Mortal Engines (2018)

I’m still entirely unsure how I felt about this to be honest. I’m kind of glad I’ve seen it, but I never need to see it again. For one thing, the characters were all incredibly dull (and there was a lot of them), most of the characters have no chance of being remembered as great YA movie characters in years to come. Tbh I can barely remember their names. There’s two possible exceptions: Hester (not, as I thought, Esther) has a definitive look and backstory which at the very least means you remember her. I get the feeling she was better developed in the book, and they cut a lot out to fit the film. I mean, her character backstory is well developed, but her non-flashback character is kind of bland and not there. There’s another character called Shrike (who I thought was called Shrek until just now) who is a great character, but is disposed of far too easily. He has a heartbreaking backstory hinted at, and could easily be a bigger part of it. I think that’s my issue with this film, it goes through about 3 films worth of concepts in one, but doesn’t really flesh out any of them.

It’s also far too long. This would be fine if it didn’t feel so long, yet so much of the time in this is wasted with stuff that ultimately means nothing. Even Shrike, great character that he is, only seems to exist in the story as a way to move the characters on. That’s all he seems to do for a lot of it, turn up, the characters move, he turns up again, the characters move again. In some senses he’s not a character, he’s a plot device.

Tonally the film is a bit all over the place, random references to masturbation are followed by deaths. It takes itself far too seriously a lot of the time, as such it’s just, well it’s not very fun. It’s a film about moving cities, at the very least it should be fun to watch. I mean, it’s GREAT to look at. Props to everyone involved for the designs of the places themselves. The trouble with a lot of films similar to this is there’s so much CGI that everything looks super clean, buildings end up looking like pieces from video games. In this everything looks REAL. You look around at the background and see decaying buildings, wear and tear on machinery etc. THAT’S the art of great set design, creating little imperfections can make a world seem perfect. Similar to that, the world design is fantastic, there’s a LOT of lore and world history to unpack here. Although I do have to point out one thing very early on that annoyed me: they imply that people using phones and computers caused them to forgot how to read. Have you been on the internet lately? It’s 50% people getting your/you’re mixed up, and 50% people shaming the first group of people. Also, don’t criticise something for “dumbing people down” when you’re a dystopian YA movie that makes references to Minions.

So yeah, see this at the cinema, maybe watch it at home if you’ve got a big enough TV to take it all in, but it’s hard to recommend that you watch this for any reason other than the scenery. 10/10 would play a video game of this though.

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Creed II (2018)

I’ll start off by saying this film is incredibly predictable. From the trailer you can probably guess every single plot point in this film, you know how it’s going to end before the film even starts. You know what though? It doesn’t matter. This film is so greatly done that you get completely invested in it even though it’s predictable. The other downside: visually it’s only ever okay. This would be fine if the first Creed film wasn’t one of the best looking boxing films ever made. The way the first film approached some of the fights was a true masterclass in film-making, it made you feel like you were in there with them and you felt every single hit. This…..doesn’t do that. I mean, the fights are shot well and they look good, but there is a noticeable drop in quality between the fights in this one, and the fights in the first one. There’s no stand-out fights here in terms of technical brilliance.

Other than that small niggle, this film is great. It’s so good it retroactively makes Rocky IV better by giving more emotional depth to Drago.  That’s something this film does very well; creates believable bad guys. You know exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’re the heroes of their own story, and you can easily imagine them being the protagonists of another film. It managed to turn a cartoonish villain into a 3-dimensional one, and for that it definitely deserves applause. The Drago’s are also responsible for a surprisingly poignant moment near the end where (spoilers) Ivan Drago’s wife (and Viktor Drago’s mother) realises Viktor is going to lose the fight, and walks out the building with her new husband so she’s not associated with them. At that point you see Ivan’s heart break and he realises what he’s become, so throws in the towel to stop the fight. It’s not quite enough to make him a good guy, but throughout the film it’s hard to say they’re definitively bad guys either. It’s not just their performance though, Michael B Jordan plays Creed like a slightly cocky shit, but one with intense emotional conflict. There’s a moment here where his character says something to Rocky, and the way Michael plays the character, you can tell that he regrets what he said, but is too proud to apologise or go back on it, so he has to go further and dig himself deeper. This all takes place in a second and is done just by facial performance, it’s a masterpiece to see and is one of the best acting moments I’ve seen this year. Tessa Thompson is also great in this, with her character being given far more to do than she was in the first film. In that she was almost 2-dimensional to the point where if she wasn’t in this it wouldn’t be considered a massive loss. But she is essential to this film, her character is the anchor to Creed, the one holding him to earth, stopping him from spiralling out of control. She has earned her place in Rocky lore, pretty brilliant.

