Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

*whispers* I think I liked this more than Coco. Now, obviously, they’re two very different films. But when a Pixar film is one of the first films you see all year it can sometimes seem like the cinematic year has peaked already. Thank god for this film then, showing that there is hope. Well, I say “hope”, this film isn’t one that really gives you that. It’s unrelenting in its bleakness, yet conversely is also incredibly funny. This is not a pleasing film, but it is a satisfying one.

This is the kind of film you don’t really watch as a film, you experience it. There’s no happy ending, good deeds go punished and bad deeds are rewarded. This does affect the way you watch it at the cinema. There’s a certain point in the film where a major event happens (not spoiling it as you REALLY need to see this film) and it feels like this is what the film has been building to. It felt like a natural crescendo for the film, where even if it wasn’t the ending it would be very close to it. I saw people quickly finish their drinks and food in preparation, then the film continued for like another half hour. The enthusiasm and the mood in the room deflated like a…..well, like a balloon being deflated. Kind of annoying, but also kind of wonderful. That’s basically the point of life, isn’t it? That there are no definitive endings and sometimes all you have is more questions.

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This is one of about three scenes in the film which are in contention for best of the year

The story wouldn’t be much though if it didn’t have the right cast to play it out. The cast that’s put together for this is absolutely superb, it’s been well documented how good Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell are in this. But the supporting cast is great too. Caleb Landry Jones is smug enough so that even he’s right you still kind of want to punch him and throw him through a window. Lucas Hedges continues to show that his work in Manchester By The Sea wasn’t a one-off bit of luck. Just generally a great ensemble cast. But I do need to point out the leads. I’ve watched a lot of films with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in, so it should be difficult for me to lose myself in a film starring them. It should be really difficult for me to not think of them as Woody and Sam, and to start thinking of them as the characters they are. But they’re so damn good that you do get lost in their performances, you buy into their characters easily. There’s one scene in particular where Woody Harrelson’s character is in an argument with Frances McDormand’s when he suddenly coughs up blood onto her. The way the actors play it is perfect, they instantly switch gears from an emotionally intense scene to a different kind of intensity. It’s a stunningly beautiful piece of acting, and a scene everybody should watch.

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“So how’s it all going in the nigger- torturing business, Dixon? “It’s ‘Persons of color’-torturing business, these days, if you want to know. And I didn’t torture nobody.”

I will admit I’ve struggled to write this review. It’s much easier to write reviews of bad films or films which could be improved. For this all you can say is “it’s really good”. Can’t point out problems, can’t point out weak links in it. I can’t even moan about it being underrepresented at awards shows. If it had M.Night directing it at least it would have had a twist ending where it turned out to be something to do with aliens. I mean, it would have been shit and ruined the film, but it would have given me something interesting to write about. Damn this film and it’s wonderful, brilliant greatness.

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2017 In Film: Part 4 (The Good)

The penultimate round-up blog. In here I’m putting, get this, films, which, are, good. I know, shocking, right? I bet you never guessed that from the title. My definition of good but not great for purposes of these is this: would I consider buying if they were on sale?

A Cure For Wellness

A very very good film. But not a very nice one. As you can read here I really liked it, but it made me want to self-harm. It’s basically this year’s Nocturnal Creatures, but not quite as great. I do wish Celia Imrie was in it more, she was in the trailer but her role in the film was really nothing more than an extended cameo. Mia Goth was superb however, as was Dane DeHaan (which reminds me, I really need to see Chronicle, I mean, I’ve had it on DVD for months but still haven’t got round to it.

+Doesn’t shy away from showing terrible things. There’s a scene where someone drills into a tooth and you see EVERYTHING. Just thinking about it sets my teeth on edge.

-A bit too slow in parts. Could do with being made slightly tighter.

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“Why don’t we do the poster for Slither, but sexy?” “Genius! More cocaine”

Gifted

A lot less Nicholas-Sparks than I thought it would be. Bit formulaic but it plays to the formula very well. Chris Evans is very good in it, but is overshadowed by Mckenna Grace, who is very very good, probably one of the best performances this year. Is it just me or are child actors getting better? Manages to do a performance which is funny, moving, and hits all the right spots in terms of body language and facial acting. Great performance. Jenny Slate was also REALLY good in it, but wasn’t in it as much as she should have been.

+Genuinely heartwarming.

-A little saccharine in parts.

