Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)

Image is property of 20th Century Fox

Alita: Battle Angel – Film Review

Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Keean Johnson

Director: Robert Rodriguez

Synopsis: Set in the 26th century,  a compassionate doctor finds an abandoned cyborg whom he names Alita (Salazar). Upon reawakening, Alita with no recollection or memories of her previous life, goes in search of answers…

Review: If you’re looking for a big name film-maker to get an ambitious project off the ground, James Cameron is not a bad choice to turn to. For here is a director who boasts the two highest grossing films of all time in his repertoire, as well as being the one of the two brains behind the Terminator franchise. But even with the involvement of such a talent as Cameron, and director Robert Rodriguez, sometimes, it just not enough to save the project.

After humanity has been seriously affected by a deadly war, Dr Dyson Ido (Waltz) finds the remains of a female cyborg in a scrapyard, brings her body back to his lab and restores her to life. However, Alita with no memory of who she was in her previous life, is determined to get some answers. Right away the film throws the audience head first into the thick of what is evidently a planet that has clearly been effected heavily by war. Yet the screenplay, penned by Cameron and Laeta Kalogridis, doesn’t really provide any context for the preceding war that has seemingly crippled this society. Furthermore, an overwhelming majority of the dialogue feels very stilted.

As the main character, Alita is certainly a likeable protagonist that you want to root for, even if the CGI on her is a little jarring to begin with. You want her to find out the answers that she’s seeking and it is extremely entertaining to watch her throw down against some of the slimy, nefarious people that inhabit this world. But of course, they had to add a romance into the mixture with Alita falling for Hugo (Keean Johnson). It’s functional to the plot as he helps Alita acclimatise to the new world she is discovering but, there’s not a great deal of chemistry between the two of them, and while not as laughable as some of the romantic dialogue that the Star Wars prequels served up, it’s still pretty cringey.

The rest of the cast are also functional at best, which is extremely frustrating when you have Oscar winning talents like Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly and Mahershala Ali. It just feels like their considerable talents are wasted on what could have been a much better script. What’s more, the motivations/purposes of some characters for doing what they’re doing are extremely vague, with scope clearly being left for future instalments. The CGI on the whole is very hit or miss, sometimes it looks really impressive, and there are other instances where it looks extremely cheap. This is problematic for a big budget blockbuster, especially since Cameron’s Avatar, a film that came out a decade ago, showed the world what CGI could accomplish.

For what is clearly striving to be a film that is trying to be its own franchise, it tries so hard to set up a sequel that it negates telling a worthwhile story to begin with. There are some entertaining scenes but again, there’s nothing here that really stands out to differentiate it from the plethora of films in this genre, that have been far more memorable. For any film that spends a long time stuck in development hell, it always feels like the odds are against it. Despite the best efforts of all concerned to bring this property to the big screen, and even with such star power, both in front of and behind the camera, this is a classic case of style over substance.

One cannot fault the ambition, but even with a solid lead performance from Salazar, the extremely corny dialogue and a rather messy plot just cannot save this film from its place on the scrapheap.

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Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2019)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Film Review

Cast: Melissa McCarthy, Richard E Grant

Director: Marielle Heller

Synopsis: When biographer Lee Israel’s (McCarthy) work dries up, she discovers some personal documents and manages to make an extortionate amount of money by forging these documents…

Review: For certain actors, they can be well known for a certain type of role that they tend to play quite a lot, they run a risk of getting typecast in that particular roleYet, every so often an actor breaks that typecast. This is certainly applicable for Melissa McCarthy, who has so often played roles of a similar ilk to her vulgar but extremely hilarious turn in Bridesmaids. Yet, for this considerably more dramatic role, it’s quite the transformative change for her, and it might just be the best performance of her career.

It is 1991 and Lee Israel’s life and career has hit a dead end, having found herself out of a job and new opportunities are becoming increasingly very hard to come by. Furthermore, she has very few acquaintances to share her life with. It is all rather gloomy until, quite by chance, she finds some unique personal artefacts of celebrities that she forges to her advantage. In doing this, she earns a substantial amount of money, and through these acts of forgery, she runs across fellow outcast Jack Hock (Grant), who aids her in these acts of deception.

The scene of the crime…

Though she comes off as quite the unlikable person, McCarthy is truly excellent in her performance. From the moment we first meet her, it is clear that she is difficult to work with and other people do not like her. These feelings are evidently reciprocal, as Lee clearly prefers the company of animals to people. The screenplay by Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, adapted from Israel’s own memoir, goes about exploring how Lee intricately created her forgeries in an exciting fashion, whilst at the same time balancing that with Lee trying to build some sort of social connections with a select few people.

One of those few is Richard E Grant’s Jack Hock, who is something of an outcast himself and a recluse like Lee herself, similarly, he’s also a bit of an arsehole and not exactly the most pleasant man, but Grant is uproariously entertaining in this role. There is something heart-warming about watching these two connect despite their mutual difficulties of connecting with people, build a relationship and accomplish these naughty deeds, whilst having a tipple or two in their downtime. However, director Marielle Heller doesn’t shy away from the fact that what Lee is doing is a crime. Which, as various people begin to suspect that they have been deceived, the tension begins to grow as the authorities get involved.

Though the film does suffer from a few pacing issues, there is something about the story of Lee Israel that will be pertinent for that anyone who writes for a living, and equally so for those who dream of writing for a living. Equally so, if anyone has been an outsider, or has experienced difficulties in connecting with people, the struggles that people experience in those sorts of situations can undoubtedly take a heavy toll. And whenever people find themselves in those dark times, it can make people do things that they regret, or in Lee Israel’s case, do things and have the time of your life while doing so.

