The start of a new year always brings forth a new sense of optimism and hope. With awards season just around the corner, the big hitters are starting to emerge and January is full of hopeful gems. Let’s take a look at them…
FILM OF THE MONTH – LA LA LAND – 5 stars
Writer/Director Damien Chazelle’s glorious ode to Los Angeles will take some beating as the best film of 2017 (and it’s only January). This quintessential romance of our time is a musical odyssey that’s bursting with invention, style and feel-good vibes. Aspiring young actress Mia (Emma Stone) meets Sebastian (Ryan Gosling), an idealistic but down on his luck jazz musician. Sparks soon fly and romance blossoms as they chase their dreams in the city of angels. A simply stunning affair with Gosling and Stone on mesmerising form, La La Land is as magical and sincere as they come. The music is sensational, it’s deeply affecting and it all looks stunning. The Oscars go to…
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA – 4 stars
If La La Land fails to get a clean sweep come awards season, Casey Affleck might be a good bet for Best Actor in Kenneth Lonergan’s moving and heartbreaking account of grief. Lee Chandler (Affleck) has to return to his hometown when tragedy strikes. Harbouring emotional pain of his own, Lee must put that to one side to arrange the funeral of his brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) and care for his teenage nephew Patrick (Lucas Hedges). The drama slowly unravels as we learn the reason why Lee can’t move on in his own life. Worth the admission price alone for a truly amazing heart-to-heart scene between Affleck and Michelle Williams, this is a sobering and gripping story full of real emotion.
ASSASSIN’S CREED – 2 stars
Around the 55 minute mark, Michael Fassbender’s character utters the truest line of the film – ‘What the f*** is going on here?’. Assassin’s Creed should have been an easy win, especially with the Macbeth trio of Director Justin Kurzel and stars Fassbender and Marion Cotillard reunited. But somehow the studio and script managed to screw it all up, neither doing the casual fan a service or delivering the film that the die-hard gamers deserved. It’s a mess from start to finish with only a handful of action sequences worthy of your time. Fassbender plays Callum Lynch, a man forced to relive the memories of his bloodline ancestor Aguilar, a master assassin who is at war with the Knights Templar. They both seek to find the Eden Apple – which ultimately could control man’s free-will. The end result is a film that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The actors are good but the story is rushed and confused. A glaring missed opportunity.
SILENCE – 3 stars
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Liam Neeson is the main actor in Martin Scorsese’s soulful and driven passion-project, appearing front and centre of the ad campaign. This is actually Andrew Garfield’s show, playing one of two young Jesuit priests (alongside Adam Driver) who willingly embark on a dangerous mission to find the whereabouts of a once-devoted priest (Neeson) who is rumoured to have turned his back on Christianity in 17th Century Japan. The film is well made and beautifully shot by Scorsese and it features stunning performances from everyone involved, but the endless torture scenes are sometimes too much to endure. A worthy and involving piece of cinema, but one that you’ll never need to revisit.
SING – 3 stars
An all-star vocal casts unites for this sweet and good-intentioned animation. We follow a group of would-be animal hopefuls who all enter a local talent contest promoted by an ambitious and optimistic koala bear named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), who is looking to raise some much-needed cash to save his fledgling theatre. Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Nick Offerman, Jennifer Saunders, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Leslie Jones and Jay Pharoah all add star power to this engaging family film.
HACKSAW RIDGE – 4 stars
Andrew Garfield is having a strong month, with two award-worthy performances under his belt. Mel Gibson puts his director’s hat on for this deeply moving and fascinating true story of WWII American Army Medic Desmond T. Doss (Garfield), a man with strong Christian faith who refuses to kill anyone – but who still manages to become the first man in American history to receive the Medal of Honour without firing his gun. This remarkable story features Garfield on brilliant form and utilises the skills of Vince Vaughn, Hugo Weaving, Teresa Palmer, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey and Rachel Griffiths to good effect. Strong, emotional and superbly filmed.
A MONSTER CALLS – 3 stars
Liam Neeson voices the Monster in J.A. Bayona affecting big screen version of Patrick Ness’ novel, which in itself grew from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. Young Conor (an impressive lead-debut from Lewis MacDougall) struggles to deal with life. He’s bullied at school, his mother (the always reliable Felicity Jones) is unwell, his absent father (Toby Kebbell) is rarely around and his domineering grandma (Sigourney Weaver) doesn’t have much patience for him. He seeks solace in his imagination and summons a tree monster who challenges the boy to change his situation. Beautifully filmed and heartbreaking in places, this is probably a bit too intense for younger fans but for the rest, it will linger long in the soul.