BEST FILMS OF 2016
In the hands of anyone other than director Mike Nichols, The Graduate would have flopped. At first glance, its premise is relatively unremarkable – a college graduate escapes his feelings of boredom and alienation by having an affair with an older woman. It was Nichols (and producer Lawrence Turman, who purchased the book rights for a thousand dollars) who saw something in the source material and shaped an understated story into a masterpiece, and an eventual cult hit.
Transformers: The Last Knight
I am a 30 something year old man that shares a name with the lead character of the Transformers, Optimus Prime. Our lives started around the same time and have been deeply intertwined ever since. I was destined to fall in love with Transformers at birth. If there is one thing every fantasy movie or book has ever taught me, it’s that you can’t fight destiny.
Spring 1945. Liberation. Freedom. Joyous reunions. Soldiers kissing women. Liberation from concentration camps. This is how history books retell it, how movies portray it; the joy of the horror being finally behind, the desire to turn the page, start afresh. The prospect of a better life ahead. This is how Claire Ferguson’s excellent documentary doesn’t show it.
I think everyone, at some point in his or her lives, has considered being a stand-up comedian. Perhaps not for long, maybe no more than five minutes at a stretch – but at some point or another, I would wager that you’ve sat in front of a mirror and told a joke to yourself. Or to your friend. Or to your sibling. Or to the family cat. Regardless of who you told a humorous anecdote to, I imagine that you’ve read a funny joke somewhere and tried to pass it off as your own.
If you’re reading this, you must be one of the enlightened. You must be someone who has seen the writing in the chemtrails and has sought out my work in order to broaden your mind and expose the global conspiracies that keep us enslaved. For decades there has been an insipid plot by Hollyweird executives to poison our minds and slowly inoculate (one might even say vaccinate!) us against seeing the strings as they pull their vision for a New World Order into place.
The Red Turtle
The ‘man shipwrecked on a desert island’ scenario has been explored in manifold forms across film, TV and literature, and continues to fascinate human beings because it is a situation that we can easily picture ourselves in. Empathy for the stranded man is induced before we even learn his name, or find out anything about him; the development of his character is completely organic and led almost exclusively by his own actions.
The Shepherd (El Pastor) is a beautiful and tragic (if formulaic) tale of the individual against the system, of want versus need, man versus nature, and the romantic longing for the bucolic that stirs our desire to reject society and live in the wilderness.
After The Storm
We’ve all been there. At some point in our monotonous, dreary lives we’ve seen an advertisement somewhere for the lottery and asked ourselves, ‘what would I do with twelve million pounds?’ Would you spend that money on your family? Would you buy a jet and fly around the world? Admit it: at some point in the last six months you’ve contemplated the thought of walking into your workplace, dressed in nothing but an adult nappy, giving your boss the ‘ol two-finger salute, before proceeding to defecate all over the floor whilst screaming like a wailing, baby-banshee, ‘I’ve just won twelve million pounds!’
Let’s start with the base. In a large bowl combine the plots of Galaxy Quest and the ‘Single Female Lawyer’ episode of Futurama. Then, add to this a concentrated mix of two parts Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and one part The Mighty Boosh, and finally, stir in a couple of undiluted lashings of Alan Partridge and Columbo. What you are left with is something resembling Mindhorn, the latest endeavour penned by Boosh alumni Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby (the guy with a head like a conker), and directed by Sean Foley.
Usually when the credits roll on a film, a decision has ardently been etched in my mind whether said movie was great, good, bad or rubbish. With Alien: Covenant I was on the fence. I’ve taken the last couple of days to process the film and have come to the conclusion that although there are some great moments within it, with a heavy heart I must confess that it’s not a great film – the only way I can describe it would be to compare my disappointment to that of a parent coming home after a weekend away to find the house a monumental wreck by their children.
Lady Macbeth spans the chasm of 19th Century and present-day patriarchal oppression in the bleak cold of the absolute north of England. Get ready to shiver. This low-budget Victorian thriller is colder than that English classroom you had first thing on a Monday in Year 7.
From the way The Handmaiden has been marketed and written about following its 2016 release, and the amount of times I have noted the words ‘erotic’ and ‘thriller’ bandied around within the opening paragraphs of synopses and reviews of the film, I went into this screening expecting a 50 Shades of Grey-meets-Basic Instinct kind of affair, all twisted limbs and dusky lighting and noirish undertones; a film that you’d be mildly embarrassed to watch with your parents, with lashings of crime and sex blended awkwardly together to form a cheesy and cliché-ridden plot.
