31 December 2018

The Must See Films of 2018

Woah. Welcome to the end of the longest year on record, twelve months so full of global bullshit that it feels like it's been decades since even June. Sadly, I haven't been able to see quite as many films as I would've liked in 2018 - a combination of real life getting in the way, and the simple fact that my local cinema seems dedicated to the cause of advertising interesting movies and then refusing to actually show the bloody things - so if your favourite film doesn't appear in this list, well there's a fair chance that might be because I just haven't seen it. Either that, or you have crap taste and I personally hate you. Either way, below are the films that were released in the UK in 2018 that I would call "unmissable", films that any fan of cinema owes it to themselves to see.

So, in release date order;

Black Panther

I mean, obviously. I'm struggling to think of another film that had the kind of immediate cultural impact that Black Panther had, and while few would argue that it's director Ryan Coogler's best film, there are also few would argue that it doesn't belong somewhere near the top of a list titled "Best films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe". Sure, the CGI is a little rough at times, and that can't help but leave something of a sour taste in the mouth. But between the great performances, the fascinating characters (both heroic and villainous), the deeply thematically rich story and the brilliant Bond-esque middle section, Black Panther still ends up being one of the very best blockbusters released this year.

You can read my full review of Black Panther here.

29 December 2018

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse review

It's been a good couple of years for Spider-Man fans, which is something of a pleasant surprise when you consider the radically different position the character found himself in just four short years ago. Cast your minds back to the winter of 2014 for a moment - Spider-Man couldn't help but feel a tad like yesterday's news, what with the newly crowned Marvel Cinematic Universe dominating the screen, the Raimi trilogy already being something of a distant memory and Webb's attempt to restart the franchise failing to ignite much passion in anyone but its most vocal detractors (myself included - if nothing else, at least The Amazing Spider-Man 2 inspired me to start this very blog). Things weren't looking great for ol' web head - and yet since then, we've seen the character make his debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to much applause, star in his first good solo movie since 2004, make a hugely enjoyable appearance in probably the most successful and talked about film of 2018 and even star in his own critically acclaimed and highly successful video game. It's been quite the impressive turnaround - so really, I guess it's only fair that Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ends that winning streak in such a disappointing fashion.

I'm joking, of course. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse might actually be Spidey's biggest success story yet, a film so top to bottom great that if given the option, I'd have sat there and watched it a second time just as soon as the end credits stopped rolling. And possibly even a third.

We follow Miles Morales, an Afro-Latino New Yorker teenager who (wouldn't you just know it) winds up getting bitten by some kind of radioactive spider and gaining superpowers. But this isn't your average origin story - after a plan to stop a dangerous experiment held by Wilson Fisk goes wrong, several other Spider-Folk are dragged into Miles' universe, all of whom will soon die from the side-effects of being in the wrong universe if they cannot get back to where they came from.

21 December 2018

Creed II review

Is it OK to admit that I was kind of dreading the release of Creed II? It's predecessor is, at least in my opinion, one of the best old-fashioned capital M Movies released this decade, and the promise of a sequel to that - a sequel without writer/director Ryan Coogler at the helm and acting as a follow-up of sorts to Rocky IV, of all things - was always going to be something of a shaky proposition at best. After all, the Rocky franchise is almost defined by the phrase "diminishing returns", and my love for Creed meant that I didn't want that to happen again here. Happily though, my fears were misplaced - Creed II might not reach the heights of Creed (and in fairness, I really don't think it was ever going to), but it still manages to be a worthy sequel and an entertaining movie in its own right.

The plot couldn't be simpler if it tried, what with the whole film being pretty much just a new lick of paint on the bones of virtually any boxing movie (and especially Rocky IV), but that's not really intended as a criticism - no one is going to see these movies for innovative storytelling or shocking plot twists, after all. Instead, Creed II is more than happy to hit the beats you expect when you expect them, choosing to focus it efforts not on subverting expectations or doing something brilliantly original but instead on just delivering a really good version of what it is, and that's exactly where it succeeds.

