Manchester By The Sea | Review

★★★★

Kenneth Lonergan’s latest film has been a long time coming. Originally proposed by Matt Damon and John Krasinski, Manchester by the Sea is the story of both the aftermath and prelude to one family’s grief. It is a quietly heartbreaking essay in broken humanity. Whilst exploring relatable themes, Lonergan focuses on intimately personal devastation and lays bare truths in a world which so often seems intolerable.

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Collateral Beauty | Review

★★

Will Smith is a gift for any film’s marketing team. Send him out to do the rounds and this is a man who’s charisma could genuinely sell ice to Eskimos. He even almost – almost – manages to sell Collateral Beauty. Smith plays Howard, a high-flying creative businessman whose grief at the death of his daughter has broken his marriage and now threatens his company. Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Peña are his collateral friends/colleagues who dubiously decide to interfere by hiring a trio of actors to portray Death (Helen Mirren), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Love (Keira Knightly) in a bid to turn his life around or – better still – prove that he’s lost his marbles and thereby cut him out. If Passengers hadn’t already claimed the prize, Collateral Beauty would have walked away with the award for most disturbing-yet-supposedly-friendly plot of the year. Oh, 2016.

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Rogue One | Review

★★★★

Choosing to go backwards feels an unusual step for a franchise with a patchy history of doing so but that’s Star Wars for you. A phenomenon with its own rulebook. How many other series could get away with two comebacks, a strangely dated font (even director Gareth Edwards agrees on that one) and each time expanding and complicating its narrative whilst somehow skewing mainstream? Set as ever ‘a long time ago’, longer than last year’s most recent addition and longer than the originals but not quite as long a time ago as the the prequels (perhaps a ‘somewhat long time ago’?) Rogue One is the second film to come from the Disney reboots in what’s looking like an annual treat for the foreseeable future. If this one’s anything to go by at least, an annual treat it will be.

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Goodbye 2016, Hello 2017

2016, sorry to break this to you pal but you’ve not been the best year. Politics, international relations, conflicts and all those celebrity deaths? You’ve got to admit that you’ve dropped the ball a bit.

On the other hand…I suppose you have given us a pretty solid year on the film front. I mean: The Revenant, Spotlight and Room all in one month?! We were spoilt! You’ve been pretty on form with the animations this year: Finding Dory, Moana, Kubo and the Two Strings, Zootropolis – perhaps best not to mention Sausage Party. Your blockbusters were a bit more hit and miss: Captain America was a corker and The Jungle Book was stunning – bravo. Then you gave us Suicide Squad. Seriously 2016? D- for that one, must try harder.

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Top Ten Films to Watch at Christmas

Christmas films are overrated. There: I said it. Christmas films are underrated. I said that too. I’m not deliberately trying to be awkward – that comes naturally to a film critic I suspect – as both statements can, and do, coexist truthfully.

To call something a ‘Christmas film’ is to categorise it instantly, broadly placing it within a box holding our set opinions. I call Christmas films overrated because mainstream audiences, and I’m generalising wildly here, do seem to experience a fuzz of warm nostalgia when it comes to remembering – or perhaps miss-remembering – festive fare. Take Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1990 – don’t string me up yet!), it’s a good, typically solid film from Columbus and a surprisingly violent one too for what it’s worth. Released at any other time of the year, I’d wager it’d be fondly remembered but never hailed as anything more than it is. Perhaps in the vein of Stuart Little (Rob Minkoff, 1999) or Spy Kids (Robert Rodriguez, 2001) say. However, Home Alone is a ‘Christmas film’ and, as such, considered by many to be a classic. By this default it is allowed to be unrealistic, that’s fine; it can get away with an over-sugared conclusion and it’s overlooked that, as a story, the film’s almost entirely screen-deep. Christmas is the time of year when audiences want to forget the real world (frankly, after 2016 we deserve a break) and need to believe in a message of hope. Is being rewarded for surviving another year, however, quite the same thing as watching a brilliant film?

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