January 2018 In Review

New year, new opportunity to watch all kinds of brand new films. In an effort to catch up on releases I'd missed from 2017, I ventured to the cinema quite a few times, while also going through a backlog of DVDs and recorded programs. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the films I watched this past January.

Iron Man [rewatch] - 4/5 - Yes, i'm taking part in watching the MCU entries in the run-up to Avengers: Infinity War. Considering how self-contained this film is, it's hard to believe this one film gave birth to an entire cinematic universe.

Considering where the superhero genre was at before this, it's interesting how different this was to what came before it. Secret identities are thrown out of the window, allowing Tony Stark (phenomenally played by Robert Downey Jr) to embrace who he is publicly. Then there's the trip to a war torn village to save civilians from insurgents. No superheroes cleaning after their own mess (looking at you, Fantastic Four), this was a hero flying to another country and righting some wrongs. In a way, I wish it stuck with this aspect, because it was a more interesting element, especially compared to the dull suit v suit punch up at the end.

Big Trouble In Little China - 4/5 - It's nothing short of a miracle that John Carpenter weaves together numerous threads, genres, and elements, and it comes out working so darn well. A one of kind picture, this is full of imagination and spirit, making 99 incredibly fun minutes fronted by phenomenal performances. Even the smaller roles are filled out so well by the cast, with James Hong ferociously killing it as Lo Pan, and Kurt Russell imbuing Jack Burton with the charm which made him such a big star. 

Finding Dory [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Whether she's eating a cup or pecking a fish on the head, Becky is all kinds of wonderful. Is it too much to ask for a plush doll of that adorable little bird? 

All The Money In The World- 4/5 - Through recounting the kidnapping of Paul Getty, Ridley Scott delivers a stranger than fiction tale in such a tense and engrossing manner. He shows how terrific a director he still can be, and that's not even considering the seamless integration of Christopher Plummer. His portrayal of John Paul Getty is superb, a man more willing to spend money on a priceless painting, as opposed to paying the ransom for his grandson. Powering the picture is a phenomenal portrayal by Michelle Williams, who sees a solution to getting her son back, but feels helpless against the stubborn nature of her father in law. The weak link is unfortunately the biggest named star, as Mark Wahlberg feels like he's acting in an entirely different film, with his character largely feeling superfluous to the story. 

My Name is Lenny - 2/5 - Outside of his appearance in Lock, Stock, and Two Smokin' Barrels, I can't say I knew much of Lenny McLean. Ron Scalpello's picture gave some insight into the man and his life, with the most intriguing parts being him lamenting over his abuse as a child. Outside of that, the fights were shoddily put together, while the film got a bit too cartoonish at times. This is especially in regards to an outburt McLean has in the pub, and not helped by Josh Helman unnecessarily gurning throughout. 

Training Day [rewatch] - 4/5 - A rather chaotic 24 hours, delivered in a tense and thrilling manner thanks to Antione Fuqua's deft direction. Though you can tell it's a David Ayer script, with such clunkers included like "You ever had your shit pushed in?". At the centre of it all are two actors at the top of their game, as Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke prove to be utterly magnetic in their roles.

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Best film of the month and Best film rewatched: The Thing

Wolves At The Door - 0/5 - Director John R. Leonetti follows on from his Manson family inspired touches in Annabelle, by expanding it into a feature film inspired by/centred around the events of the Tate murders. Why the slash in-between? Because the film seems unable to decide which one it wants to be, with the lines muddied by a last minute montage of coverage around the Tate murders.

But really, that's the least of the films problems. The real life tragedy has been turned into a soulless slasher flick, while including a sledgehammer in an effort to "spice things up" in regards to the murderous set-pieces. It's a ghastly way to make this film, turning it into an exploitative and hollow, leaving a picture that's nothing short of a horrendous piece of trash. 

Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2 [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I was going to save this for later on in the MCU viewing, but my housemate put it on, and I couldn't resist Baby Groot dancing to Mr Blue Sky. A wonderful film that focuses on character, while never losing sight on what made its predecessor such a wonderful surprise. 

Boy (2010) - 5/5 - Coming into a Taika Waititi picture, there's numerous things you can count on. A humorous time well spent, heart contained within, and an appearance from the director himself, all of which comes second to the well crafted character development. All of these elements shine brightly here, in Waititi's directorial feature, which is also his best film yet. Credit is deserved to the wonderful cast, from James Rolleston's eponymous character, who idealises his father as a figure capable of great feats, to Waititi himself, whose portrayal of Boy's father is a noticeable far cry from what's said about him. 87 minutes full of heart which is more than worth anyone's time. 

