Friday, 30 December 2016

The Ten Worst Movies of 2016

Well despite the many low points of this year 2016 eventually revealed itself to be an exceptionally good year for cinema if you were looking in the right places. But we are not going to talk about that today. Instead we are taking a look back at the very worst products to crawl out of the film industry over the past twelve months, the bile and slime of all that is considered good and a danger to moviegoers everywhere.

Of course, one can only stand to see so many terrible films in one year so naturally some films had to be excluded. I’m sure ‘Nine Lives’, ‘Yoga Hosers’ and ‘Norm of the North’ were all atrociously terrible, but I only have so much time on this earth and I can’t spend too much of it watching terrible films.

But despite this I still have some dishonourable mentions for films that struck that unique ground of being terrible but not worth the effort to include them here. It seems that ‘The Divergent Series’ has finally sunk itself with ‘Allegiant’ performing so poorly that the final instalment has been cancelled from its movie status and reduced to a TV Special for 2017. ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ was a headache inducing defacement of Lewis Carol’s work. Talented directors like Duncan Jones and Justin Kurzel failed the video game genre with the woeful ‘Warcraft’ and ‘Assassin’s Creed’. We were treated to some stupidly joyless thrillers film in ‘Criminal’ and ‘Inferno’. We also had the usual stupidity one could expect when your film states that it is “Produced by Michael Bay” with ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows’ and ‘The Purge: Election Year’. There’s also ‘Gods of Egypt’ which only stays off due to how unintentionally hilarious it is, being a film that I could actually imagine myself watching several times whenever I’m in need of a laugh. Still a biblically terrible film, but a funny one at that.

But wait there’s more, because I wanted to reserve a special spot for the year’s biggest disappointment. A film I had high hopes for, even defended in the build up to its release but ultimately rushed those dreams and has only further angered me since I first saw it. That film is ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’. Following the success of ‘Days of Future Past’ one would think the franchise might finally craft a third act of a trilogy that was worth watching. But what we get instead is a film that amounts to a two hour explanation of why Professor X is bald. It is repetitive and derivative of its predecessors, hampers any potential future storytelling the franchise could have had and boasts the most generic end-of-the-world-plot a blockbuster of this nature could have. Watching Oscar Isaac stomp around in an expressionless rubber suit, portraying a villain with no singular motivation or depth of any kind may be one of the saddest things I witnessed all year. There is not one prop, location or effect in the entire film that looks remotely real. Most of the special effects consist of poorly composited green screen and CGI props that are thrown at the audience until their eyes start bleeding. The plot is jam packed with insulting contrivances, sequel baiting subplots and pandering cameos from characters who ultimately have little to zero impact on the story as a whole. It feels like it was manufactured to be a lesser copy of a weak MCU film, filled with witty banter, overly elaborate action sequences and a climactic city based battle where the world falls apart in pixels behind the characters. But all of this is just the start, now we get to the bottom ten.

10: Batman v Superman / Suicide Squad

I admit I cheated here. But out of the two terrible DCEU movies we got this year I could not pick between them and decided they each act as a nice benchmark to start the list (basically saying, let’s start here and see how low we can sink). First off, ‘Suicide Squad’ lacks any cohesive structure, resembling one long drawn out action sequence that overall contains less depth than a single frame of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. The movie is so poorly shot, coloured and lit that I wondered if Warner Bros accidentally left their camera on the sepia-tone setting. It’s clichéd, generic and uninspired in almost every aspect, putting a great cast (and Jai Courtney) to waste. This is all without mentioning its aggressively pandering soundtrack.

But none of this came as a surprise thanks to DC’s earlier offering, ‘Batman v Superman’. We have seen superhero failures of the past be intellectually insulting, creatively stunted, pretentiously self-righteous and unfaithful to their source material. Now here comes ‘Batman v Superman that manages to be all of that at once and more. Like ‘Suicide Squad’ it lacks all cohesive structure with the first two acts becoming an exercise in how many names and locations we can visit without a single establishing shot or any narrative thrust to motivate the sightseeing tour. It’s all in the name of establishing an overly convoluted and contrived plot that ultimately leads to a rage inducing anti-climax that is resolved with the word “Martha”. Character motivations and perronsalities shift rapidly from scene to scene, subplots are brought up and never resolved and the movie even gives you the benefit of seeing shoehorning in teaser trailers for upcoming instalments in the ultimate middle finger to the audience and a nightmare scenario of franchise filmmaking. Zack Snyder’s “visionary” direction amounts to recreating some comic panels with an unconvincing and visually uninspired CGI explosion. The entire production is a sheer train wreck from start to finish.

Both films are just as bad as each other and fans swarmed anyone who stated so, sending death threats to critics, starting petitions to remove any negative reviews of the films and rewarding them perfect scores on sites like IMDB before they had even been released. They took it upon themselves to tech those evil critics for doing what they are professionally paid to do and voice their opinion about a movie they recently saw, justifying themselves with accusation of corruption or the even more feeble excuse of “It’s for the fans”. The latter excuse is essentially a different way of saying “This movie is for the people who were going to love it regardless of its actual quality anyway” so I hope you can see the irrelevance of that.

9: The 5th Wave

Teen dystopian adaptations hit an all-time low here. Despite some truly horrifying entries into the genre ‘The 5th Wave’ stands as potentially the most pandering, intellectually stunted, emotionally manipulative of them all. It wanders through its plot almost aimlessly, borrowing every trope and cliché it can from every other film of this genre that has preceded it. Worst of all is that unlike ‘Allegiant’ whose box office failure tanked its entire franchise, ‘The 5th Wave’ managed to make money which likely means we have two more of these garbage fires to look forward to.

8: The Other Side of the Door

As 2016 reaches its end and many discuss the good, bad and ugly of the year gone by people seem to have overlooked ‘The Other Side of the Door’ which in itself is a crime. This terrible excuse for a horror film is jam packed with cheap jump scares, weak characterisations, offensively blatant contrivances as well as a dozen plot holes that I honestly can’t blame anyone for blocking it out of their memory. But at the same time it certainly should not go unpunished.

7: Mother’s Day

It is a shame that Gary Marshall’s last film had to be tis awful. I know some people who put aside the actual quality and enjoy the glitzy schmaltz of ‘New Year’s Eve’ and ‘Valentine’s Day’. But with ‘Mother’s Day’ Marshall crossed the line and overloaded us with so much cheap sentimentality, emotional manipulation and ludicrously contrived reasons to waste a talented cast that it’s maddeningly sickening. There is a scene in which Jack Whitehall plays a comedian who wins a stand-up competition while simultaneously looking after his infant baby. During the routine I heard plenty of laughter from the fake audience watching him in the film, I heard none from the real audience watching the film.