2 December 2018

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald review

Before we start this review in earnest, I'd like to take a moment to direct your attention to the title of the latest entry in what Warner Bros are trying to establish as the "Wizarding World" franchise. It is, as you likely know (how else did you get here?), Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. Let's think about that for a second, shall we? To put it in non-magical terms, the title of this film is "Cool Animals: Race War", and it's about David Attenborough getting into a fist-fight with Adolf Hitler. I'm making light of it, but there's a clear, undeniable friction between the "Fantastic Beasts" branding and the path these films have actually took, resulting in a film - and indeed, a franchise - that feels at war with itself, tugging in two different directions throughout and nearly tearing itself in half. And that's just the title - the opening scene of the film only reinforces this sense of friction, a sequence that sees Grindelwald (again, the wizarding version of Hitler) escape from prison that ends with some classic Harry Potter happy twinkly music as the title card appears. "The magical Nazis are on the rise again! Time for a fun adventure!".

It's a staggering miscalculation, the first of many that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald commits over the course of its running time that all add up to create something that simply shouldn't exist, if not at all then certainly in the form it's currently in. From a film-making perspective it's bad - drab and unexciting in all the ways that instantly mark it as a David Yates movie - but from a Harry Potter perspective it's downright insulting, inserting clearly made up on the spot backstory where none is needed and (seemingly) altering established facts about this world and its characters on a whim. It's fan fiction-y and pandering in all the worst ways, and it ends with a "shocking reveal" so deeply unearned by the film itself and totally at odds with the larger Harry Potter canon around it that I have to assume that the characters involved are either mistaken or simply lying, less my brain be turned to mush trying to figure out just what the hell J.K. Rowling was thinking. Making a film "just for fans" is easy - making a film that's "just for fans" that even the fans are going to hate is bloody hard, yet it's the one thing that Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald unequivocally succeeds at.

22 November 2018

Widows review

Widows, the latest film from writer/director Steve McQueen, is something of a strange film to try to talk about, and not just because this fairly prestigious production from the director of 12 Years a Slave and starring a number of big name actors turns out to be based on an early 1980's ITV series of the same name. The premise is simple enough - after their husbands die during a job gone wrong, a group of widows must pull off a heist their husbands had planned before their deaths in order to placate a dangerous criminal - but it's the way that Widows tackles that premise that makes it complicated to discuss.

You see, while Widows is inarguably a heist film, it's quite unlike any heist film I've seen before, certainly a far cry away from the glitz and glamour of the Ocean's movies. It terms of tone it's far more similar to something like Michael Mann's Heat, but even then there are fundamental differences in how each film approaches its story, characters and themes that keep them arms length apart. Widows isn't a film about absurdly complex plans or criminal codes of honour - it's just the story of a group of determined women forced to do something they'd all much rather not be doing, and doing it to the best of their abilities.

31 October 2018

First Man review

We hear the metal of the ship groaning in protest of the immense forces being placed upon it. We see various dials and displays that are shaking so violently they're impossible to read. Over a headset, a voice gives barely audible instructions that the crafts pilot can do literally nothing about thanks to the intense G-forces that are pinning him to the back of his chair. This flight isn't graceful, or easy: it's a tiny, claustrophobic tin can that is propelling itself through sky not with finesse or grace but through nothing more than a vaguely controlled explosion that has been pointed in roughly the right direction, and the grimace of the astronauts face as he endures the shaking and hopes against hope that everything will turn out OK only worsens as the screaming of the metal gets all the louder and the shaking all the more vicious. And then, as the nose of the craft begins to glow red hot, just as you think this almost comically primitive shuttle hurtling through the air at incredible speeds can't possibly take much more: silence. Stillness. Peaceful serenity as it exits the atmosphere. Floating gently, the shuttle offers its inhabitant a beautiful glimpse of Earth from afar. It's a view that very few people are lucky enough to have seen to this day. The journey was a success - he survives, at least for now.

