The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

“messy toybox madness”

Directed by Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes

LEGO Batman does well to balance an effective story with universe-blending antics, though the speed at which things unfold is too quick. We open with a chase of cataclysmic proportions and a register of established villains, meaning everything afterwards struggles to up the ante. Too often every tool from the Bat-universe is thrown together and the action can feel hollow. The jokes and performances are still fun, and there’s more Bruce Wayne character development here than in any previous movie, but when the things are meant to run, they sprint, and when they should walk, they feel like a standstill.

Robin: My name’s Richard Grayson, but all the kids at the orphanage call me Dick.

Batman: Well, children can be cruel.

Further Reading:
David Betancourt’s ‘The Lego Batman Movie is all fun with none of the standard Dark Knight drama’ posted February 9th available from Washington Post here

Max Covill’s ‘Lego Batman Answers the Call for Quality Family Entertainment’ available from Film School Rejects here

What do you think of The LEGO Batman Movie? Leave a comment below!

Jackie (2016)

“real life fairytale”

Directed by Pablo Larrain
Starring: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Billy Crudup and Greta Gerwig

With sharp visuals and measured performances surrounding a cracking central role from Portman, this is an interesting balance of storybook fantasy and grounded reality. Using Jackie Kennedy’s grief to explore JFK’s place in history, framing is used particularly effectively to both keep the focus squarely on Jackie and show the cluster of White House staff ushering her out. It’s a testament to the power of history’s forgotten stories that drama is not found in a bloody shooting of nation’s commander, but in the anger and sadness a woman feels for her husband, while the country he led swiftly moves on.

Jackie Kennedy: There should be more horses, more soldiers … more crying, more cameras.

Further Reading:
Brian Formo’s ‘Jackie: Natalie Portman on Jackie Kennedy’s Humanity and Her Strange Accent‘ published on Collider, 1st December 2016, available here

Youssef El-Gingihy’s ‘Pablo Larraín’s Jackie: She is a big part of the reason why a half century on we are still talking about JFK and why films are still being made about him‘ published on Independent, 20th January 2017, available here

What do you think of Jackie? Leave a comment below!

Arrival (2016)

“talking in circles”

Directed by Denis Villeneuve
Starring: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg

Many words can describe the execution of Arrival, though few match as well as “tight”. Everything flows together so seamlessly that it’s only upon reflection that you realise you’ve been dazzled. From Adams’ reserved performance to the flowing melancholic music, each element deftly aids the story which is one of the best-paced evolutions of stakes you can find. A premise rife with intrigue and contemplation builds into a story of mystery, romance, action, tragedy, and out-right thrills. It’s a wonderful puzzle made of vastly interesting individual pieces, and literally had me on the edge of my seat.

Ian Donnelly: Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.

Further Reading:
Jay Caruso’s ‘Arrival’ Challenges Audiences To Face A Daunting Question posted November 19th, available from The Federalist here

Gus Lubin’s ‘Arrival’ nails how humans might actually talk to aliens, a linguist says posted November 21st, available from Business Insider here

What do you think of Arrival? Leave a comment below!

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

“minor-key misery”

Directed by Kenneth Lonergan
Starring: Casey Affleck, Lucas Hedges, Michelle Williams and Kyle Chandler

Manchester shares many traits with its main character, Lee (Affleck), dipping into a painful past through flashbacks and carrying a constant air of melancholy. It’s a small movie in almost every sense; with mundanity and struggle surrounding an emotionally explosive core and powerful character moments revealed with little grandeur. Affleck and Hedges shine as their relationship sputters along trying to find a version of themselves that fit together, and while the focus on emotional emptiness can occasionally make things too reserved, this is a very real reflection of the damage and loss people can go (and put themselves) through.

Lee Chandler: I can’t beat it. I can’t beat it. I’m sorry.

Further Reading:

Michael Nordine’s ‘Bennett Miller on ‘Manchester by the Sea’: ‘The Film Itself Feels Conscious’ posted on IndieWire 8th December 2016, available here

Kristen Page-Kirby’s ‘‘Manchester by the Sea’ director Kenneth Lonergan was inspired by … the Marx Brothers?!‘ from The Washington Post available here

What do you think of Manchester by the Sea? Leave a comment below!

Silence (2016)

“subdued suffering”

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Yōsuke Kubozuka and Liam Neeson

Films about punishment should rightfully be punishing to watch, though Silence goes about this task with a naturalistic style that makes it feel like a slog rather than a journey of enlightenment or reflection. It raises interesting questions concerning faith, and delivers small, powerful moments of internal revelation, but Andrew Garfield’s performance isn’t captivating enough to hold interest through the (sizeable) time we spend alone with him. While faith is the focus of the events of the film, exchanges between characters also concern little else, meaning scant connection can be made with them before their suffering unfolds.

Ferreira: You see Jesus in Gethsemane and believe your trial is the same as His. Those five in the pit are suffering too, just like Jesus, but they don’t have your pride. They would never compare themselves to Jesus. Do you have the right to make them suffer? I heard the cries of suffering in this same cell. And I acted.

Further Reading:
Through ‘Silence’, Martin Scorsese examines his own spiritual journey by Glenn Whipp for the Los Angeles Times available here

A Brief History of Martin Scorsese’s Cinematic Obsession with Religion by Zach Schonfield available here

What do you think of Silence? Leave a comment below!

La La Land (2016)

“dream come true”

Directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring: Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, John Legend and Rosemarie DeWitt

At the end of a year that was brimming with public unease, La La Land is a shooting star exploding with life and inspiration. Stone and Gosling make a delightful pairing that beautifully balances Hollywood romance with bittersweet realism. Musical numbers are dreamlike and majestic while almost every scene pops with colour and leaves a smile on your face. It’s all about optimism, without being the naivety that hinders many other tales of wonder. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but most importantly you’ll believe anything is possible so long as you pursue it with passion. An absolute triumph of the soul.

Mia: Here’s to the ones who dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache. Here’s to the mess we make.

Further Reading:

Oscar Songs: How ‘La La Land’ Songwriters Wrote a Love Letter to Movie Musicals posted on The Wrap here

‘La La Land’: A Musical Ode to Men Who Love Loving Jazz posted on NY Mag’s The Cut here

What do you think of La La Land? Leave a comment below!

Treasure Planet (2002)

“spirit of adventure”

Directed by Ron Clements and John Musker
Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Brian Murray, Emma Thompsons and David Hyde Pierce

The space pirate landscape of Treasure Planet makes for a grand adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale. Everything has a touch of futuristic-old-fashioned and the scale is naturally massive. Buried treasure pales in comparison to an entire planet worth of riches and galaxies sparkle like glistening oceans to portray an environment well-travelled yet difficult to traverse. Besides aesthetically, it doesn’t venture too far from other retellings and a mid-movie sidekick addition is occasionally grating. Overpowering everything, however, is a contagious sense of wide-eyed ambition. I can only wonder what grand adventures we could have seen if this wasn’t an adaptation.

John Silver: Look at you! Glowing like a solar fire. You’re something special, Jim. You’re gonna rattle the stars, you are!

Further Reading:
Tom Robinson et al. “The portrayal of older characters in Disney animated films.” Journal of aging studies 21.3 (2007): 203-213. available from Research Gate here

Chris Pallant “Neo-Disney: Recent developments in Disney feature animation.” New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film 8.2 (2010): 103-117 available here

What do you think of Treasure Planet? Leave a comment below!