I Am Not Your Negro
“Not everything that is faced can be changed…but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Running through the veins of Raoul Peck’s documentary-essay is this vital and impassioned message, written by the American novelist James Baldwin in the pages of an unfinished manuscript entitled Remember This House, on which this film is based.
Guardians of the Galaxy; Vol. 2
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 was easily one of the most fervently anticipated films of 2017, and almost certainly the most anticipated Marvel film of the year. It’s easy to see why. The original charmed us with its quirky ‘70s and ‘80s discography, its cast of loveable rogues and its lean towards comedy over serious self-aggrandising. Vol. 2 does not disappoint.
“And that’s why, I think it’s weird that all French films are set in tower blocks.”
I await the certainly forthcoming adulation from the other people at the table. I may have forgotten their names but I am certain they enjoyed my improvised lecture about French cinema. They sit there, stunned for a moment, presumably intimidated by my expertise. The chatter in the coffee shop fills the silence at our table.
I was sure that indie horror movie “The Void” was definitely for me. The trailer seemed to be a throwback to all things 80’s horror-tastic; a classic Carpenter siege movie plot, paying homage to ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ juxtaposed with elements of ‘Prince of Darkness.’ Sign me up because I’m already on board for that.
Ghost In The Shell
“You’ll have full motion in about a week. Just take it easy until then.” I turned my head towards the voice but I could only make out a throbbing white shape.
“When can I leave?” I asked, my mouth desperately dry.
“You’ve had major surgery, Mr Rae. We’ve replaced your eyes, parts of your brain and your right arm with cybernetic implants. We’ll need to keep you in for a while.”
“But, I didn’t ask for this”, I croaked.
Ben Wheatley is UK cinema’s nerdy and offbeat cousin, and kind of a tricky filmmaker to pin down; it’s impossible to predict what he’ll cook up next, or how you’re likely to feel when you leave the cinema after watching his latest release.
The unspoken laws of the universe determine that just when we think something is dead and buried, it comes lurching back to life with renewed vigour, or, in the case of Get Out, soaring into a new stratosphere.
The bottle was marked “Poison: literally poison”.
“How much is this?”
“That’s poison,” the wizened man behind the counter said, looking over his glasses at me, “That bottle contains a great curse -”
“How much is it, you old bastard?”
Kong: Skull Island
It’s worth noting that I refuse to watch trailers. They annoy me with how much they give away, with far too much plot and integral parts of a film being shown, thus spoiling what could potentially be a good film.
“Editor wants to see you,” Mark’s face is the picture of smug satisfaction. He couldn’t be taking more pleasure in newfound career as bad news messenger. He maintains eye contact for the entire leisurely stroll back to his desk. I sit for a second wondering what it could be about? I haven’t done anything, have I? Everything was in on time, wasn’t it?..
There is an America largely unseen. It is ordinary, mundane. Peopled by a folk half-forgotten. Overseen by a pitiless beauty. It is the America of Edward Hopper, and Walker Evans, and of Kelly Reichardt. For years now, the director has been bearing witness to this place and its people, and telling their stories with her films. Like Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy, Certain Women is another measured study of the quiet crises in the lives of marginalised Americans, in this case four women in rural and small town Montana…
ITS ONLY THE END OF THE WORLD
It’s Only the End of the World is one of those polarizing films; critically, it seems to have been panned and lauded in equal measures following its release, with reviews ranging from “deeply unsatisfying” all the way up to “brilliant”. It was reportedly booed at Cannes, yet went on to win the prestigious Grand Prix award at that very same festival. What on Earth is it about this film that fosters such a deep divide in audience opinion?…
The opening scene of Elle acts as a warning – letting the viewer know that they’re boarding Paul Verhoeven’s thrilling train, bravely traveling through the murk towards an unknown territory of the surreal and twisted…
THE GREAT WALL
I won’t pretend I didn’t go into this wary of what I’m going to call the ‘Avatar Formula’. That is, some white, Western men go to a foreign land and end up saving the natives despite being responsible for their near-destruction in the first place. But Zhang Yimou’s (House of Flying Daggers) The Great Wall isn’t that. In fact, it isn’t a lot of things…
Very, very occasionally, a movie like Moonlight will come along, a movie which renders the practice of film criticism pretty much moot. How do you put into words the experience of watching something so sensory, an experience which almost seems to transcend language? It’s a movie that is not overt in its brilliance, so after first viewing it’s natural to wonder why, exactly, it is so good. Why is it so affecting? There seems to be something going on beneath the surface, some method of delivery director Barry Jenkins is employing to elicit such a strong emotive response in his audience…
