‘The Founder’ (2016)

‘The Founder’ is a perfect example of a mismatch between a director and his subject matter. Texan John Lee Hancock, known for directing ‘middle America’ folksy sentimental stories about plucky characters over coming odds, in films such as ‘The Blind Side’ and ‘Saving Mr. Banks’, both ok-good films who’s subject matter more suited Hancock’s sugary tone. However with the mildly interesting story of how an ice cream salesman named Ray Kroc came to take over the largest fast food chain in the world, Hancock’s folksy directing style stumbles. What ‘The Founder’ in better hands could have been was a dark, indictment and cautionary tale on American greed and single mindedness in the vein of ‘The Social Network’ or ‘The Aviator’ instead ends up as a ‘by the numbers’ traditional bio pic slog through a series of slow scene build ups to the bleedingly obvious and uninteresting ending. Micheal Keaton does as best an actor can to flesh out a portrait of a complex man beneath the cheesy smile. However given the tone, direction and in particular glib ‘punch-line’ dialogue that sucks all the nuanced air out of every scene we never get more than a passing understand of the man. Although he flow the slow journey of Ray Kroc to ultimately swindling the two cartoonishly idealistic McDonald brothers out of their creation, it is a skin deep view that never gets into the heart and soul of the character. What was the fire that burns in people to do what they do? The film does offer one telling insight into the man, the debt he psychologically owed to the ‘positive thinking’ movement. A psychological train of thought which has given us such wonderful men as Donald Trump. You can tell Keaton is trying to depict Ray Kroc as a character that you hate for his cruelty and respect for his persistence. And yet because of the flaws in the film you get a film that fails in the same way Jennifer Lawerence’s portrayal in 2014’s ‘Joy’ failed, namely: that you are never able to care enough about what is happening to the character in either a positive or negative way. Perhaps this is the saddest fate to fall a film and an actors portrayal: total uninterested apathy. You can basically watch the trailer or read the Wikipedia entry on his rise and that will sate most passing interest you might have in this sad man’s story. I do think as much as Americans love to worship the rise of the self made man or woman, we must all realise that this is a myth, no man rises on his own. Some men rest on the shoulders of others and call themselves tall.

5/10   **1/2


November 2016, 89th Academy Award Predictions

November 2016, 89th Academy Award Predictions:

Best Picture:
1. La La Land
2. Silence
3. Moonlight
4. Manchester By The Sea
5. Fences
6. Jackie
7. Lion
8. Loving
9. Arrival
10. Hell or High Water

Best Director:
1. Martin Scorsese, Silence
2. Damien Chazelle, La La Land
3. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight
4. Kenneth Lonegran, Manchester By The Sea
5. Denzel Washington, Fences

Best Actor:
1. Casey Affleck, Manchester By The Sea
2. Denzel Washington, Fences
3. Ryan Gosling, La La Land
4. Michael Keaton, The Founder
5. Joel Edgerton, Loving

Best Actress:
1. Emma Stone, La La Land
2. Natalie Portman, Jackie
3. Annette Bening, 20th Century Women
4. Isabelle Huppert, Elle
5. Ruth Negga, Loving

Best Supporting Actor:
1. Mahershala Ali, Moonlight
2. Liam Neeson, Silence
3. Jeff Bridges, Hell Or High Water
4. Dev Patel, Lion
5. Lucas Hedges, Manchester By The Sea

Best Supporting Actress:
1. Naomie Harris, Moonlight
2. Viola Davis, Fences
3. Michelle Williams, Manchester By The Sea
4. Nicole Kidman, Lion
5. Janelle Monae, Hidden Figures

Best Adapted Screenplay:
1. Silence
2. Fences
3. Lion
4. Sully
5. Hacksaw Ridge

Best Original Screenplay:
1. Moonlight
2. Manchester By The Sea
3. La La Land
4. Hell Or High Water
5. 20th Century Women.

‘Hell Or High Water’ (2016)

‘Hell or High Water’ might be the sleeper hit movie of 2016, in the truest sense of the phrase. By going off face value: the trailer and synopsis for the film, you would think it was just another tried Western/ buddy road movie /bank robbery chase movie. And you’d be right. It is all these things but it’s cleverness is in making these genres cliches feel new fresh and oh so achingly relevant in the face of Trump’s victory. The film is set in deep West Texas, I.e. Trump voter land, a place literally dying as its old white residents succumb to illness, drugs and despair. The land globalisation left behind. The film like ‘Fargo’ or ‘No Country For Old Men’ before it turns a conservative rural part of America into something exotic, gothic and confronting. The film is overtly political in this sense, as it sets the drama of two brothers robbing local banks, to pay off the mortgage on their recently deceased mother’s farm, in the foreground while in the background scenes of economic and social despair and ruin abound. You can’t take the film on face value, the details of foreclosure signs oil pumps and abandoned towns in the background, and the anti-bank greed subtext to a lot of the conversations, actions and consequences give a greater gravitas and meaning to the story. This is a film that gives ‘on the ground’ credence to the anti establish political revolution of Trump and Sanders. The cast is uniformly excellent as the dual buddy storylines of two brother robbers and a Native American and racist retiring cop, played with such easy power by Jeff Bridges, converge inevitably towards a final violent confrontation. The ending isn’t surprising or shocking as the looming arm of justice finally catches up with the brother robbers and yet I found myself crying at the flawed, tragic relationship of the brothers as they meet their different ends. A morality tale for our time. The film is never black and white, but resolutely grey. There are no Heros and no total villains. If there is a villain it is the quite off screen violence of the shadowy banks that is the most dark. The overall story and conclusion isn’t anything particularly new, but what is new and exciting is the pregnant dialogue, the subversive performances and the profound humanist message amidst a tired old genre. Jeff Bridges is destined for his 7th Oscar nomination for this film and he deserves it, grippingly depicting a full spectrum of pain and emotions in a limited amount of screen time.

