PREVIEW: March 2019

February is coming to an end and it was a month that yielded some great new releases to UK cinemas, some not so great new releases to UK cinemas and the most what-the-heck Academy Awards in a long time. So, March is almost upon us and here is a sneak peek at what I will be doing film-wise in March…

A number of new releases are coming out which I plan to see, including: The Hole in the GroundThe AftermathWhat They HadCaptain MarvelEverybody KnowsWhat Men WantFisherman’s FriendsUs and Dumbo. I shall endeavour to view and review all of these films next month, time permitting of course. If I get a chance to I shall also get some other content up on the blog.

So, thank you as ever for visiting my blog and, for the month ahead, I wish you Happy Reading!

Top 10 Films of 2018

Well, all of the Awards’ favourites of 2018 have played in UK cinemas now, and two months into 2019 I think it is time to make my Top 10 films of 2018 list. These are my critical Top 10, and not necessarily a reflection of the 2018 films that I enjoyed the most. It was a hard list to make, as I would have loved to have included Spider-Man: Into the Spider-VerseA Star is BornBlacKkKlansman, Incredibles 2 and the overlooked indie film Leave No Trace on this list, but alas not. That can only be a good thing though, as they were great films, but there are 10 that are even better, so here we go…

10) Hereditary (Dir. Ari Aster)

Hereditary.png

In an era where genuinely outstanding horror films are a rarity, it is with great delight that I can include Hereditary on this list. In his thoroughly impressive debut feature, Ari Aster proves himself to be a master at crafting tension, and presents a narrative which powerfully depicts the horrors of grief and trauma. The film also features a career-best performance from Toni Colette (the fact that it did not get an Oscar nod being a travesty), and I look forward to seeing what Aster does next.

9) Avengers: Infinity War (Dirs. Anthony Russo/Joe Russo)

Avengers Infinity War poster.jpg

The Marvel Cinematic Universe had built to this for 10 years and 18 films, but I did not expect this superhero epic to be as great as it was. All of the characters have a part to play, without which the film would not have been so good, it was a technically excellent piece of filmmaking with some real emotional weight at the end that built up anticipation beautifully for Avengers: Endgame (which is out in two months time).

8) Mission: Impossible – Fallout (Dir. Christopher McQuarrie)

MI – Fallout.jpg

For a sixth film in a franchise to be this good is a true rarity. Fallout is a technical masterpiece where the choreography, filming and editing of action sequences are concerned, and boasts some of the finest practical effects and stunt work since Mad Max: Fury Road. Plus it boasts a very clever narrative that builds upon what happened in the previous films very nicely and raises the bar for the franchise’s future.

7) A Quiet Place (Dir. John Krasinski)

A Quiet Place film poster.png

Two genuinely outstanding horror films in one year is a true rarity, but that is precisely what A Quiet Place ensured, and director/co-writer/co-lead John Krasinski proves himself to be a genius at crafting suspense, opting very much for the less is more approach to filmmaking. Boasting excellent performances and playing terrifically on fear of the unknown, this is one of the tensest films you will ever sit through. I remember when I saw it at the cinema nearly a year ago that the screening was in total silence and you could feel the tension and the bated breath of every single audience member.

6) If Beale Street Could Talk (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

If Beale Street Could Talk film.png

Director/screenwriter Barry Jenkins presents here a very mature, sensitive and nuanced approach to a story that is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s, with regards to race-relations. The characters are magnificently realised, the young leads KiKi Layne and Stephan James are natural talents, and Jenkins grapples with tough subject matter, showing his intelligence as a filmmaker by knowing when to make something blatant and when to insinuate, trusting that his viewers can read between the lines. Add into the mix gorgeous cinematography by James Laxton and a haunting jazz score by Nicholas Britell and you easily have one of the most emotionally weighty films of the year.

5) The Favourite (Dir. Yorgos Lanthimos)

The Favourite.png

The historical accuracy can be debated until the cows come home (sorry for throwing in that overused cliché), but the brilliance and emotional weight of this film cannot be denied. Director Yorgos Lanthimos shows himself to be the master of slow-burn comedy-drama here, his direction being nuanced and rich in style, the humour being subtle. The production design and costume design is spectacular, as is the use of fish eye lenses to frame the grandeur and scale of 18th Century aristocracy. The three central performances from Olivia Colman, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are outstanding, but it is the former of these three performances that gives The Favourite the most emotional weight and complexity.

