Saturday, 6 July 2019

2019 - The Year So Far

We've made it halfway through 2019 so far (good going, everyone), and we have so many great things yet to be released for us to watch. We've also had a great selection of films already come out, so let's see how this year has fared for me so far. Let's take a look at the what, in my personal opinion, are the 10 Best, and Worst, films released from January to June so far.


Worst

Dishonourable mentions go to Piercing, an interesting concept whose lacking execution isn't helped by focusing on the less interesting lead, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters, an impressive spectacle of Kaiju fights drowning in an overstuffed cast, wasted on character drama that's so thinly written, and dull.

10. Intended as a satire of the romantic comedy genre, Isn't It Romantic ultimately falls short of being as sharp or humorous as one would hope. Director Todd Strauss-Schulson brings his stylish eye for visuals, with the dance numbers being so well staged and full of life, one wishes this would go all-in on being an all-singing, all-dancing musical. Sadly, that wouldn't have helped Rebel Wilson's lead performance, who fails to convince in the lead role.

9. Stepping away from the long-standing duo of Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith, there was hopes such glorious chemistry would be filled thanks to the duo whose camaraderie helped make Thor: Ragnarok so joyous. Sadly, Men In Black: International is let down by F. Gary Gray's lifeless direction, and a lacklustre script which gives the terrific cast little to work with. It doesn't reach the lows of Men In Black II, but you'll struggle to remember this all the same.

8. Changing gears for his third directorial feature, Dan Gilroy crafts Velvet Buzzsaw as an art industry satire rooted in horror. He brings to screen elements which work well, such as a corpse believed to be part of an art exhibit, and displayed all throughout are striking images which will stay in the mind, but this makes it all the more saddening how the comedy often fails to land, and the horror elements aren't that horrific, failing to get under ones skin. This is undoubtedly a fantastic showcase for the talented ensemble, but they're trapped in something rather dull.

7. A complete re-imagining of the 1941 original, Dumbo should be commended for attempting something new, which fits well with Tim Burton's visual style. It's just a shame the ensuing 112 minutes feel so overlong and tiresome, as Colin Farrell and his boring kids bonding with the elephant misses the mark, and a third act featuring Michael Keaton and his Disneyland style funfair feels rather unnecessary.

6. The directorial debut of Michael Chavez, The Curse of La Llorona slots into The Conjuring universe without much of an identity to call its own. A scare-free 93 minutes which drags on longer than Avengers: Endgame ever did, tension and atmosphere are disregarded for cheap jump scares, sudden bursts of loud noises, and frustrating character decisions.

5. The latest collaboration between Netflix and Adam Sandler, it's clear that Murder Mystery wants to be a Poirot inspired mystery that's intriguing, and leaves one wanting to discover what happens. The actual result is a ramshackle plot, half-heartedly written around a European vacation, with tired gags and lacklustre bursts of action feeling tacked on.

4. Dipping his toe into the horror genre via Blumhouse, Tate Taylor's Ma is a trashy and poorly written piece with little thought seemingly gone into much of this 100 minute slog. Characters are forgotten about for long stretches, while the central teens are portrayed as little more than mindless dolts who inexplicably make stupid decisions, but at least Octavia Spencer is one of the films bright spots, clearly relishing her antagonistic role.

3. There's a clear sense in The Hustle of trying to pay homage to old-school capers, complete with animated opening credits. It's a shame the overall film is too inept and hollow to actually work, as the screenwriters constantly trying to one-up the audience comes before characterisation, actual jokes, and reasons to care for our insipid lead characters.

2. It feels bittersweet to see Fox's mutant franchise reach its close, as Simon Kinberg attempts to try again in tackling an iconic comic-book story. What's ultimately baffling is how X-Men: Dark Phoenix feels so embarrassed of its more fantastical elements, believing the story of a telekinetic hero getting hunted by aliens, after getting a powerful upgrade from a cosmic entity named after a bird in Greek mythology, should be "grounded" and "serious". Outside of that, it's an emotionally empty feature with little spark, that serves as a mercy killing to this franchise.

1. As the many iterations of Batman and Spider-Man have shown, it's possible to take take a character already well established in cinema, and do good work with another iteration. Hellboy sets itself apart by being a hideous disaster, too focused on trying to be "edgy" to make any of its messy plot actually work. Maybe if there was some actual flow to them, rather than feeling awkwardly placed around lifeless action set-pieces hampered by downright embarrassing effects work. The wrong lessons have been taken from Deadpool, as the needless swearing comes off as overly juvenile, while the overall message amounts to "stop crying and grow a pair". How horribly regressive.


Best

Honourable Mentions go to Long Shot, a charming romantic comedy which carries a sharp political edge, and Shazam!, a joyous marriage of empathy, hope, and inventive approaches to the genre.

