February 2018 In Review

Oscar season is gone, and it resulted in me seeing some phenomenal films that were in contention (and Darkest Hour). But enough of that, let's see what I viewed this past February.

Darkest Hour - 2/5 - Coming into this film, the thing hanging over it was how Gary Oldman is the clear awards favourite for winning Best Picture. It's apparent why, as Oldman delivers a knockout performance which is clearly favoured by awards committee. He proves rousing where necessary, but it isn't a performance which relies on shouting and being showy. He also excels in the quieter moments, with the superb make-up work complimenting his performance.

There's an interesting story at the centre of the film, about Churchill's struggle to do right by the British public, despite the disheartening battle with the Nazis. What makes it a shame is how Joe Wright tells the story in such a dull manner, with a clunky script letting things down. The best example is set on the underground, when Churchill visits the British public. It's a moment that's supposed to be rousing, but comes off as incredibly heavy handed. The film stops dead in its tracks to essentially conduct a consensus about the war.

Surrounding the picture are forced attempts at humour, which inserts itself into the narrative more than necessary. It comes to the point where one wonders if Joe Wright would've preferred making an outright comedy about this situation. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our weakest nominee for the Best Picture Oscar.

Call Me By Your Name - 5/5 - Goodness me. Luca Guadagnino captures first love in such a heartfelt and tender manner, completely drawing me into the romance between Elio and Oliver. It helps that Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer portrays their roles so well, with their shared attraction being captured in such a believable manner, making for one of the most engrossing couples of the past few years.

The Ghoul (2017) - 3.5/5 - The feature debut of director Gareth Tunley, one can't say he's played it safe when straight out of the gate. The Ghoul is a hypnotic thriller that will bend your mind, playing with the narrative and character perceptions in ways that will leave one in a constant state of wonderment. However, this is a picture that's more to be admired for what it attempts, as opposed to what places it succeeds in. The cast do an exceptional job, with Tom Meeten leading a cast who work exceptionally well with the material. I look forward to seeing where Gareth Tunley goes next.

Phantom Thread - 5/5 - A sumptuously composed dark romance

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

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - "Anger begets greater anger". This quote gets to the heart of Martin McDonagh's film, as many characters work through their own personal problems through anger. I would be very surprised if Frances McDormand or Sam Rockwell don't walk away with their respective Oscars. 

The Cloverfield Paradox - 2/5 - By this point, unique marketing strategies are commonplace for the Cloverfield film series. Making its existence known not long before its Netflix release is certainly attention grabbing, and probably exactly what this film needed. Julius Onah certainly has interesting ideas in play, but fails to do much with them, especially before the narrative descends into eye-roll worthy territory. The talented cast do well in their roles, which makes it a shame how one-dimensional they utterly are. By the end of the film, it just feels like a needless attempt to tie this series together, through a subpar attempt at last year's Life, which itself was a subpar attempt at Alien. Not one worth sticking in the mind. 

I, Tonya - 4/5 - A stranger than fiction tale delivered in such a gripping, and blackly humorous, manner.

Den of Thieves - 3/5 - It's clear that writer/director Christian Gudegast was inspired by genre entries, such as Michael Mann's Heat, considering how much his directorial debut borrows from said films. What wasn't initially clear was how fun the proceedings would be, with the bank robbers proving to be the films most engaging aspect.

O'Shea Jackson Jr proves to be the best aspect of this film, with Pablo Schrieber coming a clear second, through their engaging performances alone. By contrast, Gerard Butler is the least compelling aspect, a brutish and unsympathetic character, with scenes about his disintegrating marriage leaving one to root for his wife. As for the rest of the cast, forget about them, because the script certainly did. 50 Cent is lucky to get what few lines he already has. At 140 minutes, it runs rather long, but when you have engaging scenes such as a final shoot-out, it's worth the watch in the long run.

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Best film seen in cinemas: Phantom Thread

Winchester: The House That Ghosts Built - 1/5 - Well, this was a disaster. The Spierig Brothers take an interesting story, involving the fabled Winchester house, and turns it into a completely messy & utterly boring ghost story, lacking in any originality. It lazily pulls out jump scares at an irritating rate, while good performances are wasted on thinly sketched characters. What's worse is the inklings of a decent idea are clear, with Mirren's Winchester heiress showing guilt over profiting from something which has killed countless people. It appears to be taking an anti-gun stance, but then decides the way to resolve it all is with a gun, leaving a mixed message about what we've witnessed.

