Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The Incredible Suit's Top 10 Films Of 2016

I haven't got anything nice to say about 2016 but here are some films it produced which were less awful than most of the other things it produced.

Where most Tortured Genius Biopics take you by the hand and gently lead you through a precision-calculated series of emotional switches, Miles Ahead sticks a gun in your hand, throws you into a speeding car and lets you work it out for yourself. Don Cheadle parps new life into a tired genre with this mad, zippy adventure through Miles Davis' psyche, and it's a lot more fun place to be than you'd imagine.

Dexter Fletcher nails the sporting underdog movie, drenching his tale of a hyperopic buffoon bumbling his way into the hearts of millions in true Olympian spirit. The addition of Hugh Jackman tips the film further into fiction than it purports to be, but he and Taron Egerton are so overburdened with charm it just doesn't matter. If Eddie Edwards was completely fictional this could have been the beginning of a tremendous franchise for its director and leads, but sadly it appears that Eddie The Eagle 2: Gymnastic Boogaloo remains nothing more than a sweet dream. Review

The stunning animation and coruscating political allegory aren't quite enough to shove Zootropolis into the upper echelons of this list, but they are two perfectly good reasons to sit your cute little future intolerant xenophobes in front of it every day for the rest of their childhoods. Only the faintly disappointing noirish plot lets it down, but even then there are still the DMV sloths, the greatest supporting characters of any film this year. Co-director and Simpsons alumnus Rich Moore, sandwiching this between the excellent Wreck-It Ralph and its eagerly-awaited sequel, is officially in my good books.  Review

Nostalgia, fantasy, wish-fulfilment, vinyl records, '80s fashion disasters and Duran Duran: everything I ever wanted in a feelgood musical comedy is present by the bucketload in John Carney's delightful toe-tapper. It even has one of my most favourite things in films ever: a heart-burstingly enjoyable stage show (cf. Back To The Future, Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Napoleon Dynamite), although I'm docking a point for this one because it's a dream sequence. Nevertheless, Sing Street is ruddy essential for anyone who, while at school, wanted to a) be in a band, b) get off with a hot older girl, and c) wear a hat. Review

JJ Abrams expands his Cloververse with this pleasingly compact and contained potboiler; a semi-successful scriptwriting exercise where the setups are subtle enough but exist only to be paid off later rather than to be neatly integrated into the plot. Still, Dan Trachtenberg is an expert tension-ratcheter, and the final act is a gift to genre fans for the claustrophobic experience they've just been through. If we get one of these a year I'll be quite happy thank you very much.

An Expanded Universe entry brought to knicker-dampening life, Rogue One adequately fulfils its remit to tide us over until Episode VIII. It trips over its own shoelaces in the third act, but precious little has been as much fun at the cinema this year as watching Gareth Edwards conduct some of the greatest space-based carnage the Star Wars series has seen. Review

Granted, it's almost as much of an ordeal to watch as that experienced by Leo's bear-hugging trapper, but sweet baby jeebus does it look incredible. Iñárritu flings his camera through the melee of that first attack like a possessed demon, pulling off physics-defying moves unlike anything since, well, Iñárritu's last film. The bitter, unimaginable cold seeps from the frame so convincingly that you're inclined to climb inside a gutted horse to fend off frostbite, and the sheer determination and indescribable botheration that DiCaprio's Hugh Glass endures is awe-inspiring as both folk tale and modern acting triumph.

It's unlikely I'd place Victoria this highly had it been shot traditionally, but that's not to say the 138-minute single shot format is merely an impressive gimmick. Sebastian Schipper's decision to never cut away is an immersive technique that goes beyond anything 3D could ever do: you're an accomplice every step of the way and you just can't get away. Watching the final scenes knowing the actors haven't stopped for two hours drives home just what an achievement this is for cinema, making all those Hollywood phonies with their fifteen-second takes look like bumbling amateurs. Review

Denis Villeneuve's stunning alien-invasion-meets-linguistic-theory ponderer (War Of The Words, if you will) plays out like a worthy thinkpiece on the healing power of communication for the most part, and just when you're about to scroll down to see how long's left he smacks you upside the head with one of the cleverest metatextual surprises you're ever likely to see in a film starring Jeremy Renner. Technically clinical and intellectually rich, it's the second sci-fi in two years (after 2015's Coherence) to do Christopher Nolan better than Christopher Nolan. Review

A bunch of dickish jocks spend three days trying to find their place in the world and fail miserably. That's it, and it's absolutely wonderful. Richard Linklater is so good at these coming-of-age corkers now that he's just showing off; where someone like Michael Bay wanks out spectacular but unwatchable CG sequences, Linklater just ejaculates charm, tossing off one example of heartwarming bromance after another. There's no plot to speak of but the message is written between the scenes: there's a time in life when it's OK - nay, mandatory - to simply not give a fuck, and it doesn't last long so make the most of it. And if that time is way in your past, well, Linklater has made Everybody Wants Some!! so you can relive it for a couple of hours. Review


Edit: I saw 41 more films from 2016, and this list - including the #1 film - is now woefully out of date. The current version can be found here.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Friday, 23 December 2016

Rogue One

Rogue One launches itself at you without the Star Wars films' traditional opening crawl of exposition or John Williams' rousing theme, and it's simultaneously disconcerting and exciting. But almost immediately there's a shot inside a rural family home which prominently features a large glass of blue milk, instantly recognisable to fans from the franchise's '77 vintage. That's the tone of Rogue One in microcosm, efficiently distilled in the film's first minutes. This isn't going to be a Star Wars movie as you know them, but fans needn't worry: it's still Star Wars. That glass of blue milk is a sedative; a relaxing, reassuring tonic for anxious geeks.

