February 2019 In Review

We're into March already, how time flies. So let's not waste anymore time, and have a look at what films I viewed over the past February.

The Guilt Trip (2012) - 3.5/5 - I went into this not expecting much, and I was left with an extremely lovable mother-son tale that was brought alive thanks to the charming on-screen chemistry, delivered by two great performers. Sure, it goes exactly down the route you'd expect, for better or worse, and let's things down in the laughs department. But when the leads do such a wonderful job, this is surely time well spent.

The Devils Candy (2017) - 4.5/5 - The fact it's been 10 years since the release of Sean Byrne's directorial debut, The Loved Ones, and this is only his second feature film, is a saddening prospect. Over just 79 minutes, Byrne crafts an atmospheric piece of artistic horror that stays with you long after. He's ready to draw viewers in with the engaging characters who make up the focal family, each feeling like real people the impressive cast of Ethan Embry, Shiri Appleby and Kiara Glasco make up, and worth rooting for throughout. Once this has been set up, Byrne is more than willing to unsettle viewers wherever possible, be it with just the horrific artwork painted by our haunted lead, or the tremendous performance by Pruitt Taylor Vince. It all leads up to a tense and brutal climax, leaving the wait for Byrne's third feature all the more unbearable. 

Happy Death Day (2017) - 4/5 - Christopher Landon takes the basic concept of Groundhog Day, and blends it together with a Slasher film and Looney Tunes, resulting in a wonderful combination that's turned out much better than I expected. It helps that the characters are drawn out in believable strokes (for the most part), and brought to life thanks to tremendous performances, especially where Jessica Rothe is concerned. I eagerly anticipate the upcoming sequel now.

Splash (1984) - 4/5 - An early romcom from prolific director Ron Howard, this literal fish out of water tale plays out in such an easy-going and likeable manner, with a great deal of humour within. The cast do terrific work to make their roles feel believable and likeable as possible, with Tom Hanks doing great as the lovelorn lead, sharing wonderful chemistry with Daryl Hannah, who brings the Mermaid now named Madison to life so wonderfully. Some aspects are dated, while there's plot holes about (how did Hanks know Eugene Levy was at the dentist?), but when the end result is so lovable, it doesn't damper the overall product. The inspirations are clear for Del Toro's The Shape of Water.

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Best film of the month, Best film seen in cinemas
& Best film rewatched: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Green Book (2018) - 2.5/5 - Peter Farrelly may be going it solo to direct this feature, but the lack of Bobby Farrelly doesn't mean he's changing things up. Yes, he's directing a story tied into racism all throughout, but it's played entirely as a comedy, which feels like a bizarre choice for a good amount of the film. Centred around a real life friendship, it's believably conveyed by the two good leads, who get you to buy into their burgeoning friendship throughout. It's a shame that Viggo Mortensen's performance becomes cartoonish so often, especially when a good amount of it results in him eating various foods. But the biggest weakness lay in how this tale of racism is told in such an antiquated manner, through the eyes of its white lead, with the black co-star essentially being a part of the film to get our initially bigoted lead to realise racism is *gasp* bad. The character of Don Shirley feels like a more interesting perspective to tell this tale through, and he certainly was deserving of getting more of a focus, but often feels like a plot device for the benefit of the lead. It's a shame, because there was so much goodwill built up through the initial friendship and performances.

The LEGO Movie (2014) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Feeling knackered and down? Take one brick related feature, and you'll soon be reminded of its witty nature, great jokes, touching story, and how awesome everything truly is. Plus, the disdain in Chris Pratt's voice when naming the last cat is more than worth the watch.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) - 4/5 - The laughs don't arrive as often, but this is a film that will remain in your head, just like it's original songs.

The Haunting (1963) - 4.5/5 - I have never read the original novel by Shirley Jackson, but what Robert Wise has crafted is an unsettling chiller of a ghost story, where the tension can be wrung out of the simplest of things. Be it the dizzying structure of the house, loud knocking, or the rickety staircase, there's a fantastic handling of these aspects which makes for an unnerving experience. But where the feature most succeeds is how it makes us question the frayed mental state of Nell. Do the ghosts want her to stay in the house, like Nell believes is true, or is this the unfortunate effects of a woman who's unsure what to do with herself after the death of her mother? It's never explicitly stated, but works exceptionally thanks to the terrific performance of Julie Harris, putting an engaging portrayal into the tragic figure of Nell, just one of the many fantastic and believable characters in this film.

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Best film watched for the first time: Roma

Alita: Battle Angel (2019) - 3.5/5 - An enjoyable little actioner with great characters worth getting behind, portrayed with wonderful effects.

