Following on from last year I’m doing a quick recap of stats for 2017 which I always find a little interesting. This year the site has seen a few changes, a lot of posts now refer to reviews I’ve had published elsewhere and don’t include screenshots or gifs from movies which may attract views. I don’t know. My stats have gone through the roof due to the large interest shown to a post I did on the movie The Founder which I think got placed on a site by WordPress that increased traffic to the post. At the same time I haven’t engaged with my fellow bloggers or sought to grow my blogging community and so you’ll see number of likes has decreased as a result. All I can say is I enjoy my current blogging community and the size of it and am grateful for their continued interest and I want to remain able to keep up with them semi-regularly and so don’t worry a lot about getting new followers. Always nice to grow though. I have some plans for 2018 but I had some plans for 2017 and not all of them came to fruition so we’ll just see what happens.
The United States retains the crown for most views this year, the United Kingdom comes second place after barely coming in third last year with Autralia now in third place. Congratulations to Canada who remains in fourth and has cracked over 1,000 views for the year. It was hard fought but Germany cracks the Top 5 this year. Spain, Brazil and France all fall out of the Top 10 this year. A post I wrote about a good man I knew who passed away saw an uptick in views from his homeland of Malaysia and one of his favourite countries in the world Japan. Goodbye Kelly Chen, you will are so obviously missed by so many far and wide. I’m particularly touched to see my post has resonated with those who knew him best. Any mention of Taika Watitti sees an uptick in New Zealand view. Congratulations to Indonesia and India who cracked the Top 10 this year, hope you’re enjoying the blog.
Top 10 Most Views by Country
The United States of America 9,126 Views
The United Kingdom 2,339 Views
Australia 1,848 Views
Canada 1,057 Views
Germany 166 Views
Japan 163 Views
Indonesia 120 Views
New Zealand 113 Views
India 100 Views
Malaysia 92 Views
Out of 105 posts published for the year the following 25 got the most views. In 2015 the blog started to grow with 1,609 views, 333 visitors, 23 Likes and 30 comments. In 2016 the blog received 5,673 views, 3,206 visitors, 546 Likes and 751 comments. In 2017 this grew to 16,767 views (more than a third of which were for The Founder Review), 11,891 visitors, 1,240 Likes and 1,707 comments. This was helped in no small part thanks to the support and interest from my fellow bloggers.
As you can see the posts about extras and characters actors were very popular so I hope to bring them back in a way in 2018. Also I really liked the idea of doing the Seven Ages posts but unfortunately the time needed and the titles that have to be seen makes that challenging. Going through all the posts and figuring out what got most likes will simply take too long but please continue to like my posts if you like them because it is always a thrill for me when I see those little icons below the post. A lot of my posts were about reviews published elsewhere this year which seem to attract attention mostly from my long time core readers. Thank you very much for supporting me in these new ventures, it has meant a lot and I think also shows my editors that I do have an audience that I bring along with me. It really is appreciated.
For Your Consideration
Now it’s time for some shameless self-promotion where I point out reviews I’m very proud of from that year that you might want to check out. In going over the 105 posts for the year there were many I’m pleased with and glad found an audience but citing them seemed redundant. They are a time and place and people either read them then or will discover them later. Some of the posts I do on here now have become more personal whether it is me remembering BIFF or describing a recent holiday to Newcastle. There are some reviews I’m proud of and some reviews I’m not. Yet again they either found an audience or they didn’t, people seemed to like the Tom Hanks Top 5 over at Heavy and had lots to say about my review of Dunkirk. My review for Queensland Ballet’s Raw and Hidden Figures at Scenestr will always have personal significance for me and I worked really hard for them to be good. I felt energised when writing about The Go-Betweens: Right Here than I was when writing about Kingsman: The Golden Circle. I enjoyed my list of Best Films for 2016 and look forward to doing one for 2017 once the bulk of Oscar releases arrive here in Australia. Come on Ladybird! I should take this opportunity to mention that 20th Century Women and Nocturnal Animals would have easily made the 2016 list if I had seen those movies at the time. I’m humbled to see the review of The Siege at Jadotville was met with approval from someone who’s father had served at Jadotville. If from my small corner of the internet someone has learnt a bit more about the Irish at Jadotville or the strength of Major General John Cantwell then that makes me very proud. In the end though I just want to say cite two pieces. The first is a review I did of the movie Fences, I just like my review which mentions something about one of my grandfathers. The second… Many years ago I worked with a young man on the set of a film being shot on the Gold Coast named Vigilante. He passed away earlier this year and while I didn’t know him very well I was struck by thoughts of how he had lived his life. Not just personal career achievements but the measure of the man was in how he had treated others and enriched their lives. This is a legacy to aspire to and I tried to put into words my memories of him in a post. I would urge people to take a look if they haven’t. His name was Kelly Chen.
