Friday, 4 January 2019

December 2018 In Review

And so, 2018 has come to a close. The final month was home to a number of Christmas related viewing, surprise surprise, whilst I also racked up some 2018 viewings, for better or worse. So, let's crack on with looking at what I viewed this past December.


Green Street (2005) - 1.5/5 - The directorial debut of Lexi Alexander is an odd tale of football hooliganism, which feels at odds with itself. It appears Alexander wants to showcase how our lead can be enamoured with such an intoxicating lifestyle in the mould of Goodfellas, while showcasing the consequences involved with such a past time. Yet, in the journey of our lead, it comes off as a celebration of the lifestyle, as though committing such vandalism and nearly beating others to death can be okay, because it's vital to Elijah Wood's journey of learning to stand up for himself. It doesn't help how there's few surprises in the story, told in the most flat and generic manner possible. In regards to the acting, Elijah does well in selling his role, but the remainder of performances either don't register, or are downright woeful. Let's not even get into Charlie Hunnam, who struggles with his dreadful accent here.

Private Life (2018) - 4/5 - Tamara Jenkins delivers an tale that feels achingly real, focused upon a couple who wish to have children, but find themselves low on options. Paul Giamatti and Kathryn Hahn are phenomenal in their roles, perfectly conveying how tired they've been left from what's certainly been a long and draining journey, and how it's affected their relationship. It's a heartfelt tale that feels very vulnerable, but knows when to lighten the mood with bouts of humour. This is a gem from Netflix which deserves to be seen. 

Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018) - 3.5/5 - Following on from 2012's seemingly underrated Wreck-It Ralph, the long awaited sequel widens the scope to venture into the internet, expanding the world and its characters. It does feel as though it treads upon similar ground to The Emoji Movie, but the difference is how the Disney feature actually does well with the concept. Yes, it does lean into self-promotion and rely on referencing internet memes a bit too much, but throughout the product placement, it never loses sight of the emotional core. While there's a lot of showing how great the internet can be, a venture over to the comments section showcases the more venomous side of things, and the effects it has on those on the receiving end of it. Then there's heartwarming central friendship between Ralph and Vanellope, and taps into how circumstances may change, but their can endure throughout. Even if it doesn't all come together by the end, it remains emotionally resonant throughout.

It must be said, the best moments involve the assembled forces of the various Disney Princesses, whether its a fun deconstruction of the tropes, or just them chilling in more casual wear. It's a shame we couldn't see more of them together, but what we do see is worth the ticket price. The film as a whole doesn't match its predecessor, but it's a worthwhile feature in its own right. 

My Hero Academia: Two Heroes (2018) - 4/5 - A big screen expansion of My Hero Academia, what's brought to the screen is essentially a feature length piece of filler, but it does the necessary work quite well. It manages to stand apart from the series and work in its own right, delivering enough information so viewers unfamiliar with the series won't be left feeling lost. At the same time, it also brings enough to the table to appeal to long-time fans, expanding upon what the series has already established, and showcasing moments unlikely to be seen in the main series.

As fun as it is to see a Godzilla style hero delivering the peace sign, what works so well here is the same thing which made the series such a success. The emphasis on character is key to the film, as the narrative and scenes of action are driven by the well established group we're left to follow. Each character included in the main narrative is given their own moment to shine

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) - 5/5 - As someone who grew up with the superhero Spider-Man, in the various media and iterations throughout the years, this is a real gem. A fantasic love letter to the character, throughout many incarnations, told through stunning visuals, fantastic characterisation, and absolute heart, and brilliant humour. My favourite big screen incarnation of the wallcrawler.

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Best film of the month & Best film rewatched: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Cold Prey (2006) - 4/5 - Before he brought Alicia Vikander's iteration of Lara Croft to the big screen, Roar Uthaug delivered a tremendous snow set slasher flick. The focus firstly is ensuring our protagonists are well rounded characters, flaws and all, before sending a hulking murderer with an axe in to mess things up for them. A tense flick that delivers on what it promises, with some great kills thrown in there, and a captivating antagonist. 