Fifty Shades Freed - 0.5/5 - The writers clearly didn't care what went on in-between the limp sex scenes, delivering the most contrived bollocks they could, while glamourising a toxic and controlling relationship.

The Strangers - 4/5 - Well, this was tense. Bryan Bertino's 86 minute piece of horror is deftly delivered to have audiences feel the same as our protagonists, as the tension ratchets up in a manner that comes off as frighteningly real. We're made to bear witness to these well rounded leads going through a nightmarish experience, leaving one to not forget what's occurred anytime soon. 

25th Hour - 5/5 - The second film I've witnessed from Spike Lee, and oh my goodness, it was phenomenal. A piece that's all about character, with the relationships and conversations standing front and centre, phenomenally brought alive by the terrific ensemble who wonderfully embody their roles, and provide an utterly gripping 135 minutes. One scene which sticks in the mind is Monty's long rant, where he tries to pass off the blame upon everyone else, before making the realisation that he's the problem. What a fantastic film.

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Best film watched for the first time: Boyz N The Hood

Black Panther - 5/5 - No matter how big the budget or the spectacle, Ryan Coogler does not sacrifice on the character, themes or plot.

Get Out [rewatch] - 5/5 - My girlfriend asked me to pick a film to watch for Valentine's Day, whatever I wanted. So I decided to show her one of my favourites of 2017. She didn't like it, she doesn't take to horror, but I'm grateful she tried it. Plus, third viewing, and this film just keeps getting better.

Black Panther [rewatch] - 5/5 - Took my girlfriend to see this. She isn't a fan of the superhero genre, but she had a lot of love for this film. Ryan Coogler's phenomenal storytelling and characterisation still shines through, making this one of my favourite MCU entries.

Blue Jay - 4.5/5 - A film steeped in the nostalgia of our central duo's past relationship, Alexandre Lehmann depicts it in a rather honest manner, as Jim and Amanda deal with the memories of what they loved about being with each other, and confronting the truths about what broke them up. When the bitter truths are laid out near the end, it's emotionally devastating, and works so well because of the powerful dual performances. Sarah Paulson and Mark Duplass wonderfully capture their dwelling in the nostalgia, as an escape for where their lives have turned out. A film I'm glad to have witnessed, I loved every moment of it.

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Biggest Disappointment: Darkest Hour

They Live - 4.5/5 - 2018 appears to be the year I power through the works of John Carpenter, which I'm good with, because it leads me to experiencing gems like this. An intriguing piece of politically charged sci-fi horror, fronted by the charismatic presences of Roddy Piper and Keith David (culminating in a phenomenal six minute long fight between them). Enacted with thrilling pieces of action, this is a world that feels well thought out, and rather relevant.

Society (1989) - 4/5 - Brian Yuzna delivers a commentary on classism, and how the rich and powerful drain those they consider beneath them. It is successful? Not wholly, and Billy Warlock isn't exactly the best actor. But it will stick in ones mind, ESPECIALLY when you take into account the last half an hour of the film. It's this portion which will make or break the film for viewers, as the phenomenal effects by Screaming Mad George bring alive the imaginative nature of the picture, and deliver something I'd be surprised to see anywhere else in cinema. ESPECIALLY with how our lead resolves things, prepare for those images to forever stick in ones mind.

Song of the Sea (2015) - 4.5/5 - Oh my goodness. Why is it animated cinema allows for innovation and phenomenal storytelling the likes of which mature cinema wishes it could achieve? Tomm Moore's beautifully animated tale takes inspiration from Gaelic fairy tales, delivering a heartfelt story about grief that will stay with you.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (1937) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Considering I will be visiting Disneyland Paris later in the year, I really should get cracking on watching these classics. Nothing like watching this breezy little film on a lazy afternoon with a friend. "Hi-Hooooooo!!!!!"

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Biggest Surprise: They Live

National Lampoon's Animal House [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A raucous comedy full of memorable characters, hilarious gags, and moments that are endlessly repeatable (anything with the horse). Some parts come off as pretty dated, but it's a ride worth taking, especially for the company of the members of Delta House.

