2016 Top Ten

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‘We are Number One.’…and two, three and four, five and so on. It’s belated but I’ve finally found time to notch up my favourite 10 movies from last year. Surprisingly this was easier because there weren’t too many great films released in 2016! You could say most were Rotten! Ahaha…moving quickly on then to number 10….

…but quickly before that, here’s a few films that almost made the grade…The Neon Demon, Deadpool, The Witch, Moana, The Invitation, Captain America: Civil War, Eddie the Eagle, Midnight Special, The Girl with all the Gifts, The Danish Girl, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping then The Little Prince and Hush would have been on the list but didn’t gain theatrical releases so sadly, I didn’t include them.

So, in at ten –

10) GREEN ROOM…AND NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

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Enter the Green Room, a nightmarish small space in a neo-Nazi skinhead filled club. This movie brilliantly delivers on unsettling tension and dark turns as a band are menaced and killed. Full Review. Similarly, Tom Ford’s stylish Nocturnal Animals gives tension to the nth degree, the gritty story-within-a-story standing out as the best thing.

9) THE JUNGLE BOOK

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I don’t dislike the original Walt cartoon from yesteryear, but The Jungle Book isn’t my go to animation from them…so I was pleasantly surprised by this movie which looks incredible, the CGI landscape and animals are epic, Sethi as Mowgli blends into the darkly presented story very well and it zips along nicely as a well modernised tale. You wanna read my review-oo-oo? I know you do-oo-oo. Jungle Book

8) ARRIVAL

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Clever, gorgeous, intellectual, timey-wimey, language and love co-exist but with aliens. The story is always engaging, Adams’ performance is natural and affecting in her story that just happens to feature hovering space crafts and circular lingo. Arrive at my review.

7) ZOOTROPOLIS

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Fun but also incredibly on point about the very real politics of stero-typing and racial prejudice, this fluffy family flick is more in depth and smartly told than you’d think. Don’t be a sloth, quickly click on my review for Zootropolis.

6) 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

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Dropped on us from nowhere, the Cloverfield world is expanded with this shift of genre as we get a claustrophobic thriller centered on relationships, mystery and danger instead of the found footage device. It was such a surprise and a fantastic film to boot. Tension kicks into overdrive, music is used so well and Goodman is a scary monster. Cloverfield

5) KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS

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Laika have done it again by golly! This is such a rich and awesome stop-motion fantasy that goes over some very interesting and cultural textures whilst still featuring the humour and charm you’d expect. I want to see it again to just admire the work put into making this beautiful film. Kubo.

4) VICTORIA

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I am so so…so glad that I got to see this film. It isn’t just the sheer marvelling feature of shooting the entire movie in one-take but the performances are fascinating and believable, the story is engaging and you connect to the world as Victoria becomes involved more and more.

Well….we’ve reached the golden trio, the three musketeers, the tricycle of brilliance from last year. What’s in at number 3 then??

 

3) SING STREET

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Ah, what a charming and musically gorgeous film. The coming of age story is fun in itself but added with 80’s nostalgia, humour and songs, Sing Street becomes a movie to feel happy watching. I re-watched it recently and still found myself adoring every moment.

2) HUNT FOR THE WILDERPEOPLE

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Ricky Baker. Ricky Baker. A hero for the ages. This is a gem of a film with bittersweet moments, heartfelt tenderness, sharp comedy, coming of age and bonding adventures, randomness, lush locations and the ever reliable brilliance of Taika Waititi behind it all. Hunt the Wilderpeople down now…it’s so worth it if you haven’t seen it.

It’s here, Bully’s special prize. Iiiiiiin 1 –

 

 

1) THE HATEFUL EIGHT

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It had to be, as a Tarantino fan there was almost no question that this movie would hit the heights but it’d still have to be a good film and gladly it is. Three acts that all soar with incredible cinematic talent both behind and in front of the camera. Morricone on board for the score ensures the sound is perfect. Seeing it in 70mm also helped elevate the special sweeping look of this western blood soaked Quentin extravaganza. Dialogue, violence, humour and details are as crisp as ever and I loved every second. 8

Til next year…maybe…let’s see what 2017 has to give us hey?!

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Sully (2016)

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Soaring heights and then crashing back to Earth very quickly, is this safe biographical drama that is interesting, good but an overall un-amazing feature that feels as if it’s hovering calmly over the water never daring to pull up or take the plunge.

In early January, Captain Sully (Tom Hanks) is boarding a flight from LaGuardia in New York to Charlotte in North Carolina, but he and First Officer Jeffrey (Aaron Eckhart) literally fly into trouble as a flock of birds damage their engines. In that quickening scenario of danger Sully manages to land the plane on the Hudson but this leads to many eyes determining whether he made a bad decision.

