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Archive for December, 2018

This is my first post for over five years under the DVD Gems tag.  With DVD rental being a thing of the past, I really should rename it!  Whatever I call it, this truly is a hidden gem worth talking about.  I vaguely remember hearing mixed to positive reviews for The Domestics earlier in the year, but couldn’t find it screening anywhere.  Hindered by a terrible title (it needs explaining to the audience, and the explanation isn’t very good), it looked set to disappear into obscurity, until it recently cropped up on Netflix. The Domestics poster

After most of the population has been wiped-out by chemical weapons, gangs take over and kill anyone who isn’t part of their faction.  Amongst this a couple with a failing marriage decide to make the 200 mile trip from relatively safety in the Midwest, to her parents in a suburb of Milwaukee. the domestics kate bosworth

The world building is subtly brilliant; with little explanation of what has happened other than a brief voiceover we discover the environment and its inhabitants as we go along.   The gangs he meet along the way include: Nailers (cary large axes), Spikes (wear helmets with face masks and spikes), Plowboys (patrol the highways and dabble in kidnapping and sex trafficking), Gamblers (wear animal heads, and leave decisions to chance), Cherries (woman only, described as man haters), Sheets (wear white sheets over their heads).  The domestics are the ordinary people, not affiliated to the gangs, and trying to cling on to a normal life as it was in the old world.  This setting is closer to the original Mad Max (1979) or The Rover (2014) than the better know warrior of the wasteland from the Mad Max sequels. But all this feels like an allegory for the current socio political mess we are in now. the domestics gangs

The setting and the subtext give the film depth, but the script is to be hailed too.  The story evolves and gets better as it goes on, this is impressive as it is the first feature for writer director Mike P. Nelson.  While there are no major surprises, it doesn’t always play out as you would expect.  There are moments of tension and horror, and the film often has a horror tinged look to it, no great surprise as cinematographer Maxime Alexandre has mainly worked in horror, making his début with  Haute tension (2003).  This all gives the film some jeopardy, some stakes, we are never sure if our protagonists are going to make it or not.  It also comes in a perfect B-movie 95 Minutes ensuring a lack of flab in the plot.  the domestics

The casting is good with a mixture of vaguely recognisable TV actors and Kate Bosworth, certainly her best part in years.  Bosworth has never found her niche in the movie world, after her teen movie breakthrough; Blue Crush she flirted with both indie: The Rules of Attraction, and A list movies: Superman Returns.  Here she is perfectly cast, she starts out looking like a supporting role to the character of her husband, Mark (Tyler Hoechlin) but gradually develops into the leading character.  Along the way, they meet various people, some clearly can’t be trusted, others you aren’t sure about, they include; Nathan Wood (Lance Reddick) and his family who are trying to live their own version of the domestic lifestyle.  And Betsy (Sonoya Mizuno) as a Cherry whose intentions aren’t always clear. the domestics Sonoya Mizuno

A low budget often shows in the action scenes, here, it’s a benefit, they are well choreographed and shot and the lack of budget gives a senses of intimacy and realism you don’t get in a lot of blockbusters.  It does lack the grittiness of Mad Max, and the despair of The Road, but has a lighter tone that is very darkly satirical and sometimes humorous, there is also a glimmer of optimism and hope!

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I have recently published my top ten movies of the year.  I only included films I saw at the cinema, however, film distribution is changing; more films are being released online at the same time, or instead of theatrically.  Netflix original productions, and exclusive distributed movies have stepped up a gear employing A list actors and directors.  Below are the movies by the most significant of these directors.  For the record, Roma would have made my top ten movies of the year if eligible.    

