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Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

He's a wild creature. We can't ask him to be anything else.

The Shape of Water (2017)
(SPOILERS) The faithful would have you believe it never went away, but it’s been a good decade since Guillermo del Toro’s mojo was in full effect, and his output since (or lack thereof: see the torturous wilderness years of At the Mountains of Madness and The Hobbit), reflected through the prism of his peak work Pan’s Labyrinth, bears the hallmarks of a serious qualitative tumble. He put his name to stinker TV show The Strain, returned to movies with the soulless Pacific Rim and fashioned flashy but empty gothic romance Crimson Peak (together his weakest pictures, and I’m not forgetting Mimic). The Shape of Water only seems to underline what everyone has been saying for years, albeit previously confined to his Spanish language pictures: that the smaller and more personal they are, the better. If his latest is at times a little too wilfully idiosyncratic, it’s also a movie where you can nevertheless witness it’s creator’s creativity flowing untrammelled once mo…

I'm going to open an X-file on this bran muffin.

The X-Files 11.2: This
(SPOILERS) Glen Morgan returns with a really good idea, certainly one with much more potential than his homelessness tract Home Again in Season 10, but seems to give up on its eerier implications, and worse has to bash it round the head to fit the season’s “arc”. Nevertheless, he’s on very comfortable ground with the Mulder-Scully dynamic in This, who get to spend almost the entire episode in each other’s company and might be on the best form here since the show came back, give or take a Darin.

The aliens are not coming, just so you know.

The X-Files 11.1: My Struggle III
(SPOILERS) Good grief. Have things become so terminal for Chris Carter that he has to retcon his own crap from the previous season, rather than the (what he perceived as) crap written by others? Carter, of course, infamously pretended the apocalyptic ending of Millennium Season Two never happened, upset by the path Glen Morgan and James Wong, left to their own devices, took with his baby. Their episode was one of the greats of that often-ho-hum series, so the comedown was all the unkinder as a result. In My Struggle III, at least, Carter’s rewriting something that wasn’t very good in the first place. Only, he replaces it with something that is even worse in the second.

He's going to emasculate our nuclear deterrent and bring the whole damn country to its knees… because of his dreams.

Dreamscape (1984)
(SPOILERS) I wasn’t really au fait with movies’ box office performance until the end of the ‘80s, so I think I had an idea that Dennis Quaid (along with Jeff Bridges) was a much bigger star than he was, just on the basis of the procession of cool movies he showed up in (The Right Stuff, Enemy Mine, Innerspace, D.O.A.) The truth was, the public resisted all attempts to make him The Next Big Thing, not that his sly-grinned, cocky persona throughout the decade would lead you to believe his dogged lack of success had any adverse effect on his mood. Dreamscape was one of his early leading-man roles, and if it’s been largely forgotten, it also inherits a welcome cult status, not only through being pulpy and inventive on a fairly meagre budget, but by being pretty good to boot. It holds up.

But that was then. And this is now. I'm back home. Right where I belong.

Mudbound (2017)
(SPOILERS) Mudbound has had to make do with just the four Oscar nominations, all well-deserved (although honestly, I’m not so fussed by the overly earnest song), failing to trouble the big four categories, but it’s a much better film than at least several of the nine selected for the top prize. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the Netflix factor, or that Academy members only feel inclined to given the nod to one movie about racism per year. Mudbound, set in and around Jim Crow Mississipi in the ‘40s, isn’t just about racism, but it’s infused into its characters and locale such that all other themes are informed or affected by it. At times, there’s a sense that it’s trying to achieve too much, spread its canvas too broadly for the time it has, but when it hits its stride, it’s outstanding.

Hi, I'm the robot. She's the monster.

Colossal (2016)
(SPOILERS) There’s usually a sinking feeling attached to any movie when you realise you’re being preached at, and by implication, it often doesn’t reflect that well on the storytelling skills of the preacher. Colossal’s a movie that works much better while you’re trying to figure out where it’s going, rather than once you know. Which means a good deal of it is very good, but also that its backend falls out.

I actually am a terrorist. I just do standup on the side to keep a low profile.

