“My Son Is Out There Somewhere, And I Don’t Know What He’s Doing! I Don’t Know How To Help Him…”
Following on the early year release of the quite baffling Robert Zemeckis directed Welcome to Marwen, Steve Carell (The Big Short) returns once again to the big screen with Beautiful Boy, a low-key and rather delicate insight into the troubled family life of American journalist and author, David Sheff, whose 2008 memoir of the same name acts as the basis for a movie focusing on the central relationship between Carell’s Sheff and his young, overly troubled and drug addicted son as played by the breakout star of the past few years, Timothée Chalamet (Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name). Directed by Belgian filmmaker, Felix Van Groeningen, who also contributes to the screenplay alongside Lion screenwriter, Luke Davies, Beautiful Boy is a particularly somber cinematic glance into the effect of substance abuse and addiction, a film which although struggles to maintain a constant flow of greatness throughout its near two hour runtime due to some rather messy and dragged out pacing, succeeds in presenting a wide range of themes and ideas with a level of dramatic authenticity which makes the final product something both emotionally draining and cinematically fulfilling, and with a central acting duo with talent and chemistry to burn, Beautiful Boy is annoyingly just short of something rather excellent, but still highly impressive nonetheless.
Bouncing back and forth throughout the early life of Chalamet’s Nick across three main time periods, Beautiful Boy takes the nonlinear narrative approach in attempting to portray a boundless familial bond between father and son, with Carell’s David a well educated, respected and grounded caring family man who is completely bedazzled by a fundamental lack of understanding regarding his son’s reliance on a horrifying range of illegal substances when the world has seemingly been handed to him on a plate. Will Carell and Chalamet joyously bouncing off of each other with a level of acting which just breathes authenticity and has no problem whatsoever in attempting to construct a sense of realism, the differences in performance type also benefits the film as a whole, with Chalamet’s drug-fuelled transformation carrying the almighty stand-out heft seen before from other actors in the likes of films with tonal similarities such as Requiem for a Dream and Dallas Buyers Club, and Carell counteracting the extreme side of things with a nuanced, empathetic and quite understated performance which ranks up there with his best dramatic work since Foxcatcher. With an ocean-like cinematography, a really interesting soundtrack which blends indie guitar riffs with a jukebox soundtrack, allowing for one of the best scenes in which a teenage Nick bellows out “Territorial Pissings” alongside the radio, Beautiful Boy is indeed a really interesting two-sided character piece, which although does let itself down with a rather silly elongated runtime, works best in the dramatic sense by having that horrific sense of unease the most impressive works about substance abuse always need to include in order to really stick and make a lasting impression.
Overall Score: 7/10
TV Review: True Detective – Series Three Episode One and Two “”The Great War and Modern Memory” and “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”
“You Ever Been Some Place You Couldn’t Leave, You Couldn’t Stay, Both At The Same Time..?”
First hitting the small screen a whole five years ago now, HBO’s anthology flagship crime drama, True Detective, finally returns after a three year hiatus in which the critical and public divisiveness of the Colin Farrell/Vince Vaughn led second season threatened to derail the series into a complete dead end. Brought back from the dead by long-term showrunner Nic Pizzolatto, the third season of the American’s hotly anticipated series once again offers a fresh new cast, story and setting, this time led by the superbly talented and now Academy Award winning graces of Mahershala Ali (Moonlight, Luke Cage) in a bid to return to winning ways in the eyes of many, even when personally, Season Two really wasn’t anywhere near as bad as many people made it out to be. With the opening two episodes dropping at the same time, what a relief it is to say that True Detective wonderfully returns to the atmospheric eeriness of the acclaimed first series with an entire new complex mystery to work with, and whilst at times the similarities may seem a little bit too uncanny, Pizzolatto does ultimately know how to create a world filled with substance and depth and rightfully seems unfazed in being able to write what he believes is the right path for his series to take. Set across three separate time periods, Season Three sees Ali as Detective Wayne David Hays as he recollects the events of the so-called Purcell case and its’ impact within the years of 1980, 1990 and 2005, and with a familiar central setup to the first season, the storytelling delightfully jumps throughout each decade with enough space at a time to keep the tension building and the big questions rightfully unanswered.
With the 1980’s Hays coming across as a young, broke, cocky detective with recent memories of his part in the Vietnam war, where his nickname “Purple Hays” followed a reputation for his skills as a ruthless tracker and hunter, we are soon taken by the hand into the disappearance of the Purcell children, the son and daughter of Scoot McNairy’s (Gone Girl) Tom Purcell, a resident of the local Ozark community with a domestic-heavy marriage to his unfaithful and absent wife. With a familiar mystery-heavy setup in regards to the opening missing person search, it becomes abundantly clear quite quickly just how well True Detective manages to make even the most basic of storytelling matters so darn stylish and sharp, with the buildup of atmosphere and tension expertly handled thanks to some dark, brooding cinematography from Germain McMicking and a faint, eerie musical score featuring ghoulish howls, growls and the constant incision of a bass heavy heartbeat. Aided by Stephen Dorff’s (The Iceman) equally growling and rugged, Roland West, whose saddened expression at the death of Steve McQueen naturally indicates a lightened respect for the strong, silent type of hero, the investigation swiftly results in the discovery of death, supposed cult-inspired worshipping and the potential for the small-town community to quickly implode in a similar manner which made the likes of Twin Peaks and Broadchurch so utterly compelling, and with a clear tonal approach which focuses on the grounded, dirty realism of the events at play, the intrigue and desolation of the South immediately reminds you why the series is loved so much by so many.