Simultaneously funny and tragic, Can You Ever Forgive Me? is a poignant but fascinating study of one woman’s descent into deception, whilst getting arguably career best performances from both McCarthy and Grant.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

If Beale Street Could Talk (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B

If Beale Street Could Talk – Film Review

Cast: KiKi Layne, Stephan James, Regina King, Ed Skrein, Brian Tyree Henry, Colman Domingo, Teyonah Parris, Michael Beach, Dave Franco, Diego Luna
Pedro Pascal

Director: Barry Jenkins

Synopsis: After finding out she is expecting a baby with her partner, a young woman and her family seek to clear her lover’s name after he is arrested for a crime he did not commit…

Review: What do you do when only your second feature length directorial feature wins you an Academy Award for its screenplay, as well as (eventually) the Academy Award for Best Picture? This was the quandary for Barry Jenkins, the writer/director of Moonlight, having been catapulted him into the spotlight by the film’s incredible success. The answer to that question, is to make something that’s cut from a similar cloth as Moonlight, a story that tells a very human, emotional journey.

Adapted from the novel of the same name by James Baldwin, we are taken back to 1970s Harlem, where we meet Tish (Layne) and Alfonso (or Fonny as Tish affectionately calls him), two beautiful young people who, having been very close as children, have since become a blossoming couple, seemingly made for one another. However, their romantic bubble is burst when when Fonny is arrested and charged with a horrific crime that Tish insists he is innocent of, and Tish and her family must do whatever they can to clear Fonny of these charges.

On the surface, this would appear to be a simple story about the love that two young people have for each other, and the desperate bid to prove her husband-to-be innocent of the crime he is being accused of. And while it is undeniably beautiful and romantic to watch these two fall in love with each other, much like his work with Moonlight Jenkins’s screenplay goes much deeper than that exploring a variety of themes such as racism, family and the brutal horrors of the justice system that can bring such an unfair injustices to Black communities and devastate these families across America, even when people may be innocent of the crimes they are being accused of.

As the main couple, KiKi Layne and Stephan James are both excellent. Their chemistry is just so honest and authentic that you completely buy them as a couple. You revel in their moments of love and affection for one another, and are equally devastated when they are torn away from one another. As Tish’s mother Sharon, Regina King is just utterly marvellous as she leads the fight to win her prospective son-in-law’s freedom, even in the face of extremely long and difficult odds, and indifference from some members of Fonny’s family to Tish’s plight.

The cinematography from James Laxton is once again sumptuous to look out, even when the circumstances may be extremely bleak, his cinematography shines a hopeful light on the situation of this couple. Nicholas Britell also returns to provide the score, and once again, the work he does to add to the romanticism and by contrast, the heartbreak of this story is remarkable. For those who might have had issues with Moonlight’s pacing, they could well run into some issues again here as Jenkins does take his time to slowly build up Tish and Fonny’s relationship. Though some scenes do feel necessary, others do drag on perhaps for a tad longer than they really need to.

For characters depicted in the 1970s, Jenkins’s characters feel very contemporary and the story and the themes are very topical, but the film never gets preachy with the events depicted on screen. It is above all else, a very sweet story about the love two people have for one another, and the challenge that the human spirit faces when facing the going up against the cruel nature of the world and its institutions, Barry Jenkins has once again crafted something that, in these very emotionally charged times, he has made a film that will speak something to everyone who sees it.

Beautiful and melancholic,sometimes in the same shot, with a fantastic ensemble of well realised characters, Jenkins once again crafts a moving tale of love and hope in the face of terrible adversity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Green Book (2019)

Image is property of Universal, Participant Media and Dreamworks

Green Book  – Film Review

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, Mahershala Ali, Linda Cardellini

Director: Peter Farrelly

Synopsis: In need of work, Italian-American bouncer Tony Lip is recruited by renowned pianist Dr Don Shirley to be his driver/bodyguard as he embarks on a concert tour in the Deep South…

Review: One of the many wonderful thing about films is that they have the power to raise important messages about such important subjects, especially when such subjects are very topical right now. A prime example of this is racism which is an issue that is under more scrutiny than normal in recent years. Recently some film-makers have really been making some powerful films that hone in on this increasingly important issue, and in so doing, they make powerful statements, but some do it much better than others.

It is 1962, and Tony Vallelonga (Mortensen), known as Tony Lip, a native of the Bronx area of New York City, finds himself out of a job for a few months. When looking for something to fill that time, he is pointed in the direction of Don Shirley (Ali), a renowned concert pianist who is set to go on a concert tour of the Deep South of the USA, and is need of someone to be his driver/assistant/bodyguard, as that particular part of the country is/was not exactly the most hospitable of places.

What really shines through with this film are the excellent performances of both leading men. Mortensen as Tony is a brash self-proclaimed “bullshit artist” initially very much set in his ways. Meanwhile, Don is a much more suave, more refined gentleman, and some of Tony’s habits do not sit well with him. These two men are essentially complete polar opposites of one another, and though they initially clash over the other’s mannerisms and characteristics, they develop a solid understanding, almost a friendship if you will, as they embark on this slightly perilous journey. The chemistry between the actors really shows and it drives the film forward, particularly when they run into some trouble whilst on the tour.

For a film that is trying to go for the powerful themes of racism, the screenplay penned by Tony’s son Nick Vallelonga, along with Brian Hayes Currie and director Peter Farrelly is a little simplistic in how it chooses to handle the more heavier themes. It does show glimpses of the horrors of segregation in the 1960s and how black people were treated harshly for the colour of their skin, but one could simply pick up a history book to realise that. Unfortunately, it really only scratches the surface of what it could explore when it comes to this subject matter, particularly when other films have managed to strike a balance between that nuanced tone, and when it really needs to, emphatically and dramatically getting its point across to the audience.

In such a time when the issue of race in America has become increasingly in the public eye, given the quality of the actors and the really interesting nature of this story, the execution really just feels like a missed opportunity to tell something more riveting, something that really would have thrown the book at the status quo of the 1960s. The film has some undeniably good intentions and there are heart-warming sentiments behind its central story and the relationship of its two characters. However, given that there was scope for something much more powerful, it ultimately is a missed opportunity.

Excellent performances from Mortensen and Ali help keep the story moving along at a steady pace, but a rather simplistic approach of tackling a heavy issue such as race relations in 1960s America is undeniably frustrating, especially in these very emotionally charged times.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Vice (2019)

Image is property of AnnaPurna Pictures and Plan B Entertainment

Vice  – Film Review

Cast: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, Steve Carrell, Tyler Perry

Director: Adam McKay

Synopsis: A study of the life of Dick Cheney and how he went from an alcoholic Yale dropout to becoming one of the most powerful Vice Presidents in the history of the United States.

