So we’re slowly coming towards the end of my annual look at films and starting to get into the region of films where if they were on TV then I would definitely watch them, but maybe not quite at the stage where I would buy them.
I enjoyed all of the below films, there are some gems in there, but for me they don’t really do something that would push them higher up for me.
And yet again, my apologies if the formatting is slightly off.
Cast : Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Josh Gad and Kevin Kline, and the voices of Sir Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor and Emma Thompson
Plot : Several years ago a prince (Stevens) refused to shelter a beggar and she responded by turning him and all of his friends into various beasts and household objects. In a nearby village they have all forgotten about the castle (part of the spell) and go about their everyday lives. The relatively simple folk find Belle (Watson) to be an outsider because of her desire to regularly escape into books, although this doesn’t put the vein Gaston (Evans) off.
Belle’s father (Kline) stumbles across the castle one day and tries to steal a rose, angering the beast and causing his imprisonment. Belle eventually finds the castle as well as trades places with her father. She initially hates the beast, but as time goes on she grows to appreciate him, even going as far as considering beastiality.
Why in this position? : If you liked the animation of this back in the nineties then chances are that you will love this version as it is near enough an exact remake scene-for-scene, with a few additions here and there. The only issue that I really have with it myself is that it feels a little drawn out and there are long spells where not a really, if anything, is really happening. Everything feels a bit effortless.
That’s not to say that this isn’t an enjoyable film. It’s a reasonably fun take on the story and the set pieces for the songs feel large and vibrant to say the least. Everything feels alive, and whilst the animations for the beast don’t feel photo-realistic like “The Jungle Book” live action did last year, it is still a visually decent romp.
Finally, I have to end by saying that this is the first time that I have seen Luke Evans actually put in a half decent performance, and he actually thrives in the role of Gaston. He is ably supported by Josh Gad as Le Fou.
Cast : Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling
Plot : Mia (Stone) is a failing actress working in a coffee shop, whereas Seb (Gosling) is a jazz-loving pianist that whilst brilliant, gets fired from every job because he won’t play what he is asked to. One day Mia hears him doing an impromptu jazz set and goes to congratulate him, but as he got sacked seconds earlier he merely shrugs her off. They meet again a few nights later when Seb is reluctantly working in an eighties tribute band at a party.
Despite initially being hostile towards each other, the two do start developing a relationship. Seb still dreams of opening his own club at the site of an old jazz venue, and Mia decides to dedicate herself to writing a one-woman stage show in the hopes of gaining attention. Neither seems to have been successful, putting their relationship one edge.
Why in this position? : Visually the film is astonishing, and it is comfortably one of the best examples of fine cinematography from the year, and the screenplay is well-realised, but for me this is not as good as some made it out to be. All I kept hearing during its release was how incredible it was, but when I saw it I thought that whilst good, it certainly wasn’t anything better than a seven out of ten for me.
I’m not going to beat around the bush, this isn’t a Disney film so that sudden bursts into song aren’t really justified and add precisely nothing other than a gimmick. That is all the film really is, one big gimmick. I can see why a lot of people got sucked in to the story and the movie, but when you examine it thoroughly, there really is no point at all to the signing.
Away from that though there isn’t a lot wrong with the film. As I say, visually it is great, it is well acted and is an enjoyable way to spent two or so hours. It is certainly not the worst film that I have seen this year, not even close.
As I say, it’s a solid seven for me.
Cast : Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Trevante Rhodes, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Jaden Piner, Jharrel Jerome, Andre Holland, Patrick Decile and Mahershala Ali
Plot : Chiron (Hibbert, Sanders and Rhodes) is a very quiet child and is often teased because of this and the rumours that he is gay. One day he hides from his bullies in an abandoned apartment, later found by Juan (Ali), who takes him to the house of Teresa (Monae) due to not knowing what to do about his silence. Juan eventually gets Chiron to open up to him and he takes him to his mother, the drug addicted Paula (Harris).
