January 2019 In Review

2018 is gone, and we are comfortably settled into the new year now. So, let's have a look at what films I viewed over the past January.

The Favourite (2018) - 5/5 - Easily the most accessible film in Yorgos Lanthomos' filmography, what he's delivered is the antithesis to the traditional period piece one could expect, and it's all the more glorious for it. At the heart of this story lies a compelling power struggle, played out between Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone. Each one could've been played as a caricature, but we're made to fully understand each one of these characters, what has led them to need the comfort of being in such a position, and it certainly helps that they're portrayed by a magnificent trio at the top of their game.

The disorientating camera angles and fish eye lens do well to match the madness we witness unfolding on-screen, while the humorous moments work exquisitely. Robbie Ryan's sumptuous cinematography makes for something gorgeous to look at, working tremendously with Komeil S. Hosseini's marvellous compositions, and the stunning costumes by Sandy Powell. I absolutely adored this film.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald (2018) - 1/5 - As a longtime Harry Potter fan who devoured the books and endlessly rewatched the films during my formulative years, this is a crushing disappointment for me. The story is awkwardly structured, as it appears J.K. Rowling still hasn't gotten used to writing a screenplay, and David Yates puts the films focus on grimly shot spectacle, forced franchise callbacks, and conflict, all while building to answering a mystery we're expected to be fully invested in. Those involved want us to care for the characters and their routes, without putting the hard work and effort into making us believe in the transition, or delivering an actual character arc. If anything, a CG creation with no lines like The Niffler has more character in him, and impact on the plot, than a good amount of the characters played by real life people. This includes Grindlewald, the eponymous figure who's wasted on Johnny Depp's listless performance, and expect viewers to go along with it all on blind faith, without something interesting occurring in the time being.

The Mountain Between Us (2017) - 3/5 - A plane crash leads to a desperate journey for survival, which paves the way for a snowy romance, in this romantic drama from Hany Abu-Assad. It's a film that rests upon making viewers invested in the central duo, so thankfully, Kate Winslet and Idris Elba do terrific work in their roles, while the writing ensures they feel like fully formed people with their own things to work through. I would've liked the story to be a bit less conventional, but I felt the direction could've been stronger. During a pivotal embrace between the two characters, the scene is intercut with their prior exchanges to spell out to the audience what led the pair to this point. It feels like the work of a director lacking the confidence that his audience watched the film and understand the burgeoning romance that's been building to this point. It's a decent tale that's well acted, but needed a more deft hand calling the shots.

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Best film of the month & Best
 film rewatched: Unbreakable

Baby Driver (2017) [rewatch] - 5/5 - A Christmas present from my better half, this was the perfect excuse to revisit one of my favourite films in recent years, and fall in love with this car and guns musical all over again. One of the best composed pieces of stylish cinema we've been given in recent years, with an engaging story to boot. 

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) - 5/5 - Well, this was a complete and utter gem from 2018. An anthology film with not a weak segment, where each tale works on its own merits, while having an overarching theme throughout. No matter how many may adore the idea of partaking in the Wild West, like those we can see visiting Westworld, this has no time for such romanticism, capturing the perils of the harsh and unforgiving locale, where Death constantly stalks. The magnificent cast do perfectly in portraying their roles, with Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, and Tim Blake Nelson being standouts. It's a gorgeous film to look at, with stunning cinematography and a tremendous soundtrack to boot. Possibly my favourite Netflix Original Film. 

The Night Comes For Us (2018) - 4.5/5 - I was impressed with the bout of cinematic physicality Timo Tjahjanto delivered with 2017's Headshot, but he's managed to one-up himself with this Netflix feature. What ensues is an absolutely unrelenting 2 hours, as some of the most impressively brutal and gory scenes of action are unleashed upon the screen, with the cast embodying their roles especially well. The story isn't so strong, essentially giving the bare minimum to justify the constant action, but when the scenes are so brilliantly done, it's worth it.

Blindspotting (2018) - 5/5 - A powerful tale told magnificently, and one of 2018's best films that deserved to be seen by more people.

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Best film seen in cinemas: The Favourite

Escape Room (2017) - 0.5/5 - It's clear that director Will Wernick wants his feature film to be in the vein of a Saw film, but it's too cheap and amateurish to even match the low points the franchise has delivered. From concept to character, and especially including kills, it's all poorly conceived in a manner that feels like a last ditch attempt thrown together at the last minute. The assembled actors unfortunately cannot do much with the material, calling into question whether this is the career for them, or if Starbucks could do with a few more baristas. The worst offender has to be Evan Williams, who comes off as a Poundland Dan Stevens, wanting to emulate the actors intensity, but comes off too laughable to do so. From the dragged out opening credits, as scenes of the city are set to the dialogue of another horrendous game taking place, to the downright pointless ending, this is an awful film that I struggle to call a piece of work, because that might imply some effort was intended in the final product.