Review:  The President of the United States, one of, if not the most powerful individuals in the world. Yet today’s political climate is one that, especially in the last few years, has become increasingly divisive and hostile when it comes to, well just about anything and everything. Yet while Presidents tend to enjoy the bulk of the limelight, the Vice President is someone who may not receive quite so much of the media spotlight, but, much like the President, the power and influence they can have is quite frightening given, the current incumbents in these positions.

For a director whose early films were very much in the realms of comedies, Adam McKay has experienced quite the transition into more serious heavy-hitting film-making. The Big Short dabbled in the 2007 collapse of the housing market, and he goes much more political with this film. To go from that to a deep foray into early 2000s US politics, which was a chaotic time (to put it mildly) for the country as a horrific attack on US soil, put them on the war footing, is a bold move. Not least because in a deeply divided political spectrum, if you’re going to tell a story about how one politician of a particular political persuasion ruthlessly rose to power, that portrayal isn’t likely to sit very well with those who also are of that politician’s political persuasion.

Christian Bale is no stranger to dramatic physical transformations, having done so for a plethora of roles, and here he does it once again. He is unrecognisable under all the make up that helps him deliver an emphatically authentic performances as Dick Cheney. he goes from a drunkard college dropout, to the very top of the pyramid of US politics. Right by his side is the ever reliable Amy Adams as his wife Lynne, who as her husband rises in stature and acquires more power, she takes full advantage to further her own career, making them an extremely powerful couple. With Cheney arguably becoming even more powerful than his commander-in-chief: one George W Bush, played by an entertainingly buffoonish Sam Rockwell.

McKay chooses to tell this story in a manner that is helpful to digest the information to the audience, especially if they’re not au fait with early 2000s US politics. What is irksome is the way that he jumps from one point early in Cheney’s life, to a much later point with no explanation as to why, it’s all a bit sloppy in terms of its structure and some streamlining would have been most beneficial. While there are some funny moments, these are ultimately few and far between, which is problem for a film that is clearly trying to portray itself as political satire, it isn’t really that satirical, or funny. Furthermore, at a run time of 132 minutes, there’s a lot of unnecessary filler that really hampers the pacing.

Though there is one instance that shows Cheney’s compassion, these are overshadowed by the cold and ruthlessness nature that he possessed on his way to the top of the Washington power pyramid. The way in which McKay delivers his overall message is done in quite a reprehensible manner that, quite justifiably, will leave those who dwell on the Republican side of the aisle feeling a bit peeved. Though having said that, when you think of the current administration and his VP, and the power that they can wield, that’s quite daunting to say the least.

There’s some good intentions here, but a strong pair of performances from Adams and Bale cannot save a film that is very obnoxiously put together and just too full of its own self importance. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Mary Queen of Scots (2018)

Image is property of Working Title, Focus Features, and Universal Studios

Mary Queen of Scots – Film Review

Cast: Saorise Ronan, Margot Robbie, Joe Alwyn, David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Gemma Chan

Director: Josie Rourke

Synopsis: After the death of her first husband, Mary Stuart returns to her Scotland where she is crowned Queen,  posing a threat to the crown of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I…

Review: The time of the Tudors was, as perhaps its most well known ruler Henry VIII is any example, an interesting period in history. Squabbles with the Pope and the Catholic Church, half a dozen different wives for one particular monarch, a few hundred Protestants being burnt at the stake for another, and quite a few people literally losing their heads. An interesting period then for a director who has a wealth of theatre experience, Josie Rourke to make her cinematic debut, and it’s a transition one she makes remarkably well.

In this period piece however, we focus on the final monarch of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I and specifically her struggles that she endured when a younger Queen, namely Mary Stuart, arrives in Scotland and poses a very serious challenge to the English throne. Mary, meanwhile has her own problems to deal with as being a Catholic, some do not approve of her religion and hence do not see her as being the rightful ruler. And so begins a power struggle, with the two Queens competing to rule.

Being the regal women that they are (both in life and in this film), Saorise Ronan and Margot Robbie are both on excellent form as Mary and Elizabeth respectively. Ronan brings a real fiery feminist nature to her portrayal of Mary, fierce but determined to succeed when there are men, such as John Knox (an excellent David Tennant) who view her with pure contempt due to her Catholic faith, not to mention her gender. For Robbie, she is not quite as fierce as her Scottish counterpart, but she possesses some steely determination when, with the years passing, her inability to produce an heir to her throne, start to take their toll.

The screenplay by Beau Willimon of House of Cards fame does take a little bit of time to get going in the initial stages, but when it gets going, it successfully weaves politically scheming and conniving, mixed in with some romantic drama and political squabbling. That being said, what with there being so much history in the period of Elizabeth I alone, the film tries to cram a substantial amount into its run time, which can leave things feeling a little uneven in terms of its story. Rourke’s direction is remarkably confident for someone making their cinematic debut, and she clearly shows that she has the talent to further her career as a film director.

When bringing any period piece to the screen, it’s imperative that the costumes and production design are resplendent and both are equally so, with Alexandra Byrne’s costumes especially going some way to add that extra layer of authenticity. Their brilliant work is complimented by the gorgeous cinematography provided by two time Oscar nominee John Mathison. For sure the film takes some liberties with its source material, but so long as it serves the story, which in this case it does, then all the better for it. Given the times we are living in, the film reminds its audience, that women, no matter who they are, where they come from or what time they lived in, deserve to have their voices heard.

Offering an intriguing look at the workings of Tudor politics, mixed in with two excellent performances from its leading ladies, ensures that this biopic packs some royal ferocity.

Posted in 2010-2019, Ranking

Best Films of 2018

Another twelve months of film (or so) have whizzed by, and with that turn of the Earth’s cycle has come another plethora of exciting films. The culmination of the MCU, a fascinatingly beautiful love story, a black and white masterpiece, some incredible true stories, the sixth entry of a franchise that continues to deliver the thrills and excitement, a remake done good, and another Pixar masterpiece. It was quite the year for cinema in 2018, and it is time for me to give you my opinion as to what was the best of the best. Much as I would want to, I have not seen every film that came out this year, so if your favourite isn’t on here, I might not have seen it.