First-time director Anna Rose Holmer’s The Fits is a beguiling combination of coming-of-age drama, dance movie, and quasi-horror, made on a shoestring budget and starring mostly undiscovered or non-professional young actors, including the lead, 11 year-old Royalty Hightower. As the quietly watchful but determined Toni, she is on screen for virtually the entire running time, and her performance anchors the film. It’s a debut just as impressive as her director’s…
Oh, Denzel. Your charisma knows no bounds. The character that Denzel Washington is playing in Fences, a working-class father and husband who spends most of his time complaining about how hard he’s had it and telling off his kids whenever they try to follow their dreams, is, quite frankly, a bit of a shit. He is selfish, jealous, and often disrespectful to those that love him. And yet he’s still highly watchable, particularly when acting opposite the ever-solid Viola Davis, who pretty much steals this film…
20TH CENTURY WOMEN
20th Century Women is about a man. Actually, it’s about masculinity. And femininity. And sexuality. And getting old and growing up and moving on and being a better Jamie. Jamie (played by Lucas Jade Zumann with cotton-fresh nonchalance), is a 15-year-old boy who was born in the sixties, grew up with Nixon, protests and bogus containment wars…
RESIDENT EVIL: THE FINAL CHAPTER
The Resident Evil film franchise has been a paradox ever since the first film, despite an all round critical-panning, smashed it’s 102.4 million US dollars at the box office in 2002. At once, Resident Evil lovingly paid homage to the legendary video-game series on which it is based (recreating the mansion and many in-game moments shot for shot) and at the same time disregarded it in favour of pursuing an entirely different storyline. Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine, the heroes of the first Resident Evil game, never made it to that first film. Instead, we follow Alice (Milla Jovovich), a character of Paul W. S. Anderson’s own devising: an Umbrella employee once charged with defending the Hive, a secret underground lab for experimental viral weaponry, now turned against her former employers…
If you want to spend a night bored and watching large, obscure animals singing crazy renditions of pop classics… then X-Factor is probably your best bet. However, if you want an evening filled with fun, laughter and a fantastic soundtrack belted out by some of Tinsel Town’s best and brightest then book a VIP seat at your local picture show, grab the 3D shades and kick back with the popcorn…
Here’s a free piece of advice to everyone out there: When the hazmat-suited scientist pushes you roughly into the cryogenics chamber and says, “When do you want to wake up?” Say, “When World Peace is achieved and we all live in a currency-free utopia.”…
I admire directors who take on biopics, and the actors tasked with portraying their subjects. It must be a challenge to tell a story which has already been thoroughly told, and to give a performance which is simultaneously accurate and compelling and respectful, all while attempting to justify the film’s mere existence by doing something different with the source material, making it original in some way…
On July 15th, 1974 – Christine Chubbuck, an American news reporter that worked for WTOG and WXLT-TV in Florida, committed suicide live on air using a revolver. That morning, Chubbuck covered three national news stories and then a shooting from the previous day at local restaurant ‘Beef and Bottle’, at the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport…
Silence is not an easy film to watch. Its lack of driving soundtrack, intense religiosity, significant length and unusual pacing make it feel alien at times, almost like watching a film entirely in another language. However, it is this dissonant, unorthodox quality that makes it shine and that allows its emotional punch to be delivered with such quiet power.
LA LA LAND
“Here’s to the ones who dream, Foolish as they may seem.” The world presented in La La Land is one of beautiful surrealism and reflecting “what if’s”, where the outstretched hands of the talented struggle to grasp onto the future they’ve long been hoping for.
DAVID BRENT: LIFE ON THE ROAD
Life in The Well isn’t so bad. The first few months were hard but once I’d arranged things and got everything how I wanted it, I was pretty comfortable. The only problem is entertainment. The only things that fall into The Well are small animals and the occasional discarded crisp packet so I have to be pretty open minded when it comes to entertainment. Crisp crumbs are a welcome break from raw squirrel though. Today, some careless passer-by dropped an Amazon gift voucher so that opened things up a bit. The voucher was for £4.45 so I would have to think carefully. After much deliberation I decided on “David Brent: Life on the Road” (2016).
