Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: April 2017

mv5bmtu5mji3nzqxml5bml5banbnxkftztgwmtuwnjyyote-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Over the last couple of years, the story of slavery made a comeback as feature film and tv material, with Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave” probably still the gold standard. It became that standards, I believe, because if exceptionally skilled directorial skills and outstanding actors. While the fact that it was based on a true story may have contributed to the hype, I’d rather believe that it succeeded despite the shackles that reality usually puts on stories. “The Birth of a Nation” has a similar starting point, using events that are now referred to as the Slave Uprising of 1831, when slaves led by Nat Turner from Virginia tried to break free. A little Spartacus, a little Braveheart, a little Twelve Years a Slave, of course.

The way this is narrated, with the focus on a character who sets out as a slave preacher, and ends up a freedom fighter, is less inspiring than the “12 Years” example, though. After watching this, I had to struggle remembering remarkable moments, emotional turning points or moments of being wowed by one of the actors. It plays out rather straightforwardly, the way you expect it to do after learning about the setting. There are some grueling moments of violence (the teeth… oh my, that’s one to haunt me), and there are ambiguous and weak characters (such as farm owner Sam) but I never felt that I am all too familiar with the characters and their motivations, never felt I was embraced by the story and the drama. I could even imagine that this is intentional, indicating that what happened did not happen in a cinematic way, but the way life works, as a succession of individually less than glamorous or dramatic events that somehow lead to a tipping point. It still means that the film never really dragged me in. I felt like reading an illustrated history text book, rather than a dramatization, missing the cinematic qualities of Steve McQueen’s effort. It’s not a bad film, it just is not all too remarkable in retrospect.

mv5bmja3njkznjg2mf5bml5banbnxkftztgwmdkymzgzmdi-_v1_uy268_cr00182268_al_If you tell the real life story of Saroo as it happened, you realise there is not much story to it: boy from rural India gets lost, orphanage, adoption by Australians, later seeks to find his family years later to get some form of closure. The script of “Lion” seeks to add a bit of extra drama to it, but focuses mainly on the fact that this boy basically has forgotten about his past life, and the way he is suffering from the loss only when by chance he stumbles across something that triggers his memory. In consequence the film is not very dramatic in its best moments, but very introvert and calm. There are some beautiful scenes at the beginning, before young Saroo gets separated from his family because of an unfortunate event he only learns about much later. In these moments, it is quite a heart-warming depiction of siblings relationship and the pleasures and pains of being a kid. The second part is not as strong as a film, with its setting in less exotic Australian suburbs and the addition of characters such as Saroo’s “brother” that do not add a great lot to his story. Of course, the way the story pans out is still moving, and the use of technology to trace his past life even provides for some thrills. Taken as a whole, I found “Lion” to be a bit too unbalanced to really enjoy it. I could appreciate Dev Patel’s acting skills, and I could easily fall in love with Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child. No doubt this is solid awards season material, but could have been bit more edgy for my taste.

Remember the way 24 (see here for Season 5, or here for Season 6 and here for the movie – the early good ones were too soon for this blog) changed watching tv? Realising that waiting for a week for a new episode was not a pleasant built-up of tension, but a nuisance and not the way I want to consume television? Taping shows and getting DVD boxes, preparing to binge on a couple of hours of a “real time thriller”? And apart from the format, the first couple of seasons had memorable characters: Nina Myers, the CTU director that got himself into a nuclear blast, Nina Myers, Chloe and her chubby co-worker, Nina Myers, Tony Almeida …

In a word: I did like the show, even though it became apparent during season 2 that a 24-episode run is just way too many episodes to sustain tension and a less than ridiculous plot. For the reboot of the franchise, 24 Legacy did away with this last problem and limited itself to 12 episodes, thank you! It also tried to grab as many of the previous seasons’ actors as possible and included them more or less coherently. And it introduced a new Jack Baur who – obviously – is not called Jack Baur but Eric Carter, an equally masculine name on a much more masculine guy.

