Films of 2016

Films of 2016
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Review Murder by Decree (1979): Totally misses the mark!

genre: drama, mystery

This film might fool you most of the time but long before it's conclusion you will feel duped.

I don't know what they were going for but as Sherlock Holmes films go this is quite off. Sure there were some interesting dynamics between Sherlock (Christopher Plummer) and Watson (James Mason) but other than that the mystique surrounding Sherlock Holmes was non existent. There is nothing remarkable about this consulting detective as he stumbles from one event to another. At times I thought to myself I was watching the comedy Without a Clue or The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother. The mystery itself was handled pretty solid as it keeps you in the dark until it becomes painfully obvious of what is going on. Instead of then offering us a twist or two it gives us a reveal that by then is predictable and disappointing. Then what was the point of having Sherlock in this story? They could have given us any inquisitive creature and given it the same conclusion. It would have made no difference. The brilliance of Sherlock Holmes as a character is the fact that he sees things "normal" people are overlooking. Here he is so far behind that it becomes laughable. And seriously Holmes crying and being sad over the horrors committed by man? This guy who has witnessed far worse would almost break down? Please. That's just isn't right.

One thing I have to give this production is the way it looks visually. The atmosphere was right and especially some scenes looked haunting even today. Too bad though that the story itself was poorly done. You would think that with Jack The Ripper featured as killer you would be on the edge of your seat. But I will have to disappoint you since it is most likely you will fall asleep since the film is plagued with incredible boredom. Very little is going on and even with all the good will I had the story never really becomes compelling. Even if you would disregard the Sherlock Holmes element and just treat it as a whodunnit it fails miserably since the reveal is so cliché and ordinary. 

I really want to be more positive about this film but I simply can't. Set aside that this Sherlock Holmes is not the one of the books or the series with Jeremy Brett. It was lacking too much the things I like in mystery films. The wonderful acting by Christopher Plummer and James Mason is not enough to make me overlook it's flaws. 

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Review A Monster Calls (2016): One of the most meaningful films I have seen in a long time!

genre: drama, fantasy

This is without a doubt one of the most meaningful and beautiful films I have seen in a long time but it probably won't find a big audience as it should. Because one of the things it does well is that it doesn't treat you like a five year old. 

A Monster Calls is more than just a fantasy film where the impossible becomes possible. It's nothing like that. Everything fantastic is an allegory to basic life lessons. Issues we all have to deal with at one point in our life. In this case it's death and loss. Conor (played by Lewis MacDougall) lives with his mother (Felicity Jones) who has cancer and her treatments seem to be failing. Conor is trying to cope with it the best he can but all the changes and events he has to face become unbearable. Until he gets aid from a very unlikely manifestation. The monster voiced by Liam Neeson. It is at this point that things start to unravel and become explosive and Conor seems to be at the center of it all. 

It was an absolute joy to the see the story unfold and have a climax that was build up properly. This film easily could have pulled all the heartstrings but thankfully avoids this by staying as real as possible. It also doesn't bother explaining things. Since for the most part it's very easy to follow if you are willing to go past the fantastic elements and are able to connect the dots. Each dot is carefully placed and has it's effect in the overall story. Every event in this film matters and is relevant. Not a single second is wasted with unnecessary side plots or random filler. I can't tell you how refreshing that was. But most of all it's the excellent acting done by Lewis that convinces. He manages to strike the right chords every time and always coming across as sincere. That is one hell of an accomplishment and many actors (kid or adults) could learn from him. Having Liam Neeson around also couldn't hurt since he is always someone you can count on. I am not sure about Sigourney Weaver though. Her English accent was done poorly and distracted me a little from accepting her as a character. Especially since she was not in this movie as much to matter much although that might have been deliberate as the film addresses this. But I can't shake the feeling that an authentic English (British) speaking actress would have done a better job. Still if I think about it some more her role was vital in relation to Conor. In any case overall the film is made with a lot of love and attention to details that matter. 

Do I really need to repeat that you need to watch this film? It's a must watch for sure. 

