Rings

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In 2002 Gore Verbinski made what is arguably one of the best horror films of the 21st century in the form of J-horror remake “The Ring”. His film was atmospheric, well-paced, mysterious, and tinged in a bleak shade of grey. It was a race against time as lead woman Naomi Watts uncovered the secret behind a killer video tape in order to stave off a vengeful spirit, and it still holds up to this day.

On premise alone “The Ring” sounds slightly ridiculous, but the way that the tape acted as a death sentence was novel, and it created a tangible sense of intrigue. The story unfolded methodically as things went from bad to worse over a seven day period, and the film was as much about delving into Samara’s backstory as it was about scaring the audience. It was an intelligent take on the horror genre, and Hideo Nakata’s sequel was good too, so it’s a shame that this entry into the series was wholly unnecessary.

In my opinion, the biggest problem with “Rings” is that director Francisco Javier Gutiérrez doesn’t seem to have any sort of grasp on what made Verbinski’s film successful. Verbinski had a fascinating story to tell, but he also knew how to make the most of his premise – he used the passage of time in the film to set the stakes, and he let the urgency of the situation shine through which in turn made Samara’s eventual appearance feel inescapable.

The great thing about the horror genre is that it allows writers and directors to push themes to their extremes and address universal fears that we aren’t always comfortable facing. The idea of Samara as a death sentence is the perfect example of this because she’s frightening in and of herself as a traditional movie monster, but there’s also an implicit issue that the promise of her arrival presents which is that death is inevitable and we’ll do anything to delay it.

Gutiérrez doesn’t seem to see this, or at least if he does he isn’t interested in letting the audience in on the secret. His film doesn’t share the same foreboding tone as its predecessors, nor does it maintain the same visual harshness or understated performances that those movies had. At no point do the characters seem to take their situation seriously, at least not to the degree that they should given that their lives are literally on the line, and it’s almost laughable how mundane Gutiérrez has managed to make an iconic horror villain. As a child and even into my teenage years I couldn’t sleep in the same room as a television because of “The Ring”, yet whilst watching this film I found myself joking with my brother while Samara was on screen!

In reality, “Rings” doesn’t feel like a sequel to “The Ring” at all – it shares the villain and the basic premise, but there’s no overlap in the features that are of real significance. The way that the passage of time is presented in “The Ring” is completely ignored, as is the tension that it created, and it’s never even clear how much time the leading lady has left once she watches the tape. You can guess if you feel like paying attention, but the way that the film develops doesn’t necessitate that you even bother to keep your eyes open!

Any notion of respecting the source material is thrown out of the window during the first scene, as a character we’ll never see again finds himself on a plane at the very moment when his life is due to end at Samara’s hands. This in itself is actually a fun idea, because if the character in question doesn’t believe that the curse is real then of course he’ll have no problem with being on a plane seven days after watching the tape. However, the issue I have with this scene as a whole is that it just isn’t scary! The music which accompanies it feels like it belongs in a cheap action flick rather than an atmospheric horror film, and it confuses the movie’s tone immediately. As a scene it feels like something which was thought up by a marketing team as a nice clip to lodge into the middle of a trailer, and it bears no significance to the rest of the movie at all!

Moreover, Gutiérrez disrespects the returning audience by rehashing Samara’s backstory through superfluous exposition, and on top of this the writers try to pass off a cheap plot point as a hidden revelation in order to make the film feel like a worthwhile sequel. This is more idiotic than it is insulting, because it’s frankly absurd that the studio and the director felt that they needed an excuse to revisit a modern horror classic. I’m not the biggest fan of remakes and sequels, but I think that on paper it made sense to bring back the franchise considering that we’ve made substantial technological advancements since 2005.

The idea of the tape going viral is one that genuinely interests me, even if it does sound like it could be the product of an out-of-touch corporate executive trying to appeal to a youthful audience. There are things that can be done with that premise and a film based around such an outlandish idea could be fun. I’m not saying that it would be good, but it wouldn’t feel as depressingly pointless as this film felt.

The best part of the film, for me personally, was when the screen at my local cinema completely stopped working. I’m not exaggerating when I say that halfway through the film the screen cut out, the lights flickered, and the theatre fell into darkness. There was a power outage which caused our screen and a few others to go down, so we were sat staring at a black screen in the dark waiting for something to happen. Most of the people in the screening found this quite funny, including myself, and we all had a good laugh about the situation. I’m not lying when I say that this was the highlight of the film for me, and it plays into how ineffective “Rings” was at doing its job – i.e. scaring people – because nobody so much as flinched even though we were watching a film about a murderous spirit that comes out of a television screen. It was a situation that should’ve sparked pandemonium, yet it triggered sarcastic laughter.

With that anecdote out of the way it should be clear what I thought of this film. “The Ring” is one of my all-time favourite horror movies – to this day I remember watching it with my family in Devon, and I’ll never forget how my cousin called the house phone immediately after it finished to mimic Samara by whispering ‘seven days’. I really do love the original film and I have it on DVD in my house along with its sequel. Sadly, “Rings” is an insult to both of those films and to the integrity of filmmaking in general; it’s cheap, lazy, and ignorant to what made the source material great, so it really isn’t worth your time.

1/10

Manchester by the Sea

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via bttm.co.uk

“Manchester by the Sea” is a melancholy film, but in spite of the tragedy that it portrays it’s still an entertaining and even heart-warming experience in its own way. After seeing the first trailer I was expecting something similar to “Raising Helen”, a film in which a woman reluctantly takes guardianship of her sister’s children when she passes away. On premise alone the films are strikingly similar, but in reality “Manchester by the Sea” is a much more polished and thoughtful film and it resonated with me in a more meaningful way.

On the surface “Manchester by the Sea” may seem as though it’s about accepting responsibility and responding to adversity, as Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) has to take care of his nephew when his brother passes away, but whilst it touches on these themes it doesn’t dwell on them. It’s an honest depiction of how people attempt to cope with loss, grief, and guilt, and it steers clear of melodrama as much as it possibly can. “Manchester by the Sea” is actually about how there are some things that we just can’t come back from, no matter how badly we want to move on; it’s about giving up, going through the motions, and being a passenger in your own life.

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this film probably depends on what you’re looking for when it comes to entertainment, because if you want escapism and to leave the theatre with a smile on your face then this one isn’t for you. It’s a difficult watch because the story is extremely bleak and it’s easy to get sucked in by the performances so much so that you forget that you’re watching a film. However, if you can cope with the nature of the film “Manchester by the Sea” is genuinely exceptional. It boasts great performances, a fitting score, intelligent direction, and a contained story in which plot points are revealed at perfect junctures to keep the audience invested and enhance the characters, and despite slow pacing it doesn’t drag at all.

