I rated Denial (2016) 7/10 #IMDb


Well-played, somewhat understated, courtroom drama that deals with Irving V penguin and Lipstadt.

I remembered this case. But in my mind it was much older than the turn of the 20th century. Disturbing to be shown it was so recent.

The roles are well played. Particularly those of Irving, Lipstadt, Julius, and Rampton. The contrasts between this English courtroom drama and American courtroom dramas are clear from the start. Though the professionalism, skill, and commitment of the legal team is not apparent until later in the movie. Weisz seems to show how alien Lipstadt must have found the experience.

A well done film on a compelling case that is worth going to see.

I rated Hacksaw Ridge (2016) 6/10 #IMDb


It’s the tale of a brave, patriotic man who wouldn’t carry a weapon in WWII on Okinawa.

Directed by Mel Gibson seemingly for the low-end true story dramatisations found on cable TV and streaming services.

It does show some of the terrible aftermath of war in private doss’s home life: alcoholic, violent, remorseful father who is a veteran of WWI.

It shows Doss’s difficulties with his army colleagues: accusations of being a coward, attempts to force him out, courts martial.

And it shows some of the horror of the battle for the ridge: violent slaughter, flamethrowers, grenades…

But despite Doss’s conviction and his faith and perseverance the film makes more of heroism generally and essentially ends with ‘we won’.

There’s some good credits footage of the survivors that indicates the acting is not so much a dramatisation but a recreation.

It’s slow going most of the time. It’s repetitious-reasonably so to show Doss’s belief and commitment. But overall it’s just not that good a film. If it’s on and you have the time, give it a go.

I rated xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017) 2/10 #IMDb


I wasn’t expecting much. But this was so bad I almost didn’t stick it out.

Avoid it at all costs unless you can endure a hackneyed plot, some risible events, 2D characters, and a level of ridiculousness zoolander could not carry off. Though if you do stick it out there are some amusing, juvenile one-liners. And in the mix up of nonsensical stunts there is some occasionally crisp action.

It’s a sort of kedgeree action movie: made of a variety of ingredients from many parts of the world. There are some talented action-movie people in it. There are (too many) exotic locations. Sadly though the flavour is a bit off.

I rated Jackie (2016) 4/10 #IMDb


Excellent acting by Natalie Portman. A genuinely emotive, searching, and stark portrait of the aftermath. But in its starkness, and its grounding in real events, it loses its way and becomes literal and mundane.

The awful battles over the national, personal, and security implications of the procession and ceremony of the President’s funeral are as apparently painful as they are undramatic.

The flashbacks in Jackie’s retelling of events become intrusive. Their reproduction of antique cinematography seem an overwrought attempt at an unnatural authenticity. It’s like the stylistic affectation of presenting Victorian England in monochrome or sepia. Great for momentary scene-setting or moving from authentic footage to reshot stuff but wearing and tedious when taken to excess.

The starkness of the experiences is matched by the relative absence of background noise or music.

Jackie is a revealing and seemingly authentic portrait of the aftermath of tragic events in all their horror and mundanity. The actors play their parts so realistically it’s almost as if the dramatic effect evaporates before your eyes and you are seeing things as they really are.

It’s like an arty stylised documentary. As entertainment it failed me. As a piece of cinema it’s probably worth enduring.

I rated La La Land (2016) 8/10 #IMDb


I dread musicals. I find the artificial shifts from regular activity to bizarre song and dance numbers jarring. And I don’t like the usual strained ‘lyrics’.

La La Land was different. The opening number reminded me of ‘Summer Holiday‘. Bonkers, but captivating.

The story is surprisingly well-crafted for a musical. The song and dance pieces are wonderful with only a couple of mediocre exceptions. But even those are sufficiently compatible with the ‘regular’ movie parts that they get away with it.

For me La La Land is oddly contradictory: a musical movie I liked that combines a strangely real story in an artificially bright and enjoyably unreal world.

Even if musicals and LA solipsism aren’t your thing, La La Land has enough emotion and spectacle to make it unmissable.

I rated Live by Night (2016) 5/10 #IMDb


With its epigrammatic dialogue and bad guy who isn’t so bad, this is the kind of gangster blah blah that makes you wish to see the untouchables again.

One of its redeeming features is that the characters are generally either complex in their good/evil mix or 2D stereotypes. Though this won’t help you find much empathy for any of them.

In Boston it is the same old same old thug/hoodlum/gangster cliches from any other movie. Things pick up in Florida with the local gangs, police, and the KKK but then its back to the usual business of gangsters. Finally there’s a hint at normal life.

Well done but ultimately tedious and tolerable. Don’t go out of your way for it.

I rated Underworld: Blood Wars (2016) 4/10 #IMDb


Exactly what you’d expect. More of the same vampires vs vampires vs werewolves fast action fighting and feuding.

Not dreadful, just not remarkable, or new. The cast do a good job of filling the scenes. The dialog offers convincing noises for their mouths moving. There’re guns, knives, blood, and guts and lots of crusty-like werewolves and black-clad vampires. Oh and fighting. Lots of fighting.

I rated Manchester by the Sea (2016) 8/10 #IMDb


Beautifully shot. I’d like to move to Manchester tomorrow on the basis of the cinematography.

A tale of real-seeming people coming to terms with the aftermath of death, life, and the day to day of trying to get on.

Great performances all round. The venal solipsism and carnal desires of teens offer some amusing and uncomfortable light relief at times. And the difficulty of facing past events creates some credible awkwardness between the characters.

It is slow going at times but the occasional aimless-seeming real-time footage offers a chance to recover from some of the tougher times. And here and there we get some beautiful music in the soundtrack.

Well worth seeing but expect it to be closer to the pace of real life than an action flick.

I rated A Monster Calls (2016) 9/10 #IMDb


A tragic tale of deception, honesty, fantasy, and fear.

You can read the summary elsewhere. For me the portrayal of emotion in this film was remarkable. Some of the scenes are typical and predictable but the monster scenes and the scenes of the boy’s turmoil were excellent.

The monster’s tales were superb. Both in their animation and in their rich messages: life is to be lived, people are complex, everything is lived in shades of grey, etc

You’ll very likely weep with empathy or sympathy. Take some tissues. To avoid weeping see my footnote*.

Sigourney Weaver does a good job of being a stern ‘gran’ and has a surprisingly calm reaction to some quite traumatic events. Though her accent is a bit ‘proper’ for the setting.

Unsure if any boy’s bedroom looks like this boy’s bedroom has been imagined.

Liam Neeson is great as the monster suitably threatening and yet reassuring.

*my daughter did not cry at all. She claimed one thought stopped her: that the monster’s face was very similar to that of Groot from guardians of the galaxy. And all she could think during the monster scenes was ‘I am Groot’.

I rated Assassin’s Creed (2016) 4/10 #IMDb


Possibly the best video game to movie adaptation I’ve seen. It has some slick action sequences and some impressive battle and inquisition pieces. Its lack of a real story lets it down. The repetition of scenes in the ‘animus’ and the over-reliance on fancy visual effects add to the burden of style over substance. These qualities combined with its perceived running time of about 3.5 hours make it a movie to avoid. Will the curse ever be broken?