young cast and a poignant examination of teenage romance, brotherly love, and the power of music to provoke creativity, unite, define, rebel and change your life, Sing Street is a joy to behold. Read why it is one my favourite films of the year after the jump.

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Jun 232016
 

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In cinemas this week: Independence Day: Resurgence, Everybody Wants Some and Mustang

Independence Day: Resurgence – Using recovered extraterrestrial technology, the nations of Earth collaborate on an immense defense program to protect the planet. When the aliens attack with unprecedented force, only the ingenuity of a few brave men and women can save the world. Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman are back in Roland Emmerich’s anticipated sequel to his groundbreaking 1996 disaster hit.

Everybody Wants Some – In 1980 Texas, a college freshman (Blake Jenner) meets his new baseball teammates (including Will Brittain, Ryan Guzman), an unruly group of disco-dancing, skirt-chasing partyers. The latest from Richard Linklater has had its fans (and vocal dissenters), and sounds like a spiritual-sequel to his 1993 film, Dazed and Confused, provoking nostalgia for the free-wheeling of youth.

Mustang – Early summer in a village in Northern Turkey. Five free-spirited teenaged sisters splash about on the beach with their male classmates. Though their games are merely innocent fun, a neighbour passes by and reports what she considers to be illicit behaviour to the girls’ family. The family overreacts, removing all “instruments of corruption,” like cell phones and computers, and essentially imprisoning the girls, subjecting them to endless lessons in housework in preparation for them to become brides. As the eldest sisters are married off, the younger ones bond together to avoid the same fate. The fierce love between them empowers them to rebel and chase a future where they can determine their own lives in Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s debut, a powerful portrait of female empowerment. Truly wonderful – one of the finest films of the year so far. Further thoughts at the link.

Weekly Recommendation – There’s something for everyone here, but the one we urge you not to miss is Mustang. We’ll be catching Linklater’s latest, and seeing some big-screen mass-destruction this weekend.

Jun 082016
 

FINDING DORY

In cinemas June 9 – A Perfect Day, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, The Conjuring 2

In cinemas June 16 – Finding Dory, Warcraft: The Beginning, Me Before You, Miles Ahead, Downriver and Mr Right

A Perfect Day – The subject of this anti-war comedy/thriller – the bureaucracy-plagued international aid program in the Balkans during the Bosnian War – was compelling on its own. Assigned the task of removing a body from a well before it contaminates the village supply, a misfit troupe of aid workers attempt to procure some rope. When all sorts of obstacles impede that mission the series of misadventures are equally hilarious and nail-bitingly suspenseful. The performances (headlined by a superb Benicio Del Toro, and also including Tim Robbins and Olga Kurylenko), and the unusual soundtrack, are also terrific.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows – The turtles face a new challenge when Shredder escapes from custody and joins forces with Baxter Stockman, a mad scientist who plans to use a serum to take over the world. Along for the ride are Bebop and Rocksteady, two dimwitted henchmen who provide plenty of muscle. Luckily, the turtles have their own allies in April O’Neil, Vernon Fenwick and Casey Jones, a hockey-masked vigilante. As the pizza-loving heroes prepare for battle, the notorious Krang also emerges to pose an even greater threat. Ummm. What is this about? They keep making these movies, and it just seems like no one cares about the Turtles anymore.

The Conjuring 2 – In 1977, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) come out of a self-imposed sabbatical to travel to Enfield, a borough in north London. There, they meet Peggy Hodgson, an overwhelmed single mother of four who tells the couple that something evil is in her home. Ed and Lorraine believe her story when the youngest daughter starts to show signs of demonic possession. As the Warrens try to help the besieged girl, they become the next target of the malicious spirits. This sequel to the massive horror hit, by way of the Annabelle spin-off, has some big shoes to fill. The Conjuring was a genuinely terrifying film, distinctly elevated by excellent direction from James Wan, who returns to helm here.

Finding Dory reunites the friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish with her loved ones, and everyone learns a few things about the true meaning of family along the way. The all-new big-screen adventure takes moviegoers back to the extraordinary underwater world from the original film. While the idea of spending a whole film with Dory isn’t particularly appealing, it is Pixar – and directed by Andrew Stanton (Wall E) – so it is automatically essential viewing.

