“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
“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
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.
Next Time: Worst Films of 2018
“Bumblebee, Our War Rages On. You Must Protect Earth, And Its People…”
With Transformers: The Last Knight undoubtedly holding the title for one of the worst films in recent cinematic history last year, the thought of having to endure yet another entry in the undying Hasbro based franchise heading into the last few weeks of the year harnessed a similar reaction to being handed a large straw bag of coal for Christmas after anticipating something much more useful and entertaining. Extravagant similes aside, heading into Bumblebee after being made aware that no longer were the awful directorial mittens of Michael Bay actually attached to the project, with the American killer of contemporary cinema reduced to a slight producing role, my expectations were somehow slightly raised in anticipation of a movie which just might get the subject matter bang on for the very first time in just over the course of an entire decade. Directed by the BAFTA winning Travis Knight, a filmmaker famous for his works on animation, with the excellent Kubo and the Two Strings acting as the American’s official directorial debut, it comes as no surprise that Bumblebee is undoubtedly the first film in the Transformers franchise to actively be of any good, with it being a character driven, effects heavy coming-of-age science fiction adventure which scrapes the pallet clean of the woe which came before it and offers up a thoroughly entertaining and engaging end of year blockbuster. Yes that’s right, I got weepy at a Transformers movie.
Of the many plus points, the primary concern of Bumblebee clearly settles on an intention to go with a completely alternative filmic sensibility to the previous entries in the franchise, with the painful epileptic editing, jokes about statutory rape and fascination with up skirt camera shots thankfully no more in favour of a film with a central narrative both enjoyable and crucially, family friendly. Along with proving just how awful a filmmaker Michael Bay has turned out to be, Knight’s movie understands the notion and impact of character depth, with Hailee Steinfield’s (The Edge of Seventeen) central music obsessed teen, Charlie Watson, beaming with levels of effective characterisation unseen previously within the franchise within the first five minutes of the movie. With the CGI superbly noticeable due to the film’s somewhat low-key approach in comparison to previous ventures, the relationship between Charlie and the cutesy titular robot in disguise is undoubtedly the most impressive aspect of the movie, with laugh out loud comedic set pieces and charming interactions resulting in a central partnership which brings to mind the likes of E.T and at times, Big Hero 6. With a crowd pleasing era-based musical jukebox featuring the likes of Tears for Fears, Simple Minds and a continual riff regarding The Smiths, Knight’s movie is a surprisingly accessible and charming Transformers adventure, a movie with so much to like even with a rather cliched central plot, yet the most crucial aspect of Bumblebee is that it is a movie which sets a precedent and platform for potential future films in the franchise by clearly signalling to everyone involved; THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE A MOVIE IN THE RIGHT WAY. Please take note.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We Are Alone. No Matter What They Tell You, We Women Are Always Alone…”
Returning to the world of cinema for the first time since 2013’s award winning science fiction extravaganza, Gravity, Alfonso Cuarón becomes the latest big name director to fall into the laps of Netflix with Roma, the self-defined most personal project yet for the Academy Award winning Mexican and a film which brings with it an abundance of hype and critical acclaim, with it already in Oscar contention after being put forward for Mexico’s choice for Best Foreign Language film in time for next year’s ceremony. With Cuarón stating the film is partially inspired by his own upbringing in Mexico City, his decision to produce, write, edit and provide the cinematography undeniably backs up the notion of the Mexican’s personal attachment to the project, and with a completely unknown cast to work with, Roma is a relatively simplistic but achingly beautiful work of cinematic art which on first view seemed misguided but on second felt completely wondrous. With the likes of Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men in his back pocket, it’s understandable that many audiences will head into Roma expecting similar levels of world building epicness, but with Cuarón choosing to return to his native Mexico for the first time since 2001’s, Y Tu Mamá También, Roma is a film which revels in its’ own sense of scale in its’ own, alternative ways as it works its’ way through a naturalistic yet dramatic central narrative in a way which for some may seem utterly wasted but for most is a truly impressive and unforgettable work of cinema.