Well that’s another bunch of stats for another year. I would like to take this moment to thank you all for your continued support Pete, Cindy, GP, Don, Vinnie, Jay, Sean, Paul, Allen, John K, Michael, Jet, Eddie, Alex, Paol, Jordon, John R, SJS, DB, Emma, The Film Blog guy, Jersey Dreaming, Robin, Eric and anybody else who takes the time to read these posts. It would be helluva lot less fun without you all.
A shout out to the host of this Blogathon, Paul and his awesome blog Pfeiffer Films and Meg Movies. The blog focusses on Michelle Pfeiffer and Meg Ryan with an emphasis on their films One Fine Day and Addicted To Love. The first is a sentimental favourite of mine and the latter not highly regarded by myself so it tells you something about Paul’s writing that I remain fascinated by the new ways he riffs on both. Check it out if you haven’t already.
Alas today I’ll be briefly talking about Courage Under Fire, one of my favourite Meg Ryan movies up there with French Kiss, I.Q., and You’ve Got Mail. Meg was America’s Sweetheart in the 1990s, she made well over half a dozen romantic comedies and they were all blockbusters. Yet there were films that showed she was capable of a wide range of work and Courage Under Fire was one that actually met with serious box office.
Directed by Ed Zwick, starring Denzel Washington, Ryan, Lou Diamond Phillips and featuring Matt Damon in his first serious role. It tells the story of a tank officer (Washington) assigned a desk job to investigate the actions of a medevac pilot for a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honour. Ryan plays said pilot Captain Walden who only features in a series of flashback scenes told from different points of view.
Made in 1996 it is one of the first major productions centred around the Persian Gulf War dealing with combat fatigue. The 100 hour ground war of Desert Storm had been an unexpected moral boosting success but slowly the after effects of that war like any war were coming to light including Gulf War syndrome. Zwick has alternated his whole career between war epics and small intimate soap dramas. These two extremes often serve each other well. Here he is putting together a puzzle where you have to assess those being interviewed as telling the truth or not and which Walden seems more real to you. Ryan at the time was playing against type putting on an accent, playing a military officer in a physical dramatic role. On top of that she is playing at least 3 different versions of herself and has to make sure she doesn’t play anything too obvious or the spell is broken. I think she does a great job. If that isn’t enough she also has to get the audience emotionally involved in whether she is a hero or not and the results of that truth. I think she does a great job, the film belongs to Washington dealing with his guilt over a blue on blue incident and searching for the truth. He’s every bit the movie star too surely one of the early examples of Denzel being Denzel and us loving him for it. Yet it is Meg Ryan who stood out to me for nailing a different type of role for herself. It’s now been 21 years and it all flew by in a wink. Happy Birthday Meg and see you soon.