Passengers is a curious film. If I asked you the question: ‘What goes plink, plink, fizz?’ Your brain would likely whir and buzz for a few seconds like an old, lumbering Windows ’95 PC booting up, before your mouth receptacle flapped open and replied something derivative along the lines of, ‘Alka-Seltzer,’ or ‘Berocca’ – some tablet designed to relieve a terrible hangover or indigestion. Am I right? Was that your answer? I bet it was. It is the New Year after all, so that distinct sound is still resonating deeply in your mind, you alcoholic cretin…
ROGUE ONE: STAR WARS STORY
If you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll enjoy Rogue One. All the fundamental pieces are set in place: there’s an eclectic cast, solid archetypes, acute attention to detail for the iconic Star Wars mythos, dizzying dog fight battles that play like a cross between old news footage of spitfires during World War Two and the twinkling stars you might see while suffering an unexpected blow to the back of the head – it’s all here…
Clint Eastwood as director cum political figure is jokingly comparable to Sylvester Groth’s Goebbels the filmmaker in Inglorious Basterds. I say jokingly because no, I’m not actually doing THAT to Eastwood. I’m referring to the incessant flag waving that’s been draped over his filmmaking since, at least, 2014’s American Sniper, and what he’s clearly identified as the need for average American heroes in a culture already obsessed with hero worship. In Sully, Eastwood’s directing style, renowned for its efficiency, contrasts nicely with the film’s negative portrayal of blame-the-little-guy bureaucratic nonsense. But even that’s been slammed as a misrepresentation of the actual investigation into the actual actions of the actual pilots after the actual plane crash…
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals left me shaken, staggering into the falling night, somewhat disheveled as if I’d been either fast asleep or got into a fight during the movie. But this is the 3pm screening at Everyman in posh Surrey, fights don’t belong here and as for sleeping, neither me nor the seven other people in the theatre would even consider it as we all sit on the edge of our hipster sofas, holding our breath, overpriced chips cooling, diet cokes flattening while on the screen, the brilliant thriller unfolds….
FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
You should see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them if A) you’re a child or B) you’re still a child. Did you answer B? Course you did. You’re an emotional wreck, and 2016 is still yet to be easy. But if, like me, you love Harry potter and expanded universes, then FBAWTFT will help….
ARMY OF ONE
In the lead up to Christmas, we’re once again inundated with consumer marketplace tat that we don’t need and don’t want. There are the inevitable Christmas DFS ads that will be rammed down our throats every twenty minutes during Coronation Street, proclaiming that the SALE IS NOW ON! The actors involved will bellow at us like the guy from the Cillet Bang commercials to BUY! BUY! BUY! So we’ll pick up our remote control and hurl it at our recently purchased 4K TV set, before dropping to our knees weeping, because we know…we know that in the dark recesses of our minds in the end, it doesn’t really matter, none of it really matters: we’re getting older and soon we’re going to wither away and die. Our destiny consists of thinning hair and liver spots. Maybe dialysis if we’re lucky….