4) Annihilation (Dir. Alex Garland)

Five women, all armed, in a forested area

Director/screenwriter Alex Garland creates a perfect balance between tense horror and slow-burn science-fiction, surpassing the quality of his excellent directorial debut film Ex Machina, and showing the clarity of his vision while handling serious themes such as grief, depression and man’s ability to be self-destructive. Garland shows great intelligence and maturity further by creating a degree of ambiguity, trusting the audience to put the pieces together and draw conclusions. It is a visually breathtaking film carried by an outstanding ensemble cast, whose characters each have a sensitive and weighty emotional arc, but ultimately is led by a spectacular leading turn from Natalie Portman, that is rich in nuance and emotional maturity.

3) McQueen (Dir. Ian Bonhôte) 

Image result for mcqueen documentary

Going into this film I had scarcely any knowledge of British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, other than the fact that his creations always drew serious attention from the fashion industry. Coming out of this documentary, I had a well-informed, rounded knowledge of his life and career, from his optimistic efforts to get his big break to his struggles with depression. McQueen is an emotional gut-punch, a poignant look at the fashion industry that shows that even having big success in it does not mean you will be happy, while the documentary’s tone is perfect as it goes from upbeat to deadly sombre, reflecting the real-life emotional journey of McQueen himself.

2) Roma (Dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

Roma theatrical poster.png

Set in the early 1970s, director/co-producer/screenwriter/cinematographer/co-editor Alfonso Cuarón’s latest masterpiece is a heartfelt tribute to the women who raised him. Beautifully framed, perfectly paced, reflective and intimate in its storytelling and nuanced in its direction, Roma is a masterpiece which boasts rich performances and a true sense of authenticity as it looks at family, discussing what makes somebody family, emphasising that family is not simply defined by who you share genetic make-up with. This is Cuarón’s ultimate passion project and one that will not be forgotten in a hurry, that is for sure.

1) They Shall Not Grow Old (Dir. Peter Jackson)

They Shall Not Grow Old.jpg

Nobody could have foreseen just how truly outstanding They Shall Not Grow Old was going to be. The restoration of actual footage from training bases and the front line of World War I was done painstakingly, but every technical decision was clearly deliberate and thought through and the end results are a genuine masterpiece, with brushed-up quality, excellent colourisation and dialogue added based on lip-reading of what the men were saying while being filmed. If I had just stumbled upon a random scene I could easily have mistaken it for footage shot during the Korean War or the Vietnam War, not World War I. It is not just a technical masterpiece, as Peter Jackson presents a harrowing discussion and overview of the conflict, depicting the horrors of trench warfare, the emotional impact of conflict and ultimately just how futile soldiers from both sides had come to realise it all was by November 1918. No look at war has left me in stunned silence quite like this one did.

2018 was quite a hit-and-miss year for cinema, but by Jove did the hits hit. Let us see now what the rest of 2019 has in store for us, and I look forward to making my Top 10 Films of 2019 list this time next year.

FILM: Happy Death Day 2U (2019, Christopher Landon)

Happy Death Day 2U.png

Horror/science-fiction sequel Happy Death Day 2U is distributed by Universal. After breaking the loop, Tree (Jessica Rothe) is transported into an alternative dimension, where she must now relive a different version of that fateful birthday over and over, as she must not only work out how to get back to her own dimension, but must stop this new killer.

PROS

  • Though they are few and far between there are some tense and fun moments, as well as some real emotional resonance (particularly in the final third).
  • Jessica Rothe is a charismatic lead, bringing real energy and enthusiasm to the project, but also hits the right emotional notes as and when required.

CONS

  • A very convoluted, predictable narrative that is more focused on cheap laughs and slapstick than on genuine horror, tension or character focus, with most of the characters just being expendable, being there for cheap laughs or jump scares.
  • Very cardboard cut-out stereotypes make up the great majority of Tree’s fellow college students, made worse by the fact that there are some quite poor performances from Phi Vu, Sarah Yarkin and Suraj Sharma.
  • Underwhelming use of make-up, while the visual effects and cinematography are at times of a pretty shaky quality (including a couple of instances of very obvious green screen).

