2017 Film Tracker

2017 Films Tracker

Sunday, 25 June 2017

20 underrated 'character actors' working today


HM: Domhnall Gleeson, Matthias Schoenaerts, and Riz Ahmed

A trio of extremely proficient actors, each with their own particular set of skills that make them such compelling onscreen presences. Gleeson is extremely charismatic and draws your attention without ever overacting whether it's in lead turns or supporting roles, Schoenaerts has proved himself to be the modern-day master of accents and restrained, subtle acting, and Ahmed is one of those dynamic performers who works equally well as a reactionary lead or a wackier/more kooky sidekick. I don't put any of these three on the list since their respective stars seem to be on the rise, and Schoenaerts in particular seems to be developing into a leading man of sorts; he already is pretty much an established star in European circles.

Gleeson's best performance: About Time (2013)

Schoenaerts' best performance: Bullhead (2011)

Ahmed's best performance: film, Four Lions (2010); television, The Night Of (2015)

20. Michael K. Williams
Pigeonholed into criminal roles, and he's really good at playing lowlifes and shady shorts don't get me wrong, but this unfortunately means that Williams has been stuck playing similar sort of characters for too long. He finds such variation within them though, whether it's the streetsmart and professional Chalky White from Boardwalk Empire or his philosophical gangster in The Gambler. Yet he's also shown on occasion how he can infuse so much more into a role, like his poignant one-scene wonder in The Road.

Williams' best performance: Boardwalk Empire (still need to see The Wire)

19. Benedict Wong
Little bit of a personal choice here, but Wong is an actor who's been very low-profile but still so easy to find intriguing due to the variation in his work, both in film and television. He's a great comedic actor, whether it's his lackadastical Errol in 15 Storeys High or the hilariously deadpan Wong in Doctor Strange, and perhaps best of all his performance as the Countdown finalist Prime in The I.T. Crowd's best episode. He's an effective dramatic actor as was shown in his small but powerful role in Sunshine and his wonderful and heartwarming supportive turn as a shady but kind nurse in Dirty Pretty Things. I really think we haven't even touched the tip of the iceberg in terms of his talent.

Wong's best performance: Dirty Pretty Things

18. Rebecca Hall
She's still flying under the radar for whatever reason, Christine has helped raise it slightly but the film underperforming at the box-office didn't help matters much. Hall, though is one of those actresses who can make a lot with very little. Her early career with small roles in The Prestige already made a substantial impact, she turned somewhat thankless roles in The Gift and Vicky Cristina Barcelona into characters with depth, and her leading turn as Christine Chubbuck was verging on greatness. I'm glad that despite its box-office failure it got good reviews, since even though I did not care for the film, I liked her performance a lot.

Hall's best performance: The Gift

17. Olivia Colman
She's won a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, so how can she be underrated you might ask? Well Colman is one of those British character actresses who's been delivering solid work for so long, but only begun to be properly acknowledged and recognized recently for her dramatic work. And she's great in The Night Manager and Tyrannosaur, giving such heartbreaking and complex turns as very differently haunted women, but her comedic work in Hot Fuzz, Cuban Fury, and so I'm told, Peep Show also warrants acclaim.

Colman's best performance: Tyrannosaur 

16. Paul Bettany
Love a bit of Bettany. Now admittedly he hasn't been doing much as of late, with Vision in the Marvel Cinematic universe being his most prominent work recently. He does the role justice, and is an enjoyable part of his films. When he was on an early 2000s roll with turns in Master and Commander, Gangster Number 1, and A Knight's Tale, he was really quite something. He would turn in such subdued but unforgettable, or over the top and unforgettable, performances that would quite often be the highlight of the film.

Bettany's best performance: Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

15. Frances McDormand

Someone else who hasn't been doing too much as of late, but she's still got it. For someone so proficient at bringing out the most out of even the most minuscule bit of screen-time (she's onscreen in Hail Caesar for about 30 seconds and I still laughed), she's always a guarantee of something special when she gets something to work with, even if it's small roles in North Country, or her recent comedic turn in Burn After Reading which was very enjoyable. Then there's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri this year which looks like a return to Fargo form for her in the hands of Martin McDonagh, which is a very good thing.

McDormand's best performance: Fargo (need to see Olive Kitteridge

14. Toby Jones
The sort of actor I hope someone like Tom Hollander, or Burn Gorman, will grow into, Jones is one of the unsung heroes of his generation of British actors. He's someone who knows how to utilize his unique screen presence to his advantage, standing out in strong ensembles like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Painted Veil with his nuanced work. Then when he gets slightly more substantial material, sometimes even in lead roles like Berberian Sound Studio and his portrayal of Truman Capote in Infamous, he almost always knocks it out of the ballpark. He's an extremely reliable actor who I'm always glad to see in a film, and is usually a guarantee for a good one.

Jones' best performance: Infamous

13. Alan Tudyk
This man is a chameleon. You'll have seen him in lots of things, not necessarily recognized him in most of them, particularly his voice work. He was the dumb chicken in Moana, the billains in Frozen and Wreck-it Ralph, and he did mo-cap work as K2SO in Rogue One and Sonny in I, Robot. He really disappears into every one of these roles, and his performances in the flesh are usually pretty good too, with particular highlights being one half of the lovable country hicks in the hilarious Tucker & Dale v.s. Evil, and Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball.

Tudyk's best performance: I, Robot

12. Imogen Poots
She seemed poised to break out into leading roles for awhile, but now seems to be doing more indie films/smaller roles in bigger films. Which is perfectly fine since she's really grown into an extremely talented and interesting actress who needs more exposure. She was brilliant in Green Room last year, and before that really shone in such a wide range of roles in 28 Weeks Later, FilthThe Look of Love, and as Green Room and the surprisingly okay remake of Fright Night showed it's a shame she and Anton Yelchin never got to make more films together, they'd be a dynamic duo.

Poots' best performance: Green Room

11. Luke Wilson
Another actor who doesn't get enough substantial work nowadays, Wilson is actually one of the most consistently good actors in the industry. I liked him particularly in The Skeleton Twins recently where he played a pretty interesting variation on the 'wholesome husband' trope. In general, I think he deserves to be put on the same level as his brother Owen and their friend Jason Schwartzman as kooky, offbeat character actors with leading men charisma. The thing that pushes Luke above this slightly for me is the glimpses of greatness he's shown. He gives one of the best performances in The Royal Tenenbaums, and the more I think about his work in that film the more I think, given the right sort of role, he could be bound for something truly special.

Wilson's best performance: The Royal Tenenbaums

10. Jeffrey Wright

I would've thought Westworld would have pushed him off this list into stardom, but from what I've seen he's barely gotten any awards attention, anywhere. Which is utter madness. Thandie Newton and Evan Rachel Wood who are both fantastic, are getting most of the plaudits, but I feel like so many people are underrating the magnificent work he's done as Bernard. Beyond Westworld there's his entertaining supporting turns in The Hunger Games series, Shaft, Broken Flowers, and Source Code, and his brilliant leading turn in Basquiat. Even in completely thankless roles in horrible films like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close he can make an impact. Hopefully I'm wrong and Westworld will help garner him more attention and good roles in the future.