This is actually a good thing in more than one way. Not only have I never considered Kiefer Sutherland to be an action hero kind of guy (I associate him mostly with things like “Flatliners”). I also just could not stand his breathless “We’re running out of time” anymore. Also, he died way too often, the wuss … Corey Hawkins seems like a decent guy, a bit vulnerable yet tough, sufficient number of family members associated with him to make for good blackmailing material if the show continues. Given the dwindling audience numbers, my guess is this will not happen, though. As an escapist diversion with evil terrorists, more evil politicians, most evil agencies and some good guys who are mostly drug dealers, it served its purpose. Network television does not have the quality of writing or production others have these days, but kudos to Fox for making the best of it.

Coming back to my previous efforts of somehow ranking the films that I have seen… oh my there was a gap, a gap since December 2014… never mind, fortunately the films are documented in the blog, so I can try to assess which ones I really liked, which ones not so much, even if in some cases I do have little recollection about them. Matter-of-fact, doing the ranking with a bit of a distance may be a good idea, perspective changes over time and I am sure this list now looks differently from what I would have written a year ago.

Previous entries were:

Best films of the last two years (Update Dec. 2014)

Best 2011-2012 Releases I have seen

The Movies of the Year, or the previous rather, and a bit of the one before

My top 10 list of good films of 2009 and 2010…

So here are the 2014-2017 releases (incl. the odd 2013 one) that I have seen and documented on the blog since early 2015. I do not remember most films well enough to rank them in detail (and who would want to pretend precise ranking anyway?), so I introduced categories, not necessarily suggesting precision of ranking within the categories.

Will try to update this with more once I get down to writing up some that I have still on the backlog.

Tier 1: The Favourites

  1. Room (Lenny Abrahamson 2015)
  2. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle 2014)
  3. Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan (Norte – The End of History) (Lav Diaz 2013)
  4. The Revenant (Alejandro G. Innaritu 2015)
  5. Ex Machina (Alex Garland 2015)
  6. Foxcatcher (Bennett Miller 2014)
  7. Force Majeure (Ruben Östlund 2014)
  8. Elle (Paul Verhoeven 2016)
  9. Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan 2016)
  10. Birdman (Alejandro González Iñárritu 2014)


Tier 2: Pretty Good ones

  1. Krigen (A War) (Tobias Lindholm 2015)
  2. The Big Short (Adam McKay 2015)
  3. Arrival (Denis Villeneuve 2016)
  4. Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross 2016)
  5. Anomalisa (Charlie Kaufman 2015)
  6. Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade 2016)
  7. What Richard Did (Lenny Abrahamson 2013)
  8. Slow West (John M. Maclean 2015)
  9. The Drop (Michael R. Roskam 2014)
  10. Spotlight (Tom McCarthy 2015)
  11. Inside Out (Pete Docter 2015)
  12. Creed (Ryan Coogler 2015)
  13. Sicario (Denis Villeneuve 2015)
  14. The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos 2016)
  15. 山河故人 (Mountains May Depart) (Jia Zhangke 2015)
  16. 天注定 (A Touch Of Sin) (Jia Zhangke 2013)


Tier 3: Was alright

  1. Midnight Special (Jeff Nichols 2015)
  2. The Invitation (Karyn Kusama 2016)
  3. The Martian (Ridley Scott 2015)
  4. 22.63 (Hulu)
  5. Lion (Garth Davis 2016)
  6. The Tunnel (터널) (Kim Seong-hun 2016)
  7. The Girl with all the Gifts (Colm McCarthy 2017)
  8. The Birth of a Nation (Nate Parker 2016)
  9. Train to Busan (부산행, Busanhaeng) (Sang-ho Yeon 2016)
  10. Deadpool (Tim MIller 2016)
  11. Moana (Ron Clements, John Musker, Chris Williams (IX) , Don Hall 2016)
  12. Kong: Skull Island (Jordan Vogt-Roberts 2017)
  13. 10 Cloverfield Lane (Dan Trachtenberg 2016)
  14. It Follows (David Robert Mitchel 2015)
  15. Big Hero 6 (Don Hall, Chris Williams 2014)
  16. American Sniper (Clint Eastwood 2015)
  17. Southpaw (Antoine Fuqua 2015)
  18. John Wick (David Leitch, Chad Stahelski 2015)
  19. Bridge of Spies (Steven Spielberg 2015)
  20. Black Sea (Kevin McDonald 2015)
  21. Straight outta Compton (F. Gary Gray 2015)
  22. Out of the Furnace (Scott Cooper 2013)