Metaphorical glasses of blue milk litter the landscape of Rogue One, from mouse droids and a Dr Evazan cameo to a certain popular Sith lord (who even retains the reddish tint in his mask's lenses which disappeared post-Episode IV). But it's not just a conveyor belt of distracting nods and winks; this is very much its own thing - a scrappy, grubby, gloomy adventure that perfectly captures the mood of its place in the Star Wars timeline. The rebel alliance is fractured and flawed, and there's no sign of a magic wizard or his young apprentice on the horizon to save the galaxy from the tyrannical Empire. Ordinary grunts are going to have to get wet and dirty if they're going to root out any kind of hope for peace, and we're going to have to watch it through a handheld camera. Aesthetically, Gareth Edwards has absolutely nailed the attitude here, complementing his film's outsider status perfectly.
When Rogue One does go all Star Wars, it is properly, hair-raisingly belting. Watching new and inventive ways to blow up stormtroopers, AT-ATs and Star Destroyers is one of this miserable year's single greatest pleasures, and as the climax barrels headlong into the opening of A New Hope it falls over itself to provide one ridiculously thrilling shot after another. But there's much to admire in what's new, too: nicely-drawn characters whose backstories are only vaguely hinted at; a new and satisfyingly amusing droid in Alan Tudyk's scathingly honest K-2SO, and a more complex portrayal of the rebellion than we're used to, with militants and defectors threatening to destabilise the fragile alliance. Anyone with a favourite entry in the Expanded Universe who wishes it could be turned into a film (I'd plump for Claudia Gray's terrific 'sidequel' novel Lost Stars) will appreciate what's being done here.

But where Edwards conducts his effects sequences and space-based thrillery with the same brio he displayed in Godzilla, his work with actors is as disappointingly rote here as it was when he failed to get anything interesting out of the likes of Bryan Cranston and Elizabeth Olsen. Felicity Jones and Diego Luna's plucky heroes don't have anything like the impact of Daisy Ridley and John Boyega in The Force Awakens, despite the former pair being the more accomplished actors, and there's a tragic sense of missed opportunity in the precious few scenes shared by Mads Mikkelsen and Ben Mendelsohn, two actors who should, by rights, set the screen ablaze when pitted against each other.
Despite this, most of Rogue One works perfectly well as an above-average sci-fi action adventure with the added bonus of being a Star Wars film. But its third act heist - the actual theft and transmission of the plans that will lead to the destruction of the Death Star - is where things start to fall apart. Chris Weitz's script (apparently heavily reworked during reshoots by Tony Gilroy) throws countless unnecessary hurdles in front of our heroes, and the convoluted machinations they must go through to achieve their goal are frustratingly complex: one character has to do one bit of the job from this room, another has to do the other bit somewhere else, someone else has to throw a master switch which is way over there for some reason, that guy is doing something else but I can't remember what, and an antenna has to be aligned or something before another thing can happen. It's an awful lot of effort to go through to send what is essentially a bloody email, and the whole shebang comes across like a poorly-plotted Mission: Impossible film. None of this is helped by disorientating leaps between locations; at times it's unclear which base, spaceship or even planet we're on, and it's never long before we're bounced off somewhere else.

As a gap-filler between Episodes VII and VIII, Rogue One is a perfect reminder of how deliriously enjoyable and occasionally frustrating the Star Wars films can be. Technically on point for the most part (David Crossman's costume design flawlessly segues into the original trilogy and Michael Giacchino's score is skin-prickling at all the right moments, but one heavily CG-reliant character is overused and distracting), there's enough to tide fans over for another year as long as their The Force Awakens Blu-rays are close at hand. But there's also enough sloppiness to warrant concern about the rest of the franchise (Colin Trevorrow's appointment, in particular, often brings me out in a cold sweat), and all the blue milk in the galaxy won't ease that anxiety.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016


Speaking generously about his pal Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg once said: "My movies are whispers; Marty's movies are shouts". Ironically though, Marty's latest shout is titled Silence, and the fact that it's a quiet meditation on deeply personal, generally internalised emotional processes does kind of bugger up The Berg's metaphor. That said, and fully aware that I may be extending this tenuous linguistic connection to unnecessary lengths, Silence does have an awful lot to say about a subject that has echoed loudly throughout history, and shows little sign of decreasing in volume any time soon. OK I'll stop this now.