Arrival is the next Science Fiction blockbuster on the block – or so I thought. Much in the same way that the trailer for Inception chose to focus on its more Hollywood elements: explosions, spectacle, conflict, so too the trailer for Arrivalis something of a red-herring. Arrival is science fiction, but in the true sense: thoughtful, introspective, mind-bending and concerned with the future of human existence and how technology might influence that. Even the title is something of a double-meaning when we realize the hidden aspects of the narrative…
I, DANIEL BLAKE
Welcome to Broken Britain 2016. We open on a black screen. What follows next is an increasingly frustrating phone call between Daniel Blake (played by comedian Dave Johns) and an apathetic-sounding healthcare worker, monotonously reeling off a generic tick-box list as to whether he can lift his arms above his head and other basic motor actions. It is a small interaction within the narrative of the film as a whole, but vehemently exemplifies the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of our welfare state with cringe-worthy comedy and horror…
AS ABOVE, SO BELOW
It’s a rare thing that in 2016 the ‘found-footage’ junk pile can still surprise audiences with a strong premise, ‘As Above, So Below,’ manages to buck the trend of the cliché and deliver a memorably exciting, eccentric and at some points surreal take on the genre…
THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN
If you’ve ever been drunk on the commute (guilty) you’ll agree that time comes to a standstill and as soon as you find a seat to park your drunken ass, the warm fuzz from too many beers will turn into a tedious mix of trying to look sober, staying awake and forgetting that the beautiful man you were chatting up was in fact a pimply female sporting a monobrow…
In the early 2000’s, Japanese horror was at its pinnacle – films like ‘Ju-On: The Curse,’ ‘The Eye,’ ‘Audition,’ ‘Dark Water’ and ‘Pulse,’ to name a few, were all carving their marks and unleashing a refreshing, eerie form of terror in the horror marketplace. Of course, the western world needed to seize upon this growing trend of horror like a sweaty fat kid snatching a lollipop away from his emancipated cousin at a family gathering, and the inevitable reboots were made to appeal to audiences that couldn’t be bothered reading subtitles, so the eeriness factor was toned down instead to simply regurgitate clichéd film tropes with jump scares-a-plenty, typically made by a jarring string note at such a high decibel that only dogs and whales could hear them…
Horror is changing. It’s a natural progression. Generic conventions are stretched and adapted with each entry. Each new writer, director, actor, producer brings something distinctive to the table that challenges or appropriates different techniques and tropes, and so, the genre evolves over time…
Surfing alone on a paradisaical beach that you don’t know the name of and no one knows you’re there. What could wrong? Well…with a plot seemingly written on tracing paper, ‘The Shallows,’ could be forgiven for being a shark fable, where the only task is: “Don’t get eaten!”…
Rob Zombie’s directorial efforts are a mixed bag; when ‘House of 1,000 corpses,’ splattered its way into movie theatres, people knew that he was able to smear blood and gratuitous violence across the screen like an overzealous and deranged squeegee worker, but after six films now it can be firmly established that Zombie lacks the technical nuances that make an effective thriller/horror film…
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS
Few horror movie monsters are as slandered as the zombie. While Dracula, Werewolves, the Creepy Monster hiding under your bed just waiting to grab your ankle and Ethel, the suspiciously kind seventy-year old woman at number 16 command respect, the zombie is never treated as anything other than a shuffling, decaying mess with limbs falling off on the cinema screen…
During its finer moments, ‘Don’t Breathe,’ presents a tight, atmospheric and claustrophobic home-invasion-gone-wrong experience. It also offers a unique twist on the horror genre of recent memory – films like, ‘It Follows’, ‘Under the Skin’, ‘Kill List’, ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night’ and ‘The Babadook’, all have attempted to reinvent the horror category with genuine tension rather than flat out jump scares, and it seems that Director Fede Alvarez is attempting to galvanise the field by bringing the dread into the future whilst respecting the traditions of old…
I had the good fortune of being able to watch Quentin Tarintino’s eighth film, The Hateful Eight, with a group of friends the other week. Once the credits had rolled, the inevitable question of ‘did you enjoy that?’ cropped up. I always ask this question of people when I view movies with them, staring at them with the unblinking intensity of a Vietnam War vet, demanding an answer within ten seconds otherwise it’ll be their turn to pull the trigger on the .36 loaded with one bullet and aimed at their head. That’s the rule. There was a deathly silence in the room, as eyes quizzically looked up at the ceiling to ruminate on the last 168 minutes…
ROBOT TOP TRUMPS
TOP 10 DYSTOPIAN FILMS
That has been the philosophical question, dangled out in front of docile Joe Public like a metaphorical warped carrot for the last ten weeks during Westworld’s first series. Did the final episode deliver? Mainly yes…but also with a stubborn mule kick of ‘not so much.’…
As we enter 2017, I’m reflecting on the vulgar amount of TV I watched last year. I do however have a stand out show from 2016, without any shadow of a doubt it’s The Exorcist. Along with Zombie apocalypses, movies of demons and possessions seem to be appearing more frequently than Nick Fury and Stan Lee combined on the big screen. So that explains why this script was adapted to be shown on TV rather than in the Movie theatre. Being a huge fan of the original book and to a lesser extent the Movies (not the second one, watching that feels like getting Tabasco sauce in your eyes) I was always going to be intrigued.
When I was younger and less jaded with the world, a few friends and I decided to take my clapped out Peugeot 205 to Newquay. The idea was to have an idyllic weekend on the North coast, larking on the beach during the day, being typically British and wading into the Watergate Bay sea up to our ankles and then shrieking like harpies when a large wave came up to our knees and then spending the evenings quaffing back jägermeister until we were blind.