As we move away from the 1980’s and into the year of 1990, we see a now desk-bound and family-tied Hays awkwardly the subject of a deposition after new evidence regarding the case comes to light, a particular narrative function which obviously pays homage to the show’s first series, whilst the latter day and now retired 2015 version of Hays sees him being interviewed for the aptly named show, “True Criminal”, led by Sarah Gadon’s (Enemy) educated television director. Whilst the 1990’s timeline supplies the intrigue from the central mystery sense, the 2015 timeline is undeniably the more crucial period regarding the series as a whole, with Hays’ penchant for memory loss forming a The Great Gatsby inspired notion of unreliable narration as we look back on events as they happen, a particular idea emphasised by startling moments of fourth-wall interaction and most crucially, the second episode cliffhanger in which an entire scene is intercut by a lone and confused Hays wandering the darkened streets in his nightwear. With the first two episodes directed by the rather excellent hand of Blue Ruin and Green Room director, Jeremy Saulnier, the tonal similarities between the American’s handling of the material and upcoming Bond director, Cary Joji Fukunaga’s, work on the original series, is equally as impressive and makes a case for why Saulnier doesn’t continue behind the character going forward, and with a clear subtext regarding the tension of race relations in an area dominated primarily by a white population, Season Three of True Detective begins in deep, intelligent fashion which demands a constant and keen eye throughout, and with Ali blessing the series with a trio of superb differing performances, HBO’s most conflicted televisual baby finds its’ mojo once again.
Overall Episode Score: 8.5/10
“I Was Beaten Up Because I Was Different, So I’ve Built A Place Where I Can Heal…”
Inspired by the life and artistic works of Mark Hogancamp, who in Kingston, New York on April 2000 was left with severe life changing injuries and little memory of his previous life after being the victim of a vicious and brutal hate crime, Welcome to Marwen takes inspiration from the 2010 documentary, Marwencol, from independent filmmaker, Jeff Malmberg, which focused on the titular 1/6 scale World War II-era model town embodied by a collection of handcrafted dolls all designed with an uncanny resemblance to Hogancamp himself, his close friends and his now incarcerated attackers. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) whose recent cinematic output has been somewhat rather patchy, with the likes of Allied and The Walk by no means reaching the lofty filmic heights the American is best known for, Welcome to Marwen blends a soppy, emotional drama with oddball digital effects for a movie which cannot decide whatsoever what it wants to be, resulting in a final picture that on the one hand does feel considerably admirable considering the heartbreaking true story sitting at the heart of the drama, yet on the other, does feel entirely misguided and just way too experimental for a picture that due to having Zemeckis’ name stamped all over it, will arrive with certain high expectations from critics and audiences alike.
Perhaps the best way to review Welcome to Marwen is to critique the movie in the two separate halves the film plays out against, with one half the grounded, real-life drama focusing on the life of Steve Carrell’s (The Big Short) Hogancamp set during the aftermath of his vicious assault, and the second half whereby Zemeckis returns to his well-known knack for digital effects with a particular narrative which sees the Hogancamp crafted dolls come to life and play out WWII style fantasies, all with on-the-nose modes of symbolism which mirror the horrors and fears of Hogancamp’s scarred mind. Whilst the approach is bold and the digital effects are impressive, blending a mix of Anomalisa inspired visual imagery with weird, off-beat action set pieces which seem to have fallen right out of the Team America textbook, Welcome to Marwen still fails to really have the desired impact the filmmakers were obviously intending, with the sensibility of the movie falling too heavy on the schmaltzy in regards to the true-life drama, even with yet another rather impressive dramatic lead performance from Carrell, whilst becoming more and more alienating and irritating each time we are dragged back to the world of the digital dolls, which even after the second time when the point becomes abundantly clear, just feels repetitive and come the end of it, rather quite pointless. With an over-exaggerated runtime, some sloppy and misjudged casting choices, with the awfully accented Gwendoline Christie (Star Wars: The Last Jedi) the prime example, and an overarching stench of sticky sentimentality, Welcome to Marwen is unfortunately the first ripe dud of the year. We expect better Zemeckis!
Overall Score: 4/10
“This Campaign Is About The Future. Not Rumors, Not Sleaze, And I Care About The Sanctity Of This Process, Whether You Do Or Not…”
In an era when scandal, rumour and sleaze is the hot topic bound to sell newspapers or boost twitter headlines to pretty much everyone in today’s knowledge obsessed society, even to those too embarrassed or tight lipped to admit to enjoying such nonsense, one could argue that The Front Runner follows on nicely from the likes of Colette and the hotly anticipated, Vice, by being a particularly timely piece of cinema which above everything, proves that the world we live in today will undoubtedly be trivialised and dramatised onto unaware younger audiences in the future who will look up to their parents and ask with readying intrigue; “did that really happen?” In the case of The Front Runner, a dramatic big screen portrayal of the infamous Gary Hart 1987 presidential campaign, the central events at the heart of the drama most definitely did occur, occupying a time in which a shift of political focus in regards to the purpose of the media created one of the most infamous and talked about character assassinations in recent history. Directed by Jason Reitman (Juno, Tully) and based on the 2014 novel, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid” by American journalist, Matt Bai, The Front Runner is an interesting yet flawed political drama which somewhat buckles under the pressure of too many talking points, but ultimately is saved by some swift, sharp dialogue and a Hugh Jackman on top dramatic form.