Death Wish (2018) - 1/5 - In the current climate where gun control is a hotly debated topic, and gun crime is a regular newsworthy occurrence, it feels crass for Eli Roth to release such a film. All throughout, it feels like Roth is trying to be neutral about such a topic, but the poor handling appears to lean towards the pro side in an uncomfortable manner.

If we choose not to consider that, and look at the film as a piece of action entertainment in its own right, the result isn't much better. A dull and lifeless assembly of action that seems to exist so Roth can deliver on the gore, which does little to liven things up when the poor script regularly brings it all down. Then we come to our lead problem, which is Bruce Willis standing front and centre alongside his inability to give a shit. Considering what horrible events happen to his family, you'd think he'd give more range than that of dropping your ice cream on the floor, but alas, we aren't so lucky.

Vice (2018) - 2.5/5 - I'm hopeless when it comes to politics, no matter what the country, so I can't say I knew a good portion of this tale. In that regard, I found it to be an informative tale, which assembles a tremendous cast to don great makeup, and showcase their terrific performances, especially Bale's quietly calculating interior, or Adams' . Unfortunately, this tale is largely overwhelmed by Adam McKay doubling down on his stylistic cues from The Big Short, resulting in an erratic mess that feels laborious at times. There are moments which grab ones attention, such as the ending montage which shows how this administration led to the current problems residing in the world today, yet they're offset by early backstory which feel superfluous, Naomi Watts randomly popping up to read the news, a Shakespearian retelling which feels smug, and an awful mid-credits scene which takes aim at modern politics loud and clear, in such a hamfisted manner. It's a film that feels lost in what it wants to say, because of a case of over-indulgence.

Unbreakable (2000) [rewatch] - 5/5 - When it comes to superhero films, the phrase "grounded" is thrown about so much by filmmakers, and it's essentially a shortcut to describe how one is setting their story apart from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Frankly, it's pretty eye-rolling to deal with as Fant4stic and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice utilise it, as grounded feels synonymous with other words, like "grim" and "joyless".

When I think of a grounded superhero tale, M. Night Shyamalan has brought the best example I can think of to screen. A story about a broken family in the process of repair, when David Dunn discovers the superhuman abilities lying within him. The inciting factor comes in the form of a train crash, where David is the sole survivor, not even getting a scratch in the process, which leads him to a comic book lover named Elijah Price, who has bones as brittle as glass. An understated film delivered in such a gripping manner, as we focus on David trying to reconnect with his estranged wife and son, the latter whom believes in his fathers heroic status. Front and centre are Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, each delivering some of their finest performances in their tremendously fleshed out roles, from their origin style openings, to the unforgettable ending. Easily my favourite from Shyamalan.

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Best film watched for the first time
& Biggest surprise: Blindspotting

Split (2017) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Even on a repeat viewing, the tension remains well sustained throughout the running time, while McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy are compelling presences which make the film work. The weaknesses remain apparent, such as the lacking characterisation for the other kidnapped girls, and the attempts to connect our leads through past pains feels awfully hackneyed. Still, it works as a terrific standalone feature, and I'm curious how it will hold up in the future as the franchise instalment it is. Don't think I didn't notice the score suddenly going all James Newton Howard for that final scene.

Glass (2019) - 4/5 - M. Night goes all out for the finale to his trilogy, and I absolutely loved it.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018) - 4.5/5 - When his filmography is largely made up of trips to Middle Earth, you'd be forgiven for forgetting what Peter Jackson is capable of outside of that film series. Dedicated to his paternal grandfather who fought in World War I, Jackson's latest feature is documentary utilising archive footage of said war, with interviews of surviving veterans intercut over them for the most part. It's an insightful and thoughtful look into what these men went through, as they bear no regrets for signing up in the first place, even while recounting horrific sights and sensations they endured during their time at war. But what's most remarkable occurs half an hour into the feature, as the small black and white images suddenly grow to fill the screen, colour fills into them, and sound comes from them. This is thanks to state of the art technology to bring colour to this old footage, while sound effects accompany the images, and an assembly of lip readers have attempted to capture what the soldiers were saying, and in what accents. It's a phenomenal idea which takes the olden images, which could feel distant and worlds away from the audiences, and allows us to be further drawn into these men who we've seen having fun times with each other, while also going through so much. The horrors of war are never shied away from, as we see grisly images of people and horses, while shocking sights of bombs going of, and cannons firing, hold a large impact. This is phenomenal filmmaking, and deserves to be seen by future generations.

Truly, Deeply, Madly (1991) - 4.5/5 - What a saddening little film this was. Anthony Minghella delivers a touching tale about coping with loss, moving on from grief, and dealing with the ghosts of your past, and it all feels so raw and heartbreaking. The joyous moments of fun, the shared laughs, the unfortunate question of if you were looking at things through rose tinted glass, and avoiding the troubles which ultimately lay within your relationship. All of this works so well because of the tremendous performances between Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman, who sell the emotion with utter perfection, making us care for their romance, and having us feel for their emotional troubles.

