April 2019 In Review

April has dearly departed, and that means we're a third of the way through 2019 so far. Doesn't time fly? This month resulted in many a cinema trip, a last minute rewatch of MCU films, and many a horror film I will not forget. So, without further ado, let's have a look at what I saw this past April.

Captain Marvel (2019) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - As fun, engrossing, hilarious, and wonderful a feature as it was on first viewing. Brie Larson is brilliant as Carol Danvers, Samuel L. Jackson sells that he's in his 40s (not just relying on the de-aging effects to do that), and Goose remains the best inclusion into this cinematic universe in a while. I love it.

Dumbo (2019) - 2/5 - Dumbo wants to make you believe an elephant can fly, but can't make you believe it needs to last nearly 2 hours. Long-drawn-out as the elephants ears, emotionally affecting as a pamphlet for carpet cleaning, it's ultimately a tiresome affair.

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) - 4.5/5 - For her second directorial feature, Desiree Akhavan adapts Emily M. Danforth's novel of the same name, detailing a central trio of teenagers fighting to survive at a gay conversation therapy centre. By tightening the focus upon the lead characters, especially with Cameron as our entry point into this world, Akhavan ensures we have a reason to care for the people in this unfortunate situation, as opposed to assuming the horrific predicament is just about enough. Characterisation is wonderfully done, so we see each character as being well rounded, with this even extending to the supporting players who could've easily have been left as two-dimensional. Helping matters are the magnificent portrayals, with Chloe Grace Moretz putting in one of her best performances.

All this works exceptionally well for this tale of identity and self-discovery, while preserving in a toxic and harmful environment. These are themes which have grown in relevance over recent years, and while we're granted saddening moments throughout, we also get to see the beauty and life which lies within these characters. We're treated to such heartfelt and poignant moments, while seeing many hilarious instances throughout, which showcases that no matter how enveloping the dark times may seem, there's always a ray of hope to lead us to better things. 

Dark River (2018) - 4.5/5 - Clio Barnard delivers a farmland tale about grappling with past horrors, told from the perspective of unfortunate siblings, tortured in their own ways. The magnificent performances of Ruth Wilson and Mark Stanley work so well for this story, selling how it's all affected their characters over the years. A quietly affecting tale that's also hauntingly bleak, delivered in a manner which won't leave your minds anytime soon. 

Missing Link (2019) - 4/5 - The latest feature from Laika, the ever reliable stop-motion studio with an output that's high in quality and ambition. Their sensibilities and great humour has worked wonders for their past features, no matter the setting or scenario, and is no different here for this adventurous road trip between Hugh Jackman's engaging explorer, and Zach Galafianakis' lonely Sasquatch. They're a lovable pair who work well off each other, brought alive thanks to the tremendous vocal talents, and having a heartfelt and touching message at the core of it all. It's a shame Zoe Saldana's character couldn't be a stronger figure, but this is another hit for this exciting studio.

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Best film of the month & Best film
watched for the first time: Audition

Audition (1999) - 5/5 - The reputation precedes this feature by prolific director Takashi Miike, making it very well known what a piece of extreme cinema this is. What I wasn't ready for was the deceptive first hour, which plays out like a romantic comedy. It sets up Aoyama, our widowed lead of seven years who's ready to get back into dating again, making us feel for him. When he finally falls in love again, for the former ballet dancer Asami, we understand why he's dove into it so deeply, and a part of us wants it to follow on to the happily ever after romantic ending.

But there's less than an hour left of the film, and it's gotten progressively unsettling as it goes on. The images, stories, and acts brought to screen take this film further down a nightmarish path, until a major turn is taken. For better or worse, what follows is downright unforgettable. But what's so fascinating is how we're made to understand the other side of it all. This isn't a two-dimensional figure doing what's done just because, they have their own reasoning for what could've been an avenging angel figure (especially with how unfortunately timely it feels). What we're left with is an engrossing, intense masterpiece that won't easily be forgotten. 

Nappily Ever After (2018) - 4/5 - I didn't know what to expect from this Netflix Original directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, but I was left pleasantly surprised by what I received. Through the changing hairstyle of Violet, our lead character, we're granted an extremely likeable story about ultimately loving yourself for who you are, not for any perceived ideal of yourself. It's an effortlessly charming tale told very humorously, with Sanaa Lathan making for a delightful lead. I must say, I was surprised by how much of the film was devoted to Ernie Hudson as an underwear model (with a very prominent bulge), but in the end, it's a film with good intentions and a message which deserves to be taken to heart.

