Archive | Films

Live By Night film review

Spoilers aplenty below.

Live By Night is a gangster film set in early 20th century Boston and Florida. Ben Affleck, who also directs and wrote the screenplay by adapting a Dennis Lehane novel, stars as Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston-based Police Chief of Irish descent.

Coughlin returns from the Great War in Europe in 1918 disillusioned by the killing of so many of his compatriots, while the people higher up in society remained largely unscathed or even profited from the war. He vows never to let anyone tell him what to do again and becomes a small-time ‘outlaw’ in Boston. He and two accomplices commit bank robberies and other crimes. They do this outside of the major Irish and Italian crime organisations operating in Boston who are fighting each other for control. Inevitably he gets caught up in the Boston gangster scene. In no small part due to the fact he is having a relationship with Emma Gould, the Moll of the head of the Irish faction Albert White. After a bank raid goes wrong, Coughlin and Gould plan to go to California, but White and his accomplices capture him with the help of Emma who betrays him to save herself. Coughlin seems doomed, but the police arrive to arrest him for the bank job, and therefore stop his murder. He only gets three years in prison largely due to the influence of his father who has damaging information about the prosecutor of the case.

Coughlin’s father tells him that Emma was killed by White, and when he gets out of prison he goes to the head of the Italian faction, Maso Pescatore, so he can get a chance to kill Albert White for killing Emma. Pescatore tells him that in the three years he’s been in prison White and his gang have been driven out of Boston. He gives Coughlin the job of running the Italian prohibition busting rum smuggling operation from Florida to Boston.

Coughlin takes over and runs the rum smuggling operation very successfully for years in combination with the Cuban’s and other immigrants. He falls for and marries Graciela, the sister of the head of the Cuban smuggling business. Everything is operating fine until prohibition repeal starts to be discussed. Coughlin attempts to build a large casino to switch the business from smuggling to gambling, but his plans are derailed by a young girl preacher who turns the town against the idea. At the same time, the local KKK faction is trying to muscle in on the speakeasy and future casino businesses. They also don’t like the fact that Coughlin and others are living with Cuban’s and other non-white people. Coughlin sorts out the KKK, but he later gets double-crossed by Pescatore. Fortunately, he see’s this coming and has a plan in place…

The acting in Live By Night is great. Sienna Miller as fantastic as the Moll Emma Gould. Her Cork accent is fantastic. Elle Fanning isn’t in the film much, but her portrayal of the young preacher Loretta Figgis is fantastic. Fanning was in my favourite film from 2016 (The Neon Demon). She is turning into an excellent actor. The rest of the cast are good, but Miller and Fanning stand out. The script is good, the cinematography is first class, and the film looks gorgeous. The sets and costumes all fit into the 1920’s to 1940’s vibe. Perhaps a bit to clean and sharp for depression period America, but I wasn’t there so can’t say. It didn’t detract from the feel.

I liked Live By Night. It had all the tropes you would expect in a north-east American gangster film. And you need those tropes in a film of this type or you might feel short-changed. It is done well and has a few twists you might not expect. I rated it 8/10. Close to a 9, but not quite. I would recommend seeing it.

La La Land film review

La La Land has been winning all the plaudits recently. With almost everyone and their dog singing its praises. Pun intended. It also cleaned up at the Golden Globes, and will likely do the same at the Oscars, unless there is a backlash.

I’m going to take the contrary position and tell you that I don’t agree. I liked it as a film, but think it would have been better without the set piece bits that make it a musical. I’m not saying there shouldn’t have been any music in it. Quite the opposite. The music in the film that is performed in jazz clubs and concerts is excellent and fits into the story perfectly. There is even a version of City of Stars sung in the main characters apartment that advances the story. The City of Stars motif recurs throughout the film and is a fabulous piece of music. But there are about six sections in the film where the characters sing and dance rather than have a normal conversation. I think that these sections could be cut and it would make it a better film. Even if they are not replaced with anything.

Just my view. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of musicals. I rated it 7/10. It would probably have been a 9/10 if it wasn’t for those six or so musical sections.

