My Top 10 Most Notable Films of 2018

Apologies folks. While I am a little late in posting my list of movies for 2018, that’s pretty much what comes about when this entire blogging thing is technically a hobby and doesn’t actually put food on the table!

Regardless of the financial funk I currently find myself in, when looking back through my silver screen memories, it somewhat feels like 2018 has ended up being rather similar to the cinematic landscape of 2017.

  • Yet another controversial Star Wars film was released (The Last Jedi / Solo)
  • The ultimate superhero team-up imagined by millions over the past few decades was finally seen on the big screen. (Justice League / Infinity War)
  • A belated sequel to a classic movie based on a children’s book is released and thought to be quite good by critics and the masses alike. (Jumanji 2 / Mary Poppins Returns)
  • A musical adaptation of a real life figure(s) grossly misrepresents the historical record, but no one gives a damn because the music is so good. (The Greatest Showman / Bohemian Rhapsody)
  • A director that most people had written off makes a massive return to form with a low-budget crowdpleaser (M. Night Shymalan’s Split / Peter Farrelly’s Green Book)
  • A heavily Chinese-influenced movie starring a white man who’s way over his head, but still manages to save the world from monsters (The Great Wall / The Meg)

Despite the déjà vu, 2018 still had some gems. So, as is tradition for those of us in the film loving community, what follows is a list of films that I have found especially notable in the preceding 12 months of cinema.

As always, when trying to come to a decision my only rule was that the film had to have been released in UK cinemas between 1st January 2018 and 31st December 2018. So tough luck to films like Mary Queen of Scots, The Favourite, Beautiful Boy, Vice, and all the other awards favourites.

Special mentions: The Shape of Water, Journeyman, Darkest Hour, American Animals, Overlord, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, Mary Poppins Returns, The Mercy, The Final Year, Lady Bird, Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Teen Titans Go To The Movies, A Star is Born, First Man, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Guilty Pleasures: Rampage, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Tag, Mama Mia: Here We Go Again, Venom, Truth or Dare.


1) Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

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© 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved

From my original review:

(Director) McDonagh hits many of the same heights of his previous films. Dark and funny dialogue permeates almost every scene, with each actor managing to tread that fine line such a script would require. Without a doubt McDormand pulls this off best, with her character mostly earning the audience’s sympathy, even when her actions sometimes cross the line into more villainous territory.


2) Coco

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© 2017 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.

From my original review:

Said journey is essentially a tale of culture clash, the unmovable traditions of old fighting to contain the burgeoning excitement and dreams of the young. It’s a story, not just familiar to those cultures with strong family ties, but also to anyone that has tried to fight the desire within to choose personal fulfillment over family commitment. As such, Coco doesn’t come off as a film just for families, but also a film about families. The struggles, the pain, the tears; but also the laughs, the hugs and the moments you treasure for years to come.


3) The Post

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© 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Storyteller Distribution Co. LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Despite Ready Player One making far more money, of the two Steven Spielberg films released this year, The Post stands as the superior piece of filmmaking. True, this is in part due to how resonant the topic of media outlets fighting against a dismissive government regime is in this day and age. But with sterling turns from both Hanks and Streep, The Post is a timely reminder how important it is to speak truth to power.


4) Avengers: Infinity War

thanos
© 2018 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.

From my original review:

But do not fear, Marvel haven’t just made Schindler’s List. There are still jokes aplenty. Indeed one of the most joyful aspects of the movie is watching characters that have never met before interact with each other. As such seeing Iron-Man verbally spar with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) fighting back to back with Okoye (Danai Gurira); or even Thor (Chris Hemsworth) sharing a moment with Groot (Vin Diseal) and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) make up some of the most thrilling moments of the movie.


5) Game Night

game night
© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

On the surface Game Night looks like the usual piss-poor excuse to get a bunch of celebrities together in an inane attempt to try and pull off a comedy. Even the trailer (with the exception of one rib-tickling Rachel McAdams’ reaction) doesn’t really inspire much hope.

But when watching the movie, that low expectation gives way to what is actually a mad-cap adventure that brilliantly blends together a multitude of genres; all the while keeping the laughs at the forefront. Add in a heartfelt relationship within each of the three main couples, and you have one of the best comedies of the year.