I have to be honest and say that although this film is harrowing at times, it didn’t actually make me sad. That might seem morbid and could be construed as a criticism of how effective the film was, but in a strange way this film made me feel good about life. The things that happen to Lee are horrible and cruel; they’re things that nobody should have to live with and a lot of people simply wouldn’t be able to, but to know that that kind of pain is possible in life is a victory in itself. It means that there are things you can lose that are worth having in the first place, which is abundantly clear in Casey Affleck’s understated performance. You feel that Lee is holding himself together so tightly because he knows that one wrong move could see him fall apart, and yet he keeps going anyway and tries to do what’s right for those around him.

In my opinion this really is a stunning film. It won’t appeal to everyone because it’s a simple story and there are parts of the film which are less interesting than others, such as when Patrick (Lee’s nephew played by Lucas Hedges) goes to visit his mother and her new religious fiancé, but it will definitely find its way into my DVD collection when it gets released later this year and I hope that Casey Affleck wins an Oscar for his performance.

9.5/10

Split

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“Split” is M. Night Shyamalan’s latest attempt to restore his reputation after a string of awful releases, and whilst it’s far from perfect I thought it was an interesting cinematic experience. It’s a visually entertaining film which I feel will appeal to mainstream audiences, boasting strong performances from James McAvoy (“Trance”) and Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”), and great cinematography from Mike Gioulakis (“It Follows”).

What makes this movie interesting, over and above the intricacies of McAvoy’s performance, is that whilst this is Shyamalan’s film (as evidenced by the trademark twist at the end) it often feels as though Shyamalan is the one person holding it back. This is a harsh statement to make because he can’t be to blame for all of the issues that appear in the film, but I feel that the weakest aspects of the movie are the writing and direction – the two aspects which Shyamalan should’ve been most involved in.

The dialogue often verges on expository rather than natural, which in this case clearly stems from the writing rather than the delivery of the actors. The story also lacks believability, and whilst the film is fun to watch there isn’t a lot going on which ultimately makes the movie quite predictable. Still, the twist at the end goes some way towards making up for the predictability of the rest of the movie, and for someone like me who is familiar with the rest of Shyamalan’s work it improved the experience significantly.

The saviour of the film is McAvoy, who gives one of the best performances of his career in a role which could’ve been career-ending. His performance has just the right balance of commitment, eccentricity, and realism to make the character feel larger-than-life without also making him cartoonish. To be fair to the writing he is given something to work with on this front, because Kevin (McAvoy) has the chance to interact with characters outside of his natural habitat, which allows McAvoy to portray vulnerability and make the character sympathetic. This is necessary given that Kevin’s split personalities are the product of a troubled childhood, as making the character a monster would’ve taken away from a story which is at its heart about coping with abuse. Even though the psychological exploration in the film is undoubtedly limited it’s crucial that it’s there in order to make the clichéd story worthwhile, so Shyamalan at least deserves credit for this.

The changes that McAvoy makes when switching between personalities in this film gives each one of them their own distinct feel, but these changes are subtle for the most part. He does make major changes in order to distinguish between personalities, such as changing the pitch and tone of his voice, but he also changes his mannerisms, making psychical changes on top of those which are done to his wardrobe. For example, when he’s portraying Hedwig, (a young boy who takes a liking to Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy)), he comes across as shy and introverted, whereas when he’s playing Patricia he’s upright and composed which makes her seem as though she’s in charge. The way that these characters come across as having their own unique personalities is a direct result of the alterations that McAvoy makes to his posture and his movements when he’s playing them, which is why his performance deserves to be praised. Without McAvoy “Split” simply wouldn’t have worked, and we could’ve ended up with another disastrous Shyamalan movie along the lines of “After Earth” and “The Happening”.

Anya Taylor-Joy also deserves credit for her performance, as although Casey is less developed than Kevin she is likeable throughout. As an actress Taylor-Joy is able to be expressive without overacting, and in this film she portrays a sense of acceptance whilst also undercutting this with an aggressive self-assurance, which in turn gives off the impression that she’s a worthy match for Kevin even though she’s diminutive in stature. Casey is a deceptively well-realised character, and this is largely down to Joy’s emotive but restrained performance.

It’s a shame then that the supporting cast don’t seem to understand their characters or the situations that they find themselves in. The only member of the supporting cast who plays a meaningful part in the film is Betty Buckley in the role of Dr. Fletcher – Kevin’s psychiatrist – but again I don’t think that her performance is particularly good. She isn’t terrible, but her performance is basically an imitation of other performances she’s seen on film. It was more forgettable than it was insulting, but when she was on screen I found myself acutely aware that I was in a movie theatre staring at a screen.

Overall, “Split” is an entertaining but limited film. It’s elevated by the lead performances of James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy, as well as its stellar cinematography, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights that it aspires to. I would recommend it and I think it has the potential to make Shyamalan relevant again, but it’s still lacking in a number of important areas.

6.5/10

A Monster Calls

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via screenrant.com

At some point or another in our lives we’re all touched by cancer, and as sad as it is, we all know someone who has had to live with it. This is why, despite the fact that “A Monster Calls” is undeniably flawed, nobody moved when the end credits began to roll. The screening wasn’t alive with the rustling of popcorn or busy people putting on coats, it was silent, reverent, and filled with people ingesting what they had just seen.

As a study of what it is to grieve, “A Monster Calls” is an excellent film. It suffers from a couple of unnecessary clichés, and at times its presentation leaves something to be desired, but it displays clear understanding of what it is to come to terms with losing someone you love. Desperation, denial, and anger are all handled with confidence, and although the titular monster’s role in the film doesn’t actually feel necessary, he’s a useful vehicle through which to explore the subject matter.

Without the promise of seeing the monster (voiced by Liam Neeson) this film would’ve been a lot more difficult to watch than it was, and it wouldn’t have been as appealing to a mass audience. However, the stories that the monster tells can be slightly obtuse, and there are points at which I felt that he detracted from the experience as a whole. It would’ve been nice if he’d initially been used as a horror element in the film – something for Conor (Lewis MacDougall) to fear rather than to embrace – because it would’ve made things more interesting in what was an underwhelming first act.