6: Independence Day: Resurgence

The summer that went on forever is perhaps best epitomised with this overblown and overstuffed extravaganza of soullessness. Instead of having the fun popcorn entertainment and pulsating energy of ‘Independence Day’, this sequel is a flat, overly convoluted, self-serious, humourless downpour that is the perfect countermand to any goodwill one could take away from the original. The CGI effects seek not to engage the viewer but to overwhelm them by throwing as much at the screen as it possibly can. There is so little substance to it that after watching it I felt malnourished.

5: Ben-Hur

The trend of Hollywood remakes hit an all-time low here (that seems to apply to a lot of genres this year, as well as society in general) by turning one of the most universally praised movies of all time into a diabolical cash grab. It cuts out almost 100 minutes of runtime from the original by leaving out silly things such as pacing, character development, depth, atmosphere, motivations and subtleties. This leaves only the bare bones of the story which results in an unmotivated and uninspired retelling that comes across as unintentionally hilarious. To top it all off the film panders to conservative audiences by being less politically correct than the 1958 version, cutting out homosexual undertones in favour of an extended torture porn sequence of Jesus on the cross to remind us how we are all terrible people.

4: Max Steel

I feel sorry for whoever thought this would be the next big franchise. Or at least I would if anyone working on the film actually did because I cannot accept that anyone involved in this production saw it as anything other than a cheaply made attempt to do….actually I can’t work out what this was trying to accomplish. It is too idiotically stupid to appeal to anyone over the age of five and too bland and boring to appeal to anyone under that age. Anyone who played with the original toys has long grown out of this by now and everyone else didn’t even know this film existed. Films like ‘Max Steel’ make people like me question what we are doing with our lives.

3: Collateral Beauty

A film so terrible that any attempt I made to write a full review of it descended into an angry and incomprehensible rant. With a marketing campaign so blatantly false I’m surprised no one has tried to sue the makers for false advertising (if that American woman can try to sue Nicholas Winding Refn because ‘Drive’ wasn’t an action movie I can’t see why this can get away scot-free). Who doesn’t want to see a film about a group of business executives trying to prove their boss, Will Smith is clinically insane by exploiting his grief over his dead daughter and hiring three actors to portray three abstract concepts of Love, Time and Death to interact with Will Smith so they can digitally remove the actors from security footage to make it appear as if Will Smith is talking to himself, thereby definitely proving he is insane. I think describing the plot of the film speaks for itself. The fact that it the film’s thematic conceit is barely worthy of a an induction session in class at a community college philosophy class and somehow convincing the likes of Will Smith, Edward Norton, Helen Mirren, Kate Winslet, Michael Pena, Naomi Harris and Keira Knightly to sign on for this crap is baffling, almost as baffling as the plot.

2: Dirty Grandpa

There have been a fair few horror films released in 2016, yet none of them were as terrifyingly disturbing as ‘Dirty Grandpa’. Incidentally that is not to be read as a criticism of said horror films. This “comedy” is mind numbingly incompetent in every single regard that I’m still struggling to envision anyone reading over this script and deciding it was anything other than something disgusting smeared across a piece of paper. This is not just a case of smart or dumb comedy, ‘Dirty Grandpa’ is so nauseatingly offensive but at the same time so infuriatingly unfunny that it’s sickening. Crude and crass humour can be funny, sometimes brilliantly so, but this film stays so far away from anything that could be considered a joke, from the mild racism and homophobia to the prolonged shot of Robert De Niro masturbating. It is a real low point for 2016, but not quite the absolute worst, which leads me onto….

1: God’s Not Dead 2

I try not to drag politics into this, but in a year where the entire world feels divided over differing beliefs it seems fitting that this piece of propaganda should end up here. A film that seems to celebrate the idea that the world is divided by race and religion, a film that endorses the idea that some people are inferior depending upon their beliefs and argues that we are currently in the middle of a war between the evil atheists and the unsung perfect yet persecuted heroes, Christians. The plot defies all logic, and is nothing more than a thin veil from which the film can scream its agenda at the audience until either the viewer or the speaker passes out from exhaustion. It’s not as blatantly aggressive as ‘God’s Not Dead’ in which the non-Christian characters either die from car collisions, undergo domestic abuse or get diagnosed with cancer. But the sequel does its best to prove that anyone who isn’t a Christian is a conniving person filled with hatred and wants to cause suffering to everyone in the world. It’s one thing to make a hypocritical piece of propaganda, but for it to be as incompetently made, as poorly written and as terribly acted as ‘God’s Not Dead 2’, then that just about clinches it. ‘God’s Not Dead 2’, the worst movie of 2016.

So that’s by rundown of the year’s worst. For those wondering I would normally have posted a list for the year’s best films as well but sadly there are still a number of films that I have yet to see including ‘La La Land’, ‘Silence’ and ‘Manchester by the Sea’. The likely scenario is that I’ll be able to see them over the course of January so I’m hoping to finalise my list within a month or less. As much as I would like to say “screw it” and just make a list including the films I’ve already seen I know how frustrating it is in a year’s time when a critic says “Here are my top ten films of 2017, by the way six of these came out and were being discussed mainly in 2016 and by now everyone is talking about a completely different set of films which I also have yet to see”. If a film was released in 2016 I intend to see it and review it in the context of 2016. As frustrating as it is I want to avoid clogging up next year’s list with a load of year-old releases, having to ignore the existence of some of my most anticipated movies of this year by not including them on my annual list and being short changed for the number of quality films on my list for this year. That’s is all then, bye.

Thursday, 29 December 2016


"We boarded the Avalon with a destination. 120 years hibernation, wake up on a new planet in a new century. But a year ago everything changed."

One common theory amongst film critics today is that despite the fact that studios still push them as if they are a big deal, the movie star as a concept is all but dead. I have to conceded it is a good theory, after all when was the last time a movie drew in mass audiences just because of it’s cast? In a world of franchises and proven properties there’s no room for Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard to have their second rate ‘Casablanca’ pull in the money, so what hope do Jenifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt have at selling their intergalactic love story?

The star ship Avalon is transporting over 5000 colonists to a new planet when two of them are unexpectedly awoken from their hibernation pods. Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jenifer Lawrence) must now deal with the prospect of spending eighty years with no other human contact and must ensure that the ship completes its journey safely.

‘Passengers’ is about as generic as they come. In fact it is generic to such an extent, so tailor made to have a mass appeal that ultimately I’m confused as to who it is even supposed to be for anyway. If it is a romance then is skips over a majority of what would interest any fan of that genre. If it is science fiction then there are too many contrived plot points for the narrative to be taken seriously in that regard. If it is supposed to be a thriller of some kind then I hate to break it to these filmmakers but one bolted on sort-of-action scene near the end does not qualify it as that. If it wants to be a prestige picture then it is not complex or engaging enough to do that either Even if it is nothing more than a star vehicle for Lawrence and Pratt then it becomes so slow and tedious that I can’t imagine even the most casual of moviegoers being entertained by it.