Working around a screenplay from the combined talents of Bai, Reitman and House of Cards supervisor, Jay Carson, The Front Runner on the face of it and from the point of view of the trailers pushes forward a movie with a central focus on the rise and fall of Jackman’s Hart, a charismatic, well spoken and most crucially, refreshing change of leadership for an American public all ready well versed in the ways and means of enormous political scandal. Set primary in 1987, Reitman’s movie follows very familiar genre conventions from the start, showcasing the inside of election campaign headquarters, creaky, sweaty coach rides and of course, the smokey haze of twentieth century media rooms which immediately evoked All The President’s Men and last year’s, The Post, in more ways than none, with the film feeling the need to add the likes of Ben Bradlee and Bob Woodward into the mix with no real purpose other than to solidify the obvious connection between all three movies. Whilst there is indeed scandal, late night photo opportunities and the usual immediate panic when the story first breaks out, The Front Runner is arguably more interesting when it focuses on the underlying notion of shifting allegiances from the point of view of the media, a particular idea in which the source material was wrapped around, with Bai himself stating his words acted as a scathing critique of his own industry, one which had shifted from a high level of professionalism to essentially being gossip-laden papers rags in order to appease those ultimately paying the money to keep the news rolling. Whilst the film also suffers from a wandering and conflicted portrayal of the central figure, with it never really having the balls to delve deep enough into the central scandal to paint Hart anything more than a symbol of ambiguity, Reitman’s latest has just about enough as a whole to hold its’ enormous weight together but still feels rather like a big opportunity slightly missed.
Overall Score: 6/10
“My Name Is Gabrielle Colette And The Hand That Holds The Pen Writes History…”
Touted as a rousing return to form for Keira Knightley after the critical massacre of Collateral Beauty, Colette, directed by British filmmaker, Wash Westmoreland, a Leeds-born artist most famous for the Academy Award winning drama, Still Alice, back in 2014, brings to the big screen the life of French writer and actress, Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, who at the beginning of the twentieth century and under the guise of her husband’s pen name, seemingly changed the face of French literature forever, bringing into the public eye a world of fascination and intrigue which even in the twenty first century still feels undoubtedly relevant and contemporary. For a movie which in one of its’ very opening scenes feels brave enough to contain a particularly scabrous monologue regarding the inability to leave the theatre even when what is occurring on stage is of a particularly awful pedigree, such a bookmark would be the easy fallback if Colette itself fell into the same category of mediocrity, yet with equally superb performances from central the pairing of Knightley and Dominic West (The Wire), beautiful set designs and a refreshing indifferent and laid back approach to the varying underlying themes within the narrative, Westmoreland’s latest is a fulfilling and gorgeously fascinating depiction of an historical icon and a movie which feels almost too timely considering the current societal climate.
Featuring a screenplay from the combined writing talents of Westmoreland himself, Rebecca Lenkiewicz (Ida) and Richard Glatzer, the previous spouse and collaborator of Westmoreland who tragically passed away back in 2015, Colette both embraces the traditions of a period drama piece with the expected levels of authenticity and attention to detail whilst also attempting to cripple the cliches attached to the genre with as much empowering and radical ideas as its’ leading heroine’s effect on the world of literature. With the humble beginnings of Knightley’s titular youthful country girl portraying her as a doe-eyed, slightly innocent dreamer, her character immediately becomes hooked under the spell of Dominic West’s growling, moustache bearing, Henry, a well regarded author and critic who utilises the pen name “Willy” in his Parisian homeland and who slowly begins to publish his wife’s tales of “Claudine” under his own name, resulting in sudden fame, fortune and rapturous acclaim. Whilst it could have been easy for Colette to jump on the #MeToo bandwagon in regards to film’s underlying theme regarding the exploitation of power in regards to gender, Westmoreland’s film refreshingly approaches such notions with expert delicacy, and whilst there are definite moments of dramatic female empowerment, the movie never felt preachy or sanctimonious, instead treating wandering sexual orientations and gender fluidity with a degree of nonchalance which really impressed. Whilst the film as a whole could have done with at least twenty minutes knocked off the final runtime, Colette is a movie which held a point, presented it magnificently and left you wondering where on earth the real Keira Knightley has been for the past however many years.
Overall Score: 7/10
“You’re Not Leaving, Are You, Stan? The Show Must Go On…”
Directed by Scottish filmmaker, Jon S. Baird, perhaps most famous for bringing Irvine Welsh’s scorchingly jet black comedy, Filth, to the big screen back in 2013, Stan and Ollie very much steps in the complete opposite direction, with Baird’s latest a surprisingly low key and slightly muted biographical drama focusing on the later lives of both Stanley Laurel and Oliver Hardy as played by Steve Coogan (Alan Partridge) and John C. Reilly (We Need To Talk About Kevin) respectively. Based on a screenplay from Jeff Pope who reunites with Coogan after their work together on the Bafta winning, Philomena, Baird’s latest primarily drops the audience into the tail end of the legendary comedy duos’ career, one previously stuffed with fame, fortune and rapturous critical plaudits but which has now seemingly fizzled out, resulting in the middle aged stars returning to the shores of the UK in order to secure the finances for a potential big screen project. With a central screenplay which chooses to rely primarily on the central relationship between the two stars, Stan and Ollie is a charming yet frustrating movie, one which works on the strength of its’ leading performers but ultimately feels significantly flat in its’ storytelling approach, resulting in a movie which fails to ever feel cinematic and would probably be better served on the small screen rather than in a multiplex where it may fail to garner significant audience interest.