Hidden Figures

It was good, I wouldn’t call it “Oscar Worthy”. The main trouble with these sorts of stories is it’s impossible to have a good villain. The key to a good villain comes in two separate flavours:

  1. The “nobody knows anything about him” (usually used in horror films)
  2. The “I can see his point, but he’s very very wrong”.

Because these films are character pieces you can’t have the villains be the first one, so you need the second one. But they never work in these films for one simple reason; there’s no logical defence of racism. There’s no way of seeing their point. I had similar problems with Selma too, the villains are so clearly wrong that they don’t make compelling characters. Now I know this is what it was actually like at the time, and it is a truly fascinating story, but it does mean as a cinema experience it never really stays with you. So really my problem isn’t with the film, it’s with reality not conforming to my expectations, so maybe the problem is me.

+An important story that needs to be told and seen.

-One watch may be enough, you’re highly unlikely to need to see it again.

Jumanji

Holy hell this was a lot of fun. I think I actually might prefer it to the original. Got some of the loudest and most consistent laughs from other people in the audience out of any film I’ve seen.

+The performances. All the main characters are basically avatars of other characters. So they have to be played the same way the original characters are (think the scene in Harry Potter where Hermione pretends to be Bellatrix, like that, throughout the entire film). Not the easiest thing to do, but they all do it really well. Jack Black in particular makes a fantastic teenage girl, and Karen Gillians “no idea how to flirt” scene was hilarious.

-The entire film you can’t escape the feeling that you miss Robin Williams.

Kingsman

Pretty much the first one again, but I liked the first one. Funny, violent, and great music throughout.

+Mark Strong’s final scene is brilliant. The new characters slot into the mythos easily.

-Too long, too unfocused, and Colin Firth’s resurrection was not handled that well.

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La La Land

I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I feel it wanted me to love it. It looked fantastic, and the soundtrack was good, it just left me feeling nothing. Probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I felt Ryan Gosling’s character was a bit of a dick and the romance made zero sense. Its biggest flaw I feel is its dependence on music, if you took away the songs you’re left with a fairly average story. Whilst the songs were good, they all sounded a bit too familiar, every song sounded like another one, so when you listen to the soundtrack you just think “what song does this remind me of?”, “wait, this has same tune as the song from The Muppets sequel”, and “Seriously, what is this one? I think it’s Amanda Palmer but I’m not sure”. It was a bit like having sex with a singing nazi. It looked good, sounded good, but ultimately left you feeling rather hollow.

+Music which seems like it’s instantly recognisable and you’ll hum for days.

-Kind of a bland story.

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Life

Pretty darn good sci-fi. You watch it and think “you know what would be awesome? If x happens”, and then it does happen, or something better happens. Was worried when I saw the trailer that it would be another cliche “parasitic alien takes over people”, but nope, this is an alien beating people using pure brute strength. And the ending? So harsh, absolutely perfect for the genre. Definitely need to see it again, if only to see whether the opening scene was one shot or whether it just had minimal cuts.

+Pretty brave decisions made in the script.

-Stands very much in the shadow of those that have gone before it.

Manchester By The Sea

A lot has been said about the performances of this film, I feel enough hasn’t been said about how good the script is. It’s so good that the dialogue doesn’t feel written, it was like they just filmed people talking naturally. It was also the lack of words that was masterful, there were moments where most films would have had characters deliver impassioned monologues, the kind of monologues which sum up their characters and the film, monologues which are so masterfully written people will quote them for years. This film doesn’t have monologues in that moment, it condenses those moments down to a single line. But you understand everything in that sentence, you feel the weight of that sentence, how crushing it is and how much is held within it. Someone this year said “if you’re depressed, La La Land will cheer you up, but Manchester By The Sea will make you feel better”. That pretty much sums it up.

+So bleak. So, so bleak.

-Revelations about some of the cast members make it hard to watch.

Mindhorn

Disappointed I didn’t get a chance to see this at cinema. Ah well, have the DVD so all is good. Incredibly British and wonderful. Exactly what you’d expect from someone who was in The Mighty Boosh.

+Julian Barrett is having a hell of a lot of fun here. Some great cameos too.

-Doesn’t quite have enough substance to be truly great.

