Kollektivet (The Commune) (Vinterberg, 2016): An entertaining and occasionally-moving period drama by Thomas Vinterberg and regular co-writer Tobias Lindholm, set in early-80s Copenhagen and following the lives of a group of people who come together to live side-by-side in a commune. The strand of idealism that informs the rules of the house imbues the first half of the film with some comic moments, but these are eventually supplanted when the more selfish residents make repeat transgressions; the second half contains serious, darker passages, with the break-up of one couple and a tragic incident enduring The Commune features plenty of emotional drama. It’s well-acted by the ensemble cast, and even though some characters fade into the background while others take centre stage, it’s another strong work from Vinterberg.
Imperium (Ragussis, 2016): Poor old Daniel Radcliffe. It’s obvious to anyone following his career that the British actor is doing all he can to shed the Harry Potter image for which he is best known; it’s proving a little difficult for him to do so, but at least time is on his side. A snarky review of this tale of an undercover FBI agent who infiltrates far right groups in the US might read something like ‘Harry Potter And The Pristine Copy Of Mein Kampf’, but in fairness Radcliffe turns in a half-decent performance, even if he does seem a little mis-cast as the federal mole. It’s a perfunctory thriller – nothing more, nothing less.
The Hard Stop (Amponsah, 2016): This excellent documentary by George Amponsah examines the London riots of 2012, which flared up in the wake of the police killing of Mark Duggan and spread quickly to other urban areas around the UK. The film sets out the circumstances around Duggan’s death (and subsequent inquest) and looks at life on the Broadwater Farm estate, where successive generations of young men feel that they are being unduly harassed as punishment by the police for the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, which took place in the 1980s and remains unsolved today. Two of Duggan’s friends are interviewed extensively, and they offer interesting perspectives on the 2012 death, the riots and the ongoing tension between police and the residents of Tottenham in north-east London. Even back in 2012 – with the media descending on the borough en masse – it was hard for young black men who were either caught up in the violence or living nearby to get their voices heard, so this documentary offers them a much-needed platform, among other things; it’s a valuable and insightful film.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon (Weitz, 2009): Two movies in to the Twilight series and I’m cursing my ‘got-to-watch-them-all’ personality. This is pretty dire, and the effects haven’t improved much on the original film, but it’s great to see Michael Sheen playing Brett Anderson circa 1994.
Kubo And The Two Strings (Knight, 2016): This is a beautiful stop-motion film by Laika (American-made, but set in Japan), with a lovely story and fine voice acting, particularly from Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey, playing a kick-ass monkey and a Samurai warrior-beetle respectively. It’s imaginative, funny, moving and occasionally quite dark, and one of my favourite animated films of the year.
War Dogs (Phillips, 2016): Based on a true story, Hangover man Todd Phillips’ latest has Miles Teller and Jonah Hill as a pair of chancers who start off as small fry in the arms-dealing world before somehow becoming major international suppliers. Hill’s character is really unlikeable, which will no doubt put off the large number of people who already seem to dislike the actor, but the biggest shame about the film is that Phillips seems to have no evident opinion on the actions of either his or Teller’s character, instead treating them like a pair of wayward Spring Breakers who are accidentally caught up in a series of international japes (so, for all the talk of the director moving away from the frat boy comedies that made his name, well… ). Phillips’ ‘new-found’ style – all freeze-frame and voiceover – is copped almost wholesale from the more recent films of Martin Scorsese, though obviously nowhere near as good.
Race (Hopkins, 2016): Very much a by-the-numbers biopic about the legendary athlete and Olympian Jesse Owens, though it’s well-meaning and looks far more expensive than you’d expect from a film with a modest $5 million budget; I was impressed by such a glossy sheen. It’s hampered – ironically – by a slow pace, with only sporadic track and field action to lift proceedings, though I guess there’s lots of interesting ground to cover, not least the political wranglings behind Owens’ participation and success at the Munich Olympics in 1936. Another problem is that sporting events that only last a handful of seconds – such as the 100m or the long jump – do not translate well to the big screen, as there’s little chance for in-contest tension to develop. There’s a decent central performance from Stephan Janes as the athlete and Jeremy Irons lends a touch of class as athletics bigwig Avery Brundage; elsewhere Carice van Houten adds support with a sympathetic take on filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl and Jason Sudeikis blusters his way through as Owens’ coach Larry Snyder. It’s hard to take against a simple celebration of such an amazing man, but it is a shame that the film has dreary lulls.
Arrival (Villeneuve, 2016): An impressive alien contact blockbuster that has been written about ad nauseam elsewhere. I’m not going to add much more, partly because I don’t have the time to write a full review at the moment, but I just want to say that I enjoyed the cinematography, the production design, the score and the performances by Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (the acting gives a cold-feeling film much-needed warmth). Plus I like the fact Arrival feels big, and important: it demands to be viewed on the largest screen possible so that you can drink in those wide-angle landscape shots, which incorporate those giant, hovering alien egg-shaped ships; what a striking series of images they are, and isn’t cinema amazing? It isn’t perfect – parts of it feel rushed, such as the montage in which communication between the human and alien parties improves, which contrasts awkwardly with the slower build-up before it – but evidently this is streets ahead of most of the big budget fayre of 2016 and Villeneuve must be considered one of the most exciting big studio directors working in Hollywood today.
El Clan (The Clan) (Trapero, 2016): Enjoyably-grim dramatisation of a real-life story from 1980s Buenos Aires: that is, a series of kidnaps, ransoms and murders carried out by the social-climbing Puccio family. Guillermo Francella (who appeared in the original version of The Secret In Their Eyes) is superb as patriarch Arquímedes, while Juan Pedro Lanzini – formerly of pop-rockers Teen Angels – impresses as his son, Alejandro. The film throbs with nighttime colour, and the story is gripping, but there are flaws, such as the inclusion of far too many scenes in which kidnapping, murder and other acts of violence are juxtaposed with an upbeat pop song on the soundtrack.
The BFG (Spielberg, 2016): A typically warm-hearted Roald Dahl adaptation from Steven Spielberg that might have been better served by a one-hour Christmas TV special, as it feels like there’s quite a bit of filler here in order to pad it out to feature length. I can imagine young kids taking to this one, as there’s a gentle Mary Poppins-like treatment of postwar London, and the peril isn’t particularly scary. The effects are good and the repeated appearance of Mark Rylance’s kind face is a highlight; there’s not enough of the angry giants (Jemaine Clement, Bill Hader) though.