Favourite films from 2016

I saw 55 films in the cinema this year. Here are my top 6 from this years selection:

Room film posterRoom – This is not the film you would think it is from the description. It is not a horror film. It is not a explicitly sexual or violent film, although there is some of that. It is about a 5 year old boy, and his mother, discovering the world after she was held captive for 7 years. So the boy has always been a captive. He only knows about Room where they live. Until he turns 5 and his mother starts to tell him about the outside world. I cried, laughed, and at one point my heart rate must have been up about 140 bpm. The performances by Brie Larson as the mother and Jacob Tremblay as the boy are remarkable. I was fully invested in the characters. Hence the heart rate thing. The supporting cast are also good. It was easy to rate this 9/10. Came very close to being a 10. Once again, it’s not the film you think it is.


The Big Short film posterThe Big Short – Can a film make you root for the financial traders and market analysts who foresaw the 2008 housing crash in the USA, and who bet that it would happen in order to short the market and make money? Turns out you can. Bankers don’t rate too well in opinion polls about professions. But at the end of the day they are just people. And if they are interesting people then their story will be interesting. The characters in this film are interesting. I really liked it. It breaks the fourth wall quite a lot and this usually makes me twitchy. But it works in this. I thought Steve Carell’s character and performance was great, although the whole cast is good. Vinnie Daniel politely asking the auditors to leave Mark Baum’s office is brilliant.


Maggie's Plan film posterMaggie’s Plan – If you showed this film to someone without credits and told them it was a Woody Allen film they would believe you. It’s actually a Rebecca Miller film and its better than the film Woody Allen released in 2016. I loved it. Have watched it several times since seeing it in the cinema. As good every time. The whole cast are brilliant. Julianne Moore especially so.




The Neon Demon film PosterThe Neon Demon – What to say about The Neon Demon. It is sharp edged, stylish, colourful, beautifully shot, has a great score, and a set of background songs. It tells the story of a teenager who moves to Los Angeles to pursue a modelling career. She very quickly gets booked by some big photographers and fashion designers. Much to the chagrin of a group of existing models and fashion industry insiders. Who then take some extreme measures. It’s a wonderful film covering ego, jealousy, shallowness of people, and obsession. One of the best films I’ve ever seen.


The Meddler film posterThe Meddler – Another film with a Woody Allen vibe. Which is a lazy description. It’s much more. Susan Sarandon plays a widow who moves from New York to be near her daughter who is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. She can’t help getting involved in her daughters life, and when rebuked, her friends lives. Great script and performances from Susan Sarandon, Rose Byrne as the daughter, and J. K. Simmons as a retired cop.




Me Before You film posterMe Before You – There was a lot of negative flak about this film before it was released. People said it promoted the idea of euthanasia for people with disabilities. Turns out the film isn’t pushing that agenda. If anything most arguments in the film are against doing that. I’ve never watched Game of Thrones so hadn’t seen Emilia Clarke in that, but I had liked her in the latest Terminator reboot. I liked Sam Claflin in The Hunger Games. Both are brilliant in this film. Emilia Clarke has one of the most expressive faces I’ve ever seen. Her eyebrows seem to have a life of their own. She is awesome in this. Sam Claflin is also great, and he is only using his head to act as he’s playing a character paralysed from the neck down. This film raises several important issues, and deals with them responsibly. At the same time it is a funny and poignant story in its own right.

Sully film review


I liked Sully: Miracle on the Hudson a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a dramatisation of the events that happened in January 2009 when US Airways Flight 1549 had to land on the Hudson River in New York after a bird strike damaged both engines shortly after takeoff. The actual flight time for Flight 1549 was only 208 seconds (3 minutes and 28 seconds), and the film is 96 minutes long. The flight scenes are repeated several times, but even so, there is a lot of additional time to fill.

The bulk of the film is taken up by the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) investigation, flashbacks to when Captain Chesley Sullenberger was learning to fly (including a similar incident in a Navy Phantom jet), and the reaction of Sully and the crew on being thrust into the national spotlight. I thought the flashbacks and the scenes were Sully was thinking about what might have happened if he hadn’t decided to ditch in the Hudson River were great. All the flight scenes in the film are excellent. Including those showing crashes that Sully imagines. I want a flight simulator that’s as good as that! The only disappointing part was the CGI of the water splash on one shot of the plane skidding on the water.