None of this is to say the film is unspeakably awful. In fact that is the most frustrating thing. If I could point to one aspect of the movie and yell “That’s it, that’s what ruins it” then I would be fine. But there is no dancing Johnny Depp, no Martha moment and no mind numbingly incompetent direction. Instead we see a film where all aspects from the writing to the acting, from the directing to the special effects, are all inoffensively fine. But at the same time they never come remotely close to achieving anything worthwhile or interesting. It says about the film as a whole that though the premise and certain plot points evoke some darker turns for the story the film strays far away from them. While a lot of critics have felt the need to pass moral judgement on the actions certain characters undertake in the film I wouldn’t have an issue with it if the film at least addressed the concept and did something interesting with it. But despite discussing it and acknowledging said actions, ‘Passengers’ drops any darker implications once it’s convenient.

But speaking of Pratt and Lawrence, though they share some genuine chemistry their individual performances rarely live up to the time they spend on screen together. Neither actor conveys the idea that they are a fully fleshed individual (not that the screenplay itself really gives them a chance to do so anyway) so once alone they come across as rather bland and uninteresting. Thankfully Michael Sheen is there to drop by as one of the ship’s automated computers, and though Sheen’s performance is more engaging due to the outlandish nature of his role, it still offers little interest in regards to the actual film as a whole.

It also does not help that the films pace is somewhat baffling. It almost lacks structure entirely, slowly dripping from one mundane piece of drama to the next. Each event seems completely limited to itself in what feels like a deliberately episodic format. It comes across as a repetitive TV show that lacks a good showrunner, opting instead to let each new episode plod along slowly until it is time to move onto the next one. But as the film drags on even these events become indistinguishable from another and I was beginning to forget if Jim and Aurora were trying to stop an asteroid hitting the ship or if they were fixing the ship’s technical malfunctions.

Under the direction of Morten Tyldum ‘Passengers’ becomes even more woefully generic. Once again I can’t fault Tyldum as an awful director, but his style is so lacking in flair or originality that I can’t really commend it either. Each shot just looks so falsely polished and artificially constructed. The fact that the environment is a smooth and characterless star ship only hinders this further, as with each new piece of action from anti-gravity scenes to moments of tension set in outer space my mind drifted to where I had seen the same scenario in a different film, all of which were better than ‘Passengers’.

While no singular element of ‘Passengers’ is atrocious, the film as a whole is so generically passable that I can’t see myself remembering it mere days from now.

Result: 4/10

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Monster

"And not a soul in sight."

We’ve had such a plenitude of horror films throughout 2016 that by now we have a scale from which to compare these late comers. Does ‘The Monster’ measure up to the masterful dread of ‘The Witch’ or the visceral thrills of ‘Green Room’, will we be tortured with another film as biblically terrible as ‘The Other Side of the Door’ or will it fall somewhere in the middle in the same way ‘The Conjuring 2’ did this summer. Although out of all the horror films of this year, ‘The Monster’ evokes one in particular.

A divorced mother (Zoe Kazan) and her daughter (Ella Ballentine) must make an emergency late-night road trip to see the girl's father. As they drive through deserted country roads on a stormy night, they suddenly have a startling collision that leaves them shaken but not seriously hurt. Their car, however, is dead, and as they try in vain to get help, they come to realize they are not alone. A terrifying evil is lurking in the woods, intent on never letting them leave.

Now to anyone who saw ‘Under the Shadow’ earlier this year, that premise may sound eerily familiar, or at the very least should evoke similar thematic aspects of a mother and daughter in peril from a supernatural entity that seeks to examine the main character’s capability as a mother in the face of both social prejudice and demonic challenges, all set within a confined space that the film rarely strays from. When compared to Babak Anvari’s film (which I won’t do that often because, come on that’s just not fair) ‘The Monster’ is much rougher around the edges both in its style and quality. It evokes the atmosphere of nastier grindhouse horror films rather than a thoughtful character based horror movie. Of course that is not to say it is impossible to blend various styles into a superior whole (with the horror genre being one of the finest at doing just that) but in the case of ‘The Monster’ the tone and general mood of the film sift rather disconcertingly throughout. One minute it presents us with some brutally violent scenes of tension and the next it wants to force us to care about the more intimate aspects of its characters.

While it is not impossible to make such a contrast work ‘The Monster’ can’t quite integrate the two elements in a cohesive manner. When you add a rather obviously illustrated metaphor of the alcoholic mother having to battle some personified entity in the woods to protect her daughter however, the film gains an extra layer of depth that is commendable. It adds some much needed weight to proceedings that could otherwise have been nothing more than a collection of decent hat tips to the video nasties.

However that emotional core is not quite strong enough to anchor the films various elements. It has the feel of being assembled from numerous parts and stitched together somewhat clumsily. The fact that the film makes frequent use of flashbacks to illustrate the characters pasts only adds to the jumbled feel of the movie. Though it’s divided into layers they never cohesively bleed into one another. Instead of learning about our characters as the situation unfolds which would allow the film to retain its efficiently built up tension and heightened awareness, we are forced to observe one flashback after another, defusing the tension of each scene it is inserted into as well as losing the immediacy that ‘The Monster’ had established rather well.

That is in fact one of the strongest aspects of the film. Similarly to his 2008 horror film ‘The Strangers’, director Bryan Bertino is able to display a lot of directorial skill in how he builds tension (if not only to defuse it as the film progresses). He plays with expectations and subverts them rather nicely, and his use of environment and lighting is very commendable. He ensures that the threat remains an ever present but unseen incidence, lurking on the edge of a pitch black forest. The only downside to this is that sooner or later the creature has to reveal itself, and once it does Berthino doesn’t really seem to know what to do with it. It is at this point that the film falls into a streak of repetitiveness that is a disappointing divergence from its strong first half. Though the creature itself is an admirable piece of practical effects, Bethino’s directorial skills suit suggestion much more than the noise chaos he tries to evoke here.

But at the centre of all of this lies Zoe Kazan’s performance, which acts as some much needed connective tissue to tie the project together somewhat. Kazan remains effective by never playing to the allegorical nature of the story, instead simply portraying a mother who wants to reconnect with her child. She plays it with unrestrained commitment and a sense of authenticity that stop the flashbacks depicting the kitchen sink drama from descending into tedious melodrama. 

Though it has many strong elements, ‘The Monster’ rarely comes together as a cohesive whole and ultimately feels less effective than other entries of the horror genre from this year alone.

Result: 6/10

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher: 1956-2016

I honestly don’t have much to say here because I still feel like I am in shock. Despite never meeting Carrie Fisher I feel like I have known her for my entire life, as if she was an ever present aspect of my life from my first viewing of ‘Star Wars’ right up to her recent appearances as the franchise has continued to expand. In retrospect I think I can now safely say that the best thing about the recent resurgence of the beloved franchise from a galaxy far, far away is how it gave us the opportunity to remind ourselves of what a wonderful, remarkable and utterly unique person Carrie Fisher was.