It's in these moments that First Man is at its very best, managing to imbue the NASA missions that Neil Armstrong and others undertook with an incredible amount of tension despite the fact that we already know what the outcomes are, fully managing to make us understand both how dangerous the early space missions were and how terrifying they must've been for those brave enough to undertake them. Sequences like this punctuate First Man's nearly two and half hour long running time throughout, each one more tense and gripping than the last.

9 October 2018

Hold The Dark review

Any long time readers of ScreenNerds - or even people who I've spoken to about films at any length over the last few years - are probably well aware of the high esteem that I hold filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier in, and I doubt that many people who have seen his previous films (namely Blue Ruin and Green Room) would argue that he hasn't earned it. They're both genuinely brilliant movies, taught and tense and impossibly tight experiences that each leave lasting impressions in very different ways, united by an approach to violence that neither glorifies it nor shys away from just how horrible and damaging it really is. So it was with a great deal of optimism that I sat down to watch Saulnier's latest film, the Netflix produced Hold The Dark - and a great deal of disappointment when I eventually realised that it wouldn't be offering any of the things that made his previous films... well, good, and uniquely, identifiably his.

The plot sees wolf expert Russell Core travelling to a small Alaskan town in order to hunt down a pack of wolves that have been killing local children, but that's really just a kicking off point for what Hold The Dark becomes. The problem? Even having seen it, I'm not really sure exactly what that is, a crime thriller dabbling in a strange, primal mysticism that defies both definition and explanation. Come the credits I was none the wiser about why any of the events of the film happened and what it was all meant to mean - and unfortunately, I'm not particularly bothered about finding out either.

6 September 2018

Upgrade review

If there's one thing that film folk love talking about in this post-Netflix world, it's the importance of the theatrical experience, and while it's something I've always by and large agreed with (there are few things better than seeing a great film on the big screen as far as I'm concerned), it's actually Upgrade that has made me realise how right they are - albeit for a very different reason than the ones usually given. You see, if I'd have been watching Upgrade at home in my living room, I'd have turned it off within the first twenty minutes. But the act of having paid for a ticket and gone to the effort of getting to the cinema compelled me to stay, and I'm glad that I did. Those first twenty minutes or so might be incredibly rough to say the least, but by the time Upgrade gets to where it so obviously wants to be, there is a marked uptick in quality that ends up resulting in a film that while a long, long way from perfect, I'm mostly glad I stuck around for.

I realise that's pretty mild praise, but it's also the truth. Those opening twenty minutes or so are legitimately difficult to sit through, burdened by some truly atrocious dialogue, weak characterisation and stilted editing that all point towards the idea that no-one involved with the production really cared all that much about this part of the movie, especially when you compare it to some of the scenes that come along later. It's the definition of a paint-by-numbers opening, a series of scenes that exist solely to clue up the audience before the film gets to where it actually wants to be, and that shows.

30 July 2018

Mission: Impossible - Fallout review

Do me a favour, will you? Take yourself back a decade or so, to the summer of 2008. It's been a full 2 years since the release of JJ Abrams' Mission: Impossible 3 (which, let's not forget, disappointed at the box office), and Brad Bird's Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol hasn't even been announced, let alone started to pique the public's interest. You've just seen the release of both Iron Man and The Dark Knight, two highly successful films that have gone on to become hugely iconic and influential in their own right. Now imagine that I appear in front of you through some kind of time hole, and tell you not just that there will be more Mission: Impossible films, but that they'll go on to become one of the very best action franchises in all of Hollywood.

No-one would believe what I had to say, right? And yet here we are in the year of our Lord 2018, and the Mission: Impossible franchise has a strong claim - virtually uncontested, in fact - towards being just that. There isn't another series of films out there even attempting to match the kind of visceral action or practical stunt work that the Mission: Impossible series has become incredibly good at providing, and in a cinematic landscape otherwise ruled by CGI? Well, that's simply hugely refreshing, quite rightly marking the series out as something very special indeed. It may have taken four films and a full 15 years to truly find its footing, but if Mission: Impossible - Fallout is anything to go by, this franchise shows no sign of slipping up now.