VERDICT: 4/10

FILM: The Kid Who Would Be King (2019, Joe Cornish)

The Kid Who Would be King.png

Fantasy-adventure The Kid Who Would Be King is distributed by 20th Century Fox. Set in 21st Century London, schoolboy Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) stumbles upon the legendary Arthurian sword Excalibur and pulls it from a stone. Doing so leads to Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) preparing to unleash her dark forces to enslave the world, so now Alex, with the help of Merlin (Angus Imrie/Patrick Stewart) must raise an army and a new generation of Knights from amongst his classmates.

PROS

  • A consistently fun sense of adventure, as well as some good gags centred on nerd culture and the awkwardness and trials of being a British schoolboy.
  • In the way that his previous film Attack the Block was a fun throwback to low-budget 1950s science-fiction, this is a fun throwback to low-budget fantasies of the 1960s and 1970s, due to production design and creature creation that is very impressive for such a relatively small budget.
  • The child actors may not be of a Jacob Tremblay standard, but they bring real energy and enthusiasm to the project that means that they are nevertheless engaging leads.

CONS

  • There are some pacing issues here and there throughout the narrative, but most noticeably in the quite rushed final 20 minutes, while both the stakes of battle and the emotional resonance of some scenes never quite reach their full potential.
  • The character of Merlin is poorly realised, as both the screenwriting and Angus Imrie (who tries a little too hard to give a uniquely quirky turn) make the character come off more as annoying than as madly brilliant/brilliantly mad.
  • A who’s-who of British actors rather than a memorable ensemble of supporting characters.

VERDICT: 6/10

 

FILM: Cold Pursuit (2019, Hans Petter Moland)

Cold Pursuit poster.jpg

Action film Cold Pursuit is a remake of director Hans Petter Moland’s own Norwegian film In Order of Disappearance, and is distributed by Summit Entertainment. When Nels Coxman (Liam Neeson) learns that his son (Micheál Richardson) was murdered by a drug cartel, he goes after the members one-by-one through the bleak Colorado winter, killing them and disposing of the bodies. However, the cartel leader “Viking” (Tom Bateman) is also in a cartel war with a Native American drug cartel led by White Bull (Tom Jackson).

PROS

  • Well directed and choreographed action sequences which use the minimal amount of gunfire and explosions and have a more naturalistic pace.
  • A stoic leading turn from Liam Neeson who brings the necessary sense of coldness through his lack of expression, but among characters that Nels cares for conveys a sense of warmth and compassion through his enunciation.
  • A beautifully framed film by Philip Øgaard, who shoots the action well, uses dimmer lighting to convey the bleakness of the winter and captures stunningly the grandeur of nature.

CONS

  • The narrative is altogether quite episodic, while there is never any real sense of stakes (despite drug cartels, despite cartel war) and an interesting sub-theme of Police corruption is treated very casually, never really being explored.
  • While there are no bad performances from the supporting cast, many of them are underused, which is especially noticeable when the supporting cast includes Laura Dern and William Forsythe.
  • The dark humour is a bit hit-and-miss, thanks not least to several gags being predictable ones.

VERDICT: 6/10

FILM: Following (1998, Christopher Nolan)

Following film poster.jpg

Christopher Nolan’s directorial debut, neo-noir crime drama Following is a truly authentic example of independent filmmaking that premiered at the 1998 Toronto International Film Festival before Momentum Pictures obtained distribution rights. It cost around £4000 ($6000) of Nolan’s own money to make, while the actors were friends of his and they could only film at weekends as they had to work around their full-time jobs, and Nolan was director, writer, cinematographer, co-producer and co-editor.

Bill (Jeremy Theobald) finds people fascinating to the point that he follows them as they go about their daily lives, but he means no harm to anybody. One man he follows – Cobb (Alex Haw) – realises that he is doing so and confronts him about it. Cobb, however, does not punch him or get a restraining order, rather he suggests that they break into people’s flats in order to better understand them from the inside. However, as Bill goes along with it all it becomes increasingly clear that Cobb’s intentions for Bill are far more sinister. Will Bill realise in time?

