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Showing posts from December, 2018

I am here to see if tales of the extraordinary being are true.

23 to See in 2019
As I said of 2018's 21 to See, I don't necessarily expect everything that follows to be good, but it should at least be interesting; that’s ultimately why number one on this list is number one (given the hurdles it has to cross to satisfy). Last year's lot have had mixed fates, from languishing unreleased (The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, De Palma's Domino) to reshoots that rendered them not all that interesting actually (The Predator), to several that didn't result in a 2018 appearance, two of which I've returned to on this year's list (Serenity, Benedetta; the others were Alita: Battle Angel and Captive State) to "Who knows what will happen?" now Luc Besson's had various fingers pointed at him (Anna). And then there were the Netflix disappointments (Hold the Dark, Apostle, Mute). I've yet to see Can You Ever Forgive Me? and Destroyer, both of which have received good notices. Without further ado then…

If we don't drown, I'm gonna strangle you myself. I don't care how many exploding teeth you try to spit out at me.

Top 10 Films 2018
I don't usually do an annual Top Ten, mainly because I invariably catch up on many of the films that make my list in the subsequent six to twelve months. Nevertheless, here's the current incarnation, subject to considerable change. Included are movies that had their wide release in the UK during 2018, hence several of them may appear quite passé to US readers.

You have no animality.

Watership Down (2018)
(SPOILERS) To call the BBC's animated mini-series a travesty would be giving too much credit to its anaemic failure to capture the poetry, majesty and melancholy of Richard Adams' novel. It's simply inept, from the shockingly basic CGI animation – it's astonishing this was deemed acceptable for primetime broadcast, and likewise that the usually ostentatious Netflix should have attached its name to something so threadbare – to the underwhelming voice cast – evidence if it was needed that simply being a name actor doesn't necessarily mean your larynx is an instrument of lustre – to the pervasive lack of atmosphere and mood. That these resounding failures can't entirely ruin Watership Down is only down to the sheer quality of the source material, such that even in this sorry state the story engages.

I think we’re in china, so to speak.

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)
(SPOILERS) This 54-years-later sequel has to be admired for its dedication to replicating the look and flavour of the beloved Julie Andrews original, and it gets several elements very right – most importantly the recasting of the title role – but the side-effect of such devotion is that its comparative deficiencies are unflatteringly laid bare for all to see. Most particularly, the songs. They don't outright suck, but only one of them is remotely memorable, and you need them to be if you're to make the all-too wholesome medicine go down. The other biggie is Rob Marshall, the choreographer who rose to the status of sought-after Hollywood director while exhibiting negligible discernible talent in the field. He's certainly no Bob Fosse.

If you say you understand relativity, then I believe you understand relativity.

Insignificance  (1985)
(SPOILERS) Something of a high concept doodle, based on Terry Johnson's play, a "What if?" confection in which leading lights of their particular fields converging on a 1954 New York hotel. Johnson's intent was to draw attention to the disparity between these figures' public personas and their actual selves; Roeg's attraction to the material was on a more general level, a personal realisation that "Good God, nobody knows a damn thing about anyone". I'm not sure how successfully Insignificance actually gets to grips with that idea, and I'm not sure, despite the bits and pieces of expansion Roeg nurtures, that it ever really becomes more than a (very well filmed) play. Nevertheless, by virtue of the director's imprimatur, the picture still evidences the fascinating thematic and textural qualities explored throughout his career.

How many did you expect to make it back?

Journey’s End  (2017)
(SPOILERS) I can't say I was ever the greatest fan of the play Journey’s End (I wasn't and still am not of the remotest fan of the Doctor Who story of the same title), but not because I didn't recognise the quality of RC Sheriff's piece – even as a whatever-year-old. Rather, it was having to read it and reread it as a set text at school, its unremitting despair and hopelessness – even with the more overtly comic characters, which rather went to underline than relieve – surmounted any positives after a while. I was very glad never to have to set eyes on a copy once exams were over. And then it showed up in Withnail & I (it's the part Marwood has to cut his hair for) and like Withnail, I thought he must have been mad to take the part. But time can be a restorative, and thirty years later, the work's considerable merits are fully in evidence in Saul Dibb's film version.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Something something trident.

Aquaman (2018)
(SPOILERS) If Aquaman has a problem – although it actually has two – it’s the problem of the bloated blockbuster. There's just too much of it. And the more-more-more element eventual becomes wearing, even when most of that more-more-more is, on a scene-by-scene basis, terrifically executed. If there's one thing this movie proves above all else, it's that you can let director James Wan loose in any given sandpit and he’ll make an above-and-beyond castle out of it. Aquaman isn't a classic, but it isn’t for want of his trying.

