Friday, 3 January 2020

December 2019 In Review

December has left us, and 2019 has gone with it. So long to a wonderful year for film, and hello to the possibilities which come with on the horizon. As for the final month of last year, I went back and forth between films released in 2019 and Holiday features, among others. So, let's see what I viewed this past December.


Serenity (2019) - 1/5 - What the hell was that?

I've tried to work out what was the point of this film, what kind of it message it was ultimately trying to convey throughout the developing plot, after we've seen where it all leads to, and I can't say I truly know.

I struggle to see a point to this film once everything has been made clear. It seems to have delusions of pretence after everything, and actually seems more tolerable as a trashy thriller where Matthew McConnaughey loses his mind trying to catch a massive tuna, while Anne Hathaway proposes they murder her abusive husband. How you take two Oscar winning actors that have delivered outstanding performances time and time again, and render their portrayals so inert, while it's written and directed by somebody with such talent as Steven Knight? The mind boggles, but it boggles much less than trying to actually work out what this film is aiming for.

Frozen (2013) [rewatch] - 5/5 - My opinion has not changed on this film. One of Disney's best modern features, wonderfully telling a story about sibling relationships and self-acceptance, which remains as charming and lovable as the first time I saw it. Ironically, it's such a warm film. Olaf remains a lovable little goon, and Let It Go was rightfully an earworm, as it remains an utter banger of a tune.

Die Hard (1988) [rewatch] - 5/5 - It was a treat to catch this on the big screen, as John McTiernan does wonderful work directing this feature. Tense, hilarious, thrilling, but it works so well because the characters are so well drawn. We care for John McClane, the everyday cop thrown into an unbelievable situation, who has to contend with international terrorists, authority figures caught up in machismo bullshit, and a reporter who'll screw everyone over just to get a scoop. The guy just wants to get his family back together. And yes, it's a Christmas film.

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Best film of the month and Best film
rewatched: The Muppet Christmas Carol

Charlies Angels (2019) - 3.5/5 - Being my first experience with Elizabeth Banks' directorial efforts, and the long-running Charlies Angels franchise, I had little expectations going into this. Coming out of it, I'd say I was positively won over, as the end result was a charming spy romp that was so damn fun.

An integral aspect to this all working is the great work selling the characters, and their relationships. This iteration of Angels are a bunch I'd happily follow for further instalments, especially if they continue to contain the MVP that is Kristen Stewart (please give this charismatic gem more comedic roles). But Ella Balinska and Naomi Scott shouldn't be counted out, making for a tremendous trio.

On top of directing, producing, and co-writing, Elizabeth Banks steps in front of the camera to play Bosley (an assigned rank, to act as handler to the Angels), and manages to do well in all aspects. Though in the first instance, she excels best in selling the characters bonding and the comedic moments, while the action scenes are unfortunately left rather lacking. It also could've been cut down, with a scene at the track feeling rather needless when ADR included exposition clearly exists, and you don't need a crystal ball to see where the story is going. But this is a great watch, and this next point cannot be stated enough. It's awesome that young girls can watch this and be inspired in the same way young boys have long been inspired by Bond films. If that franchise can go for decades, why not this one?

Tangled (2010) - 4/5 - A wonderful reinvention of the Rapunzel fairy tale, brought to screen with complete and utter charm, while allowing for darker elements to creep into the story. The songs are a mixed bunch, and elements come off as rather convenient, but it's a terrific addition to the Disney catalogue, worthy of being the 50th film they've released.

Berberian Sound Studio (2012) - 3.5/5 - The second feature by Peter Strickland, he sets this feature in a 1970's film studio, where a sound engineer is brought to work on a horror film. It has adoration for Giallo films of the decade, immersing viewers in this behind the scenes look, whilst delivering something atmospheric. As it gets into the third act, the potential is there, but what occurs doesn't work for me. Nevertheless, it's a unique piece of cinema fronted by a brilliant performance by Toby Jones. 

Wall•E (2008) [rewatch] - 5/5 - From the opening which homages silent cinema, to the space set adventures centred around environmental messages, this is one of the best films in Pixar's back catalogues. The romance between WALL·E and EVE is perfectly depicted, capturing the chemistry in the most minuscule of ways.

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Best film watched in cinemas: Die Hard

Marriage Story (2019) - 5/5 - What a beautiful way to absolutely break my heart.