23 July 2018

Disney were wrong to fire James Gunn

James Gunn was fired from directing Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 because he criticised Donald Trump.

There's a lot of context and additional information behind this whole shitty situation that I'm hoping to get to in a second, but ultimately, that's exactly what has happened here. After repeatedly speaking out against Trump on Twitter, known alt-right (read: Neo-Nazi) Internet personality Mike Cernovich dug out some old, bad taste tweets made by Gunn and screamed about it until someone was stupid enough to listen. The people stupid enough to listen were Disney, and Gunn was fired. He's the latest victim of a culture war that's been particularly ugly since 2014, all because Cernovich, a self-confessed rapist and all-round piece of shit, didn't like someone speaking out against an equally awful human being.

25 June 2018

Hereditary review

Empathy is a funny old thing. The ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and imagine what it must feel like to be in the same situation as them is, as far as I'm aware, a uniquely human trait, one that allows us to be more compassionate than any other creature on the face of the planet. It's also something that we often choose to ignore when it might be an inconvenience, shutting ourselves off from the plight of others if it might disrupt something as simple as the way we like to think of the world, or the ease with which we go about living our lives. Empathy is behind all that humanity should be most proud of; our ability to ignore it is responsible for our most terrible acts.

Which is part of what makes Hereditary, a film that plays with empathy throughout, such an interesting movie. It's a horror film first and foremost, but behind that there's a story of family, loss and the strain that can put on any relationship that ultimately ends up being Hereditary's most compelling feature. Yes, it's a film that asks more of its audience than a lot of horror films do, both in the level you're expected to engage with the material and in accepting a handful of what can only be described as goofy moments - but it's also got a lot more to offer than a lot of horror films too, a trade off that is at least in my eyes completely worth it.

1 June 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story review

There never should have been a Han Solo prequel movie. Before we can talk about Solo: A Star Wars Story in any meaningful way, this is a fact we simply have to accept - not only is it a really boring, tired idea for a film (who the hell cares what Han might have been up to before meeting Luke and Obi-Wan in Mos Eisley?), it's also continuing the franchises inability to look beyond the original trilogy in any meaningful way, falling into the same trap of the prequel trilogy by assuming that the more details we know of a character's backstory, the better. Coming just a handful of months after Star Wars: The Last Jedi dared to do something new with the franchise, that can't help but feel like a huge step backwards - but around the clumsy references and eye-roll inducing nods at the audience, Solo: A Star Wars Story is at its core just an excuse to see some characters you know and some you don't on a mostly standalone and refreshingly small-scale adventure, and from that perspective... well, it's not bad.

At the very least it's more entertaining than you might expect, especially once you take into account its more than just troubled production. For those not in the know, original directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller had been filming Solo: A Star Wars Story for four months before they were unceremoniously fired and replaced by Ron Howard, who went on to reshoot approximately 70% of the film. That the end product isn't a complete and utter mess is nothing short of a minor miracle, one only made all the more impressive by the film somehow feeling more cohesive as a movie than Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (which had a significantly less troubled production) ever did.

6 May 2018

Avengers: Infinity War review

It's too damn big.

I mean, no doy, right? All but one of Marvel Studios' previous "event movies" have felt at times overstuffed, and they were only trying to juggle a fraction of the characters - Avengers: Infinity War is attempting to balance an unprecedented twenty-two, and that's not even including those who only show up for a couple of scenes. Something with this many moving parts was always going to be far too big to function as an actual movie - that it still somehow ends up being a quite entertaining (and at times genuinely shocking) piece of blockbuster entertainment is frankly nothing short of a modern miracle.

You know the story, or at least how it starts. Thanos, the big purple guy in the chair who was first teased in the post-credits scene of Avengers Assemble some 6 years ago, has finally gotten off his ass in order to unite the Chaos Emeralds and become the most powerful being that the universe has ever known, and the only people standing in his way are... well, almost everyone that we've ever met over the last ten years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That's Avengers: Infinity War's main selling point - it is also quite obviously the source of all its biggest flaws.

