Isn’t this going well? I successfully managed to keep up my regular weekly posts for a grand total of one whole entire week before failing miserably. In my defence, it’s been a busy period, with Aisha off gallivanting around the world on business (specifically Arizona and Germany), leaving me to look after not just our dog but also her parents’ cockapoo puppy (her favourite thing: waking me up by jumping on me in bed and cleaning out my ears with her tongue, also urinating in my office, the only room we’ve re-carpeted since moving in) and walking our neighbour’s god every day. Regardless, normality has now resumed so I get on with covering four weeks worth of movies, a time period that has included me attempting to hit some of the bigger Oscar nominees in response to the nominations announcement (WHERE IS THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE? WHERE? I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS AGAIN! THE OSCARS ARE DEAD TO ME!) as well as watching almost every M. Night Shyamalan movie in preparation for the regrettable decision to host a retrospective podcast on him. So, let’s get on with it, shall we? Here’s all the movies I’ve watched recently:
The Book of Henry (2017)
A young but very intellectually gifted boy (Jaeden Lieberher) attempts to survive an ordinary childhood with his waitress mother (Naomi Watts) and little brother (Room’s Jacob Tremblay), until he begins to suspect his girl-next-door crush (Maddie Ziegler) may be suffering abuse at the hands of her police commissioner stepfather (Dean Norris). I’d heard terrible things about this, but remembered liking the trailer so gave it a go when we saw it was streaming. It was a Friday night and my wife suggested we watch Logan again, but I thought that might be a bit too heavy for the popcorn-viewing we were after, but it turned out The Book of Henry was way worse in terms of its sombre level. This is a gut punch of a film in ways I’m a little annoyed I didn’t even suspect. Yes it’s manipulative and saccharine, but it’s nowhere near as terrible as everyone made out to be. The Rude Goldberg-esque creations were fun, the kids were good, there’s a decent supporting cast (Sarah Silverman, Bobby Moynihan, Lee Pace) all putting in good work, and it surprised me, which is rare these days.
Lists: 2017 Movies
Choose Life 6/10
Second viewing, still great. I’m very happy this received some academy recognition in the Oscar nominees, even if I’m not sure that Best Adapted Screenplay is where I’d have put it, as it’s far from the most original of stories – I’d have preferred Sir Patrick Stewart to have nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination, but that’s always an incredibly hard category to break into. Anyway, Logan is great, if a little long, and whilst I’m generally OK with violence on screen some of the stuff on display here is super gnarly, exacerbated by it often being performed by a child. The effects work is all terrific, as is the supporting cast, and the set pieces, particularly the casino hotel, remain excellent. One of the most solid movies of 2017.
Choose Film 8/10
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2016)
Needed a crowd-pleaser to entertain the in-laws for an evening, and I hadn’t seen this since the cinema, when I was underwhelmed because I’d watched the other four films immediately prior to seeing this and nothing really holds a candle to Ghost Protocol. As it stands I gave Rogue Nation a disservice, as it was much better than I remembered, and I was particularly impressed with the number of scenes that took place with no or minimal dialogue. The M:I franchise has always heavily relied on its spectacle and action sequences, but here director Christopher McQuarrie showed a keen ability to know when banter was required, and when to simply rely on the actors’ faces. I hope the double-act of Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames continues in future films.
Choose Film 7/10
Darkest Hour (2017)
The first of the Best Picture nominees, and the third film from 2017 to heavily involve Operation Dynamo, otherwise known as the plan to rescue the British army from the Dunkirk beaches in World War II. I made a point of seeing this even before the nominees were announced as one of the absolute guaranteed nominations was that Gary Oldman would be up for his second nomination for Best Actor, an award he is currently almost certainly set to win. I’ve only seen two of the Best Actor nominees so far (this and Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out) but I have to say I was a little disappointed with his portrayal of Winston Churchill in his first month as Prime Minister. He wasn’t bad, far from it, but I never forgot I was watching Gary Oldman acting. Some actors completely lose themselves in the role, and the same can be said of Oldman in the past, for example in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, but here I always felt like I was watching Gary Oldman making choices to pretend to be Churchill, and not somebody who had become the role. I’m not explaining this very well, and I apologise for that, but I was expecting more given all the praise. It’s probably a certainty for the Best Make-Up and Hairstyling award though, as that was very impressive. Outside of Oldman, I was a little disappointed with the rest of the film too. I’d heard this described as England’s answer to Spielberg’s Lincoln, and that’s a very accurate description given its cast full of character actors (Ben Mendelsohn, Kristen Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup) and the majority of its scenes taking place in dusty, smokey rooms filled with boisterous old men getting annoyed with one another, but where the performances in Lincoln were captivating, here it was all rather dull. There were some truly inspirational moments, and a scene on the underground that was extremely predictable but also very effective, but in my opinion this is the third best Dunkirk-based movie from last year, and unworthy of a Best Picture nomination. Their Finest is far more deserving.