Now, to explain my somewhat unusual method of ranking these films. Rather than going by UK release date, I try to rank these films per their IMDB date. So if a film is marketed as a 2018 release, I strive to include it here. This gives me the chance to catch some 2018 films that are released in the early weeks of the year, so that they can be eligible for this list. However, some 2017 films were not released in the UK till later on in the year, hence why why some films that are 2017 films per IMDB are included here, as they came to UK cinemas well into 2018.  Similarly, the UK doesn’t get some films that are marketed as 2018 releases until well into 2019. Hence, anything that is released and reviewed after this post, will be deferred for the best of 2019.

Second, the grade that these films received does not dictate where they will rank. One film may get a higher grade or the perfect grade, it will not necessarily mean that film will be the best film of the year. This is, as is the case for all of us who review films, our one chance to be completely biased about the films that we enjoyed the most, and these are the films that I will remember from 2018.  Before I get into the main list, some honourable mentions need to have their time to shine. These films were very enjoyable that didn’t quite make the list, but were still very good that you should check out. First up…

The Favourite [review] Yorgos Lanthimos makes peculiar films, and he continues that trend with his latest film that fuses a period piece drama with some very black comedy about a frail Queen and the two women who are competing for her affection. The trio of mesmerising performances from the leading ladies, namely Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, makes for some fascinating dialogue and a vast of amount of conniving and backstabbing.

First Man [review] First came Whiplash, then La La Land, and now this superb film telling the true story of how Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, Damien Chazelle completed his hat-trick in quite some style. On a technical film, the work that Chazelle accomplishes with the space scenes, especially the all important moon landing scene is simply breath-taking. Ryan Gosling is on excellent form as Armstrong, but it’s Claire Foy who steals the show as his wife Janet.

Creed II [review], After Ryan Coogler came in and produced an absolute belter with the first Creed film, following in the wake of that was always going to be tough. But new director Steven Caple Jr does a sterling job to deliver a worthy sequel that focuses on Adonis’s deeply personal battle with Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan, the man who killed his father. For sure, it is a little by-the-numbers in terms of its plot, but the trio of performances from Sly Stallone, Michael B Jordan and Tessa Thompson ensure that it retains the heart of its predecessor.

Bumblebee [review] After five films directed by Michael Bay, things were starting to get a bit stale (or should that be rusty?) for this franchise. An injection of new blood and metal was needed, and that’s what we got with this film courtesy of Travis Knight, and in so doing gave us the best film of the series. Knight significantly dialled back the action, instead going for more emotion and 80s nostalgia, and combined that with an excellent performance from Hailee Steinfield.

Roma [review] As I mentioned, though I gave this film the highest grade I can give it, it just doesn’t quite get a spot on this list. Alfonso Cuaron’s latest film is a very personal one, that in part examines the director’s early years growing up in the Roma district of Mexico City. Though it is shot in black and white, Cuaron’s cinematography just feels so colourful and his direction is nothing short of exquisite. This film did pretty much everything it could have done perfectly, but (for me at least) it has a lack of rewatchability that just holds it back. But this is a wonderful, technically magnificent piece of cinema that I encourage you to visit if you haven’t already.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, time to crack on with the main list and we begin with…

10. Widows

Widows review

When you combine the talents of Academy Award winners Steve McQueen and Viola Davis, the chances of producing something pretty special are pretty much nailed on. When a heist goes awry, a group of women are left widowed and in a precarious predicament and must carry out their own heist to secure their own futures. In what is perhaps the best ensemble cast of the year, Viola Davis is unsurprisingly excellent but the performances of Michelle Rodriguez and Elizabeth Debicki deserve special mention. In this era of Me Too and Time’s Up, this story of some powerful women taking control of their own destinies is timely, and absolutely thrilling to watch, just as a heist film should be.

9. Black Panther

Black Panther review

The first (and not the last) MCU entry to make this list, and a landmark moment for the MCU and for superhero films in general as this was the first superhero film to feature a predominantly Black cast. Director Ryan Coogler brought the world of Wakanda to life in incredible fashion. From the costumes, to the production design, it all made Wakanda feel like a place that exists on this planet. Coogler stamps his own style firmly on this story, with themes of family, country, pride beating at the core of this emotional and personal journey for our titular hero.

Chadwick Boseman continued where he left off from Civil War, excelling once again as the titular hero. It is though the supporting cast, especially the ladies that end up stealing the show. Letitia Wright, Lupita Nyong’o and Danai Guira as the whizzkid Shuri, the fearless Nakia and Okoye, the absolute badass General of the Dora Milaje respectively. And once again, Michael B Jordan delivering an excellent performance as Killmonger, a villain you can really sympathise with.

8. A Star is Born

A Star is Born review

A remake, of a remake, of a remake. One would wonder if this latest edition of this story had anything new to really say, but Bradley Cooper’s work with this latest adaptation wonderfully hits all the right notes, and makes it extremely relevant for modern audiences. Telling the story of Cooper’s rock star whose career is winding down, while he meets Lady Gaga’s up and coming singer, whose career is rapidly on the rise.

How Cooper writes, directs, produces, stars in and sings all in one film is quite remarkable, but he does all so well that you just have got to take your hat off to him. The chemistry between these two is excellent, and both give extremely emotional and powerful performances, and yes the music involved is absolutely wonderful with arguably the best soundtrack of the year, and maybe, just maybe (read probably) the next Best Original Song winner in “Shallow.”

7. A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place review

A world in which if you make even the slightest peep, and you’re more than likely doomed is the fascinating premise of this directorial debut from John Krasinski. The film zeroes in on the lives of the Abbott family with Krasinski and real-life wife Emily Blunt as his on screen wife and mother to their children, who must live in absolute silence in order not to become food for the terrifying creatures that have caused society to collapse.

