November 2019 In Review

As we get closer to the years end, my viewings of 2019 films has ramped up. This has also allowed me to extend my reviews onto another site, as I now contribute film reviews to FlyFidelity. But enough waffle, let's see what films I viewed over this past November.

Total Recall (1990) - 4.5/5 - Paul Verhoeven delivers a perfect showcase for why audiences flocked to watch Arnie so constantly. This grisly actioner is one bloody showcase and delivers plenty of great one-liners, while giving you food for thought as to whether it's all real or a dying dream of our lead character. It's also chock full of brilliant effects work by Rob Bottin, with Kuato being such an exceptional showcase for his work, and you can see the progression to this, from Bottin's work on The Thing.

In the lead role of Quaid, Arnold Schwarzenegger does wonderfully in capturing the facets of the character. He's a muscular hero that can believably beat up everybody he shares the room with, but he also plays the role as a construction worker with big dreams so very well. The moment after his first kill, where he can't believe what he's done, is so very well played.

Sharon Stone is exceptional in capturing each side to her character, and is more believable as a love interest than Rachel Ticotin's underwritten resistance figure that Quaid joins forces with. Michael Ironside is a great antagonist as Richter, the guy whose hatred of Quaid stems from the latter giving his wife better sex than the former could ever measure up to.

Lords Of Chaos (2019) - 4.5/5 - Whether your interest in Norwegian Black Metal is sky high or non-existent, Jonas Åkerlund's film detailing the band's story is an engrossing story that can be appreciated by anybody, regardless of how much they know about the band Mayhem. Told on the backdrop of Norwegian Black Metal's birth, it's about band members who want to be famous and notorious, and increasingly question what they'll do to reach those heights. Thank goodness for the moments of light humour woven within, as this story gets utterly brutal, intense, and very gruesome. The combination of claustrophobic direction, and Dan Martin's impressive practical effects, makes for an unforgettable experience. There was one part which I just wanted to end, as it felt arduous in the best possible way a horror film can make you feel.

But none of this would work without exceptional performances leading things, and we got that in spades. Emory Cohen is phenomenal as Varg, the member whose warped mindset becomes increasingly chilling as the film goes on. Jack Kilmer is memorable when he's on-screen, as much resonates about the character with few words being said. But most of all, Rory Culkin is the films stand-out. As Euronymous, he's ready to take credit for whatever others do and bring it all back to himself, but ultimately, he's just a scared kid who wants to make it big, no matter how many lies he must tell. 

Le Mans '66 (2019) - 4/5 - A compelling tale of two people doing what they love, caught in the middle of a pissing contest between two corporations.

Zombieland (2009) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - My first viewing of this film is about 7 years, and my opinion on it hasn't much changed. It may be a bloody zombie apocalypse, but it's a light and fluffy feature that's more interested in this odd-ball family dynamic between the lead quartet. I can't say the comedy always holds up, and it bugs me that this zombie apocalypse is severely lacking in flesh-eaters until the third act (especially when the characters make so many loud noises, firing off guns needlessly, which should draw the zombies to them). I know this film was originally conceived as a TV series, but it feels like a cost-cutting decision which TV shows make to save on the budget, until blowing the budget on the big, action heavy episode. It feels like the script barely changed to fit the medium, but at least the final act works well, especially including the theme park rides into the zombie carnage.

Doctor Sleep (2019) - 4.5/5 - Reviewed at FlyFidelity. An effective sequel that powerfully honours the Kubrick film and the Stephen King novel.

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Best film of the month & Best film rewatched: Boy

Zombieland: Double Tap (2019) - 2/5 - A lacklustre and uninspired retread of the first film.

After Hours (1985) - 4/5 - Of all the Martin Scorsese films I've seen, this must be the most bizarre one. A madcap series of chaotic misadventures, as various characters introduced into the proceedings are set to undermine Griffin Dunne's yuppie lead. It's a phenomenal showcase for Dunne's performance, and while I can't say it all worked for me, it's all too damn entertaining to not like what Scorsese does with it all.

The Personal History of David Copperfield (2020) - 4/5 - Based on the Victorian era novel by Charles Dickens, Armando Iannucci tells the story of the eponymous character, chronicling his life from childhood to adulthood, while he writes down his various experiences, and the figures which come through his life. Despite having an eye on class and what one does to rise in stature, this doesn't feel as politically charged as Iannucci's prior films. It's a feature that's bursting with charm, wonderfully told by all involved as you're left to feel for the characters, and also laugh your socks off.