6) A Quiet Place

a quiet place
© 2017 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

From my original review:

But, of course, sound is the most notable aspect of this feature; and it’s here that supervising sound editors, Erik Aadahl and Ethan Van der Ryn, have absolutely outdone anything released so far this year, and likely for the remainder of 2018. From the quietude of footsteps, breathing and panting, to the thunder of screams and monster roars; each sound has been appropriated to wring the maximum amount of tension. It is an absolute masterclass of sound editing and a guaranteed Oscar nomination come 2019.


7) Searching

searching
© 2018 Sundance Institute. All Rights Reserved.

From my original review:

Rather than the racial subversion in that Jordan Peele classic, Chaganty instead explores the more widely identifiable struggle of parental helplessness in the face of teenage rebellion. And much of the heavy lifting in portraying that struggle lies with who he has cast in the lead role. Without a doubt this is one of John Cho’s strongest performances to date; his role as a panicked father drawing us along with every painful minute he must suffer. Despite the film not technically being a one-man show, it’s hard not to compare what he does to similarly brilliant solo outings, such as Tom Hardy in Locke, or Ryan Reynolds in Buried.


8) A Simple Favour

A Simple Favour
© 2018 Lionsgate. All Rights Reserved.

From my original review:

Of course such friendship is only so mesmerising due to the brilliant chemistry between its leading ladies. Though both do well, it’s Lively that comes out on top. Foul-mouthed and straight-up not giving a fuck, Lively dominates like no other, tearing through each of her scenes with reckless abandon. If anything she could easily give her real-life husband, Ryan Reynolds, a run for his Deadpool money.


9) Ralph Breaks The Internet

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© 2018 Disney. All Rights Reserved.

Despite my minor disappointment in the move away from videogaming, the sequel to 2015’s Wreck-It-Ralph makes up for said move by becoming a love letter to the internet and all its pop-culture relevance. Not only is the concept of the internet brilliantly brought to life, mainly through an assortment of Mii-lookalikes pottering around multiple real-life tech organisations. But the filmmakers take great pains to push forward and develop the core duo, thus avoiding the trap most sequels fall into by merely putting their characters in a new location, repeating the beats of the original, and then calling it a day.


10) One Cut of the Dead

one cut of the dead
CREDIT: Courtesy of Frightfest Film Festival 2018.

From my original review:

Though mostly an intense death spree, writer/director Shin’ichirô Ueda also injects a strong thread of comedy throughout, especially through Hamatsu’s onscreen director, whose rants and raves makes David O. Russell look sane. But it’s not just the zombie genre that the film pokes fun at. The overbearing director, the demanding movie star, the bored crew member. The film almost acts as a social commentary on the stresses and strains of movie-making.


Hope everyone has a good 2019!

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Licenced under Creative Commons CC0 / Pixabay

 

Review: Ready Player One (2018) – The Return of Blockbuster Spielberg?

A few months ago someone told me that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One was basically the male fantasy equivalent of Fifty Shades of Grey. Essentially both were badly written books that could only be appreciated by the gender and age group they were aimed at.

I can’t attest to the truth of that statement, especially since I haven’t read either book. But judging a film by its book cover has always been a pursuit in futility. Regardless of the book’s general reception, the most notable aspect of the adaptation is getting Steven Spielberg to direct. Hell, the man more or less created the concept of the “blockbuster.” And with the possible exception of James Cameron and Christopher Nolan, is there anyone else in the world whose name would be powerful enough to get all the rights needed for the world of Ready Player One?

Indeed, when looking at Spielberg’s prior work, it suggests he was easily one of the best people to adapt the 2011 novel. Jaws, The Colour Purple, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s Ark, Amistad, Minority Report, Catch Me If You Can, War Horse, the Tintin comics and The BFG are all popular pieces of literature that he turned into critically and (mostly) commercially successful movies. (Okay, he kind of failed on adapting The Lost World, but could anyone have pulled off that book?)

But while Spielberg is a great choice for Ready Player One, is Ready Player One a great choice for Spielberg? His last true blockbuster success was 2008’s Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of The Crystal Skull (Yes, argue as much as you want, but that film was massively successful!) In the ten years since, his attempts at blockbuster filmmaking (specifically The Adventures of Tintin and The BFG) haven’t reached anywhere near the same heights as his work in the 80s and 90s.

So, the question is… Does Spielberg still have the magic blockbuster touch?

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The year is 2045 and teenager Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) spends most of his time inside a digital world known as the OASIS. Created by the long-dead James Halliday (Mark Rylance), the OASIS is used by millions as a form of escape, allowing them the chance to do numerous activities they could never do in real life.

