Stronger is the biopic of Jeff Bauman, who lost both legs in the Boston Marathon bombing. The film's strengths lie in the exceptionally strong direction of the opening 40 minutes, which are as good as anything this year, and the lead performances, especially Gyllenhaal.
However, after the exceptional first 40 minutes Stronger goes flabby for the next 40 minutes and then finishes with a final 40 minutes. Does the film need a second act, of course it does, does it need a second act that is so extended, absolutely not.
I came away with mixed emotions - the story is a very strong one, and the for the most part it avoids a preachy polemic, which would have been really easy to go for, the acting is solid, the film itself has an amazingly strong beginning and ending - better than good, but sitting through the middle is honestly, hard work.
Worth seeing, absolutely. But, it would lose nothing by being 30 minutes shorter.
603rd Review: Good on modern composers, but could be more
Score is the sort of documentary that anyone with more than a passing interest in film can enjoy - financed partially by 1,870 backers it explores in real depth the process, the creation, the orchestration, engineering and history of the past 30 years in film.
Score starts ambitiously, looking at movie scoring in the 30s, 40s, and 50s, before turning to the great composers of the 70s Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams. It then turns to look at more recent favourites. There are plenty of interviews and plenty of scores.
However, the film is restricted by studio choices to only being able to use certain scores, and some of the really great film scores that one would love to know more about just aren't there. In particular, with the tragic death of James Horner, having only a two minute piece (a very good piece though) in the end credits is a real shame. I sat through the whole film waiting for the section on James Horner that simply isn't there.
Again, it is a well-made and interesting insight to the world of film scoring and deserves viewing, but for this viewer by not being able to get all the studios to release their soundtracks at a minimal cost the film ends up focusing on only some of the great scores.
Paddington 2 really is a fine children's movie. In fact, I would go as far as to say one of the best children's movies I have seen. It is not just charm and whimsy and genuine laughs though it has those in buckets - it is a real plot, and a solid caper movie to boot. By building on an ingenious crime element and real plotting it has turned from a sentimental journey to something more. As an avid reader of the books as a child, the main worry is the spirit of the bear who believes in the good in everyone, while creating untold chaos around him, will get lost to serve the storyline or some idea of updating Paddington. Luckily, none of the spirit is lost, and instead, we have an immensely enjoyable, fun, funny, and charming film. The whole family loved it - and we all laughed, cried, and cheered. Just be sure to stay seated for the credits. A really excellent children's film.
601st Review: True Romance meets The Blue Brothers
Baby Driver is an extremely solid bit of filmmaking - Edgar Wright turns on both the pace and the charm as director and this is not just a beautifully crafted film, it's also a very good crime film with real chops.
This has everything the moviegoer could want - top performances, a solid story, thrills but much more than those this is a very well put together film, Amos and Machliss deserve to win a ton of awards one day for their editing - the way the music and film work together is exemplary - and Bill Pope's cinematography shines - it's just a great film to watch.
Baby Driver shows it's still possible to make real cinema: it blends True Romance's constant surprises with the Blues Brothers' sense of vitality, and does so without tipping into either comedy or Tarantino style violence - it makes for exceptional entertainment that puts its pedal to the metal and zips by.
600th Review: As Lingering and Effective As You Would Want It To Be
Get Out is full of touches and surprises, strong acting, excellent direction, and above it, it's a ride, a trip to a place Hollywood doesn't normally go - it offers a unique experience - and in this age of copycat, cookie cutter safe choice cinema, it stands out by a mile.
Get Out is that rare beast - a film that leaves you satisfied yet pondering. We objected to its constant referral as a horror film - it's an effective thriller with mild horror elements - but it is not a gore/slasher movie - this is more about getting under the skin, and inside the mind, of the viewer.
The plot is simple: girlfriend takes boyfriend home. Home is not what home seems to be. Fun ensues. The genius of this is the way it plays on both white and black perceptions - we asked how the film would be if you reversed all the roles (pretty darn effective) etc;
599th Review - Mockney all the way - and it works.
This is a well- crafted series that takes the DNA of Guy Ritchies' films and spins it out as a series. Snatch is exactly what fans of Mockney comedy-crime-drama want in their viewing - lags in dire straights, smart birds, who'd knock your top off if you called them that, all with sharp suits and sharper dialogues.