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) – Mexico City 1970/71, an upper middle-class family is going through a time of transition, told from the point of view of their housekeepers, who has her own issues to deal with.  After spending time in space, the future and the wizarding world, director returns to his native Mexic for the first time since 2001’s Y Tu Mamá También, it was worth the wait!  The family drama shot in beautiful black and white immediately invokes thoughts of Yasujirô Ozu, Roma is that good, it sits comfortably in such auspicious company.  There is little in the way of plot, the film just drifts along evoking a dreamlike feeling.  As in life, there are smaller resolutions but no real conclusion, the story goes after the lights go down.  Simply shot, often with a fixed camera, but always beautiful to look at.  Cuarón employs a deep-focus to great effect, there is always something going on in frame.  The same is true of the incredible sound design.  This leads to my only criticism, IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN SCREENED IN MORE CINEMAS!Roma

Annihilation (Alex Garland) –  A meteor hits an area of Florida swampland and is now surrounded by what the film calls the shimmer, it blocks all contact with the outside world, and all expeditions into it have failed to return.  Cellular biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) joins an all-female team in.  With a great track record as an author and screen-writer, Alex Garland hit the ground running with his directorial debut Ex Machina.  The cast is first rate, particularly Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Oscar Isaac, but it is often Tessa Thompson that steals the show.  Elements of the movie will draw comparisons with Arrival, it sadly isn’t that good, but that movie set a pretty high bar.  This is still an excellent film.  Drowned in the mythology of the genre(s), the film asks some big questions in a very bold way, but has the intelligence and the restraint not to answer them. annihilation

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen) – Portmanteau western consisting of six stories: A guitar-playing gunslinger (Tim Blake Nelson).  A bank robber (James Franco). A travelling theatrical show owner (Liam Neeson). A prospector (Tom Waits). A young woman on a wagon train heading west (Zoe Kazan).  Five strangers on a stagecoach (Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson, Jonjo O’Neill, Saul Rubinek, Chelcie Ross).  The western is as old as cinema.  From Ford (and before) to Eastwood and Costner, via Peckinpah and Leone the genre has established and reinvented itself countless times, but it still has its beats, its clichés.  With the western filmmakers have told every story imaginable, from the birth of America (and tried to justify the more unseemly aspects  of it), to a nations loss of innocence, and so much more. With True Grit and No Country For Old Men, The Coen Brothers have demonstrated their understanding and appreciation of the Western.  Here they have taken the archetypes of the genre and subverted them, in the process both embracing and exposing the absurdities of filmmaking.  The result is a film that you can take as disposable fun, or a thought-provoking meditation on the mythology of the western movie, I chose to take both!The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

 22 July (Paul Greengrass) – True story of the atrocity on the island of Utøya in 2011, and its aftermath.  Paul Greengrass has an uncanny ability to bring real life stories to the screen making them cinematic, and entertaining without losing the humanity, and sensitivity.  Take exhibits 1 to 3: Bloody Sunday, United 93, and Captain Phillips.  The brilliance of the story, is that although terrorist Anders Behring Breivik is front and centre, it isn’t his story.  It is the victims story, the survivors story, but most importantly Norway’s story.  The film is a little on the long side and could lose some of the middle section where the metaphors are a little heavy-handed.  This is a small quibble for a very powerful movie. 22 July

Bird Box (Susanne Bier) – Malorie (Sandra Bullock) and two young children embark on a river journey wearing blindfolds.  We learn in flashback what got them to this point, and about the mysterious entity that once seen drives you to suicide.  Bullock and the supporting cast (including: Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Tom Hollander, Jacki Weaver, and BD Wong) are all fantastic.  The characters representing a microcosm of society are a little clichéd, but that is the necessary shorthand of a film, and doesn’t stop you empathise with them.  The best thing about the film is the concept and the story, that shows just enough, and leaves so much more for the audience to wonder.  The direction is taught making the over two hour runtime seem like 100 minutes. DSC04279.CR2

Hold the Dark (Jeremy Saulnier) – A young boy goes missing in a small town on the edge of the Alaskan wilderness.  The boys farther (Alexander Skarsgård) is away, fighting in Iraq.  His mother (Riley Keough) hires a wolf expert (Jeffrey Wright) to track and kill the animals responsible.   Jeremy Saulnier’s first two movies Blue Ruin, and Green Room are not happy affairs, but they are positively shiney and glowing in comparison to Hold the Dark.  The film is cold, dark and oppressive.  I describe, Roma as having a dreamlike feeling, this movie has that same quality, but this is a far less pleasant dream, this is the type of dream that you wake from with a feeling of hopeless despair.  It is a far better, deeper and more intelligent film than many have given it credit for, but it’s a really hard film to like or enjoy.  I am really glad I watched it, and really need to see it again to better understand it, I’m just not sure I want to watch it again.Hold the Dark

