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599th Review - Mockney all the way - and it works.
This is a well- crafted series that takes the DNA of Guy Ritchies' films and spins it out as a series. Snatch is exactly what fans of Mockney comedy-crime-drama want in their viewing - lags in dire straights, smart birds, who'd knock your top off if you called them that, all with sharp suits and sharper dialogues.
The settings and acting are all good - the acting is mockney on steroids, but is reined in just enough that it occasionally mocks but never sends up the genre - more of a nod and wink if you know what I mean than two smoking barrels all the time. The acting works - both the male and female leads exude confidence, and the plot of missing gold bullion and a load of messy situations make for very easy viewing.
This is one of the better new series out there - it refuses to take itself too seriously, but neither is it just buffoons and lampoons. It's very well made with tight editing and good camera work, and everyone obviously knows they're working with a good script and a winning formula.
And Punching the Clown (2016)
598th Review: Hangdog Comedy That is Laugh-Out Loud Funny
This was a genuine surprise - Henry Phillips, a loser comedy musician and proud of it, plays himself in a film that has more going for it that most - firstly, it is actually funny, rather than just meh, it has some excellent sight gags, sharp one-liners, and a script that uses his road tales and converts them into something more. On top of this is an actual plot of LA life (and of the horrors of big commerce trying to seduce him into monetizing his life). Hey, we see what you did there Henry, clever...
All in all, this is a small, intimate film that captures its Garry Shandler, Larry David, Walter Matthau vibe and gets better as it goes along. With loads of cameos and a nice sensibility, this is an easy film to recommend - it's low down without being mean about it - and it actually gets its laughs right.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
597th Review - Oscar Contending Animation
Kubo is an exceptional film - it takes a non-patronizing theme of loss, and like Song of the Sea, refuses to spoon feed its audience. This is a film all ages can enjoy - from younger children, who will love its sense of adventure and style, to older kids and beyond, who will resonate with its deeper themes.
It goes for simplicity in its straightforward appeal yet hides complexity in its nod to Pure Lands Buddhism, Shintoism, Origami as Zen, and other Eastern mysticism, while also touching on the central themes of the Western literary tradition of magical realism. This is a film with many layers and many ideas - yet has a cohesion - with the central idea of a child coping with loss - that any child can understand.
On top of this very good abstract base, it has great action, a good plot and story line, and good characterization - the time zips along.
The animation is simply stunning - the use of puppetry and sets is so different from both Disney and Pixar that we almost balk at the idea, but those who have seen ParaNorman or Coraline from the same studio, Laika, this is refined and simply breathtaking in places. The animation is complex, beguiling, and very engaging. Travis Knight, as director, does a great job at pulling together the piece in a very cohesive whole.
It certainly should be among the contenders for the 2017 Oscar - we all preferred it, ourselves, to Finding Dory - Kubo is a wonderful story about stories and storytelling as memory, and in the current era, where disposable is seen as optimal, to be given time to reflect on why memories and stories matter as connecting us is very powerful.
Hitting the Apex (2015)
596th Review: Simply One of the Great Sports Documentary
Moto GP is the fastest track race for motorbikes - Formula One for superbikes. What Hitting the Apex does is make you understand that it's not the machines that make the sport but the riders. These riders risk, literally, their lives for sport and unlike most documentary in other sports Hitting the Apex manages to capture this element well. It also notes that Moto GP has an incredible safety record given how dangerous the sport is.
The cinematography is top notch, capturing every rev, curve, and spill - above all it captures the rivalries of men who are driven to want only first place.
This is an excellent and exceptional documentary that captures the excitement, thrill, and drive of an exceptional bunch of individuals, their machines, and crews. It is one of those sport documentaries that shines as it transcends its sport and tell compelling stories about courage and drive.
21 Days Under the Sky (2016)
573rd Review - Here They Ride And All Passes Away
This is a film for bikers about biking. It achieves something seemingly impossible: it captures a true taste of the true spirit of the two- wheeling 1% - the fraternity, the cowboy poet, the machine. As the four ride across America on hogs built on parts that no factory had a thought for; go with them.
Best of all is the gravel and gravitas mixed with beautiful sonorous use of beat poetry, language that paints the ride better than any commentary from them or us ever could.
Filled with vignettes and simplicity at only 68 minutes long it carries the weight with ease - a tribute and a fitting way to celebrate those who live on, and for, two-wheel dharma.