Lists: 2018 Movies
Choose Life 6/10
Pixar’s latest finally gets a UK release, a mere two months after its initial US showing and for no discernible reason. Coco follows an aspiring musician, Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez), growing up with his family of music-hating shoe-makers, until he realises that his great-great-grandfather is his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). One thing leads to another and Miguel finds himself trapped in the spirit world during the Day of the Dead ceremony, and has until dawn to get home, and to do so he will need the help of his deceased relatives. Despite featuring some of the most obvious reveals in any Pixar film, this story completely ruined me emotionally. I’m generally not huge on the concepts of the afterlife, music or even family, but damn did this film hit me hard. The design of everything is incredible – I particularly enjoyed the papercut-style introductory sequence – and the comedy mostly worked, especially from Miguel’s street dog companion, plus this has one of the stronger Pixar villains in recent years. I don’t know how much rewatchability this has compared to some of the other films in Pixar’s oeuvre, but this is definitely a must-watch at least once.
Lists: 2018 Movies
Choose Film 8/10
The Village (2004)
And so we begin the Shyamalan-A-Thon. His films were not watched in a particular order other than watching the ones Aisha definitively did not want to see when she was away, and the ones she didn’t give a toss whether she saw them or not when she was back. She was away for the first five and last two movies, if you were wondering. Anyway, The Village. A group of people have formed a community in a, well, village I suppose, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by dense woodlands. It’s a very conservative community, with the village elders (including William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, Brendan Gleeson) being required to approve all decisions, including relationships between the younger folk (Bryce Dallas Howard, Judy Greer, Joaquin Phoenix, Adrian Brody, Fran Kranz, Michael Pitt, Jesse Eisenberg). Oh, and they are occasionally terrorised by large, hooded, spiky creatures. The general concept here is great, and there are some phenomenal scenes, all of which involve the monsters attacking the community. Unfortunately that’s only about half the film, as far, far too much time is spent on the everyday soap opera dramatics of these people and their boring, insufferable feelings for one another, which I just do not care about in the slightest. I also went in know the details of the ending – I saw this once a long time ago – and it’s not a film that benefits from repeat viewings, as it just becomes a waiting game for realisations to set in. That being said, the scenes involving Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, who is blind, having to traverse the woods alone, are amongst Shyamalan’s best.
Choose Life 5/10
Lady in the Water (2006)
Speaking of Shyamalan’s best, this is definitely not on that list. This is the film that proves M. Night Shyamalan can’t take criticism, and was his follow-up to the cricially-panned The Village. It’s peak Shyamalan pretension, as it’s entirely about a mythical fairytale creature – named Story (Bryce Dallas Howard) – who has been sent to find a great author, whose work will be so revered that it will alter the course of humanity forever. That writer is of course played by Shyamalan himself. Just let that sink in for a moment. There’s also a bunch of bullshit involving various other characters who must assist Story, leading to some of the most bizarre scenes and characters in pretty much any film. There’s a kid who can read hidden messages in cereal boxes. An elderly woman who will only trust someone if they behave like a baby. A man who has only exercised one side of his body, for reasons never explained beyond “it’s an experiment”. And Shyamalan even wrote in a character of a film critic (Bob Balaban) as the most unsubtle middle finger salute to his own critics. If it weren’t for some solid acting from the likes of Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Wright there’d be absolutely no reason to watch this, and even with them this is nothing but a waste of time. One of the most bizarre and infuriating films I’ve ever seen.