The Love Witch (2016) - 2.5/5 - It must be said, the aesthetic style on this picture was really well done. The colours really popped out in an absolutely gorgeous way, helping to sell the retro vibe of this picture. Outside of that, the film felt like Anna Biller had interesting ideas and themes, but was unsure of how to utilise them for this feature film. The results sees it plod around for a bit, until it decides it's time to end things. A shame, as the feature was a great showcase for the talented cast. 

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A second viewing does nothing to dull how tremendous this film is.

Summer of 84 (2018) - 4/5 - The trio of directors behind Turbo Kid follow it up with a summer set nostalgia piece, as four friends investigate the possibility of their police officer neighbour being a serial killer. It's a gripping ride that delivers fun moments between friends, but there's a creeping dread running throughout, until the nostalgia shatters, and things get exceptionally dark. It's a balance that's very well handled, with the good cast doing tremendous work on their characters, even if some are underserved by the material. One that'll stay with you after it ends.

Beautiful Boy (2018) - 4/5 - Felix Van Groeningen delivers a touching, yet conventional and overly familiar, drama about addiction based on the memoirs of the real life father and son depicted here. Refreshingly, the film doesn't fall into the usual trap of demonising the addict, providing sympathy for how it affects the poor victim, and those around them. It's a film that's a compelling showcase for the great performances, as Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet do magnificent work in their roles. It's a shame Maura Tierney and Amy Ryan are given much less to do, considering how pivotal their roles are to the drama, but it's remains a tough film worth a watch.

Once Upon A Deadpool (2018) - 3/5 - An interesting experiment, but there's really little to recommend outside of satisfying some curiosity.

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Best film seen in cinemas & Best film watched
for the first time: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

The Witch In The Window (2018) - 4/5 - A little gem I discovered through my free trial on Shudder, what we get is a compelling tale about a fractured family, the strain which occurs on the familial relationships, and the fears held by the parents. The father wants to fix up a farmhouse and make it the dream home his estranged wife always wanted, in an effort to try and fix his family. The troubles are exacerbated by the inclusion of a ghostly presence, which works tremendously well, and delivers some genuinely unsettling and chilling moments throughout. 

Incident In A Ghostland (2018) - 3/5 - Even though it's largely superfluous to the story, the narrative choices Pascal Laugier makes about the blurring between fiction and reality are rather interesting to watch. I'd even say they're more interesting than the main story, which makes uncomfortable decisions which could've been excised or altered without affecting the main story, including revelling in the abuse of female characters, without anything to say like Martyrs had. I must say though, by the final act, I was invested in the characters brutal journey, but it felt a bit "too little, too late" by that point. 

Aquaman (2018) - 3.5/5 - James Wan and Jason Momoa make quite the splash.

Bumblebee (2018) - 3.5/5 - It took 6 films, over 10 years, and a change in directors, but Paramount and Hasbro have somehow managed it. They've managed to deliver a Transformers film which is actually decent, contains coherent action, and doesn't perversely objectify its female cast members. And all it took was hiring an actually decent director, who knew?

What Travis Knight has done is deliver a feature closer to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, as opposed to the already established robot fighting franchise. The focus is upon Charley, the protagonist played by a likeable Hailee Steinfeld, who's dealing with grief and loss, while the eponymous Autobot is helping her through this tough time. It's more interesting in these moments rather than the expected action beats, especially the usual third act scuffle. Although, the opening set on Cyberton is a love letter to any longtime fan of the franchise, and the best moment throughout this entire franchise. Not bad at all.

Point Break (1991) - 4/5 - She may be now best known for social commentary films, but just 27 years prior, Kathryn Bigelow did such a wonderful job delivering a thrilling actioner, where each action set piece comes off as an adrenaline shot delivered straight to the heart. At the centre of it all is a beguilling relationship between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, whose connection is the most engaging aspect of the film, and is sold in such a believable manner. It's a shame Keanu feels merely servicable when acting away from Swayze, while Lori Petty is relegated to the traditional damsel trope seen in the genre. Regardless of this, Bigelow did a phenomenal job on this, selling the allure of the waves and leading us to understand why it entraces deal old Johnnt Utah. At face value, a great "bro" movie, but it also manages to be a great commentary on the toxicity it can bring.