One day you will speak and the jungle will listen.

Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle (2018)
(SPOILERS) The unloved and neglected Jungle Book movie that wasn't Disney’s, Jungle Book: Origins was originally pegged for a 2016 release, before being pushed to last year, then this, and then offloaded by Warner Bros onto Netflix. During which time the title changed to Mowgli: Tales from the Jungle Book, then Mowgli, and finally Mowgli: Legend of the Jungle. The assumption is usually that the loser out of vying projects – and going from competing with a near $1bn grossing box office titan to effectively straight-to-video is the definition of a loser – is by its nature inferior, but Andy Serkis' movie is a much more interesting, nuanced affair than the Disney flick, which tried to serve too many masters and floundered with a finale that saw Mowgli celebrated for scorching the jungle. And yes, it’s darker too. But not grimdarker.

A steed is not praised for its might, but for its thoroughbred qualities.

The Avengers Season 3 Ranked - Worst to Best
Season Three is where The Avengers settles into its best-known form – okay, The Grandeur that was Rome aside, there’s nothing really pushing it towards the eccentric heights it would reach in the Rigg era – in no small part due to the permanent partnering of Honor Blackman with Patrick Macnee. It may not be as polished as the subsequent incarnations, but it has the appeal of actively exploring its boundaries, and probably edges out Season Five in the rankings, which rather started to believe its own hype.

Don’t you break into like, a billion homes a year?

The Christmas Chronicles (2018)
(SPOILERS) Tis the season to be schmaltzy. Except, perhaps not as insufferably so as you might think. The Christmas Chronicles feels very much like a John Hughes production, which is appropriate since it's produced by Chris Columbus, who was given his start as a director by Hughes. Think Uncle Buck, but instead of John Candy improving his nieces and nephew's lives, you've got Kurt Russell's Santa Claus bringing good cheer to the kids of the Pierce household. The latter are an indifferent duo, but they key here is Santa, and Russell brings the movie that all important irrepressible spark and then some.

We can still think our own thoughts, like you said.

Leave No Trace (2018)
(SPOILERS) It would be easy to assume director Debra Granik has a thing for the wilds. Leave No Trace, adapted from Peter Rock's 2010 novel My Abandonment and set largely in the woods of Oregon and Washington, is her follow-up feature – doc Stray Dog came in between – to Best Picture Oscar nominated Winter's Bone. That was set in the Ozarks, and of course, brought Jennifer Lawrence into the limelight; this may not immediately do the same for Thomasin McKenzie, as hers is a less overt, attention-grabbing role, but she's no less of a discovery.

You counselled him and then he shot himself.

First Reformed (2017)
(SPOILERS) This uneven at best Roman Catholic – I know, it concerns a protestant church, but who are we trying to kid? – eco-guilt picture from Paul Schrader that has been hailed as his best in years, which it probably is, but these things are relative. Schrader has made, for the first hour or so, an engrossing study of faith, doubt and despair, but his choices after that, particularly during the last half hour, undo much of the effort.

It’s okay, Joe. It’s okay.

You Were Never Really Here (2017)
(SPOILERS) I haven't been fully on board with a Lynne Ramsey film since Morvern Callar, and I have a feeling that one would somewhat suffer from a revisit. Of course, there's only been one feature between that and this, 2011's We Need to Talk About Kevin, which evidenced in abundance her virtuoso filmmaking skills but left me less impressed by its horror/comedy impulses. There's a similar mutton-dressed-as-lamb quality to You Were Never Really Here; sterling lead performance, masterful direction, but in service of a screenplay that wouldn't be out of place in a Stallone movie.

Once you get a real taste of the bitch at work, there’s only one thing you’re gonna be able to see, and that’s fuel.

Only the Brave (2017)
(SPOILERS) This firefighter movie, based on the 2013 Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy (Only the Brave was originally called Granite Mountain, which is more memorable and much less generic than what we got) is a curiously ungainly affair. The main body of it, the "assemble the team, train the team" wouldn't look out of place in your averagely formulaic Jerry Bruckheimer flick, while the event itself is rather perfunctory, in the sense that it rather suddenly overtakes the men; there's little of the build-up that one might expect. Indeed, one wonders if the makers seriously considered the story's cinematic potential beforehand.