March 2019 In Review

What a month this has been. Many a zombie feature has been watched over this past month, but alongside that has been features about the hunt for Bin Laden, a riff on the romcom genre, strong women kicking ass (physically or verbally), and an Elvis/Spy spoof. But enough chitchat, let's venture into what films I watched this past March.

On The Basis of Sex (2018) - 3/5 - Her return to directing, Mimi Leder brings to screen a biopic about the American icon that is Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Front and centre of it is Felicity Jones, who terrifically embodies the woman as she embarks on a groundbreaking case of gender discrimination, which could be serve as the turning point for sexist rulings. It has the makings of an interesting tale, with a fantastic cast doing brilliant work in their roles, but is unfortunately told in the most by the numbers way as possible, which certainly drags and hampers on the enjoyment.

The Kid Who Would Be King (2019) - 4/5 - Frankly, it's about time we got a directorial follow-up from Joe Cornish, and it certainly did not disappoint. What he's delivered is an inventive take on the Arthurian legend which is superbly acted by the young cast, all of whom impress in their likeable roles which are compellingly played. Angus Imrie is certainly the stand-out, as he tremendously embodies a young version of Merlin, and runs away with the film. It's a shame Rebecca Ferguson's villainous Morgana is less than successful, serving as less of a presence in the film than her time-stopping henchmen, who are all rendered with severely glaring visual effects. But the strongest aspect is how relevant this feature feels in these troubled and divisive times, an aspect which feels very Brexit inspired, but Cornish has made abundantly clear is due to the changing of times, and clear divides regularly popping up. Here's hoping we get a third feature film sooner than 8 years down the line.

Haywire (2011) - 4/5 - The more I delve into Steven Soderbergh's filmography, the more impressed I get at how versatile a director he is. He manages to adapt to whatever genre he next tackles, while putting his own unique stamp on the proceedings, and that's no different here. What we're left with is an art-house actioner, which delivers on the tension and pulse pounding brutality in the fisticuffs, made all the better by the choice to be rid a score during these scenes. It does so to make-up for a thin plot, while the score which does accompany many of the scenes feels out of place. Front and centre is Gina Carano, doing impressive work showcasing her acting talents, while utilising her MMA talents to deliver on the physicality. No wonder so many were calling for her to take on the role of Wonder Woman, as she stands out among an impressive cast, where some members are better used than others. Second to Carano, the largest impression is left by Ewan McGregor, who portrays the weaselly agent to great effect. This is the best way to introduce talented new stars, surrounded by a terrific assortment of known names.

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Best film of the month & Best film
watched for the first time: The Swimmer

Captain Marvel (2019) - 4.5/5 - Whether in the vast reaches of space, or '90s America, Captain Marvel brings the popular character to screen in an engrossing tale that's wonderfully humorous, heartfelt, and utterly empowering. The prospect of seeing Brie Larson return to this role is an exciting one.

Pet Sematary (1989) - 3/5 - Stephen King scripts this adaptation of his own work, and certainly brings to the picture an intriguing idea, nestled within this tale of loss and coping with grief. Where the film mainly falls down for me, however, is in Mary Lambert's direction. A number of the film feels over the top, like a soap opera, not helped by performances which come of as hammy or ill-fitting. Credit where it's due, Lambert can deliver on creepy moments, but they don't come as often as one hopes, leaving a large feeling of unfulfilled promise.

Isn't It Romantic (2019) - 2.5/5 - Following on from his love letter to the 80's slasher, The Final Girls, Todd Strauss-Schulson lends his stylish eye for visuals to this Rebel Wilson starring satire of the romantic-comedy genre. Sadly, it never manages to be as sharp or humorous as one would hope, feeling like a subpar take on what could've been a smartly written love letter to an underappreciated genre (especially by men). Credit where it's due, it's brilliantly shot, with the distinction between Natalie's reality and her dream world beautifully being realised. The dance numbers are also well staged, managing to briefly inject some life into the proceedings, which is a shame this couldn't just have been an outright all-singing, all-dancing musical. The cast do good work, with even Adam DeVine managing to tone his shtick down for the large portion of the film, but Rebel Wilson unfortunately fails to convince as the lead character. I can kinda see why this got dumped to Netflix outside of America, tbh.

