JJ, Robin and Alan’s Round-up of the Year in Film…So Far

*Please Note: depending on where the reviewer watched them, some of these films were only subject to release in 2017 despite having premiered at film festivals in 2016.

Reviews by JJ McDermott

(2016, directed by Jim Jarmusch, starring Adam Driver and Golshifteh Farahani)


A delightfully unexceptional film typical of Jarmusch’s minimalist autuership. Set in a small New Jersey town, Driver plays an ordinary bus driver who drifts through his predictable, mundane life without complaint and writes a bit of poetry on the side. Farahani is fantastic as his upbeat partner and the pivotal Marvin, an English Bulldog, steals the show in every scene he appears in.
rated 4 / 5

Toni Erdmann
(2016, directed by Maren Ade, starring Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller)


Having premiered at Cannes last year, this quirky German film has gone on to universal acclaim. Despite its overcooked running time, this deeply serious and sometimes hillarious drama about a middle-aged man’s corroding relationship with his career-driven daughter is at times a triumphant watch. There is enough tender and break-through moments that match the many cringe-worthy and uncomfortable scenes. And I mean cringe-worthy!
rated 3.5 / 5

(2016, directed by Barry Jenkins, starring Trevante Rhodes and André Holland)


A film that stepped forth into this world with a very solid purpose and for that, it can only be admired. Jenkins constructs a vivid mood and manages the changes from one part to the next with style and finesse. The story in itself, a journey of a young man and his burgeoning homosexuality in modern-day Florida, is straight-forward and in fact, nothing spectacular. But the reason for its existence is elevated to a higher place by a brilliant and thoughtful direction.
rated 3.5 / 5

I, Daniel Blake
(2016, directed by Ken Loach, starring Dave Johns and Hayley Squires)


Offbeat as it may sound, I do find it quite therapeutic watching a film that makes me angry. Ken Loach has form in providing the fuel here – Jimmy’s Hall (2014), The Wind That Shakes The Barley (2006), Kes (1969). The man has a knack for introducing life-affirming authenticity (here personified by Johns and Squires) to a searing and devastating world of pessimism. It is impossible not to get riled up about the cruel social welfare system in the UK when watching this. But this is its premise and it conducts itself brilliantly in this regard.
rated 4 / 5

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
(2017, directed by James Gunn, starring Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana)


The thrills and spills for this ‘cashing-in’ second volume are never not enjoyable. In fact, Galaxy is probably my favourite ‘world’ within the Marvel ‘universe’ (not that I have much care for it all truly). The generic feel of bombastic and relentless fight scenes, over-explanatory sequences and tired music choices is always there, but at the end of the day, let’s face it, there is something fantastically awesome in watching a racoon character beat the crap out of a few dozen bad guys!
rated 3 / 5

(2016, directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver)


Jesus Christ!….is very present in this long and difficult treatise about devotion and faith. Set in 17th century Japan, the film is a stringent adaptation of a Shūsaku Endō novel from a screenplay by Scorsese and Jay Cocks (*chuckle*). The acting by Garfield, Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Issey Ogata and Liam Neeson is tremendously convicted. It is a film that is rarely found in Hollywood these days and I don’t imply that as being in any way refreshing or massively welcome. It is a very challenging and slightly reward-less watch. But it certainly has power nevertheless.
rated 3 / 5

(2016, directed by Cristian Mungiu, starring Adrian Titieni and Maria-Victoria Dragus)


Top-class Romanian director Cristian Mungiu offers up yet another powerful and profound piece about society and familial relations, following up on his unmissable 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days (2007) and Beyond the Hills (2012). Delivering quite a hefty nod to Michael Haneke’s 2005 classic Hidden (Caché), Graduation follows a physician’s relationship with his wife, daughter and mistress through a series of dramatic events that lead towards the daughter’s graduation from high school. Gripping from start to finish.
rated 4 / 5

Wonder Woman
(2017, directed by Patty Jenkins, starring Gal Gadot and Chris Pine)