As time goes on Chiron and Juan develop a friendship, and the child grows up often spending time with Teresa. One day in his teens he shares a kiss with best friend Kevin (Piner, Jerome and Holland), but the very next day Kevin joins Terrel (Decile), one of Chiron’s bullies, in beating him up. When back to health, Chiron decides he has had enough and viciously attacks Terrel with a chair in class. This sees Chiron sent to a juvenile corrections facility for the rest of his teens, but how will he react when he sees Kevin in adulthood?
Why in this position? : The film is neatly divided into three sections; child, teen and adult, and whilst the first two of those are told in an interesting and engaging way, but the third act is beyond dull and pointless. After such a well told beginning and middle act, it was disappointing that the final act had little pay off for the rest of the film. The majority of the third act sees Chiron and Kevin sit, talking in a diner and it is just aimless. Even the way Chiron looks in this final scene in ridiculous, and completely out of context with the character.
Prior to the third act I was seeing why this was getting all of the praise that it had gained prior to it’s UK release. The second act in particular is very engaging, and when you see Chiron destroy Terrel with a chair you actually feel remarkable justification and joy that he has finally gained revenge on someone is quite frankly a dickhead. For me I did an internal cheer and raised fist, almost as if I was celebrating my football team scoring a goal. That is what I want from films, something to WOW me.
Visually the film is excellent, and the performances of everyone concerned, especially Naomie Harris, are engaging, but for me the third act stopped this from being a viable contender for the top ten.
One point that I also think is noteworthy is something that I didn’t even notice until it was pointed out on the video for Chris Stuckmann’s review, the cast is entirely black (please note I can’t technically use the term “African-American” as not all of the cast are American), well, at least all of the characters that have lines of dialogue, and I can’t think of a single other American film that doesn’t contain a single non-black actor. In that sense it is unique as well and helps, subconsciously at least.
Cast : Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Angus MacFadyen and Tom Holland
Plot : Keen to restore his family honour, Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) accepts a position to settle a border dispute between Brazil and Bolivia, he is teamed up with Henry Costin (Pattinson) and the two spend the next few years together as they travel up and down the Amazon. Just before they return home, Percy is told about a lost civilisation that will prove that the people living in the Amazon are capable of similar standards of living to the first world, but his claims are later dismissed by everyone in England, with the exception of James Murray (MacFadyen), who agrees to fund another expedition to the Amazon.
Murray proves a massive hindrance though and is eventually separated from the group following an injury and illness, but he later tries to take legal action against Fawcett and Costin, making it out that he was the hero rather than a weak, ill-prepared explorer.
Despite this, Fawcett is determined to find the lost city, and won’t stop until he discovers it once and for all.
Why in this position? : One of the biggest surprises of the year for me, “The Lost City of Z” was an engaging and entertaining movie for the majority of its quite length run time. Don’t go into it expecting a fast paced romp with killing every few minutes, it is very much a slow burner.
This isn’t so much a film about exploration of an area, but rather of the human spirit and the determination in adversity. Realistically not a lot really happens in terms of what’s on screen, it’s all in the dialogue and the long, drawn out monologues of the two central characters. I love movies that build their characters, and this did it exceptionally well.
The only reason that this isn’t higher is the anti-climatic ending. I realise that it is based on history and they can’t bend the truth too much, but I don’t think I’ve been as underwhelmed by an ending as much as I was by the final few minutes of “The Lost City of Z”.
Cast : Josh Gad (voice), KJ Apa, Dennis Quaid, Juliette Rylance, Britt Robertson, Peggy Lipton, John Ortiz and Luke Kirby
Plot : A dog (voiced by Gad) is born and ponders the purpose of life. It isn’t long before he is adopted by Ethan (Bryce Gheisar, Apa and Quaid) and his family. They name him Bailey and they are initially very happy, but over the year’s Ethan’s father (Kirby) becomes an alcoholic and this indirectly leads to Ethan losing a scholarship to Michigan State University. Bailey soon dies of old age.
Bailey is resurrected as female police dog Ellie, successfully helping in a kidnapping case, but is shot in the process and again dies. Through several more lives Bailey attempts to learn about life and its purpose, as well as his own place in the world.
Why in this position? : I was convinced that this would have been a much lower rank than it was before I eventually watched it because it looked completely inconsequential, and to be fair it is a largely irrelevant movie in the grand scheme of things, but sometimes it is good just to have a fun movie for which you can simply sit and enjoy, and that’s what I got with this.