Mudbound - 4.5/5 - It's baffling to see such a stunning film as this essentially be ignored throughout Awards contention. What Dee Rees has delivered is a gripping and heartbreaking tale about racism and PTSD, deftly delivered with a confident direction. We're given enough about each prominent character to understand what kind of person they each are, helped by the fantastic ensemble who each effortlessly embody their roles. No roles seem to embody the traditional example of a lead, but the closest would have to be Carey Mulligan, Jason Mitchell, and Garrett Hedlund, each of whom deliver stunning portrayals. 

Pontypool - 4/5 - Tony Burgess adapts his own novel Pontypool Changes Everything into a screenplay, which Bruce McDonald directs, resulting in the dual influences delivering a fresh take on the zombie genre. This time around, the infection lies within the words, as the film takes place entirely within a radio station, and is powered by the tremendous performances from its game cast. Not all of it holds up, an attempt to change the words meanings feels like a cop out, but it's a fresh take that sticks in the memory.

The Incredible Hulk [rewatch] - 2.5/5 - I haven't seen this one for years, and I can see why. It is likely I did watch it recently though, as this is one of the more forgettable MCU entries. The moments of Bruce on the run, going from place to place work well, and are one of many nice nods to the original Incredible Hulk TV Series. It's especially preferable to the dull fight scenes which are hurt by the ugly visual effects, resulting in a terrible final fight. A pretty hollow film, and while I like Edward Norton, his performance just makes me yearn for Mark Ruffalo to take over much sooner.

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Best film seen in cinemas: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Café Society [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - One of the many films which proves the acting talents of the fantastic Kristen Stewart. To be honest, I would've preferred the film from her point of view.

Insidious: Chapter 2 - 2/5 - Following on from his surprise 2010 hit, Insidious, James Wan chooses to build a sequel upon the weaker elements of its predecessor. The result focuses on a cartoonish main plot involving Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, which plays it a bit too safe and is largely ignored until the final act pushes it to the forefront. It doesn't help that Wan favours cattle prod style jump scares, at the expense of any actual atmosphere or chills. It's a shame, because Lin Shaye absolutely kills it.

Good Time - 5/5 - What Ben & Joshua Safdie deliver equates to 101 minutes of unrelenting tension, rarely letting up throughout the gripping storyline. It's an experience that often proves haunting, enhanced by stunning cinematography by Sean Price Williams, and a phenomenal score by Daniel Lopatin. Front and centre of it all lies one tremendous factor, and that's Robert Pattinson. Since he came into the spotlight for the Twilight films, it feels as though audiences have been left with a perception of him for acting in those vampire romance films, a perception he's since been trying to shift. Here, he delivers his best performance yet, proving utterly compelling throughout. He does what he believes to be best for him and his brother, no matter how ill informed his actions are, and Pattinson's portrayal helps to sell the necessity to see how it will all turn out. 

Insidious: Chapter 3 - 2.5/5 - In an effort to capitalise on a franchise name, Leigh Whannell takes to the directors chair and shifts the focus from one family, to Lin Shaye's Elise. Yes, they made a prequel involving the character who died back in the first film, and it feels as needless as it sounds. To be fair, Shaye kills it once more in the role, proving to be the best thing about this tired franchise, but despite some creepy imagery, the scares and chills remain unavailable here. 

Insidious: The Last Key - 2/5 - Adam Robitel takes over directorial duties from Leigh Whannell, the franchises poor attempt at comic relief, and manages to carry on what the third film achieved, by being a pointless prequel that loosely ties into the first two films. Any attempts at intriguing family drama, tied into Elise's family history, is drowned in a sea of subpar attempts at horror. The jump scares, coupled with loud noises, are as effective as being shocked with a cattle prod, and feel tiresome from early on. Here's hoping the title is somewhat accurate, and this is the last film in this tired series.

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Best film watched for the first time: Boy

Flushed Away [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Aardman films are often so wonderful because of their unique nature, just look at the influence of Hammer films in Vegetarian horror that is Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit, or the inspirations of silent cinema in Shaun the Sheep Movie. The last of their films made in association with Dreamworks, in spite of some witty touches, and hilarious moments that feel uniquely Aardman, this is easily their most ordinary film. 