“A Monster Calls” is a film which is carried by a strong performance from Lewis MacDougall as Conor O’Malley, a young boy who uses an imaginary monster to cope with his mother’s cancer. Whilst he wasn’t particularly likeable given his complacent mannerisms, he played his part well particularly given that he is a child actor, and he worked well with Felicity Jones who gave a powerful performance despite having limited screen time.

Nevertheless, I felt that despite its emotive premise and reasonably good execution, “A Monster Calls” felt like it was missing something. I found it difficult to become invested at the start of the film because it was obvious that nothing significant was going to happen until later on, and the lack of interesting side-plots left little in the way of excitement.

At various points “A Monster Calls” felt like a children’s film with a blockbuster budget, and whilst movies marketed towards children aren’t inherently less worthy than films marketed towards adults, it’s difficult to translate adult themes into a family movie if that movie isn’t consistent with its tone. Sadly, I would have to say that I still don’t know what kind of tone J. A. Bayona was going for, and whatever feeling he was attempting to convey certainly didn’t come across as clearly as I would’ve liked.

Still, I felt that in spite of its flaws this movie was above average, and the fact that it got better as it went on made the overall experience more positive. The last few scenes are emotionally poignant and tie up the experience nicely, and it’s hard to criticise the film’s message or the intentions of the people involved. The performances are good and there’s nothing awful about the film, it’s just that certain elements miss their mark and leave scenes feeling hollow, especially during the first act.

So, whilst “A Monster Calls” isn’t exceptional in any area, it isn’t terrible at any point either. I definitely feel as though more could’ve been done with the premise, because despite being the film’s main selling point the monster isn’t really a tangible presence, but on the whole this is a decent movie which is elevated by its emotional subject matter.

6.5/10

La La Land

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“La La Land” is Damien Chazelle’s follow up to the Oscar-nominated “Whiplash”; both films are about ambition, desire, conflict, and the ache to succeed, and both (in my opinion) are exceptional. However, where “La La Land” sets itself apart is in its ability not only to demonstrate how desire can be corrosive, but also how it can unite like-minded people.

“Whiplash” portrays ambition as a volatile and destructive force in a person’s life, whereas “La La Land” depicts it as something which can bring people together. It’s a film which by its very nature is larger-than-life; dance numbers and lovesick melodies break out at will, all the characters are sickeningly beautiful, and everything is drenched in either sunshine or twinkling starlight. Yet, at the same time, the struggle that we all face on a daily basis for love, success, and validation is portrayed with a heart-breaking sense of realism.

It’s about the passion that an artist has not only to achieve their dreams, but more importantly to equal their expectations for what they should be, and this secondary motivation is what makes the film work. At around the halfway point, Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling) has resolved to put his dreams on hold and to replace them with his girlfriend’s because this is what he thinks she wants. However, all this does is disappoint her. It causes friction between them because the thing that brought them together has begun to play second fiddle to compromise and keeping their relationship alive. This is the conflict of the film, and it’s one which plays out on screen with just enough subtlety to allow the film to function both as a popcorn flick and as a critic’s dream.

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are both that ‘person in the crowd’ that takes the other where they want to go, but their relationship isn’t the end goal. Their life together gives them everything that they want – one believes in the other and vice versa – but it also slowly destroys what they loved the most about each other. To give away where this conflict takes them would be to spoil the film, but it’s safe to say that the film’s climax is what truly makes it great. It ties everything together perfectly, and leaves you with a smile on your face but a tear in your eye.

In summary, “La La Land” is shot, directed, and performed impeccably. Whilst it’s most easily described as a musical, it’s so much more than that. The music is great and the production gives the whole thing a playful feel which keeps the tone light, but this film would work even without the glitz and the glamour that its genre provides. It’s a powerful film delivered brilliantly by a very talented director, and the lead performances from Stone and Gosling are exceptional.

9.5/10

My Favourite Films of 2016

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bestof20161

via screencrush.com

2016 was an exceptional year for film. The level of quality was so high that I’ve decided to extend my list from 10 films to 15, and even so there are a couple of absentees such as “Sausage Party” and “Don’t Breathe” that I was very tempted to add.

My favourite films of the year will appear on this list in ascending order from the ones that I liked a lot to the ones that I liked the most. If you think that I’ve missed out any exceptional films then please feel free to comment with the ones that you think should appear – you may recommend something that I end up loving! Otherwise, please read and enjoy!

15. Hardcore Henry

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via comingsoon.net

“Hardcore Henry” captures everything that’s good about the action genre and crams it into 90 minutes. It’s an adventure that feels so much larger than life that it could never possibly happen, yet the first-person camera allows the audience to experience the action through their own eyes much like they would if they were playing a video game.

The similarities between how this film is presented and how a first-person shooter would be presented are undeniable, and even someone like my dad who doesn’t actually play video games immediately mentioned that “Hardcore Henry” reminded him of that medium. As such this film isn’t particularly pretty; much of it passes by in a blur just as it would if it were happening to you in real life, as quick movements by the leading man result in disorientation and a lack of camera focus. This might prove challenging for some, and as such I wouldn’t recommend this movie to absolutely everyone, but I thought that it worked for the most part and felt like a natural extension of the found footage genre.

The film’s biggest shortcoming is undoubtedly its story, which feels as though it belongs in a game more than it does on the big screen, but this doesn’t ruin the movie as a whole. It’s not that the story isn’t clear throughout or that it doesn’t feature prominently, it’s just that it acts as a vehicle for the action rather than the main attraction, and you’re never really able to care about the hero or the villain because the natural association to video games neutralises any sense of danger. It’s simply impossible to become invested in the way that would be required to make the story feel worthwhile because other aspects of the film take centre stage and push it to one side.

Nevertheless, from start to finish this film is pure entertainment and if you like gore and well-choreographed action set pieces then there’s no reason that you can’t enjoy it for what it is.

“Hardcore Henry” isn’t a film for cinema purists, but in my opinion it encapsulates everything that a film of this ilk should be; funny, violent, and visually captivating, it’s escapism at its finest.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/hardcore-henry/

14. The Accountant

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via moviehole.net

Like “Hardcore Henry”, “The Accountant” is an entertaining film that’s fun to watch from start to finish but isn’t always intelligent. That isn’t to say that its story is lacking in any meaningful way or that it’s a simple blockbuster, but in order to buy into what’s happening on screen you often have to rely on the suspension of disbelief. I’m fine with this provided that the film in question is able to retain my attention and keep me invested in its characters, so whilst I don’t think this film’s story is particularly ground-breaking I was very happy once I’d left the cinema.