PROS

  • Christopher Nolan’s debut film is very brave and showed the world that he was a new talent to look out for, as he uses a dark, at times intense, non-linear narrative and presents puzzles that are to be completed over its course. He shows himself to be an intelligent director and screenwriter, and in the bigger picture of his filmography we see here narrative and stylistic tropes that would recur in some of his later films – MementoThe PrestigeInterstellar and Dunkirk for example.
  • As a cinematographer, Christopher Nolan shows skill in an area that he will never be primarily associated with. As the tight budget was too little to afford studio lighting, he can only use natural lighting and he does so very effectively, making excellent use of shadows and low lighting to bring a sense of darkness to the film.
  • Jeremy Theobald and Alex Haw prove to be two very good young actors, despite having scarcely any experience between them. Theobald plays Bill’s social awkwardness and nervousness very well, while Haw comes across charmingly as Cobb while playing the hint of something more sinister very well.

CONS

  • While the budget constraints and the fact that Christopher Nolan, the cast and crew all had to work on this around their day jobs are ultimately why, the film is only 70 minutes, which is not long enough to get fully invested in the main characters, while most of the supporting characters come and go with little significance as though they are in a revolving door.
  • It becomes especially clear in scenes of fights and torture that Christopher Nolan’s vision far exceeds the budgets, as these scenes are not at all well executed.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: If Beale Street Could Talk (2018, Barry Jenkins)

If Beale Street Could Talk film.png

Romantic drama If Beale Street Could Talk is distributed by Annapurna Pictures, following its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Based on James Baldwin’s novel, the film tells the story of lifelong friends Tish (KiKi Layne) and Fonny (Stephan James) in the 1970s. As they enter adulthood they fall in love with each other but, not long after Tish learns that she is pregnant with Fonny’s child, he is arrested and jailed for a rape that he did not commit. Tish and her family begin to pull out all the stops to get him cleared but, with bigoted cops in a bigoted system pulling the strings, the situation becomes increasingly hopeless.

PROS

  • Director/screenwriter Barry Jenkins is very nuanced and sensitive in his approach to a story that may be over 40 years old but has real relevance today, and shows his intelligence as both a filmmaker and writer of harrowing screenplays. He is unafraid to tackle tough subject matter, and he knows when to make something blatant, but equally knows when to insinuate, trusting that the viewer can read between the lines.
  • Tremendously well realised, multilayered characters whose relationships are fleshed out well and who grow over the course of the narrative as they go life-changing experiences. In the supporting characters department, Tish’s family are fleshed out well and each have a place of significance in the narrative.
  • Outstanding leads in KiKi Layne and Stephan James, who have a wonderful chemistry and who portray their characters’ emotional journeys with nuance and sensitivity. They are backed by a very good supporting cast, the stand-out being Regina King as Tish’s mother, who gives a raw, emotional turn as maternal instincts kick and and she fears for the future of her daughter, son-figure Fonny and unborn grandchild.
  • In the flashback scenes that depict Tish and Fonny’s relationship prior to his arrest, cinematographer James Laxton gives the film an amber glow, bringing a golden sheen that reflects memory and the sense of hope that the characters once carried for their futures.
  • A haunting jazz score by Nicholas Britell helps convey the emotional weight of the narrative, but never overwhelmingly so.

CONS

  • Very little is seen of Fonny’s family, but when on screen they feel very caricatured compared to Tish’s family (and distractingly so) in an effort to create humour at a point in the narrative where to do so feels inappropriate.
  • A couple of points where the dialogue does not feel wholly naturalistic, the novel-origins of the dialogue coming through a little much.

VERDICT: 9/10

FILM: A Private War (2018, Matthew Heineman)

Aprivatewarposter.jpg

Biopic A Private War is distributed by Aviron Pictures, following its premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. The film tells the true story of war correspondent Marie Colvin (Rosamund Pike), depicting her career as a correspondent from the front line from 1986-2012 and the psychological impact her experiences had on her.

