I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I’m going to make a change this year and make sure to get cinewise up and running. It is live, but very much a work in progress.
So until that happens, and parallel to it, I will be publishing some thoughts on the films that I’ve seen in 2017. This will be a soft transition to writing film reviews again and will also serve as a tracking document for films I will have seen this year. This document will be updated as and when I am able to.
In reverse chronological order:
The Neon Demon (2016)
This is an obscenely good-looking film. There is no doubt that Nicolas Winding Refn (apparently a colour-blind) shot one of the best-looking films I’ve ever seen. And he is riffing on two of my favourite directors — Kubrick and Lynch.
But why didn’t I like this?
Perhaps because of a lack of story or a character that is remotely interesting. Perhaps it’s the pedestrian pace that, yes, helps to build up to the shocking finale, but why do I need to wait an hour and a half to see 30 minutes of intensity. It feels out of place, somehow.
I wish there was a little bit more balance to the shock (and horror). Without it it feels very shallow and pointless. Shame, because it is so well done! (cinewise rating: **)
There is a stark difference between the start of “Imperium” and how it progresses. The twist (if it even is a twist) can be seen from miles away. But more importantly, so many characters and plot lines are left hanging, that the climax feels weak and pointless.
Daniel Radcliffe is very impressive as the reluctant FBI operative working undercover to find out a potential terror plot from various neo-Nazi groups in Washington, D.C.. The opening third where we see him taking on this position and how the film shows the white supremacist elements in society is very powerful. But there is nothing to back it up in the story — there is hardly any conflict here.
It is well-intended and with a little bit more effort, it could have been really special. But as it is, it is a very disappointing film. On a positive note, I think Daniel Radcliffe is proving himself to be a very good actor indeed. (cinewise rating: **)
The Light Between the Oceans (2016)
The problem with “The Light Between the Oceans” is that director Derek Cianfrance seems to be more in love with the scenery than what’s happening to these characters. Although a compelling story, some of the decisions made for these characters are simply puzzling.
Having said that, there is enough to pull your heartstrings and the ending (so “Brokeback Mountain”) will bring a tear or two. Save for the logical imperfection of the film, there is an emotional core that is palpable.
Cianfrance continues to focus on the imperfect couples and the children that suffer as a result of their choices. The multi-generational aspect isn’t as apparent as “The Place Beyond the Pines”, but you can easily tell that this ia a Derek Cianfrance film. And I think that’s the best compliment I can give. (cinewise rating: ***)
The Wailing (2016)
Wow. Just, wow.
The butt-numbing 2.5 hours of running time aside (though not a second feels wasted), there is hardly anything at fault with this Korean chiller. Wrapped around a mystery that is very methodically given away, the film is a pure chiller.
At times psychologically scarring, at others not wary of showing a gore or two. Crucially, neither of these elements are overplayed. There is even a sense of the absurd that is needed to fully appreciate the dread.
Had I seen this last year, it would have been very difficult to not pick it as the film of the year. Rumour has it that there is going to be a Hollywood remake, which I am dreading already. See this film and marvel at the storytelling, cinematography, and the overall awe that only cinema can bring. (cinewise rating: *****)
Deepwater Horizon (2016)
The tragedy (both personal and environmental) and the failure of BP to properly manage the situation pre- and post-tragedy doesn’t require a lot of work to make it dramatic on screen. Yet the insistence on authenticity in dialogue makes this whole thing rather empty — and, in light of current events — quite jingoistic.
Although boasting a near-perfect cast, nothing we see on screen comes even close to what these actors are able to do. The biggest crimes are John Malkovich’s incredibly funny (in a bad way) company-man and Kate Hudson’s stuck-to-the-phone wife. To be fair, Hudson was given a role that seems to always end up for a woman — why can’t these female characters be given something other than crying on the phone?
The visual effects are impressive, but nothing really special. All in all, this is a pretty bad film. (cinewise rating: *)
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Ransom Riggs’s wonderful (and somewhat peculiar) novel was always going to be a tough adaptation to the screen, mostly because of its reliance on its literary prose. The subject matter is the poor-man’s X-Men, but told with more heart and a sense of awe that the aforementioned comic books (and subsequent films) lack.
In the hands of Tim Burton, this should have been simply marvellous, but sadly it’s just another reminder that he may have finally lost his magical touch. The makings of a great film are there (such as the spectacular performance from Eva Green as the eponymous Miss and the source material, of course), but it falters (also spectacularly) in the last third as the logic of the world it depicts get muddled beyond recognition. There is even a second-to-last final battle that is ludicrous at best.
