Logan Lucky

Bring together Steven Soderbergh, Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig and it should be good – and it is!

Yes, it’s a heist in the vein of Ocean’s 11 (which Soderbergh slyly and deliberately acknowledges in the background) but this means that we know we are in safe hands as far as character and story are concerned, and it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the ride.

What I love about this type of Soderbergh film is the snippets that we’re fed throughout – we know that at some point they will be key in the plot, but we don’t know as much as some of the characters and so they just seem random. Until they are explained to us later on – such as why Daniel Craig’s character needs Gummi Bears. These instances are exquisite because it lets us know that the characters are more intelligent than they might immediately appear.

Genuinely funny, with characters we are totally rooting for, Logan Lucky appears (to my non-US eye at least) to be trying to say something about the heart of America – and I think this could have been explored even further, although perhaps this would have undermined the humour. There are injured army veterans, former college football players, child beauty pageants, Nascar, country music – almost to the point of being stereotypical. But there is the constant knowledge that Soderbergh has us laughing *with* our protagonists and not *at* them and so the balance is probably correct; there is more than likely another, very different, film lurking in here about economic poverty in 21st century USA but this isn’t the place for it.

So it’s funny, with some good performances (and the odd quirky ones), and definitely enjoyable.

 

My favourite films of 2016

Being very strict with myself this year and definitely sticking to a top 10. It hasn’t been easy, and you can see a ranking of my 2016 film viewing here. The top 12 and bottom 5 are in order, but the stuff in between is more of a general reflection than anything precise.

One note – I’ve deliberately left off Xavier Dolan’s Juste la fin du monde from my list. I saw the UK premier at the London Film Festival this year and it would have been in my top 10, but it’s not being properly released in the UK until February 2017 so I’m being good and not including it. Which gives me room for an extra film!

Number 10 – Anomalisa

Such a beautiful animation. Every detail has been acutely observed – the way fingers curls around a cigarette, a hand opening a medication bottle – even the slight rise and fall of the chest as a character breathes gently. So, so exquisite, and a striking exploration of why romantic relationships fail so easily.

Number 9 – Captain America: Civil War

It’s like when Michael Corleone realises that his brother Fredo betrayed him – it hurts.

Number 8 – Paterson

A film about an ordinary man who writes poetry is, in fact, a poem to ordinary people.

Number 7 – I, Daniel Blake

Not an easy film to watch, but one which must be seen.

Number 6 – Umimachi Diary – Our Little Sister

Maybe I’m being predictable having a film from one of my favourite directors here, but Kore-eda Hirokazu usually hits the mark. Here he presents the delicate intricacies of family life in which on the surface not much happens, but beneath that, each family member learns something about herself and her sisters, without huge revelations or tantrums. Subtle, gentle, delightful and insightful.

Number 5 – Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Shit. Just. Got. Real. Funny, sweet and serious in equal measure – and most definitely majestical.

Number 4 – Son of Saul

This much-awarded film was released in other regions in 2015, but we had to wait until this year for it. It was worth it – required, though not easy, viewing.

Number 3 – Arrival

With a narrative exploring philosophical questions about language, semantics and culture, and how this impacts on our view of the world, it was always going to appeal to this language geek. It also presents the idea that in learning a language, we open up a window into how other cultures think, and that it might be markedly different from our own comfortable view of existence.

Number 2 – Hail, Caesar!

Joel and Ethan Coen explore the subject of faith – whether it’s faith in religion, political ideals or in other people, it all boils down to what’s important to you and what you’re willing to stand up for. I’m standing up for Channing Tatum dancing on a table.

Number 1 – A Bigger Splash

Multi-layered film with an excellent cast that took me with it wherever it wanted me to follow. No questions asked.

Agree or disagree? Let me know – would love to know your top films of the year! You can find the whole list of 2016 films I saw this year ranked here on Letterboxd.

 

 

 

Hail, Caesar!

“This motion picture contained no visual representation of the godhead.”

At face value, this would appear to be a very flimsy plot interspersed with some highly entertaining scenes from imaginary movies from the 1950s.  But this is just the surface.

Joel and Ethan Coen wander through the back lot of Hollywood exploring the subject of faith – whether it’s faith in religion, political ideals or in other people, it all boils down to what’s important to you and what you’re willing to stand up for. The outward glamour of the movies, which Josh Brolin’s Eddie Mannix works so hard to maintain, is merely the top layer of a murkier reality – and the same could be said for organised religion and political movements. What do you do if your faith in your chosen system is challenged – walk away, or stay with it because it has worth?

And while the film is asking these serious questions, it also has you laughing and grinning the whole time with the glorious sequences from the various films in production around the studio.

Everyone on-screen plays their part to perfection, (I specify on-screen for a reason – what on earth was the Michael Gambon voiceover for?) and perhaps my favourite of the non-showy performances was Heather Goldenhersh (Mannix’s secretary Natalie). Alden Ehrenreich’s Hobie Doyle is sparkling, and his spaghetti lasso sequence so well executed.

But the show-stopper has to be Channing Tatum. His is a proper, skillful dance routine reminiscent of Gene Kelly musicals, but which has obvious deeper connotations and it’s worth seeing the film for this sequence alone.