In the past 14 months if ticket stubs and memory is to be believed I saw 50 films in a cinema. 7 of them were released in 2015 for that year’s Oscar race even if I came to see them in Australia cinemas in early 2016; they were Youth,Steve Jobs, Spotlight, The Force Awakens, The Big Short, The Hateful Eight and Brooklyn. There were a handful films I saw more than once and they were mostly blockbusters Batman Vs. Superman, Rogue One and with far more enthusiasm Deadpool and after seeing The Force Awakens twice in December 2015 I went back for third, fourth and fifth helpings. There’s only one other film I’ve seen five times at the movies and back then I had a lot more diverse social circle. Whatever the flaws of Star War 7 and Deadpool there was real love and affection that drove me back to them to watch rather than waiting months for release on some other platform.
I didn’t see the well-received Australian made Hacksaw Ridge directed by Mel Gibson whose personal faults have never pushed me away from his work – I look forward to seeing his latest effort but weekend after weekend I shook my head and made a different choice or stayed at home. Hell or High Water is a different story, I wanted to see it but by the time I suspected it must have hit our shores I found out I had missed the boat by a couple of months when I was very busy with work. My best friend has the best tastes in popular culture and has led me to many a great film I would have ignored. He’s pointed out Your Name is one to see and fellow bloggers have also praised it. I hope to find out for myself soon. I am interested too in the collaboration of Isabelle Huppert and Paul Verhoeven with the film Elle. I’ve barely seen any foreign films and certainly none of the well regarded ones this year. Like Room from last year I’m interested in Manchester by the Sea but just don’t feel like seeing a movie that will make me more depressed at the moment.
So it seems silly to really sit here and write a list of my Favourite Films for the year. Yet I found it kind of interesting to see I’d written a review on my site of every film I’d seen in the cinema and two that were original content for Netflix. Films I hadn’t seen at the movies but were 2016 releases like Triple 9, Zootopia and The Secret Lives of Pets didn’t encroach on a hypothetical top 10 so why not rank them.
One final disclaimer, these are not the 10 best but my favourite films from the year. Yes I am trying to grade them on artistic merit but films that made me feel more are going to see their stocks rise and how I feel about them is going to link back to what appeals to me personally I’m afraid. In a way it’s easier to pick a Top 5 than a Top 10 because of this.
The 43 films were as follows and I’ll even belatedly throw in a star rating based off Ebert’s 4 Star system.
Out of them I’ll go into a bit more details about some that deserve an Honourable Mention and those that are my 10 favourite films of 2016 – for now.
Bad Moms Published October 11th14 Likes – 66 Views ***
The best popular mainstream gross out comedy of the year and centred around motherhood no less. After years of watching guys do it, it’s nice to see the girls proving they can be as irresponsible, self-centred and crazy as the boys. “Kunis, Bell and Hahn share a nice chemistry in this film with Kunis holding it all together as the lead, Bell doing some inspired physical comedy and Hahn stealing the show by doing whatever the hell she wants. A late scene where she explains motherhood to Kunis gives the film heart and a message. All the best gross out comedies have these two qualities. There’s been a few comedies released this year, none of them had the audience laughing as much as Bad Moms. Do yourself a favour.”
A company of Irish soldiers faced an onslaught of a far superior force in war torn Congo in 1961. Their heroics have been made into a film sparing no expense from Netflix. Knowing this really happened and what they received upon their return gives this movie depth and heart. “The Siege at Jadotville is a real throwback to old war movies that your Dad loved to watch on a Sunday. Modern production values are there and a dry Irish sense of humour bleeds through every now and again but the cast are mostly types not people, the soldier with glasses, the sniper (Sam Keeley as Billy Ready), the gruff old Sergeant (Jason O’Mara as Company Sergeant Jack Prendergast). Their emotive faces tell enough and Jamie Dornan acquits himself well as Commandant Pat Quinlan who as a person gets the most rounded out beside the exasperating political figures.”
