July 2018 In Review

A month where I've managed to catch up in regards to my 52 Films By Women challenge, while also powering through the Mission: Impossible franchise, taking in a great deal of films released this year, and then the odd viewing here and there. So, let's take a look at the films I viewed this past July.

A Fantastic Woman - 4/5 - At its best, this tale from Sebastián Lelio is a showcase for Daniela Vega's tremendous performance, and what a performance it is. A tale about fighting for yourself and coping with loss, resulting in her need to escape into a preferable fantasy, but it does focus on the misery of our lead a bit more than feels necessary. Here's hoping this leads to phenomenal things for this talented actress.

Ocean's 8 [rewatch] - 4/5 - A fun heist flick composed of a wonderful cast which works terrifically, from informative beginning, to what feels like an end worth pumping your fists in the air to. Just a shame the film then continues on, dragging its feet so James Corden can piss about in a needless fashion. 

The Blood on Satan's Claw - 3/5 - In order to further explore the folk horror subgenre, I decided to delve into what's considered one of the earliest examples. What Piers Haggard delivers proves to be eerie and intriguing, with creepy imagery which won't easily be forgotten. But it forgoes characterisation and drops a number of interesting threads, in order to meander about until we reach the finale. 

Walk The Line - 4/5 - When it comes to musicians, I'm often clueless about them when it comes to items outside of their most popular songs. Johnny Cash is no exception to that, and while the story falls into familiar tropes, I felt James Mangold delivered an engaging and informative story of the artists turbulent life. The subplot about Cash's difficult relationship with his father could've done with a bit more exploration, as its lack of resolution has it almost feel like its inclusion is to pad out the runtime. Although Joaquin Phoenix is phenomenal in the role, perfectly getting across the character, and sharing a wonderful chemistry with Witherspoon's June Carter. She deserved that Oscar, lending a believability to her sweetness and cheery nature, while proving herself to be a confident and strong willed woman in her own way. I thought it was great.

Mary Poppins - 4.5/5 - A strong example in how to make almost 2 and a half hours feel much shorter. The runtime flies by like an assortment of nannies in the wind, as we're treated to a wonderful group of characters who go from one adventure to another, with a wonderful composition of original songs playing throughout. Julie Andrews is a treasure, working phenomenally off everyone else, even Dick Van Dyke and his dodgy accent. This may not have worked for P.L. Travers, but it bloody well does for me.

The Secret of Marrowbone - 2/5 - Best known for his script-work on The Orphanage, Sergio G. Sánchez is no stranger to crafting a horror film with potentially ghostly elements, and children at the centre of it. For his directorial debut, he brings forth interesting ideas where to take the story, which are matched by a terrific cast. This is especially true of George MacKay, who adapts tremendously to whatever direction the script wishes to take him on. Sadly, the proceedings are let down by a combination of a muddled handling, and a scattershot script. There's also unfortunate need to unnecessarily spell things out, which the audience are capable of working out for themselves. A forgettable entry into the horror genre.

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Best film of the month, Best film seen in cinemas & Best film
watched for the first time: Mission: Impossible - Fallout

Mission: Impossible II - 3.5/5 - Long considered the red-headed step child of Tom Cruise's long-running franchise, I went into this instalment cautiously. What I ended up experiencing turned out to be a really entertaining piece of action, complete with an engaging story that pits Ethan against a rogue I.M.F agent, whose past experiences posing as Hunt means he knows him inside and out. Unfortunately, things are let down by Dougray Scott feeling miscast as the antagonist, particularly in the emotional scenes. Then there's John Woo's penchant for overusing slow-motion, which has even Zack Snyder saying "tone it down".

Mission: Impossible III - 4/5 - Considering his directing career has been full of summer blockbusters, with 2/3rds taken up by big franchise films whose title begins with "Star", I shouldn't be surprised this was the directorial debut of J.J. Abrams. What this adds to the brand is a complete adrenaline shot, giving it a different style of action to the predecessors, which feels more down and dirty, with an added brutality yet unseen. It's changes like this, through the different directors coming aboard, which make each instalment feel refreshingly different. It also helps that it adds a new wrinkle to Ethan's character, making him engaged to Michelle Monaghan's likeable Julia, who thankfully is capable in her own way, as opposed to just being another hapless partner action films tend to deliver. I would've liked if the supporting characters got more to do, or even some more characterisation, so they felt less like plot devices to help our lead when needed. But when Phillip Seymour Hoffman delivers his scenes with such a necessary menace and intensity, it's really worthwhile.