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Best film seen in cinemas: Us

Leaving Neverland (2019) - It wouldn't feel right to give this documentary a rating, so I shall leave it without. This was fucking tough to get through, and I needed a damn long break in-between both parts, but I'm glad I persevered through and finished it. This is a powerful piece of work which does exactly what it seeks out to do, giving victims the chance to tell their story. Wade Robson and James Safechuck are utterly brave for doing this.

Dan Reed has intercut the recounting of their stories, from the pair and their respective families, along with footage, images, and aerial shots of the locations. This gradually builds up the tragic painting of a lonely man who just wants a loving family and friends, before this goes out of the window as we get further into the narrative, and a manipulative side is revealed. What's left is a chilling tale of innocence lost and childhoods forever damaged.

City of the Living Dead (1980) - 4/5 - A grand mixture of a portal which needs closing, the living dead committing murder, and the spectre of a suicide committing priest menacingly appearing. It's safe to say Lucio Fulci is operating under his own rules in this inclusion to the zombie genre. Yes, the plot is rather messy, with entire subplots that could've been snipped out (did we need everything with Bob?). But as a piece of horror cinema, this is a phenomenally unsettling piece with unbearable amounts of tension, disgusting visuals that won't easily be forgotten, and masterfully crafted inclusions of gore. There's one scene involving a couple in a car which I had to pause and take in, because I loved what was done so darn much. I was engaged all the way through, thanks to the majority of the characters being rather engaging, but that final shot is rather laughably executed. 

The Swimmer (1968) - 5/5 - When taken at face value, this is essentially a film where Burt Lancaster goes from pool to pool, having conversations before he swims, and then moves on. What makes the feature work so exceptionally well is how the narrative unfolds, granting more layers to the story and the lead we're left to follow. Neddy initially seems like a kooky man who wants to swim home, but there's an underlying sadness to him, as he gets lost in his own nostalgia in an effort to recapture something which he had previously lost, from a time he found more preferable. It's a film which lives and dies on its central performance, and Burt Lancaster is downright exceptional as the titular Swimmer. It's best to venture into this feature knowing as little as possible, and that tactic certainly pays off over the unfolding 95 minute runtime. I am just so in love with this feature, and am ready to call it one of the best I have ever seen.

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Best film rewatched: One Cut of the Dead

Excision (2012) - 5/5 - A confident vision brought to screen in an attention grabbing manner, Excision is an impressive marriage of humour and horror. Richard Bates Jr has crafted an utterly stunning debut, which I'd happily call a masterful entry into the genre.

Zero Dark Thirty (2012) - 3.5/5 - In tackling the hunt for Bin Laden, Kathryn Bigelow does wonderfully through delivering such a thoughtful approach on the topic. The gaze upon how it sucks everyone in, the frustration which comes from how drawn out it was, how few results were actually being achieved, all while horrific attacks were taking place and lives were being lost. Yet when it comes time for Bigelow to unleash the action, it's down and dirty, with none of that Hollywood glamour to it. This is especially true of the raid in the finale, which brings a brilliant end to the story.

Unfortunately, to reach that point is a test on ones patience, as the 2 and a half hour runtime feels rather dragged out at times, and it's a shame more of this time wasn't devoted to the human element, to show a more personal side to how this long hunt for UBL affected the specific people we follow. All there is to Maya is down to Chastain's phenomenal performance, as you fully buy it's the number one priority to her, above all else. 

The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) - 3.5/5 - A stripped down tale with a simple premise, the English language debut of André Øvredal is at its best when focused on the titular autopsy. Keeping this focus means centring on the father/son coroners, as Emile Hirsch and Brian Cox do tremendous work in these well rounded characters with their own wrinkles. This is also a great example of how less is more, and downright chilling moments can come from the simplest of discoveries. Unfortunately, when it moves away from that, things get more generic, and the tension is sadly let out, which is a downright shame when the rest works so darn well.

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Biggest Disappointment: Isn't It Romantic

In The Loop (2009) - 4.5/5 - I've never seen Armando Iannucci's TV series, In The Loop, but on the basis of this feature, that is something I'll need to rectify soon. What Iannucci has delivered is a scathing satire, packed with brilliant lashings of black comedy, and a terrific assortment of swears which are phenomenally delivered. Then there's the masterful cast who dive straight into the material, especially James Gandolfini and Peter Capaldi, who are the MVPs of the feature. I'm ashamed to have waited 10 years to see this film, but I'm glad I finally did. 

