January 2017 in Review

A bit later than usual, yes, but this was an intriguing month to begin 2017 with. I managed to view many films I've intended to view for a long time, while building up my best of 2016 list. Simple enough, so here's what I viewed over the past month.

Dog Day Afternoon - 5/5 - Between this and 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lumet is exceptionally talented at wringing tension out of a (mostly) one location drama. This is evident from the first scene, where our lead characters carry out their bank robbery, only to have thing after thing go wrong, until the police enter the picture, and things go awry. The whip smart script does a great job in capturing this stranger than fiction tale, as the growing media circus turns our bank robbers into larger than life figures. What a fantastic way to kick off the year.

Belle (2014) - 4/5 - Amma Asante wonderfully crafts an utterly gorgeous period piece, doing a tremendous job in showcasing a socially conscious nature, that's brought alive through clear passion. Helping things are the stunning performances, as the cast spectacularly breath life into these characters, helped by the assured script by Misan Sagay.

Collateral Beauty - 0/5 - Don't feel sorry for the actors, they got paid well for this rubbish. Feel sorry for the innocent minds who had to bear witness to this monstrosity.

I Will Follow (2011) - 3.5/5 - An early work from Ava DuVernay, she delivers a quiet and affecting look at grief, powerfully portrayed by a terrific cast. Salli Richardson-Whitfield obviously stands out, carrying the film with her stunning performance. Though the overbearing music is unfortunate.

Silence (2016) - 4/5 - A clear passion project for Martin Scorcese, allowing him to blend his loves for religion and cinema, it's no wonder he stuck with the project for so long. What he's delivered is a compelling mediation on faith, delivering much to ponder over, especially the questioning of how one can hold their faith through terrible events, where God is silent (this aspect is perfectly accentuated through the lack of a score).

The performances are phenomenally delivered, with Neeson impressing with every appearance on-screen, while Andrew Garfield delivers career best work. Adam Driver is unfortunately underused, while his and Garfields Portuguese accents waver throughout (which isn't helped by their having to deliver lots of dialogue). While Scorcese needs a lengthy runtime to tell this story, he manages to deliver a tale more lengthy than necessary. One can see his thought process behind how he chose to end things, but there's a much preferable ending lying about 10 minutes before the actual end, while there are a number of scenes which could have been cut.

Best film of the month and Best film
watched for the first time: Casablanca

The Hangover [rewatch] - 1/5 - It's funny how ones opinion can drastically change. Four times I've previously seen and liked this film, and now that i'm viewing it for a fifth time, I'm unsure I watched the same film. I actually found it worse than either of its unnecessary and awful sequels.

The jokes, if you can call them that, seem to fall into two categories: awkward, or forced attempts at shock humour. The first is more evident, but the second manages to crop up, usually from the mouth of Alan (Holocaust ring, anyone?). It's a struggle to see how this film was the breakout role for Zach Galifianakis, as he's no different to the countless idiot man-child characters we often see in comedy films.

Then there's the characters, who are either bland as hell, or downright unlikeable. Bradley Cooper is usually a bundle of charm, but good luck finding the charm in his asshole character. But then, when the characters gleefully stuff Ken Jeong in the trunk of their car and steal his money, how can we call any of them likeable?

So, in short: Likeable characters? Well rounded arcs? Jokes? Compelling mystery? Who needs those, when Todd Phillips can half ass it? Clearly, he's more focused on his needless cameo. 

Hidden Figures - 4/5 - What a wonderful little film this was. Granted, it doesn't deliver anything we haven't seen before, following a predictable story structure. But director Theodre Melfi manages to bring this true tale to life in a way that's heartwarming, genuinely humorous, and honestly gripping. Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae and Octavia Spencer manage to do wonderful work in bringing to life these unsung heroes of NASA, making caring for each one an easy task. An utter feel good film. 

Cabaret (1972) - 4.5/5 - Bob Fosse delivers an unforgettable tale, blending social commentary with engaging storylines and utterly fantastic musical numbers. Helping matters are the perfect portrayals, with Michael York proving beguiling in his role, while Liza Minelli stands out as the best, perfectly conveying the necessary emotion only with her eyes. A pair of tremendous performances, with a special mention going to Joel Grey, whose Master of Ceremonies is utterly enchanting. 

