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.