Primarily walking through the events of the movie through the eyes of Yalitza Aparicio’s, Cleo, a hard-working and loyal maid residing in the household of Marina de Tavira’s, Sofia, Roma is a low-key, familial, almost soap-esque drama wrapped in the blankets of a modern day epic, one which manages to sift through a wide range of ideas and themes in its’ two hour runtime even when ninety percent of the film consists of deep contemplation and a tendency for mood rather than heavy plot exposition. With Cuarón utilising the character of Cleo to not only bear witness to her own trials and tribulations but that of the wider historical context too, a harrowing re-staging of the Corpus Christi massacre and the aftermath of deadly earthquakes potentially poke a hole into the life of a once young Cuarón, and with a central theme running through the entirety of the movie like a vicious spike through the heart regarding the weakness of man and particularly, man’s inability to take control in the face of responsibility, it’s fair to say that Roma more than anything seems to be an avenue for the Mexican to speak out against his view on fatherhood and potentially the rather negative light he saw such a crucial role when growing up on the streets of Mexico City. Aided by a catalogue of understated yet brilliant central performances from the army of seemingly professional unknowns and amateurs, lead actress, Yalitza Aparicio, is simply stunning in conveying the many emotional highs and lows her character rides through and whilst the film is based around a screenplay in which very little is said, characters are developed through other, minimal means, with each delicately individual and defined within the backdrop of a production which oozes with a stunning level of authenticity which makes every single camera frame feel believable and heartfelt.
Speaking of the camera, with Cuarón deciding to hire himself as the film’s director of photography, one may envision a slight touch of trepidation regarding the film’s handling of the cinematography, particularly when Cuarón has worked previously with the spellbinding talent of the various Academy Award winning Emmanuel Lubezki, but like any natural artist, Cuarón not only seems to have picked up tips from his various previous DP’s throughout his career, but has managed to somehow equal such mastery with a simply gorgeous visual experience, one which blends stunning wide vistas ranging from woodland plains to the crashing of Moonlight inspired oceans, all sat within the forefront of a genuinely staggering chromatic filter. With the film moving from small, delicate insights to set pieces of epic proportions, including a central riot scene which immediately brought to mind the likes of Zulu or even The Dark Knight Rises, Cuarón’s favoured and most obvious trick within the movie is the axle spin, with the camera at times wandering on a natural tilt as it follows characters and actions with a strange sense of invasion, and whilst the movie at times suffers from a resounding sense of being too on the nose regarding Cuarón’s technical ability as a filmmaker, a particular weakness which sometimes outshines the flow of the very basic narrative, Roma gets away with it by being simply too beautiful to argue with. With the runtime spectacularly long for such a simplistic idea, there is an undeniable sense that maybe Cuarón should have left the editing to someone else, with a few too many lingering character shots and a bizarre David Lynch, Twin Peaks inspired scene not exactly aiding the runtime or the overarching point of the movie, but as a body of cinema, Roma is a film much like Moonlight in the sense that on first viewing may feel wholly disappointing and somewhat nonexistent, but like any true decent work of art, does not leave your mind and it was only on second viewing did I understand the minimalistic and personal nature of Cuarón’s most ambitious movie to date, a film which blossoms with technical nuance and one which come the end of it, will leave you in an emotional wreck.