Wright's best performance: Basquiat for film, Westworld for television

9. Ben Mendelsohn

I'm planning on a full article for him at some point, but Mendelsohn outside of a terrible performance in The Dark Knight Rises, is one of the best actors working today. He can slip so seamlessly from a completely despicable yet charismatic Aussie gangster in Animal Kingdom to a regretful, downtrodden gambler in Mississippi Grind, infusing so much warmth to his role in The Place Beyond the Pines in contrast to his slimy, devious work in Killing Them Softly the year before. It's a bit of a shame that most people now know him as Orson Krennic from Rogue One, he was good there, but it barely made use of his talents. He can make simple roles into something more, but when he's given truly complex roles, leading roles in fact, that's where he shines the most.

Mendelsohn's best performance: Mississippi Grind

8. Paddy Considine
You'll know him as one half of the Andy's/Andes in Hot Fuzz, and he's a comedic delight in that and so many other films. Considine is really one of the most stellar character actors, who can bring so much to even the most thinly written villain role in Child 44, to being such a wonderful charming presence as a compassionate workers' union boss in Pride. Then there's his collaborations with Shane Meadows. He's an unforgettable boiling pot of suppressed rage and violence in Dead Man's Shoes and is even better in A Room for Romeo Brass as one of the most unnerving portrayals of a man-child ever put to camera. Plus, as Tyrannosaur proved, he's a pretty good director too.

Considine's best performance: A Room for Romeo Brass

7. Kirsten Dunst
Originally pegged to be one of the next wave of leading ladies, Dunst has instead become one of the most talented and intriguing character actresses working. I feel like her underwhelming work in a poorly written role in the Spider-Man films affects some people's view of her work. She was utterly fantastic in Melancholia, quite possibly the best performance out of all Lars Von Trier's leading ladies, and equally superb in Fargo as Peggy the demented housewife with lofty ambitions. Then there's her more subdued but so emotionally poignant supporting turns in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and last year's Midnight Special that really stick with you. She's a great actress, period, and I'm very much looking forward to Sofia Coppola's The Beguiled just to see what she does with a juicy role.

Dunst's best performance: Melancholia for film, Fargo (season 2) for television

6. Jimmi Simpson
Probably the most obscure name on this list, even though he's popped up in some of the most popular teleivison shows like House of Cards, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, David Letterman, and Westworld. Whether it's as an incisive hacker, a sick and twisted (hilariously so) idiot, a rude mechanic, or a wide-eyed idealist corrupted by the ways of the West, Simpson is so versatile, so effortlessly becomes these different strokes of characters. He can be so funny or so emotionally powerful, often within the same character, and then there's his three minute's worth of screentime at the ending of Zodiac which is just an astounding example of making so much out of nothing.

Simpson's best performance: Westworld (though I'm tempted to go for Zodiac). 

5. John C. Reilly
Reilly's presence makes anything better. He's just a really likable presence whenever he appears onscreen, unless of course he's playing a reprehensible character which he's also good at, but most of his best roles are as very loveable, albeit flawed, characters. There's his tremendous work as the one and only Dewey Cox in the mock music biopic Walk Hard, and his comedic pairings with Will Ferrell which are also really funny, with the highlight being Talladega Nights. On the dramatic side of things he gives expertly understated performances in the likes of Magnolia and Hard Eight. Even when I hate the film he's good (Chicago), and his work in Kong Skull Island was remarkable in that he managed to make a complete mess of a dumb movie somewhat work through giving a hilarious, poignant depiction of a mad but brave soldier that the film didn't deserve.

Reilly's best performance: Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story

4. Brendan Gleeson
A 'character lead' I would categorize him as, since I do think some of Gleeson's most well-known roles now are his leading turns with the McDonagh brothers, particularly In Bruges where the greatness of his performance is indisputable. Which isn't to say his supporting turns are ever iffy. He's a perfect Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter movies, and makes for such a warm mentor character in both 28 Days Later and Gangs of New York. A remarkable example of his talents as a supporting actor was last year's The Heart of the Sea where his storytelling of the film's central events was more compelling than the cinematic depiction itself. He's a one-of-a-kind actor and I can quite comfortably place him among the all-time greats, though I do prefer when he's right and centre of a film leading it.

Gleeson's best performance: In Bruges

3. Mark Strong
Strong is always solid as a supporting actor, whether it's as the endearing genius Merlin in Kingsman or his villainous turns in Kick-Ass, The Imitation Game and The Guard, and he does the stoic leading man quite well in the likes of Welcome to the Punch. When he steps out of that though, in something like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy he's an amazing talent, and in that gives one of the greatest supporting performances of all-time, period. He's extremely underrated given how versatile he is, and I would love to see him in bigger and more substantial roles soon.

Strong's best performance: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

2. Mads Mikkelsen
The Danish fiend, as many may know him from his various villainous Hollywood roles from Casino Royale to Doctor Strange. Quite often these roles are somewhat one-note, in that they are decidedly unsympathetic villains who could've been just footnotes and paper-thin fodder. Mikkelsen always elevates these roles to something more by his talent, and goes a step further when he's given more to work with. When he's the lead, like in A Royal Affair and The Hunt, he's positively spellbinding. And even when it's a more limited supporting role like in Rogue One or King Arthur he can make you feel such a strong emotional connection within the limitations in the role. Then there's his stellar work as Hannibal Lecter which was unceremoniously cut off before its conclusion, which is a shame. Somehow still underappreciated, Mikkelsen is one of the best there is to offer, period.

Mikkelsen's best performance: The Hunt (have yet to see any of his Refn collaborations)

1. Ben Foster
One of the all-time greats, period, the media just doesn't know it yet. The man's dedication to his roles, sometimes for an almost futile cause (see X-Men: The Last Stand), is always giving 100% and then pushing those limits. Foster is known as one of the most intense actors around, parlayed brilliantly into his career-best turn as a violent outlaw in 3:10 to Yuma, but can equally play more sensitive sorts like the kind sheriff in Ain't Them Bodies Saints, or his haunted soldier in The Messenger. He gives it his all even in problematic films like Alpha Dog, and Kill Your Darlings, and can steal scenes from the film while also amplifying his co-stars performances (Lone Survivor is a great example of this). Then there's stuff like Hell or High Water where he appears to play into his usual groove as a maniacal violent outlaw before revealing something very sensitive within. He should be revered among the greats already, I knew this from the first time I saw him as Charley Prince gunning down a posse, and is undoubtedly the most underrated character actor working today.

Foster's best performance: 3:10 to Yuma

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Daniel Day-Lewis: His Greatest Hits

What more can be said about this man that hasn't been said? I think he'd most like to be considered a consumate professional, and in his profession of acting he most certainly was: every performance of his, regardless of the size of the role or the scale of the film, has him putting 100% into it. Taking the Method in Method Acting, at times to the extreme, his actions behind the scenes often verged onto the point of danger, frequently intimidating co-stars and frustrating the production team, yet there's no denying the magnificent results produced by these efforts. He's a man with a thousand faces and voices, but so much more than just an uncanny chameleon/impressionist. In a career so finely dispersed and with such long gaps in between, he's never entirely left the spectrum of film discussion because of the magnitude and impact each performance of his makes. Here are some of his finest moments.