Eddie the Eagle is cookie cutting filmmaking about sports and underdogs and yet it charms the hell out of you just like its hero. Eddie the Eagle was a very special underdog indeed and Taron Egerton gives a wonderful performance while Hugh Jackman charms as a gruff coach who didn’t exist in real life. “Eddie the Eagle implausibly showed up at the 1988 Winter Olympics as Britain’s sole Ski Jump competitor. His performance was so significantly behind the second last place getter that a new rule was instituted making it more difficult to place in the sport for the Olympics. There are those to this day who were embarrassed that he was there and confounded by his popularity. That’s because they don’t know what it’s like on that factory floor or in that office cubicle. Eddie had dreamed the impossible dream and we like dreamers. We need them, when they achieve something they keep our dreams alive. They make anything possible, thank you Eddie.”
Both this blockbuster and Rogue One were flawed beyond belief but neither was boring and in light of the growing conveyor belt sameness of Marvel’s work and other disappointing blockbusters for the year I can’t help but reflect that the good stuff in these films should be recognised. Zack Snyder has created a dark downbeat nonsensical universe in his DC films which has completely missed the point of Superman as a hero. However Batman and Alfred Pennyworth yet again star on the big screen and play a new variation of their characters and relationship with humour, charm and action. The best fight scene with Batman ever put on screen is in this movie, it just doesn’t feature Superman. The hypocrisy of the ‘heroes’ actions and the comical motivations deflate the film but this is still a vision that is unique and oddly compelling. “Yet when he [Christopher Reeve as Superman] said “I never lie.” you not only believed it but you believed in the possibility and rightness of such a thing. He felt pain being belted into a building and outright desperation whenever Lois was threatened. Yet he was inherently good and awesome as a symbol too. Cavill strutting into the Senate hearing halfway through this film could’ve been an opportunity for Superman to say something but alas…”
Rogue One Published January 13th11 Likes – 18 Views ***
Rogue One has a lot of good ideas that shed new light on the Rebel Alliance and the Empire from the original Star Wars. The ideas for all the characters are interesting too but barring the comic relief of Alan Tudyk as K-2SO they never become too emotionally involving. The technical proficiency of the action and special effects though shine throughout and the third act purely on a spectacle level maybe the most epic and satisfying of the year. “We are told who they are rather than shown half the time and when we are, we just don’t care. The plot is always moving from planet to planet and set piece to set piece that the characters themselves barely get a chance to interact and grow relationships. We know they are inherently good people and we do want them to succeed but we are not scared for their safety and that is a huge misgiving for this type of film.”
A sexy thriller (seriously there’s like at least 4 or 5 sex scenes and they’re all sexy), that flirts with gender politics and has a mandatory neat twist. Elevated by the cast, none shines better than Emily Blunt who is on fine form here. “The film works strongest when dealing with perspective and prejudice, why do the other women stare at Megan in yoga class. Are they threatened by her beauty or do they know something about her character? Is she highly sexual or do others like to imagine so? Is she a victim, a manipulator or something more sinister? The answer is of course the same it has always been, the same it has been for most men and women since time immemorial. She is not one thing or the other.”
I sent an application to the United Nations once saying I wanted to go work in Afghanistan. I never got a reply. Watching Whiskey Tango Foxtrot reminded me of a time and place I wished I’d found myself a part of even if I should have done a lot more than wish if that’s what I really wanted. When the call came for journalist Kim Barker she answered it and the resulting film about Kim Baker delights as a workplace war comedy starring the talented Tina Fey and allowing Margot Robbie and Christopher Abbott to shine in supporting roles. “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot tells another story from the War on Terror, it invites us to laugh and then maybe to think but mostly the coda for the film is to live your life to the full, embrace the challenges, get through them and then move on and live your life the best you can now. Like in war. Operation Enduring Freedom ended on the 31st December 2014. US Troops remaining in Afghanistan serve as part of the ongoing Operation Sentinel’s Freedom.”
