17 Films to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve already set out my suggested theatre productions to see in 2017 (read it here if you want to), as well as my television choices for the next twelve months (read that one here too). This post will therefore take a look at the films we can look forward to. There were some wonderful films in 2016 and I’m hoping 2017 will also contain some gems. Any release dates listed will be for the UK seeing as that is the home of this blog.

Enjoy!

1. A Monster Calls (out from 1 January)

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The first film on my list is one I saw during the London Film Festival last year and loved. Out yesterday, A Monster Calls is a truly moving film based on Patrick Ness’s book, in which young Conor O’Malley copes with his mother’s cancer by escaping in to his imagination and the monster he creates from the tree in the cemetery at the bottom of their garden. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Conor’s mother, Signourney Weaver does a great job as his grandmother and Liam Neeson adds gravitas to the “monster”. However, the finest performance is that given by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. Take your tissues! Read my review here and you can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

2. La La Land (out 12th January)

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It’s highly likely that you’ve already heard about La La Land. It has won a raft of awards and is the hot favourite for the Oscars. Having been lucky enough to see it during October’s London Film Festival, I can vouch for the fact it really does live up to the hype. The opening sequence is impressive (but perhaps a bit cheesy), but once you fall under the spell of this film, it’ll captivate you until the very end. With a superb chemistry between its leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, some lovely songs and utterly magical scenes, this is guaranteed to become a modern classic. Read my review here. Go, go, go!! You can watch the trailer here too: https://youtu.be/0pdqf4P9MB8

3. Jackie (out 20th January)

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Another film tipped for awards glory is Jackie, in which Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. From the trailer this looks to be quite a harrowing film, but Portman is such a fantastic actress that I can’t miss seeing it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g9pW3B8Ycc4

4. Hacksaw Ridge (out 27th January)

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Mel Gibson’s latest film tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, an American army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa. He refused to kill anyone and yet due to his actions during WWII he was the first man to be awarded the Medal of Honour without firing a shot. Doss is played by Brit Andrew Garfield and I’ve heard lots of positive reaction to this film from those who’ve already seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/s2-1hz1juBI

5. Moonlight (out early February)

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Moonlight has also received a great deal of acclaim and finally arrives in UK cinemas in February. Set in Miami, it charts the life of a young black man through three chapters of his life, as he seeks to understand his sexuality as a gay man. Loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this film has quite a buzz around it due to the powerful nature of its story. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/9NJj12tJzqc

6. Star Wars Episode VIII (out 15th December)

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After the success of Rogue One this Christmas, December sees the arrival of the next instalment in the Star Wars saga with the release of Episode 8. I’m staying away from spoilers so I know very little about this film. One thing that is certain, is that following the recent death of Carrie Fisher, her role in this film will have an added poignancy.

7. The Circle (out TBC)

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Dave Eggers’s book The Circle has been on my to-read list for a while now, but it seems I may end up seeing this film adaptation first. Emma Watson plays a young woman who lands a job at the world’s largest tech and social media corporation called The Circle, but she soon realises that it is a world where everyone is watching. With the other lead being played by Tom Hanks (always one of my favourite actors) and support from John Boyega, this thriller sounds very promising indeed. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QCOXARv6J9k

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (out 28th April)

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I admit I’m not a huge superhero film fan. I like some, but not all of them and I’ve seen very few of the Marvel movies. I did however love the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and this sequel looks to be as much fun as the first, with all the leads returning. I can only hope the soundtrack is also as fab the second time around! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

9. Hidden Figures (out 17th February)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures since I first heard about it last year. It’s based on the true story of a team of African American women who, due to their mathematical talents, worked with NASA to assist with it launching its first successful space missions. It’s such an incredible story that I was shocked I hadn’t already heard about it and so I hope the film will also bring the wider recognition these women deserve. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/RK8xHq6dfAo

10. Dunkirk (out 21st July)

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Christopher Nolan’s next film arrives in the summer and will tell the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, one of WWII’s most well known events, when after becoming surrounded by German troops, Allied forces were evacuated in Operation Dynamo between 26th May – 4th June 1940. Written and directed by Nolan and with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, I’m wondering whether I’ll find this as powerful as I did Saving Private Ryan. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F-eMt3SrfFU

11. Blade Runner 2049 (out October)

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Last year saw Harrison Ford return to the iconic role of Han Solo and 2017 sees him return to another character – Rick Deckard. Set 30 years after the original film, Ryan Gosling plays LAPD Officer K, a new blade runner, who discovers a long-buried secret that results in him going in search of Deckard, who has been missing for decades. The original is such a classic that I’m still a little uncertain about a sequel, but after watching the superb Arrival, I’ve no doubt that director Denis Villeneuve is the ideal choice of director to pull this off. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/S_JAMRKzEHs

