The Edge Of Seventeen

Director: Kelly Fremon Craig (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Hailee Steinfeld is best known for her Oscar nominated portrayal of a revenge seeking daughter in the Coen Brothers 2010 remake of True Grit. Now her sparky talent shines as a confused teen in this smart and funny essay on the high school experience.

Given to spirited monologues and threats of suicide, Nadine’s hard yards to adulthood involves anti-depressants, booze, vomit, rejection, inappropriate sexting and stealing a car. Her path to enlightenment involves realising she must first change herself, if she wants to improve her life.

An early death powers her family’s dynamic with everyone dealing with the fallout in their own way. But the tone is light and there’s an absence of malice in a script which has heart enough for everyone. Haley Lu Richardson, Kyra Sedgwick, Blake Jenner and especially Hayden Szeto offer charmingly fractious support.

A deliciously dead pan Woody Harrelson plays her history teacher. He bats her away Nadine’s crisis with patient dry humour. It’s these scenes which provide the films entertaining edge.




Director: (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Tom Hanks plays a pilot in a courtroom tailspin in this arresting real life drama. The two time oscar winner is cannily cast as Captain ‘Sully’ Sullenberger who astonishingly landed his passenger jet on New York’s Hudson river.

On January 15th 2009, Sully’s inspired flying saved all 155 souls on board. It’s immediately dubbed the Miracle on the Hudson by a media who can’t get enough of the self effacing former US Navy pilot.

Hank’s innate likability and dependable screen presence acts as a shorthand for everyday decency, honesty and courage. There’s an enjoyable chemistry between Sully and his co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Aaron Eckhart competes in the cockpit to sport the most luxurious moustache.

Following their tremendous piece of aviation skill, the pair are forced to appear on chat shows and are uncomfortable at becoming instant celebrities.

Under Clint Eastwood’s iron directorial grip, the story of heroism is spun into a battle between the individual and a conspiracy of big business and government. The veteran director clearly sides with fly by the seat of your pants intuition against stifling procedure and rules.

The airline’s insurers are unhappy and encourage know-nothing bureaucrats to find a scapegoat. During the investigation into the incident, computer simulations suggest Sully could have flown to a nearby airport to land safely. Facing the loss of their careers, pensions and reputations, the pilots must fight to save themselves.

Airplanes crashing in New York have a recent historical resonance. Rather than shy away from the horror of 9/11, the film embraces it and uses the terrifying imagery of a single crashing plane to express the collective paranoid nightmares of the US.

This is tremendous filmmaking and it’s worth pausing to consider how mass urban destruction was used unthinkingly in Zack Snyder’s Man Of Steel (2013). That film is nearly twice as long but has less than half the brains. Its extended scenes of CGI carnage failed to entertain, never mind pass comment of the nation’s psyche.

It’s at this point Sully resonates with Eastwood’s previous film, American Sniper (2015). The pair are are very much a companion piece for each other. This is a another celebration of the pioneer spirit and can-do blue collar heroism, a tribute to the emergency services, of ordinary Americans guys such as ferrymen and cops doing their jobs with selfless bravery.

Considering we know the outcome of the forced water landing – not a crash – the action is surprisingly tense and is shown from the viewpoints of individuals on board and on shore. The accomplished CGI blends seamlessly with the New York skyline, the plane is a  fragile tin can bobbing on the majestic sweep of the vast Hudson river.

The film flies past in a quick 90 minutes with Eastwood directing with his typical no frills style. But far from flying economy, this is first class storytelling all the way.





Director: Jim Jarmusch (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Amazon Prime demonstrate their commitment to quality programming by funding this niche market film by a far from box office director. It is also an excellent example of how online streaming services are changing the nature of film production. And for the better.

Although Jarmusch’s brand of philosophy inflected observational drama is far from my cup of tea, his distinct voice would be missed if it could no longer find a platform from which to express itself.

The director followed up his vampire rockstar romance Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) with Gimme Danger (2016), an entertaining documentary of real life rocker Iggy Pop. Now he offers us this meditative tone poem. Its circular construction contains a mirage of faces and snatches of conversation.Twins and waterfalls are employed as motifs. To an eclectic soundtrack of electronic music mixed with rap, soul, blues and country and western, we pass though an urban landscape full of textures, patterns and colour.

Adam Driver’s unlikely leading man looks find him well cast as the bus driving poet known to everyone simply as Paterson. He lives with his artistically inclined girlfriend in a down at heel New Jersey town, also called Paterson. Time passes but he seems caught in an endless loop. Not that he seems to mind.