With Pope’s screenplay relatively straightforward and simple, to the extent that the movie almost felt as if it could have been made in the era of its’ leading characters, the neutral sensibility of the movie does ultimately lack any real push, flash or energy to propel the movie into another gear, and in comparison to the likes of other biographical dramas which focus on central historical figures much less charismatic and well known than the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Baird’s movie does ultimately feel somewhat of a missed opportunity when examining the piece as a whole. Where the film does ultimately work however is in the strengths of particular building blocks which make up the final piece, with none more so than the central superbly cast pairing of Coogan and Reilly who embrace the sweaty, exhausting lifestyles of men attempting to revamp their careers after decades of excessive levels of fame. With Coogan slightly more reserved in his comedic output in comparison to his previous on-screen roles, the tender balance between himself and the prosthetics heavy Reilly relies on a level of substance and depth which is completely absent from any other character relationships within the movie, particularly that of the criminally wasted female characters including the wonderful Shirley Henderson. With the best parts of the movie undoubtedly the pair’s reenactment of particular famous Laurel and Hardy sketches, it goes without saying that when a film seems stretched even with a ninety minute runtime, something seems to have been lost in translation, but with the beaming smiles of Coogan and Reilly to help you through to the end, Stan and Ollie is good enough, just not as spectacular and memorable as its’ central iconic subjects.
Overall Score: 6/10
“As It Turns Out, I’m Capable Of Much Unpleasantness…”
With one of the weirdest, oddball and critically acclaimed back catalogues in recent history, Greek filmmaker, Yorgos Lanthimos, returns to the world of cinema once again after the success of 2017’s excellent, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, with The Favourite, an award touted period drama which reunites the director with Olivia Colman (Broadchurch) after their work together on 2015’s equally baffling, The Lobster. Based on a screenplay from Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, Lanthimos’ movie sees Colman as Queen Anne, a reclusive and emotionally unstable British ruler at the beginning of the 18th century who has come to rely on the charm and power of Rachel Weisz’s (My Cousin Rachel) Sarah Churchill, her abiding and secretive confidant who has grasped the true power of the monarch whilst the Queen procrastinates with luxurious pastimes in order to make the days go by. In the midst of wartime discussions and power struggles however, Anne is suddenly mesmerised by the recent acquisition of Emma Stone’s (La La Land) lady-turned-servant, Abigail Hill, who takes no time whatsoever in attempting to creep into the ear of the Queen herself, resulting in the creation of a vicious and violent rift between herself and the steely gaze of Churchill who takes no pleasure in watching her power over the Queen slowly drift way.
With Lanthimos throughout his career failing to ever be plastered with the term, predictable, The Favourite primarily relies on the preposterousness of the central drama to differentiate itself from just another period piece, with the slightly off-kilter and bizarre tone which the Greek’s films are renowned for immediately sending alarm bells to those audiences heading in unaware of the works of Lanthimos or expecting a cinematic equivalent to Netflix’s, The Crown, but for those well versed in the ways and means of a filmmaker who knows how to cultivate such oddities to perfection, the absurdity of the piece ultimately suits the overarching sensibility of a film bound to raise discussion. With the three pronged central performances from Colman, Stone and Weisz all absolutely top notch, the central conflicting duplicity between all involved immediately brought to mind the likes of My Cousin Rachel, with Weisz essentially portraying a very similar counterpart to her role in such a film albeit with less ambiguity, whilst Colman superbly manages to balance on the one hand a primarily fool-type role which is undoubtedly played for laughs for the majority of the film, and on the other, a person riddled with conflict, mental health issues and an abundance of loss and grief, a notion personified by the over-reliance on rabbits which are kept closely within her chambers. With one of the most subversive, surreal and simply baffling conclusions to a movie I can remember seeing for a significant amount of time, Lanthimos’ movie is by no means his trip into the conventional, with The Favourite managing to retain the darkened edge the Greek has become accustomed to but too a movie which brings home a triage of powerhouse performances which deserves the plaudits which have been raining down upon them.
Overall Score: 8/10
Best Films of 2018: 10-1
With murderous extraterrestrials, art-house horror remakes and purple megalomaniacal super villains, 2018 has indeed been an eclectic mix of cinematic pleasures, and with independant, low-key and low budget releases once again toeing the line with the biggest of Hollywood blockbusters, the boldest and best from the past twelve months is finally put into the most definitive list you’ll see this year, at least on this website. With 20-11 of the best in film from the past twelve months already revealed, please take the time to admire the top ten cinematic releases of the year below according to Black Ribbon, a blog, which of course, is always the best place to come for movie reviews. On we go…
10. Mission:Impossible – Fallout
With the Mission: Impossible franchise one of those rare cases where each subsequent release seems to be better than its’ predecessor, aside from John Woo’s attempt perhaps, Fallout pushed the series to levels of excellence many couldn’t believe was possible, and with the stunts more extreme, the screenplay increasingly barmy and Henry Cavill doing that muscle pump thing during one of the most impressive set pieces of the year, the sixth installment in the ongoing Cruise-led franchise was the summer action movie to end all summer action movies. With an almost two and a half hour runtime, subsequent viewings failed to reduce the enjoyment factor of a film which more than anything bloated out loud, “hey, Mr. Bond. Think you can beat me?” Good luck.