[REC]³ Genesis (2012) - 2/5 - 2007's [REC] is easily one of my favourite horror films, so to see how far the series has fallen severely disappoints me. This third instalment begins interestingly enough, acting as a side-story occurring at the same time as the first feature, while centring around a relationship worth investing in. But when the zombies attack, and the film sheds its found footage format, things drop off. As a prominent character destroys the camera, this becomes not a [REC] film, but a mess with no identity, indistinguishable from the various cheap zombie flicks regularly released. There are no tension or scares present here, what's left are unfunny jokes, lacking characterization, and subpar kills. Sure, it takes the time to further touch upon the religious elements of these zombies, but ultimately, this is the kind of film which takes a gun wielding children's entertainer, dressed in a Spongebob Squarepants costume, and makes it so boring. Such a shame.

Top Secret! (1984) - 5/5 - When it comes to the works of Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker, everyone talks about Airplane! and The Naked Gun, but this feature seems to be lesser known than the other two. It's a shame, because this is a comedic masterpiece which deserves to be praised just as widely as those two features. A combined spoof of spy films and Elvis Presley features, the result is gut-wrenching comedy of the highest order, especially in the backgrounds. Val Kilmer is perfect as dashing American singer Nick Rivers, leading a tremendous cast who are committed to the unfolding insanity. Very underrated, and an easy addition to my favourite comedies of all-time.

Biggest Surprise: City of the Living Dead

Us (2019) - 4.5/5 - Us grants food for thought alongside a chilling feature involving doppelgangers, played by a masterful cast at the top of their game. With just two feature films released, Jordan Peele has cemented himself as one of the strongest original voices working in cinema today. 

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Somehow, this animated feature inspired by LEGO bricks has told a fantastic criticism at bro-culture and toxic masculinity. 

This Is Where I Leave You (2014) - 3/5 -A tale my girlfriend and I settled on while scrolling through Amazon Prime, and it wasn't bad. Shawn Levy brought to screen a tale of a fractured family brought together by a shared loss, while working through their individual problems. It's brought alive by the talented performers each working to their strengths, but the dramatic elements work so much better than the flat comedy. Sure, some of the drama is underdeveloped, but it's preferable to the regular sights of a boy loving life whenever he shits in the potty.

The Return Of The Living Dead (1985) - 4/5 - Dan O'Bannon approaches the zombie genre with a blackly comedic take, as teen punks are left to face the onslaught of the living dead. Essentially the films stars, the zombies are brought alive through gory effects and downright impressive puppetry, which helps to craft a unique identity to these brain-eating corpses. The time is taken to understand character and motivations very well, leaving viewers to care for those we see on-screen, which makes it all the more a shame this engaging feature ends with a disappointing rush-job to try and wrap things up.

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Worst film of the month: [REC]³ Genesis

Shazam! (2019) - 4.5/5 - A joyous feature full of empathy and hope, with humorous takes on the genre nestled within, Shazam! is an utter blast to watch. 

One Cut Of The Dead (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Showing this film to unsuspecting people is now my favourite thing to do. The beginning 37 minute one-take is a technical marvel which gets humorous and tense, while the following hour brings wonderful layers to what occurred before it, and makes the film an utter joy to watch. One of my favourite recent inclusions into the zombie sub-genre.

Day Of The Dead (1985) - 4.5/5 - The last of Romero's trilogy I had to watch, and it's astounding how George could make each instalment feel vastly different from one another. It was probably down to how much time was left in-between each ones release, but it makes for refreshing watches, and what I can easily call one of the best trilogies ever made. What's interesting here is how zombies are the backdrop, mainly a menace lurking on the outskirts, keeping the humans we follow confined to this one location. The real danger lies within the walls, in the human characters and the toxic masculinity they perpetuate. The cast do wonderful in portraying their roles, with Joseph Pilato selling the villainous figure of Captain Rhodes so brilliantly. But above all else, my love goes for Sherman Howard's portrayal of Bub, the domesticated zombie who's easily one of the best zombies ever brought to screen. Add to it all Tom Savini's masterful gore and make-up effects, and this is a brilliant feature I look forward to revisiting time and time again.

Best film of the month: The Swimmer
Best film seen in cinemas: Us
Best film watched for the first time: The Swimmer
Best film rewatched: One Cut Of The Dead
Biggest Disappointment: Isn't It Romantic
Biggest Surprise: City of the Living Dead
Worst film of the month: [REC]³ Genesis

Number of films watched: 22