26 April 2018

Ghost Stories review

It's hard to look back over the last half a decade or so and not come to the conclusion that horror is having one hell of a comeback. I mean, in the last 2 years alone we've seen the release of a virtual glut of genuinely great and massively varied horror films - you've got Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room, a grounded, violent and incredibly tense siege thriller; Andy Muschietti's It, which garnered the kind of mainstream attention most films would kill for; Jordan Peele's Get Out, a razor sharp social satire that should've won Best Picture; Robert Eggers' The Witch, which is like nothing else I've ever seen; and even more recently John Krasinski's A Quiet Place, which has been released to both rave reviews and unexpected box office success. Horror seems to be host to a lot of interesting voices at the moment, and they're all doing an incredible amount of work towards helping the genre shed the trashy slasher image that the 80's/90's left it burdened with. But until now, they've almost all been American voices - what happens when the British speak up?

The result is Ghost Stories, a supernatural horror anthology that's both radically different to any of the aforementioned films and, unfortunately, not quite as successful at doing what it sets out to do. Written and directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson, it started life as a stage play in 2010, and follows paranormal investigator/skeptic Professor Phillip Goodman as he is given three cases by ex-skeptic Charles Cameron that supposedly prove the existence of the supernatural. The first of these follows a nightwatchman as he works a graveyard shift in an abandoned asylum for women; the second follows a young man who has been left deeply shaken after his car broke down in the middle of nowhere; the third follows a wealthy businessman forced to spend the night alone in his enormous, isolated house while his pregnant wife is in hospital.

23 April 2018

A Quiet Place review

Cinema may be an audiovisual medium, but silence is one of the most effective tools a film-maker has at their disposal. When used well, the absence of any and all noise can draw an audience into a moment like nothing else, instantly ramping up the tension as they tentatively wait to see what might be behind the sudden need for quiet. It's a very primal reaction that films, TV and even video games have been taking advantage of for decades now, and it's one that A Quiet Place uses to great effect, making well-established techniques feel incredibly fresh in the process.

I mean, it's kind of genius really. By setting a horror movie in a world where making any kind of noise is likely to get you killed by a lightning fast and virtually invulnerable alien predator, A Quiet Place finds an in-universe excuse to never allow its audience the release of tension that something as simple as a conversation or the hustle and bustle of normal life often provides. Most of the time, a dead silence in a horror film indicates that something is about to jump out and scare you - here, it's indicative of nothing in particular, offering no clues about if the characters we follow throughout (the Abbotts, a fairly typical American family of 5) are in immediate danger or not, and that can't help but imbue every single scene with a staggering amount of suspense that the film itself doesn't even need to work that hard to maintain. Even the most ordinary of day-to-day tasks to take on extra significance when you know that the smallest of slip ups will have deadly consequences, and that's something that A Quiet Place takes great pleasure in playing with.

13 April 2018

Isle of Dogs review

It's been the best part of a decade since writer/director Wes Anderson first ventured into the world of stop-motion animation with his wonderful take on Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox, but Isle of Dogs quite handily proves that his time away from the medium has done nothing to lessen his ability to effectively utilise it. It might be a long way from perfect thanks to some story decisions that feel insensitive at best, but between its stunning animation, a stellar voice cast, Alexandre Desplat's gorgeous score and Anderson's unique sensibilities, Isle of Dogs is probably going to end up being both the most charming and the best looking film I'll see this year.

Not that you'd guess that from the film's premise, of course, which in a vaccuum sounds about as far away from "good looking" or "charming" as you could possibly imagine. Set in the wake of fictional Japanese city Megasaki choosing to send all of its dogs to the appropriately named Trash Island after an outbreak of Snout Fever, we follow Atari Kobayashi - the adopted son of Megasaki's ruler, Mayor Kobayashi - as he searches for his guard dog/best friend Spots, who was the first to be deported. While searching for Spots, Atari befriends a pack of five dogs who decide to help him, accompanying him across Trash Island as Mayor Kobayashi attempts to both "rescue" his son and put an end to Snout Fever once and for all.