Clint Eastwood directs this inspiring story about a brave yet everyday hero in a similarly painted-by-numbers manner that he did with ‘Jersey Boys’. It all feels like it’s conforming to a pedestrian telling of a real life event. So considering the life-threatening drama involved it is a film that never comes across as something incredible, rather you’re faced with a good but wholly simple movie.

I couldn’t say I dislike the film though, it’s made efficiently enough and captures that work-like nature of a man in crisis with ease. The differing points of view that come throughout sees the landing from both sides and builds a good narrative, but they get slightly drawn aback by two pretty pointless flashbacks that show younger Sully’s through his work progression, they hardly warrant involvement in the actual finalised release.

The words plane and disaster are ones you never want to hear spoken together, so the few times we see Sully’s nightmarish visions of a plane smashing into a NYC building conjures up jangling nerves and a 9/11 horror. Though the twinkling Christmas-esque music over the passengers being saved is cliched it does help create a miraculous aura over the triumph of many people being helped by others.

Tom Hanks is, as you’d imagine, a fine solid lead playing a capable and charmingly knowledgeable hero, on the flip-side though you know it’s Hanks all the way through and you never lose yourself into his performance enough to buy into it 100%. Aaron Eckhart gets a few good quips and does well in helpfully rooting for Sully but is mostly lost to the wayside.

‘Sully’ flies effectively yet super calmly to the screen as a biopic like nearly every other biopic that gets released during this point of the film calendar. It does the job as Sully himself did but it’s a quiet and average film.

6/10

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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Anything can and may be said about this Venice Grand Jury winner, but I believe that all should agree that it’s got a superb style, the performances are brilliant and it shows the director has a film-making talent for visual design.

Gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) receives a proof copy of a novel from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’ in reference to him calling her that, she becomes taken by the story which features a devastating crime and the hunt for justice by Tony Hastings (Gyllenhaal again). The novel haunts her more so because it links closely to what she did.

Tom Ford in only his second time as feature director, showcases that clear understanding of cinematic style to relay a quite harsh and dark story. Not only did he direct but he handled the screenplay too, adapted from the early 90’s book written by Austin Wright. Ford ensures that Susan’s world is artistic, sleek and modern but there seems to a vapid sadness to this existence that works well. The world of the novel sent to Susan is grittier and makes for a great contrast, which only goes to make the incredible transitions and paralleled shots between book life and real life more impressive.

I have to admit that I found the story within the story aspect of the movie more engaging to watch. That brutal tone and developing crime narrative digs a hook into you as you watch Tony’s struggle continue. That’s not to say that Susan and the real world is bad, it’s just not quite as interesting because it seems to feel empty, maybe that’s a mirror to the character’s feelings on the choices she’s made but there doesn’t seem to be much directorial interest in exploring Susan, her interest in the book and Tony and what it means to her.

Art and music come together in a thoughtful way and pretty much everything to do with this film is something that made me go away pondering what I’d seen. Abel Korzeniowski’s score may not be memorable but it fits well with the haunting and cruel nature the film’s plot exhibits. Little details on walls or in the soft lighting transitions between scenes all speak a higher connection, one that I think warrants second viewing to fully accept and understand the film as a whole.

Amy Adams as arguably one of the finest actresses of the last 10 years pulls off a perfect nuanced performance, subtle changes in her expressions from her eyes to smiling all speak loudly about the inner sadness of Susan and the kind of woman she is. You never dislike her but Adams does well in making her character someone you don’t get on side with either. Jake Gyllenhaal tackles the screen with more power as Tony, his emotion and anger for justice lighting the screen and working so well for a possible Oscar nomination. Michael Shannon is such a great casting choice for a ruthless detective but over all these high class actors, it’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the slimy Ray that steals the show and feels like a vicious wolf in the night. The smirks and overly trying way of being calm yet obviously calculating is pitched expertly and he deserves praise. Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber encapsulate growing fear well and suit the red-headed ties to Susan reading the story, doing little to dispel that silly quip that Adams and Fisher are the same person.

Upon seeing this well fashioned and structured movie, and leaving nearly a day to let it settle, I’m still unsure on what I feel for this movie. I know I liked it and it’s definitely powerful regarding life, loves, achievement and loss but it’s not as stellar in the moments outside of the Tony story.

7.5/10

Z for Zachariah (2015)

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Nicely brimming with anxiety, this science fiction apocalyptic-like drama is further helped by the performances and an interesting magnifying glass placed over strained bonds.

Farmer and apparent last human Ann Burden (Margot Robbie) has got used to her routine until one day she sees another person walking along in a radiation suit. After helping him out of a life endangering bathe, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is invited back to the farm where they live together and a possible relationship grows until Caleb (Chris Pine) turns up and puts a tense spin on the dynamics.