The settings and acting are all good - the acting is mockney on steroids, but is reined in just enough that it occasionally mocks but never sends up the genre - more of a nod and wink if you know what I mean than two smoking barrels all the time. The acting works - both the male and female leads exude confidence, and the plot of missing gold bullion and a load of messy situations make for very easy viewing.
This is one of the better new series out there - it refuses to take itself too seriously, but neither is it just buffoons and lampoons. It's very well made with tight editing and good camera work, and everyone obviously knows they're working with a good script and a winning formula.
598th Review: Hangdog Comedy That is Laugh-Out Loud Funny
This was a genuine surprise - Henry Phillips, a loser comedy musician and proud of it, plays himself in a film that has more going for it that most - firstly, it is actually funny, rather than just meh, it has some excellent sight gags, sharp one-liners, and a script that uses his road tales and converts them into something more. On top of this is an actual plot of LA life (and of the horrors of big commerce trying to seduce him into monetizing his life). Hey, we see what you did there Henry, clever...
All in all, this is a small, intimate film that captures its Garry Shandler, Larry David, Walter Matthau vibe and gets better as it goes along. With loads of cameos and a nice sensibility, this is an easy film to recommend - it's low down without being mean about it - and it actually gets its laughs right.
Kubo is an exceptional film - it takes a non-patronizing theme of loss, and like Song of the Sea, refuses to spoon feed its audience. This is a film all ages can enjoy - from younger children, who will love its sense of adventure and style, to older kids and beyond, who will resonate with its deeper themes.
It goes for simplicity in its straightforward appeal yet hides complexity in its nod to Pure Lands Buddhism, Shintoism, Origami as Zen, and other Eastern mysticism, while also touching on the central themes of the Western literary tradition of magical realism. This is a film with many layers and many ideas - yet has a cohesion - with the central idea of a child coping with loss - that any child can understand.
On top of this very good abstract base, it has great action, a good plot and story line, and good characterization - the time zips along.
The animation is simply stunning - the use of puppetry and sets is so different from both Disney and Pixar that we almost balk at the idea, but those who have seen ParaNorman or Coraline from the same studio, Laika, this is refined and simply breathtaking in places. The animation is complex, beguiling, and very engaging. Travis Knight, as director, does a great job at pulling together the piece in a very cohesive whole.
It certainly should be among the contenders for the 2017 Oscar - we all preferred it, ourselves, to Finding Dory - Kubo is a wonderful story about stories and storytelling as memory, and in the current era, where disposable is seen as optimal, to be given time to reflect on why memories and stories matter as connecting us is very powerful.
596th Review: Simply One of the Great Sports Documentary
Moto GP is the fastest track race for motorbikes - Formula One for superbikes. What Hitting the Apex does is make you understand that it's not the machines that make the sport but the riders. These riders risk, literally, their lives for sport and unlike most documentary in other sports Hitting the Apex manages to capture this element well. It also notes that Moto GP has an incredible safety record given how dangerous the sport is.
The cinematography is top notch, capturing every rev, curve, and spill - above all it captures the rivalries of men who are driven to want only first place.
This is an excellent and exceptional documentary that captures the excitement, thrill, and drive of an exceptional bunch of individuals, their machines, and crews. It is one of those sport documentaries that shines as it transcends its sport and tell compelling stories about courage and drive.
This is a film for bikers about biking. It achieves something seemingly impossible: it captures a true taste of the true spirit of the two- wheeling 1% - the fraternity, the cowboy poet, the machine. As the four ride across America on hogs built on parts that no factory had a thought for; go with them.
Best of all is the gravel and gravitas mixed with beautiful sonorous use of beat poetry, language that paints the ride better than any commentary from them or us ever could.
Filled with vignettes and simplicity at only 68 minutes long it carries the weight with ease - a tribute and a fitting way to celebrate those who live on, and for, two-wheel dharma.
572nd Review - One of my favorite films of the year
Forsaken is simply a good Western - it has at its heart a sense of honor and morality that involve you from the get go. This is nicely judged throughout - it is not so clean as to be antiseptic, but neither does it go down the Deadwood path. It is reminiscent of John Ford and the classic films of the 1950s. As a major bonus the cinematography and sets are done right.
