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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.
567th Review: I just watched two films when I wanted to watch one
Rudderless is a film worth your time especially if music films are your jam. William H Macy directs and co-wrote this and does a solid job in the first department, but the plotting rather than the writing is overwrought here.
This is a film that by its end cannot decide what redemption should mean, and settles for several easy options as it won't struggle really, really hard with its premise. There are clearly two films here and the join in the film is as wonky as a bad edit cut - this deliberate attempt to thought-provoke the viewer is misjudged - it makes for a film that refuses to gel and what could have been a singularly wonderful film about music as hope, is turned into something else. This is not the film as promised by the end and it makes me wonder why they chose this particular path.
Again, the performances and music are terrific, and it even gets something of what being in a band is really like. However, the plotting is strangely off-balanced and makes a very enjoyable, likable film into something else entirely, and rather than making the film deeper it pulled this viewer straight off the screen like a cold shower and because of this it fails to provoke the thought that the makers hope it might. It needed a far more rigorous process to handle the third act and it never gets there.
I would still recommend this one for its music and the redemption offered in the first 48 minutes, but once the twist is revealed it is a hard film to believe, or believe in.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
565th Review - Looks very Merchant Ivory 1985, and honestly, the 1967 is way better...
This is a solid adaptation of Hardy's brilliant romantic novel about Bathsheba Everdeen, a woman of means and beauty, and the three men in her life. The novel is about tragedy, honesty, and the consequences of choice, set in the 19th Century West Country of England and this adaptation is faithful to the spirit of its time.
With highly intelligent actors in the cast we end up with a slightly underdone version, it is all a little too flat, we, the audience want to swept away by Frank's passion, and to be more impressed by Boldwood's wealth and folly. Oak's Stoicism is done well by the always dependable Matthias Schoenearts underplayed performance, but it is a surprisingly one dimensional, he and Carey Mulligan match well.
What the film reminds me of most are the Merchant Ivory films of the 1980s with their emphasis on manners and mannerisms. I want this to be more than that - and in places it is - chiefly when characters are open and honest there are flashes of real brilliance. However, and it is a huge however, it cannot hold a light to the 1967 version - which is really one of the greatest adaptions of any novel - it may be unfair, but that film still looks and feels fresh. I watched it again after seeing this new one and would recommend it every time over this.
Overall, this is a good costume drama and a faithful adaptation. It is a little to dry to really be impressive, but shines in those moments of knowing looks and subtle exchanges. It is well worth your time if the plot and pacing suit.
564th Review: E for effort, F for execution
With way more holes in in than Swiss cheese this hokum is trite trash at best. The film squanders a great cast with a script that should never have been green lighted and then proceeds to go to some laughably illogical places.
The performances are fine and I even watched the whole thing - but honestly, it was tough going when half the time your brain is going "What? Why? How?"
The theme of thwarting the terrorist mega-plot is a good one, but making it into a bad episode of CSI/24 is not.
Honestly? Only worth your time if you absolutely will watch any spy film.