Sunday, 9 December 2018

November 2018 In Review

November saw me catching up with some of the years gems I'd failed to see. So, let's dive straight into the films I saw this past November.


Burning (2018) - 5/5 - Between money and time, I don't get to view many films at FilmBath festival each year. This is one of the few I managed this year, and I'm grateful I chose to see it.

Mandy (2018) - 4.5/5 - Oh Panos. Well, you came, and you gave, one of the years best films. And with it, Nic Cage, oh, Panos.

Brigsby Bear (2017) - 4.5/5 - A touching story of overcoming trauma, and how seemingly trivial things such as TV and Films can be more helpful and important than one realises. This is an underrated gem that deserves to be viewed by the majority of people, and I can't wait to see what Dave McCary does next.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) - 2.5/5 - Fun at times, but otherwise pretty forgettable.

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Best film of the month & Best film rewatched: Paddington 2

Miracle Mile (1988) - 4.5/5 - Steve De Jarnatt's picture is a wonderful mixture of two subgenres which, at first glance, don't seem to pair together well. Firstly, there's the cinematic ideal of a romance, complete with setting free $1200 worth of Lobsters, and meeting of the grandparents. Then there's an apocalyptic drama, where nuclear war threatens to end everything around our characters, and the chaotic descent of people exemplifies how much worse it can all get. Anthony Edwards and Mare Winningham do wonderful work in selling these characters and their romance, while under the knowledge that there's a clock counting down to end their unfortunately short romance. It's a testament to De Jarnatt that our hearts can swell for this believable and touching romance, as well as fill us with dread and terror, over a mere 87 minute runtime.

The Old Man & The Gun (2018) - 4/5 - Considering his long cinematic career, it's quite intriguing this may well be the final film of Robert Redford's before his retirement. Considering the fantastic filmography he's built up, eyes are on whether he'd go out on a high, and if it's the final film Redford makes, it's a decent choice to make. David Lowery has taken the real life story of Forrest Tucker, and delivered a low key take on the heist genre. Portrayed by Redford, Forrest is a reflection of the film, as they're both pretty easy going, and effortlessly charming. The 93 minute picture is imbued with a message to go out there and do what you love, which is at the heart of our protagonist. No matter how many times Tucker is arrested, no matter how many of his robberies end up failing, he'll happily go out there and do more of the same, because he's ultimately doing what he loves.

Acting as support, Sissy Spacek is wonderful as Jewel. More than just the love interest, she's a strong character in her own right, and an engaging presence brought alive by a terrific portrayal. If anything, this tale of romance is the most interesting aspect, and these scenes are more engaging than Casey Affleck's police detective enamoured with catching Forrest.

Widows (2018) - 4.5/5 - For his fourth feature film, Steve McQueen turns to adapting an 80's ITV series by Lynda La Plante. His teaming up with Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn indicates an embracing of more pulpy routes, but that doesn't mean a sacrifice of McQueen's strengths evident in his prior films. He still manages to form intriguing social commentary, particularly taking aim at sexism, racism, and classism. The latter is especially exemplified in a phenomenal tracking shot outside of a moving car, moving from a poverty stricken neighbourhood to a wealthy one, as the changing neighbourhood and gentrification sees them standing so close together.

Tension is phenomenally utilised by McQueen's direction throughout, exemplified through Daniel Kaluuya's cold-blooded character, or in the actual heist. These are in turn thanks to two key components, which are the tremendous performances by the ensemble cast, and the great writing which has gone into these characters. We grow to care for them, seeing how they've grown over the 130 minute runtime, and that's thanks to both of those key aspects. There are a few spots I found the writing got rather iffy, but the brilliant film left me overlooking these with ease.

The Hate U Give (2018) - 4.5/5 - Adapted from Angie Thomas' novel of the same name, The Hate U Give is a powerful tale of identity and finding ones voice, rooted in very relevant topics, with powerful social commentary greatly delivered. This young adult tale allows hard-hitting topics to be made accessible to a younger crowd, while never losing any of the passion or fire screenwriter Audrey Wells and director George Tillman Jr. clearly have for such aspects. It's handled in a manner that's very gripping and adult, proving emotionally engaging to an older audience as well, with a fantastic cast on-hand to deliver their work. Amandla Stenberg gets the most to work with, as she's put at the centre of it all, and does an absolutely magnificent job. As she goes from the girl who feels lost amidst her code switching and dual identities, the rising confidence and growth of her voice is gripping to view, and darn cathartic. A subplot involving Anthony Mackie's King does feel like a needless excuse for drama at times, but when the whole is so phenomenally done, this is just a little part which isn't too detrimental.