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Review La La Land (2016: Not deserving of it's praise. Not one bit!

genre: comedy, drama, musical

La La Land is a tribute to the old school musicals where actors like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds and many others impressed us with their acting, singing and dancing. They were top notch in whatever they did on the screen and truly were stars all around. However La La Land is not a particularly good tribute as it lacks a lot that made films like Singin' in the Rain and An American in Paris classics.

So what went wrong? First and foremost the musical numbers are far from memorable. When I first heard the song City of Stars I liked it instantly. It easily is the best song but at the same time a very flawed one. Why? Ryan Gosling is not a good singer. I am sure he tried his best but you can hear that he can't sing that well. In another version of the song Emma Stone chimes in and I don't like that version at all because she is even a worse singer than he is. Both also can't dance and it's so bad that it was ruining the enjoyment. You can tell that they are struggling and their movements were far too slow. In the opening musical number you have a bunch of unknown people singing and dancing and they obviously know what they are doing as they move very swiftly and gracefully. They also do a lot of impressive stunt work very reminiscent of what was shown in the older musicals. And while this scene was good it exposed the flaws of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as leads. Especially in the first dance scene featuring Emma Stone it becomes painfully obvious she is not a match for anyone in the opening scene.

Another huge problem is the story. Or lack of. Nothing in the story was remotely interesting and pretty by the numbers and the one supposed conflict was so predictable and forced that destroyed all the hope that was left. What hope? For this film to redeem itself. And it never does. Instead it gives us an ending opposite of what is expected since director Damien Chazelle is pretentious and very full of himself. I guess the fame and success he achieved with Whiplash has gotten to his head. And Whiplash wasn't that good in the first place. And no I don't need predictable endings. What I do need are endings that are logical and are written well. It has to make sense why characters behave and act a certain way. You have to give the viewer reasons to make their actions believable. Chazelle never even attempts this. He only gives a motivation out of convenience. Also I am failing to see how anything in this film could be seen as comedic. There maybe were one or two moments that were genuinely funny but enough for this film to be advertised as a comedy? Not in the slightest.

Also just referring to the classics is not enough. You need to add something of your own to make it unique or entertaining. I mean these songs were the best they could do? At points they showed L.A. in the background and it looked like more was going to be done with the scenery like Michael Mann did in Heat. I think more beautiful shots of L.A. at night would have surely made some impact. But of course that would have required real effort.

I don't feel like writing anymore. Truth be told I was very looking forward to this film since I really was in the mood for some old school fun and all I got in return is anger and disappointment since this film is nothing like the classics. 

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Review Luke Cage Season 1 (2016 - ): Sweet Christmas!

genre: crime, action, comic book adaptation, drama, super hero

Another edition in the Netflix Marvel Universe where we meet up with Luke Cage (Mike Colter) again after we had been introduced to him in Jessica Jones. And definitely a show that belongs on Netflix.

Because just like it's predecessors it's a little more real and darker than the MCU films. In a way this show is very similar to Daredevil with one major difference. Luke Cage is a very reluctant hero. Unlike Matt Murdock he doesn't feel the need to fight crime. He has his reasons. And of course we learn about those reasons eventually. The show does take it's time to reveal the background of Luke but it's done in a way that makes sense story wise. Still Luke Cage is forced to make his neighbourhood safe again when his path crosses with the villains of this story.  Cornell 'Cottonmouth' Stokes (Mahershala Ali) and his cousin Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). There is another mysterious underworld boss in the background whose name is Diamondback. This almost might seem a rehash of Kingpin in Daredevil but trust me it's not. Especially Stokes and Dillard get a lot of exposure because they represent the worst of what can happen in a community. They pride themselves wanting to do good but deep down are rotten to the core and immensely selfish. They provide a great contrast as Luke Cage is the exact opposite of them. Slowly but gradually he is on his way to become the super hero his people need.