It's 1640 (the year, not the time), and respected Jesuit priest Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson, making good use of his old Jedi robes) has done a bunk from his business of promoting Catholicism in Japan. Nobody knows what's happened to him, but rumours that he's gone native and apostatised - i.e. renounced Christianity, as Ciarán Hinds helpfully clarifies in an early scene - are causing consternation back in his Portuguese church: Christians in Japan were suffering appalling persecution from the shogunate at the time, with priests and followers tortured and murdered for their beliefs. And so it is that two young, naïve priests, played by Andrew Garfield's enormous hair and Adam Driver's unfathomably peculiar face, set off to find Ferreira like two Martin Sheens on the hunt for a shaggy-haired Marlon Brando. Why Scorsese didn't just call it 'Apostatise Now' remains unclear.

Silence focuses on the journey of Garfield's Father Rodrigues, which you will be unsurprised to hear is more than just a geographical one. Rodrigues and Driver's Father Garrpe are strong of faith, but it's an untested, almost blind faith based on years of teachings, and their mission to locate Ferreira will see it interrogated, abused and turned against them until somebody, or something, breaks. The deeper Rodrigues strays into anti-Christian territory, the more vicious the assault on his faith: it begins insidiously, with a Gollumesque guide who may or may not be entirely trustworthy, and ends nearly three hours later with a final shot that exquisitely balances the weight of everything that's come to pass.

Along the way, Scorsese steadfastly refuses to employ any of his trademark visual whizzpoppery or breakneck editing; there are a couple of dramatic, high angle, God's POV shots sprinkled throughout, but stylistically this is as far removed from The Wolf Of Wall Street as Kundun was from the preceding Casino. That Scorsese can still surprise you with these gear changes at 74 years old is just one reason why it's a privilege to be alive while he's making movies. As expected, Silence is an utter joy to look at too: the Japanese scenery is mysterious, timeless and decidedly Kurosawan (despite being shot in Taiwan), while cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto studies the creases in the Japanese cast's faces in conspiratorial close-up.

Thematically, and for obvious reasons, Silence hews closer to Kundun and The Last Temptation Of Christ before it than Scorsese's more popular fare. But there are shared elements to be found in unlikely places: informants, inquisitors and a woozy sense of paranoia are common to both this and GoodFellas, for example, and Rodrigues' spiritual sense of belonging to a flawed collective that gives his life meaning isn't a million miles away from Henry Hill's calling to the mob. There isn't a single scene in which you doubt that as far back as Rodrigues can remember, he always wanted to be a minister.
But it's the thorough probing of faith, undertaken with relentless intensity by Scorsese and co-writer Jay Cocks in their adaptation of Shūsaku Endō's 1966 novel, that truly hits home. The wisdom of faith, the forms it takes (both physical and spiritual), its potentially catastrophic power, the arrogance it breeds and the eternal struggle between faith and doubt that defines humanity all come under the microscope here. Even I, a committed heathen, learned more about faith from Silence's 159 minutes than three years of mad Mrs Baker's R.E. class, which will no doubt please notable failed priest Martin Scorsese.

Silence is a film of serene power, and should be approached accordingly. It's long, it's talky and it's light on heavy drug use and face-pulping violence, but crucially it's never dull. Its zen-like atmosphere belies its tortuous production history, but it's a thing of great beauty to behold, and if you ever doubted that Martin Scorsese would pull off something so good at this late stage in his career, then shame on you. You should have more faith.

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Fast & Furious 8 trailer as seen through the eyes of someone who's never seen a Fast & Furious film

I've never seen a Fast & Furious film. Sorry. Just never got round to it. There's no point starting now because Episode 8 won't make any sense to me as I'll have missed all the nuanced layering of character development, and if I go back to the beginning it'll just be slow and boring, like the first series of 24 which was incredible at the time but now feels like Andrei Tarkovsky directed it while asleep.

So I thought it might be fun for you to experience the trailer for the new film (which, according to the poster, is the big-screen Phil & Grant Mitchell spin-off the world has been waiting for) through my eyes. The eyes of a man who does not know what he is talking about. So buckle up and let's enjoy the ride etcetera!!!!!

0:03 It is already my understanding that the laws of physics do not apply to the Fast & Furiouses, but it's good to be reminded of that early on by this shot of a car driving through what appears to be a solid concrete wall. Are crumple zones not a thing?

0:07 There have been nine cuts in the first seven seconds of this trailer so as an elderly gentleman I am already confused. Not least by this lady, who remains remarkably calm despite all the laws of physics being broken around her.

0:09 "These guys are taking this personal!" He means "personally", but I suspect that if I am to indicate every instance of abuse of the Queen's English I could very well be here until Fast & Furious 9 comes out, so I'll just sigh loudly and continue.

0:11 Everybody is shouting at each other and everyone is bald I can't take any more of this it was a terrible idea forget I ever mentioned it