Playing two opposite sides of the social spectrum, through two completely different characters in My Beautiful Laundrette and A Room With a View
No surprise that Day-Lewis garnered so much attention after these two extremely contrasting roles as working-class punk Johnny and upper-class repressed snob Cecil in two completely different British films. My Beautiful Laundrette is a nice, small-scale film much akin to say, East is East in depicting the complexities of dual national identity in London, and Day-Lewis is amazing in depicting such an endearing if flawed character who gradually becomes a better man through his relationship with Gordon Warnecke's Omar. Then in A Room With a View he plays the rich prat with high pretensions to such perfection, exactly as I'd envisaged in the novel. He's hilarious but also surprisingly heartbreaking in a way I don't even think the character was intended to, but he makes such a small side character be a highlight in a film where he'd usually be the straw man villain.

My Left Foot: exceeding limitations beautifully
Simply one of the greatest all-time performances. It actually takes some time when watching the film for the first time to realize what he's doing, and how he's doing it so impeccably well. It's an uncomfortable performance to watch in many ways because that's its intention, to depict the struggles of Christy Brown's condition without sugercoating it, and showing all his flaws as well as merits as an indivdual. Day-Lewis had the production team wheel him around set all day, never dropping character either as he maintained his character's abrasive but endearing disposition all the way through production. It may have caused the behind the scenes to be a nightmare for him and the staff, but what comes out of all the toil is a masterclass. See the two above scenes: one exceptionally uplifting, one extremely uncomfortable and sad, all thanks to DDL, An extremely well-deserved first Oscar win for DDL.

An action hero: The Last of the Mohicans...
Before Jeremy Renner, there was another sharpshooting cinematic Hawkeye, not the Marvel character, but the white adopted son of a Native American tribe in this adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. It's a perfect example of how outside of his heavy dramatic roles, he could just as easily adapt his talents into a simpler sort of character, the straightforward hero. Day-Lewis is for lack of a better word, a badass in this film. He spent months practising the way of life in the wilderness his character partakes in the film, and it really shows. I don't think enough people have seen this film, it deserves to be viewed for DDL's performance, and of course that iconic soundtrack.

And another double-bill of opposite characters in 1993: The Age of Innocence, In the Name of the Father
The man really doesn't take a break, a year after his strenuous work in The Last of the Mohicans he once again gave two diametrically opposed turns in again, two very different, and two very great films. In In the Name of the Father he's incredibly effective as an Irishman wrongly accused of being an IRA bomber. The role throws him into some of the most emotionally explosive and brutal scenes of his career as he's interrogated and forced to fight for his rights, and he very deservedly got an Oscar nomination for it. Then in perhaps Martin Scorsese's most underrated film, The Age of Innocence, he once again plays a repressed man like Cecil Vyse in Newland Archer, a walking emboidment of 1800s New York high society who gradually finds his defences crumbling around the seductive Ellen Olenska (Michelle Pfeiffer). This is the most understated film Scorsese's ever made, but he also described it as his most violent in terms of its volatile repressed emotions, beautifully encompassed in DDL's performance.

WHOOPSIE DAISY, or Gangs of New York
I haven't seen Day-Lewis' 1996 and 1997 output yet, I've heard it's rather stellar so I'll make sure to do so as soon as possible. DDL went into a bit of a semi-retirement after 1997, to do shoe cobbling (of course he did), and burst back onto the scene courtesy of a re-collaboration with Martin Scorsese. I've always found his performance in Gangs of New York as Bill the Butcher to be interesting in the very conception of the casting, an Irishman playing a vehemently anti-Irish, American supremacist who kills Liam Neeson in his very first scene. This film contains perhaps the most infamous of Day-Lewis' behind-the-scenes Method antics, ranging from refusing to wear an overcoat for the cold wintery scenes because it wouldn't be accurate to the time period, to as per usual staying in character through the whole production, and tapping his eye with a knife at one point for real (don't try it a home, everyone). It's a magnificent performance, and though I do think the right actor won at the 2002 Oscars, this would have been an extremely deserving win for DDL too.

An Oilman's Odyssey: There Will Be Blood
A completely bonkers and entertaining film that takes such a potentially boring subject matter, and inserts Paul Thomas Anderson's magnificent direction, some amazing cinematography by Robert Elswit, and Paul Dano + Daniel Day Lewis engaging in screaming matches which is quite something to behold. Daniel plays Daniel, Daniel Plainview, and before watching the film I thought I'd be seeing something similar to Gangs of New York due to the similarity in facial hair. Far from it, and Plainview ultimately proves to be perhaps an even bigger fiend than Bill the Butcher. This is a performance that never plays it safe, always lets loose, and from the John Huston voice to the contrast between those loud, OTT (rightfully so) moments and quieter dramatic moments, this is a magnificent example of a truly Oscar-deserving performance in all ways.

The definitive Honest Abe in Lincoln
I've discussed this performance in detail before, but just to add onto that, this is an amazing performance as a real historical figure, one of the most difficult to pull off onscreen because there's so little basis to go off on, and yet do something 'wrong' and Abraham Lincoln could just come across as a complete phony. DDL anchors this wonderful biopic marvellously, and gives one of his best performances as an utterly convicted, charismatic and complex individual who's more than just an American hero, but a fully-fleshed biographical figure in this acting maestro's hands. Here's hoping Phantom Thread ends his career on a high note, because this film shows that he's still got it.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Could've Been Better: 10 recent 'average' films that were potential masterpieces


Passengers (2016)
Why it isn't great? Casting is the main issue here. Charismatic and endearing he is, but Chris Pratt simply doesn't quite have what it takes in the leading role of a man alone in outer space, desperately finding a way to stay sane. He's a talented actor, but very miscast in the role, and his performance presumably clashed against a script that was I assume subsequently revised to fit in more with his screen presence, which makes the direction the script takes problematic. In addition, the production values, including the Oscar-nominated set design and score, aren't terribly original, though they look decent enough.

Why it could've been great? For such a fundamentally flawed film, it actually has quite a few things going for it.  The acting outside of Pratt, who's more miscast than bad, is actually quite strong for the most part, with Laurence Fishburne and Michael Sheen giving intriguing enough performances as characters you want to learn more

What should have been done? It's the concept of being utterly by oneself in space and seeking companionship even by the most drastic means, that really sold me on the film initially, and I still think it could have made a great film. One does not even have to cut Chris Pratt out, have him switch roles with Michael Sheen. Pratt could play the wisecracking handsome robot bartender with ease and become a comedic highlight of the film. Sheen could infuse some of his poignant, powerful performance as Boldwood in Far From the Madding Crowd into a portrayal of a eccentric scientist who initially happy with being alone and free in space, begins to finally feel pangs of loneliness and longing. This could make an equally discomforting but far more thriller-esque, 10 Cloverfield Lane tone when it comes to the film's 'twist', as we wonder what exactly Sheen's scientist is up to, while also slowly building up to a powerful conclusion.

Legend (2015)

Why it isn't great? Too messy, way too messy to be considered anything more than an 'okay' film. It never focuses on one aspect of the Kray twins' life enough, besides the underwhelming romance between Reggie and Frances, and has too many tonally awkward shifts between dark comedy and dark crime tragedy to make it ever completely work.