I’ve juggled this thought before as we have lost so many beloved icons in 2016, from David Bowie Ronnie Corbett to Alan Rickman and Mohamed Ali. Certain people can leave an indefinite impact on your life and shape who you are without ever actually meeting you. It may be the reason why our culture gravitates towards the concept of celebrity, we strive to find people who we can admire and envision ourselves as so as to confirm that anything is possible. We identify with them to such an extent that when they pass, a small part of us seems to die with them. That is not to say that we have worshipped or fanatically devoted ourselves to that person. But when they played such a huge part in shaping our identity, and when we have spent so many years admiring them for their accomplishments it can be difficult to confront the notion that they are now gone, and always will be whenever we admire them in the future.

Now I am more than ready to acknowledge and celebrate Carrie Fisher’s various other accomplishments, such as her towering personality, impeccable comedic skills, inspirational openness or her sharp wit. You have her talents as a screenwriter, novelist and actress outside of the space opera, but by being in a film like ‘Star Wars’ Carrie Fisher made a claim to have grown up with millions of people across the world, including myself. For many she left an indelible impression and defined part of who they are. Few people have a claim to such a thing, to touch and reach so many lives through a single character.

What a character is was though. One that is an icon in every sense of the word. I’ve spoken before about how remarkable it is that people who have never even seen a ‘Star Wars’ film can still name dozens of characters, quotes and iconography from it without fault. In her performance as Princess Leia Fisher created an icon that almost transcends the medium from which it was delivered. As the woman herself put it “After 1977 Carrie Fisher didn’t exist anymore, I was just a person who looked like Princess Leia”.

Of course this all sounds as if Fisher was resentful of the role but throughout her life she never came across that way. She revelled in her role and was continually grateful for what it had done for her, as well as the legions of fans who continued to praise her work. But what made Fisher so remarkable was the wonderful way that she never failed to acknowledge the absurdity of her life, both personal and professional. It was part of what made her such a strong person, she had the ability to recognise her flaws as well as her assets, and she used that as a voice through which to speak to millions of people across the globe. Whether she was leading a rebellion in a galaxy far, far away or encouraging people to be proud of who they were outside of the big screen. At the end of the day all I can really say is thanks for everything Carrie Fisher, even though I never met you I make no hesitations in saying I knew you and I’m so very glad I, and millions of others, did.

Monday, 26 December 2016

Assassin's Creed

"We work in the dark and disturb the light. We are Assassins."

At one point video game movies must have represented a wealth of potential to both filmmakers and audiences. Studios had a plenitude of source material to pull from and a legion of loyal fans to generate income, while audiences could look forward to their favourite properties being realised on the big screen. But all of that was a long time ago, and by now the stigmatism of unfaithful adaptations, terrible filmmaking and Uwe Boll (which is essentially just a combination of the former two) have made it all the more difficult for films like ‘Assassin’s Creed’.

Convicted criminal Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) is rescued from his own execution by Abstergo Industries, the modern-day incarnation of the Templar Order, and learns that they are searching for an ancient artefact. As a descendant a member of a secret order of assassins that for centuries have opposed the Templar Order, Callum is connected to a machine that reconnects him with the consciousness of his ancestor to retrieve said artefact.  

I began my review of ‘Warcraft’ (which some had predicted that along with this film would save the video game movie genre, yeah good luck with that) by stating that I had never played or had any interest in the game the film was based upon. The same is true with ‘Assassin’s Creed’, however also like ‘Warcraft’ the film’s director grabs my interest. Justin Kurzel proved with 2015’s ‘Macbeth’ that he is has a talent for epic storytelling and striking visuals. Sadly though, ‘Assassin’s Creed’ has yet another similarity with ‘Warcraft’, that being when all is said and done, it isn’t that good.

‘Assassin’s Creed’ suffers where many video game adaptations do, because filmmakers cannot replicate the hands-on action or intimacy of controlling a character through said action onto the big screen and to compensate for this they either go woefully light on plot or become needlessly expository. Somehow this film manages to achieve both of those at the same time, feeling overwrought and top heavy during its first half, then strikingly underdeveloped during it’s second. It overcomplicated due to how many expositional speeches there are and how much time the filmmakers devote to attempting to make it sound as luridly serious as they can, prioritising it over virtually everything. Then just as the film was nearing its climatic action scene I suddenly asked myself “What have I actually learned here”, at which point I realised I knew nothing about the characters, how they had changed or what they stood to lose. I had no reason to be invested in the action and with that revelation the rest of the film felt as light and as irrelevant as one can be.

Speaking of action though, I often find that underwhelming films can be redeemed in some form with some impressive action sequences. But that is not the case with ‘Assassin’s Creed’, as scenes that are meant to be exciting feel repetitive, predictable and, frankly, boring. Even though I spoke highly of Kurzel earlier, now I have to criticise him, because the direction feels like the sole reason for this. Action scenarios on display here like running across rooftops or a chase on a horse and carriage have been made to look exciting elsewhere, but in ‘Assassin’s Creed’ Kurzel’s reliance on shaky cam, randomly alternating angles and hyperactive editing makes the action feel disorienting. I suspect that there was some impressive stunt work and good use of real props, but the direction never allows us to see that.

Worse still, even the non-action scenes suffer under Kurzel’s direction. Each scene just looks so flat and unengaging, rarely coming to life in the way the filmmakers hoped they would. The futuristic Animus project might as well be the same location as 14th Century Spain as they are both shot in the same uninspired style. It doesn’t even supply any visual eye candy, which is yet another bafflement because despite being such a wondrous combination on Kuzel’s ‘Macbeth’, cinematographer Adam Arkpaw seems unable to render any environment as striking or fully realised. The colours seem bland, the framing seems off and the epic landscapes just come across as obviously fake which in itself is an oddity seeing as they did actually film in Madrid for some scenes.

I cannot think of another film to be released this year that brought together so many talented people only to have them all miss the mark. Yes this does indeed mean that even Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard are off as well. Granted the script hardly gives them a lot to work with (particularly for the Oscar winning Cotillard) but in the lead role even Fassbender failed to grab my attention, not even the man who alone managed to elevate ‘X-Men: Apocalypse’ from complete dumpster fire to mildly watchable at times could not engage me here. Even if there is some spark of interest in the likes of Jeremey Irons or Charlotte Rampling they are relegated to the side lines for the most part.

Overwrought and underdeveloped at the same time, the poorly directed and frustratingly bland ‘Assassin’s Creed’ is nothing to get excited for. It also doesn't help that I'm a Monty Python fan and the films keeps mentioning the Spanish Inquisition.

Result: 3/10

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Toni Erdmann

"You have to do this or that but meanwhile, life just passes you by."

If you are like me and think that a lot of mainstream comedy films have lost their edge (and by edge I mean the aspects that make them feel like a movie rather than just lightly edited improvisation or low brow parades of shock value) then I revel in the chance to experience something that is not only hilarious, but also has a cinematic feel. A film that has thematic weight, emotional arcs, excellent direction and succeeds in weaving these elements with comedy. In other news guess what I thought of the internationally acclaimed ‘Toni Erdmann’?

Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek) is a divorced music teacher, an old-age hippie of sorts, with a passion for bizarre pranks involving several fake personas. When his beloved dog dies he tries to reconnect with his daughter Innes (Sandra Hüller), who is pursuing a successful career in business, but she is reluctant to embrace him as a part of her new life.

 I could envision people being underwhelmed by ‘Toni Erdmann’ based on the reviews heading into news outlets. The first thing every other critic has said about the movie is how outlandishly hilarious it is, and while I profess to laughing several times throughout the film, it was not the humour that struck me the most. What left the biggest impression on me was its detailed portrait it painted not just of its individual characters, but of human relations and human behaviour in general. In fact if I can life the ideas raised in reviews by other people once more, many reviews noted that they could imagine Robin Williams being perfect in the lead role. Having seen the film I now understand exactly what they meant.

You see, despite ‘Toni Erdmann’ being a comedy of manners, absurdity and farce, it also delves into darker territory when it questions what drives a comedian/performer to feel a need to make everyone around him laugh. It is a subtle character study of inner pain as well as external hilarity that is at times comedic but at others tragically bittersweet. It uses subtle writing and implied histories to create characters that are not only engaging but also surpassingly complex. Though the runtime of 162 minutes would seem implausibly long, for the most part the film moves along with great pace due to how that runtime not only allows for numerous comedic situations but also to explore the dynamics between those characters in multiple ways to gain new insights into their relationship.

The film’s writer and director Maren Ade has yet to break through to mainstream audiences, but her reputation on the international circuit is highly sought. With ‘Toni Erdmann’ she has created a film that cannot really be classified into one category. Of course one could call it a comedy or a drama, but the way it blends those two contrasting elements together in such a cohesive and structurally sound way is incredible to behold. Even in the film’s most absurdly funny moments we are learning about the characters in a dramatic and complex manner. It gets to the point where you are unsure of whether a scene is designed to be funny or tragic because on multiple occasions it accomplishes both at the same time.

But to return to my original point, those going into ‘Toni Erdmann’ expecting a standard comedy film will most likely be confused. As well as integrating the tragic with the comic so brilliantly and poignantly, the film does so with such a unique vision that it almost catches you off guard. Its sense of humour is almost as absurd as its main character but at the same time the film is achingly realistic. One way it maintains this perfect balance is by including such rich detail in its storytelling. Though the trope of a rich business executive being an emotionally empty shell is a frequently used one, the film takes the time to illustrate why a person reaches that state. It shows the exhausting process of maintaining a career, the effort one puts into it and how in Innes’ case she has to fight even harder in the face of an environment tailored almost exclusively for men (which also gives an element of biting social commentary to the film as well). The same could be said for how ‘Toni Erdmann’ paints Winifred as a non-stop comedian, asserting that no one is that consistently funny without some inner desire to make others laugh by either forgetting their own pain or wanting to project their emotions onto others. The tremendous performances and understated direction only further illustrate these aspects of the film.

Even its emotions are intelligently handled. Rather than relying on simple emotional manipulation ‘Toni Erdmann’ trusts the viewer to take away from the film what they brought to it. So many comedy movies feel the need to tell the audience when to be happy, when to be sad, which characters they have to like and which ones not to. But a viewer could easily look at Winifred and find him infuriating with his continuous comedy, though they can still sympathise with him due to the three dimensional portrait the movie has crafted as well as how it makes things clear that while people’s actions are not always perfect from a different perspective their hearts re in the right place, such is the way in life.

A heartfelt, humane and often hilarious film, ‘Toni Erdmann’ is unique and beyond categorisation.

Result: 8/10

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Talkin' Scorsese: Shutter Island

"Which would be worse? To live as a monster, or die as a good man?"

Martin Scorsese has rarely chosen to stay within his comfort zone as a director. I know it sounds as if I’m saying this at the start of most of these reviews but it is a noticeable fact that despite being widely associated with the gangster genre (which in itself is a misconception as he’s made just as many biopics as he has gangster films, it’s more of a thematic link than a genre one) he continues to experiment with new styles of filmmaking and new kinds of stories, even at this late stage of his career.

In 1954, two U.S. Marshals Edward Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), travel to the Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane on Shutter Islandto investigate the disappearance of a missing patient. But Daniels soon finds himself embroiled within a dark and complex plot, one that goes well beyond his own reasoning.

While Scorsese has told thrillers of both a visceral and psychological nature before, I think it’s safe to say he has rarely had to tread as deftly around the foreshadowing and overarching themes as much as he has here with ‘Shutter Island’. Whereas many Scorsese films have their plot laid out in a structure that makes them rewarding rather than surprising, ‘Shutter Island’ relies heavily on trying to stay one step ahead of the audience’s expectations. The only minor problem is that it doesn’t really do that particularly well. While I can’t speak for everyone I managed to hazard a guess at where the film was heading and was proven to be correct (yes, I’m that annoying person who yells “I knew Bruce Willis was a ghost”) so as the film continues to move along it was difficult to be swept away in its intrigue when I had already mapped out its twists and turns.

That being said, Scorsese has always had an uncanny ability to elevate even the most basic scripts to newfound heights. Although before I address that I should say that I admire the script of ‘Shutter Island’ for its ambitions and thematic weight. While Laeta Kalogridis’ screenplay may not be as elusive as it thinks it is, when looks past the mystery they will find an ambitiously staged character study, one that wants to analyse the mind of a wounded man and raise some deep thinking questions at the same time. All in all, considering this is the same scriptwriter that would one day bring us ‘Terminator: Geneisyisieisisieiisiesss’ (that’s how they spelt it right?) I think we should count ourselves lucky.

But back to the man himself. Scorsese’s direction is working at its most extroverted here as it tries to render the internal as external. With his striking use of colours, jarring angles and intense framing even Scorsese seems to know that the mystery is the least interesting part of the narrative. Though the plot wants to focus more on the twists of the narration, Scorsese gravitates more towards his usual thematic undertones, those of guilt and rage which are clearly evident within Daniels damaged psyche. The downside is that the film frequently feels like it is at conflict with itself, but again it falls upon the director to elevate this source material to become something that I would certainly say is worth your attention to say the least. One could almost call it playful in its approach, as where normally these techniques may seem overtly extravagant for any other kind of story, one that stresses insanity as both its setting and theme appears ideal for a more stylised approach to directing.

Above all else ‘Shutter Island’ is an exercise of atmospheric filmmaking. Scorsese is able to evoke a sense of terror from each unfolding incident, and his direction means that they are always interesting on a visual level. Not only that but it is a slow build of tension, one that only a few auteur filmmakers seem capable of in this day and age, patient and knowing yet invigorating and gripping. It may be the closest Scorsese has come to making a horror film, in fact in many ways it is a prototypical haunted house feature. But in this case the ghosts are already within the characters.