Warcraft: The Beginning – Looking to escape from his dying world, the orc shaman Gul’dan utilises dark magic to open a portal to the human realm of Azeroth. Supported by the fierce fighter Blackhand, Gul’dan organises the orc clans into a conquering army called the Horde. Uniting to protect Azeroth from these hulking invaders are King Llane, the mighty warrior Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) and the powerful wizard Medivh. As the two races collide, leaders from each side start to question if war is the only answer. Early reactions suggest that Duncan Jones (Moon and Source Code) has made a major flop here, and this looks suited to fans of the game only. 

Me Before You – Adapted from the bestselling novel by Jo Jo Moyes, Me Before You tells the story of the unexpected relationship that blossoms between a contented small town Englishwoman and the wealthy, paralyzed Londoner who hires her as his caretaker. Has alluring stars, Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin, and fans of the weepy rom-drama will surely get their fix.

Miles Ahead is not just about the music. It’s about what we all face at one time or another in our lives; questions about who we really are, what we have to say and how will we say it. How will we ultimately be defined and who gets to say so? This Miles Davis biopic is both directed by and stars Don Cheadle, and reviewers have admired the unconventional approach to a fleeting period of the Jazz legend’s life and career.

Downriver – After serving time in prison for a crime he supposedly committed as a young child, James (Reef Ireland) returns to his hometown and the community he devastated years ago to put the pieces of his past together. Don’t know much about this, other than some quiet discussion following its premiere at the Melbourne International Film Festival last year. Limited run I expect.

Mr Right – A woman (Anna Kendrick) comes to a crossroad when she finds out that her new beau (Sam Rockwell) is a professional assassin who kills the people who hire him instead of the intended targets. While this has its charms, and takes some baffling chances as a genre mash-up, both of the likeable leads deserve more than what this thin premise offers.

Weekly Recommendations – A Perfect Day has been a long time coming (on and off the release schedule), but certainly our favourite new film. The Conjuring 2, Finding Dory and Miles Ahead would account for the rest of our cinema visits in the next fortnight, if we weren’t attending the Sydney Film Festival.

Jun 022016
 

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In cinemas this week: Money Monster, Now You See Me 2, The Measure of a Man and Queen of the Desert.

Money Monster – Lee Gates (George Clooney) is a Wall Street guru who picks hot stocks as host of the television show “Money Monster.” Suddenly, during a live broadcast, disgruntled investor Kyle Budwell (Jack O’ Connell) storms onto the set and takes Gates hostage. He tells Lee that he lost everything on one of his tips. As Gates tries to plead with Kyle, he’s also using an earpiece to communicate with his longtime producer in the control room. Together, they must figure out a way to defuse the situation and disarm the angry young man. We are intrigued by what Jodie Foster brings to the director’s chair, and this timely study of sociopolitical anger should make for a great thriller. But, no one is talking about this much at all. 

Now You See Me 2 – Set three years after the first film’s events, The Four Horsemen return for a second mind-bending adventure. One year after outwitting the FBI and winning the public’s adulation with Robin Hood-style magic spectacles, the illusionists resurface for a comeback performance in hopes of exposing the unethical practices of a tech magnate. The man behind their vanishing act is none other than Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe), a tech prodigy who threatens the Horsemen into pulling off their most impossible heist yet. Their only hope is to perform one last unprecedented stunt to reveal the mastermind behind it all. Like its charismatic illusionists, this film presents itself as one big illusion; and embraces showmanship over logic. It is a film that flings every trick at its audience, and while it is never boring, it ultimately has too many tricks and not enough sleeves.

The Measure of a Man – Vincent Lindon gives a Cannes Best Actor winning performance as unemployed everyman Thierry, who must submit to a series of quietly humiliating ordeals in his search for work. Futile retraining courses that lead to dead ends, interviews via Skype, an interview-coaching workshop critique of his self-presentation by fellow jobseekers all are mechanisms that seek to break him down and strip him of identity and self-respect in the name of reengineering of a workforce fit for a neoliberal technocratic system. Stéphane Brizé film dispassionately monitors the progress of its stoic protagonist until at last he lands a job on the front line in the surveillance and control of his fellow man and finally faces one too many moral dilemmas. A powerful and deeply troubling vision of the realities of our new economic order.

Queen of the Desert – A true story of the life of British explorer and adventurer, Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman), this film chronicles her journeys of love and loss in the Middle East during the early 20th century. Though directed by Werner Herzog and co-starring James Franco and Robert Pattinson and is a giant turd of a movie.

Weekly Recommendation: Not a great week. If you haven’t caught Hunt for the Wilderpeople, get onto that. From this bunch Money Monster and The Measure of a Man should prove to be the most satisfying.