Why it could've been great? Despite being a complete mess at times, there's a lot to like a lot about Legend. It has a great central performance, and Hardy playing off himself at regular intervals is quite a joy to behold, and are easily the best scenes of the film. There's also so many promising moments that are individually quite great, like the Krays' business enterprises, and Ronnie's strange relationship with Teddy (Taron Egerton). The soundtrack besides the absence of promised Roy Orbison is really good, and on that note look at this first trailer, there's no way a trailer with material like this could produce a truly bad film. It's an okay film with severe problems, but so many hints of a great one.
What should have been done? Bring in someone with a more focused scope than Brian Helgeland, maybe his L.A. Confidential co-worker Curtis Hanson would have been a great choice, to help out on directing duties. Find a better actress than Emily Browning, or reduce her role as a secondary narrator. Black Mass in the same year had an intriguing motif where Whitey Bulger was discussed in retrospect by various criminal associates in interrogation scenes, Legend could have done the same with Egerton, Paul Bettany and Chazz Palimentari's characters, which would've not only given them more meat and screentime, but also a more intimate focus on the Kray brothers' underworld dealings, which is by far the most interesting part of the film.

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

Why it isn't great? Too much forced into one film. It's no surprise it was a box-office bomb. Three storylines with so many characters, and they all end up somewhat cancelling the impact of one another.

Why it could've been great? There's so many great performances constricted into this film, and if any one of them had gotten a film to completely shine on their own, Derek Cianfrance could have created a masterpiece, or several masterpieces. Ryan Gosling is particularly great with the little material he has, and really I could have watched a whole film about him and Ben Mendelsohn's character robbing banks. Same goes for Bradley Cooper's rise and fall and rise arc, and Dane DeHaan's portrayal of a troubled teenager.
What shoul have been done? Make it an epic trilogy, with Gosling the star of the first ne in a lighthearted crime caper that gradually becomes a sombre tragedy, Cooper the star of a conspiracy thriller with its protagonist gradually resorting to dirty means himself, and the third film a teenage movie with DeHaan that turns into something more profound. Make Ben Mendelsohn and Eva Mendes the recurring characters in the trilogy.

Killing Them Softly (2012)

Why it isn't great? An underwhelming follow-up to The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Andrew Dominik, the terrible title didn't help matters, but on the whole this is just a very straightforward crime thriller that's made competently enough but never quite stands out, and in addition features some very hamfisted attempts at social commentary. When it ended, all I could think was that yes, it was a well made film and moderately entertaining and thrilling, but was left feeling completely empty, which isn't quite what one expects when watching the final frames of an Andrew Dominik film.

Why it could've been great? It was Brad Pitt and Dominik teaming up once again after The Assasination of Jesse James, great things were to be expected, and even though greatness rarely shines through, the source material and characters make it so that you expect it to become so any given moment. The cast full of crooks ranging from Ray Liotta's hapless backstabber to Scoot McNairy's neurotic junkie are all very entertaining and feel so lived-in. One feels like with a more character-based approach and less attempts at being social commentary they could have broken out into truly iconic characters.

What should have been done? Love Dominik, but maybe replace him with Michaël R. Roskam since this material's sensibilities are right in line with his. Place it back in the original 1970s setting. Trim out some of the extraneous characters and plot fat, and make it a more taut and involving thriller.

Public Enemies (2009)

Why it isn't great? Two words: digital cinematography. It makes every given scene look a bit artificial and messes with the tone, which is clearly trying to go for that old-school sort of gangster epic. Michael Mann's direction though solid for the most part in terms of storytelling and performances, seems constrained by the clash between the visuals and tone, and also though the film is certainly long enough, it feels like it doesn't quite cover every aspect of the period it wanted to.
Why it could've been great? Marion Cotillard gives one of her best performances here. Even though her accent might be just a little bit suspect, she breathes such magnetic life into Billie Frechette. Her chemistry with Johnny Depp's Dillinger is amazing, and deserving of more intimate focus. And though that particular aspect of the film is its strongest asset, there's a lot to like elsewhere too. All the criminal associates of Dillinger are well-acted, and Billy Crudup's J. Edgar Hoover is a rather compelling adversary who I'd have liked to see more of.

What should have been done? Cut out Christian Bale's Melvin Purvis, or at least diminish his role and make the focus on the investigation more of a ensemble thing. Play all the cards into the epic gangster romance angle between Dillinger and Billie, and trade the glossy digital cinemaotgraphy for anything else.

Watchmen (2009)

Why it isn't great? Zack Snyder clearly had a great deal of passion for the source material, but perhaps not the best understanding of it. This extends to the somewhat cheesy fight scenes with excessive slo-mo and poorly conceived sound effects, a dragging pace, some very poor casting choices and a fundamental misunderstanding of Ozymandias as a character.
Why it could've been great? There's so much that is excellently done here, it's excruciating that it all doesn't add up together. The Comedian and Rorschach are perfectly portrayed and written. The opening credits scene is amazing. There's some truly haunting and poignant sequences focusing on the horrors of becoming a hero in such a messed up world, and some visual flourishes that recreate the graphic novel's visuals perfectly.

What should have been done? Re-cast Silk Spectre and Ozymandias with Michelle Monaghan and Michael Fassbender. Have someone who's good with the emotional core of films so Snyder can focus on the cool visuals, maybe Alfonso Cuaron?

The Black Dahlia (2006)

Why isn't it great? For such a chilling source material and a strong director in Brian de Palma, this feels like a surprisingly safe and unexceptional venture into the noir genre. It can't even have a bit of pulpy fun with its script and ends up veering between serviceable crime procedural to problematic sexual thriller, hampered by a truly atrocious performance by Hilary Swank, who I'm usually a big fan of.

Why it could've been great? For all its flaws, the film has one magnificent shining spot in Mia Kirshner's heartbreaking turn as the primary victim. In her limited screentime she gives one of the most haunting portrayals of repressed tragedy and sadness. And the cinematography, set design etc. is all pretty amazing as well. Really this is a film that's quite shaky on the screenplay and most of the acting, but it looks amazing, feels amazing, and in some scenes is actually quite amazing.

What should have been done? This had potential to be an L.A. Confidential masterpiece, so maybe bring Curtis Hanson on, although with the right sort of motivation and direction de Palma could've been great too. Re-cast Swank with Kirshner playing double.

I, Robot (2004)

Why it isn't great? It takes Asimov's material and, like all adaptions of his work I've seen, diminishes intelligent science-fiction into a standard action thriller starring Will Smith. In the end, it just feels like Yet Another Sci-Fi Thriller, with a few cool action set pieces that nevertheless feel extremely unoriginal, a visual style that's kind of cool but also feels extremely unoriginal, and plenty of human ciphers as characters you don't really care much about.

Why it could've been great? When the film actually bothers to use its brain, it proves itself to be surprisingly intelligent. The A.I. side of things is the strongest part of the film, aided by its compelling depiction of Sonny, played by Alan Tudyk through mo-cap; it's an extremely interesting character I wish we'd gotten to learn more about.

What should have been done? Make Sonny the main character, and throw him into a Winter Soldier/Three Days of Condor-esque conspiracy thriller where he is the 'robot on the run'.

Troy (2004)

Why it isn't great? Lines and acting like this.

Why it could've been great? Scenes like these.

What should have been done? The film doesn't seem to know whether it wants to be an extremely grand, over-the-top epic in the old-fashioned 'sword and sandals' tradition, or a revisionist take which presents Paris as a little whiny bitch. My advice would be to pick one and go all in on that approach. Don't hold back, milk everything there is to milk for all its worth. Also, replacing Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom, with Viggo Mortensen and Jude Law would've probably helped matters a bit too.

