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.

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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.

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)

I came into this film in an uneasy mood. The original goosebumps movie holds a warm place in my heart and is a film I genuinely enjoyed. I really didn’t want that to be tarnished by a sub-par sequel, as often happens (looking at you Die Hard). These fears were confirmed when I heard that Jack Black is barely any in it, and neither are any of the other characters from the first film. This had all the hallmarks of a terrible sequel, the reviews even said as much. Now I know a lot of the reviews for this are scathing but I liked it. It’s not a film I need to see again but for the time it was on, it was an easy movie to escape into and lose yourself.

I know a lot of the reviews are negative, but I did enjoy this. It was fun. It was a good way to pass the time. To me, a lot of the jokes worked (the IT joke in particular still makes me laugh), and the characters were well-rounded and performed actions which made sense. The script was actually really well done. It’s only 90 minutes long but almost every second counts. The pace is frantic, never letting go for a second, and is all the better for it.

The downsides? It could have been so much better. It’s not as good as the first one, not even close, but it could have been. The potential was there, they just do nothing with it. This is especially noticeable in regards to the cast; Ken Jeong is woefully underused, but when he is in he steals the scene. It is also incredibly similar to the first one in the way the characters have to deal with the menace. A lot of people have said that “it doesn’t continue the story from the first film, this means it awful”, I disagree. As far as I know, the Goosebumps books weren’t connected in terms of characters, so it’s more in the spirit of the films for them to do the same. Okay, this is ruined by the fact the first one was kind of a “greatest hits” of characters from the books, so it kind of screwed up that concept for this one, but my point still stands. To be honest I think it might have worked better as a shared universe where individual characters were built up in their own movies, before all being unleashed in a script similar to the one for the first movie. Ah well.

So yeah, I did enjoy it, I don’t need to see it again, but it was incredibly fun. I mean, I should discuss the ending though. It ends with Slappy the dummy trapping RL Stine in a book. It’s a shocking ending that comes completely out of left field and I really fucking hope that goes somewhere. If they just use that as an excuse to keep him out of future films, then it’s awful. If it sets up the next film, I’m in. If they don’t even mention it, fuck this film.

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

I came out of this film loving it. Desperate to see it again, in a great mood. I then thought about it for a few seconds and its flaws became readily apparent. For one thing; it’s incredibly safe and un-Queen like. It’s essentially like reading a Wikipedia page of the band. The script is actually quite…….meh. It takes HUGE liberties with the truth. Some of them are forgivable, some are a bit weird and pointless, and some change your entire view of the film. Let’s start with the weird and pointless: there are moments where they play songs they hadn’t written yet. This is a bit weird as this film was heavily overseen by the band, so you’d think they would have known when certain songs were recorded. Then there’s one which is a pretty big deal and soured me on the film when I heard about it. Warning, this contains spoilers.

The film builds up to a big climax of Queen playing Live Aid. A while before the show, Freddy Mercury is diagnosed with AIDS, which is shown as being one of the reasons he did a lot of what he did in the lead up to the show. This is bullshit, he wasn’t diagnosed until years after the show, they changed it to make it more dramatic and tie into a better narrative. That would be a bad mistake from a normal biography, but this film was looked over and advised (heavily) by the surviving members of the band. People will get their opinions about this band from this film, this is how people will learn about this band. And they decided to tell a pretty big lie about it. They lied about their friends’ death for dramatic purposes. Think about that for a second. That’s pretty messed up.

Because of things like this, the film fails to be a good way for people to learn about the band. Once you learn what they got wrong you doubt everything. The trust is broken. Did anything happen in the film like it said it did? Was there ever actually a band called Queen? Is Bohemian Rhapsody actually a song? Who knows? (spoilers, it is). Also, the film seems to tie his sexuality into his drug use/”moral decay”, as though the two are inexorably linked, which is a bit weird.

So, what did it do well? Well, it’s a film about Queen, so obviously the music is superb (even if it does miss out a lot of their best stuff). The performances are also really good. Portraying Freddie Mercury can’t be the easiest role, there’s SO much you have to get down, not just the way he looks, but also the way he moves, the unexplainable charismatic stage presence. You need someone who looks like they can own a stadium full of people in the palm of their hand. Rami Malek does it. Some of the lip-synching is a bit off (and now is a better time than any to mention the ropey CGI at the live aid gig), but other than that he just GETS it. The supporting actors do it too, to the point where the most common sentence I’ve heard about this film is “are you sure that’s not Brian May?” in response to Gwilym Lee’s performance. And there are times when the storytelling is great. The montage of them making Bohemian Rhapsody, in particular, is a real highlight: engaging, interesting, funny, expertly done. It’s just a shame the rest of the film couldn’t match it.

I know I’ve said a lot of negative things about this, but I did truly enjoy it. I don’t need to buy it on DVD or anything, but I am tempted to see it at the cinema again. This is definitely a cinema film, watching it on a tiny screen on a plane it wouldn’t have the same effect, the electrifying Live Aid finale (and trust me, it is electrifying) would become muted by the lack of it being on a big screen. This film could have an incredibly long life at the cinema in the future, if they don’t do yearly sing-along screenings for charity I’ll be amazed.