You would have thought from the many breathless reviews of this summer’s major DC blockbuster that we were dealing with the Citizen Kane of feminist movies (the cynic in me believes this was all just a clever marketing ploy). Unfortunately, all I found was yet another boring and generic action film that just so happened to have a woman/goddess leading the fists to the baddies’ faces. Although Patty Jenkins as director crafted a decently-structured story, the film had too many of producer Zach Snyder’s tired trademark touches (silly fight scenes and over-use of CGI effects). In short: average fare.
rated 2.5 / 5

Reviews by Robin Stevens

The Light Between Oceans
(2016, directed Derek Cianfrance, starring Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander)


A lighthouse keeper and his wife, bereft following her third miscarriage, rescue a baby girl adrift at sea. They adopt her as their own, with unforeseen and heart-breaking consequences. Romantic but emotionally devastating.
rated 3.5 / 5

Hotel Coolgardie
(2017, directed by Pete Gleeson)


This lightly narrated documentary follows the trials of two young female Finnish backpackers working in a Coolgardie pub in remote Western Australia. In a male-dominated environment, the camera captures the surface good humour of the locals, and then the more vulnerable and chauvinistic (and occasionally menacing) personas barely hidden behind a façade of masculinity. Authentic and compelling.
rated 4 / 5

(2016, directed Steven Cantor)


This documentary follows the rapid and turmoiled career of the renowned Ukrainian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin. It is not in-depth nor is it entirely objective but it is interesting, and is punctuated with some beautiful and riveting dance sequences.  Recommended if you like dance and human movement.
rated 3.5 / 5

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years
(2016, directed by Ron Howard)


A light documentary about the Beatles touring years, with various celebrities and others talking about their impact. It is selective, and barely touches on their extensive tours of Europe and only lightly in Asia. But it is enjoyable and there are a few new bits and pieces, including revelations that the Beatles were the first performers to break racial segregation rules at their concerts in the southern states of the US. Plenty of concert pieces to make it interesting. It’s really for Beatles fans (me being one of them). Fun film.
rated 3.5 / 5

My Cousin Rachel
(2017, directed by Roger Michell, starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin)


Set in 19th Century England, a young man falls for his older cousin Rachel. But a series of unusual interactions and ‘misunderstandings’ lead him to suspect her of planning to kill him and claim his property. This is an adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel of the same name. I preferred it to the 1952 (Richard Burton / Olivia de Havilland) version, mainly because of Rachel Weisz’s outstanding performance.
rated 3.5 / 5

Nocturnal Animals
(2016, directed by Tom Ford, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams)


Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, this psychological thriller is engaging and impacting. And I put that lightly; I went to bed with it in my head three nights in a row. Fine acting, but leans towards the harrowing. Don’t go to see this film if you want to cheer up.
rated 4 / 5

Alien: Covenant
(2017, directed by Ridley Scott, starring Michael Fassbender and Katherine Waterston)


This sequel to Prometheus (2012) is more interesting and less silly, but still has a nonsensical story-line. It is a long way short of the original. But acid-crazed aliens coming out of bodies and hunting down humans is pleasing, if predictable. Visually interesting (and stark), and enough scares to get you through to the end. But not a film that is likely to be remembered for its narrative.
rated 3 / 5

The Girl on the Train
(2016, directed by Tate Taylor, starring Emily Blunt)


This thriller-drama is based on the novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. Fine acting, but I got a bit bored; and in the end it is too like several other thrillers that similarly follows some vulnerable person who cannot remember key moments from a previous traumatic situation. The audience follows part blindly until the end; a poor substitute for tension and suspense. An okay but forgettable film.
rated 2.5 / 5

Hunt for the Wilderpeople
(2016, directed by Taika Waititi, starring Sam Neill and Julian Dennison)


A light comedy and fun adventure movie. Foster kid Ricky Baker (played by Dennison) and his grumpy foster ‘uncle’ Hector (played by Neill) escape child welfare authorities, and a manhunt ensues in the New Zealand forests. Funny, adventurous and heart-warming all in one.
rated 4 / 5

