Brightburn (2019)

Okay, so every year I do end of year awards. These include the good (best actress, best film, etc), but also the bad (worst film, worst moment, etc). Usually these are decided near the end of the year once I’ve had distance from a lot of things, that way my response isn’t too immediate and I don’t put a meh film as one of the worst films of the year. It takes something truly special to get nominated for an award that soon after seeing it. For that to happen I have to be 100% certain it will deserve it. Why am I mentioning that now? Because this will get nominated, in fact it’s probably the frontrunner for one of the awards. So which one?

Best film?

I mean, it’s about what if Superman was evil, I love dark unique films and this fits it. But it’s not that. It’s way too pedestrian for that, and it never lives up to the potential that the concept promises. It feels way too restrained but I’m not sure what by.

Best actor for Jackson A. Dunn

He plays the title role as a young teen coming to terms with the fact he’s essentially God. A fascinating character that a lot of young actors would kill for. So is that where it wins? Nope, he is good, very good in fact, but not great.

Scariest Film

I mean, the idea of a Superman-like character being evil is a terrifying concept to think about. But it’s not that. A lot of the violent scenes come off more comical than scary. There’s a moment where he snaps a character’s hand, it’s the first piece of ultraviolence in the film, and it was met with laughter in the screening I was at.

Best Character

It has to be that, right? I’ve never been invested in Superman as a character as I’ve felt he’s too good and perfect. So a twist on that should enthral me, right? Nope, it makes so many allusions to Superman that it doesn’t feel like a real character in itself. It’s so in debt to its influences that it never stands out as an independent thing.

Best Moment

Close. This film needs chaos and violence, but 90% of it was in the trailer. Actually now I think about it, most of the film was in the trailer. Almost all of the major story beats, including the ending, were in the trailer. IIRC, two of the main characters final lines are in the trailer. That’s just weird. It does come close with the post-credits scene though. Setting up potential sequels and spin-offs which do excite me. Yeah this film kind of suffers the same problem as M.Night’s Glass Trilogy, where at the end of each of the three films (Unbreakable, Split, Glass) I wasn’t excited about what I just saw, but I was excited to see what happened next (not excited enough to go out of my way to see them, but meh). Same here, I want to see what happens next. This film seems very much like a prequel to a much better film, but there’s a chance that film (a kind of evil Justice League) might not happen. Which is a damn shame.

So, which award will this be nominated for? I’m ashamed to say:

Biggest Disappointment.

I really wanted to like this film. I bigged it up to people for months, so for it to be so boring is a huge disappointment. It felt too long despite only being 90 minutes. It had some interesting moments but overall it just felt like I was playing catch up to the trailer. This should have been great, yet it’s not even okay.

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Ma (2019)

I enjoyed this, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I didn’t see any trailers. This film is a real slow-burner. It’s all building up to the final moments, but too many of those were in the trailer, which kind of ruins it as it means you’re spending a lot of time building up to something you know is going to happen.

That’s one of the films biggest downfalls, that whilst it is good, it’s not exciting. You’re not focused on what IS happening, because you’re too busy thinking about what you know WILL happen. That’s a shame because what is happening is a really good piece of film-making backed up by some great performances. Some of the character work could be stronger. Ma’s descent into madness is kind of frustratingly handled. You know like when a sitcom has planned a romance, but the series has like 24 episodes so the romance aspect is incredibly drawn out and stop-start, so it seems like things keep putting them back at square one you keep having those “oh, we like each other” moments? Yeah, it’s like that. It’s incredibly stop-start to the point where there are too many breaking moments. On the bright side, this means that when THAT moment happens (she runs someone over and leaves them for dead) it is IMMENSELY satisfying. The whole closing stretch is superb, but it is a somewhat (dare I say) boring journey to get there.

It doesn’t help that a lot of the characters are dicks, there’s not many you sympathise with. This would be okay if some of the kills happened earlier as then you’d have some catharsis from their pain, but because it takes so long for the violence to happen you just end up watching terrible people being awful for most of the film.

I’ll say now though, NONE of this is due to the performances. Octavia Spencer continues to show that she can do almost anything. I’m pretty sure Diana Silvers is the love child of both Liv Tyler and Anne Hathaway. McKaley Miller as well is perfect for the role and I want to see more of her work. Luke Evans is suitably disgusting and creepy, in a way I didn’t think he’d be able to do.

I’ve mentioned loving the ending, there’s one exception to that, the final shot. Spoiler warning by the way. The film ends with Ma realising her situation is helpless (her house is burning down with her inside it), accepting her fate she goes back to her bedroom and lays with the corpse of Luke Evans character, it’s kind of sweet and a great ending for a tragic character who only wanted to be accepted. It’s a beautiful closing shot full of pathos, just the two of them together in death, ruined by an aerial shot of the house burning down. I feel that shot kind of took away from the moment and made it feel smaller.