The NTSB investigators are depicted as very aggressive and as if they are looking to blame the pilots for the loss of the aircraft. I don’t know if the original investigators were that aggressive. I doubt it. But it probably had to be done to inject drama into the film for the non-flight scenes. Sully is worth seeing. See it in iMAX or MAXX if you can. Just for the flight scenes over New York alone. I rated it 8/10.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children film review

misperegrinsLoads of spoilers below.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is pretty standard stuff. All competently done if familiar to films that have gone before. The most interesting aspect was how existing in the 1 day time loops where the children live for protection means that they never get to grow up and experience life. I’d wonder if it was worth it. Samual L. Jackson does a lot of monologuing and I couldn’t help thinking about Frozone talking about that topic in The Incredibles. There is also a nice Jason and The Argonauts fighting skeleton section done with modern techniques. I rated it 6/10.

The Girl With All The Gifts film review

The Girl with All The Gifts film poster

Spoilers aplenty below.

I never jumped on the zombie apocalypse train when it left the station a few years ago. It was fully laden though as plenty of others did jump on. Witness the popularity of TV shows like The Walking Dead, and films like 28 Days Later and World War Z. I did jump on the zombie comedy film train though, with the films Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland.

It won’t come as a surprise, after that preamble, that The Girl with All The Gifts is a film in the zombie genre. Although the zombies are called hungries in the film, and the book. The book is how I came to the film. I read it last year after it was highly recommended on several Sci-Fi blogs. I liked it a lot. Both the book and the film script were written in tandem by M.R. Carey. They tell the story of Melanie (played by Sennia Nanua in the film), who is one of a group of children being held in a military base and research centre in England. Here they are taught, while strapped into wheelchairs that are pushed into the classroom, by a sympathetic teacher called Miss Justineau (Gemma Arterton). They are also used in medical research by a team led by Dr. Caldwell (Glenn Close) who are trying to find a cure or vaccine for the fungal infection that turns people into hungries. Turns out the children are from mothers who were infected before the children were born, and have a less damaging version of the fungal infection. A sort of symbiotic relationship with it. So they are neither human or hungries. But something different, and new. Melanie is very smart and quickly learns and remembers things she is told or sees.

The military base they are in gets overrun by hungries and Melanie, Miss Justineau, and Caldwell escape in an armoured truck with two soldiers, Sargent Parks (Paddy Considine) and Private Gallagher (Fisayo Akinade). They plan to drive towards another military base but the truck is damaged and they have to continue on foot through the hungries’ infested suburbs of London. Melanie starts to play an important role in helping the group navigate the dangerous streets. The hungries don’t attack anyone already infected with the fungus, so Melanie is able to move amongst them safely. The film is actually a coming of age story as Melanie comes to realise that she, and other feral children who are like her, are the future of humanity as they can coexist with the fungal infection. She takes actions to ensure that she and the other children survive.

I liked the film a lot. The book has more detail and exposition, as you would expect. But the film is good in its own right. The performance by Sennia Nanua as Melanie is fantastic. And she is ably supported by the four other principle cast members. The depiction of post-apocalyptic London is very well done. As are the hungries. The music is very suspenseful. In lots of scenes it is just shifting harmonic tones, but it’s very effective. I loved the ending to the book, and it’s there unchanged in the film. You should definitely go see this, then read the book if your haven’t already. I rated it 8/10.

Anthropoid film review

Spoilers below.

Anthropoid is a slightly harrowing account of the Czech resistance attempt to assassinate the Nazi commander Reinhard Heydrich in occupied Prague in 1942.

It tells the story of a pair of Czech resistance fighters, trained by the British in UK, who parachute back into Czechoslovakia with the orders to link up with the resistance in Prague and carry out their mission. There are other pairs who parachute in from the same plane. These other missions are not covered in the film but several of the parachutists are in the last third of the film when they are all reunited in Prague after their missions are over. The film has the drama, peril, and violence you would expect from one that depicts an authoritarian occupying force, without many scruples, who are looking within the general populace for resistance fighters. During some of the tense scenes my heart was racing. The first film since Room that has evoked such a response. In other scenes showing torture by the SS I was very uncomfortable about what I was seeing on screen. Harrowing.

Technically the film is excellent. A great depiction of 1940’s occupied Europe. The cinematography is great. The special effects and makeup are very good too. I don’t recall the music. The film isn’t a bundle of laughs, but as a resistance and Nazi occupation war film it is very good. Recommended. Rated it 8/10.

Hell or High Water review

Spoilers below.