Speaking of characters, the film is packed with some fine talent who are all able to create intriguing characters that remain elusive regarding their real motivations.  DiCaprio in particular manages to craft an empathetic of a man with deep trauma who is in over his head, while trying desperately to hide his pain over an overbearing sense of denial. As his partner, Ruffalo creates a similar persona that can be compared to Daniels, but at the same time contrasted based on how he clearly carries less visible wounds, or less prominent ones. The rest of the cast are strong but seem to have little to do with their talent, from Ben Kingsley to Max Von Sydow, they all make strong impressions but rarely have a chance to shine for a prolonged amount of time as they are continuously relegated to the side-lines.

Despite its shortcomings in its script, ‘Shutter Island’ is worth seeing for its stylish craftsmanship and strong central performances.

Result: 6/10

Monday, 19 December 2016


"I don't want this anymore, this situation, the lies."

Paul Veerhoven is what I like to call a filmmaker of extremities. Whatever project he is undertaking he takes it to the furthest extreme in every aspect. Distinguished for his films that tackle sex, violence and any disturbing combination of the two, his time in Hollywood generated iconic science fiction masterworks such as ‘Robocop’, ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Starship Troopers’. His career in Europe also brought forth some equally terrific films from ‘The Fourth Man’ to ‘Black Book’. His latest, ‘Elle’ proves that at 78 years old, he’s not showing any sign of slowing down.

Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) is raped in her home by an assailant in a ski mask, then attempts to sweep the incident under the rug and resume her normal life. However as time passes she becomes increasingly suspicious of those around her, and when she discovers the identity of her assailant and begins stalking him back she starts down a dark road of obsession and violence.

So going back to the subject of Veerhoven and his extreme nature, just in case that plot synopsis was not disconcerting enough or did not quite convince you of just how provocative Veerhoven’s filmmaking is, know that ‘Elle’ opens midway through the event that sets the plot in motion. There is no safe introduction to this world, no gradual build up or subtle foreshadowing. Instead we are thrust straight into a scenario of our worst nightmares, one that is rendered before our eyes in the most unapologetic way we could imagine. It takes a filmmaker of true boldness to carft something like that, and in all honesty it is difficult to imagine anyone but Veerhoven daring to walk such a tightrope, let alone succeed and create something truly exhilarating.

Like a lot of Veerhoven’s films there are many ways to read and interpret ‘Elle’. While many have tried to read the film as a statement on gender relations and sexism the main aspect I took away from the film was that it was a complex revision in the dynamics of abuse as well as delicately brutal character study. It examines why we tolerate abuse in a society, why we take so long to heal from it and how projecting abuse onto others can lead to a self-perpetuating cycle that destroys can lives, and even more tragically, define them.

In some ways it reminded me of ‘Nocturnal Animals’, even down to the ways I can imagine others criticising it. Where some have labelled ‘Elle’ a cold and distant movie, I would instantly retort that the titular character is a cold and distant person. In many regards that is where many of the biggest twists and turns of the story are rooted. The way that her plight demands sympathy from everyone, but as Michelle makes continuous efforts to avoid all human contact we are left stunned at her lack of investment in an incident that horrified us into sympathising with her. Without even realising it the movie has goaded us into projecting our empathy onto Michelle, only to confront that very notion as her personal history and complex layers are peeled back as the film progresses.

This thematic undertone is evident by how Veerhoven seems only mildly interested in the actual mystery concerning the identity of Michelle’s attacker. He leaves some fairly obvious clues as to who the perpetrator is and though it may look like he has robbed us of an intriguing mystery, it is obvious that Veerhoven wants to spend more time on the psychology and aftermath of the situation. His camera remains planted on her for the entirety of the film, as if daring the audience to even try and decipher the far more complex mystery of what motivates her. The way ‘Elle’ examines power dynamics and the observations it makes over them are almost disconcerting enough on itself, but when it throws in a group of characters who are written to represent nothing but themselves, makes for a conversation that is so riveting, intelligent and bold that it is almost impossible to look away.

What helps keep you planted to the screen is Isabelle Huppert’s performance, which is a towering feat of transcendent acting the likes of which I have not witnessed in a long time. I was left reminiscent of De Niro in ‘Taxi Driver’ as like that masterwork, Huppert’s performance is utterly profound and humane. But at the same time she never demands our sympathy or affection, she simply presents a flawed and damaged character in all her unapologetic glory. Many actors would be hesitant to play Michelle this way for fear of being disliked, but Huppert does not seem to care, she simply wants to render this anomaly of a human as real flesh and blood. What is even more striking is the sheer range on display, with the ability to be helpless, powerful, manipulative, terrifying and even funny at various points throughout the narrative, but always with an underlying sense of consistency that never makes you doubt that you’re watching the same strong character.

Not fearing what the viewer thinks of you is a trait shared by the film’s director. With his first feature film in ten years one would think that even a filmmaker like Veerhoven would want to ease back into his provocative state of storytelling. But if anything ‘Elle’ represents Veerhoven at his most unrestrained. He’s not subverting a genre or defying our expectations here, he is making a distinct commentary on broader human issues that are as terrifying as they are thrilling. On a technical level his handling of suspense reflects the skill of a true auteur, with an eye of long experience to refine it to perfection, however his ability to grasp human behaviour may be even more compelling. Despite its larger societal implications ‘Elle’ remains focussed as a story of a deeply disturbed person handling the act of abuse. His handling of the subject matter is so visceral that it almost acts as a countermand to anything else Veerhoven has done in his career, with his usual visual stylistics being deliberately absent. However the provocative themes and twisted psychology of it make it a perfect addition to his long career, and quite possibly his best ever dare I say.

‘Elle’ is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, not aiming to please everyone in the audience but instead to reflect the truth at them, however terrible or brutal that truth may be.

Result: 10/10

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Rogue One

"Rebellions are built on hope."

It is easy to be sceptical of a film in the position of ‘Rogue One’. Not least due to the continuing story of onset issues, re-writes and re-shoots that range in how extensive they were. But then of course there is also the fact that the inherent purpose of the film is to be touching upon the altar that is the original ‘Star Wars’ film, with its plot based on a single line of exposition. Adding to this is the notion of an untested and unproven spin-off concept, as well as that, the words “prequel” and “Star Wars” aren’t usually in the same sentence for good reasons. So can it deliver?

With the galaxy under the oppressive rule of the evil Galactic Empire, the Rebel Alliance recruits the daughter of Imperial technician Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) to find him to prevent the completion of a massive superweapon that the Empire will use to bring terror to the cosmos.

This close to the end of the year, I’m thrilled to say that of all the ups and downs, movies that defied expectations and went far above what we thought they would aspire to be, ‘Rogue One’ may be the biggest surprise of them all. That of course means two thing, either my expectations were at rock bottom, or the film was not just good but utterly incredible in a way that few blockbusters have been this year. It is the latter. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s still so heavily engrained in my memory, or maybe the elation I had when I first walked out of the cinema is still with me, but I can honestly say that ‘Rogue One’ is the best film of the ‘Star Wars’ franchise since ‘The Empire Strikes Back’.