Affleck’s lead performance was the standout feature of the film as his comedic timing made what could’ve been a clichéd action movie feel more like a nuanced black comedy, and his mannerisms made his character undeniably likeable throughout.

Whether or not you’ll have an affinity for this film depends on whether or not you can become invested in the story that it presents, and this is something which could prove to be problematic for some viewers as there are parts that fall flat and unintentionally muddy the waters, but in my opinion it’s a nice movie with a couple of standout moments that elevate it towards being fantastic.

Perhaps if the story had been tighter and less reliant on convenience then “The Accountant” would’ve placed higher on this list, but even so from my perspective the positive aspects comfortably outweigh the negatives.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/10/24/the-accountant/

13. 10 Cloverfield Lane

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I love psychological horror, and whilst this film is a little bit tame to confidently place within that genre, it packs everything that’s great about it into its 104 minute runtime.

“10 Cloverfield Lane” is at its most effective in its quieter moments as the audience is left alone to wonder what’s really going on both within the underground bunker and beyond its walls. John Goodman’s powerful performance makes Howard (his character) the focus of attention, with his true intentions being the main source of horror in the film. Goodman provides a sense of unease to every scene that he’s in, even when he’s not losing his mind over the smallest of discourtesies, and it’s because of his performance that this movie works so well.

As the audience you never really know what to think about Howard, and because Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s performance as Michelle is also perfectly considered you can easily buy into what she’s feeling and empathise with her situation.

The only real issue I had with “10 Cloverfield Lane” was that for all of its tension there wasn’t what I would call a significant payoff. Being part of the “Cloverfield” series was both a blessing and a curse for Dan Trachtenberg and his team, because whilst the film gained exposure through its title it also became predictable as a result of it.

The performances and the pacing of the film made it a fun watch and kept you guessing, but once the back and forth was over there was nothing left. Anyone who has seen “Cloverfield” had a reasonably good idea of what kind of disaster was waiting outside, and whilst this didn’t devalue the middle section of the film it did make the ending rather stale. More time spent in the bunker and an ambiguous ending could’ve made “10 Cloverfield Lane” a ten out of ten film, but what we ended up getting was a measured, powerful, and thoughtful film which was robbed of greatness by unfortunate limitations. I still loved it, but it could have placed much higher on the list.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/03/24/10-cloverfield-lane/

12. Nocturnal Animals

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via gq.com

“Nocturnal Animals” is one of the more recent releases on this list and it’s also one of the hardest to place. I really liked this movie, more than I expected to going in, and the more that I think about it the more that I want to watch it again.

It plays out like a dream within a dream as Susan (played by Amy Adams) imagines the events of a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whilst we as the audience watch her deal with the feelings that the story evokes. The novel as it plays out on screen is compelling in itself, even though we know that it doesn’t directly effect anything that’s happening in the film’s depiction of the real world. The novel is just a narrative within the narrative; yet in virtue of the fact that the story being told is about loss and revenge I couldn’t help but become invested in everything that was happening on screen.

I was so invested in the story taking place within the story that its purpose escaped me at various points in the film, making the ending all the more impactful when the credits rolled. The events that occur in Edward’s novel are ‘for Susan’, and the novel is actually an allegory for their marriage and the way that he felt when it came to an end. The novel is designed to emotionally manipulate Susan and validate Edward’s career as a writer at the same time, and this all becomes wonderfully clear when the movie ends.

As I said in my original review, “Nocturnal Animals” is a wonderfully realised revenge film on two fronts. Edward’s book is a tale of revenge in itself but there’s also a calculated act of vengeance taking place in the real world as Edward emotionally torments Susan, and thus it works incredibly well.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/nocturnal-animals/

11. The Big Short

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via screenprism.com

I gave “The Big Short” a rave review back when it came out at the start of the year, and at the time I thought that it had a great chance of winning the Oscar for Best Picture. I thought that it was a very well-written take on a relevant event in our recent history, and I was also impressed by the performances of ensemble cast, but whilst that opinion remains I’m not as high on the film as I was back in January.

The thing that I liked the most about this film was that it didn’t try to force-feed information to its audience in order to get the story going, or at the very least it didn’t try to hide important exposition within conversation. This might’ve meant that for some viewers the film wasn’t instantly accessible, but personally I found it quite refreshing. I didn’t feel as though anything was being dumbed down for the sake of making the film easier to consume, and it seemed as though there was a conscious effort on the part of the writers to explain things in as interesting a way as possible without watering down the content, which I feel is far too rare in film.

Adam McKay used his background in comedy to inject a sense of playfulness into the film when explaining difficult concepts, and thus he made moments in which the audience had to learn technical jargon stimulating when in less capable hands they could’ve been incredibly dull. I can imagine a version of this movie in which extended periods of time are spent on one character explaining the ins and outs of subprime mortgages to another character for no other reason than to clue the audience in, and I think it’s safe to say that that version of this film would not have been nominated for an Oscar.

Overall I’d say that what I liked the most about “The Big Short” was that it was smart and confidently executed. It’s a superb film and the director’s vision feels as though it was realised almost perfectly. The only reason that it doesn’t place higher on this list is that having watched it again and watched many of the films on this list multiple times, I don’t think it’s as entertaining as those films which I’ve placed above it.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/01/28/the-big-short/

10. Green Room

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via indiewire.com

“Green Room” is vicious, relentless, aggressive, and shocking. When I wrote my review on this film I described it as honest and that’s exactly what it is. Violence is violent. Pain is painful. Death is quick, brutal, and inevitable.

I wouldn’t describe “Green Room” as a movie for the masses, but from my perspective it’s one of the more realistic and grounded stories of its kind, and if you’re unfazed by graphic violence then it’s also a lot of fun. I’m sure that it would be seen as overly graphic by some, but it was completely palatable for me and I loved the film’s slow build towards a hectic finish. I enjoyed the pacing, the performances, and the overall cinematography, and having watched it again since its release I can say with confidence that it’s better the second time around.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/green-room/

9. Spotlight

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via theodysseyonline.com

When “Spotlight” came out it received positive reviews and a lot of Oscar buzz, and as we now know it ended up taking home the big prize at this year’s ceremony. However, upon seeing it I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. I liked it and I thought that the performances were all admirable, but there was something about the approach it took to its narrative that I wasn’t overly enamoured by.