Gangs of New York (2002)

Why it isn't great? Far too messy in terms of focus and with two very underwhelming young leads, this is one of those films that opens so strongly, that when it begins to let you down you feel every bit as betrayed as Bill the Butcher. There's so many sequences that are undercut by poor acting or paper-thin characters, and the final climax of the film is more than underwhelming.
Why it could've been great? Daniel Day-Lewis is on top form here, and the set design is absolutely beautiful, all-time great in fact. Its visual recreation of olden times New York is really quite amazing, and it also has such a rich and intriguing part of history to draw upon. Scorsese had a lot on his plate and he does serve some of it well enough, it just feels a bit of a waste that it seems like he had more to give.

What should have been done? Remove the whole Amsterdam subplot, and make it simply a movie about warring gangs in New York rather than inserting a pointless love triangle and revenge story. It could have been a very intriguing 'slice of life' story in the great Scorsese tradition of recreating what everyday life would have been like in his own cinematic fashion.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Little Comedy with Big Heart: Good Bye, Lenin!

On paper, the plot doesn't seem all that uplifting or even funny: in reunified 1990s Germany, young Alex (Daniel Brühl) pulls out all the stops to convince his ailing mother Christiane (Katrin Saß) that things are as they were in the German Democratic Republic. This includes fake news segments, people masquerading as other people, replacing food product packages with old East German ones, and keeping Christiane away from anything that even implies the Berlin Wall's fall and influx of commercialism.

Yet it is. It really is. This is one of those films I've always had a great fondness for, recommending it to people in passing, but the more I think about it, it's a very remarkable achievement. One of the things that annoyed me about the reception to Toni Erdmann, in addition to finding it quite overrated, was the reaction that Germany comedy was some sort of revelation, some hitherto untouched territory. Um, no. Good Bye, Lenin! is not only miles better a film than Toni Erdmann, it's so much more than just a simple feel-good comedy. It takes on a very tricksy subject matter and infuses genuine heart and pathos to it, without ever losing sight of the laughs.
Brühl, who's now a fairly big name in Hollywood, is simply outstanding as our naive lead whose gradual growth throughout the film is so wonderfully handled. Saß, with the more reactionary role, is also terrific in showing not just the humorous side of her 'fish out of water' antics, but also the strong core of motherly love for her son. The supporting cast are all stellar too, particularly Robert Carlyle-lookalike Florian Lukas as Alex's best friend who helps him out with some truly hilarious fake news segments. Episodic the film may be to an extent, it never loses sight of its central focus of a loving mother/son, and despite it gradually progressing into a more dramatic film by its conclusion, the tragicomedy is perfectly played. It's hard to explain why, but despite technically being a bit downbeat towards the end, there's few films I find more intrinsically uplifting than this.

This is a delightful film that is quite popular, I know, but I do feel that if you haven't seen it, to not be put off by the hype: it's terrific.

Monday, 12 June 2017

The Curious Case of Chris Pine

It baffles me that it's taken this long for me to realize, in the past two years, that Chris Pine is actually a really great actor. I hate to admit it, but for a while he was on my radar as this pretty boy coasting on his looks to roles. Yet looking back on his career, it's kind of clear that while his looks certainly helped garner many of his roles for him, that's not all there is to his career. So much more, in fact.

As a straightforward leading man
Pine's most well-known role is probably as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek films. He's certainly quite good in them, never trying to emulate William Shatner, but instead taking his own perhaps less hammy, at times a bit sleazy and cocky, but still charming approach to the role. Then there's stuff like Unstoppable and This Means War where he has to play off against more dramatically reputable actors like Denzel Washington and Tom Hardy in fun, dumb action films. He's fun to watch in these, and even if he can be occasionally a bit bland as a leading man (see The Finest Hours), he's usually a solid enough guarantee as an anchor to the proceedings.

As a manic character actor
Now this is where Pine gets a bit more intriguing as an actor. He's absolutely delightful in Into the Woods as a Prince Charming with very little substance, playing up the vapidity of the character wonderfully, quite funny as an egotistic and spoilt millionaire's son in Horrible Bosses 2, and in his collaborations with Joe Carnahan in Smokin' Aces and Stretch his performances are something to be seen to be believed. Not everything he does works, but the maniacal energy and enthusiasm he throws into these roles are the mark of a truly dedicated actor doing his best to entertain, and often succeeding.

As a more complex leading man
Now this is my favourite side to Pine, one I haven't seen enough of yet, but like his co-star Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman, I look forward to seeing how they will stretch themselves in the future, acting-wise. Steve Trevor and Toby Howard from Hell or High Water are completely different characters, one's a fast-talking, charismatic, humorous and heroic WWI spy, the other is a morally more murky, understated, quiet man who resorts to robbing banks to keeping the family ranch going. I'm starting to think that his work in both films is becoming a bit underrated. Jeff Bridges, and especially Ben Foster are great in Hell or High Water, but Pine's quieter work is every bit as essential to making the film's powerful conclusion work as well as it does. He never raises his voice throughout the film yet still conveys so much.
Then in Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot carries the film marvelously as the titular heroine, but without Pine's excellent comedic timing to play off her sweet naivete, and the poignancy of their swift romance that enhances the ending of the film's power, I don't think the film would have been as great as it is. And the more I think about it, what's stuck with me the most in the film outside of that amazing No Man's Land sequence is the last few seconds of Pine's performance. It's easy to write off what he does in this role and so many others, but I'll definitely keep an eye on whatever Pine does next. He's not just a charismatic leading man, he's a very talented actor in his own right too.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

House of Cards v.s. House of Cards (initial thoughts)

Having belatedly begun and finished the first season of the U.S. House of Cards series, I thought given that Frank Underwood's (Kevin Spacey) arc largely covers its equivalent in the U.K. counterpart of Francis Urquhart (Ian Richardson), and with such interesting political times we currently find ourselves in, that it'd be very interesting to compare the two series together. Admittedly, I'll need to watch more - I have to catch up on the remaining seasons of the U.S. series, and also To Play a King and The Final Cut, the two serial sequels to the U.K. series - before I can make a full comparison, but as it stands I think I can just about do an effective enough contrast/analysis article of both television series.