A wonderful cast has been assembled, led by a winning Dev Patel as the titular David Copperfield. It's hard to single out cast members when so many are great, but Hugh Laurie is a regular source of laughter, and Tilda Swinton is delightful as the Donkey hating aunt. I do wish the end didn't feel so rushed in its attempts to wrap things up, but it's overall a lovable feature which you're pleased to spend time in the company of.

The Black Cat (1934) - 3.5/5 - What I liked most about this film, directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, wwere the moments centred around Universal Monsters icons Béla Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Every scene where they were having a battle of the wits, trying to stay moves ahead of one another, were the most compelling to watch, and I enjoyed seeing it all unfold. Caught in the middle of their personal war are a couple, brought alive thanks to a believable romance, but I was less interested in seeing their problems, and just wanted to get back to the big name icons duking it out. Still, this will be one film I'll happily come back to.

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Best film seen in cinemas and Best film
watched for the first time: Honeyland

Anna and The Apocalypse (2018) - 4/5 - I got my Christmas viewing started early this year, and what better way than with a festive musical, set during the zombie apocalypse. A mix-match which could turn disastrous in the wrong hands, but it's captured very well, and all of these elements succeed very well. Yes, it can be rather routine, but it does tremendous work in getting you to care for the characters and their relationships. One such encounter near the end left me very emotional, because however improbable, I wanted these characters to make it through this alright. Plus, the musical numbers are very well done, and will definitely get stuck in your head, while the zombie carnage is bloody good. 

Rocks (2020) - 4.5/5 - The next feature by Sarah Gavron, scripted by Claire Wilson and Theresa Ikoko, is an affecting story about a teenage girl left to look after her younger brother, when their mother never returns for them. She's forced to grow much earlier than she should be made to, and this is a story dedicated to the poor children who are made to do such a thing, when forced to act in such saddening circumstances. The young cast have wonderful chemistry, believably capturing the key friendships which are central to this film, providing the beating heart within this story. They all put strong performances into these utterly believable characters, forced to enact in this tough situation, and this is a gripping story which will have you laughing easily, and feeling emotional by the end of it all.

Boy (2012) [rewatch] - 5/5 - This remains my favourite film from Taika Waititi, as the titular Boy tells tales to make life easier for his younger brother, Rocky, and to sell the legacy of his father to all, including himself. When his father returns, he has to contend with how he's mistaken fantasy for reality, and this is best exemplified in a particularly heartbreaking scene. James Rolleston is tremendous, which makes it hard to believe he was initially cast as an extra, and Waititi conveys so much as Alamein, the father who'd rather be seen as the bad-ass leader of a biker gang (despite there not being a bike in sight). A humorous and heartwarming story which connected with me emotionally, as character comes forth so very well, and so much is conveyed when words are not necessary. I absolutely love it.

Midway (2019) - 1.5/5 - This is pretty much what I expected from the director of Independence Day: Resurgence.

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Biggest Disappointment: Little Monsters

The Addams Family (2019) - 3.5/5 - It took some time to get used to the character designs in this animation style, but I thoroughly enjoyed this new take on The Addams Family. Granted, it's a story stuck in cliches and typical conventions, while the hit rate for jokes could be more consistent. Yet I enjoyed spending time with this iteration of the family, bought into their relationships, and liked the assembled cast who brought them alive. Plus, I love seeing a goth girl rebel against her parents by wearing a pink Unicorn hair clip.

Honeyland (2019) - 5/5 - A Macedonian documentary about beekeeping, which is one of 2019's most engaging and empathetic stories.

Filmfarsi (2019) - 4/5 - A look through the suppressed cinema of Iran, Filmfarsi is an utterly fascinating documentary. Taking it's name from a once-used term, saved for B grade movies and below, this is an informative essay which is told through recovered footage, where long lost films are available to be watched once more. The history of it all is very interesting, from the noticed trends including downbeat endings and remaking well regarded films from other countries, to the bizarre connection to Orson Welles. But at the heart of it all is a saddening story of how these films were suppressed, with cinema theatres being intentionally burnt down while audiences watched films, and how movie stars were forced into exile under threat of death, leaving them to be sadly forgotten about until the tragic passing of some. This is one doc definitely worth putting on your radar.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) - 3/5 - After a series of sequel missteps, the Terminator franchise rises from the horrific lows of Genisys, and delivers an instalment which grabs your attention with a bold opening. After that, we're left with a new status quo which leaves Skynet and T-800's in the dust, to take the series forward in a new direction while trying to replicate the stripped down story of the 1984 original. There are great ideas within, and a great deal of entertainment to be found within, but the execution feels rather lacking. It was an uneven mix of stilted humour, cringe-worthy callbacks, and dialogue which needlessly hammers points home which didn't need to be, all leading up to a final act that's bloated, overblown, and dragged out for longer than necessary.