In my review of the film I described it as procedural, in that rather than focusing on the emotional aspect of a very troubling narrative it chose to cast its eye on the way that the story was handled by the news team charged with covering it. This is an unusual way to tackle such an easy to milk topic, and it was one which I found hard to get to grips with on my first watch. I don’t know if perhaps my expectations were slightly high because of the reviews that the film was getting, or if maybe the trailer was a little misleading, but something about the film managed to underwhelm me.

However, after watching it again my opinion has changed quite drastically. I still don’t think that it should have taken home the Oscar for Best Picture, but having now watched the film knowing exactly what to expect I can appreciate what the writers were going for and enjoy the way that the narrative progresses in a way that I wasn’t able to before. The story of how a news team researches, writes, and then reveals such a delicate story is one that is more than worth telling, and this is one of the few instances where a film being inspired by true events really does make it that much more effective.

“Spotlight” isn’t a flashy film, so if you’re expecting fireworks going in then you’re going to be disappointed when things don’t go bang. On the other hand, if you approach the material with an open mind and understand its purpose then it becomes much more interesting and worthwhile. On second viewing I enjoyed “Spotlight” a lot more than I did the first time around, and that’s something that I can’t say for many of the films on this list, which is why it ranks so highly.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/02/06/spotlight/

8. Hunt for the Wilderpeople

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via teasertrailer.com

It seems as though “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” disappeared from cinemas almost immediately after its release earlier this year, which is a crying shame considering its undeniable quality and wonderful sense of humour. As far as straight-up comedies go this one was easily my favourite of the year, and it’s just a shame that more people couldn’t have experienced it in cinemas.

Still, it’s now on Netflix along with director Taika Waititi’s “What We Do in the Shadows”, which is arguably as good if not better than this film, so it’s definitely worth watching if you get the chance.

The film revolves around Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), a teenage boy struggling with life having been dubbed a “bad egg” by child services. The story behind the story is emotional and tragic, but for the most part Ricky’s background is used for comedic effect, and he often references darker moments in his past with a childlike disinterest. This disinterest serves the character and the film’s tone well, but it would be unfair to say that the narrative is devoid of genuine emotion or sadness. It’s clear that when Ricky speaks about his past his foster father is taking it all in and growing in affection for the boy, and we quickly pick up on the fact that Ricky is labelled as a “bad egg” because he’s acting out given that most of the people in his life have either died or neglected him.

This provides the background behind the hijinks that make this film as humorous as it is, as Ricky runs off into the Australian Outback sparking a terribly organised manhunt. Again, I wouldn’t recommend “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” to everyone, because this type of comedy won’t resonate in the same way with others as it does for me, but if you like the sound of an overweight child reciting explicit haikus to a grumpy old man whilst trying to evade child services then this film is for you!

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/09/25/hunt-for-the-wilderpeople/

7. The Hateful Eight

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via theodysseyonline.com

Quentin Tarantino tells a story like no one else. The dialogue in his movies is distinct in both its delivery and its style, and from the moment that one of his films starts you know exactly what tone he’s going for. Expletives punctuate every sentence and violent death is played for comedic effect in spite of how ugly it may be, and everything is just so refreshing throughout.

If nothing else Tarantino’s films are engaging provided that you’re willing to pay attention. “The Hateful Eight” is probably the most dialogue-heavy film that Tarantino has made to date, so if you aren’t willing to sit back and listen then you aren’t going to enjoy this movie. However, if you are then you should be able to appreciate the fact that Tarantino makes exposition more entertaining than any other filmmaker, and that this film is as polished as any of his previous endeavours.

Similarly to “Reservoir Dogs” this film takes place almost entirely in one location, using an ensemble cast to make motivations unclear and generate tension without the need for excessive action on screen. It’s a slow burn but you always feel ready for things to go south, and when they do it’s both humorous and violent, making you laugh and wince at the same time. If you love Tarantino’s movies then this is exactly what you want going in, and I think it’s fair to say that any fan of “Pulp Fiction”, “Django Unchained”, “Kill Bill”, etc., will enjoy this film from the first minute to the last.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/01/16/the-hateful-eight/

6. I, Daniel Blake

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via thr.com

“I, Daniel Blake” is a soul-crushing film in the best kind of way. It makes you question the established order and re-evaluate your feelings towards people who are struggling around you. It takes the prejudices of society and turns them on their head, demonstrating how the unemployed in Britain are hampered by a system which is set up to help those who know how to exploit it rather than those who need it the most.

Daniel (played by Dave Johns) is a widower who has suffered a heart attack on the job and has been deemed unfit to work by his doctor, yet he is denied the help that he needs from the government and instead has to apply for Job Seekers Allowance despite the fact that he can’t actually take a job without endangering his life. We watch as he tries to do everything that’s required of him in order to get the money that he needs to survive, whilst also failing to meet the demands placed on him by the Job Centre due to his inability to handle modern technology. Nobody is willing to help Daniel despite the fact that the issues that he’s having could easily be resolved with the proper guidance, and he’s treated like a nuisance despite his best intentions.

“I, Daniel Blake” is a grim but exceptionally good film. As someone who has been unemployed for a long stretch of time and who has also worked in customer services, I can say with certainty that the barriers that are put in place to stop people accessing the help that they need in this film are completely accurate, and also completely ridiculous. As such, “I, Daniel Blake” is simultaneously beautiful and despicable; casting a light on just how broken the world is, and on how we systematically fail to treat people with the respect that they deserve on a daily basis.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/i-daniel-blake/

5. Arrival

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“Arrival” takes what I would call the traditional alien invasion movie formula and throws it out of the window, focusing on the communication barriers that stop us from coming together in the face of disaster rather than on how we could fight back against an extra-terrestrial aggressor.

It’s a time consuming and deliberate approach which may not appeal to all cinemagoers, but it’s one that makes this film feel utterly unique. It makes the idea of an alien invasion seem almost plausible by approaching its concept with a scientific eye, which makes it more engaging to watch than any blockbuster could ever be.

The film’s pacing allows the audience to come to their own conclusions and add to the mystery behind the narrative, which in turn creates tension without the need to present conflict on screen and gives the film a technical feel. It grounds the movie with a sense of realism that it has no right to have and gives it an urgent, foreboding tone.

It’s an interesting take on a genre which has been explored many times before, and it was one of the most visually striking movies that I saw this year. It’s a focused and intelligent film with a clear narrative thread, and the understated performances of Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner make for a captivating experience.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/arrival/

4. Goodnight Mommy

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via youtube.com

“Goodnight Mommy” is an Austrian horror film about twins whose mother comes home from the hospital with a face full of bandages after an undisclosed accident – do I really need to explain why I love this movie?