Compared to Daredevil and Jessica Jones Luke Cage is considerably less epic. It's much smaller in scale. Does that automatically make it worse? No, it's still a good show but not because of the story. More because of the dynamics between the characters. Especially between Luke Cage and Claire Temple (Rosario Dawson). She is a more pivotal character here than she was in Daredevil because she also is searching for purpose which she finds by helping Luke. Luke himself finds strength and courage because of her faith in him and that was interesting to see unfold. But no matter who Luke interacts with it's definitely interesting. Undoubtedly that has to do with Mike Colter's charm. There is no escaping it. He mesmerizes and inspires. If you ask me the perfect guy to play super hero Luke Cage. Another good element in the show is the soundtrack. Very fitting and essential.

I certainly will be tuning in for the second season especially since the ending of this season was a little too dark and abrupt. But let's hope they will come up with a better story next time since overall it felt very underwhelming. Although still very binge worthy!

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Review Arrival (2016): The kind of science fiction I enjoy!

genre: science fiction, mystery, drama

Arrival has some themes featured that are thought provoking without forcing you how to think about them. It leaves things subtle and open enough for you to give your own interpretation of it. Although at the same time it does have a clear message. For one thing it says to keep an open mind people.

Just so you know it's not that hard to figure out things. Everything gets explained enough. In one instance it even downright tells you of what is going on. All you have to do is pay attention. Meaning you have to listen and read with some thought. Just slightly mind you. And apparently this is hard for some. And by no means is this boring. From start to finish this film remains compelling and even manages to move without over dramatizing events. One of the elements I liked the most is how the aliens were approached. Obviously there is a huge communication barrier and is not magically resolved like in most sci fi flicks. We are shown how they are trying to communicate with each other methodically and scientifically. It makes sense to me. At the same time I understand that you can't always allow yourself to be fully trusting since these aliens clearly are more advanced and can do the impossible. Although in the film it's the humans amongst themselves who start disagreeing and becoming skeptical because of these trust issues. In a way the solution is so simple and yet probably the hardest to achieve since it requires us humans to let go of fear and paranoia.

Arrival is no Independence Day or Star Wars. It's more like the old school Star Trek before they ruined it with the reboots. We are presented a what if scenario where we follow the main character who has a large role to play since she is one of the few who tries to keep an open mind about everything. It is immensely fascinating to see how events unfold and how they play out. So what if it is low on action and spectacle? It gets you where it matters the most. The heart and mind. The way I like it. It's not that I can't enjoy the more spectacle based films. I often do. Still sometimes it's very good to have more going on beneath the surface. And in this case you don't have to dig deep.

The acting is good. Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner are as always dependable. Were they impressive enough to stand out? Not really. But that has to do more with the nature of this film than their work and performance. Arrival is more about the message than the characters although more than enough issues are thrown in to discuss about if you choose to do so.

In my opinion a movie that is a definite must watch. Especially if you are nuts about science fiction. It's far superior to Interstellar to give you an idea where I stand. So do give this a shot, you won't regret it.

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Review The Girl with All the Gifts (2016): Real disappointment especially since the story seems awfully familiar to that of The Last of Us.

genre: drama. thriller, horror

By now you should think I know better. But apparently even being aware of the fact that you can't trust trailers I got duped again. The trailer promised us a zombie film that was going to be different and original. Or at least be somewhat creative and refreshing. The fact that this is based on a critically acclaimed novel suggests that there was much more to the story. Only it did not come out that way.

First of all people who are familiar with the videogame The Last of Us will notice a few similarities between this film and the game concerning real significant elements. It's peculiar that they exist but I can't tell you if either of them plagiarized each other. Could very well be that it's pure coincidence. Still it was one of the first things that popped in my mind when the film started to explain a few things. Now don't be fooled though. Just because there are similarities doesn't mean they are equally good. The Last of Us is superior in every way. The Girl with All the Gifts is plagued with so many flaws that I don't even know where to begin.