Stallone too brings his A-game, still recognisable as Rocky, but no longer the great boxer. His character has developed brilliantly across the last two films, and it’s great he’s not a “I still got it” character. The character knows his boxing career is in the past, and it’s now his job to pass the torch onto someone else (like Stallone himself is doing with these films).

So yeah that’s this film, if you hated the first film, this won’t change your mind. If you loved the first one, there’s a very good chance you’ll like this too. Well worth watching, anytime a film can be predictable yet still provide enough emotion to bring tears to your eyes is worth watching.

Ralph Breaks The Internet (2018)

I enjoyed the first movie, it was fun, heartwarming, smart, and funny. It was done by people who had an obvious love for video games, specifically arcade and retro ones. This one……doesn’t really work, for many reasons. Firstly, it kind of feels like a generic movie, not a Wreck It Ralph sequel. The first movie doesn’t seem to come into play much here, it’s not a natural progression and feels like it could have been written featuring any characters. There are moments which are specifically these characters, but they are few and far between. There’s no reason for this to be a sequel, and not just a random film.

It also seems like it’s written by completely different people, it doesn’t have any of the natural wit of the first film. Too many of the jokes veer into “this is a thing, we are referencing the thing, now laugh!” territory. There are some funny moments but they’re few and far between. This wouldn’t matter as much if the script was engaging, but it’s not. It’s incredibly bland, I was actually bored many times throughout this. When it approached what I thought could be an ending I was actually disappointed to be proven wrong. There’s an entire subplot about characters from the first movie starting a family which takes up a grand total of about 3 minutes of screentime. It’s kind of strange as you can tell the film was aiming to be emotionally heavy, and that would have been a good subplot to cut to to relieve tension and provide juxtaposition.

Now onto the positive; this looks SUPERB. Every frame is packed with detail, made with both attention and affection. And there are some genuinely funny and laugh out loud moments which remind you of why you loved the first film. The voice acting also has to be mentioned. Everybody is at the top of their game here, even those who only provide a few short lines completely nail it.

Now onto the best part of the film, and for me the only reason to watch it: the Disney princesses. I now want a Disney Princess action movie. The scenes with them in are incredibly funny, smart, and just all-round brilliant. If the entire film was like that I’d say it was better than the first one. As it is, it’s more like The Emoji Movie. And that’s never a good thing.

Assassination Nation (2018)

I was really looking forward to this. It looked like a slick, sleek, violent piece of film-making with a social message. Yeah, that didn’t pan out for me. For one thing, it’s INCREDIBLY slow. It takes about 45 minutes to get going. There’s some setting up the plot, but waaaaay too much, a lot of it is unnecessary. There’s plot points in the opening where bad things happen to people, who then aren’t really referenced again. Really, most of the opening hour could have been condensed into about 15 minutes. The closing section is good though; chaotic, inspiring, and so slick it’s brilliant. It just doesn’t match the rest of the film, the entire film is building up to that section, and it’s that section which has been heavily focused on in the advertising.

I think it’s not helped by the directing. You know how Zack Snyder films are often shot like comic books, with no thought to shot construction and film language? This is similar,  it’s shot like a music video, and not in a good way. It does the “turn the camera upside down as a character walks away” shot a bit too often, and at moments where it doesn’t really work. There are also waaaay too many montages which don’t really add anything. Most of them are just “here’s people” and that’s it. There are also weird editing choices where they cut between scenes in a really jarring manner, where holding on certain characters would have worked better. And an oddly high amount of split screen between characters which don’t really work and are WAY too music video to admire.

The film doesn’t even have anything important to say about humanity, all it seems to say is “people can be dicks”. That’s it. Nothing more than that. Now onto the characters. They don’t really have much definition, they’re incredibly similar, which considering all the build up they had isn’t a good sign. Most of the characters are incredibly 2-dimensional. I mean, for a group of teenage girls to include a trans character is great to see though (even more so when they’re played by an actual trans person), and that does lead to a weirdly progressive moment where a group of jock assholes attempt to lynch the character, and they shout out “string her up”. They correctly gendered her! So if you don’t do that, you’re now worse than someone who lynches people. I never thought “they yelled the correct thing when preparing to lynch someone, yay” would be something I would say, but here we are.