Whilst renowned for his skill as a politically savvy and outspoken filmmaker, Spike Lee seemed to have disappeared into the ether of the unknown after the release of Inside Man back in 2006, but with BlackKklansman, the American undoubtedly returned to the top of his game. Based upon the memoir of the same name by Ron Stallworth, Lee’s scorchingly entertaining crime drama managed to embed the familiar outspoken cries of injustice within one of the best screenplays of the year, and with the likes of Adam Driver, Laura Harrier and John David Washington all deserving of rapturous plaudits in an acting sense, BlackKklansman proves that when given the opportunity to be at his best, Spike Lee continues to be a valuable asset to the world of cinema.
8. Avengers: Infinity War
With ten years of buildup behind it, Avengers: Infinity War undoubtedly had a planet’s worth of anticipation and hype surrounding its’ release, but thanks to the keen eye and skill of the Russo brothers, what a delirious and devastating blockbuster Infinity War ultimately was. Featuring a galaxy of well developed superheroes, a central genocidal and conflicted purple villain and one of the most iconic final acts in the history of comic based cinema, the biggest MCU movie so far was also the darkest and most complex, a cinematic landmark which featured a genuine case of expert fan service where although many were fully aware of the final endgame (massive pun intended), the ride in getting there was simply spectacular to behold. The question now remains whether the second half next year can continue the incredibly high bar set. We await anxiously…
7. You Were Never Really Here
Scottish director, Lynne Ramsay, doesn’t exactly pop films out as often as many would like, but each and every time she does, they seem to be absolute stone cold classics. Following on from the brutal desperation of We Need To Talk About Kevin, You Were Never Really Here, based on Jonathan Ames’ novel of the same name, was a movie of equal toughness and intrigue, a Taxi Driver esque vision of one man plagued with inner turmoil and regret and set all amidst the backdrop of a narrative seething with notions of revenge and redemption. With Joaquin Phoenix bringing home one of the most powerhouse leading performances of the year and featuring a riveting synthesiser-heavy musical score from Jonny Greenwood, Ramsay’s latest superbly blended style with substance for a movie which demanded eyes were not taken off it at any time.
Whilst it was inevitable that anyone who attempted to re-imagine and dissect the ancient texts of Dario Argento’s 1977 classic, Suspiria, were always going to be the subject of much heated discussion, Luca Guadagnino’s complete turnover of one of horror cinema’s most iconic pictures was ironically in some ways much more intriguing and art-house in its’ creation than the Argento original. Whilst a fan of the original Suspiria, it was never a movie which managed to embrace me in ways which many horror fans claim it could do, yet with the 2018 version, Guadagnino’s vision was everything I hoped it would be, a dark, twisted, hallucinatory nightmare with some superb central performances and an absolutely brilliant debut score from Thom Yorke. Suspiria is undoubtedly not for everyone, but for me, it really, really worked.
5. Phantom Thread
Reuniting with Paul Thomas Anderson for his self-proclaimed final on-screen role, Daniel Day-Lewis picked one of the strangest and most richly intriguing characters in his entire career to potentially bow out on within Phantom Thread, a gloriously oddball period drama with a touch of Hitchcock, a major slice of Daphne du Maurier and featuring a duo of excellent supporting performances from Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville. Boasting the second Jonny Greenwood led score in the top ten alone, Anderson’s movie may not have been as splashy and exuberant as There Will Be Blood or have the dramatic epic sweep of Magnolia, but like any naturally talented filmmaker, Phantom Thread, was undoubtedly a movie in which Anderson made sure breathed a life of its’ own, resulting in one of the most expertly articulated movies of the decade, let alone the past year.
4. A Quiet Place
Just wait a second, that curly haired chap from The Office has managed to do what? That’s right you self-righteous cynics, John Krasinski beefed up, grew a beard and married Emily Blunt in order to make A Quiet Place, and whilst the latter of those statements might not exactly be one hundred percent true, the American’s third directorial feature was without question a real pleasant surprise, a fist-pumping, riotously entertaining creature feature with scares aplenty and the most impressive runtime I can remember in recent history. With Krasinski teaming up with life partner, Mary Poppins, for their first live action movie as a married couple, A Quiet Place managed to succeed in completing one of the hardest challenges in modern society by keeping its’ audience absolutely stone cold silent from beginning to end, and with a screenplay riddled with tension and genuine threat, it’s not really that hard to see why.