Inside Out [rewatch] - 5/5 - "Who's the friend that likes to break your heart? Bing Bong! Bong Bong!" 

Star Wars: The Last Jedi [rewatch] - 5/5 - One that truly improves with each subsequent viewing. Rian Johnson is responsible for one of the most impressive and brave entries into the Star Wars franchise. 

The Shape of Water- 5/5 - Guillermo Del Toro delivers a unique romance, which proves strikingly touching, and wonderfully enacted by its phenomenal cast.

The Jungle Book (1967) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A charming Disney adaptation centred around a man-cub named Mowgli, and his friendship with Bagheera and Baloo. These engaging characters fill the screen with their wonderful relationships, set to the beautiful animation that is expected from Disney. It's a shame the end lets things down a bit, as it was all going so well up until then.

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Biggest Disappointment: Escape From New York

Ringu - 4.5/5 - I've already given Gore Vebrinski's The Ring a watch, and found it to be a rather effective piece of horror. I may be going backwards, but Hideo Nakata's original piece of horror is all the more effective, as this moody and creepy piece of viral horror works wonders. Character development is built well up to the unforgettable end, which is utterly chilling and won't leave ones mind in a hurry. 

The Transfiguration- 4.5/5 - With his directorial debut, Michael O'Shea delivers a wonderfully compelling take on the vampire genre that holds much promise for his future in cinema. Eric Ruffin skillfully portrays Milo, a young male struggling to deal with a past trauma. His personal coping method is believing himself to be a vampire, complete with selecting victims to kill, drink their blood, and steal any money on their person. Utilising vampirism as a mental illness is a wonderful idea that sets it apart from other genre entries, with O'Shea handling the proceedings in a manner so gripping, and effectively tense. It's a superbly unique take on a well worn creature of horror, and I look forward to where his career will go next. 

The Book of Life - 4.5/5 - With the UK finally getting Coco released in cinemas, and especially with the comparisons made between the two, it was about time I gave this a viewing. My goodness, why did I wait so long to give this a watch? What Jorge R. Gutierrez has delivered is a sumptuously animated love letter to Mexican culture, and the Day of the Dead festival, within a wonderfully imaginative landscape that definitely has Guillermo Del Toro's influences evident all throughout. The wondrous voice acting goes into the engaging and well rounded characters, as the plot wonderfully characterises each of our lead characters, as they wish to carve out their own path, hoping to step out under the shadows cast by their families. Plus, it's a laugh riot, complete with wonderful covers of well known songs, alongside original tunes that are just as superbly vocalised. What a gem. 

Coco - 5/5 - No matter how many unneeded sequels and misfires Pixar release, they can truly knock it out of the park when they want to. This was clear as day with 2015's phenomenal Inside Out, and it's evident once more with their celebration of Mexican culture that is Coco. Considering the majority of the tale takes place within the Land of the Dead, it helps that directors wonderfully realise this setting, through imaginative and gorgeous visuals. This is a great showcase for the amount of vitality and life directors Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina bring to the film, as are the fantastic musical numbers.

At the centre of the compelling story lies a wonderfully realised idea about the importance of music. It's a passion for Miguel, the way he can best express himself, but it's not limited to that here. It's also utilised as a bridge between generations, something which endures throughout the passage of time, and connects people. This is best shown through the musical number "Remember Me", a song passed down which holds importance through the journey, leading to a great deal of emotional resonance that's sure to leave many a viewer misty eyed.

The Hills Have Eyes (2006) - 4/5 - Well, colour me impressed. Alexandre Aja managed to deliver the rare occurrence of a remake which surpasses its predecessor. The assembled cast are truly believable in their roles, putting their all into these engaging characters who are going through a nightmarish experience. Aja deftly mounts the tension all throughout, until it reaches unbearable levels throughout the final act, where the stupendous make up effects are on display. Yes, a number of the character actions are questionable (Seriously, tell your family about the horrific sight you witnessed), but it's a well executed film that's worth the watch.

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Biggest Surprise: The Book of Life

American Graffiti - 4.5/5 - My knowledge of George Lucas has been limited to the Star Wars saga, so this was a breath of fresh air. What he's delivered is a humorous, yet bittersweet, and undeniably poignant look at the innocence of youth. Our leads are at that stage of life where it feels like anything can happen, where they don't have many responsibilities, or have to worry about holding down jobs. They know that time is coming to a close, and are facing difficulties in the transition, be it Milner knowing his time as the undefeated racing champion is coming to a close, or Curt getting cold feet about leaving home. Luckily, the spectacular cast do a wonderful job conveying this point of their life. This feels like a more personal film from George Lucas, and I do wish we could've seen more of this side of him. 