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Best film seen in cinemas & Best film
watched for the first time: Burning

U: July 22 (2018) - 4.5/5 - An unforgettable and harrowing 90 minutes.

Halloween II (1981) - 3/5 - It's an interesting idea to have it directly follow on from where the original left off, presenting Halloween II as the second half of Laurie Strode's horrific night, but it feels like a vastly different beast. Michael Myers is no longer the Shape stalking in the shadows, but a being who's VERY apparent in the shadows. The chills don't come from spotting his face in the background, as the Carpenter's restrained take is foregone for an over the top blood and gore focus. To be fair, this does lead to some effective moments, and especially some memorable kills, but it feels off when it's a direct follow-on from the original.

Then, there's the twist. Everyone knows it, but I won't give it away. It essentially formed the backbone for the remainder of the franchise from here on out, until this years entry disregarded it as nonsense, and rightly so. It's a cheap inclusion that feels very much like a soap opera twist, and Laurie doesn't know anything about it by the end of it. It takes away from the idea of Michael Myers being a murderous figure that could unfortunately target any one of us, and i'm glad to see the back of it. 

The Slumber Party Massacre (1982) - 4/5 - With a title like that, it'd be easy to dismiss this as a generic entry into the slasher sub-genre, but Amy Holden Jones wants to do more with the material. What's accomplished hits the expected notes, centred around a smart script, with knowing bouts of humour and great attempts at characterisation. It's an undeniably fun piece of work that delivers shocks and thrills, as our relentless killer stands with his drill placed in a manner that's entirely suggestive. A great slasher flick that never outstays its welcome. 

Thoroughbreds (2018) - 4/5 - The directorial debut of Cory Finley is a gripping and thoroughly tense tale of friendship, told in a blackly comedic manner that more often than not hits the mark. The acting is impressively done, as Anton Yelchin does a fantastic everyman performance in his final role, while Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy fulfil their layered roles really well. The tale sees Cooke and Taylor-Joy portraying estranged friends who bring new sides out of each other, for better or for worse. It sneaks up on you how emotionally invested you get in the tale, so by the finale, you fully realise how into these characters stories you are. A real gem from 2018.

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Biggest Disappointment: Tully

Serenity (2005) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - The first time I viewed this, I found it to be an enjoyable time with a wonderfully realised world, engaging mystery and characters I grew attached to, all without first viewing Firefly. Now that I've watched the series multiple times and read further with the additional comic books, this film hits me even harder, and serves as a powerful finale to a prematurely cancelled TV show. I can nitpick, sure. The newly introduced Mister Universe isn't as engaging a character as Joss Whedon would have you believe, and some character moments feel out of place (Simon punching Mal? After forgiving Jayne for doing worse?), I consider this an engaging success. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a formidable antagonist as The Operative, proving a match for our heroes. The first scene where he meets Mal is electric, as the verbal sparring makes for as engaging as any action scene, or plot reveal which occurs. It's a fantastic finale to an open ended tale, while also succeeding as a standalone story in its own right.

The Station Agent (2003) - 4/5 - Tom McCarthy's directorial debut doesn't have much happening in regards to the plot, but spending the 90 minute runtime with these lovable characters makes for a wonderful occurrence. Each of our leads are dealing with a different kind of loneliness, and each actor manages to do a terrific job with their portrayals, and it's a sweet time to see them bonding, and feeling at ease with each other. It's a nicely understated feature that's worth the watch. 

Overlord (2018) - 3.5/5 - Julius Avery delivers a film with its feet in both the war and horror genres, succeeding well with this genre mash-up. The former boasts tense scenarios and thrilling sequences, with an early drop proving a fantastic visual highlight. Throughout this tone, nods are peppered in toward the horror elements, so when the film takes a turn into this genre, it doesn't feel like tonal whiplash. While it does take a turn into the ridiculous during the final act, the strong performances anchor things, and help to add to the thin roles. An entertaining entry that succeeds in delivering some much needed Nazi killing brutality. 

Paddington 2 (2017) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Remains a furry little masterpiece that's joyous, and tear inducing. It's more than ready to give lesser family fare a hard stare.

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Biggest Surprise: Sorry To Bother You

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2009) [rewatch] - 3/5 - At the core of this film is a tremendous double act trying to solve a gripping murder mystery. The mystery itself is compelling enough, as we get a glimpse into an odious family keen to backstab and betray one another for their own personal gain, but the relationship of Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist is what makes this film. Their relationship is brought alive thanks to the engaging portrayals of Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, who share fantastically believable chemistry.