Jackie Published February 10th12 Likes – 46 Views ***1/2
Natalie Portman’s performance is on key throughout this challenging film which breaks down how a lot of the Kennedy myth was put together but may only truly be enjoyed by those who believe in the power of it for better or worse. A haunting moody piece about grief and how we react to it, the film is also slow paced at times but can’t be faulted for demanding full attention from its audience. “Grief stricken at the loss of a husband who cheated on her, cool and collected at times and at others almost hysterical certain facts long known but never pondered come forward. She held her husbands blasted apart head in her lap all the way to the hospital. What the hell does that do to someone? Less than a week later she marched through Washington with world leaders despite all kinds of security concerns that an assassin could target them again. She took her kids to the coffin and she trained her son to salute it with the whole world watching. Why was ensuring President Kennedy’s legacy so important in helping her grief for an imperfect man that she loved?”
Moonlight Published February 12th15 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2
Split into three distinct moments in one young man’s life, Moonlight shows clearly what legacy the action of loved ones can have on a child’s development. Despite the cost of bullying and betrayal that Chiron endures there is hope at the end of this story. Hope for his life is just beginning. “Left to fend for himself, a drug dealer named Juan notices him one day and befriends him. Why he feels compelled to do this is only hinted at but he is played by Mahershala Ali whose performance looms over the rest of the film. He is the only positive male figure the boy nicknamed Little will ever have teaching him how to swim in one beautiful scene of the boy being cradled in his arms amongst the waves. This is a hard man who shows this boy nothing but gentleness, the most obvious answer to why is he immediately recognised something in Little of himself and wants to protect the innocence he has lost but this man is a criminal and there are limits to what he can do. Perhaps we’re all protective of children and their fragility, there is a scene where Chiron asks what a certain word his mother called him means and it kind of breaks your heart.”
La La Land Published February 2nd13 Likes – 42 Views ***1/2
Arguably the best looking film of the year, I wonder how much came from digital enhancement. With two winning lead performances from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone who share fantastic chemistry the film delights with big musical numbers that make the best use of modern technology. Ambitiously adding subterfuge to his own movie writer/director Damien Chazelle also offers up a film about artistic ambition and the struggles that come with daring to dream. The ending was not expected but is powerful and heartbreaking. Suckers for perfect happy endings beware but hopefully at the very least this encourages Hollywood to make more musicals and one with the modern possibilities engaged here. “The film opens up on the disused freeway ramp where parts of Speed were shot with an impromptu dance number by many stuck in LA traffic with a one take tracking shot over several vehicles and choreographed dancers. It’s kinda awesome but has little to do with what the rest of the film will be about.”
When you’re the big dog, people like to kick you if they smell opportunity and Marvel have become so successful it’s tempting to take for granted what they do except nobody else seems to be doing it nearly as well. There are missed opportunities, there’s no distinct visual style here and we suspect a little too easily that everything is going to be alright no matter what the stakes. Yet these guys always bring it back to the characters and never more so than here. Everything Captain America does here is for a childhood friend who he served together with in war and thought was long dead. Tony Stark well you’ll have to see the film but this plays off eight years of world building throughout the franchise and nobody else is doing that with their franchises. They lack the patience and they lack the heart. Plus that airport scene.”Which is fine because the film is not really about the Sokovia Accords, it is about Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and what lengths Steve Rogers will go to protect his friend and fellow veteran while at the same time Tony Stark is trying to protect the Avengers as best he can. Stark and Rogers have always been at odds with their contrasting personalities and world view points. There is an extra layer there in the sense that Rogers is partially a creation of Howard Stark’s and a friend of Tony’s Dad. He’s perversely both father figure and rival son for Stark Senior’s approval. The ground work for this had been laid previously and in this film finally gets paid off.”