Before getting down to the plot, story, acting, and other technicalities, it's probably best to look at the respective theme tunes to both shows. The U.K. series has a rather sprightly, energetic and fanfare-heavy theme tune, with an underlying deviousness and mischief; the U.S. series opens each credits sequence with a heavy, ominous and brooding score that makes no mistake about its malice. It's so reflective of the differing tones these two series take even though in the end, they are both narratives about men who resort dirtier and dirtier measures to obtain power. The U.K. series is in many ways breezier, certainly much brisker in pace due to its shorter and more contained length, but that's not to say it has no depth as consequence. Far from that. The U.S. series is in many ways heavier and more incisive, and which explores political machinations with more depth. Which isn't to say it's not entertaining or overly exposition-heavy, far from that.
It's particularly fun, watching the U.S. series and comparing it to the U.K. one, in how they take similar scenes and do them in such different styles, down to small details like Roger O'Neill (Miles Anderson) and Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) taking fake calls from the Prime Minister/President, the central marital dynamic, and the use of the phrase 'you might very well think that...I couldn't possibly comment' by our Machiavellian protagonists.
Now I hesitate to do a full comparison between these two great actors in what many consider their definitive roles, given that I've yet to see the full body of their work as Urquhart and Underwood, but I have to say that with what I've seen so far, Ian Richardson's utterly brilliant and mesmerizing, all-time great work that stretches beyond my abilities of hyperbole, blows Spacey's work out of the water. And Spacey is terrific as Frank Underwood, he really is. Those casual, and sometimes not so casual, asides to the camera, and even the sidelong glares, are all perfect and feel so organic and natural to the character. The way he manhandles, bulldozes and controls all of his underlings, from his confidant Doug Stamper (an excellent Michael Kelly) to his bodyguard Meechum (Nathan Darrow), and of course, the countless politicians and journalists the series throws into his path to presidency, is marvelous to watch.
Yet there's something that's slightly lacking in his portrayal, which is that charismatic quality that manages to both charm and get under your skin. Those clips of them saying Urquhart's catchphrase makes it clear that it's Urquhart's catchphrase for a reason, it doesn't quite ring as trippingly off the tongue in Spacey's mouth because Underwood is so biting, so direct in his delivery, whereas Urquhart retains an amiable but rather enigmatic air when delivering the lines. Frank Underwood is certainly written to be charming, endearing, even sympathetic at points, particularly notable in the episode where he visits his old military school, but he never merges it like Richardson does with his incisive and domineering side.
The remarkable thing about Richardson's performance is how he manages to keep Urquhart's, for lack of a better word, 'trolling' asides to the audience and implement it into how he manipulates people around him. It's just a more fun performance to watch, and also more menacing because while Underwood seems like a dangerous bulldog you can just avoid if you stay out of his way, Urquhart seems like a snake you could dismiss as a docile piece of jump rope before it bites you without much warning. When Underwood loses his rag, it's viscreal, but without quite the impact of Urquhart maniacally spitting into Roger O'Neill's face 'No one's going down. No one's going to spill anything'.
Now the U.S. series does have quite a few attributes where it excels, perhaps even more so than the U.K. series. The longer run-time means that it has more time to delve into its large group of characters, and while not every subplot is as interesting as the others - the whole journalists at The Chronicle takes a while to get going, and there's a slightly needless third romance - there are such gems like Doug Stamper's backstory (see the great little scene above) and his caring but unnerving relationship to an unwitting prostitute (Rachel Posner), Reg E. Cathey's loveable restauranteer, and of course the backstabbing and constantly changing dynamics within the White House where behind every favour is an expected reciprocation. While Urquhart is the main focus and main player in the House of Cards in his series, his machination reigning far supreme over all other Members of Parliament and eviscerating all other candidates, there's more obstacles to Underwood's path to Vice Presidency, including the looming presence of Sancorp, education lobbyist Marty Spinella, the cryptic Raymond Tusk, an uncooperative Vice President to Peter Russo's campaign, and eventually a trio of journalists at the forefront which is Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara).
Mara is unfortunately the weakest link in the series, and her performance pales in comparison to Susannah Harker's brilliant portrayal of Mattie Storin in the original series. The writing behind both characters is different, and Mara actually has more material to work with; she has way more scenes from her perspective outside of her relationship with Underwood, and her character arc from manipulative pawn to an investigator with a conscience is more thoroughly explored by the script. Unfortunately, while she's never terrible, and has a few really good moments, particularly her initial reactions to her newfound fame and publicity and her showdown with her editor Hammerschmidt (Boris McGiver), there's too many scenes where she's just kind of there and leaves the heavy lifting to Spacey/Underwood, showing little to the character beyond a bit of spunky intrepid energy and some sexual allure.
Mattie propositions Francis
(Screenshotted from Netflix)

Whereas Harker is absolutely on point with every line delivery as the hotshot reporter and makes her scenes some of the best in the series, you really believe the hold she has on people due to her great performance. She has such scintillating and twisted chemistry with Richardson, while also showing a young woman very much out of her depth. I haven't gotten to the point where both characters' fates merge, but I will say the U.K. series did so much more to feel for Mattie, while the U.S. series invests me in her side of things due largely to the script and direction, since Zoe does have quite a few 'Deep Throat' journalist scenes where the cinematography and music of the series is at its best.

Zoe could've been the heart of the first season, but where the character and performance fails is where someone else picks up slack. And that is Corey Stoll as Peter Russo, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives struggling with alcoholism, who is used by Underwood and Stamper as one of there primary pawns, building him up into a candidate for Governor of Pennsylvanian before tearing him down again.

The Tragedy of Roger O'Neill the Fool
(Screenshotted from Netflix)

Stoll's equivalent in the U.K. series was Miles Anderson's Roger O'Neill, a drug-addled Tory public relations officer who is ensnared by Urquhart into doing his bidding. When I initially watched the series I wasn't so sure about what I should think about Stoll's performance, he seemed almost too assured, too confident, too obnoxious, and not quite the weak-willed mess of a toady Roger was, a role so brilliantly played by Anderson as a warm-hearted but flawed man who increasingly sinks beyond the point of no return and emerges as perhaps the biggest mess of emotions in television history. Anderson's O'Neill is a terrific bit of supporting work that's been grievously underrated, and some of his later scenes in the series are some of the most harrowing portrayals of grief, self-hate and drug addiction ever.
(Possibly the most heartbreaking moment)
(Screenshotted from Netflix)

Yet where he and Stoll diverge is part of the brilliance of what the U.S. House of Cards does with Peter Russo's character, is by turning what most of the public and political world would consider the most reprehensible, repulsive character to be perhaps its most sympathetic one. Where Roger O'Neill experiences a terrifying downwards spiral into self-destruction with the help of Urquhart, Russo falls down to rock bottom, is helped up again only to be thrown down even further. It's a marvelous performance that starts off as self-obsessed and hedonistic politician before revealing his weaknesses, shown in him being domineered by Frank Underwood, but also an inner strength and conscience to fight his demons, shown by his strong desire to uphold his Pennsylvanian roots, his love for his children, and his romance with Christina Gallagher (a heartbreaking Kristen Connolly) that makes his comeback so rousing, and his second descent so heartbreaking.
I still need to watch a lot more in order to make a more thorough summation and comparison of these two series. The U.S. series has a lot of strengths in its production values, cinematography and sound design being two of its particularly strong suits, and does create a more paranoia-infused atmosphere through its combination of the two. But the U.K. series revels in its more brisk and admittedly limited scope by managing to balance a sense of fun with a sense of malice, and I'd say that with far less time to develop, the screenplay succeeds far more in giving us an exploration into its protagonist, as well as having (so far from what I've seen) a far superior leading turn, though Spacey's acclaim is very well-deserved. Something I haven't really touched on is Robin Wright's Claire Underwood. The role of Urquhart's wife was an understandably limited one in the U.K. series, and here Wright is great in the role as the wife who's equally supportive and self-serving, very much a Lady Macbeth in the same way Frank's a Richard III, but I'm not quite sure what to think about the directions where her individual storylines are going yet. Even in the lesser scenes involving her she's great, so I guess I'll continue Netflix-ing to see where it takes her.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Halfway Through 2017: Ranking the 20 Films I've Seen


20. Split dir. M. Night Shyamalan (5/10)
What's good? Anything good about this film begins and ends with James McAvoy, and even he's not entirely unaffected by its overwhelming mediocrity. In the hands of a better filmmaker and more importantly, a better script, this could've been an amazing performance. As it is it's a solid and entertaining portrayal of unhinged malevolence that could've been so much more. 