Tier 4: ah well…

  1. Everest (Baltasar Kormákur 2015)
  2. Rogue One (Gareth Edwards 2016)
  3. Split (M. Night Shyamalan 2016)
  4. Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson 2016)
  5. Jian Bing Man (Da Peng 2015)
  6. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (J.J. Abrams 2015)
  7. Crimson Peak (G. del Toro 2015)
  8. All is Lost (J.C. Chandor 2013)
  9. Selma (Ava DuVernay 2015)
  10. Unbroken (Angelina Jolie 2014)
  11. The Imitation Game (Morten Tyldum 2014)
  12. Big Eyes (Tim Burton 2014)
  13. The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou 2016)


Tier 5: Not good, no really, not good

  1. The Mermaid (Stephen Chow 2015)
  2. Poltergeist (Gil Kenan 2015)

mv5bmtuwmzi5odewnf5bml5banbnxkftztgwnjaznji2mdi-_v1_ux182_cr00182268_al_Sometimes I see a film and I wonder what people, say, 50 or 100 years ago would have reacted to when seeing it. I guess that in the case of Kong, most of them would have crapped their pants and stampeded out of the theatre. Kong: Skull Island has vicious creatures and fierce fights, grand explosions and surreal sceneries. It is extremely cinematic in an over-the-top way, drawing on everything from Lost World through Apocalypse Now, with the occasional John Woo-y martial arts moments. Admittedly, I have never really felt disappointed by any of the King Kong movies in the past. Kong is a great character that writes itself a script even if the Writers’ Guild is on strike. Send some people in, some noble and some pernicious, send some other creatures in, all pernicious, and let the battle rage until last creature and / or man standing. I liked Kong: Skull Island better than Peter Jackson’s effort some years ago, there was more originality in choreography, creature design and overall goofiness of the approach. Oh and there’s Black Sabbath, so what can go wrong?

There is also some formidable cast assembled to stand by while the battle is raging between Kong and his adversaries, with John Goodman and Samuel Jackson  doing their thing for a bit, Shae Whigham having a splendid exit scene, and Tom Hiddleston surely not yet quite sure whether he was supposed to be the hero of the film, but not getting too many heroic things to do (apart from running through toxic gas in a gas mask, and then just taking it off after the POV shots had been delivered)… Tian Jing seems to be on a retainer with Legendary Pictures, not so sure whether she is doing her international career a favour allowing her to be cast for decorative and marketing purposes, they clearly could not be bothered adding words for the script just because of her.

Kong found a good way of referencing the old King Kong films, such as when Kong gets chained up, while adding new setting and definitely a new quality of cgi to the story. I felt I could have watched many more minutes of all that, especially as they kept talking about “this is just the first of many”, but seems the other evil skull creatures were on a break. As the post credit sequence suggests, we can happily expect more, maybe not involving Kong (though it might be a good idea to hire him for recognisability of the franchise and because some exceptionally mean creatures are waiting to take over the world).

Excellent entertainment!

Speaking of Zombies… do we have a Zombie renaissance? A Zombiessance? I sometimes wonder how the production cycles work to spurn out several films from the same sidelined genres within a couple of months… And as for all Zombie movies, it is difficult to stay original. “The Girl with all the gifts” tries to be different, tries to take a page from Danny Boyle’s ventures into Zombieland in terms of production design, shows a dystopian setting in a bleak Britain in the grip of an epidemic by “Hungries” (well… Zombies), and tries to add some juvenile heroism. This is all pretty straightforward, with the exception of the fact that there are naturally hybrid creatures, such as the wonderfully curious and reflective child Melanie (Sennia Nanua), and that the world looks very British in the same way that Children of Men looked very British. British dystopia can look a lot like British reality, just with zombies… it’s a bit more grey than other dystopias. Melanie has to escape from the research facility in which she is held, together with a rather ruthless scientist (Glenn Close… where have you been?) and two soldiers (Paddy Considine and Fisayo Akinade). They have some form of mission, but to be honest, I already forgot what they did and why they were doing it. What’s important is that they need to make it somewhere, and that Melanie is essential in this, because she is the only one who can safely walk between the Hungries and the humans.