He has a tender relationship with the beautiful Laura who is played with a sweet self absorption by Golshifteh Farahani. Indulged in her fancies, she flits between guitar lessons, experimental cooking, interior design and dress making.

As lines of his poetry appear on the screen, we realise as a poet Paterson is best suited to driving a bus. His Sisyphean struggle to straighten his mail box is a metaphor for his life. It’s also a running gag which results in the films biggest chuckle. This is a warm and gentle film but not an overly humorous one.

There is a wall of fame on the bar Paterson frequents, full of pictures of former residents who achieved success and left town. Jarmusch likes his characters too much to make too many demands on them, though there’s a sadness as we suspect we could call back in twenty years and find them still living the same quiet lives.

The film presents creativity as a survivalist response to the mundanity of existence. The rappers, actors and poets Paterson meets are of every age, race and gender, pointing to the universality of the desire to express ones self in a creative manner.

I enjoyed the gentle spirit of Paterson, but others may find the pace of life a little slow.



Bad Santa 2

Director: Mark Waters (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Where the original Bad Santa (2003) was a fresh feast of ferocious bad taste, this smells of stale beer and leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

It’s been 13 long years since Billy Bob’s Thornton’s drunk safe cracker first stumbled across our screens. That’s a year longer gap than the one between the recent Bridget Jones threequel and its predecessor.

Whereas Bridget Jones’ Baby (2016) improved on Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004), Bad Santa 2 fails to recapture the coarse Christmas magic of its predecessor.

The original cast of Thornton, Tony Cox and Brett Kelly return, with a tattooed Kathy Bates and a rampant Christina Hendricks as added value elements. The cast gamely debase themselves in pursuit of gags and back alley sex. That isn’t and is a euphemism. You can take it either way.

As perma-drunk Willie T. Stokes, Thornton’s dead pan drawl almost makes this worth seeing. But Cox and Kelly are stuck on repeat, Bates enjoys her performance more than we do and poor Hendricks receives the butt of the worst writing. As a bad girl gone good going bad, the star of TV’s Mad Men plays a punchline to a non-joke in search of a character.

Stokes teams up with his mother and his former partner to rob a Chicago charity. There’s no honour among thieves and are soon plotting against each other. Thin jokes are stretched over the lightest of plots and the cynically ageist, sexist, sizeist, racist and foul mouthed dialogue confuses abuse with wit.

Everyone involved should be put on Santa’s naughty list.


A United Kingdom

Director: Amma Asante (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

The sincerity of this solid historical drama is undermined by the overly flattering portrayal of its subjects, the real life mixed race rulers of Beuchanaland, Seretse and Ruth Khama.

As played by Brit actors David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike, they are paragons of quiet dignity and determination. Oyelowo is impressively impassioned as the law student turned politician who believes in equality, inclusion and unity. However, with Pike’s accent as well cut as her cheekbones, the supposedly middle class Ruth frequently comes across as far more regal than her royal husband.

As they fight to bring independence to what is today Botswana, the devoted couple face the considerable forces of colonialism, exploitation, prejudice, propaganda and ridiculous ceremonial pomp. Together they battle the Empire, their own citizens, his disapproving family and piratical American mining corporations.

Racially segregated in practice but not in law, the then British protectorate of Bechuanaland was one of the one of worlds poorest countries. It suffered malaria, malnutrition, drought and poverty.

The Khama’s marriage is considered by the Empire to be inflammatory at a time when neighbouring South Africa is instigating apartheid. And stability is South Africa is paramount to the Empire, the UK’s gold supplies are dependent on it.

Styled the black king and white queen by the British press, the Khamas are not prepared to be pawns in the Empire’s game of global politics. Representing the Empire is Jack Davenport‘s wonderfully oily Sir Alistair Canning. Jack Lowden appears as Tony Benn MP. True to form, the self-styled conscience of the parliamentary Labour party spends his time battling his own side.

A companion piece to her period piece Belle (2014), Asante fashions her material with deft confidence and produces an engaging and handsome work. The opening scene is a joy of character and thematic economy. We witness Seretse taking part in a university boxing match. He is shown to be a courageous but naive fighter who is defeated at the hands of treacherous former public school boys.

London is believably stuffy and smog-filled, contrasting well with the bright open and faint optimism of Bechuanaland. There is a smooth dexterity in the handling of scenes which alternate between the intimate and the epic.

However the story struggles against the inertia of reality. The script is stretched having to cover a distance of thousands of miles and a time scale measured in years. Nor does it help having the central duo spend long periods on different continents.

