Winter Sleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan – 2014) A

I really do not recommend watching this Turkish long film if you are tired or close to your bed time. This does not mean it is not good or I did not like it. On the contrary it is an effective beautiful moody play of sorts set in a remote cold Turkish village and centers around a wealthy hotel owner. It’s just mainly a series of long conversations with little plot in between and that gives it the feeling of a play. It does need focus and attention to keep up with the dialogue and get the most out of it. The man is Aydin who sees himself as an actor and writer. He has a controlling in a passive aggressive way relationship with his young wife Nihal. His sister also lives with them, she had a recent divorce and is generally resentful of Nihal and Aydin. We also meet some of Aydin’s tenants and those who owe him money or apologies. As the weather turns colder and the snow comes in people stay indoors, animosities come to the surface and conversations get more heated, more philosophical and fueled with alcohol… It sounds odd but it is tough to describe. We are left with a very deep understanding of who these people are and kept wondering what are they up to now.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards – 2016) A-

This is a really solid movie. Not knowing what to expect for this non-numbered SW flick I went in with middling expectations. It managed to totally win me over with solid writing, exceptional CGI, well-choreographed and setup battle scenes and some very good performances by the likes of Ben Mendelsohn and Mads Mikkelsen. This takes place in the timeline leading up to Episode IV and focuses on how the resistance managed to get hold of the Death Star plans. This was not an easy feat and the film really spends time showing how difficult and costly that was. We even get a solid explanation for that much made fun of (by me at least) “weak spot in the Death Star”. This is overall a war movie and to that end it is one of the more brutal in the series. I wonder how much younger viewers will like how expendable and morally-ambiguous many of these characters are. It introduces a lot of new characters and handles them -mostly- well. The droid K-2SO is great as is the blind temple guard and his buddy. A bit more character development for Jyn Erso  and Saw Gerrera would have made this better. Very few familiar characters here but the few scenes that Darth Vader is in are just great, from his introduction to the terrifying final few minutes of the film with him.

Keanu (Peter Atencio – 2016) C+

It’s a long extended Key and Peele skit that takes the two buddies on the trail of Keanu, the cat. They impersonate drug dealers in a case of mistaken identity and run into gangsters, murderers, strippers, celebrities…Sounds stupid but it works mostly. It kept me entertained and chuckling throughout.

The Big Blue (Luc Besson – 1988) C

There is a good movie here somewhere. I saw a very long Director’s Cut and it really should be edited down. It’s one of Besson’s first films and i do see the outlines of a sweet sweeping story about love, friendship and obsession. The execution unfortunately falls short and feels very amateurish in most respects. The performances and dialogue are just off and often seem to hit the wrong note. The tone is also all over the place with drama, tragedy, surrealism and slapstick comedy dispersed throughout. The cinematography is the main positive here. It is shot mostly in Sicily, Greece, France around and in the Mediterranean so it looks great. The underwater sequences are excellent and well choreographed. Another plus is the score. It’s lovely and works great with the awesome images on the screen.

Note: I think the version I saw is the USA one in English and I do wonder if the French/original version plays much better.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve – 2016) A

I was looking forward to the next Villeneuve film after his spectacular Sicario. He did not disappoint. We got a fresh, intelligent and deliberate take on what and how first contact might be like. How “alien” aliens might seem to us. How they might think, feel, behave, communicate,… It’s a spectacularly well-shot film. this one is one of those beautiful movies that is really worth experiencing on the big screen. The story centers on a linguistics professor who is hired to communicate with the visitors. So, instead of coming out guns blazing and fireworks all over the place, the first step is to try and talk to them. Makes sense. She is played perfectly by Amy Adams who delivers a tender, smart and tough performance. The film is perfectly plotted and slowly unwinds to reveal the mystery of the aliens as well as the bigger picture of what is going on. It cuts back and forth with images and timelines. It reminds me both of Terrence Malick’s films and other smart “science fiction” movies like Solaris (both versions are excellent, the original and the Clooney remake). I loved this picture and will not delve into any more detail. Suffice it to say that at every turn this is not a typical aliens-come-to-earth film. It’s a life affirming fable about humanity, the importance of communication, love and family.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (David Yates – 2016) B+

I’m very glad we have JK Rowling in this world. I’m glad she is not just sitting on her butt and swimming in her cash like Scrooge McDuck. Fantastic Beasts takes place decades before Harry Potter turns 11 and goes on his adventures. It’s set in New York in the 20s and mostly covers new ground although it fits in the bigger Harry Potter Gellert Grindelwald story line. He is most likely this new series’ (5 movies are planned I believe!) Voldemort. It looks beautiful, the setting, the roaring 20s, New York and the attention to detail of those weird creatures is great. We have interesting and likable new characters, interesting villains and a whole American wizarding government to keep track of. So many cool scenes and setups here, like Tina and her flirtatious sister Queenie preparing dinner or the magical speakeasy. Going back to the wonderful Rowling wizarding world is a journey I am very much looking forward to.

Dr. Strange (Scott Derrickson – 2016) B

Definitely one of the coolest and most useful superhero cape to ever exist. This was a fun film. Lots of unique fight scenes and set pieces in a movie that adds another dimension to the Marvel-verse. As is the norm, this one also manages to have a lot of humor (delivered deftly by Cumberbatch) and balances it well with a sorcerer superhero and crazy plot.