Unicorn Store (2019) - 4/5 - Unicorn Store is a joyous and lively debut about finding the bright side, no matter how daunting the future may seem. A confident direction from Brie Larson hints at great things to come from her directorial work, and any further instalments are highly anticipated.

Re-Animator (1985) - 4/5 - A grisly and imaginative update on the Frankenstein tale, Stuart Gordon delivers a hugely enjoyable B movie film that I'm glad to have finally seen. Some instances feel a bit outdated or cheap, especially a pivotal moment in the final act, but it's fronted by a fantastic cast. Leading things is Jeffrey Combs, stealing the show with an attention grabbing stand-out performance, making sure that Herbert West sticks in the mind long after the film has finished.

Hellboy (2004) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I have no connection with the source material, but I have much affection for what Del Toro made with his first Hellboy feature. Considering this was my first rewatch in over 5 years, I was half-expecting to see some glaring flaws which had passed me by long before, but if anything, I came out of this viewing with more of an appreciation for what Del Toro managed.

Let's get the worst element out of the way: Meyers. As an entry point into this world, he serves the purpose, but outside of that, he's a blank slate that's there to force an unnecessary love triangle. Outside of that, this is a feature which balances dark fantasy elements in a grounded landscape, with great instances of humour peppered throughout. The practical effects still hold up extremely well, and I'm always left wanting to spend more time with the main trio I've grown to love of Hellboy, Abe, and Liz. The villains are especially brilliant, with Kroenen serving as one of my favourites antagonists from the 2000's.

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Best film seen in cinemas & Best film rewatched: Us

Hellboy (2019) - 0.5/5 - To put it simply, Hellboy is a hideous disaster. A brash mess written around half-assed set pieces, too focused on being "edgy" to make any of it actually work.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) [rewatch] - 5/5 - While his first feature was more grounded, as evidenced from Agent Meyers serving as the entry point, this sequel feels like Guillermo Del Toro being given free reign in this original story he concocted with Hellboy creator Mike Mignolia. It ditches the weakest link from the previous film, a bland plot device who brings a needless love triangle with him. This frees up screen-time to focus on wonderful characterisation, and greatly serving the relationships between the characters, especially the memorable new figures memorably portrayed by the cast. These are depicted through greatly through moments as simple as Hellboy and Abe singing "Can't Smile Without You", or as grand and impressive as the battle sequences, especially the highlight centring around a rampaging beanstalk. 2008 was an important year for comic book films with The Dark Knight and the birth of the MCU with Iron Man, and this deserves to be recognised alongside them both. 

River of Grass (1994) - 4/5 - At a first glance, this film sits alongside Badlands and True Romance, where a sudden romance sees a man whisk a woman away from her life, with murder following on their road trip. But the debut feature from acclaimed director Kelly Reichardt sees the road trip not venture far, the romance be non-existent, and the murder not being as it seems. Instead, the centre of it is Cozy, a housewife who's left with little agency, feeling dissatisfied with how her life has turned out. After meeting Lee Ray at a bar, who's carrying a gun his friend discovered, she's thrust into unfamiliar circumstances which aren't as she expects. It's an engrossing tale from beginning to end, never outstaying its welcome while delivering terrific bouts of humour. Lisa Bowman is exemplary as Cozy, standing tall among a wonderful cast. 

Pet Sematary (2019) - 3.5/5 - The second adaptation of Stephen King's similarly named novel, directors Dennis Widmyer and Kevin Kölsch take their own path with the story, ensuring it carries the same feel while carrying genuine surprises (well, they would've been a lot more genuine had the trailer not been so damn spoilery). It remains a gripping story of grief and loss personified through the mystical burial ground, even if it is a very glossy adaptation. Considering it has much material to journey through, it's a shame it rushes through many key aspects, such as the budding friendship of Louis and Jud, while having elements like Pascow feel needless to the overall tale. In spite of this, it's a chilling story that works a lot more than it doesn't. The cast is a step-up from the Mary Lambert feature, with Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz proving exceptional as the parents who are taken through one hell of a time. Most impressive is Jeté Laurence, perfectly encapsulating the unfolding journey with her tremendous portrayal, and while it's not a slight against the cast, the four cats playing Church give the best performances in the film. 

