Regular readers may have noticed a downturn in activity on this blog recently – that’s because my daughter was born a couple of weeks ago. Obviously my focus has shifted considerably from writing and blogging as a result, but I’m still finding time to watch the occasional film in the middle of the night or across work lunch hours, so I’m trying to keep this site ticking over with short reviews for the time being; I doubt I’ll get to write a full review for a while, but you never know. Unfortunately, to save time, I’ve had to cut out the social element for now – so I’ve switched comments on posts off and have sadly not had the time to read anything written by fellow film bloggers. No offence intended to those of you I’ve known for a few years, and once things settle down things will hopefully be back to normal round here, but as to when that is I don’t know!
I managed to get to the cinema to see Arrival after the baby was born – I have my mother-in-law to thank for that one – but I doubt I’ll be in front of the big screen again until Rogue One is released; that means missing the likes of Paterson and Sully until they’re out on DVD, among others, but hey ho.
In addition to Villeneuve’s latest I caught a few other recent releases on the big screen at the start of the month, such as Swiss Army Man, The Light Between Oceans and Nocturnal Animals. All three have their flaws, but I’d say Nocturnal Animals is by far the most interesting of that trio, and like Arrival it contains a very good performance by Amy Adams. The Light Between Oceans is a solidly-made romantic drama, while Swiss Army Man… I dunno; I’m one of those people who can only tolerate a certain amount of wacky, and the film’s cuteness and relentless quirk began to grate after a while, although I did enjoy the unusual performances by the two leads.
In terms of 2016 releases, everything else I watched during November I caught at home on DVD or via one of the way-too-many streaming services that I subscribe to. I’ve been trying to catch up on a lot of films before finalising an end-of-year favourites list, and one of the movies I missed at the cinema but really wanted to see was Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room. I was pretty hooked by this simple thriller, and although I don’t think it’s as good as his previous effort Blue Ruin, I would recommend it; it’s one of Anton Yelchin’s final roles, and Patrick Stewart is good value as a terrifying neo-Nazi.
By contrast I was disappointed by Elvis & Nixon, a lightweight romp based on the brief meeting between Elvis and Tricky Dicky in the early 1970s, but Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are fun to watch in the title roles. Another low-key release from around the same time of year, Learning To Drive, is more worthy of your time in my humble opinion: it’s a nice little film about a woman coming to terms with a separation and her brief friendship with an Indian driving instructor, with winning performances by Patricia Clarkson and Sir Sir Ben Kingsley.
In the past month I’ve watched three films about white American protagonists who are working temporarily in the Middle East: Tom Tykwer’s A Hologram For The King is a straightforward fish-out-of-water story (Tom Hanks is a hologram conferencing system salesman trying to broker a deal in Saudi Arabia); I didn’t really care for War Dogs, which is a popular Todd Phillips movie that’s based on the true story of two bros who become major players in the international arms trade; and, like War Dogs, the Tina Fey-starring Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is also based on a true story, specifically with regard to the reporter Kim Barker’s time in Afghanistan. Of these three I’d say the latter is by far the best, though it has plenty of flaws, not least the decision to cast white western guys as Afghan men (and the fact that Afghan characters in the film for the most part are either depicted as scammers or seemingly there to provide extra comic relief).
I’ll quickly run through a few other recent releases: Australian apocalyptic drama These Final Hours has a couple of entertainingly violent scenes but I didn’t care for it too much overall; Thomas Vinterberg’s The Commune is a well-written and well-acted drama that successfully transitions from broad comedy drama to something much darker; Imperium sees Daniel Radcliffe taking on far right extremism for the FBI (uh, that’s serious mis-casting, but it’s a better performance than one might have expected); The Hard Stop is a fascinating documentary about Tottenham in London, the killing of Mark Duggan and the subsequent riots of 2011; Kubo And The Two Strings is an excellent animated feature from Laika that features some really good voice work by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey; Race is a so-so biopic of Jesse Owens; The Clan is a better-than-average Argentinian drama about a murderous, greedy family (another true story); The BFG is warm-hearted Spielbergian mush, and I can imagine kids liking it; My Scientology Movie is Louis Theroux trying his damnedest to mask the fact he and filmmaker John Dower found getting access to senior current Scientologists nigh-on impossible (though there are some surreal and weird moments); and finally Now You See Me 2 is a complete waste of everyone’s time and money, and you’d be much better off watching videos of The Great Soprendo or Tommy Cooper on YouTube for two hours instead.
I haven’t mentioned my film of the month for November yet; I think it was actually released in cinemas and on Netflix in October, but anyway… Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th is timely and essential. It’s an extremely thought-provoking examination of the incarceration of young black men and women in America, from slavery and its abolition right through to the extremely questionable political practices and rhetoric that have taken place during the past 30 years. At the end of a month where an outspoken bigot somehow became the President Elect of the United States, I would urge you to watch it.