Monday, December 12, 2016

A kinda, sorta Year in Review

Each year, my German published, Pendragon Verlag, asks its authors to contribute a freestyle year-in-review column for the CrimeMag website. This year I chose to write about films.

Here in the States, 2016 was a challenging year in many respects, and I’m happy to see the end of it. However, it was a pretty good year for movies. Here are four that stood out for me:

HELL OR HIGH WATER – Dir: David Mackenzie. An almost-perfect character-driven crime film about two brothers who go on a bank-robbing spree to buy back their late mother’s ranch. As the Texas Ranger pursuing them, Jeff Bridges gives another of his great late-career performances. Chris Pine (top, right) and Ben Foster are terrific as the brothers, and Brit director Mackenzie (STARRED UP) has the sharp eye for American landscapes and situations that sometimes only non-American directors can bring to the game (ie. Louis Malle’s ATLANTIC CITY). HELL OR HIGH WATER could have easily been a classic 1970s film – think Ben Johnson as the Ranger, and Alan and Jesse Vint as the brothers.

BLOOD FATHER – Dir: Jean Francois-Richet. Another European director’s take on an American genre film. It faded quickly at the box office, but it’s a short, sharp crime thriller, clocking in at a cracking 88 minutes of pure pulp pleasure. Mel Gibson gives one of his best performances in years as an ex-con trying to protect his teenage daughter from a criminal gang that’s marked her for death. Richet (MESRINE) handles both the character scenes and action setpieces with equal confidence, including a major MAD MAX homage about halfway through the film. Michael Parks, as a burned-out Vietnam vet/neo-Nazi, steals every scene he’s in – as usual.

ARRIVAL: Dir: Denis Villeneuve. Canadian director Villeneuve (SICARIO) crafts an original sci-fi thriller with Amy Adams as a linguistics professor tasked with trying to communicate with a race of alien beings who’ve sent 12 ships to Earth for unknown reasons. A quiet, somber, sometimes frightening and always fascinating film that also uses music (including Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight”) to great effect. It’s a movie rich with ideas and mystery, and an ending that sneaks up on you. I found it deeply moving.

MANCHESTER BY THE SEA Dir: Kenneth Lonergan. Finally an American director. Lonergan has only made three films (YOU CAN COUNT ON ME, and MARGARET are the first two), but they’re all great, and MANCHESTER may be his masterpiece. Casey Affleck, in a career (so far) performance, is a troubled, self-isolating loner charged with taking care of his teenage nephew after his brother’s sudden death. A life-affirming film about grief that doesn’t shy away from some brutally emotional moments, but also reminds us that the little sweetnesses of life that sustain us can sometimes be found in the least-likely places – including playing with your teenage friends in a terrible punk band. Be warned though: It’s a stone heartbreaker.


Ken Bruen said...

Your books continue to deeply impress
Have a great holidays

Wallace Stroby said...

Thanks, Ken. And best to you and yours.