Hell or High Water is a modern western film. With all the things you would expect in a western, but with current setting. Events play out in rural Texas. Chris Pine plays Toby who is divorced from his wife and estranged from his two sons. His recently deceased mother has left him a ranch on which oil has been discovered. Problem is that his mother was in debt to the local Texas Midland Bank and they are going to foreclose on the loans if they are not paid back very soon. So money is needed quickly or the oil rich land will be lost.

Toby, and his career criminal brother Tanner (Ben Foster), embark on a series of early morning bank robberies of Texas Midland Bank branches in order to get the money to pay back the bank. Nice twist. Banks bleeding the people dry is an overarching theme of the film. All the robberies are small so don’t interest the FBI. They do interest the soon to retire Texas Ranger Marcus (Jeff Bridges) though, and he and his partner Alberto (Gil Birmingham) go on the trail of the robbers. Jeff Bridges plays his role in a nice gnarly way. And has a good rapport and banter with Gil Birmingham’s character.

The film has everything you would want from a western. Even a modern one. Dusty sunlit Texan vistas, bank robberies, a posse like band of locals going after the robbers, a shoot out, a good sibling story with a sacrifice, nostalgia for a time that has passed, and a moral message about generational poverty and the role of banks. I liked it. Rated 7/10.

Café Society film review

Spoilers below.

Café Society is a very Woody Allen film. Even by Woody Allen film standards. If you like them you’ll probably like this. But I doubt you’ll class it as a great Woody Allen film. It’s not as good as last years Irrational Man for example.

The plot is a bit thin. It tells the story of New Yorker Bobby (played by Jesse Eisenberg) who goes to Los Angeles in the 1930’s to live and work the Hollywood scene. His uncle Phil (Steve Carell) is a successful talent agent to several film stars. Bobby falls for Phil’s assistant Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) but she is in a relationship. Later that breaks up and she and Bobby become an item. But there is a twist, that I won’t detail as it would be a major spoiler, and it doesn’t work out. Bobby returns to New York to run a night club that his gangster brother has taken ownership of by nefarious means. Bobby meets Veronica (Blake Lively) in the club one night and they marry.

The story unfolds as the lives of the main characters intertwine over the years. And with the FBI investigating Bobby’s brother. To an electrifying end! There isn’t a big climax. The characters lives have ups and downs and go on after the end of the film. Well, for most of them anyway.

From a technical point of view the film is good. The script is typical Woody Allen fare. The delivery in the first half is a bit fast and staccato maybe. There is a narration at points through the film (done by Allen) that I found a bit jarring. Breaks the 4th wall and violates the show don’t tell maxim. The cinematography is sublime. As are the sets and costumes. The 1930’s Art Deco leaps from the screen. I rated it 7/10 on IMDB. For comparison I rated Irrational Man 9/10 last year.

Culture Consumed 17

I’ve stopped doing aggregate Culture Consumed posts and started doing individual posts. I’ve had this post sitting since the Culture Consumed 16 post. Posting this final one for completeness. Just to record what I read and watched.

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley. Enjoyable Victorian steampunk, sci-fi story. I enjoyed it.

Zoolander 2 – A sequel to the excellent Zoolander. It was harmless and made me laugh a good few times. Rated it 7/10.

Brooklyn – Beautifully shot and poignant story about emigration from Ireland to Brooklyn in the 1950’s. Rated it 7/10.

The Revenant – I hadn’t planned to see this but ended up I had too after the awards it received. It has excellent cinematography. But its basically misery porn. Rated 7/10.

Down Station – Simon Morden. A portal to another world story that turns into a magic and fantasy story on the other world.

Hail, Caesar! An excellent tale of a 1950’s Hollywood cinema boss, Eddie Manix, trying to keep the studio churning, and the stars in and out of the gossip columns. It’s really good. Rated it 8/10.

The Divergent Series: Allegiant The third film on the Divergent series. I liked it a lot more than others it seems. Does what you’d expect. Post apocalyptic world, shinning futuristic cities, explanation on why Chicago is isolated. I bought it on iTunes. Rated it 7/10.

Spotlight Story about the Boston Globe journalists who uncovered the huge sexual abuse crimes of the Catholic Church in Boston. Good film. It won Oscar for best picture. I’d have given it to Room or The Big Short before this. I rated it 7/10.

Sing Street A fun romp about a teenage band in 1980’s Dublin. I Rated it 7/10.

How To Be Single – I laughed at this a lot in the cinema. Cheered me up no end. Must watch it again. Gave it 8/10.