Us (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - As I suspected, a second viewing proved so rewarding. Jordan Peele's sophomore feature is impressively confident, resonates exceptionally, and delivers on the laughs and chills so fantastically. I would easily call this a masterpiece.

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Biggest Disappointment: Escape From L.A.

The Girl With All The Gifts (2016) - 4.5/5 - An impressive and intriguing take on the zombie sub-genre from Colm McCarthy, opening with an underground prison centre where children are routinely bound to wheelchairs, taken to and from lessons by armed soldiers. Why are they treated with such hostility? A sudden feral nature towards bare human skin would be the reasoning why. It's an engrossing tale that delivers on the chilling aspects routinely, helped by an assortment of powerful performances from a talented cast. Paddy Considine as the rough Sergeant, Glenn Close as the scientist determined to find a cure, and Gemma Arterton as the kind maternal figure are all impressive, but Sennia Nanua stands out amongst them all with a captivating turn. A wonderful modern take worth watching for any zombie lovers. 

Nekromantik (1987) - 3.5/5 - A film created to rebel against censorship, I was aware of this feature by Jörg Buttgereit in reputation only. After sitting down and watching this (with my curtains damn well closed!), I can easily call it a very effective piece of horror, which had a visceral effect on me. Through the masterful effects and sound design, I was left disturbed in ways other genre features could not attempt.

When you get to the core of this film, it's ultimately a romance tale set outside of the societal norm, resulting in a love triangle involving a couple and a rotting corpse. It's a story which held my interest, but I would've preferred had more time allowed to explore that ensuing triangle, especially in comparison to some less interesting places it goes to instead. This includes incredibly horrific scenes of animal cruelty, which make for some of the most utterly difficult scenes I've ever had to sit through. The great score works entirely well for this tale, but also would fit with a typical romance film. 

The Avengers (2012) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I can't believe it's been 7 years since we first witnessed the live action formation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, and the gamble which was the Marvel Cinematic Universe paid off. I am more aware of evident problems, such as how flat it can look at times, and how the large portion of Hawkeye's first real appearance is him being mind-controlled. But it pays off the prior films extremely well, remains an utter joy to see such an ambitious assembling, and in a film full of heroic film leads, makes Mark Ruffalo's dual turns as Bruce Banner and The Hulk the stand-out stars. Most key is how the eventual union of the team is earned, as we initially see them clashing heads and fighting one another, until the Earth is under attack, and that famous circling shot shows them finally a united team.

Shazam! (2019) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - I do wish some of the antagonists weren't so darkly designed, and subsequently shown off in the darker parts of the scenes. That's my biggest issue with the film, but the rest remains an utterly brilliant union of super-powered fun and more adult themes.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) [rewatch] - 4/5 - Considering it was following up a juggernaut of the box office and popular culture, I find it impressive Joss Whedon had so much of Avengers: Age of Ultron settle down and focus on the character relationships so well. This allows us to see the group chilling and theorising about the worthiness of lifting Thor's hammer, discussing while chopping wood, and Hawkeye gossiping about his teammates with his wife. Speaking of which, I'm glad Jeremy Renner got such a larger part here, managing to go toe to toe with superpowered and robotic adversaries, while showing off his charm with humorous lines that I'm sure were improvised. Yes, the plot stopping for Thor to take a dip in a mystical pool remains bullshit, as does Natasha believing herself to be a monster due to her inability to have kids (as opposed to the amount of murdering she's done?). It deserves to be praised, though, how the new inclusions of Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Vision, and even Ultron, are all sold so well in a film packed with returning characters.

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Biggest Surprise: River of Grass

Captain America: Civil War (2016) [rewatch] - 5/5 - It remains deserving of praise how the Russo's took a larger cast than both previous Avengers films, and managed to do the better job of balancing them all than Joss did either time. They're all given a chance to make their voices heard, and allow the viewer to understand their thoughts on the dividing point, which is the Sokovia Accords, resulting in the eponymous Civil War. Neither side is painted as wrong or villainous, making it perfectly valid for viewers to fall on either side, and making the action centred conflicts hurt all the more. The Airport Battle remains a high point for the MCU, but the final battle (and especially its inciting factor) remains quite the gut punch on repeat viewings. One of the best inclusions into the superhero genre.