Black Christmas (1974) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - A film ahead of its time, and one of the earliest slasher films, Bob Clark's Black Christmas is an excellent feature which still holds up to this day. Through the smallest of moments, it lends characterisation to the expansive cast, ensuring they feel like real and fully rounded people. It's also very brave for its take, with the lead character wanting an abortion of her own choice, refusing to bend to the controlling will of her boyfriend. But alongside its wonderful screenplay, this manages to be an unnerving experience which perfectly captures what horror is. A lot is left to the imagination, but what is actually shown is skin-crawling, such as the kill involving a glass Unicorn.

Black Christmas (2006) - 0.5/5 - Remakes must be difficult. You have to make a film, based on another already released film (usually a well-regarded classic), and have to decide how to approach it. For writer and director Glen Morgan, the decisions seems to have been to take the basic idea, and go the completely opposite route on what made the 1974 original work so well. Well rounded characterisation depicted through the smallest of moments? Gone. Instead, we're left with one-note archetypes who exist to raise the body count. Tension is no longer an entity, as we instead get cheap jump scares and an overuse of gore (especially for eyeball related stuff).

What about the killer, a mysterious figure lurking in the shadows with one heck of a presence, rambling about somebody called Billy? Well, he IS Billy, and we're told EVERYTHING about him, thanks to flashback sequences forced into the story at multiple points. He's now a murderer we're meant to sympathise with, because he had a rough childhood, including being sexually assaulted by his mother. Yup.

There's also how the version I watched was a European cut, which was meddled with by a certain infamous studio figure. This cut ends much earlier, disregarding an ambiguous ending for something rushed, and overall leaves Billy as being pretty much pointless in the overall film. What a hollow remake this was.

Black Christmas (2019) - 2/5 - A film that's more than just a rehash of what worked 45 years ago, but the execution unfortunately feels lacking.

Best film watched for the first time: Parasite

The Breadwinner (2018) - 4.5/5 - For her feature film debut, Nora Twomey adapts a best-selling novel from Deborah Ellis, leaving us with a gorgeously animated story that's utterly heartbreaking to watch. Cartoon Saloon, the animation studio who gave us Song of the Sea, deliver another magnificent feature which stays in the mind, and is a strong example of why the studio should be considered an important voice in animated cinema. We follow Parvana, an 11 year old girl living in Kabul, Afghanistan. After her father is wrongly arrested, Parvana must disguise herself as a boy to ensure her family are provided for. It's a gripping story that doesn't shy away from the tough realities our central family faces, depicted in unflinching detail. It's a tough watch, but a very recommended one.

6 Underground (2019) - 1/5 - This initially feels like a parody of a Michael Bay film, but no, it's the director succumbing to his worst habits in complete and utter excess. It's also rather dull.

Short Term 12 (2013) - 5/5 - Released in 2013, I have only just seen Destin Daniel Cretton's feature film debut. What an utter fool I've been to wait so long to view this.

Written from his own experiences, Cretton brings to screen a heart-wrenching story that's perfectly told with complete sincerity and humanity. Each character is wonderfully shaded, which is helped by them being brought alive through magnificent performances by an all-star "Before they were famous" line-up. Most exemplary is Brie Larson, who deserved to win the Best Actress Oscar a whole 2 years before she actually won it.

It'll make you laugh, break your heart, and leave you feeling warm inside. This is an utter masterpiece.

Parasite (2019) - 5/5 - Go into this utterly blind. The journey it takes you on is utterly extraordinary, and makes for one hell of an experience. A piece of biting satire which carries so much heart, phenomenally acted by the cast. A masterpiece.

Biggest Disappointment: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Miracle on 34th Street (1994) - 3.5/5 - I've never had the chance to watch 1994's take on Miracle on 34th Street,  directed by Les Mayfield, but what an utterly warm hearted feature this is. Yes, things can get a bit too twee with Mara Wilson's precocious child, and I struggle to believe that somebody wouldn't want 90's Dylan McDermott, but those are small potatoes in this charming film. The heart of this film is Richard Attenborough, putting in a winning performance as jolly old Santa Claus.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) - 2.5/5 - As somebody whose entry point into geekdom was George Lucas' franchise, who adores it to this very day, and relishes that he passed it onto his young brothers, Episode IX was a crushing disappointment for me. Reactionary fan-fiction put onto screen, which constantly backtracks on any interesting ideas. This feels like a Star Wars film made by a committee, and ultimately hollow. The cast are at least great. 

The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) [rewatch] - 5/5 - It's something about Michael Caine putting his all into the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, which involes chucking a Muppet out of his business's front door, that really gets me into the festive spirit.

Cats (2019) - 1/5 - What a bizarre experience, complete with nightmare inducing effects.