Whistle and I'll Come To You (1968) - 3/5 - A ghost story which was adapted by the BBC for Christmas, and it resembles a stage play brought to the screen. It has effective moments which creep upon viewers, but I found to meander a bit too much. At the centre is an interesting idea, where a man whose need to rationalize everything is met with something he cannot do that with, something supernatural, and it terrifies him. It's helped by a terrific central performance by Michael Hordern, but it's not one I believe I'll come back to.

The Shining [rewatch] - 5/5 - The way Stanley Kubrick effortlessly flits between genres, and pulls his forays off so marvellously, will never cease to amaze me. His entry into the horror genre is one of the most visually arresting, impeccably crafted, feast for the eyes which has the pleasure to get under my skin, chill me to the bone, and leave me uncomfortable. Jack Nicholson phenomenally captures his characters descent into madness, delivering a darkness which leaves one as unsettled as the ghostly occurrences within the Overlook Hotel, and whatever Room 237 can conjure up. This is a film I haven't seen since coming across is late one night on ITV4, and it's a masterpiece I hope to revisit many times over.

The Visions of Stanley Kubrick - 3.5/5 - A featurette of many directors showing their admiration for Stanley Kubrick, and proclaiming what exactly about him made him such a wonderful director. A nice little extra for the Blu-Ray of The Shining, but is it really necessary?

Boyz N The Hood - 5/5 - John Singleton delivers a powerful film about black youths growing up in a neighbourhood where death is an everyday occurrence. This is best exemplified in the opening scene, where a little girl says she isn't scared of getting shot because her brothers both have gunshot wounds. It also acts as phenomenal social criticism, with Laurence Fishburne delivering a stunning speech about gentrification, and Ice Cube showing some of his best work in a quiet speech about violence on TV. But it also helps how these terrific actors put some of their best work into well rounded roles, allowing viewers to get attached to these characters as their lives are affected by violence and crime in many ways. In short, it's a masterpiece.

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Worst film of the month: Fifty Shades Freed

The Fog (1980) - 3.5/5 - John Carpenter's take on the ghost story is certainly an interesting one, as the ghosts are hidden within the confines of a fog which envelopes a sleepy little town. Fronted by terrific actors portraying likeable characters, and nice little moments of horror, even if the film can be a bit restrained at times. Also, for a film about a town under siege from a ghostly menace, I never bought that more than a handful of citizens were being affected (what about those who were OUTSIDE?). Not one of Carpenter's best, it seems.

Alien Autopsy - 3/5 - On first glance, this may seem no more than a vehicle to get British star's Ant & Dec onto cinema screens. While it is ultimately a fluffy vehicle for the pair, it is a fun little tale that never threatens to outstay its welcome. The lead duo aren't bad in their roles, although, one feels sorry for all who are in the vicinity of Ray Santilli, as Dec's character is rather self-centred, doing little without some personal gain for himself. There is also a needless subplot involving a gangster played by Götz Otto, but it's a fun picture, especially when the characters are enacting the eponymous Autopsy.

Westworld - 4/5 - Written and directed by Michael Crichton, this is a high concept piece of science-fiction set in an imaginative landscape. The impressive world building is just one terrific aspect, as we're sucked into an engaging narrative, with the expectation for something to go wrong. At the centre of that is Yul Brynner's Gunslinger, who's surely a phenomenal precursor for the T-800, and the real star of this film. James Brolin and Richard Benjamin are good in their roles, but compared with Brynner and the world itself, they're on the less interesting side of the spectrum. 

Finding Your Feet - 2.5/5 - Well, this was a mixed bag of a film. It felt quite hit and miss with the moments both dramatic and humorous, as these elements could feel awkward at one moment, and come off much stronger just 10 minutes later. Luckily, the army of talented performers are on-hand to bring this tale alive, even if characterization is spotty amongst them. Not bad, but could've been better.

The Open House - 1/5 - By the time I reached the end of this Netflix film, I wondered what the bloody point of it all was. The dual directors take a mixture of lifeless elements, and try combining them in the most poor of ways. It's like trying to make something half-decent out of Duplo, Mega Blocks, and shards of glass. The actors have little to work with, while there's no sense of foreboding, danger, or any kind of reason to it all. What a waste.

Best film of the month: The Shining
Best film seen in cinemas: Phantom Thread
Best film watched for the first time: Boyz N The Hood
Best film rewatched: The Shining
Biggest Disappointment: Darkest Hour
Biggest Surprise: They Live
Worst film of the month: Fifty Shades Freed

Number of films watched: 28