Greta (2019)

This film is deeply flawed. Features a character who is constantly getting phone calls from someone, and she never thinks to block the number. And when she tells the police she’s being stalked by someone, they point out it’s perfectly legal to stand in the street outside a restaurant where she works as it’s public property. One, this seems wrong, and I really hope it is, if that’s true then the world is a terrible place (but, restraining orders do exist, right?). But also, that time would have been a good point to mention to the police all the bags she found at the woman’s house, all with names on which if investigated would have been discovered to have belonged to missing people. That lone would have been enough to warrant an investigation. Also, we later find out that she’s not supposed to be in the country due to medical abuse, the police would definitely have discovered that and acted on it, thus stopping the entire plot. It’s an issue when a film is based on a kind of flawed premise. But you know what? I didn’t care, I really liked this film.

I knew nothing about this film going in. Well, I knew kind of what it was about, and one of the people in it. Other than that, nothing, I went in with no preconceptions. I think that was a good thing, I didn’t go in expecting tenseness from the off. Although I’m not sure that would have mattered because this started relatively quickly. Don’t get me wrong, the story itself was still slow moving, but it kicked off almost immediately. Now when I say it was slow, I mean it. The plot was almost glacial but in a good way. Like it was slow moving, but it was always moving forward. There wasn’t much time wasted, which was nice. What wasn’t nice was this film, there’s one moment involving a cookie cutter which I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to forget, was one hell of a scene that woke the audience up. But even before that the film has a great sense of tension that never lets up, you’re on tenterhooks for almost the entire time and it’s brilliant. Yes, there’s a twist near the end which is way too obvious to really be counted as a twist, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. There’s also a great moment of realisation for the audience. If you want to avoid spoilers, stop reading now as I have to spoil it. There’s a moment early on in the film where there’s a loud banging behind a wall, Greta (the kind of evil woman in this) explains it’s just builders next door, and she bangs on the wall to shut them up. Later on in the film Chloe Grace Moretz’s character is behind that wall and starts banging on it, and we realise, as an audience, what exactly was happening earlier. When Greta was planning to kidnap Moretz’s character, she already had a victim in the house who was listening to the whole thing but unable to do anything to stop it. Imagine that from her point of view, terrifying. That moment is just subtle enough to work, and it’s glorious.

Know what else is glorious? Isabelle Huppert, I haven’t seen her in anything before but she’d make a great Bond villain. Actually, she’d be great in a horror film too. I cannot praise her performance enough. The film is almost worth seeing based on it alone, but you should go see it anyway.

Red Joan (2019)

I was genuinely intrigued by this movie, a movie about an elderly woman turned out to be selling state secrets during the war? That sounds interesting as hell. And it’s based on a true story? Ok, I’m sold, this is going to be great.

It’s not. For starters, Judi Dench is barely in it, almost all of her scenes are in the trailer. It’s also VERY loosely based on a true story, there was a woman who sold state secrets to the Russians, and that’s pretty much it. Her motivations were to even the playing field etc. As she said:

“I did what I did, not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had, at great cost, given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, a good education and a health service.”

She says something similar in the film too, but it’s not really shown to be the case. We don’t see much of her moral conflict causing her to spy. So what does cause it?

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Am I being too subtle? I’ll try again.

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Penis, it was for penis. No moral complications, it was love and lust that did it. And I find that disappointing. They’ve reduced a complex and interesting character to “well she was but a mere woman, defined entirely by her relationships with men”. Her motivations are not her own, but the men around her. There’s a moment where she watches in horror at Hiroshima, but it’s not enough to distract from the fact that the entire motivation for her character is her love for someone. And sadly the film isn’t good enough to make you buy into any of the romances, they all seem a bit too easy, a bit too Hollywood. And the trouble is is that the film is based entirely around the relationships, and since you don’t buy into those, you don’t buy into the film as a whole. The most interesting parts are the parts set in the modern day where Judi Dench is explaining herself to her son. That section has genuine emotion and heart, and takes up about 10 minutes of the film total. That’s what the film should be about, I didn’t particularly care about what she did, I want to know how it affects her now. All the rest just seems like parenthesis on the sentences this story is telling. On the plus side, you can’t argue with the pacing of the opening section, it gets STRAIGHT into what you came to see, so that should be commended. On the downside…..almost everything else. There’s a great story to be told about Melita Norwood, but this doesn’t come close to being it.

