A 2017 Christmas Movie Guide

That’s right – you didn’t read the title wrong – it’s that time of year already.

I’m not a fan of how retailers have started to insidiously commence the Christmas shopping season earlier and earlier each year, but when it comes to assessing the major releases of the festive period, now’s a good a time as any.

Last year’s box-office was dominated by one movie alone and it was hardly what you could describe as ‘festive’. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story claimed the top spot at the US box-office and brought in over $1bn worldwide, not quite reaching the dizzying heights of it’s predecessor The Force Awakens, but nonetheless setting the precedent for what could become a yearly fixture in the release schedule for years to come. With that in mind, the first big feature to mention has to be Rian Johnson’s follow-up to the Abrams’ 2015 picture: The Last Jedi.

Although *SPOILERS* the film will be without one of the last film’s major draws (Harrison Ford’s Han Solo) this new entry will be heavily featuring returning character Luke Skywalker, which will no doubt bring the fan boys out for multiple viewings – time will tell whether or not this film will smash the $2bn mark, like Abrams’ well received effort did.

A true all-star cast for Kenneth Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express.

For any cinephiles already rolling their eyes at the year’s slate of franchise-heavy releases, don’t hold your breath for any original releases this Christmas. As always, this is a time of year when studios capitalise on the festive season, so there’s not one but two Christmas-based comedy sequels to ‘look’ forward to, oddly, both using a multi-generational cast.

Firstly, A Bad Moms Christmas will reunite stars Mila Kunis, Kathryn Hahn and Kristen Bell for a yuletide special, this time with the support of their own mothers, played by a  trio of female vets, featuring Susan Sarandon. For the guys, there’s the rather plainly titled Daddy’s Home 2, featuring the popular pairing of Mark Whalberg and Will Ferrell, this time with Mel Gibson and John Lithgow joining the cast as their respective fathers. The first Daddy’s Home was a critical failure, however it proved to be Ferrell’s biggest hit at the box-office (for a live action film). Bad Moms was less successful the first time around and with competition from another female-led sequel in the form of Pitch Perfect 3 – it may well have it’s work cut out.

Gibson and Lithgow join Ferrell and Whalberg this year for Daddy’s Home 2.

Comedies aside, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without some alternative programming for the older generation. Kenneth Branagh leads a comprehensively all-star cast in his adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express with support from Judi Dench, Penelope Cruz and Johnny Depp, to name a few. For Art-house fans there’s the return of Daniel Day-Lewis – rumoured to be his final performance – in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread and for those seeking a tear-jerker à la 1985’s Mask, upcoming child actor Jacob Tremblay (Room, The Book of Henry) plays a boy with facial disfigurement in Wonder, with Owen Wilson and Julia Roberts playing the lad’s worried parents.

Finally, it’s anyone’s guess how the ‘standalone sequel’ Jumagi: Enter the Jungle will perform this Christmas. The usually dependable Dwayne Johnson struggled this year with the R-Rated Baywatch, but lead the cast of one of 2017’s biggest hits in the eighth Fast & Furious instalment. Reunited with his Central Intelligence co-star Kevin Hart, as well as Jack Black and rising cult star Karen Gillan, this quirky reboot/sequel could well be the surprise hit of the season…

…but will it have the draw to survive competition with the galaxy far, far away?

Film / People

Tom Cruise’s Sports Cars: Porsche to Buick

Tom Cruise is one of the most iconic actors working in Hollywood. Although his stature and his life choices have been mocked, this hasn’t stopped him from dominating the box office time after time, often as the sole leading man.

Rising to prominence throughout the 80s and 90s, studio executives repeatedly eschewed pairing him with a woman, in favour of a sports car: the ultimate status symbol of the 20th Century.

Cruise’s second feature-film, the panned Losin’ It, had him driving an open-top ’59 Buick Electra 225 – a teenage fantasy that spirals wildly out of control. His commercial breakthrough in Risky Business (1983) had him racing his Father’s Porsche 928 Coupe away from an angered pimp. His iconic role as Maverick, in Tony Scott’s homo-erotic masterpiece Top Gun, has him riding a motorbike, when he’s not flying through the skies in a fighter jet. However his love interest, an Airforce Instructor, drives an extremely vintage Porsche 356. The car featured in the film isn’t even the real thing. Its a replica made by Intermeccanica, hobbled together with some Porsche parts; the car, like the rest of the movie, favours aesthetics over authenticity.

In his critical breakthrough, 1988’s Rain Man,  Cruise is on classic charismatic form as a selfish yuppie who sells high powered sports cars – here his occupation is emblematic of his character. The fast and flashy cars that he is selling are on a par with his own attitude. Throughout the film, Charles Babbitt is rushing to achieve his goals. In the opening scenes he argues with a buyer over the phone, pressuring the person on the other line to make a decision quickly, one that will more than likely favour him. This is a clever piece of exposition from the writers. We understand now that Charlie is an impatient man, used to getting his own way and quickly.

So when he is eventually paired up with Hoffman’s Ray (the eponymous ‘Rain Man’), an autistic savant that has considerable behavioural issues, we are prepared for the fact that this team up may lead to some conflict. Of course, by this point a second sports car has entered the frame – one that has a significant amount of importance for both lead characters.

The 1949 Buick Roadmaster that Charlie inherits serves as the emotional link between the two brothers. It is, after all, the point of their first contact. Ray instantly recognises the car as it enters the drive and tells a perplexed Charlie that much, insisting that he has driven the car before with a vocal tick that repeats throughout the film: ‘Dad lets me drive slow on the driveway every Saturday.’

Unlike the cars featured in Cruise’s earlier movies, the Buick is absolutely central to the plot of Rain Man. It initially appears to be Charlie’s consolation prize, offered as a parting short from an estranged Father who seemed to know him better than he knew himself.

The audience soon discovers, though, that it’s the relationship that blossoms from within the car that cements the familial bond between the two leads, a relationship that is utterly believable and features some of Cruise’s best work.


Three Very Violent 2017 Films

Cinema goers looking for something a little more violent at their local multiplex have not been disappointed this year.

We’re only reaching the end of the March, but already three high-profile releases from within a variety of genres have been released, all of which feature heavy doses of extreme violence.

Now we could sit around and discuss the potential political ramifications of these releases, whether or not their content is justified by the artistic merit, or we could just tell if you if they’re worth watching or not. I know which one’s more fun.

John Wick: Chapter 2 [2017]

The follow up to the surprise Keanu Reeves-led hit from 2014 was directed by experienced stunt choreographer Chat Stahelski, who pulled together the incredible fight scenes from the first movie. The UK had 23 seconds of a bloody suicide scene excised from the cut, in order to appease the Ratings Board. As such, it hit UK cinemas with a 15 rating, but don’t think that this has affected the brutally kinetic fight scenes that made the original such an underground success. Bones are broken and heads are split – and you’ll feel absolutely every one of them. Although you might need a little briefing on the story of the first film, once the blood starts pouring, the last thing you’ll be thinking about is the plot.

Elle [2017]

Paul Verhoeven has come out publicly to deny that his latest film is a ‘rape-comedy’. The iconic Dutch director has always been somewhat of a provocateur, with his entire back catalogue of iconic movies featuring heavy doses of violence and sexuality. Elle is no exception. The film opens with a horrific sexual assault, one that’s revisited throughout the film, a move that has shocked as many reviewers as impressed them. This is a film that is divisive by its very nature, Verhoeven does not glorify in the violence as much as he makes us complicit in it, a chilling feat that has made some critics more than a little uncomfortable. Certainly not a sensible date movie, Elle pushes the boundaries of what is acceptable in modern cinema, it might shock you, it could even disgust you, but it will definitely surprise you.

Get Out [2017]

Last year there were many films that addressed ‘the African-American Experience’. These films, mostly serious in nature (some aspirational), stormed the awards season – it will remain to be seen if comedian Jordan Peele’s Get Out is accepted into that particular oeuvre, the incredibly gory finale might well go against it. Essentially a horror movie, Peele’s film combines deft racial comedy, solid mystery and all out jump-scares to create a truly unique movie going experience. Although, the film is relatively tame for the first hour, things start to take a turn for the worse in the final act – with some truly eye-watering moments that are bound to make you wince. Its arguable whether or not Get Out probes that deeply into the issues at the fore front of ‘The African-American Experience’ but its still one heck of a ride.…


5 Long Movies To Watch Whilst You’re Waiting

Sometimes you have to wait.

Whether it’s a long boring train journey, an interminable stay in a hospital or if you’re waiting on package to arrive – empty hours shouldn’t be seen as a dull purgatory. They should be seen as an opportunity to watch a long movie!

I recently paid to get my oven cleaned (so lazy, I know, but I just couldn’t). Having no plans for the weekend, I booked a visit from a professional ( and settled down to watch some long movies. Here’s a few I watched, plus a few more that are ideal for blasting through 3 hours or so of dead air:

Cloud Atlas [2012] – 171 mins

Although the Wachowski’s didn’t exactly hit pay-dirt with their adaptation of David Mitchell’s massive Sci-Fi epic (the film, produced on a budget of $128.5m, only brought back $130.5m worldwide); the film now stands as one of the most under-rated big-budget movies of the 21st Century. It’s gargantuan running time and confusing concept no doubt put off mainstream audiences, despite it’s stellar international cast – featuring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent and Susan Sarandon, to name a few.

If you’ve got around 3 hours or so to kill, this should be high on your agenda – although you might need another 3 to figure out all the causal and thematic links that the movie incorporates!

Casino [1995] – 178 mins

Martin Scorsese is never afraid of burning the time of his loyal fans (although he famously had to cut down Gangs of New York from well over 3 hours, at the producers’ request), so it was no surprise when his gangster epic Casino was released at just under 3 hours. It’s a massive film that has, rightly, gone down as a classic in celluloid history – charting the rise and fall of Robert DeNiro’s Casino owner Sam Rothstein. Penned by Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi – the film is packed full of slow burn scenes and long stretches of dialogues that simmer with tension.


More of an evening movie – this is best enjoyed with a bottle of good whiskey and a cigar (if you partake).

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [2001] – 178 mins

If you’ve not seen this cultural landmark of a movie – then you should drop what you’re doing right now and run home. Coming in at just under 3 hours (although the fantastic Extended Edition is a great deal longer), Peter Jackson’s adaptation of the first in Tolkien’s series of genre-defining epics is arguably the best. Tightly written, the fantastic script sticks to a well worn three-act structure that introduces a huge ensemble cast to winning effect.


Fair warning – the perfectly pitched ending of this movie will have you reaching for the next one – so you may well lose a day to this fantastic trilogy.

Schindler’s List [1993] – 197 mins

Definitely not a movie to undergo lightly – Spielberg’s Oscar-winning triumph is regarded as one of the all time greatest movies. Shot in crystal clear Black and White, Liam Neeson’s turn as enigmatic businessman is truly something to behold. Although the film starts out with typical Spielberg-esque panache, as the major events leading up to the Holocaust start piling up, the tone grows bleaker and bleaker.


It would be unfair to label Schindler’s List as a ‘tear-jerker’ that would be branding it with almost a maudlin appeal. It’s a serious, beautiful film – made with an unflinching eye.

Magnolia [1999] – 188 mins

Lastly, comes P. T. Anderson’s follow up to Boogie Nights and his longest movie-to-date. Magnolia is a stunning exploration of characters, causality and consequences. Handling a talented ensemble cast of superlative character actors – including Philip Seymour Hoffman, John C. Reilly and William H. Macy – Anderson’s emotionally charged screenplay is packed full of meaningful moments and delicate exchanges yet, despite the sometimes heavy subject matter, the tone remains light throughout.


With career-defining performances from Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore, this is a must-watch for any fan of independent cinema and touching stories, told well.


Doctor Strange [2016]

The Marvel Cinematic Universe dips it’s toes into the mystical to mostly good results with Doctor Strange – a visually arresting fantasy romp which could have done with a dose of the dark stuff


Another year goes by and another raft of additions to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe hit our screens (both small and large).

In comparison to the studio’s veritably pornographic Civil War event, which predictably rocked the box-office for the entirety of the Summer, this recent effort will seem almost reserved. The cast, of a higher calibre than the usual superhero flick, is small. Large crowd scenes are kept to a minimum and the number of combatants in the, typically brilliant, action scenes are relatively small (compared to the hordes of robots/aliens that are usually expected in a film of this ilk).

Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil) and producer Kevin Feige, instead, opt for a headier, psychedelic feel – augmenting the gorgeously shot sets and locations with a veritable kaleidoscope of visual effects that transport the viewer into a truly unique world of magic and mysticism.


I’ve always stood as more of a skeptic, when it comes to the proliferation of 3D-cinema. Since James Cameron’s shallow but immersive Avatar, studios have been jumping at the chance to add value to their wide releases with cheap 3-D conversions to films that have not needed them. However, from time to time, a great film will make use of the technology to winning effect and the results can be spell-binding (Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity comes to mind).

However, Doctor Strange is not a great film. Set amongst the pantheon of heroes, he holds an estimable cult following amongst comic fans, but is largely unknown to the movie-going populace. His character, ably performed by Benedict Cumberbatch, who spends 2-hours wrestling with a rather flat American dialect, is a Marvel-archetype. Successful, rich, arrogant – yet charming – he’s brought down to earth by an accident which robs him of his talents as a surgeon and material wealth.

So follows, a globe-trotting search for healing, enlightenment and, eventually, mystical powers. Props goes to the writers for delaying the onset of the mystical fantasy that dominates the movie for the last hour (as well as a brief, nicely creepy prologue). Indeed, the film stay rooted in reality, allowing us wallow with the stricken lead for a while. The tone of this first act is dark and much gritter than the usual Marvel output. It’s just a shame that they film-makers didn’t have the conviction to maintain this mood throughout.


In due course Strange meets mystics galore (played by the enigmatic trio of Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong), gains his powers and gets involved with a conflict, pitting the newly-found sorcerer against occultist Mads Mikkelsen and his acolytes. There’s humour abound, jokes fall flat from time to time, but the visual effects are the real star of the show here. The mind-bending effects borrow liberally from the likes of The MatrixInception and 2001: A Space Odyssey and the results truly must be seen to be believed – preferably on an IMAX screen in 3-D.

Although Doctor Strange never reaches the giddying heights of Marvel’s ensemble pieces, or the winning chemistry of it’s best comedies, it succeeds as a refreshing palette cleanser for the series – giving us a tantalising glimpse into a new corner of their ever expanding Multi-verse.

Film / People

4 Recent(ish) Movies Based On Real Olympians

rio olympicsThe Rio Games are now in full swing, hurrah! But if you’re chosen team start to flag or you see one too many horrific accidents, you can always opt for some Olympic entertainment that’s a little more softened by the lens of Hollywood.

Here are four films about Olympians that will be sure to distract you from the real thing happening in Rio:

Eddie the Eagle [2016]

Eddie-the-Eagle-Movie-Poster-Taron-EgertonIf you’ve grown a little sick and tired of all the Summer Games and are eagerly looking forward to Pyeongchang’s Winter Olympics; then here’s a film that should get you excited for some action on the slopes. Before you start it up, turn down the heating and invest in a bobble hat to really get into the spirit of things. Once you’ve got your hot chocolate/eggnog nice and hot, get ready for your heart to be equally warmed.

With two self-assured leading men and experienced British Actor/Director Dexter Fletcher at the helm, this is a movie that knows exactly what strings to tug and when. It’s bright colours and upbeat soundtrack gift it with an infectious lust for life that is hard to resist. Veteran nice guy Hugh Jackman is on good form here alongside Kingsman’s breakout star Taron Egerton. Just don’t forget that its summer outside, after getting thoroughly immersed in this Wintery wonder!

Foxcatcher [2015]

Foxcatcher-BannerBennett Miller’s third feature is almost as cold to the touch, with large swathes of the action taking place on multi-millionaire John du Pont’s frosty Philadelphia ranch. Infinitely less chipper and much more brooding, Foxcatcher takes its name from du Pont’s Wrestling team who buys the services of Olympic Wrestling Champions Dave and Mark Schultz. What starts out as a simple story of hopeful Olympians turns into a power struggle between the competing coaches.

Channing Tatum’s performance as wayward wrestling contender Mark is an unflinching look at the pressures of competitive sports. Although the film seems simple from the outset, the warring emotions and motives of the central three characters soon send the film flying into a complex conclusion that is as shocking as it is true. For a chilling look at the sometimes futile hunt for a gold medal, you could do a lot worse than Foxcatcher.

Unbroken [2014]

Unbroken-630x354The story of Louis Zamperini’s gruelling 47 days surviving on a raft in the middle of the ocean should be enough story for one movie. However, his story was tragically, much more than that. Having qualified and competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he is enlisted to the war effort and his bomber is shot down in 1943. After being rescued by the enemy he is sent to a gruelling POW camp where he is embroiled in an antagonistic relationship with the leading officer there.

Angeline Jolie’s third feature film hits all the notes of the prestige-pic, perhaps a little bit too well. Alexandre Desplat, hot on the heels of writing great scores for The Grand Budapest Hotel and Harry Potter, delivers classy music whilst the mostly young cast of newcomers respond to the subject matter with ease. Although a little clichéd in places, Unbroken gets enough right to orchestrate some inspirational moments – more than enough to recommend it.

Race [2016]

RaceAnother true story born out of the tumultuous Berlin Olympics, it’s a surprise that it hadn’t already been turned into a biopic. With a decent supporting cast featuring Jeremy Irons, William Hurt and a surprisingly restrained Jason Sudeikis; the inspirational tale of Jesse Owens’ battle against adversity failed to find an audience commercially. However, Race tends to succeed in more parts than it fails.

Newcomer Stephan James came in to replace a Star Wars-bound John Boyega for this biopic and does an admirable job of portraying the legendary athlete. Meanwhile, Stephen Hopkins ably directs the feature; he’s done well to distance himself from a couple of 90s stinkers and commands this diverse cast with real panache. When you get to the finish line, the pay-off feels just about worth it although Rachel Portman’s cloying soundtrack threatens to derail the whole show.…


Embrace of the Serpent [2015]

serpent1A stunning Homeric, colonial Drama with more than just a dash of the fantastical. Embrace of the Serpent is more than you’re average Foreign Film Academy nominee.

Missing out on this intriguing movie on its limited UK release, I jumped at the opportunity to take a peek when it came on to disc. Although I’d heard that the Black and White jungle visuals and atmospheric sounds were best experienced in theatres, I felt that my TV and speakers were more than up to the task.

Embrace of the Serpent garnered critical acclaim upon its release for its sensitive approach to a rich tapestry of themes. Indeed, those looking for subtext to pull at here will not be disappointed. Everything from PTSD to Environmental issues gets explored, with plenty of time for tangential explorations of religion and issues of Colonialism.

serpent2On to the narrative, easily one of the best things this film has going for it. Unlike some other Foreign Language Cannes winners, Embrace keeps its dual narrative tight and well defined. Setting the action around Karamakate, the lone survivor of a Tribe decimated by Rubber Barons – the film is divided between two quests with the same goal, but set decades apart.

In 1909, a young Karamakate reluctantly aids a sickly German scientist to find the legendary Ykruna plant in order to save his life. Over thirty years later, an American on a similar journey enlists an older Karamakate’s help. The two narratives are cunningly intertwined, with attention paid to the causality inherent in introducing a foreign element to native tribes.

Performances from the small cast are uniformly good. Unlike its outward appearance, Embrace has more than a few moments of levity. Both the young and old Karamakate are allowed the chance to laugh, and the foreign men of science who use him always appear than more than just the ‘white-devil’ cardboard cut-outs that you’d expect.

serpent3Although Ciro Guerra shoots in Black and White, the moral grey area that he explores with his characters defy expectations. Although the various tribes we meet have clearly been negatively impacted by their foreign invaders, they never come across as the naive Adams that we’re led to believe they were.

In many ways, Embrace is an incredibly human film. Looking past its gorgeous cinematography and rich subtext, Ciro Guerra and his co-writer’s real achievement here is the scope of human existence that they capture. Whether living as a pack, as brothers or simply alone – their characters are always driven by a singular goal which drives the meditative narrative ever forward.