The Big Sick (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Big Sick wasn’t the big hit many expected. Tipped as a summer sleeper, it merely performed respectably (on a low budget, so that was okay). But then, with a title suggesting the worst excesses of now passé gross-out comedy, what did Amazon and Lionsgate (who picked it up following Sundance) expect? It isn’t that at all – by which I mean, vomit-related – of course, and is in fact a rather sweet culture-clash comedy with a you-couldn’t make it up coma thrown in – the actual big sick – based on the experiences of comedian Kumail Nanjiani in dating his wife to be (Emily V Gordon).

My arm helped us find the Earth!

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)
(SPOILERS) As soon as the rumour broke that Paramount might be selling God Particle, or Cloverfield Station, to Netflix, entirely bypassing a cinema release, speculation ran rampant that they had a turkey on their hands and wished to palm it off. After all, this came off the back of reshoots and shifts in release dates. So when confirmation came, in something of a publicity coup, that it would touch down on the same day as its trailer, there was an understandable buzz of anticipation; this was exactly the kind of rug-pull surprise the series had previously done so well. Alas, the conversation quickly returned to turkey talk. The Cloverfield Paradox isn’t a patch on the previous two entries – particularly 2016’s entry – and its insertion of the Cloverfield branding is particularly inelegant, but it’s an actually an agreeable enough ride for the first hour, before revealing it has nowhere interesting to go with its not really all thatdistinctive alt-univers…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

You didn't happen to drill a li-ttle hole in the dentist today, did you?

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
(SPOILERS) One of the most interesting aspects of what can often be a rising level of tedious repetition over the extended annual awards season is the manner in which pictures are reappraised as the spotlight intensifies. A frontrunner can be reduced to tears as an accusatory critical challenge, usually political or (in historical or biographical cases) factual, begins to hold sway. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri has been the recipient of the lion’s share of such flak this year, but I somehow doubt Martin McDonagh intended his picture to be held up to scrutiny as an exemplar of any comfortably vetted viewpoint; such reductive treatment would be entirely foreign to its thorny DNA.

They've shifted the tilt of the Earth. The stupid, crazy, irresponsible bastards. They've finally done it.

The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961)
(SPOILERS) One of the all-time great science-fiction films. It isn’t so much the specifics of the end of the world premise – the science of which is easy to tear apart – or the heightened dialogue – someone in the accompanying documentary on the Blu-ray release had the temerity to suggest it’s a bad thing – that make it sing, it’s the manner in which the unfolding events are treated as real and immediate, the way mundane life continues apace as a horror overtakes the everyday. The Day the Earth Caught Fire still packs a punch.

You're not a bad guy, you know. You're just not a very good one.

Matchstick Men (2003)
(SPOILERS) Conning the conman has a lot of going for it as a premise. An enormous amount, if you’re David Mamet. Unfortunately, Sir Ridley Scott (he was plain Ridders prior to 2003) is no Mamet, and neither are screenwriters Ted and Nicholas Griffin. Ted’s Ocean’s 11 remake, curiously, had pretty much the reverse issue of Matchstick Men. There, there were never any real obstacles in the way of the crew making their score (none they couldn’t produce a rabbit out of a hat to resolve). That didn’t matter too much though, as you were in it for a breezy, good-time heist. Here, we’re told how skilled Nicolas Cage’s Roy Waller is at the con, but he spends the entire movie succumbing to the schemes of those around him. He’s everybody’s dupe, which makes the picture, on revisit, quite wearing.

I think I was a dog in a previous life. In fact, I know I was.

Good Time (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Safdie Brothers, Ben and Josh, have been anointed the apostles of NYC grime, and duly acclaimed for their grit and verve. Good Time has made studios sit up and take notice, such that they have a 48 Hrs remake on their cards (what to do when Hollywood comes calling? Retreat from indie originality into the safety net of the unnecessary remake). I can’t say I much cared for it, however. It’s a technically proficient exercise but also an empty one.

I say we can, he says we can’t ― there, you’re caught up.

The Post (2017)

(SPOILERS) The Post might be Steven Spielberg’s most prestige-lite filmmaking endeavour yet, a tick-box exercise that doesn’t do a whole lot wrong (until the last twenty minutes, at any rate), but feels like it has no true reason to be, and no real inspiration behind it (other than the evident boy-with-his-trains thrill of showing the workings of a good old-fashioned printing floor). Spielberg can churn these worthy, earnest based-on-real-events tales out, and they’ve been his bread and butter in fishing for critical and peer approval since the mid-80s, but they’ve only served to underline a mind that prioritises sentimental moralising over insight, and spoon-feeding, and the entertainer’s instinct, over nuance and shading (Bradley Whitford said of the director, “There’s a collision of showmanship with material that could otherwise be very preachy and dry”; the dry part I can buy).