First of all the characterization is poorly done. We don't to get to know properly who they are and what they are about. The supposed main character for example remains the same throughout. In her case it kinda makes sense her being "a child hungry" and all but same goes for Helen Justineau. There wasn't a single time where I felt sympathy for any of them. This would not have been that much of an issue had the plot at least made us care about these characters. But here is where the film truly fails since there barely is one. And yes I am aware that they are trying to convince you that this is a thinking man's zombie film. But sorry to say that is a load of bullocks. George A. Romero's zombie films offered food for thought while at the same time delivering all kinds of horror goodness and spectacle. This film doesn't even come close to those. Yet it's infinitely more pretentious.  I do have to remark that visually the film looks good and that it did a good job of showing us an apocalyptic world. But what good does that do if the film lacks any tension, suspense and thrills. Real shame too since it had potential to be all of that constantly. Especially since the film did start off with a lot of promise. Not that films always require these elements. I would have been perfectly content had the film at least offered some dramatic moments between Melanie (child hungry prodigy) and Helen Justineau (Gemma Arterton) because the film was banging on their special relationship right from the start. Only it never did something substantial with it. In fact the actions of Helen made no sense whatsoever. Background on her character would helped to make us understand why she acts like she does. Now of course I have deduced that she is supposed to have formed a bond with her precious prodigy and that she is one of the few who still views these child hungries as humans. And that she is desperately holding on to her own humanity. But we never see or hear her struggle for this. It's more like she seems to think she is the only one who is morally right and everyone else is not. It made me instantly dislike her. It is never smart to infuse such complexities if you can't be bothered to flesh out characters in equal manner. You need to challenge and confront the viewer as well. People aren't always good or always bad. Often we can be both and that is what makes us interesting and unpredictable.

It doesn't surprise me that director Colm McCarthy has only directed for television since it looks like he kept things simple and that he stuck to the script as it was written without adding anything of himself. The Girl with All the Gifts seems to be the result of someone going through the motions instead of someone being committed and being passionate about his work. Now I could be way off about him except that this film does lack heart and soul. Honestly I would not bother with this one since you will definitely be disappointed.

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Review Hidden Figures (2016): Feel good drama about a story that needed to be told!

genre: drama

Let me start by saying that despite the topic this film most of the time is subtle. It is confronting but never in a way that it's infuriating. But yes, if I was a skeptic then perhaps some of the white people are portrayed a little too conveniently evil. Then again, this is the same period where segregation was in full effect and horrible crimes were committed against many black people. Also through characters like Vivian Mitchell played by Kirsten Dunst it is shown how even the so called tolerant people were very ignorant. This is the part that often gets lost on people since their actions might not be seen as bad or aggressive. But that is what makes it so hard to battle prejudice. The black women in this motion picture do know what world they live in but they also are very good aware of their own skills and abilities. And when they need to speak up they will. But more importantly they took action when it mattered.

These days many Social Justice Warriors go in a tantrum about the most insignificant things supposedly to bring about a change that is needed. And to a point I agree. There are many things in this world that need fixing. Although I disagree on what and how. I don't doubt the intentions of all the new feminists. But I do think they have lost sight of what truly matters and do more damage than actually help the cause. In any case this film does point out certain issues but remarkably doesn't allow itself to preach that much. I for one am grateful because this way the message becomes so much more powerful. Hidden Figures is entirely focused on telling a story that not many people know about. Almost shameful that it took so long for it to be told. Still, better late than never. Of course the film takes many liberties but that is to be expected. However even if just a small portion of this story is true it still should have been mentioned somewhere somehow. I mean I have seen The Right Stuff and I can't recall the story of these women being touched upon. Especially since it is a tale that inspires and motivates to reach your full potential whoever you are. To do the impossible and fulfill your dream. 

Taraji P. Henderson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe were marvelous. Actually Jannelle was more than that since she is not that experienced as an actress. She must be a natural because she acts like she has done it for years. But to be fair the whole cast was solid including good old dependable Kevin Costner. Hidden Figures never is boring and for it's duration never feels like it's a long movie. It moves in quite a fast pace. Perhaps a little too fast since many events have been left out. But I think I understand that those might have distracted from the main story too much so no criticism from me on that front. 

I really loved this film as it was far more entertaining and uplifting than I anticipated. I expected a heavy film where certain points would be forced upon you but surprisingly it restrains itself quite a lot so it never feels like it's pushing a political agenda or some sort. And that is a good thing. So do watch this, it's well worth your time.  

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