As a fan of the horror genre and a twin myself I made it my mission to see this movie, and I even dragged my dad along with me. What we saw was a harrowing but ingenious film carried by two exemplary performances from real life twins Elias and Lukas Schwarz, and a story which was perfectly paced and wonderfully twisted. In no way does “Goodnight Mommy” rely on jump scares in order to unsettle its audience, instead it uses silence and children’s laughter to create an eerie and almost idyllic tone, interspersed with moments of tension within the family dynamic as ‘The Mother’ is incredibly tired and quick to temper due to the struggle that is her recovery.

The real meat of the story doesn’t take place until the closing moments, at which point the writers take the film from first gear straight into fifth in a chaotic explosion of grief and denial. This ending is measured and carefully presented so as to allow you to empathise with every character whilst also hoping out of curiosity that the worst will happen, capping off what is an almost faultless film.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/goodnight-mommy/

3. Anomalisa

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Upon its release “Anomalisa” was called the most human film of the year, and although this was a slightly superficial tagline, it still rings true today.

Essentially this is the story of a man going through a mid-life crisis, and although it’s an inventive and insightful take on its subject matter it’s actually very simple in its execution. The majority of the movie takes place in the Fregoli hotel and in truth not a lot happens on screen. There’s nothing grandiose about the narrative, no significant twists or turns to propel the film towards greatness, just puppets created by 3D printers and the genius of Charlie Kaufman.

“Anomalisa” achieves excellence through charm, clarity, and intelligence. Through the medium of stop-motion Kaufman and co. are able to portray true human emotion as they are unstifled by the intricacies of an actor’s performance. As such the characters’ mannerisms are accurate and honest throughout, making the internal struggle of Michael (voiced by David Thewlis) in particular abundantly clear and allowing the audience to empathise with him as a result.

I’ve seen plenty of animated films in the past year, but none of them were quite as endearing or thought-provoking as this one. “Anomalisa” is a masterpiece created by one of the best filmmakers alive today, and although its story is simple its examination of the human condition is a triumph.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/anomalisa/

2. Deadpool

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“Deadpool” is the second movie on this list that I paid to see twice at the cinema; it never stops being funny, no matter how many times I watch it, and although it can be vulgar at times I still think that the scenes between Wade (Ryan Reynolds) and Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are as powerful as any in terms of raw emotion.

A lot of people treat “Deadpool” as either a comedy or a superhero movie when they talk about it, but I think that that kind of categorisation is unfair and does the film an injustice. “Deadpool” is a movie which would be entertaining even if we had no idea how to characterise a ‘super hero’. It’s a great action movie due to its well-choreographed fight sequences, witty one-liners, and commanding lead performance; a hilarious comedy with pitch perfect writing and excellent delivery, and a compelling love story with the two lead actors demonstrating genuine chemistry and warmth in their respective roles.

“Deadpool” is a near perfect movie and it just works. It feels as though it turned out exactly as intended and as though everyone was pulling in the same direction, and it treats its source material with respect. Not all of the jokes find their mark, but as I’ve said I don’t think that this movie should be treated solely as a comedy, and for each joke that doesn’t land there’s another that leaves you breathless with laughter.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/02/14/deadpool/

1. Room

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via flickr.com

From the moment that I saw this film I knew that it would be at the top of this list. “Room” is a beautiful film, and it isn’t just one of my favourite movies of the year, it’s one of my favourite movies period. It made me feel regret, sorrow, sadness, and joy in equal measure, and despite the bleak reality of the situation there was a genuine sense of hope echoing throughout.

Jacob Tremblay’s performance was a revelation and his character’s obliviousness towards his own reality was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. His rapport with Brie Larson was obvious throughout and both of them deserved the acclaim that they received for their performances.

There was something about this film that I found immensely captivating and emotional, and I came out of the cinema after seeing it with the urge to watch it again immediately. It’s a tragic film but it’s also uplifting because of the relationship between Jack (Tremblay) and Joy (Larson); it would be easy to think of Room as Jack’s world because it’s all that he knows, and to him it’s all that there is, but really his world is his mother. She’s the only person that matters to him and he doesn’t need anyone else, and it’s this bond that makes “Room” as emotional as it is.

In my opinion, “Room” is everything that a film should be. It’s insightful but tells a contained story, it’s performed amazingly, it’s well-directed, and most importantly it’s wonderfully written which I’m sure is down in no small part to Emma Donoghue’s book of the same name; I just don’t see any kind of flaw in the entire movie. Clearly I would recommend this film to just about anyone and it’s one that I’ve watched many times since its release, and although I enjoyed every film on this list “Room” sits comfortably above them all as my favourite of 2016.

https://benjaminwhittaker.wordpress.com/2016/02/11/room/

Rogue One : A Star Wars Story

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“Rogue One” is a well-shot movie which has its place in a binge of the “Star Wars” franchise, but personally I wouldn’t choose to watch it again. As someone who was never really bit by the “Star Wars” bug I found it hard to fall in love with this movie. To me it felt like this film was aimed at the existing audience rather than general moviegoers despite the fact that it was promoted as a new story, and without a pre-existing affection for the series I found the subpar acting extremely hard to swallow. The fact that the story makes sense of plot holes from the original trilogy does improve the movie as a whole because it makes it feel worthwhile, but it doesn’t hide the fact that “Rogue One” only exists to keep the merchandise bandwagon rolling until Episode VIII comes out.

My biggest gripe with this film is that almost everyone watching knows that the characters are going to succeed in their efforts to steal the plans for the Death Star. Of course, knowing how a story is going to finish doesn’t necessarily devalue that story as a whole, but it did mean that I struggled to become immersed in the experience on this occasion.

Without the pull of top quality acting or an unclear conclusion I was consumed by a feeling of indifference, and I couldn’t bring myself to care about the characters despite the fact that the stakes were admittedly high. These factors led to my complete lack of interest in anything that was happening on screen, and ultimately made the film feel hollow and pointless from my perspective.

I’d have much preferred a story which was set within the “Star Wars” universe but was also disconnected from the original trilogy, the prequels, or the new ongoing trilogy, as this would’ve meant that I could judge the characters based on their personalities rather than in virtue of their importance to stories that I’ve already seen play out. A film of this ilk would’ve given me something fresh to enjoy, rather than providing me with the same experience I’ve already had except with worse acting and a less interesting story.