Bird Box (2018) - 4/5 - Susanne Bier adapts the novel of the same name, written by Josh Malerman, and plays out the apocalyptic scenario to such a tense degree, as people must cover their eyes, or the sight of horrific creatures will drive people mad to the point of suicide. While the comparisons to A Quiet Place have been regular, I'd say a more comparable film is The Mist, since both centre around disparate group of strangers holed up in a confined location, trying to survive without letting any personal problems get in their way. Granted, the characters who weren't played by Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes and Sarah Paulson could've been fleshed out a bit more, but it all works enough.

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) - 2.5/5 - Dan Gilroy changes gears for his third directorial feature, joining forces with Netflix to deliver a satire aimed at the art industry, rooted in horror. What's brought to screen is a fantastic showcase for the talented ensemble, with the brilliant pairing of Zawe Ashton and Jake Gyllenhaal standing out amongst them all. What's most unfortunate is how, for a horrific satire, the comedy often fails to land, and the horror elements don't horrify or get under the skin as much as one wishes. It's a shame because there are elements which work well, such as a corpse which is believed to be part of an art exhibit, and there's a number of striking imagery on display throughout. Ultimately, the film is just unfortunately dull.

My Bloody Valentine (1981) - 4/5 - February 14th, a day for romance, lovers, and murderous miners on the rampage. This slasher from George Mihalka is an entertaining and engaging time, where brutal kills are brilliantly brought to screen. It's full of likeable characters worth getting behind, even if a good amount could benefit from a bit more characterisation, and a number of them succumb to making dumb decisions. It ends pretty strongly in theory, but the execution is unfortunately rushed, but this doesn't diminish from the terrific tale which has occurred prior to this.

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Biggest Disappointment: Velvet Buzzsaw

Erin Brockovich (2000) - 4.5/5 - I was really impressed by what Steven Soderbergh delivered here, as he brings a real life story to screen in such an understated, yet entirely gripping way. Yes, it does indulge in big moments at times (Erin's speech to PG&E's lawyers), but these only occur a few times. It allows so much to be said in smaller moments, while carrying a great deal of impact. This is reflect in the score, which kicks in less than expected, allowing the strength of the tale to make audiences feel, rather than typically being overbearing in a way to tell audiences how to feel.

It's tremendously acted, with Albert Finney doing wonderful work in his role. But this is Julia Roberts' film, and she absolutely kills it. You feel her compassion for every unfortunate victim of PG&E's greed, and it's believable she'd remember so much about every person she speak with, even as it causes her to spend more time away from her children. The moment she discovers her youngest said her first word, and goes through a range of emotions while uttering few words, is powerfully played. If I had a criticism, I'd say Aaron Eckhart is given little to do here. It feels like his largest contribution is looking after the kids, and it feels like more could've been given for him to do. Regardless, this is a powerful tale that proves enthralling and powerful.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (2018) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I'm so glad I managed to see this on the big screen one last time while I could. The visuals are gorgeous as ever to witness, the masterful humour hits all throughout, the characters are wonderfully handled, the action exceptionally done, making for one of the best superhero films ever made.

Wild Rose (2019) - 4.5/5 - What a wonderful gem this was. Tom Harper centres his feature on Rose-Lynn Harlan, a young Scottish singer who sees her release from prison as an opportunity to follow her dreams, and make it as a Country singer (not Country and Western). Rose-Lynn also knows she has to do right by her children, and feels torn between succeeding in both aspects. Sure, the story is quite a familiar one, but that doesn't matter so much when it's told in a completely heartfelt and touching manner, with a great deal of humour nestled within. Key to it all is Jessie Buckley, who delivers a stunning performance in the lead role, while doing tremendously in the singing aspects. You completely buy into the character and her journey, with support ably lent with thanks to Julie Walters and Sophie Okonedo. This deserves to be seen so much when it comes out. 

Rabid (1977) - 3.5/5 - Another interesting take on infection horror, courtesy of David Cronenberg's early filmography, with a lot more hints of the traditional zombies lying within. Yet again, I find this to be a work which is greater in theory than it is in execution. There are some chilling and tense moments throughout which work darn well, especially after the location is under martial law, while I think a good job is done getting us to care for the central couple. It's a shame that the film feels too spread out, as the attempts to show this infection expanding its grasp and spreading across instead feels like the focus is spread across less interesting figures in the story. It's also regularly delivered in a repetitive fashion, while a number of potentially interesting moments feel rushed over. It must be said, I did still like this feature, but aspects of it just disappointed me.