The scant awareness of this story in the west lends the film a fresh appeal. It’s handsomely crafted and well played. It’s an overwhelmingly positive portrayal of an African nation and a celebration of democracy. All of which is welcome. But as a drama I wished it had more grit.



Director: Robert Zemeckis (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Brad Pitt is torn between love and duty in this muddled Second World War spy drama.

It can’t decide if it wants to be a noirish thriller, a 007 action or an epic wartime romance. As a result some performances struggle, especially a ponderous Brad Pitt.

The Hollywood heavyweight plays Max, an undercover RAF airman who receives a very warm welcome when he parachutes into Nazi occupied French Morocco. Max has extraordinary skill with a deck of cards and can strangle you in all of two languages.

While on a deadly mission to execute a high ranking Nazi, Max falls in love with a glamorous French spy, Marianne. Well, its more romantic than Tinder at any rate. When she is accused of treason, Max has seventy two hours to prove her innocence, or execute her himself.

Marion Cotillard is fabulous as the beautiful secret agent, giving the script a life it doesn’t deserve and doing all the dramatic heavy lifting.

The problems of the poor script are exacerbated by the woefully miscasting of Pitt in a much younger man’s role. The 52 year old is playing an RAF wing commander. Real life wingco Guy Gibson was 24 when he lead his famous Dam Busters raid.

Max is part James Bond and part Rick Blaine, but Pit is too old for the former and lacks the wearied hinterland of the latter. As Pitt is too old then arguably so is Cotillard, though at 41 at least we have a leading man paired with an almost age appropriate co-star.

Pitt sports some well cut suits and a pained expression. He appears to be aiming for enigmatic but it suggests indigestion instead. Pitt executes his brief action moves with the conviction of Roger Moore in his later Bond films.

Pitt’s contemporary Hugh Grant has responded to being freed by age from the tyranny of physical perfection with a career best performance in Florence Foster Jenkins (2016). But Pitt lacks energy and enthusiasm.

There’s an ambassadors party where chocolates are definitely off the menu. Plus there’s plenty of period cars and planes to keep vintage vehicle enthusiasts happy. Plus there’s an ample supply of camels. Which is nice.

Allied skips between London and Casablanca without taking much humour, action, suspense or interest with it. Key moments are ramped up by environment to the point of parody. Eventually the whole exercise slowly sinks beneath the soggy sands of sentiment and leaves barely any trace of itself on your  memory.

Following the 1942 classic film, it’s a schoolboy error to set a Second World War romance in Casablanca. Even the best modern film struggles to compete with the magic of Bogart and Bergman at their imperious peak, and this is far from being the best film.

Don’t play this again, Sam.




Director: (2016) BBFC cert: 15

This head bangingly dull melodrama is a poor advert for author Phillip Roth from whose novel it’s adapted. The flat lead performances, self-obsessed characters and clunky direction make for a very testing experience.

As is so often the case in literary adaptions, the presence of a voice over is an early indicator of the ineffective transition from page to screen which follows.

Marcus is a working-class Jewish student who dodges the 1951 Korean war army draft by enrolling in a prestigious Ohio college. Refusing to socialise with his peers he obsesses over the beautiful Olivia, an outwardly confident soul from a wealthy family. Logan Lerman and Sarah Gadon are a handsome couple but can’t find a way to make their characters sympathetic.

The only memorable scene is a lengthy interrogation by the Dean. This is a character whom we’re supposed to reject for his persecution of Marcus, but instead embrace for his patience, charm and humour. It’s an enjoyably human performance by Tracy Letts.

The cyclical script explores how society  applies brutal punishments to those who challenge conformity. After enduring two hours of this wearying philosophising, I was was more than justified in my own indignation.



Gimme Danger

Director: Jim Jarmusch (2016) BBFC cert: 15

This energetic, informative and even touching documentary is a raucous celebration the career of the wildly influential proto-punk band, The Stooges.

Fronted by drummer turned singer Iggy Pop, his provocative stage persona saw him perform semi-naked in silver marigold gloves and a red dog collar. They recorded three blistering albums in an unruly six year period before imploding in 1973.

The band invented stage diving, were banned from gigging by their own record company and suffered arrests, addictions and deaths.

A relaxed, chatty and surprisingly lucid Iggy regales us from a gold throne with a couple of human skulls in attendance. He discusses his trailer dwelling childhood, is sweet about his parents, realistic about his lyric writing ability and scathing of music industry management.

Director Jim Jarmusch keeps the energy levels up with footage, photos and animations and lots of great music.