What I liked about this film quite a lot is the grounded feel, it certainly inhabits a small scale of a bigger more devastated world and within this there’s a great focused intensity on character that is ripe for theatre set drama. To be honest, a lot of the story involved feels and sounds like something that would work extremely well on stage, just the 3 actors for a start gives it that impression.

Craig Zobel directs rather well, he makes sure that the story keeps ticking but all the while there’s burning moments of danger, these anxious steps speak volumes about the rivalry between the two men and the possible consequences that could arise. The parallel between Loomis on a teetering rock and Burden slowly shoving a glass of her table is a great moment of no dialogue but a lot is said, making you wonder what happens to Loomis during that point, this perfect touch of mystery also occurs in a better way surrounding Caleb.

The relationships between the 3 people are written strongly, each of the men are worrying figures that come into the innocent, religious life of Ann, and though Loomis may be kind at first he is not without flaws and his jealousy runs rife leading to the dramas that follow. It this trio of deconstructing human behaviour that becomes compelling, at least for me it did.

Margot Robbie provides a beautiful performance, lost by the welcoming of these new figures but still trying to be strong for her father, her faith and herself. She looks surprisingly plain which is something for Robbie and you feel sorry for her. Ejiofor can dominate the screen nicely and brings a brooding sense of unease during his jealous spells. Likewise Chris Pine, in his more Hollywood poster boy appearance, he plays arrogant well in thinking he can swoop in on Ann.

If you have patience and can appreciate slow burning character dramas, then this is a film I’d recommend. It has a fantastic cast, a quite alarming end and a great look on a world with and without hope.

6.5/10

Don’t Breathe (2016)

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Never slow or relying on the dumb jump scare, this horror film is an excellent example of how to build and sustain tension. The entire run of the movie never lets up and makes for a watch where you feel like you don’t even have time to breathe.

Trio of house robbers; Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) decide to steal cash for a change from a house in an abandoned neighbourhood. The resident is Norman (Stephen Lang), a blind man who is an ex Army veteran sitting on at least $300’000 from a tragic past event. As they enter his home, Norman puts a halt to their plans and they end up locked in fighting to get out.

What is so brilliant about this film, is the masterful handling of tension used throughout. It’s not a horror that goes down the paranormal route, it has a couple of jump scares but well placed ones that work and more over it focuses on a simple but interesting story luring you into the plot so you become more involved in the stressful amount of tension.

You can tell it has that Sam Raimi production, the way that the characters face extreme odds and get painfully punished is similar to his works on ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘Drag Me To Hell’. He certainly likes the fun of his characters getting put through the ringer like Alison Lohman did against her witchy menace. Fede Alvarez follows up his great Evil Dead remake of 2013 with another suspenseful, eerie film.

Alvarez lowers the flow of blood but the harsh battering, specifically Alex goes through helps show what a nasty predicament these guys are in. It makes it more real having less ridiculous amounts of blood and focusing instead on the back and forth survival between them and the blind yet strong, capable Norman. This villainous weakness makes him a good character as he’s not stupidly powerful and gives the film a perfect reasoning for a tense blackout. This scene in the basement is so effective, the music is rattling, the look is scary and grey and you feel every step, even better is that Alvarez doesn’t drag this scene out.

Jane Levy is a strong female lead, her resilience to keep going is admirable and she gets gifted the only backstory of the robbers ensuring you know to root for her 100%, she has a purpose and goal which she acts well. She also gets the brilliant moment with a baster that triumphs. Dylan Minnette, who I swear was Logan Lerman the entire time, is a good actor in this, showing fear but enough strength to come back and keep trying for a girl he’s clearly into. Stephen Lang is dominant and seems to tower over his captors and for a while the performance and film had me on his side, his loss of sight and backstory lead you down a path where it feels wrong what they do, but then Lang acts a menacing side as the truth comes to light.

This is a smart and super tense home invasion horror, that is filled with chills and pain. ‘Don’t Breathe’ just never lets go and gladly you won’t let go to the edge of your seat watching it.

7.5/10

Anthropoid (2016)

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Rattling along with uniformed bravado and tension, this is a neat WW2 film that does well in displaying the planning of such a powerful moment during the drama of the Nazi regime. It’s a building drama with a knack of being intense if not 100 percent solid.

Agents Jozef Gabcik (Cillian Murphy) and Jan Kubis (Jamie Dornan) make their way into Prague knowing they have an operation to proceed with. This is Operation Anthropoid; a taskto assassinate third highest ranking Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich. The two of them withhelp from the Czech Resistance plan their method of attack carefully for the 27th May 1942.