PROS

  • A good overview of Marie Colvin’s career that emphasises the importance of making the truth public regardless of its horrors, as well as how anyone can be mentally scarred by experiences.
  • Rosamund Pike gives one of her best performances yet as Colvin, that is multilayered, rich in raw emotion, conveying external strength yet also internal vulnerability.
  • Thanks to detailed production design and some vivid use of makeup, the film conveys the horror of a war zone and how terrifying and dangerous it is to be a civilian caught in the middle of it all.

CONS

  • The narrative at times feels like a simple tick-list for Colvin’s career and is ultimately just a 26-year-long countdown to her death (sorry for the spoiler, but this was front-page news seven years ago).
  • While there are no bad performances from the supporting cast, their characters are mostly just there but with little realisation of their role in Colvin’s life.

VERDICT: 7/10

FILM: Instant Family (2018, Sean Anders)

InstantFamily.png

Instant Family is a comedy-drama that is distributed by Paramount and inspired on the real-life experiences of director/co-screenwriter Sean Anders (albeit with the names changed). Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide that they want to adopt, and agree to adopt teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). The three kids prove very challenging in very different ways, pushing Pete and Ellie to their limits, but it is a learning curve and they eventually begin to bond with the younger kids, while Lizzy remains naturally defensive. Can they get through to her?

PROS

  • A genuinely heartfelt and sincere narrative that has a good balance between laughs (which mostly hit the mark very well) and character-driven drama that conveys the importance of both family and knowing that family is not just defined by being a blood relative.
  • The character-driven element of the film is nothing short of excellent, a vast improvement on anything character-driven that Sean Anders has done before, as the characters are well-realised, multilayered individuals whose bonds and relationships are develop realistically and sincerely over the course of the narrative, which feels very natural and authentic for the most part.
  • Solid, energetic leading turns from Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, while the three main child actors are natural young performers that have great chemistry with each other and with Wahlberg and Byrne. The supporting cast are also good, the stand-out being the ever-reliable Octavia Spencer as social worker Karen.

CONS

  • A number of Ellie’s relatives feature, as do a number of fellow prospective adoptive parents, who are much less well realised, the latter being much more cardboard cut-out stereotypes in several instances.
  • A few gags that do not quite hit the mark, particularly in the final 10 minutes which boasts a pointless and frankly dragged-out cameo from Joan Cusack.

VERDICT: 8/10

FILM: The Lego Movie 2 (2019, Mike Mitchell)

The Lego Movie 2 The Second Part.jpg

Note: The subtitle/subheading The Second Part is not on the UK release of the film.

Five years after creatures from the Planet Duplo arrived, Emmet (Chris Pratt) and the rest of Bricksburg now live in a post-apocalyptic landscape and everyone has toughened up…except for Emmet of course. One night he dreams of Bricksburg’s “Armamageddon”, but just assumes that this vision of the end of their world is just a dream. However, when Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and their friends are kidnapped by the Duplo Army, Emmet realises that maybe the “Armamageddon” may well actually be about to happen, so he and new friend Rex Dangervest (also Pratt) go on a mission to save his friends and their entire world.

PROS

  • A beautifully animated film, with a rich colour palette, a wonderful sense of texture and great expressiveness to the characters.
  • A very fun sense of adventure to the film, with some good gags and clever pop culture references, while also engaging with more serious themes of mortality and identity, and conveying the importance of playing nicely to children.
  • Emmet is once again a great lead character, and Chris Pratt does a great job of voicing both him and Rex – a brilliant amalgamation of Pratt’s various iconic roles. The supporting voice cast are good – the stand-out being Tiffany Haddish as the brilliantly unhinged antagonistic figure Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi.

CONS

  • Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s screenplay does get a bit too joke and pop-culture reference heavy, while the climax gets altogether rather convoluted and there is excessive use of musical sequences.
  • While the Lego brick borders came down in wonderful moments of self-awareness in the original film, there is far too much distinction between reality and imagination in this film, resulting in it feeling altogether quite disjointed.
  • There are too many characters that have lines in the film, reflecting more of a fixation with pop-culture references and cameos than anything, resulting in too many characters being extras and several forgettable supporting cast members.

VERDICT: 6/10