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2018 is over, in the final month I saw twelve movies at the cinema bringing my total for the year to 126.  For the final time of the year we crown the movie of the month, here are the contenders:

Disobedience – Following the dead of her farther, a highly regarded rabbi, Ronit (Rachel Weisz) returns home to London from New York.  While some of the Orthodox Jewish community welcome her return, others are less welcoming.  When she reconnects with childhood friend Esti (Rachel McAdams) it becomes clear why she left.  Based on Naomi Alderman’s début novel of the same name, Disobedience is a beautiful exercise in subtlety and understatement.  Set within a community I little to nothing about, it comes across as the most honest, and realistic film I have seen all year, it helps that the performances were sensational.Disobedience

Green Book – Based on a true story; a mildly racist working-class Italian-American doorman (Viggo Mortensen) takes a job as the driver of an African-American classical pianist (Mahershala Ali) on a tour of venues American South in the 1960’s. No cliché is left underused, there are no surprises in the plot, the characters are caricature, and not a great deal happens.  None of this matters, as the film is warm and funny, the performances are Oscar worthy, what should be cringingly sentimental turns out to be nothing short of delightful.GreenBook

Creed II – Or Rocky 4.5.  Now heavyweight champion of the world, Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan), takes on the s Viktor Drago (Florian Munteanu), the son of Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren), who killed Apollo Creed in the fight depicted in Rocky IV.  Rocky (Sylvester Stallone), Bianca (Tessa Thompson) are both back, the latter being poorly served by the script.  Although it fails to reach the heights of the best in the franchise, the way Creed did, it is an enjoyable and uplifting story.Creed II

Tulip Fever –  A romantic drama of misadventure and misunderstanding told against the backdrop of the Tulip mania of 17th century Amsterdam.  The film has sat on the shelf for several years, a look at the producers behind the film may explain why.  Or it could just be because the movie is average at best. Alicia Vikander, Holliday Grainger, and Christoph Waltz are all good.  Tom Hollander, Dane DeHaan, and Jack O’Connell are all guilty of overacting.Tulip Fever

The Old Man and the Gun – A “mostly true” story (so a caption tells us), Aging bank robber Forrest (Robert Redford) is in the middle of crime spree, some committed alone, others with Waller and Teddy (Tom Waits, Danny Glover), al committed without violence or even a raised voice.  Along the way he meets the delightful Jewel (Sissy Spacek).  All the time Detective Hunt (Casey Affleck) is on his trail.  A charming film told with a deliberate pace that director David Lowery seems to have mastered more so than any other filmmaker.  Reported to be Robert Redford’s last movie before he retires from acting, if this is true, it’s a worthy end to a great career.The Old Man and the Gun

Beautiful Boy – Timothée Chalamet plays Nic Sheff, Steve Carell               plays his farhter David in a film adapted from books written by both men describing Nic’s fight with addiction.  Both actors are fantastic with Carell slightly edging it for me.  The story is well told with a great use of time-shift that is never confusing.  The English language début of director Felix van Groeningen isn’t as heartbreaking as his earlier film The Broken Circle Breakdown, but it is just as compelling.Beautiful Boy

Mortal Engines – Yet another high concept dystopian sci-fi based on a popular YA series of books.  This time, we have mobile cities roaming across the wastelands of the globe capturing and consuming the recourses of other smaller towns and cities in what they refer to as Municipal Darwinism.  I won’t spoil the plot that unfolds within this story, least to say it involves a young couple who start on opposing sides.  Newcomer Hera Hilmar is a compelling lead Hester Shaw, Robert Sheehan is less convincing as the co-lead.  Jihae, Hugo Weaving, and Stephen Lang all provide good support.  The world building is good, if not believable.  The look of the film is good, and the story zips along nicely.  The characters are relatively well realised, although a couple of supporting players look like most of their story is on the cutting room floor.  One of the reasons the story works, as is often the case with stories of the type; the heroes are filled with self doubt, and the villains think they are heroes.  The allergy for the destructive, and self-destructive nature of capitalism isn’t subtle, but it is surprisingly effective.  An enjoyable if disposable blockbuster with an ending so clearly influenced by another film, it should be called Mortal Engines episode IV A New Hope!Mortal Engines

Aquaman – After the events of The Justice League, we learn the origin  Aquaman/Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa).  He (and the audience) soon discover that he is heir to the underwater kingdom of Atlantis, but there is the small matter of his evil half brother King Orm (Patrick Wilson).  Aquaman should have been the Justice League’s equivalent to Thor, the preposterous but fun member of the team, the character played totally straight the more silly things get.  In a way it achieves this in justice league to a certain extent, but it lacked the fun and charisma of Thor.  But given his own movie he fares better.  The visuals are spectacular, Jason Momoa has fun with the part, and is well supported by Amber Heard, Nicole Kidman, and Willem Dafoe.  Very silly and not as good as Wonder Woman (or even a middle ranking MCU movie), but the most fun the DCU has been to date.Aquaman

Bumblebee – Set in 1987, about twenty years prior to the events of Michael Bay’s first Transformers movie: Bumblebee arrives San Francisco, a little worse for wear, he finds himself mute and in a scrapyard in the shape of a VW Beatle trying to evade the Decepticons. This is where awkward teenager Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) finds him.  The sequels, to Bay’s first Transformers film were so bad, we forget that the original wasn’t bad.  Bumblebee, is somewhat better than not bad, it’s actually really good.  Steinfeld is charming and funny, but so is her animated co-lead.  The filmmakers aren’t shy in talking about the influence of Steven Spielberg movies, notably ET.  Bay’s pornographic sensibility is nowhere to be seen.  Superficial characters who would have been on the end of Bay’s “male gaze” are relegated to supporting roles and ridiculed.  The final act is far better than you would expect, and the 80’s soundtrack is excellent.Bumblebee

Sorry to Bother You – Set in a dystopian present-day, Cassius’ (Lakeith Stanfield) lives in his uncles garage with girlfriend Detroit (Tessa Thompson).  In need on money he takes a job in telesales, and sucks at it until colleague Langston (Danny Glover) teaches him to use his “white voice”.  Musician, activist, and first time director Boots Riley’s movie is full of fantastic ideas and brilliant gags, and observations, unfortunately the execution is a total mess.  The cast are all excellent, and I enjoyed parts of the movie, but I fail to see the masterpiece I was led to expect.Sorry to Bother You

Stan and Ollie:  Towards the end of their career, world famous comedy duo Laurel and Hardy toured UK music halls.  Most of the film concentrates on this one brief spell of their careers, but it gives an insight into their relationship and personalities of camera.  Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly are both excellent as the duo, Reilly looking the part, more than Coogan but both giving believable performances, for me Coogan is the better of the two.  Nina Arianda and Shirley Henderson are also excellent as their wives.  The balance of the film is a little off, with the first half spending too much time recreating the performances.  the behind the sconces relationship is far more interesting.Stan and Ollie

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse – 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. Not an MCU movie, but part of Sony’s own ever more confusing cinematic universe.  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.Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse

Die Hard: 30th Anniversary Screening – 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. (not included in competition for movie of the month).Die Hard

First, a special mention for the best new film of the month Roma.  Seen on TV via Netflix, not at the cinema so not eligible.Roma

Disobedience, Green Book, The Old Man and the Gun, and Beautiful Boy, would all make worthy winners.  I considered Bumblebee as it is the movie that surprised me so much.  But the movie of the month is: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse:Spider-Man Into the Spider-Verse poster.jpg

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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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  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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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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