Much like Cooper, Krasinski’s direction for his debut film is excellent. There’s barely a line of dialogue in the first half of the film, and there’s not much more in the second half too. Within the first ten minutes, the audience is immersed in the harshness and brutality of this world. Furthermore, to say this is tense would be something of an understatement, as this family desperately try to stay alive whilst these ruthless creatures are hunting them. If ever there was a film that compelled you to keep your mouth shut while the film was playing, this would be that film.

6. Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs review

No one really makes films like Wes Anderson. After he made Fantastic Mr Fox back in 2009, the eccentric director goes back into the world of stop motion animation to tell a story about man’s best friend(s). In a futuristic Japan, the anti-dog mayor has banished our canine friends to a remote island. However, until a boy rocks up looking for his beloved mutt, and an intriguing adventure unfolds.

Packed with an excellent voice cast including some of Anderson’s regular collaborators, the story is smart and humorous, and the animation is just exquisite in its detail. For all those who love our canine friends, this is one to definitely get your paws into, and even if you’re not a dog person, you will fall in love with this particular group of canines.

With these next five, they all could honestly be #1, but as this is a top 10 list, there must be an order and so, on we go with…

 

5. BlacKkKlansman

BlacKkKlansman review

It is hard to get away from the fact that right now in the USA, there is something of a problem with race, which is no small part due to the current White House incumbent. That fact makes this astonishingly true story about a black police officer infiltrating the KKK in the 1970s feel so relevant to today’s society, and all the more frightening. But that’s exactly what the latest film from Spike Lee is, a man who is not afraid to let the world know what he really thinks of the current US President. With this film he unleashes that anger, which when you see some of the stuff we have seen in the USA, is understandable rage.

Anchored by a remarkable lead performance from John David Washington, with an equally terrific turn from Adam Driver as the duo who make up the combined policeman who bravely infiltrates the KKK. It seems unlikely that a film like this would find room for any humour, but Lee manages to weave it into this powerful drama tremendously well. This is until what is undoubtedly the most powerful ending of 2018, that holds nothing back drawing a comparison between the events depicted in the film, and some of the horrific events of recent times.

 

4. Coco

Coco review

When it comes to making animated movies that really pull hard on your heartstrings, there isn’t really anyone who does it better than Pixar. And with their 19th feature, they produced yet another animated masterpiece. Telling the story of an aspiring musician, who, in spite of his family banning music, desperately wants to pursue it. This desire takes him to the Land of the Dead, in search of his ancestor who was himself a musician. This film ventures into territory that could very easily be just a bit too macabre for kids, but as they so often do, Pixar just make it work an absolute treat.

Pixar so often fill their films with wonderful animation, however the detail in the animation is quite simply extraordinary particularly when it comes to the Land of the Dead. Themes of family, pursuing of one’s dreams, and the sheer power that music has on our lives are themes we can all relate to. The characters, whether they’re living or dead, are wonderfully brought to life. If by the time all that emotion comes to the fore in the closing moments of this wonderful work of art, you are not sobbing your eyes out, please check to see if you still have a pulse/soul.

 

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout 

Mission: Impossible – Fallout review

Tom Cruise at the age of 56, is somehow still working wonders in a franchise that with its sixth entry now is finding new ways to blow audiences away with some truly breath-taking stunts and action scenes. With the severe threat of global nuclear devastation hanging over the world, the IMF must stop the impending catastrophe. That plot is familiar yes but Christopher McQuarrie once again directs this film to absolute perfection with absolutely brilliant work done on the numerous action scenes that just leave the audience breathless.

Of course the action is just one facet of what makes this film, and indeed this franchise so great, it marries that up with intriguing political and social subtext, and agendas flying back and forth. Cruise once again leads the way in an excellent cast, with able support from the usual crew of Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames, with Rebecca Ferguson once again on top form as Ilsa. It is however Henry Cavill and his well publicised moustache that generated the most headlines. ‘Tache and all, Cavill’s performance alongside Cruise is just one of the many aspects that make this exhilarating mission one that you should definitely accept. One of the best action films ever made.

 

2. Avengers: Infinity War 

Avengers: Infinity War review

10 years in the making, it was all building towards this. The expectations were sky high, and the Russo brothers definitely did not disappoint in delivering a grand spectacle that features just about every MCU hero we have met so far go up against the formidable Thanos and to stop him getting his hands on the Infinity Stones. There were fears before hand that with so many characters that it would just be too crowded. Fortunately all those fears were put to rest once the film finally arrived, and the fact that it does all flow together pretty seamlessly is something of a miracle. However, the film does a tremendous job of giving everyone a stand out moment, though some of those moments are more epic than others (looking at you God of Thunder.)

However the real revelation of this film was Josh Brolin’s brilliant work as Thanos. Though the MCU has certainly suffered from its fair share of poor villains, Thanos was anything but. You understood where he was coming from, and he proved to be a truly formidable foe, with one or two moments in particular that fleshed out his character perfectly. And yes, that ending, oh that ending that left audiences stunned into just utter shock at what just happened. Fans of the MCU couldn’t have asked for much more, and yes as Dr Strange said, we are most definitely in the endgame now.

And so my #1 film of 2018 is

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1. The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water review

The Best Picture winner at last year’s 90th Academy Awards, and fully deserving of the accolade, which also saw Guillermo del Toro nab the Best Director gong (also very well deserved). He dips back into the realm of fantasy with this gorgeous tale of a mute woman who falls in love with an Amphibian God being held at a covert US facility. The word beautiful really doesn’t quite do it justice but it with absolutely wonderful cinematography, the film is just awash with gorgeous visuals that just leap off the screen, combined with a moving screenplay that goes deep with its social commentary on a number of different subjects, there is so much more to the film than just “woman falls in love with a fish.”

Led by an astonishing performance from Sally Hawkins who, without saying a word, captures such raw emotion with her performance. She leads an impeccably acted cast including the likes of Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg, as well as Doug Jones as the mysterious creature, all of whom are equally magnificent in their performances. Alexandre Desplat’s Oscar winning score only adds to the sheer beauty and romance of the story. A very different kind of fairytale, but one that just as majestic and magical as anything that the fine folks at the Mouse House have produced in recent years. A worthy film to claim the title of my favourite film of 2018.

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Well there you have it my picks for the best films of 2018. Thank you for reading, especially if you read all the way through! What were your favourite films of 2018. Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on the following platforms: TwitterFacebook or Letterbox’d.