12. Fences (out 17th February)

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I missed a recent London production of August Wilson’s play and so it’ll be great to see this film adaptation, which was written by Wilson prior to his death. Starring Denzel Washington (who also directs) and Viola Davis, it’s the story of a working class African American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. The performances of both Davis and Washington have already been widely praised and I’m pleased this will finally reach the UK in February. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/spCxVd9ctFs

13. Murder on the Orient Express (out November)

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Murder on the Orient Express is a classic Agatha Christie story and perhaps the most famous Poirot tale. The version starring David Suchet a few years ago was very very good, but I’m curious to see this film adaptation due to the calibre of the cast assembled. Among the stars are Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench, alongside the director Kenneth Branagh who will also star as Poirot. He has big shoes to fill as Belgium’s famous detective, but I hope this is as good as it could potentially be.

14. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (out TBC)

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After the success of Bridge of Spies, I’m rather excited to see this collaboration between Steven Spielberg and (now) Sir Mark Rylance. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy in 1858, who is forcibly taken from his family to be raised a Christian after having been secretly baptised and his parents’s struggle to to get him back. Their fight brings them up against the papacy and Rylance will play the Pope. Directed by Spielberg and written by playwright Tony Kushner, it will also star Oscar Isaac.

15. The Dark Tower (out 28th July)

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I’ve never read Stephen King’s series of novels, but I’ve heard a great deal over the years, as the possibility of a film was rumoured. Now it is finally happening and will star Idris Elba as a lone frontiersman knight. I admit this isn’t usually my kind of film, but with Elba involved I’m more than willing to give it a try!

16. Split (out 20th January)

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M. Knight Shyamalan has had an up and down career in terms of his films (personally I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the rest not so much), but I’ll always give his films a chance. This latest one, written and directed by Shyamalan, stars James McCoy as a man suffering from disassociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. It has been described as the director’s best film in years and as I already know how superb McAvoy is, I have my fingers crossed for this one. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/84TouqfIsiI

17. Manchester By The Sea (out 13th January)

 

 

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Manchester By The Sea was another film I was able to see during the London Film Festival and it’s one that certainly made an impression on me. Kenneth Lonergan’s story of Lee Chandler, who has to take on responsibility for his brother’s son, Patrick, following his death won’t appeal to everyone. It is quite long and rather slow in pace. However, it is a compelling and very raw look at how we cope with grief, loss and guilt and how it affects those around us as well as ourselves. Lucas Hedges is superb as Patrick, bringing humour and warmth to the film, but it is Casey Affleck’s movie, in what for me has to be a frontrunner for Best Actor at all the awards ceremonies. You can read my review here and watch there trailer here: https://youtu.be/NxQmuJnrjxg

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So, those are the films that I’m most excited about seeing (or indeed, in some cases, seeing again) in 2017. Time will tell whether they all live up to expectation!

 

 

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Film Review – Sully (2016) starring Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart

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This year I decided to buy a ticket to one of the hottest events at the London Film Festival, the Surprise Film. It’s ironic that one the screenings most people are keen to attend is the one where you have no idea what film you are going to see until it begins! It was a fantastic cinema experience as the audience speculated as to what film we’d see.

In the end the choice this year divided the audience as to whether it was a worthy Surprise Film. Some see it as an opportunity to showcase a film that perhaps won’t otherwise have as large a profile, while others expect to see something not yet on wide release. This year’s choice was Sully, which has already opened in most markets outside the UK. However, despite the disappointment of many, I was pleased it was a movie that had been on my to-see list, primarily due to its lead actor and overall it was an enjoyable cinema trip for me.

As for the film itself, Sully is the story behind 2009’s incredible landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River, mere minutes after take-off after a flock of geese flew in to both its engines. The event received worldwide attention, with universal praise given to Captain Chesley Sullenberger, whose quick actions miraculously meant that all 155 people on board the aircraft survived.

Like most of us, I’d heard about it on the news and marvelled at the incredible achievement of this pilot. However, I had not known about what happened afterwards and this film, directed by Clint Eastwood, focuses on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB’s) investigation which, with an aircraft written off at great expense to the airline, was looking to apportion blame to the captain. Everyone may have survived, but was his decision not to try and make it to an airport correct or was he reckless with the lives of his passengers and crew and responsible for the loss of the plane?

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Tom Hanks as Capt. Chesley Sullenberger & Aaron Eckhart as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles

 

Sully is a fairly mainstream movie, but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. I can’t see it winning any big awards, but it is still an enjoyable film. One of its weaknesses is the fact that there isn’t too much of a story to tell, as unlike in a documentary film, delving in to the detail of the 18 month NTSB investigation in to Sully’s actions that morning, wouldn’t have worked. Therefore the film does at times feel a bit padded and repetitive, as we see the landing in the river more than once and scenes in which Sully remembers the events and later the listening to the cockpit recording are practically the same.