28 March 2018

Ready Player One review

"Come with me / And you'll be / In a world of pure imagination". So goes Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory's "Pure Imagination", a version of which scored the first trailers for Steven Spielberg's Ready Player One and promised an imagination fuelled adventure in the process - a promise only reinforced by main character Wade Watts' description of The Oasis (a virtual reality that most of the population of Earth spend the bulk of their time in 2045) as a world where "the limits of reality are your own imagination". So with that in mind, how is it that Ready Player One has ended up being one of the most deeply unimaginative and creatively bankrupt films I've even seen?

The answer is simple but depressing: it's a film that seems to be operating under the wild misconception that grouping a lot of recognisable things created by other people's imagination under one roof counts as using your own. It doesn't, obviously, and yet it's so busy doing this throughout that it forgets to do much of anything else, meaning that while those looking for a seemingly never ending parade of pop culture references presented to the audience with all the intelligence, elegance and wit as an episode of The Big Bang Theory are in luck, those looking for an engaging story or interesting characters or... well, a real movie, are going to end up feeling more than just a little bored and frustrated with a film that simply doesn't even seem to be trying.

20 March 2018

Mom and Dad review

"Brilliant!" I hear you say through the microphone(s) I've hidden on your person, "a film where parents are driven to kill their children by a mysterious radio transmission? Starring Nicholas Cage, written and directed by the guy behind the Crank films? This is going to be a blast!"

Well not so fast, my clueless friend. Your line of reasoning makes sense - it's always fun when Nicholas Cage goes full Nicholas Cage, and the idea of seeing that happen in a film about child murder that's written and directed by Brian Taylor is an exciting one - but there are two pretty fundamental problems at the heart of Mom and Dad that stop it from ever being the film you think it might be. The first is simple: Nicholas Cage is the main reason that most people will want to see Mom and Dad, but there are large stretches of it that he's entirely absent from, presumably because the film doesn't have a high enough budget to pay Cage's fee throughout. The second is... a little more complicated.

8 March 2018

I, Tonya review

"Good artists copy; great artists steal". It's a fairly well-known saying that speaks to the way art evolves over time as the innovations of influential artists seep into the work of those who come along later, but it's worth breaking down what exactly the phrase means by "steal". Mimicry or simple replication isn't enough; you have to make something your own in order to steal it, add your own unique spin or use it in a particular way that stamps your name on it, and that means that I, Tonya - a biopic whose style was quite clearly heavily influenced by the work of Martin Scorsese - doesn't qualify as an act of theft. Appropriately then, it also doesn't qualify as great art - merely quite good.

At the very least it's a vast improvement over the pale Scorsese imitation that David O. Russell has been doing for the last few years, thanks in large part to director Craig Gillespie's much firmer grasp of how to make the particulars of this style - such as the fourth-wall breaking narration, or the eclectic soundtrack - work on-screen. But just as important to why I, Tonya works where films like Joy don't is the simple fact that the story of disgraced American figure skater Tonya Harding is both a) actually worth telling and b) well-suited to this style of film-making, hitting all the required funny, sad and tense beats as it focuses on a number of vibrant, almost larger-than-life characters who you actually want to learn more about and see interact with one another.

20 February 2018

Black Panther review

I don't think it's going to come as a massive shock to anyone to learn that Black Panther, the 18th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is worth seeing. Marvel Studios have been releasing films that are good at worst for so long now that it almost feels like a foregone conclusion, which means that the real question at this point is if each new instalment in this mega-franchise can meet the expectations set for it. In the case of Black Panther, those expectations are sky high thanks to the character's impressive debut in Captain America: Civil War and the fact it's written/directed by the brilliant Ryan Coogler - and unfortunately, I don't think it quite manages to meet them.