Venom (2018)

This film has polarised opinion. Critics seem to hate it, audiences seem to like it. I’m awkward so I’m split between the two. It wasn’t the worst film ever, but it was nowhere near as good as it should have been. It’s a venom movie with Tom Hardy and Riz Ahmed in it, this should be one of the best films of the year. It should be a game-changer for comic book movies; one that shows the darkness that comic books have in them sometimes. It should be like Logan mixed with a David Cronenberg movie. It should fuck you up as an audience member. It should kick-start a new wave of horror comic book movies (Spawn etc). But nope, it’s incredibly formulaic. Everything in it has been done before, it brings nothing to the table. To be honest it feels like a film that was killed in post-production; dodgy effects, weird pacing, great performances feeling wasted on characters who aren’t in it enough etc. Two performances, in particular, felt wasted: Jenny Slate, and Melora Walters. Jenny Slate gets more material but still feels vastly underused as a performer and a character. That goes triple for Melora Walters, who gives a great performance in a character who you could do SO much with, but the film only gives her about two scenes. Tom Hardy is great in it though, as is Riz Ahmed. I mean, Tom Hardy is always great, even if he was in an awful film, he’d make it worth watching. Sadly the CGI isn’t as good as his performance. A lot of it is kind of ropey, the MRI scene stands out as something that really needed a lot more work. As did the script.

When a trailer for this launched earlier on in the year it received a lot of laughter for the line “your body will roll down the street like a turd in the wind”. Defenders of the film pointed out that that it was a trailer, so that didn’t necessarily mean it was going to be in the final film, and when the studio see the reception that line gets, it will be deleted. Nope, it’s in the film. In the closing scene, so that’s how this film leaves you; with one of the most laughable lines of the year. Thing is, it is alongside a scene of him biting someone’s head off, so tonally that scene alone is a complete mess. Actually, that’s the case with the whole film; it has no idea what film it wants to be. Whether it wants to be a lighthearted comedy, or a serious and dark film. To be honest, a lot of it feels like it’s from the early 2000’s or late 90’s. The weird tone, the goofy nature of it, the fact they made a “sexy venom” scene, the CGI-laden final fight where you can’t really tell what’s going on.

It does do some things that should be applauded though. When it’s funny, it’s very funny. And the relationship between Brock and Venom is fun. Actually, the whole film is a fun watch. It will find a new life on netflix or something like that. But I can’t imagine many people going out and buying it on release day. I did enjoy it, but I didn’t pay to get in, if I only saw a few movies a year, and paid to see this one, I’d be mad and consider it a waste of money. As it is, I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.

Halloween (2018)

Before I start this review I should state: I’ve never seen a Halloween film. Well that’s a lie, I might have seen the first one, but when I was like 10 so I wasn’t really paying attention to it. As such my knowledge of the film series is stuff I absorb through pop-culture osmosis. So I know a little bit (He’s called Michael Myers, the third one is unconnected to the rest of the series and was originally meant to be the second one, THAT music etc), but not enough that I feel emotionally connected to. Despite that; I still REALLY enjoyed this. It seems to ignore all but the first one, and is all the better for it. You don’t need to have watched a lot of films to get this, as long as you know the basics of the character you should be fine, actually considering how well scripted this is I don’t even think you’ll need that. It does a great job of bringing you up to speed, explaining what’s haunting certain characters.

The script for this is actually really good, the kills are simple. He doesn’t go around doing elaborate traps, he just kills them the simplest possible way. There’s one scene in particular which is a masterclass of horror film-making, it’s just him walking through houses, massacring the inhabitants. There’s one moment during this where I knew the film had me; where he’s in the house with a baby still in its seat, and I panicked for it, I panicked for the fictional character. There’s usually child immunity in horror films, it’s like an unwritten rule; children in horror movies are safe. This is not the case in this; Michael Myers kills a child. Not the baby, but one of the first deaths in the movie is a child so he can take his dads car. If I remember correctly it’s the first death we actually see as well. It’s a great way of saying that all the usual horror tropes are off, so anything goes.

The downsides of this film; there’s one death which is kind of embarrassing to watch. It’s where Michael Myers stamps on someone’s head, it looks incredibly fake and is almost comical. It breaks the tension completely and takes you out of the moment. There are also issues with the characters. The ones who survive are fine, it’s the ones who die that you don’t really care for. There are some characters with promise who then die before they get to fulfil that promise. And there is a twist which is completely unnecessary and stops mattering after a few minutes, it seems like it is only there because it was the only way they could think of to move the plot from one moment to the next. Luckily the moment that builds up to is superb. The final setpiece of this film is amazing to see. Incredibly tense, great character work, and it subverts a lot of what you know from the original film, recreating scenes from it but with the roles reversed. This is all accompanied by a FANTASTIC soundtrack, with an obvious debt to the original music, but updated to a modern sensibility.

So yeah, I loved this movie. It was tense, gripping, superbly made, and just all-round fantastic. And Jamie Lee Curtis gives the performance of a lifetime, reclaiming her crown as the queen of horror.