Live by Night (2016)
“Live by Night” stars Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, and Chris Cooper. Released in limited theaters on December 25, 2016, followed by a wide release on January 13, 2017, the film is about a Ybor City bootlegger who becomes a notorious gangster.
The film is directed by Ben Affleck, who is known for directing Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo. It is based on the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Once again, here is another film that was released nationwide in 2017, but was released in limited release first in 2016. After donning the bat suit for the first time in last year’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ben Affleck decided to take a small break from superheroes and focus on being a gangster in the 1920s. I can definitely see Affleck as a talented actor as well as a solid director who tells interesting stories. I definitely enjoyed the heck out of Argo back in 2012 and his role as the Caped Crusader was a solid effort. This latest project sees him taking on multiple roles as a director, co-producer, writer, and an actor. Compared to his other works, how does this one stand out?
Good performances from the cast.
Costume design was solid.
Average storytelling that failed to be captivating.
Pacing was slow at some points.
Final thoughts: “Live by Night” is well-acted and nice to look at, but the overall substance slowly succumbs to its usual crime drama standards, leaving Affleck’s latest project in the dust. This film didn’t really stand out that much when comparing it to the other films that Affleck directed, mostly because of how he tells this kind of story. It didn’t really pack any character-driven punches, and it wasn’t engaging enough to keep me interested in the plot. With that said, it's worth watching for the performances and the cinematography.
Patriots Day (2016)
“Patriots Day” stars Mark Wahlberg, Kevin Bacon, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, and Michelle Monaghan. Released in limited theaters on December 21, 2016, followed by a wide release on January 13, 2017, the film is about a sergeant who joins a manhunt to search for the suspects responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings.
The film is directed by Peter Berg, who also directed films such as The Rundown, Hancock, Lone Survivor, and Deepwater Horizon. It also marks the third collaboration between Berg and Wahlberg. Since the film was released first in 2016, this will count as my 2016 review. Even though 2016 wasn’t a very good year for us, it certainly was a great year for Peter Berg, as he directed two very remarkable films in one year: Deepwater Horizon and Patriots Day. Based on what I saw, Berg is the kind of director who knows how to make films as realistic and intense as the events that they’re based on. This film is no different, as it not only focuses on the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, but also the manhunt afterwards, and like Deepwater Horizon, Berg delivered a thrilling experience while also paying respect to the heroes of the American tragedy.
Mark Wahlberg leads a strong cast as Sergeant Tommy Saunders, who is one of the characters whose lives were impacted from the Marathon bombings. What I love about this film is how these actors portray their characters like they’re real people. Real people who were involved in both the tragedy and the manhunt. The tragedy part is something that I expected in terms of Berg’s direction and the film’s realistic injury images, but the manhunt part is where stuff gets real. Sure, it has its usual action thriller cliches, but Berg knows how to make those cliches blend in with its grounded narrative and its superb uses of intensity. Once again, Berg did a great job at keeping me engaged without losing momentum. This film also shows that these people never give up on searching for the terrorists, and that love and bravery always triumph over fear. It does feel a bit preachy at times, but in most cases, it works.
Overall, “Patriots Day” is an edge-of-your-seat action thriller that greatly displays heroism, bravery, and heart. With its strong cast, its intense and grounded narrative, and a message that truthfully screams “Never let fear win!”, I would say that this is Peter Berg’s best film in his career. If you’re a fan of Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, you’ll love this film as well. If you need some inspiration in your life as well as something that will get your heart pumping, then this one may be for you.
Hidden Figures (2016)
“Hidden Figures” stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons. Released on December 25, 2016, the film has three African-American women helping the United States compete in the Space Race.
The film is directed by Theodore Melfi, who also directed St. Vincent, and it is based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. During its theatrical run, it received lots of praise from critics and audiences who had the chance to see it before it went wide on January 6, 2017. It even earned two Golden Globe nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer and Best Original Score for Hans Zimmer, Pharrell Williams, and Benjamin Wallfisch. With word of mouth as great as this, it had to be something that’s worth seeing for me. So, was this untold story worth telling? In a way, yes. Was it as great as critics say it was? Not really, but it came close.
Great performances from the cast.
The chemistry between Henson, Spencer, and Monae was a delight.
Had a few feel-good moments that will tug at your heartstrings.