Creed II (2018) - 4/5 - The much awaited follow-up to the franchise re-invigoration that was 2015's Creed, Steven Caple Jr takes the reins to focus on the weight of legacy, and how it affects the father-son relationships throughout. What makes this entry work so well is how it casts an equal focus on the relationships, as the legacy of Apollo Creed and Ivan Drago weighs heavy on their sons, their relationships forever changed by the effects of Rocky IV. It never manages to be as powerful as the predecessor in the emotional or action aspects, like Adonis' last round admission or the one-shot fight. It takes the expected route throughout, but does it so well. It's wonderfully acted by the tremendous cast, even if Tessa Thompson is given less to do in her own right. No matter how much fantastic action we get, character is put first above all else, and that's the reason this film works so darn well. Now, here's hoping the next instalment sets out on its own path, rather than calling back to the past.

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Biggest Disappointment: The Love Witch

Saving Christmas (2014) - 0/5 - In an effort to try and get more festive, I decided to give this maligned Christmas film a try. The resulting 79 minutes dragged in ways that 3 hour epics I've seen never managed to do. What's been brought to screen is one of the most cheap looking and amateurish pieces of shit I've ever had the misfortune to witness, complete with a hip-hop dance number performed by a "God Squad".

From the smug opening, it's clear this feature exists solely to inflate the ego of its star, Kirk Cameron. The main bulk of this feature has him in a car talking to his brother in law, as the latter gives thin reasons for why he doesn't enjoy the festive period, including a part where a "Santa is Satan" theory is thrown out there, followed by Santa being accused of hijacking a religion. Moments like these are followed on by Cameron condescending to him, and explaining why he's wrong by linking it to the Bible. In fact, there's a more interesting film idea lurking inside, detailing the origin of Saint Nick. However, this attempt to be "badass" truly goes off the rails it's likened to being a "defender of the faith", and jarringly used to admonish being "politically correct". That's a good message, using the story of a Saint beating people up to finger wag at people speaking in support on those different to them. Now who's pushing an agenda?

I wish I could just laugh at this as some poorly made flick, like a religious version of The Room, but there's an outright ugly side to this film. Just look at an, I suppose, comedy bit where a random person at the party starts throwing out conspiracy theories about "Crazy Shirt Fridays", which then leads into a rant about "The War on Christmas". This is bizarrely brought up and never touched again, coming off as though it's a genuine message the filmmakers wanted to get out there, about how straight Christians are the most persecuted people out there. Fuck off with that. This is an anger inducing nightmare of a film that deserves to be forgotten about, so it can quietly disappear from existence.

Miller's Crossing (1990) - 4.5/5 - What a phenomenal gangster epic delivered by the Coens. Gabriel Byrne does tremendous work portraying the lead, who isn't a strong fighter or a proficient gunslinger, instead a quietly calculating figure, whispering into the ears of powerful men in a manner that ultimately benefits him. The plot unfolds in a gripping manner, while humour is sprinkled throughout in a way that works well. My only problems lies in Marcia Gay Harden's character, who's a strong character in her own right played phenomenally, but serves more as a plot device. Otherwise, I loved this.

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Not only the greatest Muppets film, but the greatest Christmas film of all time. The beloved characters are placed into a tremendous adaptation of Charles Dickens' tale, bringing with it wonderful humour, absolute heart, a necessary darkness for this story, and Michael Caine in top form. A classic from childhood that holds said status up into adulthood.

The Emperor's New Groove (2000) [rewatch] - 4/5 - A fun little gem from Disney bursting with great humour, engaging characters, and a wonderfully inventive nature. Yzma and Kronk are among my favourite Disney characters. 

It's A Wonderful Life (1949) [rewatch] - 5/5 - In such dark and uncertain times, where self-centred figures abuse power to make things a misery for the little people, it's films like these we need more of. A good natured and sweet tale about how helpful a little bit of kindness can have, how even through the troubled moments where the horrendous aspects can seem overwhelming, going out of your way to help one another has more of an effect than one realises. A holiday masterpiece with a heartfelt centre, where so much is depicted tremendously with so little.

Biggest Surprise: One Cut of the Dead

Free Solo (2018) - 4.5/5 -  A gripping and breathtaking documentary.