Overall Score: 8/10
“My Father Was A Lighthouse Keeper. My Mother Was A Queen. But Life Has A Way Of Bringing People Together. They Made Me What I Am…”
With Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad and the morbidly depressing, Justice League, all successfully topping the charts for the worst contemporary examples of the superhero genre over the course of the past couple of years, the release of Aquaman ironically ends a twelve month period in which the Marvel Cinematic Universe has undoubtedly solidified itself as the most impressive and respected comic-based franchise ever, which in the process of doing so, effectively ends any chance for their DC Comics counterpart to pull themselves out from the gaping black hole created from their woefully inadequate skills at creating a similarly interesting universe. Aside from Wonder Woman and the first half of Man of Steel, even the most optimistic of DC fanboys must admit Warner Bros in general has ultimately failed in giving the fans what they want, but with every subsequent release there is always a rare ray of hope, and with the release of Aquaman, directed by James Wan, the interesting mind behind the likes of Saw, The Conjuring and most crucially, Furious 7, the DC universe finally has a movie which knows not to take itself too seriously and embrace the notion that when people go to the cinema, they generally want to be entertained. Whilst not exactly reaching the heights of Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman or even Man of Steel, Wan’s movie is a partial step in the right direction for the DC universe, an absurdly bonkers aquatic adventure with a central hero who not only is likeable but actually looks like he is having a blast, and for someone who has sat through the likes of Batman vs. Superman, what a relief it is to see the franchise move out of the morbidly depressing and into some sort of optimistic light.
Completely disregarding the overriding sensibility of the universe in which it sits by choosing to utilise a lighter, more welcoming tone which feels more in the ilk of Marvel than any release previously, Aquaman is a film which undoubtedly knows how fundamentally silly the source material truly is, and with shots of a drum playing octopus and armoured sea horses, Wan chooses to embrace the absurdity rather than fall into the trap of the Snyder-led ventures which have attempted to follow the route of Nolan when making the as of yet not bettered, The Dark Knight trilogy. With Momoa pretty much perfectly cast in a role oozing with charisma and charm, the Hawaiian’s physically imposing persona and likeable rockabilly style makes him alongside Gal Gadot, one of the more memorable leading performers in the franchise thus far, and with some interesting supporting performances from the likes of Nicole Kidman, (Lion) Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man) and long term Wan counterpart, Patrick Wilson (The Conjuring), the only real minor blimp in terms of the acting slate is Amber Heard (The Danish Girl) whose role as the central love interest is rather underdeveloped and overly two dimensional. With a storytelling technique much simpler than previous entries within the universe and some interesting action scenes when Momoa’s physicality is utilised in a practical sense, the overriding downside is undoubtedly the over-reliance on CGI which makes up a huge percentage of the film’s action, but with the film overall miles head of the worst the DCEU has come to offer, Aquaman is enjoyable enough to be sort of heading in the right direction for a franchise that still falls behind its’ Marvel equivalent by quite a fair margin.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Sixty Minutes Is All It Took To Bring Humanity To The Very Brink Of Extinction. Mankind Mobilized, A New Age Arose…”
Executively produced and partially written by the mastermind of fantasy cinema, Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings), Mortal Engines, the debut big screen release from long-time Jackson collaborator, Christian Rivers, acts as a live-action adaptation of the 2001 book of the same name from the series of novels, The Mortal Engines Quartet, from English author Philip Reeve. With Jackson purchasing the rights to Reeve’s award winning novels all the way back in 2009, the nine year production process finally pays dividends this week, offering the chance for audiences both privy to the novels and those completely unaware of Reeve’s written world to breathe in the supposed beginning of yet another groundbreaking science fiction franchise, and with the added incentive of Jackson’s central involvement in the project something to particularly savour after his successes in the decade plus Middle Earth based filmography, what seriously could go wrong? Shockingly, pretty much everything, with Rivers’ debut unfortunately an overly messy, unnecessary complicated and spectacularly dull adventure spectacle which substitutes basic and effective storytelling for a plethora of digital effects within a movie which once again proves how difficult it can be to transfer particular stories from paper onto the big screen.