For my picks for my most anticipated films of 2019, please click here!  

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

The Favourite (2018)

Image is property of Fox Searchlight and Film4

The Favourite – Film Review

Cast: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Nicholas Hoult

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos

Synopsis: In 18th Century England, with the country at war with France, a frail Queen (Colman) relies on her confidante (Weisz) to run the country. However when a new woman (Stone) arrives at court, a battle for the Queen’s attention ensues.

Review: If you encounter someone who complains about Hollywood becoming too dominated by superheroes, reboots , prequels etc., you should encourage them to seek out the filmography of Yorgos Lanthimos. If you are after something unconventional, he is your man. Eccentric to the extreme, having dabbled in a dark love story, and a wholly unique spin on the classic revenge tale. Now Lanthimos takes his idiosyncratic style to the realm of period dramas, and combines it with some very dark comedy, and a riotous romp ensues.

At the centre of this royal feud is Queen Anne, who is in rather poor health at this moment in time that means she finds it difficult in terms of being the Queen and governing her country. Instead, the Queen likes to fill her time with some rather obscure past-times so her confidante Lady Sarah is effectively ruling in her stead. This is until a new arrival at court, Lady Sarah’s cousin Abigail arrives seeking employment to turn around her own fortunes, and gain favour with the Queen, giving rise to a feisty battle between the two women to be the Queen’s “Favourite.”

Though not written by him, this feels of similar ilk to Lanthimos’s previous filmography, simple because of how out of the ordinary it is, Downton Abbey this most certainly isn’t. Telling a story in chapters is nothing new, but it’s done in a manner that feels extremely innovative. The screenplay by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara packs in a copious amount of expletives which go hand in hand with some very sharp and witty dialogue that just works so fluently between these engaging characters who seem to be continuously scheming. There are more than a few extremely humorous exchanges that should get those laughter muscles moving.

Though every member of this cast are on top form, including a brilliant turn from Nicholas Hoult, it is the performances of the three central women that are by far the standouts. Colman as Queen Anne is delightful when she wants to be, screaming at those who dare look at her. Yet she is at other times melancholic, given the tragic nature of her past. As the Queen’s confidante/lover, Sarah can be a bit bossy when push comes to shove, but Weisz plays her so brilliantly that you sympathise with her in what she is trying to do. It is however the fierce rivalry that ensues between Lady Sarah and Emma Stone’s Abigail that is the driving force of this story. This is a far cry from her work in La La Land, but Stone takes to this role like a duck to water, and just bosses it from the moment we are first introduced to her, after she has fallen face first into a pile of mud.

As he demonstrated with his previous films, Lanthimos brings a very unique visual style to this film which includes a considerable use of wide shots. The gorgeous cinematography provided by Robbie Ryan only adds to the visual flair of the film. No expense was spared when it came to the production design or the costumes as both are just absolutely exquisite, very befitting for a Queen mind you. Though the film does start to lose its way a little bit in and around the third act, it is only dips momentarily. Lanthimos is certainly different in terms of what he brings to the big screen. While different doesn’t always mean great, it has just the right amount of idiosyncrasy that makes it such a riot to watch.

Raunchy to the maximum, but an extremely witty screenplay with a trio of terrific performances from its leading ladies cement this as a period drama that revels in its eccentricity. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Feature

Most Anticipated Films of 2019

Happy new year cinephiles! It is 2019, and another year of film is upon us, and it is shaping up to be quite the year for films as we round out the 2010s. There’s lots to look forward to. So without further ado, I present to you my picks for my top 10 most anticipated films that are set to hit UK cinemas in 2019.

Just a quick note to say that certain films that have marketed 2018 releases such as Green Book, Vice etc will not be counted here, even though they are set to arrive into UK cinemas this year. Before we get into the main body of the list, I have a few honourable mentions, that I am looking forward to, but they just didn’t quite make the list. These are:

Dark PhoenixUnpopular opinion coming at you, I don’t think 2016’s X Men Apocalypse was that bad. For sure it wasn’t as good as Days of Future Past, but it was a fun (if a little nonsensical) romp. Which brings me to Dark Phoenix, a film that focuses on a premise I’m sure we have seen before, but cannot remember where (!). Now the continual push backs of this film are a little worrisome, likewise with The New Mutants, but with everyone from Apocalypse back as well as Jessica Chastain in a mysterious role, you have my interest.

Spider-Man: Far From Home,The sequel to 2017’s Homecoming, and yes it is hard to escape that Spider-Man was one of the unfortunate ones who did not escape Thanos’s snap. Yet the presence of this film would suggest he comes back in the Infinity War sequel (more on that later). Tom Holland is once again everyone’s favourite neighbourhood Spider-Man with Jake Gyllenhaal as the villain Mysterio.

Lion King, The Disney mission to remake all their animated classics has now turned its attention to arguably its best. The 1994 animated film is one of the best animated films, ever made. Therefore director Jon Favreau has a simple job of translating this live action remake (if it can really be called that) to the big screen. Whilst the CGI does look great, and the cast is excellent, this remake does seem a bit redundant, but if this takes it place in The Circle of Life and blows audiences away once again, then Hakuna Matata I suppose.

Glass, M. Night Shyamalan’s career has been a strange one, starting out promisingly with early cinematic gold before making a few, pretty terrible films, but he came back to form with Split which leads us to the third film in a shared universe that connects the aforementioned Split, with Shyamalan’s 2000 hit Unbreakable. 

The Irishman, Martin Scorsese, a director who needs no introduction, and the director is returning to what people may know him for best, a film focusing on gangsters. His collaboration with Netflix is the most expensive of his career to date, and sees him reunite with Robert De Niro for an incredible ninth collaboration between the duo. If it is as gritty, and as entertaining as his previous ventures into this genre, we could have another classic gangster flick on our hands.

Honourable mentions have been honoured, let’s see what cracked my top 10:

10. Us

Release date: 15th March

For so long, Jordan Peele was one half of the very successful comedy duo, Key & Peele, then he went and made the remarkable and unsettling Get Out, which won him an Oscar. Now for his next film, Peele is going down the horror route once again in this film that looks deeply unnerving to say the least if the new trailer is anything to go by, which hints at a terrifying plot involving some sinister doppelgangers.