Murder On The Orient Express

I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. The biggest surprise is that it’s not Ewan McGregor as the lead role, a fact I didn’t find out until about a week after I saw the film. When I say “enjoyed this more than I thought” I don’t mean I thought it would be a terrible film. I mean it’s a mystery film, so to enjoy it surely you have to compelled to try to figure it out? Yet all I know about the original novel is how it ends (I have no idea how I know this, and only this). So would I be able to enjoy it despite knowing the ending? Also, the trailers made it look like Johnny Depp was in full Mortdecai mode. Hands up who saw that film. Now, keep your hands up if you enjoyed it. Right *loads shotgun*

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Et tu, bruti? (yes, in this scenario the cat is called Bruti, well, was until I shot it for liking Mortdecai)

Yet despite that (and the negative reviews) I thoroughly enjoyed this. A hell of a fun watch.

+Great ensemble cast.

-Some of the exterior shots look a little ropey.

Patti Cake$

A lot better than I thought it would be. Has both a great and not great soundtrack. I mean, the songs are fantastic, but the music/story integration could be done better. You don’t really get the feeling that the film is influencing the music, or the other way round, they seem kind of independent from each other. Side note, I think this is the only film I’ve seen this year which has had absolutely nobody in it who I know from another film.

+The closing scene when she’s doing her final song.

-Some of which were in the trailer, giving it away.

Prevenge

Without a doubt the best film about a homicidal fetus you’re ever going to see. I do love Alice Lowe, she makes amazing stuff. First Sightseers now this, she’s becoming Britains go-to female film-maker for smart, original dark comedies. She really needs to do a Black Mirror episode, and more films, and more television. Basically she needs to forgo sleep and work forever, creating more content for me to watch.

+The fact that Alice Lowe made this in two weeks whilst pregnant.

-If someone doesn’t like this style of film, this isn’t going to be the one that changes their mind.

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The Boss Baby

Better than the abysmal trailers would make you think it is. Some genuine laugh out loud moments. Putting it here is a little generous I know, but I’m not the audience for this, kids are, and kids love it.

+Genuinely funny in a lot of parts.

-Great for a kids movie, only ok for a movie.

The Hippopotamus

Very Stephen Fry. In both a good and a bad way. Although it has to be said that “now will you all kindly fuck off?” is a great closing line

+Very funny, Roger Allam is terrific.

-Won’t stick with you.

The Promise

A 2 hour film about the Armenian genocide, no, wait, come back, it’s actually REALLY good. Brutal without being exploitative, which is the risk you take when doing a film like this. If you don’t do it right it can come off like you’re exploiting the reality for the sake of drama, you have to stay grounded enough, and honest enough, for the film to work. It also REALLY annoyed a certain group of people, who flooded IMDB with negative reviews of it, calling it propaganda and lies without a hint of truth, saying that the genocide never happed. Most of these “reviews” were posted before the film was even released, so you know they’re definitely trustworthy. Oscar Isaac is REALLY good in this, by the way, believable throughout, but special mention has to go to Marwan Kenzari, who plays his character with such conviction, and does such wonderful facial work throughout that it’s one of the most genuine performances of the year. I would highly recommend seeing this, and not just because it annoys genocide deniers (which is always fun).

+A story that needs to be told, and luckily is told very well.

-Occasionally shys away from the brutality that is needed.

The Ritual

This film did something I will forever love it for; it put most the bits from the trailer in the opening half. I liked this as it meant you weren’t thinking “ok, what from the trailer haven’t I seen yet?”. Chilling, well told and well performed. Book is now on my “to-read” list.

+Very scary in parts. Great story too, you’re never fully sure where it’s going.

-Comes so close to being great, but stops just short.

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The Young Offenders

Kind of charming, rather funny. Has a scene where a disabled drug dealer shoots someone with a nail gun. Seems like a tv show, which as of next year it will be, and I can’t wait.

+Incredibly funny. And having someone lose a shitload of drugs because they have a hole in their bag was very funny.

-Never really seems like a movie, more like a television show.

Their Finest

Have you seen Suicide Squad? You know that bit near the end where the fire guy goes “we’re family”, and the audience is like “how? You’ve only known each other for like a day”? Basically that happens here, certain things between characters don’t feel earned enough and feel kind of forced. Which is a shame as it’s actually a really good story, with great performances and impressive dialogue.

+Compelling story that will reach you emotionally.

-Unearned character interactions.

Thor: Ragnarok

Wait, what’s this? I didn’t hate this film? I know, I’m shocked too. This is what the first two films should have been, just an all out funfest which relishes its own absurdity.

+”the hammer pulled you off?”

-Some character actions are supposed to be shocking, yet at this point it would be more shocking if they didn’t happen.