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Biggest Surprise: Short Term 12

The Wolf Of Wall Street (2013) [rewatch] - 5/5 - Through the real life tale of Jordan Belfort (which he likely exaggerated), Martin Scorsese crafts a compelling real life tale about the lengths Wall Street bankers go to in order to realise their version of the American Dream, complete with disgusting extravagance, and a heck load of excess. It's also very damn funny. Seriously, the Lemmons scene remains one of the most consistently hilarious scenes in any films of the 2010s.

Leonardo DiCaprio puts a phenomenal portrayal into the role of Belfort, capturing how drunk he's getting off the job, how the smallest taste of Wall Street power makes him fully dive in to the job, no matter what it takes. The character is one of the most despicable figures I've seen on screen recently, and despite inspiring a number of viewers to take completely the wrong messages, I don't think Terrence Winter and Scorsese want to glorify the guy, his actions, or the exuberant flashes of his wealth, but they're very good at showing why people get so enticied with it all, and swept up in such a seemingly toxic atmosphere.

Elf (2003) [rewatch] - 3.5/5 - I've seen this so many times since its release, and that's because Jon Favreau made such a pleasant Christmas film that's easy to watch. A large part of this is down to the charming performance of Will Ferrell, full of child-like innocence in the most easily watchable of ways. I do still have issues with tacked on elements, especially in the finale, but this remains a charming film easily watched every year.

Love Actually (2003) [rewatch] - 3/5 - An assembly of Christmas set tales about love, with a great ensemble doing wonderful work in a Richard Curtis film. I think it would've flowed much better with a lighter cast, perhaps with cutting outbthe subplots of Kris Marshall travelling across the pond to get his dick wet, Colin Firth bursting through the language barrier, and creepy Andrew Lincoln stalking his best mates wife. Definitely leave in the saddening plot of Alan Rickman breaking Emma Thompson's heart (the monster!), and the lovely one where Liam Neeson bonds with his step-son. We also definitely need Hugh Grant as the charming Prime Minister, ready to stand up to a bullying and sexually harassing President of the United States, just because.

Krampus (2015) [rewatch] - 4.5/5 - What better way to mark the festive season, than with a story about a family bonding and working together under a confined space, while gaining better appreciation for each other, and learning the true meaning of Christmas? Granted, it also involves monsters ready to attack, and the demonic Krampus ready to punish, but my point still stands.

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Worst film of the month: Black Christmas (2006)

Knives Out (2019) [rewatch] - 5/5 - On a second viewing, this remains a multilayered, witty, and well crafted flick which rewards repeat viewings. I saw this with my brothers, our first trip to the cinema in a while which hasn't been for a franchise flick, and it was a wonderful memory I'll forever treasure.

Little Women (2019) - 5/5 - I'm not familiar with Little Women in any form, so I can't comment on how different Greta Gerwig's film is from the prior adaptations, or the novel. What I can say is how wonderfully touching, humorous, and emotional this brilliant film was. In such a short span of time, every character felt so real, utterly human, and fully dimensional. The exceptional performances and strong writing are a killer combination, and I was swept along with it all, wanting to stay in the company of these people for much longer. With Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Cats being the words on peoples lips, I really hope this film doesn't get overlooked. Especially because of the 3, Little Women is my absolute favourite of them, and deserves to be widely seen.

Hail Satan? (2019) - 4/5 - Penny Lane delivers a fascinating look at The Satanic Temple, set on giving them a voice and showing how far they are from the public perception of them. TST are focused on the importance of separating church and state, while doing their part to help the community and those who need such aid, but a great deal of people unfortunately can't get past their very name. What we're left with is an engrossing and informative documentary that feels exceptionally relevant, while being damn well funny. Just see how they combat the Westboro Baptist Church, it had me laughing for ages.

Replicas (2019) - 1.5/5 - Keanu Reeves has had a hot streak of films in 2019, good films also, which makes it understandable why everyone forgets about this one. There are good ideas at the core of this A.I. tale, and story decisions which could be devastating, but it's all executed in such a disappointing manner, and is just rather dull. The way plot developments occur don't feel organic, but as though the filmmakers pulled them out of a hat, with logic being thrown out of a window (Wouldn't the neighbours notice anything, like who is missing?).

Best film of the month: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Best film seen in cinemas: Die Hard
Best film watched for the first time: Parasite
Best film rewatched: The Muppet Christmas Carol
Biggest Disappointment: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker
Biggest Surprise: Short Term 12
Worst film of the month: Black Christmas (2006)

Number of films watched: 27

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