New to the franchise are Mackenzie Davis and Natalia Reyes, as the time-travelling protector and the present day VIP, each doing wonderful work in their roles. But the best of the bunch is easily Linda Hamilton, who's brilliant to see return to the role of Sarah Connor, and these 3 leads worked very well on the screen. On the villainous side of things, Gabriel Luna did well with what he was given, but could only do so much. There wasn't enough for him to stand-out in the way Arnie and Robert Patrick did decades back, despite the character feeling like a cross between their Terminator models, and the distracting CG work really hindered the Rev-9 model. A shame, when the film delivered some exceptional effects work very early on.

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Biggest Surprise: Your Name

Little Monsters (2019) - 3.5/5 - A fun little premise born from parental fears, but could've benefit from actually focusing on Lupita Nyong'o's character.

Martyrs (2008) [rewatch] - 5/5 - I needed a good nights sleep, but decided being fucked up by Pascal Laugier's horrific masterpiece was a better thing to do late at night.

Night well spent.

Your Name (2016) - 5/5 - Makoto Shinkai helms a wonderful little body swap tale, as two strangers find themselves inhabiting each others bodies at regular occurrences, and try navigating each others lives. That's before the film unveils its hand, and the story takes itself into wonderful places, all told in such a masterful manner. It's all so phenomenally woven throughout, as we want everything to turn out okay for Mitsuha and Taki, who each go through their own personal journeys through arduous circumstances. This is an exceptional balance of sci-fi storytelling and character focus, which will keep you thoroughly gripped until the credits roll. And I haven't talked about the beautiful animation, or the stunning landscapes, as of yet.

Rafiki (2019) - 4/5 - Thanks to the All 4 service, I managed to catch this great tale of two women finding their love blossoming, in a place where it's dangerous to have such a thing. This Kenya set romance is thoroughly engaging, as director and co-writer Wanuri Kahui keeps one invested in the central romance, played terrifically by Samantha Mugatsia and Sheila Munyiva, portraying an engaging couple. There's a Romeo and Juliet type element at play, as their fathers are rival politicians, a part of the film which doesn't really play into the story. But at the core, it's a story where you want it all to work out for the central couple, and it will keep you emotionally invested throughout. The gruelling moments are difficult to watch, the romance is charming, and the final moments are very emotional.

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Worst film of the month: Midway

Last Christmas (2019) - 3/5 - A film which gave me it's heart, but the very next day, I struggled to recall.

The Irishman (2019) - 5/5 - A reflective feature which is more than a "Martin Scorsese's greatest hits" collection, and will haunt you after 209 minutes have flown by.

Knives Out (2019) - 5/5 - Rian Johnson follows up his Star Wars film with a murder mystery in the vein of Agatha Christie, led by one of 2019's most ingenious screenplays. Not a single moment feels wasted, tying together in such a tight, focused, and smart manner, while serving as a love letter to the murder mystery thriller. It'll leave you laughing with ease and give you enjoyable bouts of fun, while holding your attention throughout, as the gripping plot unfolds in magnificent ways that are best discovered on your own.

An utterly magnificent cast has been assembled here, with none of them being on the short end of the stick, and feeling wasted. Each player gets their moment to shine, with some obviously getting more of a focus. Daniel Craig is brilliant as the detective with a Foghorn Leghorn style accent, but Ana de Armas is the breakout star, exceptionally playing what could've been a cartoonish role. It all comes together for one of the years best experiences.

Frozen II (2019) - 3.5/5 - A sequel which may not match its predecessor, but stands out in its own right.

21 Bridges (2019) - 3.5/5 - With the amount of changes there were in release dates, and even a name change from 17 Bridges (I guess producers forgot about 4 bridges?), I was starting to wonder if this would ever get released. I'm thankful it did, as the Brian Kirk directed film is a taut thriller which kept me gripped throughout the runtime, while managing to be very enjoyable. It's the kind of premise which would've been widely released in the 90s, and works pretty well throughout all 99 of its minutes. Although, the story relies on conveniences more than I would've liked, and while it raises interesting topics, the film would've benefit from going into them a bit more. The cast give wonderful portrayals, with Chadwick Boseman doing great work as the lead character, while Stephan James puts wonderful work into a character on the opposite side of the law, whom you're left sympathising over just as much.

Best film of the month: Boy
Best film seen in cinemas: Honeyland
Best film watched for the first time: Honeyland
Best film rewatched: Boy
Biggest Disappointment: Little Monsters
Biggest Surprise: Your Name
Worst film of the month: Midway

Number of films watched: 26