This last point is contentious because for many the fact that this film is able to make sense of the Death Star’s fundamental structural flaw is enough to make its story both necessary and compelling. However, if we’re being cynical then it seems obvious that resolving problems within the overarching narrative is a convenient excuse to cash in on a franchise which carries serious name value. I admit that this excuse is a clever one, but the series would’ve thrived without any alterations.

Moreover, this film’s ability to tie things together from the original series doesn’t actually make it a better standalone film; in fact, part of me wonders if the writing was made easier by how clear the ending must have been from the moment the idea was pitched, after all, the majority of the characters in this film mysteriously don’t appear in the original trilogy!

The only real work “Rogue One” had to do was to explain why the Death Star was fatally flawed because we already know how the plans for the Death Star were passed on. People have lived without that information for decades, so it seems ludicrous to suggest that we needed this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that “Rogue One” is terrible in any way, shape, or form. There’s plenty to like about it such as well-choreographed action sequences, entertaining cameos, and impressive visuals, but it could’ve been a lot better.

Overall, I think that “Rogue One” is an average film masquerading as a masterpiece. Take away the cameos and the fan service and you’re left with a paint-by-numbers movie with a direct-to-DVD cast. It works fine as a stop gap to whet the appetite prior to Episode VIII’s release, but it isn’t a great film in its own right.

6/10

Nocturnal Animals

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“Nocturnal Animals” is a revenge drama from director and fashion designer Tom Ford (“A Single Man”); starring Amy Adams (“Arrival”) and Jake Gyllenhaal (“Prisoners”) in lead roles.

The most striking aspect of the film is its visual style. “Nocturnal Animals” is a joy to watch, giving off an almost dream-like quality as two separate stories meld together, one bathed in light and glamour, the other in darkness and squalor. This is clearly intentional as Susan (Adams) is often sleep deprived, disillusioned by her lot and tired of the superficial nature of her relationship and her job. The majority of the movie takes place from her perspective, as we watch her live out her everyday life whilst imagining events which take place in a book written by her ex-husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal).

The film splits into two narratives, the aforementioned fiction written by Edward (as imagined by Susan) and the real world events that Susan experiences. The book is dedicated to Susan and as such it’s aptly titled “Nocturnal Animals”, referring to a nickname that Edward used to call her when they were still together. In a letter at the start of the film Edward explains to Susan that she provided the inspiration behind the story, and this is clear throughout the film as the lead character in the book (imagined in Susan’s mind to look exactly the same as Edward) is left shattered by the loss of his wife.

Initially Edward’s tale may appear to be removed entirely from reality; after all, the events taking place in the story never actually happened to either Edward or Susan. However, it’s obvious as the film progresses that scenes are cut together deliberately to show that Susan’s actions were the cause of the pain within the narrative, and that the fiction of the book is merely a dramatised allegory for the real-life events that the pair experienced over the course of their short marriage.

The narrative is made more emotive by its difficult subject matter, and thus Edward is able not only to express the pain that he felt but also to give Susan a taste of it. In Edward’s reality Susan really did evoke these feelings – she took the idea of his wife from him, killing the woman that he loved, and (SPOILER ALERT) from Edward’s perspective she also quite literally killed his child.

By the end of the movie Susan is aware of the purpose behind the book; she’s moved by it and to some degree she feels accountable for Edward’s pain. She realises that what she did wasn’t fair on Edward and wonders whether or not she made a mistake by leaving him for her new husband (Hutton played by Armie Hammer), who she rightly believes is being unfaithful to her.

(MORE SPOILERS) Once Susan has finished reading Edward’s book that aspect of the film comes to a close and we are left in the real world with Susan. She arranges to meet up with Edward for a reconciliation of sorts, and he seems glad to have been asked. However, the film closes with Susan alone in a restaurant, glamour all around her, yet undeniably alone. This is a poignant and interesting conclusion – it’s understated but in a way that fits perfectly with what has preceded it, and it gives meaning to the film.

Upon first view I was unsure whether or not I enjoyed the ending – I understood why it was chosen and what it signified, but I couldn’t decide whether or not I liked it. I suppose that I was hoping for something more; perhaps for Edward to show up with a new wife, or for him to triumphantly throw a drink in Susan’s face. But, having had time to think, I’d say that the conclusion of the film actually tied everything together impeccably. Edward had his revenge; he’d proven Susan wrong by writing something about himself that was meaningful and soulful, and he’d had this tale validated by the fact that it moved Susan enough to want to see him again. He used the book to turn the tables on his ex-wife by leaving her alone in the life that she chose over him; he made her feel everything he had felt, and then he abandoned her just as she had done to him.

At the end of the movie Susan needs Edward, but he doesn’t need her – Edward has moved on from despair whilst Susan has wallowed in it. Susan has got what she thought she wanted but she’s found that it’s hollow; whereas after losing everything he thought he wanted Edward has ultimately found his voice through pain. This is the essence of the movie, and it’s a message which is perfectly realised through the sombre yet triumphant final scene of the film.

The performances of Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams make the nuances of the story much more clear and emotional, and together they make the film better than it would’ve been in less capable hands. The same can be said for Tom Ford who directs the film with confidence, giving both narratives a distinct visual style whilst maintaining a consistent tone throughout. I should also mention that this is Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s best performance since “Kick-Ass”, and that he makes for a very entertaining (but slightly cartoonish) villain.

Overall, I felt that “Nocturnal Animals” was a captivating and beautiful experience, and it worked perfectly as a whole. It’s a wonderfully realised revenge film on two fronts, as Edward’s book is a tale of revenge in itself but there’s also a calculated act of vengeance taking place in the real world as Edward uses his story to emotionally torment Susan, and thus it works incredibly well.

8.5/10

Arrival

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“Arrival” is a science fiction film directed by Denis Villeneuve (“Prisoners”, “Enemy”, “Sicario”) which focuses on what it would be like to make first contact with an alien species; starring Amy Adams (“Her”, “American Hustle”), Jeremy Renner (“The Hurt Locker”, “The Avengers”), and Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”). “Arrival” isn’t what you would call a traditional alien invasion blockbuster, as instead of focusing on the human effort to rally against a foreign species it casts its eye on humanity itself and our lack of unity in the face of possible disaster. As Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) explains in the trailer ‘we’re a world with no single leader; it’s impossible to deal with just one of us’.

We follow Louise Banks (Adams), a linguist recruited by the American government at the start of the film to communicate with the visitors, (who become known as Heptapods), as she attempts to understand what the intentions of the aliens are. Banks is able to make progress in this endeavour by first establishing how the aliens communicate rather than jumping in with the million dollar question – Why Are You Here? – using her knowledge of linguistics to teach the aliens each component of the question before actually asking it.