The Bye Bye Man - 1.5/5 - One to wave Bye Bye to.

To Kill A Mockingbird - 4.5/5 - Adapted from Harper Lee's novel, Robert Mulligan delivers a stunning showcase of racism, witnessed through the eyes of children. It's heartbreaking stuff, with uplifting moments peeking through, and it's powerfully acted across the board. Gregory Peck stands out, delivering one of cinemas greatest performances.

Best film seen in cinemas: Moonlight

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - 4.5/5 - It can be difficult to pull double duty on a film. For every Joel Edgerton in The Gift, there's a Tommy Wiseau in The Room. John Cameron Mitchell simultaneously impresses in both categories, perfectly portraying Hedwig, while delivering some pretty stunning directorial work. All in all, it's a stunning rock opera, containing a great deal of entertaining songs, and comedic beats which hit their mark really well.

La La Land - 5/5 - A wonderful love letter to Hollywood, performed rather eloquently, through song and dance.

Split (2017) - 4/5 - Wait, a recent M. Night Shyamalan film I liked? Is this an alternate universe?

Don't (2007) - 3.5/5 - A fun fake trailer, mocking the cliches which are often present in horror films. Some great editing and visual effects take place within this minute. Great work from Edgar Wright.

Thanksgiving (2007) - 4/5 - The fact that Eli Roth's career went towards Knock, Knock and The Green Inferno over this is a tad saddening. A wonderful fake trailer that spoofs 80s slasher flicks.

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Best film rewatched: Trainspotting

Werewolf Women of the SS (2007) - 3.5/5 - "Starring Sheri Moon Zombie" Of course it does!

xXx [rewatch] - 2.5/5 - Let's not beat around this bush, this film is triple x-tremely dumb. From the opening where Xander records himself committing a felony, to the extremely hackneyed writing, Rob Cohen is essentially directing an extreme video for the MTV generation. And yet, I can't say I was truly bored with the proceedings. The stunts are pretty well done, and Vin Diesel does some solid acting work. Asia Argento deserves a mention, proving a likable presence while portraying more than just the love interest. Not worth mentioning the villains, as Martin Csokas leads the charge in delivering some pretty hammy performances. In short, a clear product of the early 2000s, but more memorable than the other Vin Diesel franchise starter directed by Rob Cohen. 

A Balloon For Ben - 1.5/5 - I really don't understand what I just watched. It appeared to be a half-assed attempt at Christmas emotion, complete with poor animation, a method of watching films I'm struggling to wrap my head around, and the overall neglect of Ben's mother. Can we please not get another one of these? 

xXx: State of the Union - 0.5/5 - 2002's action film, xXx, was far from groundbreaking. What it did have, though, were impressive stunts, a terrific lead performance from Vin Diesel, and a sense that things would never get boring. The sequel, however, disregards all of this, in order to deliver something unworthy of one's time or concentration. The stunts are replaced with poorly rendered CG work, leaving a final car chase looking incredibly cartoonish. Vin Diesel is replaced for Ice Cube, who should change his name to Wooden Cube, on the basis of his acting here. The first xXx movie was dumb, but never boring. This one is just beyond dumb. 

xXx: The Final Chapter - The Death of Xander Cage - 1/5 - Wow. What a half-assed, cheap way to get rid of the franchise star. Thank goodness this will likely be rendered non-canonical with xXx: The Return of Xander Cage out, as it's such a disservice to the character who started this franchise.

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Biggest Disappointment: The Hangover

Star Trek Beyond [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Remains one of the best blockbusters of 2016. The Sabotage sequence is as fun as the rest of the movie, while giving great parts to each of the tremendous cast.

Casablanca - 5/5 - To be perfectly frank, no wonder this film is held in such high regard. Director Michael Curtiz finds that winning combination, getting his terrific cast to put brilliant performances into their well rounded characters, as the central romance and surrounding character relationships are written in a completely believable manner. Humphrey Bogart is as striking as Ingrid Bergman is splendid, and when the two are together, they're nothing short of stunning. A timeless masterpiece.

Under The Shadow - 4.5/5 - Babak Anvari delivers an effective piece of horror, using war torn Tehran of the 80's as a backdrop. But look past the setting and the chills, and at the heart of it, one will find a tale about the fears of motherhood, exacerbated by personal circumstances. Truly one of 2016's better horror pictures, and one which won't be easily forgotten.