Make no mistake, this isn’t a movie that will change your life as you know it, but it is just a fun way to spend ninety or so minutes without really having to think about things. It’s a Sunday-afternoon TV movie, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
It’s actually quite dark for a family movie at times, such as an incarnation of Bailey being shot, or being abused and abandoned by owners at one point during the final life that you see, but it is still a fairly reasonable, harmless piece of entertainment that is watchable for the most part.
Cast : Joe Alwyn, Garrett Hedlund, Arturo Castro, Makenzie Leigh, Kristen Stewart, Chris Tucker, Steve Martin and Vin Diesel
Plot : The Bravo Team have returned to America following a successful tour of Iraq and due to the heroics of Billy (Alwyn), they are visiting several cities around the US in celebration, and the final stop on the tour is in Dallas. They are to take part in the half-time show, with the focus being particularly on Billy, who showed bravery that has inspired numerous other Americans to sign up, but he is secretly hiding that he is suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress.
The only person that knows is his sister Kathryn (Stewart), but Billy is unsure what to do as he doesn’t want to let the rest of his squad down, especially Dime (Hedlund), the new commander following the death of Shroom (Diesel). His conflictions are complicated further when he meets Faison (Leigh), one of the cheerleaders and the two develop a quick bond.
Why in this position? : I had been waiting for “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” for a long time, infact close on a year, but it did take me a bit by surprise that it was given a cinema release in the UK given that there was precisely zero advertising for it on TV, nor any trailers before any films that I saw. It was almost as if the film was purposefully trying to go unnoticed in my native England, whilst simultaneously not trying to go straight to DVD.
Visually the film is stunning, as you’d expect from an Ang Lee film, and I personally enjoyed the dialogue and feeling of brotherhood between the team of soldiers, but I can also see why a few didn’t like it as ultimately not a lot really happened, and the whole concept is a bit strange in the sense that Billy is filmed shooting at opposition forces and protecting his sergeant, but this isn’t something that should be a surprise as if he did neither it would result in the death of both.
This is a film that I would like to watch again, but it isn’t one that I would be in a desperate hurry to do so. I did like it, but when I compare to “Hacksaw Ridge”, another film with a similar sense of brotherhood in war, well there isn’t really any comparing. Whilst a decent film, “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” didn’t even come close to “Hacksaw Ridge”.
Cast : Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Kevin Hart, Alex Wolff, Madison Iseman, Morgan Turner and Ser’Danrius Blain
Plot : Following on from various indiscretions at school Spencer (Wolff), Bethany (Iseman), Fridge (Blain) and Martha (Turner) are thrown into detention and whilst there they discover a video game named “Jumanji”. After selecting their characters they are suddenly sucked one by one into the game.
It takes a few minutes for them to all realise what has happened and that they now inhabit new bodies. They are soon told that to win the game they need to restore the eye to the jaguar statue, and thus begins an adventure that could kill them in real life.
Why in this position? : When they announced this I can imagine that I was one of many who had a “what the fuck” look on their face. “Jumanji” was a solid enough 90s movie and if you’re the same age as me (early-mid 30s) then you were still young enough when it came out to appreciate it properly. So in other words, it was very hard to picture how a sequel was work.
So if you go in expecting a similar film to the original then you are going to be exceedingly disappointed as other than the absolute basic premise, there is nothing that links it to the original and this is both a good and a bad thing. There is definitely a more comedic element to this movie than the original film and at time it really lands, especially with the references to numerous computer game tropes, and Karen Gillan is delightfully hilarious in the scene where she is being taught to flirt. There are however several long sections that drag badly.
The biggest issue with this movie was a contender for the most one dimensional antagonist of the year, and even then I feel very generous saying that he even had a dimension. He is there just as filler, you don’t get to know him at all and ultimately he is just there as a minor obstacle for the protagonists to overcome.
Cast : Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy, Kenneth Branagh, Harry Styles
Plot : The British are surrounding in the French town of Dunkirk in World War II. Any attempts to get them out are swatted quickly as the planes overhead simply bomb the ships below. British pilots (one played by Hardy) are trying their hardest, but the group is gradually shot down one by one.