Tickling Giants

I remember the first time I saw Mark Thomas on television. It was on a channel 4 show that I recorded for reasons I can’t quite remember. I watched it with this kid I knew from up the road and he said it’s really good as “most comedians just talk about stuff, he’s actually doing stuff”, which he was. He was not just telling jokes, he was going actively protesting and doing things to change the country for the better (the episode in particular was about corporate manslaughter laws). Remarkable story that deserves to be told. At first you think “oh, he has permission finally for satire to works, this is great”. Then the president orders an arrest warrant for him. It’s actually kind of terrifying to see a lot of this, but in a way it’s kind of heartwarming to see some people continue to support them. People still want to work on the show even when the channel it’s on disowns them. Kind of a sad ending but one that’s full of potential for the future. Would actually make a really compelling fiction film.

+A fascinating look into what it’s like under those sort of regimes.

-Might be too difficult for people not into political humour to get into, not really a way in for them.

 

So that’s the end of this blog. Final one will be soon. Exactly how many films did I see this year? Did I actually get round to seeing The Disaster Artist and Tragedy Girls? Find out the answer to these questions, and more (but not a hell of a lot more) next time. Until then, comment with where we went wrong.

How We Got Through…February 2017

Film

The Girl With All The Gifts

Actually really disappointed I missed this last year now. A lot less cliche than I thought it would be. I wasn’t completely sold on it until one moment; there’s a scene where shits going down and a doctor is standing in front of a window, in background you see someone running towards the window, you assume it’s a soldier but it’s one of these evil dastardly zombie people, who bursts through the window. This achieves one of those rare things in film; a surprise which hides nothing prior to it. You are shown everything you need to be shown before it happens, yet it still somehow shocks you. Probably the best non-comedic zombie film of the last few years.

Split

Nothing inherently wrong with this movie, I just never brought the central concept. It’s like if I was watching a film where Ryan Gosling plays a character who is too ugly to get a date, they’d need to be a moment in the film which means you can buy the central concept as otherwise you’ll just be sitting there thinking “yeah this is BS”. This film never has that moment, as such it kind of fails. The acting in it was superb though, Anya Taylor-Joy continues to impress after last years The Witch, whilst James McAvoy does fantastic facial work, it gets to the point where you can tell which personality is in control of him from a still shot of his face.

Lego Batman Movie

Will probably not be the best film I see this year, but will definitely be the most fun. The quickest I’ve been sold on a film so far, usually it’s taken me about ten minutes into a film to think “okay I’m into this”, this film sold me in the first sentence. Plus, there’s a Christian group in America protesting it and calling it “gay propaganda”, so you have to see it, even if only to annoy them.

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Zootropolis

Still one of the greatest animated films of 2016. Big downside is it doesn’t seem to have led to more work for Ginnifer Goodwin, which is a shame as she was fantastic in this and deserves more roles.

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Red State

Has some fantastic monologues in it, which Michael Parks knocks out of the….erm, area. Him and John Goodman stand head and shoulders above everyone else in the film. I think it’s more interesting than good, I don’t think it really works as a horror film, horror is a REALLY difficult genre to direct well as everything needs to work, you need the right music, the right lighting etc, if just one of those things doesn’t work then you won’t scare people. Also the film has serious pacing issues, especially in the opening third which half-asses its way into building the universe, but doesn’t do it well enough. Despite that there is something inherently watchable about it, I think it’s because the story is interesting, it just should have been better told.

Inside Out/Lava

I have a huge problem with this film, every time I sit down to watch it my allergies start playing up so it always looks like I’m crying. The allergies get particularly bad during the scene where Bing Bong dies.

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Damn ninjas

La La Land

I liked it, but I didn’t love it, and I feel it wanted me to love it. It looked fantastic, and the soundtrack was good, it just left me feeling nothing. Probably wasn’t helped by the fact that I felt Ryan Gosling’s character was a bit of a dick and the romance made zero sense. It’s biggest flaw I feel is its dependence on music, if you took away the songs you’re left with a fairly average story. Whilst the songs were good, they all sounded a bit too familiar, every song sounded like another one, so when you listen to the soundtrack you just think “what song does this remind me of?”, “wait, this has same tune as the song from The Muppets sequel”, and “Seriously, what is this one? I think it’s Amanda Palmer but I’m not sure”.