Wild Rose (2019)

I was slightly apprehensive about this film. I worried it would try too hard to be emotional and would just fall flat. I don’t really connect with a lot of country music on an emotional level, so if that’s the lynchpin of the film then I just won’t get it. Also, it’s a British movie about a working-class person wanting to live their dreams; films like that tend to not do well in the “great plot” stakes, usually incredibly predictable and obvious. There was a small glimmer of hope however that it would work. As this film went on that hope became larger, I became emotionally invested in this film and it just really works, a lot. Most of that is due to the performance of Jessie Buckley, who I’ll admit I’m not too familiar with but I feel I should be, her performance in this is breath-taking, turning what could be an unlikeable character into one you really root for and that you can’t help but love.

Make no mistake, this is a SCOTTISH country film, the fact it’s set in Scotland adds a lot to the story and the character and makes it unique. I mean, it’s also a Scottish COUNTRY film, wouldn’t really work with most other music genres, there’s something about the soul of country music which lends itself to this film. I mean, I suppose it’s also a Scottish country FILM as it wouldn’t work if it was a fruit basket, but that would just be silly, albeit delicious.

It’s not perfect, there are a few moments which only exist to service the plot, in fact, there’s one character who almost seems to exist only to further the plot with her actions. Don’t get me wrong, the interactions between them and the main character are incredibly heart-warming and lovely, it does seem a little hollow at times. The way the main character reacts to her seems incredibly out of character and only seems to happen to cause a plot-problem later down the line.

I mentioned the performances earlier, and whilst they are good, they’re not the best part of the film. The best part is something you can’t really identify but is there; the heart. Everything in this film seems like it’s done with great love and emotion, and it’s that which carries this film through the weaker moments. The heart Jessie Buckley puts into the songs she performs brings tears to your eyes. Even the ending is full of heart, ending with something that’s not the happy ending the film is expected to have, but the one that the film deserves, and it’s beautiful.

Captain Marvel (2019)

No, I did genuinely love this movie and it’s likely to be one of my favourites of the year. It was really funny, looked great (mostly) and I think Brie Larson is incredible. I thought I’d get that out the way because this blog will make it seem like I don’t. It was good, it was just……not what was needed right now. We are right before Endgame, one of the most anticipated films of the year. That film is supposedly the culmination of an overarching story which has run for about 10 years, the entire MCU has been building towards Endgame. The last two films before this ended with multiple character deaths, people are looking for that MOMENT to lead them into Endgame, and this completely fails at that. This is fine on its own, but as part of the MCU narrative, I don’t really feel it does its job. It doesn’t build up the next stage, like, at all. This film could have been made in Phase One and it wouldn’t really affect much. The biggest difference it would have made is it would have meant whenever there was a danger we would have thought “why doesn’t Fury just call Captain Marvel?” for most of the films, we now only have that in retrospect, which is…better? Should point out, one of the credits scenes DOES manage to get you slightly excited for Endgame, but the rest of the film doesn’t really do the same, at all.

Also, it turning out that Fury’s eye was lost to Goose the cat? “OMG who saw that coming?” Almost everybody. When I saw the trailer there were hundreds of comments under it saying the cat probably clawed out his eye. At this point, it would have been a surprise if that DIDN’T happen.

My other major issue with this film; the soundtrack. It’s like a 90’s jukebox. It’s good but it really could be much better. For one thing, some of the songs came out AFTER the film was set so it’s just a bit “ok, so this song doesn’t exist in this universe yet, so why is it being played?” and it’s obvious, because it’s “90’s” and that’s good enough. But if you’re going to do that, why restrict yourself like that? Personally what I would have LOVED them to do was to do a 90’s soundtrack, but have it be 90’s songs covered by female-led bands. At least then the soundtrack to a Marvel movie would be interesting (something which has only happened to 3 films so far, shockingly low).

A minor issue: some of the CGI was a bit dodgy. One scene, in particular, seems a bit cheap in terms of how they’ve layered it so badly that it looks fake. That just should not happen in a film this big and immediately puts it out of the running for the best looking film this year. It’s too big a mistake to ignore.

But the good: it was a lot of fun. Like, A LOT of fun. You will leave this film smiling and having enjoyed it. Also, Brie Larson is a badass, but anybody who saw Room already knows that. The de-ageing CGI also works BEAUTIFULLY and never manages to take you out of the movie (unlike some of the CGI of the character in flight, again, awful). The way it subverted expectations in terms of who the Kree are is also superb, I NEVER saw that coming, and in a genre often decried for being obvious, that says something.

So yeah, an enjoyable watch. But if you go into Endgame without watching this, you won’t really have much to catch up on.

Also, that No Doubt scene was WAY too unsubtle

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.

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.