The Breaker Upperers (2019) - 3.5/5 - Serving as directors, writers, and stars, the duo of Madeleine Sami and Jackie van Beek do a wonderful job in this utterly charming comedy about two friends performing break-up services for those too cowardly to end things with their partners. The pair deliver a story about friendship overcoming everything, and a refusal to let past hurts define you, brought to screen with such wonderful performances. Sami is a joy as Mel, holding the more cheery disposition of the two, while van Beek is terrific as the evidently still hurting Jen. James Rolleston is lovable as the dim-witted rugby player, and Ana Scotney threatens to steal the film as Jordan's brash girlfriend who isn't as delicate a flower as Jordan says. It's a formulaic tale where the jokes hit more than they miss, but it's a delightful time worth spending. 

Escape From L.A. (1996) - 1.5/5 - 15 years after delivering the entertaining Escape From New York, John Carpenter returns to deliver another adventure for Snake Plissken. The unfortunate result is practically a remake of its predecessor, retreading over the same ground in an utterly dull way. There are interesting ideas nestled within, even carrying modern relevance in the deplorable ways a government can take away peoples rights, but it's all lost among the empty storytelling, which has to rely on cheap-looking effects and a reliance on cringeworthy scenes involving hang-gliding, surfing, and basketball. A special mention should go to the cast, who seem to be trying, but it's for nothing when the result is so lacking in personality, downright irritating, or an extremely dated handling of a transgender character. 

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) [rewatch] - 5/5 - The last stop on my journey before reaching Endgame, and it remains a stunning culmination of what came prior to it. No matter how many times I view it, it remains compelling to see these characters collide, the humorous beats hit really well, and the action is brilliantly played. Then there's the devastating moments, which remain a torment to witness unfold, and left the next year to be painful to watch pass by. 

Avengers: Endgame (2019) - 5/5 - I'm going to need time to properly compose my thoughts into a coherent review which isn't just this fan squeeing at what unfolded. For now, I shall gladly say this is a bold finale to what's come before. It focuses on the aftermath of what occurred in Avengers: Infinity War, and how the survivors have tried to persevere in the face of such a devastating blow. A picture large in both ambition and scope, the ensuing three hours pass by in the blink of an eye, while ensuring it's humorous, touching, exciting, and heartfelt. A marvellous achievement for this cinematic universe.

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Worst film of the month: Hellboy (2019)

Speed Racer (2008) - 4/5 - Despite a few exceptions, I have little hope in live action adaptations of anime. I had hope for this, as I adore The Wachowski's, but I must admit that I was not gelling with this film from early on. Perhaps it was the young sibling of Speed irritating me, or the background of the streets reminding me of Lazytown, but despite the wonderful racing scenes, I was fearing this would be another miss for me. I am so glad that I continued on though, as I was met with an extremely ambitious visual feature which feels utterly one of a kind, as corruption and match-fixing are utilised as the backbone for this story. The directors vividly breathe life into this project all over, be it in the spectacle of the racing scenes, bringing alive this unique looking world, or even in the smallest moments during fight scenes with ninjas. It helps that great performances go into such lovable figures, and I especially warmed to Paulie Litt as Spritle by the end of it. I'm glad to have finally seen this, and I do believe a rewatch will make me love it even more. 

The Craft (1996) - 4/5 - Goodness me, I absolutely adored this film. Robin Tunney plays the new girl at a Catholic school, who falls in with a clique of teen witches, as they utilise powers against any who dare cross them. A wonderful lead quartet, played by Tunney, Fairuza Balk, Neve Campbell and Rachel True, put their all into brilliant characters I gladly would've followed for even longer. Yes, it does follow the typical template of power corrupting, but it remains utterly engaging, a brilliant piece of fun, and even crosses into horrific at times. 

Avengers: Endgame (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - An ambitious and satisfying climax that will leave you thrilled and emotional, Avengers: Endgame is an utter triumph. A love-letter to the 21 films which came before it and those who've been along for the ride. Whatever happens from here on out, at least we have this magnificent end to the Infinity saga. 

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - James Gunn's intergalactic sequel manages to carry as much heart, humour, and excitement as it has done the previous multitude of times I've viewed it. A great triumph in the MCU, especially for Baby Groot. 

Avengers: Endgame (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Third viewing within the span of a week, and it remains astonishing how the Russo's concluded the Infinity saga in such a satisfying manner.

Best film of the month: Audition
Best film seen in cinemas: Us
Best film watched for the first time: Audition
Best film rewatched: Us
Biggest Disappointment: Escape From L.A.
Biggest Surprise: River of Grass
Worst film of the month: Hellboy (2019)

Number of films watched: 28