I do have to say though; the closing section is superb. It’s violent and vengeful and fun. It looks fantastic and it’s incredibly cathartic. I just really wish the rest of the film matched it. It just feels a bit….unpolished. The trigger warning montage at the start is pretty genius though it has to be said. Like I said, it has great ideas, just doesn’t seem like it knows what to do with them.

Widows (2018)

I’ve been looking forward to this since I first heard about it. I mean, look at it:

  • Directed by Steve McQueen
  • Stars Viola Davis, Liam Neeson, Daniel Kaluuya.
  • Written by Gillian Flynn.
  • Great story.

So I’ve been following this film for a while, I didn’t bother looking for a trailer as I already knew I wanted to see it (and for some reason the trailer wasn’t played at local cinema), so I went in not sure what to expect exactly, but I knew it would be good.

And it is good. That’s the problem, it’s just “good”. It’s not great, it’s not impressive, it’s just good. I mean, it’s solid, and it’s great from a technical and performance standpoint, It’s just not a great heist movie. Heist movies should, at their very core, be fun. There should be either an air of complete chaos, or the feeling that everything is so tightly interwoven that if one thing changed, everything collapsed. This has none of that. The heist itself never really feels in jeopardy. You never really feel like it’s not going to succeed, this would be forgivable if there was joy in seeing it happen, but there’s non of that either. It happens, but it’s not a great set-piece when it does happen. There’s no art to the scene itself and it feels….hollow.

Actually the entire film feels like that, there’s no emotional resonance to it. Also, it’s way too long. It’s over 2 hours long and there’s a lot of fluff. There’s a “twist” in it which seems to only exist to give someone more screen time and to surprise the audience, if you cut it out it wouldn’t really effect the story that much. Actually there’s a lot here that adds nothing to the plot.

Now onto the good: the performances are superb. Daniel Kaluuya is so convincing as a complete monster that you begin to suspect he might be one in real life, but nope, acting! Viola Davis does most of the films emotional heavy lifting, and when it doesn’t work it’s not because of her, her part in them can’t be faulted. And Elizabeth Debicki plays her part like her character is a flower made of iron.

The directing: it’s okay. There’s no shots that will really stick in your mind in a positive way. There’s a particularly weird scene where they film a car journey by placing a static camera on the front and pointing it slightly to the side so you see what they’re driving past, but you can’t see the people who are talking. It’s kind of weird as it detracts from the dialogue. It’s like it was done just to be a good shot, without any thought of the storytelling language of shot construction.

I don’t get it as McQueen is usually REALLY good at emotional storytelling and shot construction, and in this he seems to have slightly wilted at both.

So yeah, it’s hard to recommend this film, watch it when it’s shown on ITV next Christmas.

I Kill Giants (2018)

I had only read one review of this. It gave it 1 out 5 and called it a bloated mess that lacked any heart. That review is wrong and I shan’t link to it. This is lovely and the main character is one of the best I’ve seen all year. She’s not a likeable character to Sophia (a random English girl who has moved there), but when she’s responding to the bullies or the psychiatrist, you can’t help but root for her. Also incredibly funny. To the point where I will randomly insert her lines throughout this review.

“Do you think spitting on people is funny?”

“not haha funny but existentially yes”

I really really liked this film. It warmed my old cynical heart in a way that not enough films do. It reminded me of some of my favourite kids films of the last few years. It had the magic warm feeling that The BFG gave, the emotional depth of Pixar, the wit of The Lego Batman Movie, mixed with the darkness of A Monster Calls.

“The real problems are giants. Total dicks”

I should mention now that this film is VERY reminscient of A Monster Calls. If you saw that (and if you didn’t, wtf is wrong with you? It’s amazing) and liked it, you’ll like this. This is a film aimed at a younger audience, but it has enough heart and cleverness to it that it will stick with you even if you’re an adult.

“would you describe your job as worthless or utterly pointless?”

I suppose I should now mention the performances. Anybody who has read this for a while knows that I was a massive fan of Madison Wolfe’s performance in The Conjuring 2. I thought she was the best part in that movie, elevating the entire film. It’s the same here. In that film she elevated an ok film to a good one, in this she elevates a very good film to a great one. Someone less talented would have made her quirky character slightly annoying, yet she manages to give the character just enough vulnerability that even in her strongest moments you feel for her. The other performances are good, but overshadowed by her somewhat. Although it has to be said that Rory Jackson is great as Taylor too, she makes the character so hateful you relish seeing her get her comeuppance.