Suffragette - 3.5/5 - Sarah Gavron brings forth the tale of the Suffragette movement in an engaging manner, as Carey Mulligan's fierce performance leads the pack amongst a powerful cast. It's a shame how it downplays some of the real life historical figures, in favour for amalgamations of real people, and characters created for the film. Plus, it comes off as more of a history lesson throughout.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - 2/5 - Credit where it's due, J.A. Bayona certainly knows how to set the tension within a scene. I was assured as to what the fates would be of these lead characters being put into such perilous situations, but the result had me on edge as to what would happen. Plus, there's a wonderful array of personalities given to the real stars of this film, the Dinosaurs. Much more than is allowed for the humans, as the actors are clearly beset by the poor and nonsensical script, where reasoning and basic human logic are tossed aside for plot contrivances, in this poorly concieved film. To me, the revival of Jurassic Park films is to the revival of Star Wars films what the DCEU is to the MCU. Take that as you will.

Blackfish - 4.5/5 - Gabriela Cowperthwaite compiles footage, court details, and assembles testimonies from a multitude of people, who were involved with Seaworld, or with one of the ensuing attacks. All of this is done in an effort to shed a light on the horrific treatment of Killer Whales, the negative impact captivity and such cruel practices have on these creatures, resulting in horrific attacks, and how such events were treated afterwards. It's rather glaring how there's no inclusion of Seaworld or its representatives, down to their refusal to partake, and the director does all she can to work around that. The result is a fierce picture that will boil your blood, and leave you saddened by such horrific treatments.

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Best film rewatched: You Were Never Really Here

The Diary of a Teenage Girl - 4.5/5 - This film is most notable in the UK for the controversy it received, as the BBFC gave it an 18 rating, restricting the target demographic from actually viewing the film. When male led films are as unapologetic as their teenage leads, yet receive ratings so their target audience are able to watch them, it's a bit of a double standard. It's a shame, as what Marielle Heller has captured is a raw look at the sexual awakening of our teenage lead, played brilliantly by Bel Powley. It comes through a relationship with her mothers boyfriend, aged in his mid 30s, as Alexander Skarsgård shows how well he can act with the right script and director. The topic is approached without any judgement, while ensuring to make the severity of the situation abundantly clear.

The Babadook [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - For her 2014 directorial debut, Jennifer Kent unleashed a terrifying creation on an unsuspecting world. Forewarned through a red hardcover book, this simply designed creature has long spider-like fingers, while dressed in a top hat and long coat, and is unforgettable long after you've seen the film. But while it comes complete with unnerving scares and an abundance of atmosphere, this isn't a traditional horror flick. Mister Babadook serves as an allegory for grief and depression, as our lead struggles to be a mother while grieving for her lost partner. Unable to separate the unimaginable loss with the birth of her son, she acts cold to her son and struggles to cope. While the sons actions are understandable, coming from wanting to know who his father was, the role is played a bit too broadly initially, to the point of irritation. Still, this is one hell of a way to announce yourself as a director.

Bao - 4.5/5 - A wonderfully animated, emotional piece of work that touches the hesrt strings, and takes turns which are extremely unexpected. But at the heart of it all lies an emotional tale about a mother missing her son, and it's delivered oh so fantastically.

Incredibles 2 - 4.5/5 - The passage of time has not dulled Brad Bird's writing of the Parr family, as this is the sequel we've long been waiting for.

Madeline - 3/5 - Well, consider me charmed. This was a sweet little adventure with a knowing sense of fun, compromising of little episodic adventures involving our wonderfully portrayed protagonists (Frances McDormand is an absolute treasure). Yes, it gets a bit twee, and wraps up all too conveniently, but this will work extremely well for its target audience.

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Biggest Surprise: Imitation Girl

First Reformed - 4.5/5 - My showing of this would've been improved had a nearby building not rung its alarm for 10 minute intervals, every 10 minutes. Despite that, what Paul Schrader brought to screen was a tense picture that proves entirely gripping. Ethan Hawke gives one of the years best performances, as he grapples with questions about protecting the environment, and whether startling actions would be seen as right, either now or further down the line. A scene he shares early on, merely depicting two men sat down, bouncing dialogue asking about these very things, is one of the years best moments, grabbing your attention and threatening to never let go. As Alexander Dynan's phenomenal cinematography and Brian Williams' score continue on, as we witness the journey our protagonist goes on, you're all the more enticed to see where it will all lead. It's not an end that will satisfy all, but I went along with it, and was glad I did. What a phenomenal picture. 

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol - 4.5/5 - How is it this franchise just keeps getting better and better? Each Mission: Impossible film carries its own style and takes its own route that feel distinctly their own, and less like the by-product of an expanding franchise which wants to increase their box office profits. Brad Bird takes the reins for this instalment, and manages to deliver a sleek piece of cinema that rejuvenates this franchise, and pulls it all off with such a fluidity, it appears effortless. From the opening jailbreak sequence, to the exquisitely executed ending fight in a high tech garage, and especially the tense sight of Tom Cruise climbing the Burj Khalifa, the set pieces are eye-poppingly magnificent, and show why Brad Bird is one of the best visual directors of today. But also important are how well rounded the characters are, as the tight knit IMF agents we follow are characterized so well, leaving viewers to care for each one as things unfold.  