Lion (2016) - 4/5 - Based on an astonishing real life tale, Garth Davis' directorial debut is quite the feel good picture. It begins with Saroo being lost from his family, wonderfully portrayed by Sunny Pawar. For such a young actor, he does exceptional work in portraying the situation he's found himself in, starring in the stronger half of the film. Dev Patel performs some terrific work here, but once the story has Saroo open up about his past, it becomes rather repetitive in showing how lost he is, while Rooney Mara is wasted in the thankless role of randomly appearing girlfriend. Nicole Kidman does some great work though, and the film carries good intentions, in trying to get across that this story is a reality for many lost children. It also gets really emotional in an effective manner.

Inner Workings - 3.5/5 - This Disney short manages to bring forth a unique scenario, done so in a humorous manner thats brought alive with well done animation. The message may feel overly familiar, but it remains a feel good few minutes.

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Biggest Surprise; Hell or High Water

Moana - 4/5 - The latest from Disney is a picture as plucky and lovable as its own lead character. It defies the traditional conventions of a Disney picture in a self-aware manner. Ron Clements and Jon Musker wisely allow the voice acting and strong characterization to deliver some wonderful, well rounded characters worth rooting for, even through all their flaws. Yes, some jokes are awful (the Tweeting one, especially), but it remains a fantastic addition to this wonderful age of Disney. Also, props for the Mad Max: Fury Road homage with the Kakamora.

Hell or High Water - 5/5 - A compelling crime drama where the banks are placed as the antagonists.

Moonlight (2016) - 5/5 - A touching and relateable tale that won't easily be forgotten.

Beauty and the Beast [rewatch] - 5/5 - Rewatched before the new interpretation is released. Still astounded at how perfect Disney made this film. 

La La Land [rewatch] - 5/5 - Yes, I saw it twice in one month. Yes, I loved it just as much the second time.

Worst film of the month: Collateral Beauty

Trainspotting [rewatch] - 5/5 - If you're one of the few people unfamiliar with this piece of work, then you'll understand it's unlike anything else from the opening monologue alone. Where our leads are shown outrunning security guards, to Ewan McGregor's Renton justifying how he'd rather take drugs than settle down to an average, possession obsessed lifestyle. One of the best examples of how to take an extremely bleak subject matter, and seamlessly inject it with more than a dose of black humour. The real genius lies in how we can laugh at Spud trying to hide the accident he made on Gail's sheets, and then be terrified out of our minds when Renton's going cold turkey. In my opinion, it remains Danny Boyle's best film. 

Tom at the Farm - 3.5/5 - Xavier Dolan's foray into the psychological thriller is an effective one, growing unsettling and managing to get under ones skin throughout the runtime. The scenes where the aspect ratio changes are especially effective, closing off the field of vision to focus only on the tense situation unfolding, and boy, does it get tense. Unfortunately, the film felt a tad undone by the jarring shifts in characterization (Tom's coworker is initially hesitant of the brother, and then willingly gets drunk and spends time alone in the car with him?). Then there's a couple of threads which felt dangling, like how the story all of a sudden ends with the mother. An imperfect thriller, but effective when it counts.

T2: Trainspotting - 4/5 - A sequel that honours the original, while pausing for reflection on how time has passed. Plus, it's quite hilarious.

Under The Skin - 5/5 - This just absolutely left me stunned. Jonathan Glazer delivers an unforgettable tale about what it means to be human. Numerous scenes are undoubtedly haunting, and are exemplified by the stunning visuals and the magnificent score by Mica Levi. At the forefront of the camera, there's Scarlett Johansson, delivering one of her best performances, proving a mesmerising presence.

Hell or High Water [rewatch] - 5/5 - For the second Sunday in a row, I watched this masterful piece of work from David Mackenzie. This time, to show it to my girlfriend.

Best film of the month:  Casablanca 
Best film seen in cinemas:  Moonlight 
Best film watched for the first time:  Casablanca 
Best film rewatched: Trainspotting 
Biggest Disappointment:  The Hangover 
Biggest Surprise:  Hell Or High Water 
Worst film of the month:  Collateral Beauty 

Number of films watched: 33