So in summary; see this film. It’s on netflix right now (if you’re in the UK at least) and is well worth your time, no matter what snooty reviewers say. It also gave me my favourite quote of the year.

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Journeyman (2018)

I was excited but nervous about this film. The last film by Paddy Considine I watched was Tyrannosaur, and that was a hard watch, in the best possible way. That film starts with a dog being kicked to death and then only gets more depressing from then on in. This is similar but not as depressing. This is not an easy watch, this is not a cosy watch you can snuggle down and watch with loved ones. This is not a film you can drift in and out of to cheer yourself up. This is a film you need to set out time to watch, turn off all distractions (your cat can go without food for the duration). It’s a film you don’t just watch, you WATCH. It draws you in to the world it’s created and grips you tightly, not letting you go for the duration. I think it’s time we realise that Paddy Considine is a REALLY good writer. He’s never going to be tasked with writing a Marvel film, but he’s definitely got the talent needed to write the best possible episode of Black Mirror.

The way he writes the characters is great, they seem fully fleshed out and all have their own motivations and desires. He starts the movie as champion, boxing movie tradition dictates the story goes like this: he loses the first match. Every boxing movie would start like that. This goes double for this if you know what the story is; it’s about a boxer who suffers a severe injury that debilitates him severely. Nope, he wins the first fight, but collapses that night when he’s at home. This is kind of genius. Most films of this ilk only show ring damage. We as an audience assume that if they survive the fight, they’re safe, that the worst is over. This does a great job of showing the reality, that that’s not the case. Most films, you’ll be lucky if a concussion is still affecting them later on, let alone showing delayed damage like this does. Even before he collapses you see the damage, not so much in the way he looks (cuts and bruises etc), but in the way he moves. He moves like every single inch of him hurts, like just walking causes him immense pain.

That’s just one example of how Considine’s performance is great. There’s so many subtle tics and nuances that make his performance great. It says something that he shares the film with the actress who now plays The Doctor, but he still steals the show. It would be so easy for his performance to border on comical, but the way he does it is heartbreaking.

Now onto the bad; my main issue with this film (and the only bit where I was concerned I wouldn’t like it); the fight scenes themselves. It is possible I’ve been spoilt by films like Creed, which feature some of the best fight scenes ever filmed. Meanwhile the ones in this, whilst serviceable, just don’t seem enough. When the punches land you don’t often feel them (with one noticeable exception), you don’t feel like they’re too damaging. That’s really a minor flaw in the film, and shouldn’t detract from the personal story that this tells. This may not show the best movie boxing, but it’s the best boxing-related movie I’ve seen in a long time. It’s like a British version of The Wrestler, and everybody who has seen that knows why that’s very high praise.

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

I’m not buying the Cloverfield series. The connections between them are all too vague. It would have been better if they gave them all completely different titles and then let the audience decide whether they were connected in the same universe or not. But to outright state they’re connected but then fail to actually do enough to connect them seems like a massive waste. At this point you can point to any movie which is a bit weird and has monsters/aliens and say “That’s a Cloverfield movie too” You can’t just say “parallel universes” and think that’s enough. It seems like a cop out. Like it’s a way for them to use the name of the first one to drive up sales for the one. This wasn’t written as a Cloverfield movie originally, and it shows. That’s my issue with it, if it was originally written as one, then the script would have done more to connect them.

It kind of taints the first film. The first one is one of my favourite films I’ve seen, none of the (I guess) sequels, match up. If you read people talking about it, most people who mention this film and the best moments talk about the 2 second bit at the very end where the Cloverfield monster (a bigger version of the one from the first movie) rises up through the clouds and destroys a spaceship (which wasn’t warned by ground control about the massive fucking aliens currently destroying the earth). If when you make a film people only talk about a 2 second sequence at the very end as being amazing, you’ve fucked up the film.

The performances can’t be faulted, at all. Gugu Mbatha-Raw gives the kind of performance which makes you think if she had the right script she’d definitely win a BAFTA. Daniel Bruhl is REALLY fucking good. He’s quickly becoming one of my favourite actors to see perform in a film, he’s just dying out for an action franchise to lead I think. It also looks superb, Julius Onah really knows what he’s doing, he knows how to visually create scares and tension. Would genuinely love to see him tackle a full-on horror movie. So to sum up; a very good movie, but a terrible Cloverfield movie.