Now, can we please see the Burt Gurney musical all the way through?

My top films of 2015

I did try to do what everyone else does – list top 10 films of the year. Honest. But every time I tried to narrow it down to 10, I felt guilty for leaving others out. Then I realised it’s my list, and I can do what I want. So I’m listing my top 15. Below that, it gets a bit arbitrary, but I wanted to make sure that these at least got a mention.

Click on the film title to see a longer opinion, and if you’re interested in all my 2015 films ranked in order, you’ll find the list here. The top 15 and bottom 5 are in order, but the stuff in between is more of a general reflection than anything precise.

Number 15 – The Martian

An intelligent space film that isn’t full of navel gazing introspection, fun without being silly, and helped by Matt Damon’s natural charm as a screen presence.

Number 14 – Foxcatcher

There’s something really eerie and unsettling about the tone of this film, from start to finish. It’s clear from the outset that the relationships are not right, without being able to pin things down, which leaves an edgy feeling throughout.

Number 13 – Force Majeure

A film which challenges our own view of ourselves. We probably have an idea of how we think we would react in extreme circumstances, but until we are actually put in that position, most of us will probably never know.

Number 12 – Magic Mike XXL

Warm, funny, and totally non-judgemental. I left the cinema feeling a whole lot better about myself!

Number 11 – Love and Mercy

Paul Dano’s awkward brilliance is perfect as the younger Brian Wilson. The soundtrack is sublime, and the additional score by Atticus Ross is mesmerising.

Number 10 – Phoenix

Nina Hoss is so vulnerable and delicate you can almost imagine she would snap in two if you touched her. And a literal mic drop of a finale.

Number 9 – Ex Machina

Stylish-looking film which asks some really interesting and deep questions about artificial intelligence.

Number 8 – The Look of Silence

While not quite as punch-you-in-the-face as The Act of Killing, the room left for lengthy silences together with the courage of the protagonist Adi are quite remarkable.

Number 7 – Whiplash

It’s quite a while since I was left speechless at the end of a film.

Number 6 – Taxi Tehran

Very clever, and at times very funny film made by a man who is banned from making films in the country in which he lives.

Number 5 – Clouds of Sils Maria

A powerful representation of how (some) women see themselves and how they perceive others see them at different points in their careers and lives, admirably portrayed by Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart.

Number 4 – 45 Years

Slow-paced, beautifully moving, heartbreakingly sad. Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay are outstanding.

Number 3 – The Lobster

I adored this. And I also felt incredibly sad having watched it. I felt emotionally empty and also ridiculous in myself. Colin Farrell is a revelation.

Number 2 – Mommy

I originally wrote “I certainly think this is a powerful piece of filmmaking, but I’m not sure I ever want to watch this movie again.” But this film has been in my mind on and off since I saw it in March, and I am convinced that Xavier Dolan is a genius.

Number 1 – Enemy

This was the second film I saw in a cinema in 2015, and it has remained at the top of my list since 4th January.

I love a film that has me wondering what the hell is happening from the very start, and this just does that. Jake Gyllenhaal creates two identical-looking but very different characters, and we’re never in any doubt as to which ‘Jake’ we’re with at any one time: even when one is impersonating the other.

For the first time in I can’t remember how long, I actually went and read the book which inspired the film.

Agree or disagree? Let me know – would love to know your top films of the year! You can find the whole list of 2015 films I saw this year ranked here on Letterboxd.

Magic Mike XXL

I’d put off going to see this because I had really liked MAGIC MIKE, and had heard that this was a different type of experience.

And to be honest, it is different, but that’s not a bad thing. Whereas the first film was more soul-searching and melancholy, this one has a lighter tone. The plot is minimal – it’s a road movie with some stops along the way for a bit of a dance – but what makes this a great couple of hours to watch is the camaraderie among the guys and the lack of judgemental attitude towards either each other or the women watching them.

I had read this beforehand and couldn’t imagine how this would work. But actually it did. I left the cinema feeling a whole lot better about myself which may sound strange, yet it’s true. Thanks Channing, Joe et al.

 

Jupiter Ascending

Aw, you know, I totally understand why people will not get on with this film at all.

But at least the Wachowskis try to do things a little differently. For example, the eponymous Jupiter at least has some real agency by the end of the film, and makes her own decisions on her own terms.

Yes, Channing (who is absolutely, fine, by the way) does keep popping up to save her, but he doesn’t tell her what to do.

And yes, she does go along with the whole thing rather too easily in the beginning without asking the obvious questions.

But I had fun with the film, despite the fact that the fight/action scenes are a tad too long, and Bae Doo-Na is criminally underused.

Now, would somebody please get Eddie Redmayne a throat lozenge …

Foxcatcher

There’s something really eerie and unsettling about the tone of this film, from start to finish. It’s clear from the outset that the relationships are not right, without being able to pin things down, and I felt on edge throughout.

Solid turns by Mark Ruffalo and Channing Tatum, but Steve Carell’s performance as John du Pont was just too mannered, and at times he looked like he was holding his head at an angle to stop the prosthetic nose from falling off.

Best if you see the film knowing nothing about it – unfortunately a Guardian news (not film) headline spoilt it for me.