Suffering from the infamous Dune complex, which in other news is set to be once again revisited by the second best director working at the moment, Denis Villeneuve, very. very soon, Mortal Engines opens by describing a seemingly post-apocalyptic futureworld in which societies are now based upon huge, mechanical mobile machines, and even when the reasoning for such a dramatic shift isn’t really explained to an effective extent to fully latch on aboard with straight away, such an opening is only the start of the varying issues at the heart of a movie which dreams big but ultimately falls into a two hours plus cinematic nightmare. With a central storyline which does manage to feel like a blended hybrid between the works of Frank Herbert, Tolkien and Star Wars, Rivers attempts to bring the Mad Max sensibility of the central landscape at the heart of the novels from paper to screen doesn’t work whatsoever, with an over-reliance on CGI rather distracting and painfully bland to view upon the big screen, a particularly strange weakness when the technology has worked so well on previous ventures of a similar nature. With the always reliable Hugo Weaving (Lord of the Rings) well and truly chewing the scenery in the eyebrow raising central antagonist role, the film’s best element is undoubtedly Hera Hilmar (The Fifth Estate) as the film’s primary hero, a scarred, vengeful wasteland dweller who is unfortunately completely let down by her Han Solo rip-off of a love interest as played by Robert Sheehan (Mute) who seems to have fallen off the set of Gods of Egypt thanks to some truly awful, cringe-laden acting abilities which threatens to derail the movie as soon as he appears on screen. With a final act so obviously yet another contemporary take on the attack on the Death Star, one particular narrative twist did indeed make me bark out loud in laughter due to its’ sheer absurdity, and with another three books potentially in place to be developed, the opening chapter of Jackson’s latest adventure franchise begins in completely the wrong gear.
Overall Score: 3/10
“My Name Is Miles Morales. I’m The One And Only Spider-Man. At Least That’s What I Thought…”
With the superhero genre reaching some sort of unprecedented cinematic peak in 2018 with the likes of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in particular reminding that even in a climate stuffed with familiar tales of heroism, there are still many tales left to be told, the last month of the year has reserved just a few more before returning once again with a new handful of highly anticipated releases come 2019. Produced by the successful American pairing of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the first of two big comic releases this month is of course, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, a barmy and maniacal addition into its’ respective genre which continues the recent success of the pair’s ventures into animation after the likes of the rather excellent The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, with a movie which utilises the versatile figure of Marvel’s web-slinging cash cow for a dazzlingly designed superhero adventure which attempts to offer something slightly different to the same old comic-based routine many of us are well and truly used to. With a gorgeously orchestrated animated design and some snappy comedic dialogue, Into the Spider-Verse is an entertaining if slightly functional Marvel addition, offering some of the best visual splendour available this year but suffering ever so heavily from an overstretched running time which does unfortunately begin to test the patience as it ticks just under the two hour mark.
With an overly familiar Lord/Miller tongue-in-cheek sensibility running through the central core of the film, Into the Spider-Verse begins by poking fun at the varying cliches attached to the superhero genre, particularly in regards to the many origin-based stories and similar cinematic developments of Spider-Man himself since the turn of the twentieth century, and with a clear understanding that many in the audience will undoubtedly be comic obsessives themselves, the snappy dialogue and in-house running gags prove effective, even when the core storyline does strangely end up falling right into the familiar superhero plot devices the script finds joy in making fun out of. With the central appeal of the movie hanging on two key factors, the first of which being the jerky, stylised animation which more than ever before seems to be a direct three dimensional transition of the comics from paper to screen, and the second of course being the chance to see radically different versions of the Spider-Man character all appear together on-screen in order to combat the central threat of the larger than life, Wilson Fisk, the question remains whether such selling points actually benefit the movie as a whole or are simply nothing more than cinematic gimmicks. In the case of the animation, a high proportion of it is indeed spectacular to behold on the big screen, with sweeping, soaring wide screen views of an animated New York really quite breathtaking, but as the movie moves into its’ predictable climax, the overreliance on stuffy, messy and maniacal splashes of pixelated colour brings the film on par with Teen Titans! Go To The Movies in terms of the headache inducing pain your eyes endure before the credits ultimately roll, but with a stellar supporting voice cast including the likes of Hailee Steinfield, (True Grit) Nicholas Cage, (Mandy) and Mahershala Ali (Moonlight), Into the Spider-Verse is an entertaining, if flawed, sugar rush of a movie with enough to like to counteract the migraine you may obtain after watching it.