Rings

Unpopular opinion time; this film should not have been a horror, it should have a psychological drama with scary moments. I feel under the service of this story is a really solid detective/ghost story, but it’s restricted by being a horror so puts in scares which don’t do much to enhance the film. Also, I’m getting very annoyed with films being ruined by their trailers. I’d seen two trailers for this; one of which I saw back in November and was mainly focused on one of the characters in the shower and freaky shit starts happening. A well made scene, but it’s also the final scene of the film, it takes place after the “monster” is supposed to have died, so after the “death” you just sit there thinking “I know it’s not the end as we haven’t seen the scene which the entire advertising campaign was based around”. Especially since I think the revelation at the end was supposed to be a twist. It would be like if The Usual Suspects had the tagline “Kevin Spacey is….Keyser Soze”. On the plus side the way the film opened was fantastic and was one of my favourite 10 seconds of cinema of the year so far. They put the Paramount logo into the film itself, by showing it on tv screens on an airplane. They also distorted the logo as it was playing. I love when films do things like that, it grabs your attention immediately.

Manchester By The Sea

A lot has been said about the performances of this film, I feel enough hasn’t been said about how good the script is. It’s so good that the dialogue doesn’t feel written, it was like they just filmed people talking naturally. It was also the lack of words that was masterful, there were moments where most films would have had characters deliver impassioned monologues, the kind of monologues which sum up their characters and the film, monologues which are so masterfully written people will quote them for years. This film doesn’t have monologues in that moment, it condenses those moments down to a single line. But you understand everything in that sentence, you feel the weight of that sentence, how crushing it is and how much is held within it.

TV Show

Not Going Out

I don’t know what it is but it seems to have lost something. I think it’s because of how the concept of the show has changed. It used to be about two friends, one of whom was living with the other ones ex in a flat in London. Then it became two friends, one living with the other’s sister. Then one of the cast members left and it just became a standard flat sitcom. Now they’ve moved out of the flat and got a family. It’s good that the story has progressed and it’s interesting to chart the change throughout the seasons, but the new series seems more like a spin-off than a continuation. Also the show has still refused to answer one question; why are these two characters in a relationship. Before they were a couple it was clear there was an attraction from one character to the other, but there was never any indication that there was any attraction the other way. The most likely solution is probably Stockholm Syndrome, but they don’t outright say that due to the terrorist connotations, bloody political correctness.

Book

The Saga Of Darren Shan – Darren Shan

My favourite vampire story. A 12 book series detailing someone growing up, and handles it very well. When you read the earlier books the sentence structure is very childlike, which makes sense considering he is a child, yet as the series develops the author changes the style to a more mature style as the character ages. It’s subtle enough that you might not consciously notice, but on a subconscious level it does register with you and is a genius bit of storytelling. If you haven’t read it I should warn you; it gets VERY weird towards the last few books.

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Songs/Albums

I Will Follow you into the dark – Death Cab For Cutie

How did I not hear this song before? This is a song I should have heard for the first time when I was a bitter cynical 15 year old, I would have clinged to this song like a barnacle clings to a ship, like chewing gum clings to school tables, like I cling to the idea that there’s an adequate way to complete this simile. As it is I heard this when I was a bitter cynical 30 year old.

Actual Results May Vary – Babypuncher

One of the best songs from a simply amazing EP released last year (available for free download here). The lyrics in this song are simply sublime. My favourite line being:

“I can’t fix you and you can’t fix me, but we can both be broken together”

That line resonated so much with me when I first heard it, and sums up the feelings of characters in a script I’m working on at the moment (a longer version of this). This is a perfect song to listen to whilst sitting on a train in the rain and looking out of the window.

Please Come Home – Dustin Kensrue

Unpopular opinion here, I prefer his solo stuff than his stuff with Thrice. Although it can be hard to get past the feeling he sounds like that guy on your college course who carries an acoustic guitar everywhere and plays Wonderwall shirtless under a tree like a dickhead (that’s actually pretty much the genre it’s listed as on my ipod).

Best song:  I Knew You Before.

If the rest of the album was as good as this song, it would be one of my favourite albums.

I’m With Stupid – Aimee Mann

Aimee Mann makes me feel things, and I’m not ashamed to say that. Has the perfect mix of snarky and heartfelt, like a clinically depressed comedian. Also has a line which I absolutely love for some reason:

“Row, row, row your boat

gently down the stream

hope you drown and never come back”

And you have to love an album which is melodic and beautiful yet starts with the line

“you fucked it up, you should’ve quit”

Best song: Long Shot