572nd Review - One of my favorite films of the year
Forsaken is simply a good Western - it has at its heart a sense of honor and morality that involve you from the get go. This is nicely judged throughout - it is not so clean as to be antiseptic, but neither does it go down the Deadwood path. It is reminiscent of John Ford and the classic films of the 1950s. As a major bonus the cinematography and sets are done right.
The father / son combination of the Sutherlands on screen together is great, Keifer is measured, and Demi Moore reminds us that she is a solid actress. Above all, this is a solid plot and solid characterization.
Finally, we loved the pacing of this - not as slow as Slow West or The Homesman (Both of which were good), but in no sense frenetic, it is a film about homecoming, love lost, and eventually, a man doing what a man has to do. For this reviewer it was one of the most enjoyable films of the year: simple, captivating and surprisingly lingering and memorable.
571st Review - Outstanding Investigative Drama
The story of Spotlight - the investigative team at The Boston Globe - who uncovered the abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, is told with such outstanding verve that this viewer was knocked sideways. I cannot recall another film this year that so intelligently and without melodrama produces scene after scene that just leave you wanting to know more.
The all-star stellar cast is underpinned by Keaton, who seems to have proved he has had his comeback - here he focuses on a nicely underplayed performance, and Ruffalo, whose slightly off-kilter manner works to his advantage, and Rachel McAdams, who moves from romantic comedies to this with the ease and promise she showed in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris. There is not a dud moment in the film - it really is one of the best films about journalism, and ranks along with All The President's Men.
At the end of the day this is not just a great story, director Tom McCarthy, takes us along emotionally - but does so in such a forensic and well-judged manner that it produces a good mixture of trust and a measure of level-headedness. His script, with West Wings regular Josh Singer, is outstanding, simply the best script of the year that I can recall by quite a margin.
Of all the films I've seen this year, this is the one that tackles its difficult subject with bravery, clarity, and simplicity, but it never loses sight of why it matters. I am a loss to understand why it is not on everyone's Oscar list.
570th Review - The Fusion And The Fire
Jaco is a brilliant watch - anyone with a passing interest in music or artistic talent is always looking for clues to that elusive question What makes musical genius. Here, there are plenty of clues.
Jaco Pastorius single-handedly changed the bass as an instrument - his decision to remove the frets of his electric bass because of the Florida humidity, not only changed the sound, but also the timbre of the instrument - and this documentary uses previously unseen footage to document that change - and the man behind it.
Jaco has a great balance between interviews, footage, facts, and music - and for anyone who wonders where jazz went after Kind of Blue, without having to go through learning about Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman or Pharaoh Saunders, this kind of answers that question - it looks at fusion, and asks how rock and jazz came to live side by side.
More than that it focuses on the man - this slender reed that was a ball of energy heading to self-destruction - and gets close to some real understanding of his motivations, his demons, and his genius. No mean achievement.
This really does try to understand both the man and the music and it is a really fascinating, lively, and interesting watch. Definitely what a real music documentary should be.
569th Review: Deeply Inspirational - An Individual Can Make A Difference
Noble is much more than just a film biography. It tells without hagiography the story of Christine Noble, who against all the odds, survived trauma after trauma in her native Ireland and went on to help literally thousands in Vietnam.
The film-making isn't top drawer, but, boy, the true story is - there are good central performances by the Christines at their different ages and attention has been spent on costuming etc, in the Sixties segments - but this is really a film about one woman's extraordinary resolve to fight poverty against seemingly impossible odds.
This is a film I would warmly recommend - it has more to say about determination, perseverance and resolve than most films and it does not shy away or coat over its subject, It's well handled and well delivered and well worth your time.
Ricki and the Flash (2015)
568th Review: One of Streep's worst films
Ricki and the Flash is a mess - worse than that it's not the hot mess that Streep aims to be in the film, it's a turgid, boring, and hopeless mess that makes rock'n'roll into a soap opera.
I cannot remember the last time I watched a music film that bored so much - the script is flaccid, perfunctory, and worse than all of that is Streep, an actress who may be versatile but embodies a nervous repression suddenly trying to convince as a Blues ballsy rocker.
Honestly, one of the absolute low points - I'm the right age for this film, I love music, I even have daughters, and it was the worse two hours of therapy I've sat through this year.