Apostle (Gareth Evans) – A troubled young man (Dan Stevens) travels to a remote island to infiltrate a cult who have kidnap his sister.   After the success of the Raid movies, Welsh born director Gareth Evans returns home to the UK for a rather unusual and brutal horror.  Comparisons with Wicker Man are inevitable, while it fails to come close to the contestant feeling of dread invoked by that film; it isn’t a laughable mess like the 2006 remake.   What it lacks in dread it makes up for in downright eerie and creepiness.  To its credit, the story doesn’t always go where you expect it to, it is however a little saggy toward the middle and would have benefited from a fifteen-twenty minute trim off the runtime.  More a film for horror fans than those of Evans earlier work, I certainly enjoyed it. Apostle

Mute (Duncan Jones) – Berlin, 2052. A mute barman (Alexander Skarsgård) is searching for his missing girlfriend (Seyneb Saleh).  The story overlaps with an AWOL U.S. military medic (Paul Rudd) who with the help of fellow surgeon and all-round sleazebag (Justin Theroux) is trying to acquire fake ID and travel papers to get back home.  Duncan Jones bust onto the scene just under a decade ago with the excellent Moon (2009).  The follow-up Source Code (2011) is and underrated gem, even the bonkers video game  Warcraft (2016) isn’t bad.  Mute, however, is a strange beast.  The Blade Runner inspired idea of a hardboiled 40’s detective in a future setting is good, but the film is a mess.  The balance between the two stories don’t work.  It would have been better if the Justin Theroux character were dropped completely and the Paul Rudd story reduced.  That said, Skarsgård is a good lead if a little lacking in dimension.  Clint Mansell’s electro-synth score is excellent.  And for fans of Moon, there is a nice Easter egg , we get to see what happened to the Sam Bell (Sam Rockwell) clones. Mute

 Netflix have also released: Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (Andy Serkis), and Outlaw King  (David Mackenzie).  As well as Orson Welles’ last film The Other Side Of The Wind that has been in some sort of limbo for the past four decades.  I am yet to see any of these. 

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  1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – Not an MCU movie, but part of Sony’s own ever more confusing cinematic universe. Like Peter Parker before him, Miles Morales is bitten by a radioactive spider and becomes a new Spider-Man. At the same time Kingpin opens a portal to other alternate realities, bringing multiple Spider people into Miles’ world.  Using an ever changing array of animation styles to create a bizarre and bonkers movie that is also amazing fun, and very funny, as well as being full of heart.   The freshest and funniest comic book movie for a very long time.  The voice cast is amazing, Shameik Moore is joined by: Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Zoë Kravitz, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber, and Chris Pine.220px-Spider-Man_Into_the_Spider-Verse_poster
  2. Black Panther – So much has been said about Black Panther, possibly the most significant is the quality of the villains, Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klae, the over the top moustache twirling comic villain and Michael B. Jordan as the more interesting and nuanced Erik Killmonger (with a name like that, he was never going to be a hero!).  The supporting cast is fantastic, all the characters played by Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, and Daniel Kaluuya were interesting enough that they could have had their own movie. Angela Bassett is sadly underused. Not as original or as fun as Thor Ragnarok, but it certainly has enough going on to please Marvel fans and for those who are new to the series. Importantly, It also works as a standalone film.Black Panther
  3. Avengers: Infinity War – Ten years of Marvel movies have been leading up to this point, the arrival of Thanos, the franchises chosen big, bad. The series so far has introduced so many characters, it would be impossible to service them all. Amazingly the film manages to give everyone (except a few characters left on the sidelines for future use) reasonable screen time without slowing the narrative. The action scenes are fantastic and the character interactions are often devastatingly funny. The problems are with the narrative; I can’t expand on this and keep this spoiler free, beyond saying that it is most likely part of the setup for the next film, a setup that could be satisfying or infuriating. Avengers Infinity War
  4. Deadpool 2 – If you have seen the first film, you will know what to expect. By definition it lacks the originality, but is as funny as the original. The greatest revelation is Zazie Beetz who is excellent as Domino. I wouldn’t mind seeing a third instalment, but also wouldn’t be bothered if this is the last one.Deadpool 2
  5. Aquaman – Aquaman should have been the Justice League’s equivalent to Thor, the preposterous but fun member of the team, the character played totally staight the more silly things get.  In a way it achieves this, but it lacked the fun and charisma of Thor.  But given his own movie he fares better.  The silliest movie on the list, but the most fun (after Spider-Verse).  The visuals are spectacular, Jason Momoa has fun with the part, and is well supported by Amber Heard, and Willem Dafoe.Aquaman
  6. Ant-Man and the Wasp – Lighter and more comedic than the rest of the MCU, Ant man is never going to be the best of the franchise but it is always fun.  Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are both excellent in their own right, but have little to no chemistry together.  Walton Goggins is as great as ever, but seems to be in a different movie to everyone else.  Michelle Pfeiffer is underused.  Michael Peña offers his usual comic relief.  Rising star, Hannah John-Kamen provides an interesting and compelling antagonist.  Great comic relief that was much needed after Infinity war.  Marvel Movies tend to come in trilogies, let’s hope the final instalment nails it. Ant-Man and the Wasp
  7. Venom – Venom was poorly served in the terrible Spider-Man 3, in a post Deadpool world, this is the chance to make a funny and fun super(anti)hero movie, it fails.  The plot is a little plodding, the action isn’t a patch on anything Marvel has done in the past decade.  It does however have an ace up its sleeve, Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, and Riz Ahmed, all of whom are always worth watching.  A mid credit scene suggests a sequel, with the origin out of the way, hopefully a second film will live up to the promise.  It failed to live up to its potential and is bottom of this list, but is far from terrible; don’t bother paying for it, but if it crops up on TV watch it. Venom