Along with his best friend, Aech (Lena Waithe), and famed player, Art3mis (Olivia Cooke), Watts has been trying to solve “Anorak’s Quest”; a series of puzzles that, when solved, would allow the winner to gain full control and legal ownership of the OASIS.

But with the same goal is the world’s second largest videogame company, Innovative Online Industries (IOI). Led by Nolan Sorrento (Ben Mendelsohn), the ruthless company will stop at nothing to get out on top.


Opening with what can only be called a history lesson, Ready Player One quickly sets up the never ending nature of the OASIS. It’s in this world-building that the Spielberg imagination is best exhibited. Unlike Inception, which rigidly stuck to real world restrictions (despite the fact that many sequences were meant to be dreams); Spielberg’s newest film isn’t afraid to take the fantastical to a whole new level.

From climbing Everest with Batman to skydiving out of the spaceship Serenity, the pop culture references come thick and fast. And for the most part they can be taken as interesting additions to the backdrop. The problem, however, arises when pop culture references are used as text rather than subtext. For example, the film’s plot makes heavy use of the old Atari game system and several scenes from a famed Stanley Kubrick film. But unless you are very familiar with both these aspects (which, I confess, I am not), those scenes become tedious rather than entertaining

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Visually the movie is astounding and serves to remind the world just how skilled Spielberg is, even when his eye is behind a camera that’s entirely digital. But while the visual effects can rival Star Wars or the Marvel movies, the same can’t be said for its assortment of characters.

In particular the main protagonist comes to mind. While Sheridan does his best, what he’s been given is about as complex as a numerically-heavy episode of Sesame Street. He has no distinct character arc or goal outside of the desire of just wanting to win. At least in The Hunger Games winning meant surviving!

It’s clear the blankness of his character would have worked very well in the book, where (I assume) Watts existed for the reader to project themselves upon. But on the big screen this becomes dull as ditchwater. Especially when compared to Cooke’s character, who at least has the goal of familial revenge and escaping from a cycle of debt.

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But the single biggest problem is that of stakes. Specifically there is none for most of the movie. Being set almost entirely in a videogame world means no sense of danger exists. There is no fear of loss or fear of death. Sure, the film attempts to make some lip service towards it with the idea that losing in-game currency is important. But even when the events of the OASIS spill out into the real world, the threat never seems like anything more than a minor inconvenience.

Compare this to, say, The Matrix. In that film, it’s made abundantly clear how high the stakes are whenever you enter the Matrix. As Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus says: “The body cannot live without the mind.” That one line is enough to tell you that entering the Matrix is literally life or death. But the OASIS has none of that. It’s a videogame world, filled with respawns and extra lives, and as such emphasising with the character’s struggles becomes next to impossible.


Spielberg set himself one hell of a task in doing Ready Player One. To take a book that is actively aimed at a tiny minority of people, and attempt to make it palatable to as many individuals as possible would have been an impossible challenge for most. But while Spielberg succeeds on a technical level, he ultimately can’t overcome the flaws inherent to the original idea.

Released maybe fifteen or even ten years ago, Ready Player One could have been the film for all pop-culture nerds to rally around. But in a world where obscure pieces of pop-culture have now been blown up into some of the biggest media franchises of all time, Ready Player One just seems late to the party.

Overall Score:

three-stars

Photo Sources: Official Site, IMDb,

Will The New Han Solo Film Just Be Star Wars: The Greatest Hits?

The original inspiration for a screenplay can come from many different things. For some it might be a vague image, such as James Cameron’s fevered dream of nuclear devastation, leading to the creation of The Terminator.

Or maybe there’s a desire to exploit a new type of film-making, which would result in films such as The Blair Witch Project or Avatar.

Or perhaps it could even be as weird as what Spielberg did and base a film on an imaginary friend! (a la E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial)

But what interests me about the upcoming 2018 Han Solo film is not just its original inspiration, but what that could mean for the plot of said film.

Unlike say, Rogue One, which was based around the specific story of showing the theft of the Death Star plans;  the Han Solo movie seems to have willed its way into existence based purely on the popularity of a pre-existing character.

That, in itself, isn’t unusual as there have been many films that spin off popular characters. The Pink Panther sequels are a good example considering Inspector Clouseau wasn’t the main character in the original film.