Coined by one critic as the “this generation’s The Exorcist“, Ari Aster’s directorial debut burst onto the cinema screen with a rather sizeable horror hype train behind it, and even with the most open of minds heading in, nobody in the world could have prepared me for one of the most terrifying and genuinely unnerving cinematic experiences I have ever had the pleasure to sit through thanks to the groundbreaking brilliance of Hereditary. With startling twists, a ominous and lingering sense of dread throughout and one of the most impressive horror genre lead performances in recent history from a radically different Toni Collette, Aster’s movie balanced genre literary homage with his own wicked, nightmarish touch which even on repeat viewings manages to successfully leave you hoping the days take a little while longer to end before disappearing into the darkness of night. The ultimate Christmas movie. Sort of.
2. Lady Bird
With Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig used her own personal experiences of growing up within the culturally radical confines of Sacramento, California as the basis for a simply perfect coming-of-age comedic drama featuring the rather brilliant Saoirse Ronan as the titular troubled angst-fuelled teen. With a short and sweet ninety minute runtime, Gerwig successfully managed to bring to life a depiction of a family in crisis which reeked with authenticity, and by blending in a rafter of themes and genuine moments of laugh out loud comedy and romance, Lady Bird is one of the most impressive John Hughes inspired portraits of youth in recent history which sets Gerwig off to her directorial career with a real corker.
1. A Star Is Born
For a film which acts the third remake of one of the most well worn, age-old tales in Hollywood, A Star is Born, the directorial debut of the annoyingly talented, Bradley Cooper, just happened to be a full blown cinematic masterpiece, an emotionally draining and expertly devised portrayal of one of the most convincing on-screen romances of the 21st century which deservedly is already being touted as the big hitter heading into next year’s Academy Awards. With Cooper and the completely unrecognisable Lady Gaga offering outstanding central performances, every element of A Star is Born was made with absolute perfection, ranging from the smokey, sweaty cinematography to the absolutely brilliant soundtrack, and with a heartbreaking conclusion which made even the sternest of audience members wipe a tear from their eye, Cooper’s opening account into his filmmaking career is undoubtedly Black Ribbon’s film of the year.
Next Time: Looking Forward to 2019 in Film
Worst Films of 2018
Another cinematic year brings with it another twelve months in which the good is always swiftly followed by the utterly awful, and with CGI sharks, woefully played creepy fiends and yet another re-imagining of a legendary British hero, 2018 has indeed been rife of absolute stinkers. Whilst once again we’ve managed to go through an entire year without leaving the cinema into the free air of mother Earth, at times such an alternative option has felt agonisingly close, and with quite a few rotten apples to sift through, we at Black Ribbon have managed to narrow it down to ten tales of cinematic woe. Feel free to dive in below…
10. Mortal Engines
With the mastermind of fantasy cinema, Peter Jackson, well and truly behind the project and a promise of adventurous world building and an abundance of spectacle, what an absolute let down Mortal Engines ultimately was, a flat, unbelievably dull and cliched steam-punk vision of a futureworld which matched Gods of Egypt for acting levels and made the likes of Valerian and Jupiter Ascending look like the Citizen Kane of science fiction cinema in retrospect. A start of a new franchise, I think not, and judging by the turgid time it has suffered at the box office, Mortal Engines doesn’t exactly manage to pull past first gear.
9. Life of the Party
The first of two movies on this list featuring the agonisingly awful comedic “talent” of Melissa McCarthy, Life of the Party was described as a movie which at least managed to capture that sense of awkward family reunions by being a film which no-one in their right mind really wants to admit to having enjoyed, let alone be a part of. With stale comedic quips and implausible plot twists, it’s fair to say that McCarthy has still failed to redeem herself out of the bad books of Black Ribbon, with Life of the Party not going anywhere near attempting to rectify that.
8. Maze Runner: The Death Cure
Winning the award for most amount of shark jumping set pieces in just one two hour film, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, the final installment in the overly dull Hunger Games rip off, young adult science fiction franchise, was stated to suffer primarily from a wavering and uncertain narrative amidst an inclusion of characters which not only come across as the epitome of one dimensional, but seem to be characters so underdeveloped and dull that any of them could have been plucked from the set of either Hunger Games or Divergent without any of the other cast entirely noticing or caring. At least the one saving grace regarding The Death Cure is that the YA movement within the cinematic platform seems to finally be over. Result!
7. Slender Man
With the fundamental creepiness of the character of Slender Man something which could haved indeed be worked around to create an entertaining and crowd-pleasing horror flick, what an agonising leap of desperation the first big-screen adaptation of the lanky, suit wearing murderer really was. Described as “utter pants” in our initial review, Slender Man was seen to have its’ fair share of meaningless cattle-prod scares, awful dialogue and wacky dream sequences, and with a complete absence of empathy for the leading cast who conform unsurprisingly to the a-typical horror movie cannon fodder, the film ultimately became a boring waiting game for the arrival of the titular villain but was more likely to send even the most active of audience members swiftly to sleep. Plus, the use of Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” wins the year’s award for strangest musical selection.
6. The Meg
Look, everyone knew that a film revolving around a central narrative plot point regarding Jason Statham fighting an enormous extinct shark was never going to be The Godfather, and with this in mind, I truly went into The Meg expecting to be fulfilled in ways that only the best B-movie pictures somehow manage to do. What a staggering disappointment therefore to report that The Meg was neither entertaining or fulfilling, with a strange 12A rating threshold to stay within the biggest let down as Statham’s movie instead came across as let’s face it, woefully dull and tame beyond belief. With terrible acting, shocking dialogue and Statham not exactly having the opportunity to be at his bruising best, The Meg deserves to be hated due to it being an opportunity well and truly wasted.