That premise alone is very intriguing, but with an exciting cast that includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss, only adds to the excitement/dread that audiences are likely to be greeted with when this one hits cinemas.

 

9. John Wick 3: Parabellum

Release date: 17th May

If you piss off John Wick AKA The Bogeyman, then you better start saying your prayers, cos he WILL make you pay for it. Keanu Reeves’s work as this badass assassin has made Wick one of his most compelling and badass characters, it’s certainly a role he seems to have had a lot of fun with. However, after he broke the absolute unbreakable rule of murdering someone on the grounds of the assassin underworld hotel, it cost John the access he had to the Assassin underworld and all of the accompanying perks. On top of that, he now has a large bounty on his head, which will likely put pretty much every hitman in the world on his trail.

Reeves is once again suiting up as Wick, and Chad Stahelski is back as director. Stahleski has promised that the death count will be considerably higher for this one. The action in the previous two films was as stylish as it was slickly choreographed, and promotional images have seen Reeves riding a horse! What more could you want? Expect the bullets to fly and the bodies to hit the floor cos John Wick is back for one last bloody hurrah.

8. Toy Story 4

Release date: 21st June

“So long, partner,” as Woody uttered those words at the end of Toy Story 3, it undoubtedly caused many tears to be shed by audiences as Woody and co said a fond farewell to their owner Andy for the last time, seemingly closing the book on the Toy Story franchise. It is still one of the best trilogies ever, and so talks of a fourth film were naturally met with some trepidation. However, as Pixar has so often not disappointed, most recently delivering one of their best with Coco, and giving The Incredibles a worthy sequel. One would assume that they know what they’re doing.

A fun mini teaser released late in 2018 confirmed that all of the familiar faces will be back, but what exactly they’re up to remains a complete mystery. But if reports are to be believed, the cast were crying and struggled to record their lines for the ending, which if you have ever seen a Pixar film ever, you’ll know that they have the power to reduce anyone to an absolute emotional wreck. So get the tissues ready cos this is likely to be another tearjerker.

7. Joker

Release date: 4th October

The Joker is one of the most iconic comic book villains, and he has had some memorable portrayals on the big screen from actors like Jack Nicholson and the great performance from Heath Ledger who stole the entire show in The Dark Knight, not forgetting the great work that Mark Hamill has done from an animated perspective to bring the Crown Prince of Crime to the big screen. However, the future of the character in the DCEU is a little bit uncertain since his debut didn’t quite go to plan. Hence, Warner Bros has given the green light for a solo Joker film separate from the DCEU.

We have seen a fair bit of production photos courtesy of director Todd Phillips, which has included Joaquin Phoenix in full costume as the Joker (see above). It all looks super dark and mysterious. Phoenix’s talents as an actor are undisputed and when you have a supporting cast that includes Hollywood legend Robert De Niro, that only adds to the gleeful anticipation as to what mayhem this Joker will unleash upon audiences when it debuts, not expecting any pencils through any eyeballs though…

 

6. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Release date: 31st May

The MonsterVerse has not exactly got off to the greatest start, beginning with 2014’s Godzilla and continuing with 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. Both the aforementioned films suffered in similar respects, some decent action but were bogged down by concentrating too much on the humans and not enough screen time for the titular titans, though the former was much stronger than the latter when it came to the action. A gargantuan clash between these two is expected to stomp into cinemas next year, but before that, Godzilla has got other monsters to deal with.

This new film looks as though it will remedy that problem with a handful of new Titans battling it out for Titan Supremacy, namely Mothra, Rodan, and Godzilla’s arch nemesis, the deadly three headed King Ghidorah. A bunch of new humans have joined the cast including Stranger Things star Millie Bobbie Brown, Charles Dance, Vera Farmiga and Kyle Chandler. Yet, one would hope that this is the film that sees the monsters take centre stage good and proper, and as the trailer teased, we have some exciting battles coming our way.

5. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Release date: 1st February

Outside of Disney and Pixar, Dreamworks Animation Studios have arguably been the studio to compete with when it comes to top tier animation, and and nothing is greater proof of that than the How to Train Your Dragon series. Thus far, this franchise has produced two absolutely stellar pieces of work, and they have a chance to complete their trilogy that, if all goes to plan, would be up there with the likes of the Toy Story trilogy as one of the finest animated trilogies out there.

This new adventure certainly seems to have upped the ante for our characters with Hiccup now the leader of the clan (mighty fine beard and all) facing down a terrifying new threat that puts humans and dragons at risk. Toothless’s attention meanwhile is on a Light Fury dragon he is trying to woo. The trailer promises those epic stakes that the second instalment brought, as well as those really hard hitting emotional moments.

 

4. Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

Release date: 26th July

Quentin Tarantino, like Martin Scorsese, is one of those names who just immediately catches the attention of most cinema goers, and for good reason, he makes damn good films. If the man’s name alone wasn’t enough to get people to the cinema, then the cast of his ninth feature film surely will. The likes of Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt, Leo DiCaprio all snag leading roles, but the cast list is quite extensive, with Tarantino alumni such as Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern and Kurt Russell all involved. It’s a cast to die for, and given what we know about the plot, and who some of the cast are playing, it’s gonna get a little bit unpleasant.

Not much else is known about the plot, other than it being centred on the Manson Family Murders, but if there’s one thing to expect from a Tarantino flick, it’s some sharply written dialogue, and juuuuuuuuuust a little bit of violence thrown in there for good measure. With his terrific body of work that he has assembled prior to this, this is looking like it will be another piece of glorious, as well as bloody, piece of work from the director in what might just be his penultimate directorial effort.

 

3. Captain Marvel

Release date: 8th March

The Marvel Cinematic Universe will finally give the world the first MCU female led superhero film in 2019. That superhero in question is Carol Danvers, an air force pilot who becomes the seemingly incredibly powerful Captain Marvel. Though before she can help save the world in the sequel to Infinity War (more on that later), we must venture back in time to the 1990s to see how Captain Marvel came to be.