10. A familiar tale told brilliantly, Wild Rose is a wonderful story about following your dreams, and doing right by those in your life. Delivered in a heartfelt and touching manner, Tom Harper does wonderful work, while Jessie Buckley is stunning in the lead role. You completely buy into the character and her journey, while Buckley's singing voice leaves you rooting for her character to be ever closer to achieving her dreams.

9. Bringing the long-popular character to screen, Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck deliver an engrossing tale with Captain Marvel. The pair may have a wider scope than their previous films, but still focus their feature on believable characters and their real feeling relationships, while weaving relevant themes and empowering moments within. Central to this is a blistering performance by Brie Larson, who shares wonderful chemistry with the impressively de-aged Samuel L. Jackson, and the films MVP, Goose the Cat.

8. A ballet of breathtaking action, John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum is the best entry into the franchise yet. Phenomenal choreography makes this feel worlds apart from what's usually seen in Hollywood action cinema, as we see a brutal battle in a knife shop, a horse-riding John Wick battling motorcycle riding assassins, and even a weaponized use of a book. This heart-stopping action feels like a breath of fresh air, while woven within is a story about how actions have consequences, led by a compelling as ever Keanu Reeves.

7. The very idea of a Toy Story 4 felt sacrilegious, considering how perfectly the trilogy ended, but in Pixar we trust. This fourth instalment is a natural epilogue which justifies its existence so darn well, as Woody reunites with his long-lost love, Bo Peep, and questions his place in Bonnie's life. A touching story handled with great maturity, while newly introduced toys feel like natural additions, which especially includes Forky, the adorable scene-stealer who loves trash. It's a shame the returning characters feel underutilised, but that's a little issue in this hilarious and emotional feature.

6. Dexter Fletcher blends the standard biopic narrative with musical style numbers, to make a compelling feature with Rocketman. The back catalogue of Elton John is used to fully reflect how he feels throughout the story, used for full emotional resonance, in this story about a man who just wants to feel an emotional embrace as simple as a hug. Taron Egerton does exceptional work leading the terrific cast, even using his wonderful singing voice to cover the songs. From its handling of sexuality, to frank depictions of Elton's demons, this is the film Bohemian Rhapsody failed to be.

5. A refreshing take on the coming of age comedy, Booksmart is the impressive directorial debut of Olivia Wilde. The wonderful pairing of Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are an utter joy, working off each other to sell their friendship through the smallest of moments, using the prospect of a party to hopefully grow out of their comfort zones, and be seen for more than as Grade A overachievers. The films secret weapon comes in the honesty it brings, and how it ultimately resonates, as the amount of prejudging these characters do prevents them from actually knowing one another. Crucially, for a comedy, it's downright hilarious, right down to every appearance of Billie Lourd.

4. When it comes to zombies, one can be left wondering what life is actually left in the genre. Enter Shinichiro Ueda, delivering one of the most distinct takes on the subgenre with One Cut of the Dead. What begins is a 37 minute sequence filmed in one-take, serving as an attention grabbing opener that may be off-putting to some. But stick with it, as following that are two acts which add layers to what you've seen before, and allowing the film to go onwards in such a satisfying and smartly written manner. Go into this knowing as little as possible, and come out of it with a new fave you'll want to show others in the same manner.

3. Endings are hard, just ask George R.R. Martin. Avengers: Endgame had one hell of a task, to close off a saga which began their ambitious cinematic universe, and that it manages to stick the landing is an utter achievement worthy of praise. The aftermath of Infinity War leads this feature, giving a sobering look at these survivors trying to persevere in the face of such a devastating blow. As things go on, the large scale ambition and scope are made evident, while ensuring there's always time for personal character moments. The three hour runtime flies by, making for a completely marvellous accomplishment.

2. An unforgettable tale set in the eternal void of space, High Life is a hauntingly beautiful 113 minutes which is hard to shake from the memory. Central to it all is Robert Pattinson, whose phenomenal portrayal depicts all we need to know about the character. How his actions weigh on his mind, a heartbreaking delivery telling us of the cruelty he's previously endured. Claire Denis tells a nihilistic tale of convicts on a hopeless mission, yet allows optimism to shine through, to show that trauma can be overcome, and redemption is achievable.

1. A film which rewards upon multiple viewings, Us is a phenomenally realised vision which grants food for thought, chills, and hilarious bouts of humour. The phenomenal cast work wonders bringing alive their roles, as their physicality and presence does magnificently to differentiate between characters and their red jumpsuit wearing doppelgangers. Lupita Nyong'o puts two of 2019's most masterful performances into a pair of compelling figures, whose interwoven tale won't easily leave ones mind. With only two films under his belt, Jordan Peele has cemented himself as one of the strongest original voices in cinema, and the anticipation for his next feature only grows from here.


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