Which isn’t to say he doesn’t often get it nearly right, or produce very competent, easil…

And tell me, how would you feel if you'd been dead a day and a half, and somebody brought you more bad news?

Freejack
(1992)
(SPOILERS) No, I won’t be making out that Freejack is an unfairly maligned, hidden classic or that it deserves cult status. It’s a movie I’d hazard got a greenlight off the back of the promise of sci-fi action with a dash of the cerebral, à la Total Recall (right down to a co-screenplay credit for Ronald Shusett) but stumbles resoundingly in both areas. Indeed, even its premise is only one-part good, such that Netflix’s forthcoming Altered Carbon, boasting a not dissimilar mind transfer conceit, is wisely not going with the daftly depicted time-travel element. Consequently, Freejack was rightly trashed on its release. Does it have anything to recommend it, then? Well…

You can’t be in England and not know the test score!

The Lady Vanishes (1938)
(SPOILERS) Alfred Hitchcock’s penultimate UK-based picture, The Lady Vanishes can be comfortably paired with The 39 Steps as a co-progenitor of his larkier suspense formula (watch these two and then jump to North by Northwest and the through line is immediately obvious). Part of its great blessing is Hitchcock being handed a screenplay by Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, latterly directors themselves, and knowing to make the most of the very funny dialogue, including arguably the picture’s greatest gift (well, other than Hitch himself): Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne as ultimate English cricket enthusiasts – to the exclusion of all else – Charters and Caldicott.

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Say hello to a super piglet.

Okja (2017)
(SPOILERS) I’d avoided Okja until now, mainly because, while I enjoyed Snowpiercer up to a point, I found its on-the-nose political allegory borderline excruciating. And that was quite beside the absence of internal logic in respect of its premise. Okja promised more of the same, and indeed, Bong Joon-ho’s hammer-to-crack-a-nut approach is entirely less than endearing, such that I was frequently prone to wishing a fate worse than sausages on the adorably titular GM porker and be done with her.

This place sure isn’t like that one in Austria.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Brawl in Cell Block 99 is most definitely cut from the same cloth as writer-director-co-composer Craig S Zahler’s previous flick Bone Tomahawk: an inexorable, slow-burn suspenser that works equally well as a character drama. That is, when it isn’t revelling in sporadic bursts of ultraviolence, including a finale in a close-quartered pit of hell. If there’s nothing quite as repellent as that scene in Bone Tomahawk, it’s never less than evident that this self-professedchild of Fangoria” loves his grue. He also appears to have a predilection for, to use his own phraseology, less politically correct content.

No, by the sky demon! I say no!

Doctor Who The Pirate Planet
I doubt Pennant Roberts, popular as he undoubtedly was with the cast, was anyone’s idea of a great Doctor Who director. Introduced to the show by Philip Hinchliffe – a rare less-than-sterling move – he made a classic story on paper (The Face of Evil) just pretty good, and proceeded to translate Robert Holmes’ satirical The Sun Makers merely functionally. When he returned to the show during the ‘80s, he was responsible for two entirely notorious productions, in qualitative terms. But The Pirate Planet is the story where his slipshod, rickety, make-do approach actually works… most of the time (look at the surviving footage of Shada, where there are long passages of straight narrative, and it’s evident Roberts wasn’t such a good fit). Douglas Adams script is so packed, both with plot and humour, that its energy is inbuilt; there’s no need to rely on a craftsman to imbue tension or pace. There is a caveat, of course: if your idea of Doctor Who requires a straig…

We look like you, but we're not like you.

All the Money in the World (2017)
(SPOILERS) Passionless Ridley Scott has been the most common Ridley Scott of the last two decades, a craftsman churning out technically proficient movies in little danger of lingering in the mind. He’s been at his best with more idiosyncratic subject matter (the Alien prequels, The Counsellor), although your mileage may vary on those, and at his worst churning out autopilot epics (Exodus: Gods and Kings). All the Money in the World comes in at the upper end of the solid but unremarkable scale, spurred on by several impressive performances, let down by an entirely unimpressive one, buoyed by a meaty story, reduced by the need to embellish it in the wrong – as in, unlike replacing Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer, in a manner where the joins show – way.