Blockers (2018) - 4/5 - For me, this is the best example of how trailers aren't always an accurate reflection of the overall film. The initial trailer made this seem like a gross film about parents trying to keep an iron grasp on their daughters virginity, while the feature utilises this idea to make a touching comedy about parents learning to trust their daughters to make the right decisions. They go to great lengths in a misguided attempt to protect their offspring, while learning there must come a time to move on, and let them gain their own experience, while working through their own personal issues. It gets less effective in the gross out moments, especially a vomiting set-piece which feels forced into the narrative, but this is overall a real gem from this year.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas! (1966) - 4/5 - Running at less than half an hour, the original adaptation of the Dr. Seuss tale is a simple and compact tale that's wonderfully animated, delivering a necessary message about how the meaning of Christmas isn't presents, but spending time with those you love. It's a story that's certainly endured after all this time, and it's clear why. 

I Walked With A Zombie (1943) - 4.5/5 - An early feature into the zombie subgenre from Jacques Tourneur and Val Lewton, this is a gripping tale of family drama sitting at the centre of this piece of skin-crawling horror. The voodoo elements are utilised in the background, an approach which works incredibly well, leaving one unnerved from the smallest of sights. One which doesn't overstay its welcome, it's a great touchstone in the history of one of the horror genres greatest creatures. 

Just Before I Go (2015) - 2/5 - The second directorial feature from Courtney Cox, her tale centres around Ted (Seann William Scott), a man ready to commit suicide after his wife leaves him. Before undertaking that final act, Ted returns to his home town to confront people from his past, those he feels are responsible for ruining his life. The cast are all determined to work the best they can with the material, which certainly has its heart in the right place. Unfortunately, these good intentions are drowning in an abundance of thinly sketched subplots, each weakly executed, while surrounded by an awkward sense of humour, which devotes more time than necessary to Kate Walsh sleep masturbating. The cherry on top of this strangely concocted sundae are the bat-shit plot devices included, which consists of a Nessie rip-off, and a nursing home cat that chooses the next elderly person to die by sleeping on their bed. It's a massively odd mixture. 

Bros: After The Screaming Stops (2018) - 4.5/5 -The sensation which were Bros were before my time, so I went into this with next to no knowledge of the band. By the end of this documentary, I was rooting for the reunited brothers, hoping that all would go well for them on the gig it had all been building up to. What's been delivered here is partly an emotional journey, containing genuine pathos and getting to the core of who these guys are. It's also partly an unintentional comedy in the vein of This Is Spinal Tap, as the boys are genuinely not self-aware, and deliver some of the most hilarious lines with full sincerity. Here's a taster: "Because of Stevie Wonder, I made a conscious decision to not be superstitious". A real treat that must be seen to be believed.

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Worst film of the month: Surviving Christmas

Dumplin' (2018) - 3.5/5 - Using beauty pageants as a backdrop, Anne Fletcher brings to life a tale about validation, self-worth, and finding one's own beauty. It's told in the most cliched and generic manner, with little surprises within, but it's a genuine feel good film that will get you on the side of these lovable characters, who each feel real in their own ways. No two dimensional caricatures here, and it helps that the cast do wonderful work in their portrayals. This is especially true of Danielle Macdonald, who absolutely kills it. 

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) - 4/5 - A follow up to Nick Broomfield's previous documentary about Aileen Wuornos, he teams up with Joan Churchill this time to revisit the eponymous figure convicted of murdering seven men, as her execution date grows closer. This feature looks at her mental state, as she makes visceral attempts to justify her actions, and sabotage her appeal, all in an effort to speed up her own execution. It's a grippingly told doc, and the moments where Aileen looks into the camera all crazy eyed are haunting to behold. This is one documentary that won't be easy to forget in a hurry.

Holmes & Watson (2018) - 0.5/5 - Sher-Nope! Holmes

The Aristocats (1970) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - Not one of my favourite Disney flicks, containing a dull antagonist and far too few interesting side characters. But it's likeable enough, with decent songs and does right by the titular Aristocats.

One Cut Of The Dead (2019) - 5/5 - A fresh take on the zombie genre that deserves to be seen.

Best film of the month: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Best film seen in cinemas: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Best film watched for the first time: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Best film rewatched: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Biggest Disappointment: The Love Witch
Biggest Surprise: One Cut Of The Dead
Worst film of the month: Saving Christmas

Number of films watched: 32

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