Not only that, but it is the first ‘Star Wars’ film since the saga’s 1980 high point to match its bleak and dark outlook, to envision that galaxy far, far away and craft a film of complexity and darkness that we have not witnessed from the franchise for quite some time. Of course, none of this is to say I wasn’t completely satisfied with last year’s terrific ‘The Force Awakens’, but whereas JJ Abrams film served to reintroduce us to ‘Star Wars’ by harkening back to the glory days of the franchise, ‘Rogue One’ pushes firmly into the future. It is stylistically distinctive more so than any other entry in the franchise, yet also so intrinsically and firmly rooted within the ‘Star Wars’ environment that it never fails to evoke a sense of wonder and awe, while underpinning them with the weighty and often brutal reminder that the galaxy is well and truly under an oppressive rule.

It is surprising that the film possesses such clarity of vision, given that the build up to its release was plagued with rumours of re-shoots (which we saw the damaging effects of earlier this year with the disastrous ‘Suicide Squad’). But ‘Rogue One’ does not bear the scars of post-production tampering. It never feels engineered or manufactured. Part of this could be due to how ‘Rogue One’ navigates space and time in a different way to any other ‘Star Wars’ film in order to tell its story, incorporating flashbacks and traversing numerous locations in order to establish its characters and plot. While one negative of this technique is that the first act occasionally feels densely populated, in which certain plot details are repeated to us and the planet hopping technique could be jarring on an expositional front, even that side effect is minimised by the fact that each scene feels necessary by informing not just the plot but the characters as well. We become intimately familiar with both the narrative, environment and characters within the first few minutes.

Speaking of characters, they all act as a welcome addition to proceedings. While some are not given as much depth as others, every player is not only likable but presented as more than just a standard good guy. They are all clearly established as damaged individuals who have fought for so long and lost so much already, choosing to fall back on some inner faith like Donnie Yen’s unwavering belief in the Force to Diego Luna’s stern conviction that his actions are in the name of the greater cause that is the Alliance. It portrays its heroes in a far less idealised manner, which serves to make them strikingly compelling. The ensemble cast are all turning in terrific performances with Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed and the rest of their rebel scum conveying a sense of inner loss and deep wounds while also displaying a steely determination and heroism. Then there is Alan Tudyk on hand as the dryly hilarious K-2SO as well as Ben Mendelsohn as Director Krennic, whose unusual blend of charisma and restraint delivers an appropriately intimidating villain.

But of course there is also a lot to be said about returning characters. If you have seen the trailers you will be aware that Darth Vader is in this film. While he is used sparingly the sequences that include him are truly phenomenal. We are long past the territory of bringing Vader back only to characteristically castrate him with melodramatic cries of “Nooooo” and pining over Natalie Portman. Here he is terrifying and awe inspiringly menacing, with one particular scene being utterly transcendent in its execution, resembling something out of a horror film more than anything I’ve seen in a ‘Star Wars’ movie up to this point.

Despite the fact that we inevitably know where this story will end, the narrative rarely fails to be captivating. I’d liken it to a film about World War 2, where historically speaking we know who wins in the end, but the mechanics of the storytelling allow the narrative to be surprising in how the story in question is presented. Incidentally, as promised the film does indeed resemble and recall war films in its execution and style, the only difference being that this one happens to take place with the universe of ‘Star Wars’ as a backdrop. And all the while the film is introducing and establishing in a way that is engaging and fun, making it feel organic and flowing.

Part of this is due to Gareth Edwards superb direction. He relies heavily on handheld cameras and 360 degree shot radius’, which further helps implant the tone of a gritty and fully realised world and Edwards’ usual skill at representing cinematic scale is still keenly felt, particularly within the battle sequences which look truly stunning under his direction. I also think ‘Rogue One’ utilises his previously untapped talents as a very gifted storyteller, due to how even amid the numerous locations and ensemble cast of characters Edwards keeps the viewer focussed on who everyone is and what their place is within this world.

Another area in which Edwards excels is the way in which he utilises visual effects. As we saw with ‘The Force Awakens’ practical effects are used in plenitude and the film is all the better for it, especially given that ‘Rogue One’ is designed to be closely linked with the 1977’s ‘Star Wars’ a tangible feel to the world allows it to seamlessly fit into that continuity on a narrative and visual level. But even the CGI is integrated brilliantly and is made to feel rooted within that world as well. A few visual effects are bound to get people talking, and without spoiling them I can say that though they’re not quite flawless, Edwards knows for the most part how to use them and as a result the effect is rarely noticeable. At worst it is a valiant effort on the filmmakers part, a gamble that in my opinion paid off. It is pleasing to see ground-breaking special effects used in such a way that enforces the story rather than substituting for a lack of one.

Dark and complex and well as thrilling and intricately staged to be satisfying for anyone who has seen a ‘Star Wars’ film before, ‘Rogue One’ stands as the best instalment of the iconic franchise since 1980.

Result: 9/10

Monday, 12 December 2016

Max Steel

"Your father believed he could save the world, it's up to you now Max."

Just when I thought 2016 didn’t have any terrible movies left to give, particularly at this time of the year when it seems like we are finally being treated to worthwhile films, something like ‘Max Steel’ comes along. I thought I was numb to horrendous films after having witnessed so many big budget atrocities this year, from ‘Gods of Egypt’ to ‘Batman v Superman’ I thought I’d seen it all, but I underestimated the potential to make a film as awful as ‘Max Steel’.

Chronicling the adventures of teenage Max McGrath (Ben Winchell) and his alien companion called Steel, who are symbiotically bonded and utilize a unique form of esoteric energy to become the turbo-charged superhero Max Steel. As these two unlikely friends struggle to accept their oddly connected fates, they begin to uncover unimaginable secrets, working together to find the truth, and fighting the mysterious forces threatening their world.

It is genuinely impressive in this day and age that a studio can take a property based off a successful line of toys, disguise it as a superhero origin story, spend a mere $10 million on the production and advertising costs, and still manage to lose money when the film is actually released. But against all odds ‘Max Steel’ actually accomplished that. Such a fact is surprising right up until I got around to seeing the film itself, at which point the only thing that surprised me now was how a studio managed to spend $10 million on this monstrosity.

Before I go any further I should elaborate that I do understand that ‘Max Steel’ is intended to be a kid’s film (or at least I sincerely hope it is) and that the makers probably knew they were not going to be breaking cinematic ground with this project. But it doesn’t matter what excuses you apply to the film because regardless of your age, genre preferences or expectations ‘Max Steel’ is almost incomprehensible from every conceivable angle. But amid all of this chaos there is never anything remotely redeeming about the film in question, on no stylistic or creative level is there anything worth discussing in a way that suggests in has merit of any kind.