I promised this year’s comic-book movies ranked from best to worst, as you can see from my comments, none of them are actually bad films, not even Venom.  Before anybody asks where Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, and Incredibles 2 are on my list.  I didn’t see them. 

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  1. The Shape Of WaterThe Shape Of Water

  2. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing MissouriThree Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

  3. Phantom ThreadPhantom Thread

  4. A Quiet PlaceA Quiet Place

  5. ThoroughbredsThoroughbreds

  6. Leave No TraceLeave No Trace

  7. In The FadeIn The Fade

  8. Cold WarCold War

  9. WidowsWidows

  10. WildlifeWildlife

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Die Hard

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I will be posting my top ten favourite movies of 2018 later this morning.  Before that, here are the nearly made it movies, the ones I loved that just missed out on the top ten:The Next Best Movies Of 2018.jpg

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Never one to miss a chance to see a classic movie on the big screen, this year I have seen more than ever:

Pandora’s Box (1929) – Seminal Louise Brooks movie, the masterpiece of director G W Pabst.  Screened thanks to the BFI in what they call a “New 2K DCP of the 2009 restoration of Munich Film Museum’s definitive cut, with score by Peer Raben”.  Telling of the rise and fall of desirable and seductive but naive young dancer Lulu (Brooks).  It still stands up as a mesmerising film nearly 90 years on with simple modern storytelling, you soon forget you are watching a silent film and just appreciate it as a film.pandorasbox1

Some Like it Hot (1959) – Screened in a stunning 4K restoration as part of the BFI comedy genius season – Two down on their luck musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) witness the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.  They escape town disguised as women with an all female band bound for the Florida sun, where they intend to skip out on the band.  There is however a complication, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe).  If there is any such thing as a perfect movie, this is it.  Sixty years later the comedy is still relevant and hilarious.  The performances (including Marilyn Monroe’s) are outstanding, but its Billy Wilder’s sharp script and direction that shine through.  What has long been my favourite film plays even better on the big screen with an audience. Some Like it Hot

Night of the Living Dead (1968) – 50 years ago was year zero for the modern zombie movie.  Just about every zombie movie in the past half century draws influence from George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.  But how does it hold up as a film in its own right?  Shown in a 4K restoration, it was as good as ever, and looked better than ever.  Working as a visceral horror and a allegory of a nation tearing itself apart.  A perfect horror movie. Night of the Living Dead