It’s the bands story in their own words so there’s no one to offer an indictment of their behaviour. Which in the words of Iggy, was ‘pretty damn rocking’.





We Are The Flesh

Director: Emiliano Rocha Minter (2016) BBFC cert: 18

There’s not a fetid fig leaf to be found in this apocalyptic riff on the Adam and Eve creation myth. When two siblings seek shelter in a ruined building, it leads to their eternal damnation via an orgy of murder, insanity, cannibalism and rape.

The serpent in their squalid industrial garden of Eden is represented by a gold lame wearing madman. He leads them into temptation with his home brewed moonshine.

With actors willing to crawl the hard yards for their craft, some effective production design and a creative soundtrack, We Are The Flesh contains some unearthly delights and takes  a dim view of humanity’s reliance to religion.

But while the mocking of Catholic symbolism and the singing of a national anthem hints at an overall satiric intent, it’s feebly provocative and leaves nothing to laugh at.


Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them

Director: David Yates (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Let the magic of J.K. Rowling cast you back in time for another fabulous fantasy adventure. This prequel to her astonishingly successful Harry Potter series is a visually rich, fully realised world full of warm characters, cute critters and exciting action.

Set a full 70 years before Harry’s story starts, the story is shifted from the UK to New York in 1926. Our hero is Newt Scamander, an English wizard with the air and appearance of a foppish Edwardian gentleman adventurer. He carries a magic wand and a battered brown suitcase of surprising capacity. There are elements of TV’s Dr Who to his character. These include being expelled from his home, picking up companions to help out and describing himself as ‘annoying’ to other people.

However actor Eddie Redmayne is far too endearing a screen presence to be the spiky mannered Timelord and no-one in this film finds Newt annoying. If there is one major fault in the film it is this disparity between the script and the performance. This is not to say Redmayne is poor, far from it. His boyish charm encourages empathy at every turn and he gently underplays his scenes to allow others to blossom.

While shopping for a birthday present in New York, some of Newt’s beasts escape and the tourist falls foul of the President of wizards. As he tracks them down he is pursued by Colin Farrell’s dapper Director of Magical Security and his trench coat-clad henchmen.

Meanwhile an invisible creature is terrorising the city and a dark wizard called Grindelwald is on the loose and threatening war. There are chases, potions, magical battles, a speakeasy full of house elves and a menageries worth of extraordinary creatures.

Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol’s magical sisters provide the opportunity for romance. This is smart move by Rowling who recognises her key target demographic of longtime Potter fans are now adults. They may even have children of their own.

Redmayne’s generosity to Waterston, Sudol and Dan Fogler as a bumbling baker allow his co-stars to steal the heart of the film. We know we’ll meet Newt again, but we want to meet Jacob, Tina and Queenie again.

Samantha Morton, Ron Perlman and Jon Voigt add to the weight of acting talent and there’s a cameo by Johnny Depp. There are far fewer British actors in this film than in the Potter stories, possibly because those films attempted to exhaust our nations entire supply of thesps.

Rowling infuses her script with contemporary social commentary. She touches upon civil rights, the welfare of children, education and the conservation of endangered species. There are also asides on the demonisation of women in the media and their marginalisation in the workplace. The forces of darkness include a powerful newspaper magnate who are in cahoots with politicians, while an anti-witch cult is a barely concealed avatar for mainstream religion.

However Rowling’s tone is rarely preachy and she offers optimism, gentleness and nurturing. Building is emphasised over destruction and craftsmanship over mass production. The focus is kept firmly on entertaining the multiplex hordes.

There is a lot of detailed world building. We’re introduced to a city full of new characters, organisations and locations, many who will undoubtedly take centre stage in the next four films. We learn Newt has an older brother of some repute. I wonder if Benedict Cumberbatch’s agent is waiting by the phone.

Warner Bros are taking no chances with the continuation of their franchise phenomenon. They put the trusted director of the last four Potter films in charge and have backed him with all their creative, financial and marketing muscle. The opening moments are careful to include familiar images such as Hogwarts school to reassure us of their good intentions.

Though shot at Warner Bros. Studios in Leavesden, UK, the tremendous sets and faultless CGI never suggest we’re not in the US. Several scenes were also shot on location in London and Liverpool. There are nods to the Men In Black franchise (1997-2012) and a particular work of Terry Gilliam.

There’s no sex, drugs, booze or blood to scare the kids and you don’t have to be a Potter fan to thoroughly enjoy this as a stand alone story. But if you are a fan of Rowling’s fantastical world, you’ll love it.