5. Robin Hood
With Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword one of the strangest re-imaginings of the famous British hero in the entirety of cinematic history, one couldn’t have dreamed that within the space of twelve months a film would come along that not only seems to be inspired by Ritchie’s movie, but is undoubtedly so much worse in every single aspect. Of all the famous myths and legends, another version of Robin Hood was something of which was never really needed, and even with a solid cast featuring the likes of Taron Egerton and Ben Mendelsohn, Otto Bathurst’s big screen directorial debut was agonisingly terrible from beginning to end, blending terrible dialogue with a strange, uneven stylistic approach for an end product which made you wish for the dodgy accent of Russell Crowe.
4. Mary Magdalene
Sometimes it just goes to show that in the world of cinema, you can so, so easily go from hero to zero in the space of just a few simple and meaningful hours, and in the case of Joaquin Phoenix, how does an actor drop from levels of excellence within You Were Never Really Here to being absolutely snore inducingly awful in Mary Magdalene, the latest feature from Lion director, Garth Davis. Whilst it may be harsh to judge Mary Magdalene as a whole due to falling asleep for approximately half of its’ runtime, Davis’ movie at least goes down as the holy grail for suffers of insomnia with a simply awful screenplay, insufferable pacing and an almost immediate need to re-watch Monty Python in order to see a film much more cohesive and religiously educational.
3. The 15:17 to Paris
Whilst there is no denying that the central heroic act at the heart of The 15:17 to Paris, the latest from cinematic legend, Clint Eastwood, was something just short of a genuine miracle, the big screen adaptation of the failed terrorist attack failed to live up to similar levels of excellence and ended up being a film which, let’s face it, was rather painful to endure. With Eastwood choosing to allow the real heroes to play themselves throughout the course of the drama, it’s fair to say that acting is something of which none of the central heroes could safely add to their respective CV’s, and with a jaded, wavering screenplay and a full on ninety minutes in which absolutely nothing at all happens, The 15:17 to Paris was an overly dull and quite baffling experience to say the least.
Combining the natural acting chops of Helen Mirren and the directorial skills of The Spierig Brothers, Winchester, was paved even from the trailer as a particularly creaky horror flick, yet after the success of Predestination and the knowledge that even Mirren can sometimes find the gold nugget amidst the dirt, expectations for Winchester were somewhat reasonably high. Unfortunately, what an absolute load of hogwash the movie turned out to be, a unintentionally hilarious broken down ghost train of a movie with zero scares, zero levels of tension and featuring the most jaw dropping statement of the year when the mess on screen was supposedly based on some sort of genuine event. In the words of our orange haired friend across the pond; FAKE NEWS!
1. The Happytime Murders
Another year, another Melissa McCarthy led cinematic nightmare to endure and amongst the most turgid, the most painful and the most absolute horrendous to have sat through within the course of the past twelve months, The Happytime Murders wins by a country mile. Attempting to blend Team America style humour with the universally loved image of The Muppets, Brian Henson managed to dangle his goolies on the legacy of his father’s company with a film so awful and retrograde, along with Gods of Egypt, was the closest I have ever come to walking out of the cinema. Whilst those aged between ten and fourteen may find some of the movie funny, the fact that such an age group were restricted from seeing the movie in the cinema in the first place made The Happytime Murders an absolute box office bomb, resulting in being safe in the knowledge that audiences stayed away from Henson’s movie in their absolute droves. Thank heavens for that.
Next Time: Best Films of the Year – Part Two
Best Films of 2018: 20-11
Mixing together just under one hundred and fifty films over the course of 2018, the first part of our list for the best of the best from the past twelve months is finally here, splicing together spectacular sequels, Netflix produced works of wonder and gorgeous B-movie splatter-fests for a rather interesting catalogue of cinematic endeavours. Whilst it is always hard to pick between so many films over the course of a whole year, below is numbers 20-11 for those which have really stood out above the rest, beginning with…
Based on Lynda La Plante’s television series of the same name, Widows seemed to be one of the ultimate Hollywood team-ups, with 12 Years a Slave director, Steve McQueen, utilising the writing talents of Gone Girl author, Gillian Flynn, for a heist drama which although featured familiar genre-literate notions, was high on style and boasted a catalogue of outstanding performances from the ensemble cast, with Viola Davis and Daniel Kaluuya the standout stars of the show. Featuring a couple of technically savvy set pieces and some interesting plot twists, Widows won’t exactly set the world on fire in a similar vein to McQueen’s previous Oscar winning work, but it sure is a fine example of expert storytelling and filmmaking at its most naturally observed.
19. Ghost Stories
Based upon the 2010 stage play of the same name from the directing double act of Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, Ghost Stories is in some way a horror fan’s dream, a part portmanteau, full blooded ghost train of a movie which features alarmingly well orchestrated creepy set pieces and a central screenplay with enough twists and turns to keep you hooked until the very last shot. Featuring the talented British chops of Paul Whitehouse and Martin Freeman, Ghost Stories revels in playing with set genre conventions to appease even the most delicate of horror fans, and with some genuinely disturbing imagery and some clever, hidden asides which generate an immediate need for subsequent viewings, Ghost Stories is the kind of movie which shows that with a decent script and enough dedication, even the most low-budget of movies can be frighteningly effective.