Halloween (1978) – 40th Anniversary 4K restoration of John Carpenter’s slasher masterpiece.  I probably don’t need to give a plot synopsis, but will for those who are new to this classic: As a child, Michael Myers kills his teenage sister on Halloween night, fifteen years later he escapes and returns to his hometown.  Halloween didn’t invent the slasher movie, but it certainly revolutionised and popularised the genre making it a mainstay of horror throughout the 1980’s.  It has spawned multiple sequels (with another due later this month), a remake, and countless imitators, does it deserve all this?  Hell yes, it is a true horror masterpiece.  Modern audiences may find the deliberate pacing slow, they are wrong, not a second of the 91minute runtime is wasted.  Michael Myers is a blank cipher with little back-story and no discernible motive.  He is a classic movie monster, but one all the more frightening because unlike Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, or the Wolf-Man, he is just a man, he is a real world boogeyman.  The films emotion comes from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence, but the Steadicam mounted camera is as much a character as any of these people.  If you haven’t seen it, look it out now before seeing the latest sequel. Halloween 1978

The Fog (1980) – The second in a series of John Carpenter movies to receive a 4K restoration.  A small town celebrating its centenary is enveloped by a fog that brings with it a reckoning from the past.  A spooky almost old-fashioned horror that is relatively tame, but enjoyable none the less.  Notable of the first onscreen pairing of Jamie Lee Curtis and her mother Janet Leigh. The Fog

The Evil Dead (1981) – Five young friends unwittingly release and are possessed my daemons while on holiday in a cabin in the woods.  The effects show their budget, the acting isn’t always great and the editing is conspicuous.  None of this stops it being a stone cold classic.  The Evil Dead

Escape From New York (1981) – Another remastered John Carpenter classic.  Made in 1981 and set in the future, 1997 where Manhattan has been turned into a giant maximum-security prison.  Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is sent into the prison to rescue the president after Air Force One is hijacked.  What could have been a forgettable Sci-Fi B-movie is elevated to stone cold classic by the inclusion of the iconic Snake Plissken, and more importantly Kurt Russell’s portrayal of him.  Made in a cynical post-Vietnam war/Watergate American it is strangely and frighteningly relevant today.Escape From New York

Die Hard (1988) – Towards the end of the 1980’s Die Hard rewrote the book on action movies, how has it aged?  The simple answer is very well!  It is made with typical 80’s film stock that is a little grainy and muddy looking (not as bad as 70’s, but not as bright or crisp what came before or after), other than that it is very modern.  If you saw it for the first time many of the story beats may seem a little clichéd, it isn’t, this is the archetype that everything else copied.  A treat to see on the big screen. Die Hard

Audition (1999) – Horror thriller from the prolific director Takashi Miike.  A widower takes an offer from a friend to “audition” girls to find him a new wife.  I hadn’t seen this since watching it at the cinema on its original release, as great as I remember.  What I had forgotten, was how long it took for the horror to begin, and how quickly it became horrific. Audition

Battle Royale (2000) – Set in a near future, Japan to help suppress a problem of rising crime amongst teenagers, a class of students is randomly selected each year and sent to an island, where they are forced to fight to the death.  A modern classic that has been the benchmark for teenage dystopian movies for the past eighteen years.Battle Royale

Martyrs (2008) – Around ten years ago I watched Martyrs on DVD based on multiple recommendations. I understand it had a cinema release but certainly not at any of my local multiplexes (I didn’t visit independent cinemas often back then). My feeling at time was that I thought the film was excellent, but I didn’t want to see it again. Fast forward a decade and one of my local independent cinema’s, the Mockingbird in Birmingham advertised a 10 year anniversary screening. Never one to pass up the opportunity for seeing a classic on the big screen, how could I refuse!  On a second viewing the film is just as powerful and disturbing as before. Whereas first time around I was unsure of what to make of the ending, I now believe it is intentionally left open to interpretation. I have a stronger view on the meaning of the ending but would rather people drew their own conclusions. After all, the meaning is probably as influenced by what the viewer brings to it as what they see on the screen.Martyrs Lucie

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