What's bad? The performances are overall pretty solid, but unfortunately actors can only do so much with M. Night Shaymalan's atrocious screenwriting that feeds characters with the most inane things to say. Conversations never flow in a natural or organic way which makes the film surprisingly unengaging for material that's so potentially incendiary. 

Worth a watch? Not really, unless you REALLY like James McAvoy. I was expecting to be troubled or somewhat unnerved by the subject matter, or maybe even the way it was handled, but in the end this is just a badly written, moderately OK directed and very forgettable film. 

Best scene? If I'm to be honest? The post-credits scene. 

19. Ghost in the Shell dir. Rupert Sanders (5/10)

What's good? It's visually striking and moderately well-acted, and is an improvement over Snow White and the Huntsman for Rupert Sanders.

What's bad? In the end, the whole race-bending issue over Major is one of the film's least striking problems. More prominent is just how lifeless it is for the most part. For something that's attracted such a large flock of fans and fanatics, you'd expect a film adaptation to at least have some fun with the source material, but instead it just feels like something that compiles an array of bits and pieces from better science-fiction movies. Plus, the ending and villains are all downright awful.

Worth a watch? There's entertainment value to be found in here in the visual aesthetic, but wouldn't particularly recommend it especially if you're a fan of the original. 

Best scene? The nightclub shootout. 

18. Kong: Skull Island dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts (5.5/10)

What's good? Kong is an impressive visual/mo-cap creation, there's a couple of fun action sequences, and John C. Reilly's madcap take on the photojournalist from Apocalypse Now with a heart is genuinely a great performance. 

What's bad? Outside of Reilly, all the human characters feel so artificial and paper-thin. There never really feels like there's human stakes to the conflict, unlike the not perfect but far more impressive and immersive 2005 King Kong. The generic script never evolves into something more than 'thrust several cliches together in action setpieces and see what happens', and makes most things onscreen pretty unengaging despite being technically well shot and edited, especially when either big monkey or Reilly are not onscreen.

Worth a watch? You know what? I'll say yes because watching Reilly having the time of his life and a the king of the apes smashing things is at the very least, moderately entertaining which is more than can be said for the previous two films. 

Best scene? Kong's initial attack on the helicopters.

17. Baywatch dir. Seth Gordon (6/10)
What's good? Blasphemy for putting this so 'high' on my list? So be it. There's quite a bit of fun to be had in this film with some pretty funny jokes, and a genuine sense of camaraderie between its cast members.

What's bad? There's very little plot, and what little of it there is is extremely flimsy and not particularly interesting. Honestly I think the film would have been better off as a series of vigenettes.

Worth a watch? Yeah, why not. Not going to win any Oscars and it's not, strictly speaking, a 'good film'. But it's mindless fun, and that's what matters.

Best scene? The team infiltrate the Huntley Club/Ronnie's dance. 

16. The Promise dir. Terry George (6.5/10)
What's good? Sheds light on a very tragic point in history, the Armenian Genocide, and definitely massive respect to the people on board this film who give it their all, in particular Oscar Isaac.

What's bad? You know, I think if director Terry George had opted to direct this in a similar fashion to Hotel Rwanda, this could've been a far stronger film overall. This film spends almost too much time on a love triangle I had very little interest in, when in fact focusing on the three characters seperately could've made for a far more powerful and thought-provoking film.

Worth a watch? Yes. It's a flawed film in terms of technicalities and direction, but in terms of its central message and heart, it's in the right place.

Best scene? Mikael returns to his village. 

15. Beauty and the Beast dir. Bill Condon (6.5/10)
What's good? It may not have been a wholly necessary film, but like The Jungle Book last year (albeit to a lesser extent) it manages to recreate some of original spirit and energy of its classic source, while also finding ways to diverge from it in interesting ways, like its rewriting of Gaston and LeFou's relationship, and capturing the visual details of the household servants with a bit of a spin. 

What's bad? Emma Watson is just not a very good actress, I hate to say it. She tries her best, but her Belle is a bit of a downgrade from the original, who wasn't that great of a Disney Princess to start with anyway. The SFX for the Beast is also a bit iffy, Dan Stevens does his best with the role, and I kind of disliked the new songs they inserted into the film.

Worth a watch? If you like Disney films then this will tick some boxes, irk you in some ways, but you'll probably still like it overall. If you don't like Disney, stay far away. 

Best scene? 'Gaston' 

14. Fast & Furious 8 dir. F. Gary Gray (7/10)
What's good? When the film revels in its utter stupidity and lets fist fly, cars crash and egos butt heads, it thrives. From the prison breakout scene to the climactic finale on ice, even if your suspension of disbelief is strung out to its absolute extreme, you'll enjoy every dumb action scene, and Jason Statham and Dwayne Johnson seeing who's got bigger balls.

What's bad? Like Baywatch, the villainous side of things bogs the film down greatly. There's no fun to be had in it, and it makes for some scenes that are almost too dark for a Fast and Furious film. 

Worth a watch? If you've been a fan of all/some of the Fast and Furious films so far, then yes, you will like this. But it won't convert any non-believers. 

Best scene? The Rock and Statham break out of prison. 

13. Trainspotting 2 dir. Danny Boyle (7/10)
What's good? Nostalgia is the main selling point of this film, and it fulfils that expectation, and then some. It works well as just a nice little reunion of these beloved (or perhaps not so beloved) characters, but also works in developing their stories. It never feels dull, and fares far better than most 2010s belated sequels to 1990s classics have. 

What's bad? I'll admit that though the film is never really dull, it does feel a bit too aimless at points, particularly in the final act or so. Where Trainspotting had a stronger dramatic core, this film has to force its way to find one at certain points, and I think the film would've fared better with a less over-the-top and melodramatic finale.

Worth a watch? I'd say so, it's a very endearing film and one that'll please fans of the original, if not necessarily become beloved by them. 

Best scene? Begbie and Renton 'reunite'.

12. A Ghost Story (7.5/10) dir. David Lowrey
What's good? It takes a very interesting concept and goes all out with it. The haunting cinematography and restrained long takes make for a very immersive experience, and the whole idea of a ghost grounded in realism is utilized very well. 

What's bad? Not that much that's bad so much as I don't think the film lives up to its full potential. It lost me a bit towards the middle, and when the film involves too much talking it loses most of its strength as a beautifully 'quiet' film. In the end, I think I was more involved with the overall 'mood' of the film than the story or themes it was trying to espouse.

Worth a watch? Yes. The Swiss Army Man of this year, one which must be seen to be believed, and it's important that offbeat projects like this get attention. 

Best scene? Any scene that's entirely dialogue-free. 

11. The Lost City of Z (7.5/10) dir. James Gray
What's good? Beautifully shot, and James Gray is a director with a real grasp on the small, human details of an epic adventure, with some very interesting characters and psyches playing off one another. Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattison are both particularly good.

What's bad? Would not have minded a bit more of a brisker pace, and I think the nature of the real-life figure results in the third act feeling decidedly anti-climactic.

Worth a watch? Certainly - quite underseen and I do think that it was perhaps poorly advertised as an adventure film when it's a bit more of a character study.

Best scene? Fawcett meets Costin for the first time.

10. Free Fire dir. Ben Wheatley (7.5/10)
What's good? A very strong ensemble that works together well in generating laughs and tension, befitting of a plot which throws them all into one setting. It's just quite a bit of fun to watch these character trade verbal barbs and bullets, and it breezes past quite nicely.