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Biggest Disappointment: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald

Stan & Ollie (2018) - 4.5/5 - In bringing the iconic duo of Laurel & Hardy to the big screen, Jon S. Baird frames the tale around a little known aspect of their late career, as the duo embark on a tour in the hopes it'll garner enough interest to allow them to make one last feature film. At the centre of it all is a lovely story about friendship, as the duo look to put the past behind them and rediscover the fun that comes from working with one another. Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly do tremendous work embodying the figures, doing excellent work with the comedic timing, while capturing the joy that comes from the pair working together. Coogan captures the quick with and need to make others laugh quite well, while Reilly is a big-hearted chap who just wants to show his love for those close to him. From the opening tracking shot to the real life footage of the duo over the credits, this is a love letter to the comedic duo that deftly brings the laughs, captures the heart, and delivers on pathos. A truly lovely time is had with this film.

White Zombie (1932) - 3/5 - A pivotal piece of horror history, as Victor Halperin's tale was the first instance of the zombie coming to screen. Rooted in the origins of the movie monster, with a sorcerer giving rise to the dead in Haiti, this feature is commanded by the unforgettable stare of Bela Lugosi, as he feasts upon the scenery and commands the screen. It's just a shame the film can be rather dull and lacking in atmosphere, as Lugosi may have the zombies in his grip, but failed to do just that for this viewer. 

The Muppet Movie (1979) - 4/5 - Jim Henson's tremendous creations make the leap to the big screen, in a narrative framed around The Muppets watching a feature film adaptation of their story. The result is an entertaining package that's a lovely time well spent, bursting with wit and great laughs, while the cameos work in the context of the narrative. Brilliant tunes are regularly belted out, and it's all worth it for spending the time with such a lovely ensemble. 

Prince of Darkness (1987) - 4.5/5 - A tale that's big on ideas, and thankfully superb in its execution, John Carpenter weaves a creepy and atmospheric tale of religious horror, as a research team work to discover the secrets of an unopened canister, which could spell the end of the world if it becomes opened. The brilliant cast work wonders in their roles, while the tremendous make -up and fantastic effects help to greatly sell the horror of what's occurring before our very eyes.

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Worst film of the month: Escape Room

The Plague of the Zombies (1966) - 3.5/5 - Before George A. Romero breathed new life into the Zombie genre, Hammer had a crack at the horror movie creatures, which served as a low key feature unfolding in a Cornish village. It's appropriate the unfolding horror is a result of someone committing cultural appropriation, utilising the voodoo practices which were then the norm for zombies. It's interesting and fun overall, especially in the unfolding mystery narrative, and works best in the third act. Unfortunately, things are rather more spotty up until then, not helped that the characters aren't all engaging, with the performances carrying things for the most part. Still, an intriguing part of zombie history. 

If Beale Street Could Talk (2018) - 5/5 - After delivering the beautiful masterpiece that was Moonlight, Barry Jenkins adapts James Baldwin's novel of the same name, for a thoughtful tale of how love endures and perseveres, no matter what. The close-up is regularly utilised, as the story is told through the facial expressions of the phenomenal cast, especially the brilliant leads that are KiKi Layne and Stephan James. These two serve as the heart and soul of the narrative, as their wonderful chemistry makes it easy for audiences to get behind their relationship, and hope everything will turn out alright for these young lovers. All while connecting to relevant social struggles, told in an engaging and heartfelt manner, as Nicholas Britell's music plays to perfection, I'm so glad I saw this. 

Cold War (2018) - 4.5/5 - In just an hour and a half, director Pawel Pawlikowski composes a romantic epic which details a multitude of encounters between two lovers, spanning over many years. Beginning in post-war Russia, their tumultuous romance is captured exceptionally, as they bicker and argue, but find themselves drawn into each others arms despite whatever happens. It's a bittersweet tale that's powerfully portrayed by the engaging leads, and isn't one to forget anytime soon. 

Shivers (1975) - 3.5/5 - An early piece of work from David Cronenberg, we bear witness to a parasitic infestation which creates sex-crazed zombies. It's a bold and unique idea which has great potential for a fun and bonkers flick, but doesn't delivers as much as one wishes it should. The fun elements are sporadic, and there are enough tremendous moments for this to be far from a waste of time, but the focus is cast on less interesting aspects, and this especially includes the boring lead. 

Best film of the month: Unbreakable
Best film seen in cinemas: The Favourite
Best film watched for the first time: Blindspotting 
Best film rewatched: Unbreakable
Biggest Disappointment: Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald
Biggest Surprise: Blindspotting
Worst film of the month: Escape Room

Number of films watched: 23