For the fans of the book, this would be a massive disappointment. For the uninitiated, I don’t think the result would be any different. And I really hope that Asa Butterfield will finally be in a film that is not an adaptation of a cult book. (cinewise rating: **)
Quite how Clint Eastwood managed to turn this into a borefest is beyond me. I somehow get how he turned it into “we are all heroes” storyline, considering his aptitude for extreme nationalism these days. All in all, though, this is a failed opportunity to turn one of the most inspiring and truly unbelievable real-life stories into a by-the-books affair with little to no excitement.
Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart do a fine job (despite the latter being given the worst lines in the script) and the story of the airline pilot landing an Airbus A320 safely on the Hudson River after dual engine failure at low altitude remains truly phenomenal. But the film doesn’t do justice to the story or the characters involved. (cinewise rating: **)
The Club (2015)
Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s latest oddity is a joy. The subject matter (ostracised priests are living in exile in a remote coastal town, training a successful racing hound) is ripe for parody. And there are a handful of very funny scenes.
But the film is also very hard-hitting, though occasionally on-the-nose. The purple hue also adds a little bit of a snuff-movie feel to it, which makes it even more awkward to watch at moments.
The tragedy (and the travesty) at the centre of it is very powerful, though, and the film asks the real questions to spark real debate. This is one of the better films about the hypocrisy of organised religion ever made. (cinewise rating: ****)
The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)
This is a fine horror film that manages to be both diligently scientific and effectively supernatural. The transition from the rather methodical autopsy scenes to the introduction of the supernatural works well — and it could have easily been a disaster.
The overt nods to “The Shining” ask for the subtlety police and the characterisation needs a little bit more work. But it manages to keep the mystery nicely shrouded away. (cinewise rating: ***)
Don’t Breathe (2016)
There are moments or pure brilliance throughout and more than a handful of overt nods to a number of past horror classics (some stick, some don’t). What’s great is the many McGuffins that it disposes of along the way and makes you keep guessing. Also kudos to trying really hard to stay away from the supernatural (except for the bad guy that never seems to die) … but then again, is there a good guy / gal here?
Not the most terrifying of horror films, but definitely one of the most tense ones. It relies on a single gimmick a little too often, but it rewards througout its running time.
Good film. (cinewise rating: ***)
A Conspiracy of Faith (2016)
With more money comes great responsibility … to feature as many helicopter fly-bys as possible. The third and (so far) final installment in Dept. Q is a more handsome affair than the first two films and the theological discussion that forms the backbone of this story is the heftiest one so far. But the film is hampered by that need to visually prettify everything. And it is a remarkably good-looking film.
Assad has a little bit more to do here, especially with Carl being more morose than ever, and the balance shifts back to being more about the investigation with flashbacks kept to a minimum.
Despite the thematic weight, it feels a little too superficial for its own good. Marginally better than the second one, but substantially inferior to the first. (cinewise rating: ***)
The Absent One (2014)
The second installment in the Dept. Q series stumbles a little bit in that it is less about the investigation and more about the flashbacks. That means there is far less investigating and far more exposition. When that delicate balance is disturbed, it becomes a generic offering.
There is still a lot to like here though — the angle about the dirty corporate men harks back to “Follow the Money”, which also starred Nikolaj Lie Kaas.
It’s not bad at all, but rather average compared to the first film. (cinewise rating ***)
The Keeper of Lost Causes (2013)
Scandi Noir is the gift that keeps on giving. The first of the Department Q films, based on Jussi Adler-Olsen’s novels, is a gritty and brilliant thriller. Boasting fantastic lead performances by Nikolaj Lie Kaas as the ever-pouting, soon-to-be-divorcee department pariah Det. Carl Mørck and Fares Fares as the earnest and intelligent Assad. Together they make up the Department Q, which was set up as a bureaucratic solution to administer long-gestating, near-closed cold cases.
When they stumble upon an investigation that had many a holes in it, the two detectives embark on a chivalric journey to solve the mystery.
What’s remarkable is that, even though the film relies heavily on exposition-fuelled flashbacks, it doesn’t feel forced upon the viewer and we are finding out bits and pieces at the same as our protagonists.
A solid start to a film series. (cinewise rating: ****)
Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)
You know what you’re getting with a Bridget Jones film and this doesn’t disappoint in that department (though it disappoints in many others). Unlike other BJ films (no pun), this is less top-heavy in that the last third is actually the strongest part of it. Although the story (and its resolution) is hugely predictable, it still packs a few heartfelt chuckles here and there.
Did we need another Bridget Jones? No, absolutely not. We especially didn’t need to see Gaius Baltar in a spin class. But for what it is, there is still some joy to be had here. (cinewise rating: **)