Its simple storytelling can get in the way of its grounded themes at times.
The pacing can be a bit slow for younger kids who aren’t interested in history.
Final thoughts: While not as grounded or powerful as the other films that deal with similar themes, “Hidden Figures” made the right calculations to make this untold story heard. Led by a marvelous performance from Henson, this film belongs in the list of feel-good biopics that people will enjoy for years to come. As long as there are more movies like this, whether they’re biopics, comedies, or even action comedies, people will someday learn to appreciate others for who they are and what they have to offer. I would recommend this film to those who are in need of something that makes them feel good, to those who are into history, and to those who like some of the actors on screen.
A Monster Calls (2016)
“A Monster Calls” stars Lewis MacDougall, Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell, and Liam Neeson. Released on December 23, 2016, the film is about a young boy who encounters a giant tree-like monster.
The film is directed by J. A. Bayona, who also directed The Orphanage and The Impossible. It is based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness, who also wrote the film’s screenplay. It received a wide release on January 6, 2017, but since it was released first in 2016, I will count it as a 2016 release. I had no idea what to expect from this film, other than the fact that it has a giant tree monster that may or may not have been Groot’s long-lost father. While it didn’t earn any Golden Globe nominations, it made its presence known at the Critics‘ Choice Awards where it earned two nominations, including Best Young Performer for MacDougall and Best Visual Effects. However, it wasn’t enough to generate some big box office numbers during its theatrical run. After watching the film for the first time, I can understand why it’s not doing well at the box office, but man, the way they told this story was absolutely brilliant.
Strong performances from the cast, including MacDougall as Conor.
Liam Neeson as the “Monster”.
Bayona’s ability to blend fantasy elements with the film’s mature themes to create deep storytelling.
The third act was emotional.
May be too depressing or scary for younger kids.
Final thoughts: “A Monster Calls” is a surprisingly emotional film filled with strong performances, remarkable visuals, and its mature themes. I am not kidding about it being “surprisingly emotional”. This film made me realize that I should have brought a tissue box with me. While it may not be for everyone, especially younger kids, I can see it being relatable to those who are dealing with this type of problem. If it’s playing at a theater near you, I suggest you check this one out.
La La Land (2016)
“La La Land” stars Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, John Legend, and Rosemarie DeWitt. Released on December 9, 2016, the film follows the relationship between a musician and an aspiring actress.
The film is directed by Damien Chazelle, who also directed Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and Whiplash. If you’re wondering why it took me so long to see this film, blame the fact that my closest cinema is still showing Rogue One and Sing on multiple screens. There were plenty of reasons why I was looking forward to this film. The first reason was the amount of praise it’s been getting from critics (it won eight Critics’ Choice Awards and earned seven Golden Globe nominations). The second reason was the film’s director. I saw his last film, Whiplash, two years ago, and I really appreciated his brilliant and eye-catching vision. After finally watching it for the first time, I’m starting to appreciate his vision even more. Yeah, it’s that good.
The film follows the basic boy-meets-girl love story, but it is told in the most unique way possible. I was actually watching these two people trying to accomplish their dreams, but those darn obstacles kept getting in their way. What made it so refreshing was the fact that it’s also a musical. A very charming musical, to be exact. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone were marvelous together as the fools who dream (sorry, can’t help myself). Their acting was great, their singing was great, everything about them has “great” written all over it. The cinematography and the editing worked extraordinary well together to make the experience as dazzling as a Broadway musical. Speaking of dazzling, the whole film knows how to blend storytelling with its gorgeous backgrounds. I’m not kidding, they look amazing, especially the scene where Gosling and Stone danced in the Griffith Observatory. The musical numbers were very fun to listen to, including the opening sequence. There were a couple of scenes that felt a bit slow, in my opinion, but they weren’t enough to ruin a movie that’s just as charming as the two main characters on screen.
Overall, with its amazing performances, great musical numbers, Chazelle’s remarkable direction, and its unique combination of charm and gorgeous scenery, “La La Land” hits the right notes. If I managed to see this film before I started my top ten list of 2016, I would put it somewhere in the top five. It’s just too charming and beautiful to be anywhere outside of that section. If you love musicals and Chazelle’s last film, Whiplash, you’ll love this film. Here’s to the fools who dream and to those who made their dreams come true.
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