Friday, 9 December 2016

2016 Catch-Up Reviews - 1

December is a month that brings Christmas and New Year's Eve and family time and celebration and all sorts. But let's ignore all of that. December is also a perfect month to catch up on all of the year's films that you missed, and that is exactly what I plan to do with this series of posts: short, to the point reviews of all the films I had to quickly rush and watch and act like I saw them when they first came out in cinemas so I don't lose my credibility. This time, we'll be looking at Ben Wheatley's High-Rise, John Carney's Sing Street and Drake Doremus' Equals. So, let's get started...

Spoiler Free!

 High-Rise (Director - Ben Wheatley)

High-Rise was the first Ben Wheatley film I saw, and it immediately signalled him as a director I ought to keep my eye on. He did little to further that belief with the mostly underwhelming Free Fire, but High-Rise remains a film I was endlessly captivated by even if I don't quite think it earned my captivation. I'm just a sucker for films that are a bit weird, and you don't get much weirder than High-Rise. At the heart of all of this is Tom Hiddleston, an actor that is surely due for a mainstream leading role some time soon. He is terrific here, perfectly capturing Laing's unsteady journey into insanity. It would be easy to get lost in how overtly stylised Wheatley's film is, but Hiddleston admirably holds his own. 

What really pushes High-Rise into greater heights than its storytelling should allow is its pure commitment to insanity and human behaviour. There's an incredible range of shit going down across this film, but rather than keep it focused on one man Wheatley instead goes big, showing us absolutely everything and never holding back. Subtlety is always appreciated, but sometimes it just isn't possible. If High-Rise was a subtle film it would be a bad film, and Wheatley's explosive take on this novel is a highly respectable film that, even if considerably rough around the edges, is so ambitious and so wild that it becomes impossible not to be engrossed by it.

To Summarise: With a strong performance from Tom Hiddleston at its core, Ben Wheatley's High-Rise surpasses its flaws thanks to its admirable dedication to its thought-provoking themes.

Sing Street (Director - John Carney)

I was unsure whether Sing Street would be my kind of film right up until the moment I pressed play on my Blu-Ray remote. About fifteen minutes later, I knew the answer. Sing Street isn't my kind of film, it is everyone's kind of film. It's a film that I just cannot imagine anyone not enjoying. It's a film that embraces mistakes and regret and binds them to something as intimate as the bond between two brothers. It's a film that tackles love and music and friendship, and makes us feel wonderful about all of it. Much like the upcoming La La Land, it doesn't shy away from the bad sides of all of this. The film itself ends on such a strange note that almost doesn't seem to wrap the story up, but rather pushes the characters into a new path and prohibits us from knowing where this takes them. Everything could turn out to be a disaster and the worst thing Conor and Raphina ever do, but we'll never know that.

Sure, maybe the dialogue is a little too pretentious sometimes, but whenever Sing Street does go a bit overboard it manages to pull it back in as quickly as it went awry in the first place. Jack Reynor's performance as Conor's brother Brendan is great, but the script often nudges him into corny lines about the heart and the soul and the future. Just when we think Carney's screenplay has lost focus, he delivers a gut punch of a scene about how Brendan lost his way in life by carving a path for his little brother - rather than feel hollow or pretentious, it binds it to a subtly emotional wording and capitalises on everything the film has worked on thus far. "Once, I was a fucking jet engine" could be the funniest line of the film in a stoner comedy, but in Sing Street it's heartbreaking. Carney's film is delicate and affectionate and moving, but it's also brilliant, feel-good fun with a perfectly balanced soundtrack for its young, band-forming characters to perform. If you aren't smiling when it cuts to black at the end, you probably aren't human.

To Summarise: Funny, enjoyable and filled wth heart and soul, Sing Street is perfectly directed love letter to music, friendship, family and love itself.

Equals (Director - Drake Doremus)

Equals is one of those films with its intentions and goals in all the right places, but a lack of real understanding as to how to pull them off. Its dystopian future setting is nicely realised, and depicted efficiently with its wide angles of white spaces and stunning set design. Its performances are mostly pretty great: Nicholas Hoult does a nice job of selling his transition from rule abiding follower to plan making rebel, Kristen Stewart covers her range of emotional fragility nicely and offers some of the film's most poignant sequences a real depth, and the two have a refreshingly abnormal chemistry together. They don't spark while they're on screen, instead they sort of meld into one in a bizarrely affecting way. The film helps promote this even further with its unrelenting use of close ups, most notably when Hoult and Stewart are laying together.

Unfortunately though, Equals has little to really say about the world it's trying to show us. It's not that every film needs to make a big bold statement about the world, it's just that Equals mostly reiterates a lot of what other films have already told us and it doesn't do it in a compelling enough way. The story is plodding and frequently dull  - it's clear that Doremus has targeted mood over narrative, and the mood he creates is startling, but there's only so long this can last before it becomes monotonous. Equals' monotony works in its favour in the opening half, while Silas and Nia are still bound to the rules of the Collective, but it eventually forces the film into a stale and frustrating place that it struggles to come back from. It's so focused on mood and atmosphere that it forgets to make us like its characters, so when it goes all out for a potentially emotional finale you're left feeling about as cold and empty as all the citizens the film is depicting as inhuman.

To Summarise: Despite the best efforts of its game cast and some breathtaking production design, Equals isn't intelligent enough to make its risky premise pay off in the ways that it should.


  1. Agree with you on most of this! I just straight up hated Equals. Bottom 5 of the year for me personally (although I haven't seen too many of the worst films from this year yet)

    1. Yeah it's not great. I get that the film is about an emotionless society but it's kinda bad when the film ends up just as empty as the dystopia is trying to depict