9/10.  ***1/2

‘Elle’ (2016)

Having seen 2,117 movies in my lifetime, I am not easily shocked by a movie. However the new film ‘Elle’ with the fearless Isabelle Huppert shocked me.

A story that was so difficult to film the director spent years trying to convince an American actress to play the lead role and not one would touch it fearing the character could do irreparable harm to how they would be seen by their audiences. Having seen the film I can say that those American actresses were right in their fear, and because they were right I think Isabelle Huppert deserves an Oscar nomination for her unbelievable performance.

‘Elle’ is a character study first and foremost, the shocking things that happen to her, are in a sense, less interesting than the character herself. And what a character. She and the film itself are ruthlessly, relentlessly unsentimental in the face of some horrific events. She is a cruel, unemotional, awful person verging on being a sociopath and yet you cannot help admiring the same qualities that make you terrified of her. Sadism, violence, cruelty, sexual rapaciousness, fear mix with a comedy of bouegious manners and French culture. Although the film superficially depicts an increasingly dangerous game of home invasion and rape as a whodunnit, the film is most fascinating in exploring ‘Elle’s uniquely dark and impressive worldview. This film is perhaps what ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was scratching the surface of, albeit in an American sanitised way, whereas Elle goes for the jugular and leaves little to the imagination. Not for the faint hearted or a half hearted viewing event. Should you choose to watch this film strap yourself in for a dive in a riveting drama that will frighten, shock, challenge, but never bore you. And to you Ms Huppert, my hat is off, your performance is groundbreaking.

9/10  ***1/2

‘Arrival’ (2016)

Watching Arrival I felt all the cheese of all the bad sci fi movies I have watched this sad year (I’m thinking X-Men, Star Trek and Independence Day) just wash away. Arrival is an excellent sci fi movie but it is an even better psychological drama and fervent romance. Although it looks at the big questions of our existence and communication with extraterrestrials, it ultimately looks within us to create a sci fi movie that is not obtuse and theoretical but emotional and moving. It’s the thinking man’s sci fi movie of 2016. The director of the gripping ‘Scario’ has such an eye for detail, believably, emotional arc, beautiful shots, subtlety and right mood. A lot of thought and care has gone into creating a alien language system that is both believable and thought provoking. Amy Adams is the glue binding this film together, you never once leave her side or not see yourself in her, she is fast becoming one of my favorite actresses. The colour palate of the film is so soft and moody, you feel as if you are slipping into a dream like state as you watch it. Arrival is a triumph and one of the most believable movies about our encounter with aliens that I have yet seen.

9/10  ***1/2

‘Nocturnal Animals’ (2016)

Finally got to watch Tom Ford’s ravishing film ‘Nocturnal Animals’. His film debut ‘A Single Man’ had a profound impact on me and my life ever since I watched it at the cinemas on my 21st birthday. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a marked departure from that film, as it is almost unbearably dark, cruel and cynical, unlike the tragic but uplifting romance that ‘A Single Man’ was. It many ways the film explores cynicism itself, in the LA art world full of beauty but unhappiness and in the death of a relationship which becomes a metaphor for a fictional story intertwined in the movie. The message is murky but from what I can piece together: love is precious and revenge hurts all involved. I admit that despite the violence and shock of the story and the cruelty of the ending I felt it lacked a sense of urgency or significance. Tom Ford is a master of the visual. Even when the film doesn’t flow or the dialogue is choppy, every scene is ravishingly beautiful. Your aesthetic soul will be well fed by this film but if you are looking for something more than a sad tale of revenge the film doesn’t quite deliver. And also I love Amy Adams, first the excellent ‘Arrival’ and now her sickly slick turn in ‘Nocturnal Animals’ she is one of the most versatile and empathetic actors working today.

8/10 ***1/2

‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’ (2016)

‘Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them’ has to be one of the funnest movie experiences I have had this year. I felt like a little kid again the moment the opening credit and theme song.I will never forget the movie magic and feeling back in 2001 when I was 12, see the owl land of the sign of Privet Drive for the first time. Like Star Wars before it JK Rowling has created a world that will last for a very long time. I always assumed that in the future kids would roll their eyes as my generation Millenials wax lyrical about loving Harry Potter in their youth, now I feel as though many future generations will fall in love with the wizarding world as well. As a world building exercise the film has opened the door to the endless possibilities of this world. Doing an exciting job of laying the groundwork for the story I most want to see in the HP universe: romance between Grindelwald and Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s rise to power. I am disappointed in the casting of Johnny Depp though, such a hack these days. The best part of the film has to be the exploration of the Beasts in Newt’s briefcase, rather than the main storyline. The cast is almost uniformly excellent, especially the supporting cast. The plot is a bit rambling, the ending a bit anti-climatic and one plot outcome, a death, is surprisingly dark but glossed over. But for creating the wider wizarding world, exploring the beasts of the world, and setting us up for the rise of Grindelwald the film is very successful. You won’t have more fun at a cinema in 2016!!

8/10   ***1/2