Imitation Girl - 4.5/5 - While it may bring to mind Jonathan Glazer's phenomenal Under The Skin, what Natasha Kermani has delivered feels entirely like its own animal. A science fiction tale that has wonderful visuals on-screen, manages to engross you with its parallel stories. These are fronted by a pair of performances by Lauren Ashley Carter, who does magnificent work in both of the roles. She does wonderful in depicting opposite sides, as we see one characters wide-eyed marvelling as she further discovers more about the world around her, and the others longing to escape the life she's become stuck in for the promise of something better. These portrayals work wonderfully to keep us engaged with the characters, before the two stories eventually intersect, and we're left with a haunting and mind-bending manner of ending the tale. I'm so glad I gave this one a shot. 

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - 4/5 - Considering I was not a fan of the first film, my love for this sequel is most surprising.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - 4.5/5 - As the release fates for these instalments get closer than before, it's important more than ever for these films to remain distinctive enough from one another, and stand out from the other films. Christopher McQuarrie delivers a film that's willing to take aim at the conventions and tropes which can inhabit these films and step away from them, only to then tackle such conventions in such an interesting way that feels utterly fresh, and extremely exciting. It helps that things are populated by pulse pounding set pieces, especially when it kicks off with a high point involving Tom Cruise hanging onto the side of a plane. The returning characters are all engaging, but it's the new additions which leave the largest mark. Rebecca Ferguson is a serious contender for the franchises best character, while Sean Harris is an intimidating presence as the calculating antagonist who leads The Syndicate.

It's baffling to me how this film series which began in the '90s, loosely adapted from a once popular TV series, remains so fresh and full of energy even into its fifth film. This journey catching up with the series has been utterly worth it, and Mission: Impossible - Fallout is highly anticipated.

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Biggest Disappointment & Worst film of
the month: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Mission: Impossible - Fallout - 5/5 - Somehow, the 6th instalment of this 22 year franchise is the best of the lot.

Girlfight - 4/5 - The directorial debut from Karyn Kusama is a gripping drama, coming from a personal place. The tribulations of our protagonist, Diana, are captured tremendously, as her frustrations and pain are channelled into boxing. It leads to powerful scenes, as she confronts the father she's at odds with, and merely wants to be treated in the ring the same as any male boxer is. Centring it all is the raw performance which made Michelle Rodriguez a star, and rightly so. 

You Were Never Really Here [rewatch] - 5/5 - A chance to revisit this phenomenal piece of filmmaking by Lynne Ramsay, as Joaquin Phoenix portrays Joe, a man scarred by the past actions of his father. When left to his own devices, he plays with knives and seems to contemplate suicide, so he regularly takes jobs to save children from abusive figures, armed with a hammer (a weapon of choice passed down from his abusive father). The focus is never on the grisly action, as Joe's tortured psyche takes centre stage here. It remains an impressive piece of cinema, coupled with tremendous cinematography and Johnny Greenwood's brilliant score.

Revenge (2018) - 4.5/5 - The blood soaked feature debut from Coralie Fargeat is as impressive as it is brutal. As we're introduced to Jen, our lead who's enjoying a romantic getaway with her rich boyfriend, tensions soon mount when his two friends arrive unannounced for a hunting trip. The situation turns horrific, as Fargeat rightfully portrays what occurs as an ugly thing, resulting in dire consequences for the perpetrators. There's no room for needless sexualisation here, as Fargeat focuses on the deftly directing the gruesome revenge of the film, with a great deal of visceral effects to sell what occurs. Praise is more than warranted for Matilda Lutz, who does a magnificent job portraying all the sides of her character, ready to adapt to wherever the story takes her. I look forward to seeing the next film from this director.

Home Again - 3/5 - Reese Witherspoon takes the lead in this light and enjoyable little film, populated with actors doing well in their likeable roles. A sweet time is certainly had, even if plot threads are resolved all too quickly, or left needlessly open ended. 

Ant-Man and The Wasp - 4/5 - A sequel which improves on its predecessor, packing a memorable antagonist and funny uses of the shrinking technology.

Best film of the month: Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Best film seen in cinemas: Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Best film watched for the first time: Mission: Impossible - Fallout
Best film rewatched: You Were Never Really Here
Biggest Disappointment: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Biggest Surprise: Imitation Girl
Worst film of the month: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Number of films watched: 27