However, with such a strong leading man in the title role, the film is given an extra weight that it may not otherwise have had. I’ve always loved Tom Hanks and he never disappoints in terms of giving a believable and human performance, which always brings the character to life so vividly. The fact that here he is playing a real person means this is even more important. Through him we see the toll the experience put on Sully; if the lead up to and landing weren’t traumatic enough, he then had to endure the accusations and insinuations afterwards, during which his career, pension and reputation were at stake, while trying to cope with PTSD (scenes in which he dreams of the plane crashing in to buildings are quite harrowing). I admit watching the events unfold made me incredibly angry at how this decent man was treated!

Aaron Eckhart is also great as First Officer Jeffrey Skiles, who remains a loyal and staunch friend and colleague throughout, as the only other person to truly know what it was like in the cockpit that day. Eckhart said a few words after the screening about how Sully had been with them every step during the making of the film and how it was an aspect of the miracle on the Hudson River that he too hadn’t been aware of. The rest of the cast have very little to play with in terms of material and so talent such as Laura Linney (who plays Sully’s wife) are left feeling rather wasted.

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The film’s visuals are very good indeed.

 

Visually, the effects are very good and it’s incredibly chilling to watch an aircraft fly so close to Manhattan and you can imagine how those witnessing it at the time would have felt. Indeed a scene in which we see people’s reactions as the plane appears was quite unnerving. Director Clint Eastwood also successfully managed to create dramatic tension in scenes in which the audience knows there is going to be a happy ending. You are aware everyone survived Flight 1549, however the moments on board the flight and the immediate aftermath as the passengers rush to escape the plane as it fills with water are no less frightening, as you can’t help but imagine yourself in that situation.

It’s also a lovely touch to involve so many of the real people who were there, as Eckhart told us after the film that all of the coastguard and crew of the vessels that go to the plane’s aid are played by the actual individuals who helped Flight 1549. It’s clearly a very personal film for those involved, highlighted by the end credits, which include the actual passengers and crew, gathered at the Carolinas Aviation Museum (where the aircraft is on display), whose close bond is evident.

No, this isn’t a classic film, nor one that is destined for high acclaim. It is however a very well made and strongly acted story of something that should be more widely known and hopefully now Sully’s position as a true hero cannot be denied.

Sully opens in the UK on 2nd December 2016. Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/mjKEXxO2KNE

Film Review – Bridge of Spies

 

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The latest collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, Bridge of Spies is a superb film and already one of my favourites of 2016. It is perhaps more incredible due to the fact that it is based on actual events, depicting one man’s determination to do what is right despite the risks to himself, during a politically dangerous time in the twentieth century.

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Mark Rylance (Rudolf Abel) & Tom Hanks (James B. Donovan)

Set during the height of the Cold War, the film recalls the arrest of a Russian KGB spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), in Brooklyn in 1957 and his subsequent trial. Determined to present the image of a fair process, an insurance lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is chosen by the government to represent him. A man of principle, Donovan is confronted with bias and brick walls as he mounts his defence of a man the whole country wants to see hanged. This clearly causes problems for Donovan (and indeed his family) in how he is perceived by the American public, especially once Donovan’s commitment to justice is viewed as contrary to the mood of the nation.

However, in a plot that perhaps seems as if created for a work of fiction, Donovan’s role in historical events became even more important as, on the downing of an American spy plane by the Soviet Union in 1962, it is he who is entrusted to negotiate an exchange – Abel for the U.S pilot Francis Gary Powers. However, Powers is not the only American prisoner, as the East German police have also recently captured an American economics student Frederic Pryor in Berlin. With no official acknowledged support from his government, Donovan puts himself at great risk to secretly travel to East Berlin (at the time of the building of the Wall), in the company of the CIA, to negotiate the exchange of Abel for Powers with the Russians. However, being the honourable man that he is, he is also determined to find a way to bring Pryor home too. He has no guarantee he won’t also be captured, as he finds himself in a dangerous and unstable country, as East is cut off from West Berlin.

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The film also highlights the panic in Berlin as the Berlin Wall is erected

As is to be expected by a filmmaker of the calibre of Spielberg, this is a film of the highest quality. The screenplay by Marc Charman and the Coen brothers is a tense, thrilling story, which has you on the edge of your seat as Donovan takes ever more risks, negotiating with the Russians and the Germans in order to secure a fair exchange. Having the negotiations in Germany rather than Russia means the films is able to highlight what it was like in Germany following the second world war. I found it incredibly interesting to think about that period of history from the perspective of those living in Berlin and found the scenes in which the Wall is erected, causing desperate panic, especially moving. The film also wonderfully captures the relationship that grows between Abel and Donovan, who come to respect each other’s sense of duty and service the longer they know one another.