Ratcatcher - 4/5 - Now this is one that grew on me. The more I pondered over this devastating tale of adolescence, the more I was impressed by what I had witnessed. Centred around a boy who hopes something better is coming his way, hoping that the devastating nature of his surroundings and his family won't remain as they are. It's a superbly acted piece, and while not everything worked for me, it's one film I'll be keen to revisit, and see if it grows on me even more. 

Escape From New York - 3.5/5 - My knowledge of John Carpenter is as a horror director, first and foremost, so the knowledge that he directed such a popular sci-fi actioner from the 1980s had me rather intrigued. It's certainly a film brimming with intrigue and ideas, starting with the idea of New York City being walled off and used as a prison. It's an engaging set-up that works well with the race against the clock premise, as Kurt Russell compellingly portrays the lead antihero, Snake Plissken. It's just a shame every other character is so one-note, with little being put into giving us a reason to engage with them. 

Raw (2017) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - Revisiting Julia Ducournau's directorial debut is a wonderful experience. The tale effectively utilises cannibalism as an allegory, for identity and coming of age, using the well crafted effects for the purposes of character as well as gore. Garance Marillier embodies her role stupendously well, she's definitely a talent worth watching out for.

The Commuter - 2/5 - Whatever intrigue this film holds, it's quickly tossed aside for the bog-standard "Liam Neeson punches his problems away" formula.

The Thing (1982) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Everytime I watch this film, it's like I'm viewing it for the very first time. The moments of tension remain ever so gripping, the effects are horrifyingly phenomenal, Kurt Russell leads a stellar cast who each embody their roles really well, and the unfolding tale remains equal parts intriguing, and gripping. A masterful piece of unbearable tension.

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Worst film of the month: Wolves at the Door

House on Haunted Hill (1959) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Running at just over an hour, William Castle's foray into the ghost story is rather creepy and effectively done. Outside of Vincent Price's billionaire and his wife, whom trade barbed words in such an engaging manner, the characters are poorly defined vessels to drive the narrative from each ghostly occurrence to the next. Although there's quite a few moments which don't hold up, especially when you take that Scooby-Doo ending into account, it's an effective piece of horror with moments that genuinely hold up almost 60 years after its release.

Quarantine (2008) - 4/5 - One of my favourite horror films from recent years is [REC], so the prospect of an English language remake got me a bit worried. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. Granted, a number of the scenes are less effective rehashes from the original, but these are thankfully the minority. What John Erick Dowdle has brought to screen is an effective piece of horror, carrying over from the original the tense proceedings within the confined building, the engaging characters whose fates we care for, and the necessary atmosphere, while also effectively going its own way where necessary. I'd rather Hollywood didn't go the remake route, but if it must, this is a good example of how to do it. 

Early Man - 4/5 - Aardman delivers stone-age hilarity, in their own wonderful way.

Bobby Fischer Against The World - 4/5 - Liz Garbus brings to screen an engrossing and telling documentary about the world renowned chess player, Bobby Fischer. The effort to get into his mindset is effectively done, whilst delving into his tragic backstory, be it his family history, his descent into antisemitism, or how he could never return to the U.S. His reaction to the September 11th attacks is especially horrid, but it's all brought to screen so well. 

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - David Soren and Rob Letterman have put a clear amount of care into this film, as their adaptation of Dav Pilkey's books is bursting with visual inventiveness, laugh out loud humour (both of the witty and the potty variety), engaging characters, and an end theme that will get stuck within your head. One that's very easy to love. 

The Greatest Showman [rewatch] - 4/5 - Upon a rewatch, many things stood out for me. The largest thing was how needless Zac Efron's character is, essentially existing to conveniently answer who's looking after Barnum's Circus while he's touring with Jenny Lind. No wonder the romance between Carlyle and Anne felt forced and underdeveloped, it's an inclusion to give Efron something to do. Outside of that, it remains a darn good time with some genuinely good musical numbers within which hold up outside of the film. "The Other Side" is my personal favourite.

Best film of the month: The Thing
Best film seen in cinemas: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Best film watched for the first time: Boy
Best film rewatched: The Thing
Biggest Disappointment: Escape From New York
Biggest Surprise: The Book Of Life
Worst film of the month: Wolves At The Door

Number of films watched: 39