Meanwhile the soldiers on the ground are stuck there whilst they wait for more boats to turn up, with one of the boats picking up a particularly traumatised soldier (Murphy), who is just as likely to kill them as he is the Nazis.
Why in this position? : Dunkirk is a film that is brilliantly put together, especially the soundtrack that brings you right into the atmosphere of the film. Where it is a tense moment
Obviously this is based on true events, so whilst you know the events, the movie succeeds where most similar ones fail and that is that the characters do feel helpless. Even if you know your history, the film makes you think that there may be a chance that they might not, and that feeling that any character can die at any time is essential for this kind of film.
Characterisation is key in a film in which very few of the characters are named, and when some don’t even really speak that often. I particularly enjoyed how the character played by Harry Styles is the first to shout racist comments towards a Frenchman towards the end and almost incites a lynching. He is one of several interesting characters, although there isn’t a central one.
The lack of a central character is arguably the greatest asset that the film has to offer, but also is a hindrance in some ways, especially as it keeps jumping back and forth between them, I’m pretty certain only one is even referred to by name (you may notice a lack of character names in the plot summary above, I’ve kept it like that as it would feel cheating if I looked afterwards), and even more confusingly in a non-linear fashion. Some scenes show characters dealing with the aftermath of an event, only for the part of the story following another character not having that event yet. It isn’t until the final 20 or so minutes that the three or four storylines finally come together.
Cast : Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Caleb Landry Jones, Jesse Plemons and Jayma Mays
Plot : Barry (Cruise) is an airline pilot that is bored with his life when he is one day approached by Schafer (Gleeson), a man who claims to be with the CIA and offers him a job taking pictures of military bases of their enemies. Barry accepts but gets frustrated as the off the book nature means that he has no legal way to force payment from Schafer, and he isn’t even convinced that that’s his name.
One day he lands at a new base, occupied by hence-men of Pablo Escobar, who offer to make him rich in exchange for drug smuggling. Again he reluctantly agrees but soon finds that he is making an absolute killing. His family is soon forced to relocate to a tiny American town to continue the operation, but the more things go along and the more people know what happens, the more people are at risk.
Why in this position? : “American Made” is what most Tom Cruise movies are, a fun two or so hours in which there is ultimately no further thinking. He’s the ultimate popcorn actor and yet again he brings it for this comedy. I genuinely enjoyed this movie because it is easy to follow, has great pacing and most importantly doesn’t take it too seriously.
The only issue I have with “American Made” is that it is fairly predictable. No-one puts a foot wrong in terms of acting, but there is nothing really original about the film and thus is becomes a bit easy to see where it is going. This is based on a true story, but even if you knew nothing about it before hand, much like myself, then there is still nothing new to be learnt.
It is fun, it is a decent popcorn movie and it definitely has re-watchability, but ultimately it is flawed in a lot of places.
Cast : Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L Jackson, Gary Oldman, Elodie Yung, Yuri Kolokolnikov and Selma Hayek
Plot : Michael (Reynolds) was one one of the most confident bodyguards in the businss until one of his protection contracts ends in failure due to an unlikely assassination. Two years later he has fallen to protecting the lives of businessmen instead when all of a sudden he gets contacted regarding protecting nemesis Darius Kincaid (Jackson), who is one of the key witnesses in a Crimes Against Humanity case of Belarusian dictator Dukhovich (Oldman).
Tensions between the two are ridiculously tense but they realise that they made a good team when they survive an ambush in Coventry. How will Michael react when he finds out that it was Darius who killed the man he was assigned to protect?
Why in this position? : I’m not a big fan of comedy, I don’t often review them and tend not to watch them, but to be fair to 2017 there were some decent additions to the genre during the year and whilst I did find this somewhat predictable, “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” still made me laugh out loud several times and entertained me more than most films this year did.
Reynolds and Jackson share a decent chemistry between them and the past part about it was that Ryan wasn’t his normal self, he had a far more down-to-Earth style humour that he has previously shown in comedy films, and that is efinitely a welcome addition.
In terms of films that were better than I was expecting this year, this was definitely up there.