9. Arrival Published February 8th15 Likes – 49 Views ***1/2
Arrival is a thoughtful blockbuster about the need for us to communicate better with each other and with the outside world. A film that plays with the concepts of time as it tells a simple universal story of hope, fear, love and loss. Oh yeah there’s aliens in it too. “It feels right and real that contacts with aliens would be set up in a tent city with dimly lit rooms and the lime green shading of a hospital full of tired middle aged bureaucrats questioning each other’s ideas on a regular basis. The aliens themselves are always seen with a sense of wonder (their design is original and interesting too), how to get to them starts off in a simple fashion but is suitably otherworldly and unnerving.”
8. FencesPublished February 18th17 Likes – 39 Views ***1/2
This is a hard movie to watch at times but it always feels real even if set bound like the stage play it originally was. There are rich themes about mortality, legacy, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, infidelity and the history of race in America. The central character is hard to watch at times, hard to understand, hard to forgive and we share in that challenge as audience members with the characters around him who are part of his life. This is writing and performing of the highest level and Denzel is so good as Troy Maxson but it is Viola Davis in one powerful moment articulating the limits and trials and hopes and dreams of 1950s housewives everywhere that is devastatingly beautiful and painful that makes this film such a must see. “As the film goes on Maxson inhabits scenes he‘s not even in, after watching him with his family throughout we grow to feel some of their emotions. As he winds up for another lecture we shake our heads at the repetition and the lack of self-awareness and yet when he’s gone we feel the lack of his presence as keenly as the family does. We understand perhaps that for better or worse we are who are fathers made us and whether they did us proud or said they loved us we want to make them proud and we do love them.”
A movie for people who love the movies made by people who love movies too. Set in 1950s America there are parallels to today’s world, call-backs to the type of films old Hollywood produced and that wonderful intelligent witty dialogue that we’ve come to expect from the Coen brothers. Plus look out for Alden Ehrenreich who steals the show and whose star is on the rise. As a film buff I loved it. ” Yet this is not a film that exclusively looks back with rose tinted glasses, the Red menace of the Cold War evokes the same fear that ISIS does now, there is a Latino starlet Carlotta Valdez (Veronica Osorio) hoping for the same opportunities afforded her white co-stars, this is the era of McCarthy which may remind us a little that we now tear ourselves apart with political tribalism and humming in the background when Hollywood is in the final bloom of its Golden Age is the advent of stars demanding more and television only a few years away threatening the revenue streams that were taken for granted.”
What a year for Ryan Gosling, in La La Land he sang and danced and proved Emma Stone and him should make another five films together. Nominated for an Academy Award for La La Land, his best performance this year gone is as a washed up Private Investigator, flawed father and comic relief to tough guy Russell Crowe. He is fearless in this film at being funny and get the word out because we need more movies like this. A tough fun throwback to the period it is set in of 1970s film noir by writer/director Shane Black. “Crowe with his impish smile and easy charm points to possibilities, the film’s best scene maybe in a park late at night with Healy talking to the younger Ms. March. She tells him you’re not a bad person and the look on Crowe’s face says he wants her to believe it.”
5. Sully Published September 27th 13 Likes – 55 Views ***1/2
Sully has a lean runtime as it is but in search of drama they beefed up the PTSD angle of the flight crew and positioned the crash investigative team as antagonists. It might have been more interesting to go into more detail of his wife’s story or that of the flight attendants relayed in Sullenberger’s memoir but no matter. Whatever its flaws, Clint Eastwood has directed the best action set pieces of 2015 – yeah you fucking heard me. I wept not one tear for Jyn Erso or Batman but when that ferry arrived at the wing I felt my face crack. As someone who has read a lot about the story, the things that he got right honour so many who lived through this on that fateful day. It’s an extraordinary story rendered justice and pathos on the big screen by two of America’s icons. Eastwood and Tom Hanks. “Sully is an American hero. We should cherish that simple reassuring fact until the end of time that such things can be true and real in this day and age. Yet Chelsey Sullenberger is also a man, a quiet professional of considerable skill and talent but a human being with flaws and doubts like the rest of us. Clint Eastwood’s film accepts both these truths can co-exist but has something to say about how each responded to the events of January 15, 2009.”