The presence of Oscar winner Brie Larson in the titular role alone is enough to draw excitement, but she is the lead of an extremely exciting cast that includes Jude Law, Ben Mendelsohn, Gemma Chan and a de-aged Samuel L Jackson as a Nick Fury (also sans eye patch) as well as a de-aged Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson, with Lee Pace returning as Ronan, AKA the villain from Guardians of the Galaxy. Also who knew Nick Fury was a cat person? Maybe it’s that cat that takes his eye out after all….

 

2. Star Wars: Episode IX

Release date: December 20th

The concluding chapter to the new trilogy of films ever since Disney seized control of the franchise from George Lucas. Unless you have been living under a rock, you will know that the preceding chapter, The Last Jedi, caused quite the divide among the population of the world. Some absolutely adored it, hailing it as the best film in the franchise ever, and some absolutely detested it with every fibre of their being. No pressure then JJ Abrams.

As one would expect, the plot details surrounding this new film are a complete mystery, but what is for sure, is the events of The Last Jedi, whether you liked the film or not, are going to have substantial repercussions for the world of Star Wars going forward. The intrigue to see how they close the book on the stories of Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren will be enormous. Furthermore, it will be extremely interesting to see how the tragic passing of Carrie Fisher will have an impact on the story given she was set to play a big role in this closing chapter. Furthermore, in the wake of the box office disappointment of Solo: A Star Wars Story, Disney really could do with a home run to round out this trilogy. Lightsabres crossed that JJ can steer this ship home to safety.

 

And, my #1 most anticipated film of 2019 is……………………………………………………

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1. Avengers: Endgame

Release date: 26th April 

Had to be didn’t it? In the same vein that Episode IX will bring the curtain down on the new Star Wars trilogy, Endgame is going to be the culmination of everything that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been building towards across a remarkable 22 films. With their Cinematic Universe, Marvel really has made cinematic history with what they have achieved, it really is like nothing we have ever really seen before, and after delivering the stunning and heart-breaking Infinity War, the Russo brothers have the mammoth task of giving closure to these characters that for some we have spent a decade following.

Of course, that earth-shattering ending of Infinity War turned half of our heroes into dust after the Mad Titan Thanos collected all six of the Infinity Stones to bring balance to the Universe. Yet, even with that gut punch of an ending, it seems pretty certain that those who disintegrated away at the end will come back somehow. The real question is how? The Russos have hinted that this film could be in the realm of three hours long, and I am more than okay with that.

Yet if it indeed does come to pass that all those who were disintegrated return, who will definitely bite the dust this time around? It seems somewhat unlikely that everyone will return and that will be that and it will be sunshine and rainbows. One particular Titan in particular would be a bit pissed that all of his work would be undone. Some actors (not naming names) have hinted that this is their last hurrah so expect some fireworks as this chapter of the MCU will be brought to what will hopefully be an epic and emotional close.

Thus concludes my picks for the most anticipated films of 2019, What are your most anticipated films for this year? Let me know in the comments below or you can find me on: Twitter, Facebook or Letterbox’d

Thanks for reading and here’s to another great year of cinema!

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Roma (2018)

Image is property of Netflix, Participant Media and Esperanto Filmoj

Roma – Film Review

Cast: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira , Fernando Grediaga, Jorge Antonio Guerrero, Marco Graf, Daniela Demesa, Diego Cortina Autrey, Carlos Peralta

Director: Alfonso Cuarón

Synopsis: Charting the life of a middle class family and their two maids, living in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City in the 1970s, as social turmoil threatens to tear their peaceful lives apart…

Review: The name Alfonso Cuarón, much like his other two compatriots Alejandro G Iñárritu and Guillermo del Toro, is so synonymous with the big budget Hollywood productions. This particular side of Hollywood is one that all of the three Amigos have dabbled in at one point in their careers,a nd all have achieved remarkable success in doing so, with some remarkable films. However, rather than continue on that trajectory for his next film, Cuarón goes much more personal and humane in his latest feature film, and once again, he has made something rather special.

There is a beating heart at the centre of the latest film, but it is not Cuarón’s, it is that of his main character Cleo (Aparicio), a character loosely based on Cuaron’s own nanny as a child. In many respects, this is a film is very much autobiographical as the events seen on screen are based on Cuaron’s own experiences growing up in the Colonia Roma district of Mexico City. Cleo’s life is very much grounded in the routine of her job, looking after the children of a wealthy middle class family, tending to the kids’ needs, and being that figure of support in . This is until a dramatic change of events turns Cleo’s life upside down, and ensuing turmoil in the area runs the risk of tearing her life, and the lives of this family apart.

For someone who has never acted before, Yalitza Aparicio is nothing short of astonishing as Cleo. Her performance is so raw and emotional (as is just about every performance) that it feels like you are not watching a film, but real life, which in many ways you kind of are. With each scene, the work that must have gone on behind the scenes to recreate 1970s Mexico, and the way that Cuarón shoots these scenes brings such authenticity, as well as incredible humanity to this film. Granted, the pacing of the film can be a little sluggish at times, but there is a moment when everything changes. You will know it when it happens.

Shooting entirely in black and white enables Cuarón to add a layer of authenticity to the events on screen, again capturing that affectionate feel to them, and grounding them in reality. Cuarón served as both cinematographer and director, and through it, his skills in both crafts to really come to the fore. It feels as though every frame here was worked on intensely like a rare exquisite piece of artwork, and it pays serious dividends. His direction is breath-taking, with a couple of one take moments in a few scenes that will just leave you speechless in shock, and will also likely to reduce you to a blubbering wreck.

There are certain moments in life that just make you stop and think about the things that are most important to you, and Cuarón captures these moments with so much emotional weight. Going on this extremely emotional journey with these characters is one that everyone should experience, simply due to the profound impact that it should have on the audience. With Hollywood awash with prequels, sequels and the like, such rare and outstandingly beautiful pieces of art like this need to be watched, and above all, they need to be celebrated for what they bring to the medium of film.

With an outstanding central performance at its core, Cuaron has crafted one of his finest films and something truly special in Roma. A personal and profound masterpiece.