Put it this way, earlier this year I would have gladly recommended ‘Gods of Egypt’ as a terribly awful film that one could watch for its woefully misguided creative choices and hysterically self-serious attitude. ‘Max Steel’ on the other hand is a rare film that succeeds in being so bafflingly awful and yet so creatively bland that there is not a single aspect of the film that redeems it in any way. You can’t even laugh at how terrible this film is because it is so murky and repetitive both in style and story that all you can do is sit back and pray for it to be over quickly.

It is so poorly edited and shot that it almost defies belief. Every action scene is clumsily choreographed and then hacked by the editing until it is unintelligible. They lack tension and excitement due to the woefulness of their direction, so even if one can look past the embarrassing visual effects, unconvincing stunt work and awful choreography, then they still end up being incoherent. The director repeatedly chooses to resort to applying a tight close up on his actor’s faces during the fight sequences so we can see the strain and effort they are exerting, a creative choice which is as disconcerting as it is baffling. The editing even finds a way to ruin the most basic of scenes, with character geography apparently switching at random points throughout conversations as well as horrendously assembled quick cuts that aim to merge to contrasting scenes together but ultimately undercut any chance either sequence had of being remotely effective.

It is difficult to know which aspect of the screenplay is most impressive. The way is shifts tone and focus so disconcertingly that you have to remind yourself what kind of film you are supposed to be watching every five minutes is an amazing feat in itself. But then you also have the scripts insistence on relying so heavily on clichés and predictable traits, or how it finds the flimsiest excuse to move past the character drama so it can shuffle its way to whatever hastily planned set piece the writers have lined up next. The plot holes are too numerous to count and even if I had the time I doubt I could sit through another 92 minutes of listening to the most uninteresting and one dimensional characters imaginable.

None of this is helped by the cast. While I’m willing to cut the actors themselves a little slack given that it is a well-established fact that every other aspect of this film was doomed to fail, they still don’t escape undamaged. In the lead role Ben Winchell fails to even remotely draw me into the plight of the main character or make me believe that he’s an actual human being. His delivery is so bland and lacking in charisma that if the big plot twist of the film was that Max was a robot the whole time I would have believed it. Andy Garcia turns up for some reason, that’s about it.

Uninspired and misguided on every conceivable level, ‘Max Steel’ is a sad attempt to start a franchise that will never happen.

Result: 1/10

Sunday, 11 December 2016


"A bus driver named Paterson. This is very poetic."

It has been a gradual and almost invisible process, but I think Jim Jarmusch has steadily gained my respect and admiration to become one of my favourite modern auteurs. If there was one word I would consistently apply to his style of filmmaking it would be, poetic. Starting with the minimally absurd ‘Stranger than Paradise’ Jarmusch’s career has included such marvellously unique films as ‘Down by Law’, ‘Dead Man’, ‘Broken Flowers’ and ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’. Therefore it shouldn’t come as a big surprise when his latest film, ‘Paterson’ is pure poetry both in subject and method.

A bus driver (Adam Driver) named Paterson goes about his daily routine in the region of Paterson, New York. Paterson gets up early and goes to drive his bus, writing poetry as he listens to the various conversations of his passengers. He then returns home to his loving wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), takes their dog for a walk, stops off at the local bar.

Certain movies just feel like they are assembled of contradictions. ‘Paterson’ can be described using many contradictory terms, it is tiny in scale yet grand in its ambition, episodic in structure yet seamlessly flowing, simple by design yet beautifully endearing. ‘Paterson’ is a collection of divine moments, attentive to finding the beauty within details we experience every day. Its simplicity is both what makes it so refreshing and so comfortably reassuring. As we watch this seemingly ordinary life unfold over the course of seven days (with each new day being marked by a title card) we are gradually drawn into his world and come to appreciate it on the same level he does.

The film about a poet, and it tries to gain an insight into his mind by observing his seemingly mundane world in the same way that he does. Spotting the glorious details on the lettering of a matchbox to the interactions of random strangers adds to the richness of each day. But for all these seemingly irreverent details Jarmusch distributes enough hints of duality to further draw the viewer into this slice of life. From the fact that the title character and the setting of the film share the same name, or that the location in question was the birthplace of the poet William Carlos Williams who is later mentioned in the film as Paterson’s favourite writer, whose magnum opus is an epic poem titled, wait for it, Paterson. While it may seem easy to take a cynical approach to Paterson’s appreciation of the mundane Jarmusch’s keen writing that is as existential as it is poignantly humorous is able to paint a remarkably endearing picture without the viewer even realising.

Jarmusch is keen for the viewer to notice the recurring patterns that occur within Paterson’s life. His daily routine are presented in a rhythmic manner. But the movie itself never degrades his routine as dull or unimportant. While there is no great drama or defining plot point, Jarmusch’s writing is able to be both observant and engaging. The dialogue itself assists in this a lot as it is always invigorating and interesting, but even the structure of the film manages to find something to keep the viewer occupied. Daily occurrences arise from what Paterson observes, like a couple breaking up or child reading a poem aloud in his bus. They are moments of graceful clarity that most people would dismiss, but an observer like Paterson revels in them, and for as long as we are part of his world, so do we.

There is a lot to be said about how grounded the film is as well. Try as they might Hollywood won’t convince the world that they are capturing real life when they show us their latest superhero extravaganza. Here, Jarmusch openly celebrates the routines of everyday life. Every conversation and event is crafted to be so refreshingly real that at times the film feels more like a documentary. However Jarmusch’s cinematic knowledge allows him to apply his directorial skills in a subtle manner that can evoke great emotional weight from the images he composes. He is able to render the internal as external, displaying his titular characters inner thoughts and feelings through the subtlest of methods. For all his skill with dialogue, Jarmusch is equally talented at crafting poetry on a visual level as well.

Another aspect that helps though, is the way Jarmusch focusses on his actors. In the lead role Adam Driver delivers a performance of subtle brilliance. He brings forth a character who is so utterly introverted that it’s all the more remarkable just how endearing Paterson is, how charismatic and charming he is in his own quiet way and how brilliantly likable he is. He comes across as being an isolated and unique man but one who is never afraid to be amazed by basic interactions and the comfort of his daily routines. In many ways Driver’s performance is the perfect counterpart for the film as a whole, quietly existential and keenly observant, but also inspiringly poignant when it wants to be and somehow knowing on a deep level.
It still sounds bizarre that I could fall so deeply in love with a film that has such little going on within it. But maybe that is part of Jarmusch's illusion, he slowly draws you in and gradually makes you acutely aware of Paterson's surroundings to the point where you also revel in the details of daily life. I found myself looking forward to seeing Paterson return home to a wife he so clearly loves, I was disappointed when ever present background characters were not in the bar that night for whatever reason and I waited eagerly to hear Paterson's next poem.  

‘Paterson’ is a deceptively simple film. Plotless and meaningless at a glance but so wonderfully and delicately constructed that it speaks volumes about whatever you want it to. It is about everything and nothing at the same time.

Result: 10/10