Every year there’s always a film that surprises you and comes out of nowhere to become one of your favourites. A story of one boy camping out in the New Zealand wilderness with his ‘uncle’ the film boasts a great sense of humour, wild characters, an involving family unit in flux and the best car chase ever put to film in New Zealand. “His name is Ricky Baker (Julian Dennison), he’s a big kid who’s had it a bit rough, he’ll tell you he doesn’t care about anything, ready to argue with anybody who puts him down and he’s constantly using words from pop culture to describe himself as a bad-ass street kid. Aunt Bella sees right through him in 10 seconds flat. A home maybe the most important thing you can give a child and by that I don’t mean a nice house to live in. Bella (Rima Te Wiata) lives with Hec (Sam Neil) who was a wanderer who used to live in the woods before he met her. Kids are not the only ones who need a good place to call home.”
2. DeadpoolPublished March 17th6 Likes – 61 Views ****
We don’t get great blockbusters as much as we like to think; the superhero genre has been with us for a while now and needed a shake-up. A film like Deadpool made against the odds cannot be celebrated and praised enough no matter how much money it makes. This was hands down the most fun I had at the movies last year, witty and meta in a way I could only have dreamed about in the past with well-made action sequences and characters who had well defined and believable relationships. A gem. “T.J. Miller as Wilson’s best friend Weasel has his moments which are a bit like his comedy. His acceptance speech at the Critic’s Choice Awards last year was awesome but the guy just doesn’t always do it for me and that’s true here too. I suppose since this is a review I should probably be more articulate in my opinion of Miller but I really would rather write about how amazingly hot Jennifer Garner is. I mean seriously those cheekbones, that smile. By the way Jenny there was absolutely nothing wrong with the black one.”
It turns out the first great film of 2016 was for me the greatest film of 2016. Released so long ago it never had a shot at the Oscar race the fact remains this is a near perfect film dealing with current discussion points about drone warfare, counter terrorism and the intertwining of the battlefield with politics. It boasts the late great Alan Rickman’s final performance but the film belongs to Helen Mirren as military commander ordering a strike and Aisha Takow playing a little girl selling bread on a street corner in Kenya. “Missiles hovering high in the sky waiting for civilians at trade deals to come and answer their phones. Boys selling cheap plastic buckets to act as a cover story for an agent while he operates multi-million dollar miniature drones to fly inside a safe house. Bread in a wood fired oven potentially being a death sentence. Gavin Hood’s film powerfully conveys a brave new world with the same old truths of human nature. We want to raise our children in peace, go to work, come home and see them playing in our yards. But war has always existed and people die in wars.”
Well as always thank you for reading and I encourage you to mention in the comments your favourite films of the year and why. As Oscar nears it’s interesting to note how many of the Ten are not in contention at that ceremony. Of those that are, I found this video about them from Screen Junkies very amusing.
Fences is not an easy film to watch at times, at its centre is Denzel Washington shaking off his established screen persona to play a very flawed man but a human being none the less. He is Troy Maxson a garbage man in 1950s America raising a teenage son Cory (Jovan Adepo) with his lovely wife Rose (Viola Davis) in working class Pittsburgh. This is a man who holds centre stage in his house, he is the king of a court that usually numbers no more than four or five but it means a great deal to him. His best friend Jim Bono (Stephen Henderson) who he works with nods in agreement more often than not, Rose not always in agreement will let things slide as wives sometimes do, his son from a previous relationship Lyons (Russell Hornsby) and Cory exist as challenges to his authority to be shut down at all costs and then there is his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) damaged by the war who is the only one he can’t control.