The father / son combination of the Sutherlands on screen together is great, Keifer is measured, and Demi Moore reminds us that she is a solid actress. Above all, this is a solid plot and solid characterization.
Finally, we loved the pacing of this - not as slow as Slow West or The Homesman (Both of which were good), but in no sense frenetic, it is a film about homecoming, love lost, and eventually, a man doing what a man has to do. For this reviewer it was one of the most enjoyable films of the year: simple, captivating and surprisingly lingering and memorable.
The story of Spotlight - the investigative team at The Boston Globe - who uncovered the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, is told with such outstanding verve that this viewer was knocked sideways. I cannot recall another film this year that so intelligently and without melodrama produces scene after scene that just leave you wanting to know more.
The all-star stellar cast is underpinned by Keaton, who seems to have proved he has had his comeback - here he focuses on a nicely underplayed performance, and Ruffalo, whose slightly off-kilter manner works to his advantage, and Rachel McAdams, who moves from romantic comedies to this with the ease and promise she showed in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. There is not a dud moment in the film - it really is one of the best films about journalism, and ranks along with All The President's Men.
At the end of the day this is not just a great story, director Tom McCarthy, takes us along emotionally - but does so in such a forensic and well-judged manner that it produces a good mixture of trust and a measure of level-headedness. His script, with West Wings regular Josh Singer, is outstanding, simply the best script of the year that I can recall by quite a margin.
Of all the films I've seen this year, this is the one that tackles its difficult subject with bravery, clarity, and simplicity, but it never loses sight of why it matters. I am a loss to understand why it is not on everyone's Oscar list.
Jaco is a brilliant watch - anyone with a passing interest in music or artistic talent is always looking for clues to that elusive question What makes musical genius. Here, there are plenty of clues.
Jaco Pastorius single-handedly changed the bass as an instrument - his decision to remove the frets of his electric bass because of the Florida humidity, not only changed the sound, but also the timbre of the instrument - and this documentary uses previously unseen footage to document that change - and the man behind it.
Jaco has a great balance between interviews, footage, facts, and music - and for anyone who wonders where jazz went after Kind of Blue, without having to go through learning about Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman or Pharaoh Saunders, this kind of answers that question - it looks at fusion, and asks how rock and jazz came to live side by side.
More than that it focuses on the man - this slender reed that was a ball of energy heading to self-destruction - and gets close to some real understanding of his motivations, his demons, and his genius. No mean achievement.
This really does try to understand both the man and the music and it is a really fascinating, lively, and interesting watch. Definitely what a real music documentary should be.
569th Review: Deeply Inspirational - An Individual Can Make A Difference
Noble is much more than just a film biography. It tells without hagiography the story of Christine Noble, who against all the odds, survived trauma after trauma in her native Ireland and went on to help literally thousands in Vietnam.
The film-making isn't top drawer, but, boy, the true story is - there are good central performances by the Christines at their different ages and attention has been spent on costuming etc, in the Sixties segments - but this is really a film about one woman's extraordinary resolve to fight poverty against seemingly impossible odds.
This is a film I would warmly recommend - it has more to say about determination, perseverance and resolve than most films and it does not shy away or coat over its subject, It's well handled and well delivered and well worth your time.
Ricki and the Flash is a mess - worse than that it's not the hot mess that Streep aims to be in the film, it's a turgid, boring, and hopeless mess that makes rock'n'roll into a soap opera.
I cannot remember the last time I watched a music film that bored so much - the script is flaccid, perfunctory, and worse than all of that is Streep, an actress who may be versatile but embodies a nervous repression suddenly trying to convince as a Blues ballsy rocker.
Honestly, one of the absolute low points - I'm the right age for this film, I love music, I even have daughters, and it was the worse two hours of therapy I've sat through this year.
567th Review: I just watched two films when I wanted to watch one
Rudderless is a film worth your time especially if music films are your jam. William H Macy directs and co-wrote this and does a solid job in the first department, but the plotting rather than the writing is overwrought here.
This is a film that by its end cannot decide what redemption should mean, and settles for several easy options as it won't struggle really, really hard with its premise. There are clearly two films here and the join in the film is as wonky as a bad edit cut - this deliberate attempt to thought-provoke the viewer is misjudged - it makes for a film that refuses to gel and what could have been a singularly wonderful film about music as hope, is turned into something else. This is not the film as promised by the end and it makes me wonder why they chose this particular path.
Again, the performances and music are terrific, and it even gets something of what being in a band is really like. However, the plotting is strangely off-balanced and makes a very enjoyable, likable film into something else entirely, and rather than making the film deeper it pulled this viewer straight off the screen like a cold shower and because of this it fails to provoke the thought that the makers hope it might. It needed a far more rigorous process to handle the third act and it never gets there.
I would still recommend this one for its music and the redemption offered in the first 48 minutes, but once the twist is revealed it is a hard film to believe, or believe in.
565th Review - Looks very Merchant Ivory 1985, and honestly, the 1967 is way better...
This is a solid adaptation of Hardy's brilliant romantic novel about Bathsheba Everdeen, a woman of means and beauty, and the three men in her life. The novel is about tragedy, honesty, and the consequences of choice, set in the 19th Century West Country of England and this adaptation is faithful to the spirit of its time.
With highly intelligent actors in the cast we end up with a slightly underdone version, it is all a little too flat, we, the audience want to swept away by Frank's passion, and to be more impressed by Boldwood's wealth and folly. Oak's Stoicism is done well by the always dependable Matthias Schoenearts underplayed performance, but it is a surprisingly one dimensional, he and Carey Mulligan match well.
What the film reminds me of most are the Merchant Ivory films of the 1980s with their emphasis on manners and mannerisms. I want this to be more than that - and in places it is - chiefly when characters are open and honest there are flashes of real brilliance. However, and it is a huge however, it cannot hold a light to the 1967 version - which is really one of the greatest adaptions of any novel - it may be unfair, but that film still looks and feels fresh. I watched it again after seeing this new one and would recommend it every time over this.
Overall, this is a good costume drama and a faithful adaptation. It is a little to dry to really be impressive, but shines in those moments of knowing looks and subtle exchanges. It is well worth your time if the plot and pacing suit.
With way more holes in in than Swiss cheese this hokum is trite trash at best. The film squanders a great cast with a script that should never have been green lighted and then proceeds to go to some laughably illogical places.
The performances are fine and I even watched the whole thing - but honestly, it was tough going when half the time your brain is going "What? Why? How?"
The theme of thwarting the terrorist mega-plot is a good one, but making it into a bad episode of CSI/24 is not.
Honestly? Only worth your time if you absolutely will watch any spy film.
The true story of Margaret and Walter Keane, who created an art empire, but did so through manipulation and magnificent hubris is told in Big Eyes. Tim Burton directs and does so in a surprisingly straight forward manner. Big Eyes has all it needs in story, stars, and director to be one of the better dramas of the year - Burton avoids the clichés of kitsch and instead takes us into the stylism of the 1950s in stunning detail - clothes, furniture, mannerisms and manners are all beautifully rendered. However, we never really get beyond the surface and when we do it never convinces at it should. The main fault is the polarization of the central performances - they are really two dimensional and as such the film relies more on surface than substance.
Amy Adams is the put upon wife, she tucks her chin in and widens her eyes, and does her trademark mix of pathetic and amused. Christopher Waltz is her Svengali husband, a mix of megalomaniac and charm - the perfect salesman. Together, they create the hugely popular Big Eyes style of kitsch - hugely over sentimental and hugely populist and popular.
The film plays to a dark streak of humor and a light streak of drama - Burton obviously loves the topic but it is in many ways an unbalanced film - it is watchable, particularly if the style and look of the 1950s are of interest, and the central performances are, even if comically simplistic, extremely watchable.
Above all Big Eyes is proof that you really can fool all of the people some of the time.
Song of the Sea is a singularly exceptional film. It hides complexity in both story and fabulous art behind a simple, beguiling tale of two children, Saoirse and Ben, their father, Connor, their mother Bronach, and a very adorable dog, Cu, who struggle to cope with loss, and find in magical realism a way to understand and find the world afresh.
Using superb metaphors and meaning from Irish folktales and legends the film can be viewed on one level simply as an adventurous fairy tale set in modern times, but viewed deeply, it speaks deeply to the human condition; and for this viewer is one of the most singular films of the decade. It is fun, funny, and sorrowful and, importantly, as unpatronising as children themselves. It is totally suited to all ages, including very small children, who will adore the seals and Cu, and adults, and even teenagers, who may be enticed to see something more.
It is this aspect of understanding the human condition in Tomm Moore's film that lifts it from another animated film to the absolute finest cinema. Yet he does so with such a light touch that many viewers will accept the magical realism and simply enjoy the charm and whimsy and be swept along. However, it also poignantly asks if happiness can exist without sorrow, and given the choice, would we want to live without either or both, and does so with some terrific touches.
In addition, here is a world of sublime artistic technical skill and excellent voice acting - the film is hand-drawn and was 4 years in the making - the detailing with swirls and lines in the backgrounds and the tiny movements, while still keeping a simply line drawn animation, deserves multiple viewings. Tomm Moore has with this and Secret of Kells turned Irish animation into a world class powerhouse. This is not American or Japanese, Moore has successfully defined in two films, a unique approach that marries Celtic line art with simple 2D animation and a non-vibrant colour palette and has created a new school of animation.
This is a great film - several critics pounced on Kells for a lack of a defined story, here they cannot possibly complain: the interweaving of Irish legends with the modern day, is both inspired and strong. Also strong is a wonderful sly sense of humour and real, not forced, emotion. It is both entertaining and deep - and works.
Finally, it is the meaning and value of family and above all, the place of the mother, that makes Song of the Sea exceptional - I have seen few other film that explores loss with such wonderful metaphors as this, and certainly none as beautiful and with such a light touch as this. It is constantly surprising, full of wonder, and is, in the best sense, simply magical. Above all, it never defines where reality ends and magic begins and that is its real magic.
Welcome to Me is much more than a dark comedy. It is the evilish innocuous lovechild of whack of center films like Eagle and Shark (2007), Gentleman Broncos (2008), and Lars and The Real Girl (2007) if they coupled with satires like Network (1976), and Bob Roberts (1992), and it does so with dark whimsy, subtle charm, and is laugh-out loud funny.
The resulting film is a superb satire on the all out illusion of the American dream. Firstly, it derides the notion that money and fame are the goal of living while lauding it, a tough balancing act, and, secondly, that, in a country where 70% self-medicate for some form of depression, anxiety, or just can't cope with life, that mental illness is what happens to others. It combines the two, and lets the lunatic take over the asylum. We might well ask whether the crazy is the message or the medium...
Kristen Wiig is Alice. And let's start by saying in this Wonderland it's a great name for the character; and, a name that's almost become a cliché name for all woman in crisis, as Bob has for all blue-collar guys. Alice is a heady mixture of cutely crazy. We tried to list it all, but kind of only got as far as obsessive-compulsive, bipolar, narcissism, and manic-depressive, all veiled behind an obsession with voyeurism by her, and of her, through the TV. And that is the first point: she is non-categorizable - she is not just do-lalley, she is not even complex, she is Alice - wanting the world to love her, and wanting the world to cure her, to cure her past, and to see how important her pain is.
When her own therapist, a snappy turn by Tim Robbins, effectively gives up, Alice gets beyond lucky and gets her chance to have her own TV show through an amoral (or just pragmatic?) James Marsden. What results is a truly roller-coaster ride into Alice's bizarro gonzo world, where her unedited world is literally broadcast.
This is the best satire we've seen is a while. Like Nightcrawler (2014), it pokes the bear of TV for all its worth, and looks at America as a modern freak show, where empty calories and instant gratification have replaced any meaningful content. It is also really a film about the death of TV for the YouTube generation - who under 30 watches more TV than internet now?
This is post-hipster, post-modern, life out loud funny, that leaves you with a bad taste - it is smart, both kind and cruel, and a brilliant take on Modern America. Above all, it is original and deserves to be praised for being a film that belongs more to indie films of the 1970s than now - it is a surprisingly lingering, has just enough sympathy while still skewering its subjects, and for us, is a gob-smacking watch.
Aidan Bloom (Zach Braff) is a flaying adult, drowning in a sea of self- doubt and confronting his father's Mandy Partinkin (Yentyl, Princess Bride) terminal illness, his bother's spectrum behavior and a life of good choices turning bad. This is Aidan's pivoting point - will he discover what it takes to get his life back on track and what does that track even mean?
Wish I Was Here absolutely and resolutely is a companion piece to Garden State, but rather than College Age, we have moved on 20 years to post-30 fast approaching 40, pre-Mid Life crisis. With touches of fantasy and doses of reality the movie tries hard to capture the struggle between fading dreams, changing a generational age, and even the Big Question itself.
No film that aims so high is ever totally successful, but Wish I Was Here is wry and chooses a light drama comedy with a touch of sentimentality to center itself nicely around the Bloom Family.
Zach Braff always writes well. He's not hugely likable on screen,though you suspect he is a very good friend to have and keep off-screen. Here, the trademark charm vs. smarm is toned down, with Braff losing some of the frenzied just love me approach of Scrubs to be a more hang dog world weary crumble that works massively in his favor. He's never going to get near to being Walter Matthau, but it makes a more interesting character. Kate Hudson steals every scene she is in, putting in a very fine performance as a more than understanding wife and mother.
Written with his brother, Adam, the script has zing in places - it is heavy-handed and obvious a little to much, but then it's a Braff piece so par for the course, but when its not just hammering the message home there are moments of real tenderness and some genuine smarts laughs.
All in all, a smart, funny film, and one that successfully breaks the norms of Hollywood, it was partially funded by Kickstarter, and whether flack or funds, that is no bad move.
If romantic comedies or drama comedy are your thing you should absolutely enjoy it.
559th Review - One Of Our Favourite Films of 2015 So Far
Hector is a successful psychiatrist with a perfect life - but he cannot solve what happiness is. Cue a journey full in pursuit of happiness. This is a film to simply enjoy - Pegg brings more than comic timing, he truly brings heart - he is an everyman for the modern age: both naive and struggling to understand what happy means as a grown-up.
As the arc goes this is a very warm and watchable film - it is both lightly insightful and just great fun. It works as a travelogue hopping round the planet, but more it works on the heart - and surprisingly, it also takes up a journey that really does ask what happiness is.
A lovely, easy watch that is seriously fun, funny, and even inspiring. Warmly recommended.
Whiplash is a tour de force of a film that hits you hard in stomach from the get go and keeps going. With career defining performances from J K Simmons as a Svengali mentor and Miles Teller as an ambitious young drummer willing to go through hell to achieve greatness.
Director Damien Chazelle gives the film a near stage like look that suits it well, there are only three or four outdoor scenes, otherwise the claustrophobia created by focusing on the music practice room suits the piece well.
This is a film about suffering for ambition. A film about the need to be the best, to strive for fame, but also about two characters who are destined to clash. Simmons is pure vitriol, knowing exactly how to use his temper and words to break a player, and it is a fine performance - showing just the right level of loss of control with a cold logic.
Central to the film is the struggle jazz has to be seen. Given the immense work required to become a jazz great, jazz tends to be difficult on film compared to the glamor of rock. This is a film that likes it jazz straight up - and is better for it.
It is one of the better films of the year. It is a powerful film with great performances that it is about very human traits: the need for approval and the abuse of power and if liberation is ever possible. Recommended.
557th Review: King's Indelible Legacy - Marching To Today
Selma is a magnificent, inspiring, and massively watchable film that does not shy from the politics or from showing King as a man. Above all, though, this is the film that bothers to take its research very seriously. As many of us, I have studied in depth the Rights Movement. The attention to historic detail, without glorification or hagiography is commendable. The attempts to use actors that look like the person they portray, excellent, and the tone and mood of the film is a truly fitting depiction.
The Civil Rights movement took the impetus and teachings of Gandhi (King traveled to India and stayed in Ashrams in 1959 in order to understand NVDA) and coupled that with the true spirit of Southern Baptism - and found their leader in King.
There has been nothing like Attenborough's Gandhi for King. Partly because of internal rights (and it is too complicated to explain here, but worth research) and partly because other attempts have not captured the true spirit of both sides. Where Selma succeeds massively is that it captures deeply what both sides believed in - the incredible bigotry is shown as is - the film shows that morality, justice, and the dignity of men lies in justice and fairness and that such freedoms are worth all; then and now. This is a film that inspires young and old people and reminds us all that we can do and do better.
Selma is a clear and sincere historical account of the events of late summer 1965 that would lead to LBJ enacting the Vote Act - it is powerful tribute to one of the most important events of 20th Century American history.