I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
(2016, directed by Osgood Perkins, starring Ruth Wilson)


Shockingly horrendous and terrifyingly bad ‘horror’ film. It is possible that people have died from boredom trying to endure this mind-numbing garbage. If someone does convince you to watch this; get drunk, turn sound down and ad-lib in your own dialogue!
rated 0.5 / 5

Reviews by Alan Matthews

xXx: Return of Xander Cage
(2017, directed by D. J. Caruso, starring Vin Diesel and Donnie Yen)


Remember when Vin Diesel was a secret agent? Nope? Well this is the sequel no one asked for to the movie no one remembers. After half an hour of forgettable cartoon characters and bland action scenes you’ll be nostalgic for the depth and style of the Fast and the Furious movies and this movie will still have 77 minutes left to go. A blatant attempt to resurrect a dead action franchise as other similar franchises slowly expire. Let it die. Please can we give Donnie Yen something worthy of his talent in English speaking cinema. Do yourself a favour and watch something in which he really excels like Kill Zone (2006) or Flashpoint (2007). These are examples of how action movies can be done well.
rated 1 / 5

(2017, directed by James Mangold, starring Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart)


Logan does something a little bit new with old ideas – uses familiar characters and plots but combines them in unexpected ways and makes superhero movies into something like respectable science fiction. The action is not epic or spectacular but it is brutal, realistic and inventive. The plot is simple but the depth of the backstories and the detail of the production make the world seem genuinely complex. The best thing about Logan, and what carries the weight of the movie, is Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. Their characters, relationship and chemistry drive the plot, give the movie heart and make you emotionally invested in their journey. Also, it is an X-Men movie. In a time when all the major blockbusters fall off the same safe production line, Logan manages to show a little grit.
rated 4 / 5

Kong: Skull Island
(2017, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, starring Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson)


In this movie, a giant ape punches a helicopter. However, it should be noted that this movie also has its downside. Kong: Skull Island is a fun watch with seamless and spectacular special effects, some beautifully shot scenery and a nice mix of humour and action. Unfortunately, the whole movie feels like a giant prologue. The characters are introduced but never fleshed out. There is no development or journey of discovery. They serve as foreground for the action and change little from the beginning of the movie until they are squashed by a giant foot. The movie is ambitious in its influences, looking variously like Apocalypse Now (1979) and Platoon (1986), but this is a promise upon which it never really delivers. A fun watch to expand the universe of Godzilla (2014) but nothing more. Still, a giant ape punches a helicopter!
rated 3 / 5

T2 Trainspotting
(2017, directed by Danny Boyle, starring Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner)


The original Trainspotting (1996) defined the late 90s for those who were influenced by the obsidian-sharp dialogue, snappy editing style and pubs constantly playing and replaying the soundtrack. T2 Trainspotting allows audiences to look back fondly on those days just as the characters do. For in T2 Trainspotting, all of the most interesting scenes are the ones which replay scenes from the original movie. Edinburgh is beautifully and creatively shot but the movie feels bloated and indulgent. It is a shame that characters who were once sinfully attractive have become dull and sleazy with middle age. It is all a far cry from the raw gritty creativity of the original. Watch Trainspotting (1996) it is even better then you remember and if you still want more, watch it again.
rated 3 / 5

(2017, directed by Daniel Espinosa, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Rebecca Ferguson)


Remember in the 80s when all those movies came out which were like Alien but just a little different? Movies like Leviathan (1989) and Deepstar Six (1989), both Alien but under water. Galaxy of Terror (1981) or Alien Terror (1982) kept the plot in space. Split Second (1992) made the alien visit a flooded-out London. If you only see one Alien rip off this year, see Alien: Covenant and leave Life to drift in the cold wastes of space. A potentially great cast and decent special effects are wasted on a plot which hits every predictable cliché, allows no character development and will have you browsing on your mobile before the climax. Clearly the success of Gravity (2013) and The Martian (2015) prompted a dredging of the depths for potentially similar scripts. Sadly, this is a story we’ve seen before.
rated 2 / 5

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