Peter-Sellers

The problem is character spin-offs are rarely well developed. Mainly this is because the story has to be written around a character, as opposed to creating characters in order to bring a story to life.

Just look at films such as 2010’s Get em to the Geek or that ridiculous 2002 extravaganza known as The Scorpion King. Regardless of which character you follow, the need for a strong singular story-line is paramount. While it might still be nearly a year away from the silver screen, is the second Star Wars spin-off in danger of falling into the same trap?

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Oh come on! What else was I going to put here?

According to a recent article by Deadline, Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, has revealed a few interesting tidbits about the film. Namely the spin-off will have Han Solo:

“acquiring a certain vehicle and meeting a certain Wookie…You’ll also discover how he got his name.”

So not only will Han Solo (or whatever he’s called) become the new owner of the Millennium Falcon and meet his new BFF Chewbacca; but we also know from previous interviews that he’ll also be meeting Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) for the first time.

While I’m sure many Star Wars fans would love to see these moments realised on the big screen, they are exactly that: moments. Small ideas that are fun to think about, but not really a unique story or driving force. As disjointed as Rogue One was, at least there was a singular goal to its name.

Now, to be fair, this film is being directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. That alone is enough to give them the benefit of the doubt in my book. After all, if you can make a successful film out of raining hamburgers, Lego toys and an 80s police procedural, you’ve pretty much got this film-making thing down, haven’t you?

Review: Raiders! The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made (2015) – A Fan Film To End All Fan Films

The Youtube age has been a wonderful thing for aspiring filmmakers. No longer do filmmakers have to struggle through the Hollywood system, battling against unseen prejudices and bigotry. Picking up a camera and gathering some friends to shoot a labour of love has never been easier.

But it’s easy to forget that this desire by young filmmakers has been there long before the internet age. Over 30 years ago, 3 boys had the same dream and set out to complete one of the most insane projects in movie history.

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This is a little bit of a unique experience for me as, not only am I reviewing my first Netflix film, but I’m reviewing a film that covers the making of another film that I’ve never seen!

Raiders! The Story Of The Greatest Fan Film Ever Made introduces us to a magical unseen object. The Holy Grail of indie film making if you will. An absolute labour of love that can honestly be said to have taken a lifetime to complete.

In 1982 three teenagers (Chris Strompolos, Eric Zala and Jayson Lamb) got together and decided to remake Raiders of the Lost Ark. But unlike the $18 million extravagance of the original, they managed to do it (mostly!) with only $5000.

Over the next 7 years, every summer the trio would get together and painstakingly recreate almost every aspect of that first Indiana Jones film. What they filmed would eventually be named Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation.

Alas time and pain would tear the friendship of those boys apart and it seems this unique creation would be lost to the ravages of time. Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Eli Roth, Harry Knowles and many others, the film would find a new life and that is where our story (and the documentary) begins.

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© 2015 Drafthouse Films. All Rights Reserved.

In the 30 years or so that I have been watching movies, I have never before seen a film that better shows how a truly great story can bring people together.

Regardless of your personal opinion of the Indiana Jones series, the fact is this one story brought 3 boys together to achieve a dream. Yes, that dream took close to 30 years to come true, but if anything that shows just how worthwhile pursuing your dream can be.

The film itself is split into 2 threads, with one following first-person accounts from parents and the (now adult) kids discussing the various challenges and pitfalls of how the adaptation came to be.

Indy fan or not, it’s impossible not to get caught up in the joy (and sometimes hilarity) of watching a bunch of white kids in their early teens play Nazis, Arabs and indigenous Peruvians!

Alas the adaptation was missing one key scene that proved impossible to shoot on such a merge budget during the 80s: The one where Indy fights the giant Nazi near the rotating propeller.

And so the second thread covers the attempt to film this scene in 2014 and finally complete a dream that was 30 years in the making. Admittedly this is slightly less engaging than the previous thread, but nonetheless the passion to complete something, that most of us would have given up years ago, is apparent in every scene.

This is not a perfect documentary and I know it will never be considered alongside titans such as The Fog of War or Taxi to the Dark Side. But a great documentary doesn’t always have to be about war, tragedy and pain. Sometimes a great documentary can just be about 3 little boys who wanted to make a movie. And in the end, isn’t that just as inspiring?

Overall Score:

four-stars

Photo Credits: BattleRoyale With Cheese, ZekeFilm, Apple Trailers,