I must say first of all that though there is a great amount of costuming, location and accented detail throughout the first act, it does go by ever so slowly. In a good way it lets us as the audience have a chance to breathe in the dangerous war atmosphere and understand the character’s motivations but it almost drags with dialogue and the quite Hollywood style romantic subplots just don’t sit right.

Once the 60 minute hits though, the film shifts a gear. This is of course as we witness the assassination attempt on real life German horror figure Heydrich. The sequence we get could possibly be one of the best unnerving bouts of cinematic tension I’ve seen, it’s paced effectively, performed amazingly and with a gripping score on top, the scene becomes highly strung and appears like the massively important event in the war effort it was.

Sean Ellis directs the majority of this film in an engaging manner. He falls short of the authenticity from time to time or as said takes too long in the first act, but with the road side assassination sequence and the following aftermath we kick into an aggressive third act seeing the Gestapo and other officials hunt down the Czechoslovakian fighters. In a way the church violence and stand offs looks more entertaining than bloody, painful or uncomfortable, which perhaps it should have been instead, but all guns are literally blazing as we greatly see these brave soldiers defend themselves.

Jamie Dornan in the first thing I’ve seen him in, is a great role. He displays the shaky nerves of a Czech man constantly well but is still a dominant and capable hero wanting to fight back. Cillian Murphy is brilliant as he always is, playing the more forceful and thinking Slovak to Dornan’s Kubis. Toby Jones immerses himself also, as a possible fictional but still necessary uncle type role who leads the Resistance.

For such a huge event in WW2 and the task they underwent, I feel ashamed I’d never heard of it in any capacity. This movie then is brilliant for shedding light on a group of men deserving of their place in the history books if not totally brilliant as a movie there’s enough tension to keep it respectable.

6.5/10

 

 

The Legend of Tarzan (2016)

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From the character by Edgar Rice Burroughs comes this newest feature, seeing the man known as ‘Tarzan’ head back into his ‘homeland’ and stop a nasty trade of ivory, diamonds and slavery. It’s a film that looks good but isn’t as epic as it probably thinks and it’s too slow in places.

The Congo has been divided, King Leopold of Belgium has sent Leon Rom (Christoph Waltz) in search of Opar diamonds, but they’re up to more than that. John Clayton the 3rd aka Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgard) is invited to see the developments in the Congo and is helped on by George Washington Williams (Samuel L. Jackson) who travels with him. Whilst there Tarzan and his wife Jane (Margot Robbie) see that Leopold and Rom are neck deep in slave trade and wanting Tarzan dead.

This whole idea of Tarzan as the spirit of the jungle, a son of Africa because of his feral upbringing is delivered well. It’s clear that the muscled presence of Skarsgard shows his dominance so in a weird way even as he’s fighting a huge ape, you can actually buy that he’d have some kind of chance against it. He knows the jungle so he can dance through it; swinging like the wild-man we all know with ease. These scenes as he trails the trees and flies on vines are captured well and I can imagine in IMAX would look very cool.

David Yates who directed the last four of the ‘Harry Potter’ franchise does an okay job here in putting across a fairly obvious story. The sunlit flashbacks are enticing and snip in and out of the present day narrative at the right places I’d say but it’s the main story-line that becomes extremely slow feeling in numerous places. Perhaps Yates from the family friendly Potter movies can quite handle building tension because this film centred in the dangerous depths of the jungle should be more gripping. Jon Favreau’s ‘The Jungle Book’ actually managed to create a darker sense of this eco-climate.

Being honest I wanted to see the story that flitted in and out. The past of Tarzan and how he grew up in the jungle around unknown beastly Mangani great apes is the film I wish I’d seen. Instead it focuses too much on a gentleman Tarzan of England travelling back into the jungle. There is at least some genuine comedy thanks to Samuel L. Jackson and the CGI of the animals, especially the lions is impressive. Watching this film though, just made me hungry to watch the 1999 Disney animation with the fun Tarzan experiencing the jungle through Phil Collins songs.

Alexander Skarsgard certainly looks the past, his ripped body and tall presence selling himself as the fabled Tarzan, but he acts a little blandly and doesn’t push past the brooding performance of Eric Northman. Samuel L. Jackson gives the movie a much needed comedic lift and helps take us through the jungle as an ordinary pair of eyes. Margot Robbie unlike the plain Jane acting of Skarsgard is a great Jane. She isn’t a damsel in distress and gets to save people, kick butt, look pretty and be a wise lady never showing fear. Christoph Waltz is a fun addition, he’s menacing and unflinching in his quest to take over the Congo and defeat Tarzan. He excels when on a boat dining with Jane, as a confined scene like that, as from ‘Inglourious Basterds’ he can pull of so well.

Trying to skew in a heavy backdrop of politics, this Tarzan film becomes one with too many ideas leading to a slow pace, but there’s a faint wonder in its adventure and it’s entertaining.

5.5/10