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Tom Hanks is the perfect choice to play Donovan

The casting is also first class. Tom Hanks is the perfect choice for the principled Donovan and brings a weight and gravitas to the screen in a way that makes the audience truly admire him and feel invested in his journey. You almost hold your breath as he makes his way shivering through the snowy streets of East Berlin. His chemistry with Rylance is also crucial, as it is their relationship as Donovan and Abel that sets the tone for the rest of the film. Donovan may have only been assigned to the case initially, but Hanks is able to convey how he quickly grows to like and respect Abel as a man.

As a huge admirer of Mark Rylance for a number of years through his superb stage career, it is wonderful to see his talents recognised by a wider audience (and indeed he has been nominated for a Supporting Actor Oscar this year). He is excellent as Abel, bringing out the sense of humour and even kindness in a man who many at the time saw as evil. It is also an understated performance of a quiet man, which is perfect for Rylance, who can convey so much through so little. The film in fact begins with us following Abel going about a relatively quiet existence. You can see how he has managed to be a successful spy for so long – simply blending in with his surroundings and not drawing attention to himself. However, it is a relatively small role, which only makes me wonder at what would happen if filmgoers were to see him show just how much he is capable of as an actor in a larger part.

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Mark Rylance gives a wonderfully understated performance as Rudolf Abel

I’m thrilled to see Bridge of Spies nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. It certainly deserves the recognition, although I doubt it will win. We are all so used to Spielberg (and now even Spielberg and Hanks together) producing films of this quality that I suspect this expectation will work against it in terms of awards success. That aside, Bridge of Spies remains one of the most intelligent, thrilling, absorbing and deeply interesting and emotive stories I have seen in a long time. I felt uplifted by the end, as through this inspiring man, I was reminded of what we could all be capable of if we have the courage and the belief in ourselves to do what is right. Whether you still catch it at the cinema or see it on DVD, I cannot recommend this film enough.

Bridge of Spies is still showing at certain UK cinemas and will be released on DVD on 28th March 2016. Watch the trailer here.

Saving Mr Banks (2013)

After missing it at the cinema I finally caught up with this beautiful and moving film this weekend. My only awareness of Mary Poppins and its author P.L. Travers was through the classic Disney film and therefore I was interested to learn more about the background of Mrs Travers and how she came to allow Walt Disney to turn her beloved character in to the film character so many people of all ages have grown up with.

Through the film we see Mrs Travers begrudgingly agree to travel to L.A in order to work with Disney’s team on the screenplay (she had script approval, something Walt Disney had never agreed to on any previous film). If she wasn’t happy she wouldn’t grant him the rights. It is clear that it isn’t going to be easy to please her and it’s amusing to see the film-makers come up against her forthright, no nonsense personality. This will not be an animated film and there will be no singing…!

However the heart of the film is the insight we gain in to her childhood in Australia with her parents and two younger sisters and we quickly understand how the hard-hearted exterior she now has came to be. We also see where the inspiration for the Banks family and their world famous nanny came from and the poignant context for her characters was something I knew nothing about and was not expecting. It would be wrong to give away much more than that, save as to say, in Mrs Travers’s eyes, Mary Poppins did not arrive on Cherry Tree Lane to save the Banks children.

Emma Thompson is simply wonderful as Travers and moved me to tears a few times. She captures the different aspects of her personality so well, from the hard, reserved battle-axe, through to the woman yearning to heal herself and her past. I now absolutely understand the shock that followed her lack of Oscar nomination, as this is a beautiful, heartfelt performance. Tom Hanks (one of my favourite actors) is wonderful as Walt Disney, a man determined to make the film a reality 20 years after he first approached Mrs Travers about it. He brings a sense of fun to the film and I loved seeing his relationship with Emma Thompson’s Mrs Travers develop.

Other strong supporting performances come from Paul Giamatti as Travers’s driver, with whom she grows to have a strong connection and Bradley Whitford as Don DaGradi, whose patience when dealing with her long list of complaints is wonderfully amusing to watch. Some of the most moving performances however come from those in the scenes set in the past, particularly Colin Farrell as Travers’s father (who works in a bank, but who has a worrying dependency on alcohol). Ruth Wilson is a strong presence as her mother, struggling to keep her young family together and Annie Rose Buckley as the young P.L. Travers is simply fantastic. This little girl is a wonderful actress, who cannot fail to move the audience as we see the love between father and daughter even in increasingly difficult circumstances.

The film also doesn’t spell everything out for you. Seeds are sown early on that come to make sense in weaving the strands of the story from the two periods of history together. It is a beautiful film, full of emotion and heart and a mix of entertaining, but also moving moments. For anyone who grew up watching Mary Poppins it is a wonderful insight in to how she made her way on to film and finally reached an even wider audience, generation after generation. You’ll need your tissues every so often but I truly cannot recommend it highly enough.

Here is the link to the official trailer: http://youtu.be/16MdSZH6I4o