What a shame that it's over an hour before we see them together. Yes, they need to be properly established on their own prior to joining forces, but it doesn't have to be so drawn out and feel like such a slog up to that point. Then it seems the screenwriters can't write around a problem which seems to lay with the source material, where the strong female character can't be written without being sexually assaulted. Hell, I'm not sure if there's a single prominent female character who isn't the victim of sexual abuse, which is pretty damn regressive. Then it ends with a need to wrap up its plot threads in an oh so neat manner, which leaves the compelling aspects of this tale to limp over the finish line.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) [rewatch] - 4/5 - In tackling the Steig Larsson novel, David Fincher brings to the table a tense atmosphere elevated by Jeff Cronenweth's cinematography, and the music by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. From the captivating opening credits, with a powerful cover of Immigrant Song sung by Karen O, this is very much a distinctive product to Niels Arden Oplev's film.

The murder mystery remains gripping, while the film crackles whenever Lisbeth and Mikael share the screen. Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara do wonderful work making their takes on the character feel fully rounded, ensure their relationship is believable throughout, be they trying to solve the case, or just relaxing in each others company. They also ensure their iterations of the characters stand out enough, never coming off as copies of what Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace did so well before. It still takes over an hour before the pair share the screen together, but it doesn't feel as much of a drag to reach that point. Mikael's personal problems are woven into the larger mystery, feeling a lot more cohesive, and less like disparate parts struggling to come together.

My biggest problem returns here, as the source material still can't bring a strong female character to the screen without having her being sexually assaulted. At the very least, screenwriter Steven Zaillian has granted prominence to a larger amount of female characters, so we actually manage to have interesting female characters who appear, and haven't been made a victim of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, the story still drags in the final part, as we see every step of how the plot threads wrap up, and feel every minute of them being shown. It ends on a melancholic note which wraps up the tale very well. A shame Fincher didn't return for further instalments.

Tully (2018) - 3/5 - The latest collaboration between Jason Reitman and Diablo Cody is a raw and unflinching look at motherhood, free from the typical romanticism Hollywood often depicts to smooth things over, and make the film appeal to a wider audience. It's also a powerful showcase for Charlize Theron, whose tremendous performance is more than just the often reported physical change, fully embodying the role of our protagonist, looking as though she prepared by not sleeping for a month. It's just a shame the film loses its way as it goes on, especially in the final act, building towards something which feels thrown into the narrative just to get people talking, rather than because it fits the overall film. A shame, as the picture was looking to be pretty promising from early on.

The Girl In The Spider's Web (2018) - 2.5/5 - Lisbeth goes Bond. No thanks.

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Worst film of the month: The Girl In The Spider's Web

The Feels (2018) - 4/5 - What director Jenée LaMarque brings to the table is a sweet and charming tale, centred around the lovable romance between the fantastic pairing of Constance Wu and Angela Trimbur. They make for a wonderful couple, sharing terrific chemistry as they come to grips with believable and relatable troubles. Rounding out things are a supporting cast who veer between well rounded, cringeworthy, and being forgotten about. This was a nice little gem found on Netflix.

Pokémon The Movie: The Power of Us (2018) - 3.5/5 - A fun and enjoyable time, especially for fans of the franchise.

Sorry To Bother You (2018) - 4.5/5 - Boots Riley's directorial debut certainly can't be accused of playing it safe. His telemarketer comedy shoots for the stars, taking aim at capitalism in such a biting way, delivered in an extremely surreal, humorous, and unforgettable manner. The vague manner I'm explaining why this works is intentional, as this film is best experienced going into it knowing as little as possible, for the directions it goes in make for a tremendous viewing experience. The cast especially work wonders, putting committed performances into their roles. LaKeith Stanfield makes for an engaging protagonist who finds himself going to places he never would've dreamed of, while Tessa Thompson's marvellous performance and exceptional wardrobe choices do quite a bit for her underdeveloped character. The supporting cast is full of winning performances, but most memorable is Armie Hammer's sly businessman with high aspirations. For those of you craving original cinema, make it a mission to seek this out. It's certainly worth your time.

Wreck-It Ralph (2012) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - In preparation for the much welcome sequel, revisiting Wreck-It Ralph makes for a wonderful and relaxing time. Underneath the video game exterior is a beating heart as large as its protagonists hands, and a joyous sense of humour that makes for a terrific time had.

Best film of the month: Paddington 2
Best film seen in cinemas: Burning
Best film watched for the first time: Burning
Best film rewatched: Paddington 2
Biggest Disappointment: Tully
Biggest Surprise: Sorry To Bother You
Worst film of the month: The Girl In The Spider's Web

Number of films watched: 24

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