I was not really bored, but I consumed this the way you consume something that has been on your plate quite often, with reduced interest and little enthusiasm. Sennia Nanua is great, especially in the opening sequences where she is shown to be part of a ghastly educational programme. Then there is a lot of running, shouting and shooting, and the story went the expected direction. Only towards the end does the script find back some of the originality of the beginning, with some unpleasant resolutions emerging among which the characters have to choose.

After seeing this, I was actually regretting not having read the book instead. I guess that as a science fiction horror hybrid, this could work pretty well, given the larger space available for the respective characters and the establishment of the world design.


As I read somewhere: if you are stuck in a collapsed tunnel somewhere in Korea, Jung-Soo is the guy you want to be stuck with. Despite his poor fate of sitting in his Kia under millions of tons of rubble after the tunnel through which he was driving towards his daughters birthday party falls down on his roof, with little hope of rescue and a limited amount of water and birthday cake, his spirits remain high. After he finds another survivor with a dog, he happily (well, briefly hesitatingly) shares his water, and he surprisingly does not kill the dog for diving into the food supply. I would have.

The dynamic between what’s happening below ground and above, with the head of the rescue operation trying hard against all odds to get to the buried victim, and with the Jung-Soo’s wife being positioned as a mostly silent conscience of the rescue, the film manages to sustain the level of suspension that is necessary to avoid the boredom that could have happened in a less skilled script. Towards the end, there is some plot convolution going on, but proper placement of humour and the pretty impressive cast serve to divert from this. “The Tunnel” manages to keep the audience at the edge of their seats, and at least as far as I am concerned, I would not have placed any money on who is going to win this, Team Mountain in liaison with greedy suits and embarrassing politicians, or Team Kia, trying to dig a way out of this malaise.

Of course Zombie movies are not everybody’s piece of cake. They are not even everybody’s piece of cake among those who like zombie movies, given the amount of nonsense that has been around for the last decades. Whenever I see a trailer or a plot synopsis for such a film, my defenses go up immediately and I wonder where a new film may find something original to tell in a setting where the undead start roaming, or most recently running, the earth. Hence, after some of Romero’s films, and after Danny Boyle’s “28 days / weeks later”, and after “World War Z” added the Global Blockbuster aspect to the genre, I keep suspecting that I have seen everything that could be fun about them.

This is partially true for “Train to Busan”. It is not much different in terms of plot from “Dawn of the Dead”. People are locked up in a confined space while the world around them falls to shambles, they need to defend themselves against intruders and at some point they need to get out. This kind of setting is made to create social comment, you can nicely place the good guys and the bad guys, the selfish and the mellow-hearted, the fanatics and the hesitant. The difference here, firstly, is that to a Western audience, the social commentary goes into somehow different directions.

Korean movies have their topics, and they turn up here as well: blind career-orientation, class awareness, family bonds… the ruthless business guy replaces the egomaniacal redneck. Apart from that, execution needs to be judged, and “Train to Busan” shows all the features of today’s professional action cinema. Exploding trains, burning cities, and of course, hordes of very fast zombies come together for an entertaining bit of action. It is not tight enough to make you forget the plot holes. Most notably: if they discover early on that the zombies only recognise their prey on sight and are easily calmed by putting up blind screens, why is this not used later on when clearly this would have been a very good idea? Be that as it may, the film rewards with proper heroism and a very well executed closing scene. There may not be the need for more Zombie movies, but when done like this, hey why not?

%d bloggers like this: