Film Review : John Graham 2016


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Hopefully you will show some agreement if you’ve seen the films yourself and hopefully you have a list to agree with the basic judgement we have been treated to some awesome film making.

The short story of the year 
There has been a fantastic depth of very good film making reaching the Cinema Screens and now also through Netflix and Amazon more market penetration of otherwise poorly distributed films.  Most of all is the palpable sense of new film taking on innovation as a viable fully rounded act in cinema in response to the technical advances and sometimes non technical advances in the means of storytelling.  I believe this year has exceeded expectations and it started with the very successful Whiplash burning our ears with Jazz drumming, who’d have thought that?  Into the realms of creativity there and an accidental or otherwise treatise on modern jazz technique and the delivery of performance and performer.  It received its Oscars etc. but that aside and it is not important anyway – it’s knee jerk pigeonholing of genre and not loose enough to deal with the prodigious – say black new directors – those outside the Spike Lee Chi-Raq forms – very bravery and wise but ultimately failed attempt in contextualising Men and Women’s relationships through Chicago – the reference to Iraq being it is reportedwhile Chicagos Americas race murders are homicides are paroled. Given slack coverage and a film appears which gets no distribution on British Screens 13th.  About the incarcerated population being a form of slavery.

So where are the best films?  Some may like the escapism and reproduction of familiar traits in Blockbusters or Historical Drama.  Love and Friendship was a novella well performed and light with some serious overtones. I found/find Rogue .. Star Wars ..  whatever .. numbingly dumb directorially and as story telling. Below he back wall one giant moving projection cut with a foreground of stupid people advancing towards robots of a furniture kind.

Any chance this is not a new range of Harvey Norman Store Tables? and these poor souls are attacking across the landscape of a Hertfordshire Paint Hall in a CGI formed battle as – pretend your after a New Year Bargain.  These tables might fall though if any one leg goes.  Not even designed to stand on 3. Paint balling Star making at Pinewood!

Plot spoiler there is a fit young girl who missed the Olympics to do this probably.  Her time at Rottingdean or other uppercrustville secondary modern was well spent.  Gives it lots of yum.

the real stuff then and no greater contrast than the unconciable life’s of others experience in the 3D world of Britains disgraceful hierarchy of poverty and underwaged employment manipulations for vast numbers which is focused in on by the brilliant returnee to the directors role of Ken Loach with the superbly constructed script of Paul Lavery with – singing of the same hymn sheet, because this is a tale of morality in a seemingly Christian society, where all comers are treated in the calling cards of Political enmities as equal and some times (here in Northern Ireland) under the Lord. – a story telling us how fractured society is becoming and how desperate it is becoming for the increasing many requiring state assistance to live.  Even the employed require the assistance designed into their work by Government past and present.

I, Daniel Blake

This film was extraordinarily hard to watch and I, on first seeing it nearly got up to leave, such was its tragic effecting story of the Country/Nation we inhabit.  It was a grave indictment of the system and as the last photo above shows not the people.   It is a scourge of capitalist animals who visit the poor as wage slaves and recruit their labour to fill their own expanding wealth. Technology is abandoning many in corporate rush to accumulate and ‘create’ wealth through buying up and selling back product to everyone.  They have a political elite and charities providing their cover and spreading the disease of a Country which has many in it – most – who want things to change for the sake of having a sustainable future not based on greed. Ireland is no different.


Next film which must get mentioned is Room.  It is an exceptionally well constructed narrative with exceptional acting at every level.  It is a marriage of a scriptwriter – author of the Book.  Room. Emma Donaghue Lenny Abrahamson and exceptional leads in  Brie Larson as Joy “Ma” Newsome, Jacob Tremblay as Jack Newsome.
Jacob Trembly, is outstandingly intuitive as kids can be in depicting the central persona of an inquisitive boy, being aware of how he can puts himself in the character is amazing for later enquirer to watch and find out. In final credits after long thanks etc the names Christina and Jacob Tremblay are credited. This is appreciative of the real mother and son relationship on which film making is entrusted.

Napoleon Reconstructed epic with more promised.

I sat through this and was rewarded by an act of Cinema unequaled and a forerunner for so many types of film making and the inherent worth of cinema as proportionally gigantic in its cerebral reach.

See the tracks in a race scene of the camera vehicle having preceded the horses, wagons! Fun and biblical gravitas delivered with mishaps aplenty and it tails off a bit as ambitions meet a budget deficit I’ll be bound.

Life, Animated.

Many people warm to Disney and Owen is no exception.  His own use of it is perfectly inventive and his fathers astute locking on to his sons difference makes this way and beyond any visual representation of a spectral condition very misunderstood and even more traumatic to contend with.  The animation is as expected with Disney a jumping off point.  The wonderful The Jungle Book, this year being a sequel of utmost integrity and piercingly singly entertaining experience for a range of ages speaks of young helpful insights delivered through cinema on parables however bizarre and magical.

Beautifully rendered by Ron Suskind as a new version of his book and the book illustrations take on a new direction of animated verve which could in itself have the makings of a long form story.

Notes on Blindness 

Confoundingly this is a visually attractive exposé on the deficit of sight loss and its occurrence.  Through the Notes originally made on tape the talk over technique using John and Dora’s voices synced to the frames of the co-directors detailed trawl of available senses is for us to encounter this viewed by existing sight, the other sense.  The loss of sight is thrust into an embrace of water and words become raindrops as a downpour on the floor and typewriter as explanation of what rain is accompanied by the feel for outdoors and being in it.  Many superb acts of courageous empathetic nourishment is given to anyone who takes this film in.  It is also an accompaniment to others deprived of seeing the film, who may only be able to hear it described to them while presented with it.  Through layers of contact for the community with this ‘disability’ with notes or the subtext it may seem like an LP cover sleeve notes, for those of us who are sighted, of the old accompaniment kind, in much else is encountered besides the vinyl.  This is an analogue adventure and it is unexplained or beyond comprehension particularly for John whose Christian ethos is harshly challenged.  Having studied Theology and being a Theology lecturer at University this is a minor but immensely mindful watch.

The analogue device which John Hull practically (literally) prescribed to launch many many book recordings for RNIB

Snowflakes are  made for memories everywhere.



This the best photographic image.             Explained!

Pedro Almodovar has reached the point where simple framing and contrasts can be light and softly intimating a story. He takes to a train and dual depictions of Julieta in this superb film.

The best frame is the afore title mentioned Street frame of I, Daniel Clarke.  I will explain myself.  In Daniel Clarke this image is intensely moving and it delivers with sheer insightful subtly the ridge in the story where hope has reached.  They are walking into an unknown future in a modern world with hope and alongside it determination.  Little else needs to be said.  Just look and look at it and it will cause you much deep thought and sense of the story it depicts.

As for the Julieta, in wide shot with a 4:3 ish! ratio centrally basically, Pedro Almodovar treats this as a Vermeer type painting in the shadow of the rural and metropolis disposition seen throughout – art is enlisted by the borrowing? of paintings of an acquired ‘class’ – and this is a new portrait for me. Julieta, Emma Suárez, is engaged foot forward in loose figure draping cloth involved in writing the story which this film is the reveal of. Some pages of the story  written are spread as cast offs on the floor.  Her choices testing her as to what she can safely reveal.  It is glorious and gorgeous in restrained effective beauty.  There is also a sparcity to the way Julieta lives which is evident.  It gives a sense of Julieta needing only small things to reconfigure and adjust to a changed life.  Emma Suárez is extremely effective in this whole Spanish delicate story.  Pedro Almodovar has created one of his best films and Emma Suárez has her own filmic genius invested and evident as other characters also have delivered alongside in this terrific film.

Train to Busan

Many will have noted this as a probable genre derivative film of limited scope.  South Korean audiences made it their highest grossing movie ever and they are not a zombie movie audience but discerning group of widely appreciative movie goers.  No Bollywood Hollywood fodder and able on their own terms to create films of origin.  It took me by surprise as I often dislike this trope as meaningless though effective cinema.  Horror is best left to filmmakers who try hard not to make it stereotypical and far too few are they able to.  What works here is a story of fatherhood and absent modern parental solidity.  The age is now and the traumatic event is the dismantling of life by life.  The cannibalising of the dead living by the living dead.  It is monumental in scale as a national crisis unfolds.  The train is the interior world navigated by a desparate group of assorted human beings who happen to share a destination.  It unflods as a gripping story taale of memorable significant difference.  A horror zombie movie catapulting the real world into a unreal confrontation.
Under the Shadow

This film is another extraordinary venture into our world vision with a deft and dynamic spellbinding feat of ingenuity and political depth charging genius.  Under the Shadows makes it as a lesson in what filmmaking is all about.  Discovery and realisation.  Provocatively depicting a Tehran in turmoil in the first Iraq war of the late eighties this is a horror film from a point on the compass someway north of the starting dramatic course.  It follows an individual incarcerated within a physical and mentally torturing world.  One scene in particular leads you into the immense complexity of the imagination challenged by the realities each day presents.  It involves a scene of a woman dancing in utter silence.  Only her time is in the now and her daughter is not far away as a witness and parallel displaced refugee from exterior pain.  It is astonishing from beginning to end and practically flawless and my review was well received and got what I was aiming for in delivering some very crucial commentary to enhance its presence as an outlier film and one which actually ended up as MK the go to reviewers film of 2016.  That takes some doing in this year.

What I wanted I got on Twitter!  Lips added by me!

The Survivalist started off as a new release by local director Stephen Fingleton in a no holads bafrred representation of a post event modern world in which Martin McCann acts his socks off and various other items of clothing in a perilous world of the kind found in Margaret Atwoods searingly futuristic novel The Handmaidens Tale projecting all functions in disassembly along with The Survivalist proving alertness and vitality is key to survival.  It is a brilliantly conceived and unconventional – it leave nothing to viewers to grasp as a soft landing intentionally purity driven with forensic instinctive techniques.  It is shown in Cinemas with a central speaker to avoid directional playback tropes while at the same time a creative raw sound is palpable and every sense is engaged though taste, smell is intuitively your own reality!  It also is filmed entirely without artificial light and interiors are very distinct as a character playing its key serviceability role as apostate to the probable earlier homes and gardens the immediately period post dates.  It is a hefty story and tension is coarse as the environment it inhabits.  The future of it exists! holads evidence of a filmmaker intent on pursuing the art form outside of boundaries as conceptual polemic ideas and upturned orthodoxies are in every sense appropriately being set upon by the story maker, Stephen Fingleton whose grasp of motion and stillness times ahead and behind are in his gift to shape into new film work alongside his script work.  Martin McCann last time I spoke was involved in the Dierectorial debut film being made in (Scotland+?) by Woody Harellson. Mia Goth below married Shia LaBeouf who appeared in a starring role in American Honey.

Mia Goth

Andrea Arnold’s American Honey is a 4:3 ratio Road movie of young people brought together to join a team of magazine subscription sellers as a means to live by a female Donald Trump character Riley Keogh, surprisingly spot on – her performance in Mad Max 2 stands apart, very different but also spot on – and the visual metaphor is given with her wearing the Stars and Stripes as a two piece bikini.  It is the use of the bikini  as a character statement by Krystal, uncompromising and savvy.  It is very observant of contemporary life but has some repetitive elements.  Very much ahead of similar attempts of national identity realism films in the US.

Andrea Arnold  gets a rear end shot also!  I’m on to something comparing her character as the Wannabee Queen of America type Donald Trump huckster.  Very right concerning the ‘type’as it turned out with all that DT history unravels. Savvy and uncompromising.


For the final listing and the top film of 2016, I am very certain Victoria is unmistakably number one.  Some reviewers thought it sometimes as a gimmick but were completely lost to its value and immersive integrity.  A brilliantly achieved narrative of the state of a youthful group separated from the mainstream perpetual driving commercial City world.  Berlin in 2016.  Anxious.  It presents the young lives altering morality in the stark commercial world which they roam through while it sleeps ready to churn out another capitalist day’s work. They are a small alternative but driven to crime and results in mash up of a conclusion except it is all done in real time and reality sucks.  This is today. While some sleep the alternative escape is narrowly – and by night light, with only the distraction of the stars. The other distraction all commerces wndows.  Boxes of homes.  Streets of linear lamplight and occasional passing traffic.


Victoria Director. Sebastian Schipper. His film is set on the streets of Berlin that plays out in real time in one continuous, 138-minute camera shot.  Victoria herself is played by Laia Costa, a young woman we see first of all in a club. The Norwegian camera man is Sturla Brandth Grøvlen.  His credits are foremost at the end.

Variety Magazine were harsh in the extreme 

Sebastian Schipper’s exhilarating heist thriller is stunt filmmaking of a very high order.  

Very much someone who likes the thrill element of 28 locations but not the development or reasoning of the story.

A.V. Club. Misplaced rhetorical observation.

Victoria demonstrates why it’s a bad idea to shoot a movie in one take.

The film is certainly impressive, but “impressive” and “great” (or even “good”) aren’t remotely the same thing. 

Complete balderdash.  Looking and seeing are two different things.  It is not the response of film goers to go away ‘impressed’ dull idiotic selection of stature.  Nor is ‘great’ a movie attribution of any valid quotient in assessing a films worth. Possibly ‘good’ but whose good?

Be wary of all reviews!  Mine included.  They should point you to the core of the intentions and deliver insight.  It is always about communication as the Ballet Master Sir Peter Wright, an express reel filmmaker also says Communication is the key, dance drama film music and all the arts including painting.

These reviews are lame inquisitorial attempts at placing the film in a context which does not exist.  Hitchcock and others tried but Carl Von Dreyer and Ordet – to Victoria, are fellow societal effective dramas with very different backdrops and suspension.  

Time lapsed

Other films are overlooked only as their type is not of a permanence I think the above are – including the ones mentioned without listing among the selected five.   Very good films are not mentioned. This is exile, Sonota, The Idol, Hunt for the Wilder People, Captain Fantastic, Tale of Tales, The Commune, Versus (Ken Loach doc.) and where are the Amy Adams such as Arrival?  Arrival is an example of a well formed rigorous piece of exploratory cinema delivering a reasoning outside something you may not have looked into in books, science fiction, science narratives and along the Brian Cox type BBC futurology.  

Arrival brings very polished skills along in story telling by film.

If all time is eternally present all time is irredeemable. T.S. Eliot.

Bad ones, curates eggs.
Obviously there were some really bad films and some greatly overrated.  In the latter category there was  Anomolisa.  In the bad category was The Truth Commissioner.  To finish of a trio I also disliked intensely Green Room which Patrick Stewart who is a great Dickens Scrooge is front and central in a nasty film.

John Graham

31 December 2016