For Troy no achievement is good enough, he’s 53 years old and the windows of opportunity are closing. After a wild youth he’s chosen being a responsible patriarch and he wants to ingrain into his sons that sense of responsibility but this maybe because he secretly envies their possible futures. Troy makes a decision that a lot of men make when faced with a mid-life crisis, this small court of admirers is no longer enough and like all men responsibility has made him forget that his burden as a patriarch is also his privilege. The consequences for his family will flow down through the years.
Viola Davis in her award acceptance speeches throughout this season has said that playwright August Wilson with Fences gave voice to the African American working class of the last century who kept the country running and allowed their children to finally gain college educations and with it opportunities. Everybody wants to know their life matters and for swathes of men and women who never got their names in history books August Wilson’s play is a tribute that powerfully tells their ghosts “Yes you mattered.” Yet it might be important to remember that not all of them were this deeply flawed and resentful as Troy. My own grandfather was a welder, he didn’t cheat on his wife he took care of her when she suffered a stroke at the age of 36 and he didn’t resent his children succeeding he encouraged it. I don’t know if he regretted any decisions, if he rued any missed opportunities or was haunted by any unfulfilled dreams. Because he never spoke of them but Troy Maxson speaks of them a lot.
Denzel Washington is arguably the greatest living actor of his generation, a man who has played many different characters, action roles for Tony Scott, punk runaway slaves in Glory, a variety of roles for director Spike Lee including Malcolm X but you may never have seen him like this. He’s not cool here. He’s lively, gruff and even a little old and worn out. As an actor lacking any vanity he gradually strips away Troy’s dignity. We see the hypocrisy of his actions, the pain in his outbursts and the fragility in his powerful but out of shape physique. This is Denzel as you’ve never seen him before, so effectively does he embody the spirit and life of a man like Maxson. A man who in one instant can beat himself up about owing owning a house to his brother, and then in the next lecture his son about how saving to afford repairs on the house is a man’s responsibility. Yet look at the small exchanges, the expressions on his face in moments where he does not speak. This man was capable of love even if not how to express or value it properly.
Mykelti Williamson starring as Gabriel Maxson who received a head injury in the Pacific and now acts erratic also gives a great performance. This is a time where understanding of what he was struggling with would have been limited and the burden of taking care of him would have been substantial. Williamson brings real pathos to the role but anybody who has been around those with mental disability, mental health or autism will tell you such people often take your breath away with insightful and timely words. Not to mention they often bring forth the better angels of our nature. Jovan and Russell play their roles effectively, we see they only want to earn their father’s love and respect while they are growing weary of their treatment at his hands. Henderson’s turn as Bono will be less celebrated because it’s all in subtle choices playing in the background while other people are saying their lines but he does have two stand-out scenes with Washington where the nature of their friendship take a turn.
For all the accolades Washington should receive, Viola Davis may give the best performance in the film. Viola Davis as Rose is a buttress of support not just to her husband but to her family and to her community (we see her leaving for Church with food in one scene.) Women like her endured much to hold whole towns together with their stalwart love and bottomless depths of forgiveness. In the film’s most powerful moment she lays bare the limits and hopes for housewives of that era and it is beautiful and devastating. If the character of Troy is hard to sympathise with, the film should be seen for Davis’s moment alone.
Denzel Washington as director is happy to stage the film as naturally as possibly, we leave the house for bits but we can see clearly this story was once told as a stage play. No showy flourishes are made with the camera but close ups are played for maximum effect. We see the hill, we see the house – the front and back and inside, we feel intrinsically what it was like to grow up in it and the world that is hinted at outside. It’s a strong straightforward telling of the story for the camera, this remains first and foremost a tale told through performances.
As the film goes on Maxson inhabits scenes he‘s not even in, after watching him with his family throughout we grow to feel some of their emotions. As he winds up for another lecture we shake our heads at the repetition and the lack of self-awareness and yet when he’s gone we feel the lack of his presence as keenly as the family does. We understand perhaps that for better or worse we are who are fathers made us and whether they did us proud or said they loved us we want to make them proud and we do love them.