This approach is time consuming and deliberate and as such “Arrival” may not appeal to all cinemagoers, but the film’s pacing allows the audience to come to their own conclusions as to why the aliens have come to earth, creating tension without presenting conflict on screen. In my opinion action sequences would’ve drastically altered the feel of the film and hurt it as a whole, whereas Villeneuve’s focused approach gave the overarching message of “Arrival” clarity.

This is a film which is about more than simply how humanity would deal with an alien invasion – it examines how we as a species have created a reality in which we treat each other as alien. As a species we don’t have a universal language and our customs and cultures inform how we interact with other people; this is most clearly demonstrated in the movie by the fact that the Chinese use mahjong (a card-based game traditionally played in Asia) as a framework for communicating with the Heptapods, which in turn creates a competitive and confrontational dynamic between them. The fact that these customs divide us as a species means that there are no mechanisms in place which dictate what we should do if we’re faced with an issue that affects us all, and this is ultimately the message behind “Arrival”.

As the film progresses the purpose of the film becomes increasingly obvious to the audience, and thus a lot of intrigue is lost as there’s only one ending that can effectively serve the themes that Villeneuve wants to explore. Still, this isn’t to say that I disliked how “Arrival” ended; it’s merely to state that in my opinion the third act is the weakest part of the film. Part of me does wonder whether or not Villeneuve focused too narrowly on the moral of the story as opposed to providing a coherent conclusion, but I don’t think that this ruined the film by any stretch of the imagination.

“Arrival” is an interesting take on a genre which has been explored many times before, and it’s one of the more visually striking movies I’ve seen this year. Its focus on the division within humanity gave it a clear narrative thread, and understated but emotional performances from Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner made for a captivating experience. For me this is Villeneuve’s most complete film to date, as it maintains the impressive visuals and tension of his previous films whilst also presenting its message in a clear and intelligible way. This message is made all the more poignant in today’s divided political landscape, and thus “Arrival” is not only entertaining but also extremely relevant.

8/10

I, Daniel Blake

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via fact.co.uk

“I, Daniel Blake” is a bleak look at the state of today’s society, specifically the way that the unemployed are treated when they’re attempting to get back on their feet. It explores the procedures that are in place when it comes to applying for benefits and how these procedures can act as a stumbling block for many of those who aren’t comfortable with modern technology, and it questions the way that we perceive people who are struggling to find work. It does this not only through Blake (played by Dave Johns), a widower who has been deemed unfit to work by his doctor after suffering a heart attack on the job, but also through Katie (Hayley Squires), a mother of two who is struggling to adapt to life in a new city.

Katie’s role in the film is to make Daniel seem more sympathetic to the audience, because although he’s likeable he could come across as the architect of his own downfall without another perspective on the situation. Unlike the titular character Katie understands what she needs to do to get access to her benefits and she doesn’t have any physical handicaps holding her back. However, with two young children, no references, and no support system, she doesn’t have a clear path to gainful employment. She can’t take jobs that require her to work after 3pm because she has to pick up the kids and look after them, her experience is limited, and as a result no one will take her on. None of this is her own fault, so as an audience member you can’t help but relate to her and hope that she gets her happy ending.

Daniel’s problems are easily explained away by a viewer like myself who is well accustomed to the way that the world works today – he can’t use a computer, he’s unwilling to accept the status quo, and he won’t adapt to the system so that he can exploit it, so of course it works against him.

However, Katie isn’t just facing a world that she doesn’t understand; she understands it and yet she’s a victim of it all the same. Life has actively worked against her and her children, and even though she’s willing to do anything to dig her way out she ends up having the dirt shovelled back on top of her as the hole gets deeper. That’s how life works when things aren’t going your way, and the scariest part about this film is that with a couple of bad decisions anyone could end up in Katie’s situation.

Still, the most damning aspect of “I, Daniel Blake” is that Daniel physically can’t change his situation. He’s been told by his doctor that he can’t go back to work, and yet this isn’t a good enough excuse for the government to provide him with the money that he’s entitled to. The very thing that keeps him alive is faulty and could cease to beat if he goes back to work, yet it’s down to an impartial decision maker that’s never met him to decide whether or not he qualifies for support! It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that there’s something fundamentally wrong with that system.

In a sense the system isn’t set up to help anyone – it’s set up to stop frauds exploiting the government and only really benefits those who know exactly what they need to say when they’re being assessed. Everyone else is subject to humiliation and degradation in the name of survival, and they’re made to feel as though they’re in the wrong for requiring a helping hand.

The fact that there are countless people out there like Daniel who are desperate enough to rely on a system that’s set out to block them is both harrowing and devastating, and it’s something that from my idealistic perspective I find difficult to comprehend. It makes me wonder why we bother getting up every day if we’re going to have to battle a world that’s designed to knock us back, particularly when we’re the ones who set it up to be this way in the first place.

This is encapsulated by the movie’s finale; a defiant yet ugly ending which perfectly fit what preceded it. The way that the movie built to this point in the twenty-or-so minutes prior was slightly disappointing, as things petered out strangely due to inconsistent pacing, but that didn’t make the final act any less impactful. It didn’t pull any punches and I was glad that the film’s themes were consistent throughout the entire runtime, as an ending which was too hopeful would’ve rendered the whole thing pointless.

If I had to express one major criticism regarding “I, Daniel Blake” it would be that it could’ve used another perspective other than those of Daniel and Katie. The movie has a clear voice, and that voice is one of disgust aimed at the establishment, but it would’ve been more balanced had it included at least one character who was abusing the benefits system for their own end. This wouldn’t have made Daniel any less relatable or hurt the film’s narrative, but it would’ve added another layer to what was an already intelligent story.

So, overall “I, Daniel Blake” was a sincere and honest depiction of society in Britain today. As someone who has struggled on the employment ladder, (or perhaps more accurately ‘is struggling’), I could relate to Daniel’s problems, but on the other side of that coin I could understand why he had to jump through hoops to get the state welfare he was entitled to. This understanding didn’t do anything to quell the outrage that I felt once the end credits rolled, but it did make me question whether or not a comprehensive solution is possible.

“I, Daniel Blake” gives a face to issues that people face on a daily basis, and in doing so it humanises a category of people who are too often labelled as unwanted and useless. It does this whilst also being funny, smart, and most importantly entertaining; so in my view it’s more than worth your time.

9.5/10