What's bad? Some of the cinematography in this was very iffy, and though I was entertained by most scenes, the ways in which Wheatley cuts between the different parts of the shootout was at times extremely muddled. Also, some of the characters get way too little to do.

Worth a watch? Certainly, nothing overly bad to criticize and it's quite a bit of fun. 

Best scene? 'Annie's Song'

9. Alien: Covenant (8/10) dir. Ridley Scott
What's good? This is a really, really entertaining film. I was not expecting to enjoy myself as much as I did throughout this, considering I'm such a massive Alien fan. It's such a fun and at times pretty tense action-horror film with excellent performances from Katherine Waterston, Michael Fassbender, and Danny McBride, and a stellar ensemble to hold it up. Visually impeccable too. 

What's bad? Besides the characters who live, most of the cast are dead men walking because of the multitude of stupid decisions they make. Thus though it's fun to watch, seeing them getting killed off never evokes much of a response from the audience in the same way the original Alien crew did. Also, when the film tries to be too clever, it doesn't really work; it's most effective as a straightforward action film with some horror elements. 

Worth a watch? Definitely. Unless you're expecting something as great as Alien, I think anyone who wants some scares and entertainment will enjoy this.

Best scene? The backburster, or the opening scene. 

8. John Wick 2 (8/10) dir. Chad Stahelski
What's good? Action, action, action. Everything is taken up a notch, and makes for some truly breathtaking sequences.

What's bad? Too much universe setting up for the sequel that bogs the film down a bit in the third act. Also, they don't utilize some of the most intriguing elements from the first film enough, like the members of the contract killer's hotel, and has a very weak main villain.

Worth a watch? Definitely, some of the most fun I've had at the cinema this year even if I felt there could've been a bit more substance to it.

Best scene? A contract on Wick's head.

7. The Other Side of Hope (8/10) dir. Aki Kaurismäki 
What's good? A story of a Syrian refugee with a tragic past and a disgruntled divorced salesman-turned-restauranteer doesn't exactly scream 'hilarious', but that's what a lot of this film is. Part oddball comedy, part social satire, this is a film which knows how to derive laughs out of drama, and drama out of laughs. It's an intimate, small-scale film that really knows its characters and their predicaments well, and tells their little stories incredibly well. 

What's bad? Not a fan of the ending, which seems tonally all over the place, and I'd also say that the parts of the film which are pure drama, or pure comedy, are the weakest parts, it works best as a dramedy, or comedy with elements of dramatic pathos. 

Worth a watch? Definitely, particularly in these times it's as relevant as ever, and you'll probably have a good time. 

Best scene? The health inspectors visit. 

6. Lady Macbeth (8.5/10) dir. William Oldroyd
What's good? Florence Pugh gives an amazing performance as Catherine, a young woman trapped in a loveless marriage who soon figures out how to make the best of her situation, even if it involves a few less than savoury acts. I love how the film never tries to force you to sympathize or hate Catherine, but rather presents her every action with such cold and callous disconnect, making the moments where we see what she's internally going through all the more powerful. Despite being a very understated film, it's also extremely chilling. 

What's bad? Pacing is a bit off at points, and some standout scenes are followed by needless ones; really, whenever the camera strays from Pugh is when the film loses momentum, as the rest of the cast, though mostly serviceable, are far from being as effective as her character and performance.

Worth a watch? Definitely. A criminally underseen and I'd daresay that with more of a campaign behind her, Pugh could have made a play for a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

Best scene? The poisoning of Boris. 

5. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (9/10) dir. James Gunn
What's good? The action, visuals have only gotten better since the first film, and I felt the character dynamics in this one felt so natural and organic, and I just loved spending time with these great characters. Also the jokes, though slightly hit and miss, are hilarious when they hit the mark, and the underlying emotional poignancy though rushed manages to make quite the impact still.

What's bad? There's very little plot to speak of, and even though the villain and his motivations are well set up, it's slightly nullified by the very vigenette style of the film. Honestly, I can understand if someone thought this film was a mess, but it's that messiness which sort of endeared it to me.

Worth a watch? Hell to the yeah, unless you didn't like the first one, but how could you not?

Best scene? 'Come a Little Bit Closer' 



4. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Mäki (9/10) dir. Juho Kuosmanen
What's good? Honestly, I could rank places 2 to 4 on my list in any way. They're equally terrific films in their own ways, and this one is a terrific boxing film, but not in your usual fashion. It features the real-life story of a boxer who fits all the criteria of an underdog, but the story doesn't move in the way you'd necessarily expect. The screenplay and direction gradually reveal the film to be something else than just a tale about a boxer, but instead of a man who boxes and finds victory in something beyond the ring. It's an extremely low-key and loveable film that's funny and moving without trying.

What's bad? I loved the film, but some might find it a bit too understated and bare bones for its own good. And the ending is, indeed, anticlimactic, but I think it works extremely well for the tone 

Worth a watch? YES. Finnish dramedy is something that's been hitherto untouched on this blog, and this film has encouraged me to go on a new pursuit.

Best scene? Olli returns home to visit Raija.


3. Wonder Woman (9/10) dir. Patty Jenkins
What's good? Terrific action sequences and visuals, Patty Jenkins and Matthew Jensen such a strong eye for the horrors of war and the grandeur of the titular Amazon saviour. The score is breathtaking, the story has high stakes which result in a great deal of tension, and I loved how uncynical its approach to heroism and valour was. Gal Gadot's excellent and heartfelt portrayal of the badass titular hero and her dynamic with Chris Pine's equally impressive turn as 'above average' Steve Trevor makes for a very entertaining and powerful core to the film. 

What's bad? Honestly, I could go on about the generic villains, but I don't think they hinder the film that much. Ludendorff and Doctor Poison aren't the most interesting or original characters ever, but I did not mind them that much since they don't play that big of a part in the film overall.

Worth a watch? Definitely. Even if you don't like superhero films, I'd say this has a bit of something in it for everyone. 

Best scene? No Man's Land. 


2. Logan (9/10) dir. James Mangold
What's good? You know what, pretty much everything in this film is growing on me as I write it, from the performances to the visuals to the script and of course, above all, the strong emotional core it has in its central trio. Even its less important elements like the villains and the comedy are all done really well, and as someone who's not the biggest X-Men fan I loved it.

What's bad? Nothing much, really. Maybe a bit too much happens at the end of the second act for everything to have the right amount of impact, but it's not a big deal.

Worth a watch? Definitely. Although definitely go in with an open mind, and don't bring young children expecting a fun superhero film.

Best scene? Logan's last run.


1. Get Out (9.5/10) dir. Jordan Peele
What's good? As a massive Key and Peele fan, I was already interested in this film, but nothing prepared me for how great it would turn out. It blends biting social commentary on race with some truly terrifying moments, and some truly hilarious moments. Jordan Peele has proved to be one hell of a director, and his strong cast (most notably Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and the underrated work of Betty Gabriel), strong screenplay, makes for an exceptional horror-comedy that goes beyond the call of duty.

What's bad? Some consider the ending a cop out, some feel the humour to be misplaced in parts. I myself think the film works almost perfectly on all those fronts, but I can see why some mind find it tonally bizzare.

Worth a watch? Yes, yes, yes, yes...

Best scene? No, no, no, no, no...