Get inside and lock your doors. Close your windows. There's something in the fog.

The Fog (1980)
(SPOILERS) The Fog has its fans, but I tend to concur with Carpenter’s acknowledgement of the movie’s issues; it represents his first serious stumble, lacking both the sure, driving pace of his previous horror classic and its sense of humour (despite a surfeit of in-jokes, mostly on the character name front). It’s a short movie, but one that never really hits its stride. What The Fog undoubtedly has going for it is superb, highly memorable and evocative photography from Dean Cundey (it’s no coincidence that, when he stopped working with the director, the latter’s days delivering the goods were numbered) and a memorable cast. Although, in the latter regard, it’s telling that there are far fewer distinguished players in the much more effective, structural near-remake of the overtly Lovecraftian Prince of Darkness seven years later.

How much would I weigh?

Lady Macbeth (2016)
(SPOILERS) Not being familiar with the source material, I’d wondered if the title of this adaptation of Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was intended to be in some way ironic. Alas not. Alice Birch’s screenplay hits most of the main plot beats of the source material while embellishing Lady Macbeth with themes of class and race, but the material is so wretched, so squalid, and also at points so contrived, only Florence Pugh’s performance offers a reason to persevere.

I don’t need to be held together, I’m fine just floating through space like Andy.

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond (2017)
Or, to give it its full subtitle, Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – The Story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman Featuring a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton. Carrey’s in a contradictory place just now, on the one hand espousing his commitment to a spiritual path and enlightened/ing state, on the other being sued in respect of his ex-girlfriend’s suicide and accompanying allegations regarding his behaviour. That behaviour – in a professional context – and his place of consciousness are the focus of Jim & Andy, and an oft-repeated mantra (great for motivational speeches) that “I learned that you can fail at what you don’t love, so you may as well do what you love. There’s really no choice to be made”. The results are consequently necessarily contradictory, but always fascinating.

You come to my office and you plant a fucking bomb?!

The Foreigner (2017)
(SPOILERS) If nothing else, The Foreigner proves Martin Campbell is still more than capable of handling the action rigours of another Bond movie (please, Eon get someone in who can focus on what’s essential, like killing bad guys with wanton relish). Unfortunately, his tail-between-his-legs six-year break from the big screen following the disastrously-received Green Lantern has been curtailed for a feature that only ever feels like two different ones spliced together, both of them beached from a different time. One is a mid-90s actioner in which a B-movie star attempts to flex their thespian muscles and doesn’t quite pull it off. The other, a nominally serious-minded post-Troubles picture that might have seemed more relevant a decade – or more – ago with its essentially pulp fiction version of Gerry Adams.

I was just thinking the only thing missing right now is a giant crocodile.

Prediction 2018 Box Office
If nobody knows anything, as William Goldman put it regarding the potential success or failure of a movie, my annual bash at guessing what may or may not do well at the year’s box office is as useful, or useless, as anyone else’s. There are definitely likely to be some major casualties this summer, with a glut of releases treading on each other’s toes for serious bank, but pulling out which ones will suffer is less clear. Even a picture Like Alita: Battle Angel, which looks at first glance as if it will go the way of Ghost in the Shell, may not be straightforward.
Movies that didn’t scrape into my Top 60, but shouldn’t be discounted are: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (I’m told the kids just love the show), Sicario 2: Soldado (although the original didn’t make that much), Escape Plan II: Hades (will decades old harassment allegations dint Sly’s box office – more to the point, does anyone want an Escape Plan sequel, one without Arnie and from the director of st…

Yes, cake is my weakness.

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)
(SPOILERS) Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle is good fun, and sometimes, that’s enough. It doesn’t break any new ground, and the establishing act is considerably better than the rather rote plotting and character development that follows, but Jake Kasdan’s semi-sequel more than justifies the decision to return to the stomping ground of the tepid 1995 original, a movie sold on its pixels, and is comfortably able to coast on the selling point of hormonal teenagers embodying grown adults.

This is by some distance Kasdan’s biggest movie, and he benefits considerably from Gyula Pados’s cinematography. Kasdan isn’t, I’d suggest, a natural with action set pieces, and the best sequences are clearly prevized ones he’d have little control over (a helicopter chase, most notably). I’m guessing Pados was brought aboard because of his work on Predators and the Maze Runners (although not the lusher first movie), and he lends the picture a suitably verdant veneer. Wh…