Don't get me wrong, it's without a doubt one of the stronger films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to date, introducing us to a ton of great new characters and telling an interesting, thematically complex story that I'm sure people will be analysing and talking about for a long time to come - but it's also Ryan Coogler's weakest movie by a fair margin, lacking the sense of craft and rich emotional substance that made both Fruitvale Station and Creed as deeply engaging as they are. It's a really good superhero film for sure, certainly one with more ambition and intelligence than most, but the realities of making a Disney-backed Marvel Studios film means that it's also ultimately *only* a really good superhero film, rather than the legitimately great piece of cinema it often feels close to becoming.

6 February 2018

Early Man review

Thanks to their seemingly constant rotation on our TV since I was a child I've loved A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave for as long as I can remember, which naturally turned me into a huge fan of Aardman Animations after films like Chicken Run, Flushed Away and Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (a film I'd happily consider to be a personal favourite) proved that they could handle the leap to feature-length just fine, especially if director Nick Park was at the helm. Between their distinctive visual style, their steadfast dedication to the craft of stop-motion claymation and a thoroughly British sense of humour, there's simply no-one else quite like them - so why is that Early Man, Aardman Animations' latest film and the first film directed by Nick Park in a decade, left me feeling so deeply disappointed?

The answer is simple: because it's a real disappointment when compared to a lot of what they've done in the past. With the sole exception of the animation itself (which is simply fantastic throughout), there isn't an area where Early Man doesn't pale in comparison to the studio's previous works, from how well its story is told to how funny it is to the level that it's ultimately pitched at. Set in prehistoric times, we follow a stone age caveman named Dug who lives in a lush green valley alongside his fellow tribesmen and tribeswomen. But after being forced out of the valley by a bronze age civilisation led by the villainous Lord Nooth, Dug and his tribe must reclaim their home in the only way they'll be allowed to - by beating the bronze age civilisation at a game of football.

26 January 2018

The Post review

Like a few of Spielberg's more recent movies, The Post (which sits comfortably alongside Lincoln and Bridge of Spies in what I'm calling Spielberg's "important events in American history" trilogy) is a film with a lot of narrative on its hands. It's telling the story of Katharine Graham, the publisher of the Washington Post during the Nixon administration and the difficulties she faced in being taken seriously in a male-dominated environment. It's telling the story of Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of the Washington Post during the release of the Pentagon Papers and, later, the Watergate scandal. And it's telling the story behind The Pentagon Papers, a decades long deception of the American people by the American government in order to maintain public support for a war they know they can't win.

It's a lot, but it works because much like how Bridge of Spies isn't really about the Cold War at all, The Post isn't really about those things either. Instead, it's about the importance of a free press and the vital role they play in any true democracy, which makes The Post feel extremely relevant in the time of Trump and "fake news" accusations. There are speeches given by characters here that may as well be delivered directly to the camera and addressed to 2018 itself, and while that has the potential to come across as preachy, Spielberg's guiding hand alongside Liz Hannah's solid script ensures that's never quite the case, resulting in a film that speaks to its audience rather than at them. It helps, of course, that most of these speeches are delivered by everyone's favourite uncle Tom Hanks, who plays Ben Bradlee much the same way he played James Donovan in Bridge of Spies - intelligent, righteous, and not afraid to speak up in the face of injustice, regardless of the consequences he might face.

12 January 2018

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review

It's a really good movie.

I say this upfront because I know that parts of the following review might indicate otherwise, and I wouldn't want that to be the only thing people take away from what I'm saying here. Yes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has problems in its approach to some of the topics it attempts to deal with - but that doesn't stop it from also being a really well-made and engaging movie that I liked a lot. It's writer/director Martin McDonagh through and through, a great script bolstered by some of the best performances you're likely to see this year, and that alone means that it's a film very much worth seeing, warts and all.

Set in the fictional town Ebbing, Missouri, we follow divorcee Mildred Hayes in the wake of the rape and murder of her daughter, Angela. Frustrated by the inability of the local police to catch her daugher's assailant, she erects three billboards outside the town that specifically take police chief William Willoughby to task about the lack of arrests - a decision that the seemingly tightknit community of Ebbing don't take kindly to, being as Willoughby is in the late stages of pancreatic cancer.