Ideal Home (2018)

I knew nothing about this film. Never saw it marketed, which considering how marketable a name Paul Rudd is right now (Particularly because of Ant-Man) I found that puzzling. Almost like this film was one that was shuffled out embarrassingly by the studios. Add to the fact it’s a story about a gay couple, which is a story cinema still has issues with telling in some of the more oppressive and backward parts of the world (Iran, Saudi Arabia, America. Yeah I said it, come fight me bro), left me with a big cause for concern. I was particularly worried that this film would just be full of gay stereotypes, that the leads would be doing the kind of performance that is best left in the awful and horribly dark days of the 90’s. There are moments where Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd to go a bit too stereotypical, but those moments are fleeting, other than that the characters are pretty much just like every other character the two of them play. They actually have surprisingly good chemistry, to the point where I really want to see Steve Coogan in a Marvel film (him as a villain in the next Ant-Man movie would be incredible to see).

That’s not the only way this film subverts expectations. There’s not that much homophobia in it. It’s a film where a gay couple look after a troubled youth. It would be expected for there to be a moment where another character says “those guys are dirty fags” and the kid gets annoyed and punches them in defence of his new dads. The closest you get to that is another kid saying to him “you have two dads?” “I guess so”. There’s a moment where Steve Coogan visits his son in prison (the kid they’re looking after is his Grandson from his straight phase). It’s shown they have an incredibly strained relationship, and the son has a history of awful behaviour (drugs, stealing from prostitutes etc) and has a foul mouth. So when Coogan’s character says “Paul is my male companion, and has been for 10 years. Do you have a problem with that?”, you expect tension. But nope, the son just says “no” and that’s it. It’s beautiful how nothing that moment is.

This isn’t really a film about sexuality, it’s a film about parenting. And a pretty damn sweet one. I knew I was hooked when the kid was handed back to his dad, and the dad was drink driving and nearly falling asleep with the kid in the car. When that part happened I messaged someone “this film better not go where I think it’s going”. I was genuinely invested in these characters.

So I would recommend seeing this. Maybe don’t buy it on day of release, but if you get a chance to watch it, take it. You won’t regret it. I mean, it gave us this quote:

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Slaughterhouse Rulez (2018)

I was really looking forward to this. It looked like schlocky b-movie fun. I didn’t expect it to be a great movie, but I expected it to be entertaining as hell, the kind of film that reminds you of a video game in the way it’s done. I was sort of disappointed by it. It’s not frantic enough, it’s too slow burning to start with. This would be forgivable if the carnage it built up to was satisfying enough, but it’s not. There’s no sense of joyful carnage to it, stuff happens, but you don’t really take it in. It’s not the sort of film that you can take great joy in watching.

That’s because it has the remnants of a much better film within it. It looks at first like the school itself is going to be heavily tied into the horror, like it’s hiding a deep secret that everybody in the school upholds. As if the school is actually a secret cult that requires human sacrifices. There are remnants that the school is somewhat evil. Particularly with the frequent cuts of a schoolmaster from centuries ago, and the current headmaster there. The camera also seems to linger on the dog in those paintings, and a dog at the school, almost suggesting they’re the same, like either the headteacher and/or the dog are immortal. This never really comes up. The horror beast doesn’t come from a deep dark secret the school is trying to hush up (or even a beast the school actually depends on, like that alien that was a spaceship in Doctor Who). As it is the school and its traditions are essentially nondescript in terms of how it affects the plot. The plot is kicked off (closer to the end than the beginning it has to be said) by a group fracking the local area. The closest it comes to that being tied into the school is that the manager of the company doing the fracking bribed the school. Really this film could have taken place anywhere. There are moments where they make the most of the school setting, but that’s at the start of the film before the horror starts. It spends the opening setting up things; the school cliques/caste system, the sadistic nature of some of the students etc. It sets up all these dominos, ready to be knocked down, and then forgets them to go get the Scalextric out instead.

The closest it comes to doing this is when one of the students (who is shown to be a sadistic bastard) goes to shoot the main character as he’s too poor and doesn’t deserve to be there. He does this in a building used by the school to train army cadets. See, THAT’S a good use, but it’s incredibly fleeting. There’s also a Margot Robbie subplot that does almost nothing. She essentially has an extended cameo, yet this somehow leads to her being the first name listed when you type the film into imdb.

I wish I could recommend this film, I really do. When it’s funny it’s funny, and there’s a lot to admire about it, but there’s just not enough to recommend. Maybe I went into it with high expectations based on the cast and the plot, but I fear it is just not good enough. Asa Butterfields entire character arc is incredibly sweet though. It’s just the film is not fun enough, or fresh enough to really recommend, and it hurts me to say that.