18. Creed II
Following a very familiar pattern to the origins of the entire Rocky franchise, Creed II echoed the successes of Rocky II by being a sequel to a critically acclaimed predecessor which managed to more than effectively hold its’ own and further develop characters and plot points beautifully set up in the opening chapter. With Ryan Coogler stepping down from directorial duties after his success with 2016’s Creed, Steven Caple Jr. took hold of the reigns of a movie which revelled in the opportunity to reunite old foes whilst adding an unexpected layer of depth and substance, something of which was genuinely unexpected within a movie full to the brim with expertly orchestrated central fight sequences which managed to make you feel every punch, every single round. If this is indeed the end of Stallone’s time as one of cinema’s most iconic roles, what a superb way to bow out.
When it was announced that Ex Machina director, Alex Garland, failed to make a deal with cinemas in the UK regarding the release of his latest endeavour, many, myself included, were left with a gnawing sense of disappointment, yet thanks to the power of Netflix, Annihilation on the small screen was still a riveting, mind bending experience, a film which followed familiar themes to that of previous Garland led works but undoubtedly was the first to dream so big. With beautiful cinematography, startling imagery and a screenplay which balanced elements of full blooded horror with science fiction, the one real shame regarding Garland’s latest was ultimately the complete absence of witnessing it upon the big screen where it undoubtedly belonged.
16. Molly’s Game
The first film of 2018 still holds firm against the many which came after it, with Aaron Sorkin’s directorial debut in the form of Molly’s Game a thoroughly entertaining and expertly written biographical crime drama based on the memoir from the high stakes poker princess, Molly Bloom. With the always brilliant, Jessica Chastain, really at the top of her respective game with a simply stunning and charismatic central performance, the transition from behind the typewriter to behind the camera seemed to come annoyingly easy for a filmmaker who just knows how to perfect interesting and character driven screenplays whether it be in the halls of the White House or at the table of a multi-million dollar poker game.
15. Sicario 2: Soldado
When the first murmurs of a sequel to Denis Villeneuve’s superb, Sicario, began to surface, an immediate dangling thread of trepidation began to fill my mind, particularly when it was announced that Villeneuve himself wasn’t set to be involved in a directorial sense, and whilst Soldado didn’t exactly hit the heights of its’ predecessor, what a huge relief to see that it instead was a movie which at least dared to come close. Directed by Italian filmmaker, Stefano Sollima, the second installment in a proposed trilogy of movies all written by the interesting, Taylor Sheridan, featured crisp cinematography, a brooding musical accompaniment and two central angst-ridden performances from the macho pairing of Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro, but alas, the most redeeming aspect of Soldado was its ability to pay homage to the mastery of its’ predecessor without in any way spoiling its’ legacy.
14. First Man
With Whiplash and La La Land both examples of modern cinematic masterpieces, director, Damien Chazelle, continued his excellent start to his career with First Man, a poignant, intriguing drama in which Chazelle decided to take to the stars for a feature in which constant companion, Ryan Gosling, continued the blossoming bromance between the two with a superbly restrained portrayal of the one and only Neil Armstrong. Reuniting with the superb band of Oscar winning filmmakers including Justin Hurwitz and the editing sensation of Tom Cross, Chazelle’s latest may not have hit the lofty standards of his previous two masterpieces but First Man is still a resounding, heartbreaking success with an added Claire Foy. Everything should have a Claire Foy.
On first watch, Alfonso Cuarón’s chromatic, low-key drama seemed lifeless, yet on second viewing, what a devastating and beautiful picture Roma ultimately was. Given complete control by Netflix, Cuarón returned to his native Mexico for the first time since the start of the twenty first century for a project quoted as his most personal yet, and with the Mexican involved in pretty much every single aspect of its’ creation from editing to cinematography, Roma was just that, a technically astute and simply gorgeous epic sweep of a drama made with a soon-to-be Academy Award winning pedigree which thanks to the power and pull of Netflix can be watched anytime, anywhere right now. What are you waiting for?
12. Black Panther
After the success of both Fruitvale Station and Creed, American filmmaker, Ryan Coogler, was always destined for enormous exposure, and with his handling of Black Panther, Coogler created one of the most iconic and exciting superhero movies ever, let alone in its’ own respective franchise. Combining the powerhouse performers of Chadwick Boseman and long-term Coogler favourite, Michael B. Jordan, Black Panther felt like a blockbusting blend of James Bond style action and fantasy cinema world building and with a predominantly black cast at its’ core, Coogler’s movie was as radical as it was genuinely entertaining.
Let’s face it, any film featuring a neon fuelled colour pallette, an overly dangerous chainsaw duel and Nicolas Cage drinking an entire bottle of vodka in just one take was always going to win rapturous plaudits, yet the real success of Panos Cosmatos’ second feature is in its’ absolute love of the genre in which it undoubtedly sits. With Cage once again bringing that hilariously crazed Nicolas Cage performance the American is renowned for to the big screen in a movie worthy of his unquestionable talents, Mandy was half hallucinatory nightmare, half B-movie revenge flick and with some hilarious outlandish set pieces and wonderfully odd imagery, Cosmatos’ latest was one of the most unexpected cinematic pleasures of the entire year.