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Biggest Surprise: Erin Brockovich

Instant Family (2018) - 4/5 - Having unfortunately seen Daddy's Home and Horrible Bosses 2, I thought I knew what kind of film this would be going into it. I'm pleased to say I was wrong, as director Sean Anders draws on personal experience of the adoption process to deliver a genuinely touching and heartfelt tale about a married couple adopting three children. It certainly attempts to throw in a great deal of humour, and it largely doesn't work, especially an extended gag about The Blind Side which carries little resolution. It doesn't help when many of scenes have a large group of people laughing to the jokes, when that should be for the audience to do. Thankfully, none of it undercuts the dramatic elements, for this is where the film succeeds, as the weighted reality of what these children have gone through isn't brushed aside, or bizarrely played for laughs. The great performances help to get us invested in these characters growing in each others company, making the difficult elements feel real, and the sweeter side feel earned. It's a feature built on good intentions, and thankfully has more going for it than just that.

Duck Soup (1933) - 3.5/5 - My first foray into the comedy stylings of the Marx Brothers, and I quite enjoyed what I saw. It doesn't outstay it's welcome at 68 minutes, managing to be a showcase for witty wordplay and tremendous slapstick, delivered best by Groucho himself. The highpoint is the mirror gag, which I've seen parodied and imitated many times over before, and for good reason with how fantastically it's executed. But I found the comedy did miss quite a few times, especially in regards to Harpo, whose silent character that randomly cut things with his scissors was grating on me throughout. I'd call him the weak link, but the film as a whole is worth the running time.

How To Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (2019) - 4/5 - Ever since 2010, Dreamworks has gifted viewers with one of the best on-screen friendships in recent years, between the young Viking named Hiccup, and the Night Fury dragon named Toothless. But like their friendship, the pair come of age in this third instalment, as their journey reaches its heartfelt and emotional conclusion, in emotionally resonant ways which feel undoubtedly earned. But while we've gotten to care for these two, the same can't be said of the side characters we've seen alongside them all these films. They just come off one-note and underdeveloped, so when they share the focus in this film, it feels unearned, especially when we're stuck with the unfortunate attempts at comic relief. Much more effective pieces of comedy are in the scenes of Toothless interacting with the Light Fury, trying to woo her in a manner that feels indebted to silent cinema, and is a testament to how wonderfully expressive animation can make beings who normally aren't as such.

Standing in the way of Dragon/Viking harmony is a Dragon slayer named Grimmel, who has history in exterminating Night Furies. The vocal talents of F. Murray Abraham resonate well from the character, lending a gravitas to a role which could have been played as merely one-note. He's a character that serves the story well, so when it reaches the tear-inducing climax, it feels like one heck of a journey that hits in the right places.

Roma (2018) - 5/5 - The last of the Best Picture nominees I had to watch, and I'm so glad I saw this sooner rather than later. What Alfonso Cuarón has crafted is an extremely personal story told with great patience, allowing for viewers to soak in the sumptuously shot visuals which have been captured with the gorgeous cinematography.

But it isn't a feature all about visuals, as Cuarón brings a real sense of authenticity in the emotionally resonant story of a domestic worker named Cleo. Yalitza Aparicio does tremendous work in her portrayal of this character, who helps a mother of four while her husband is away. We're left to empathise with her throughout, doing her best to help this family throughout, regardless of how she is treated. It may not be the most plot-heavy feature, but that doesn't matter when your attention is grasped by the smallest of moments, and you're stunned by how much emotion you're left to feel from the simplest of scenes. By the end of it all, it's a touching drama that ranks amongst the best from such a magnificent director.

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Worst film of the month: The Haunting (1999)

The Haunting (1999) - 0.5/5 - Having finally seen the Robert Wise originally just earlier in the month, I figured it was worth seeing how Jan De Bont adapted the same story for audiences nearly 50 years prior. Well, coming out of the film left me feeling like I've made a mistake as grave as, say, going to a creepy haunted house for some silly experiment. What worked so effectively for the original was how it delivered atmosphere and chills which beset the well rounded characters. All of that is unfortunately disregarded, because cheap jump scares, glaring visual effects, and characters spelling everything out with heavy handed dialogue. It's worth saying that this film touches upon the questioning of Nell's mental state, but it's done in such a ham-fisted and lazy manner which is clearly a red herring, and no attempts are made to disguise that. This, and the inept bungling of the "holding hand" scene, has this come off as a film where the makers believed they knew better than the original classic because it was old, and honestly, Scary Movie 2 was a better adaptation of the original than this. 

Happy Death Day 2 U (2019) - 3.5/5 - A change of focus to the sci-fi genre results in a flawed, yet immensely fun, feature.

Fighting With My Family (2019) - 3.5/5 - A heartfelt feature approachable for any non-wrestling fan.

Best film of the month: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Best film seen in cinemas: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Best film watched for the first time: Roma
Best film rewatched: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Biggest Disappointment: Velvet Buzzsaw
Biggest Surprise: Erin Brockovich
Worst film of the month: The Haunting (1999)

Number of films watched: 23