30 December 2016

The Must See Films of 2016

2016 may have been a shit year for a vast number of reasons, but the sheer number of high quality films released means that by and large, cinema wasn't one of them. Sure, there have been a few quite high-profile disappointments (I'm looking at you, Warner Bros), but on the whole there have been an awful lot of really great films released this year, to the point where this list became surprisingly hard to narrow down to a reasonable number.

But narrow it down I did. Below are a list of the films released this year in the UK that I would consider to be "Must See" movies - not necessarily the most "worthy" or the most important, just ones that I personally think any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to see.

So, in release date order;

The Hateful Eight

Has there ever been a film from Quentin Tarantino that doesn't deserve to end up on that year's respective "Must See" list? I don't think so, and The Hateful Eight - a contemporary Western that sees some truly despicable people trapped in a snowy mountain lodge together - refuses to buck the trend. The claustrophobic setting (very much reminiscent of Reservoir Dogs) offers a refreshingly intimate movie in comparison to the director's last few projects, which when combined with a razor sharp script helps deliver the most quintessentially Tarantino film to date.

You can read my full review of The Hateful Eight here.

22 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review

As the first in what Disney/Lucasfilm hope will be a long line of spin-off films set in this universe, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story finds itself in something of an uneviable position. All eyes are on this movie to prove that these spin-offs will be worthy of the Star Wars name, and it has to do that under the extra scrutiny of being a prequel in a franchise with a less than stellar reputation when it comes prequels, to say the least. Far more than most other films, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is tasked with justifying its own existence - and it does, if only by the skin of its teeth.

Set in the days leading up to the opening of Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (curse this franchise and its irrationally long naming conventions) follows Jyn Erso, daughter of Death Star designer Galen Erso, as she and a group of other rebels attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star in order to give the Rebel Alliance a chance of destroying it.

18 December 2016

The Birth of a Nation review

If any film should be able to elicit a strong emotional reaction from an audience, it's a film about the slave trade, one of the largest injustices in human history and one that happened a depressingly short time ago. Our default reaction to seeing this era realised on-screen is quite rightly one of disgust, horror and shame, and there have been a number of movies in recent years that have effectively harnassed those emotions in order to deliver truly powerful, moving films. Unfortunately, The Birth of a Nation is neither of those things, completely failing to engage its audience on emotional level despite it's inflammatory nature - and that's very telling about how much of The Birth of a Nation does (or more accurately, doesn't) work.

Deliberately using the same title as the 1915 Ku Klux Klan propaganda film, The Birth of a Nation tells the real life story of slave Nat Turner, who in 1831 led a violent rebellion against the slave owners of Southampton County, Virginia. We follow the deeply religious Nat as he is taken from plantation to plantation in order to preach to word of God to slaves at risk of revolting - but in seeing the horrors other slaves face on a daily basis, instead begins working to inspire that revolution.

10 December 2016

Moana review

Moana can't have been an easy film to make. Three years on and it has become all the more clear the kind of impact that Frozen really had - not only was it something of a cultural phenomenon, it was also a surprisingly subversive film that pretty much rebutted the very notion of the princess movie. Anything attempting to get away with a "one true love's kiss" is going to seem trite and old-fashioned after Frozen went about deconstructing many of the tropes most closely associated with these kind of films, and that puts Moana in a very odd position indeed. As a swansong to the genre at large, Frozen is hard to fault - but how on Earth does a princess movie follow up the film that killed the princess movie?

Moana's answer to that difficult question is a simple but effective one - move with the times. The cliches so expertly refuted by Frozen are instead ignored entirely by Moana, making it feel like just as much of an evolution of the princess movie as Frozen does, albeit in a quieter, less obvious way. Our main character is a princess in status only, and there isn't a romantic subplot or a damsel in distress to be found within throwing distance of the film - in fact, she may well be the single most capable female heroine Disney have ever created, a natural leader right from the start of the movie played perfectly by newcomer Auli'i Cravalho.