Choose Life 2/10
The Last Airbender (2010)
If you didn’t think it could get any worse, along comes The Last Airbender. I now know how my Dad felt when he took me to see The Fellowship of the Ring, not knowing it was the first part in a trilogy and being thoroughly confused that the film had not reached a satisfying conclusion as the credits began to roll. This fraction of a story was clearly intended to be part of a franchise but, because this segment was so unfocused and awful, no sequels should ever be expected. Story-wise it’s overladen with exposition – in a world where people are separated into elemental groups, some people can manipulate, or “bend” their element, and there’s a lineage of people known as avatars who can bend all four elements – but even just in terms of film-making some very odd choices were made. There are entire conversations taking place in extreme close-up, a long tracking shot for no discernible reason and which showcases some mostly poor stunts and effects, and terrible narration attempting to paper over gaping holes where filler scenes are desperately required. I’d heard this was bad, but I didn’t expect it to be quite so dismal.
Choose Life 1/10
The Happening (2008)
Ah, here we are, the bottom of the barrel. It’s a truly bad sign when the best thing I can say about a film is that it’s less than 90 minutes long. Mark Wahlberg is a science teacher in a faltering relationship with Zoey Deschanel, who recently had dessert with a male co-worker, whilst Wahlberg almost purchased some superfluous cough syrup from an attractive pharmacist. Meanwhile, people around the north-east of North America are being compelled to kill themselves in initially horrific but eventually unintentionally comedic ways, prompting everyone to run away from literally nothing. Wahlberg and Deschanel have potentially the least chemistry I’ve ever seen between two leads, and it often feels like they’re both reading the script for the first time as they say their lines. Add to this some utterly insane scenes – at one point our characters attempt to run across a feel in an effort to “stay ahead of the wind” and an entirely unnecessary third-act turn sees them take refuge in a house within which an old lady keeps a creepy doll as her daughter, a plot reveal with which NOTHING IS EVER DONE. Attempts are made to film the wind in an ominous fashion, something that was effectively done in Twister with the aid of weather vanes, but which cannot be accomplished here with leaves and branches. And it’s got Alan Ruck in it, who is wonderful, but he has a couple of lines and is never heard from again. You do not do that with Alan Ruck. This film is unsatisfying, frustrating and just outright awful. One of the worst films ever made, no contest.
Choose Life 1/10
The Visit (2015)
At last, things are beginning to look up. Shyamalan’s found footage film follows two kids (Olivia DeJonge and Ed Oxenbould) as they go to stay with their grandparents (Deanna Dunagan and Peter McRobbie), who they have never met before due to a falling out with their mother (Kathryn Hahn) many years ago. As Shyamalan’s twists go this one would probably be guessed even if he wasn’t directing it, but it remains a gripping and tense tale as the behaviour of the grandparents becomes increasingly suspect. The comedy works well too, with terrific and believable performances from the two kids, be it Becca’s film-school pretension or Tyler’s upsettingly awful freestyle raps. The found footage gimmick is well-implemented – Becca intends to create a documentary for school – but isn’t over-used and rammed down your throat. Whether this is genuinely good or just a masterpiece in comparison to the last four films I can’t say, but I did enjoy it despite not liking horror films.
Choose Film 7/10
Shyamalan’s best movie. The Sixth Sense gave him his name (I didn’t get a chance to re-watch that one) but this is his crowning achievement, and I’m excited to be getting more from this world. It’s both an alternative, realistic take on the superhero genre as well as an homage and almost parody of many of that genre’s elements, whilst being a great film all at the same time. The acting is all great, in particular Samuel L. Jackson as Elijah Price. There’s not much I can add to all that’s been said on Unbreakable already, it’s just great.
Choose Film 9/10
Second viewing, and the first was only a few months back but Aisha hadn’t seen it and I thought she might enjoy it, plus she had no idea about the much-publicised connection this has with Unbreakable, and I just wanted to see her reaction (it turned out she initially assumed it was connected to the X-Men universe, maybe because of James McAvoy being involved). Speaking of McAvoy, he really should have been nominated for Best Actor this year, but because Split came out super-early in 2017 it was all but forgotten by the academy come voting time. Here he plays Kevin, a man with a disorder that leads him to have 23 separate identities within his head, all vying to “steal the light” and become the most prominent. Most of the identities are harmless, but some are in league with a supposed 24th identity known as The Beast, and are attempting to bring The Beast to the fore, which has required them to kidnap three girls, including Anya Taylor-Joy, who through flashbacks we learn has some past issues of her own. Split is easily amongst Shyamalan’s best, and the most credit for this must be given to McAvoy, who joined the project only a few weeks prior to shooting after Joaquin Phoenix had to drop out. For McAvoy to pull off a performance like this in such a short amount of time is staggering, proving him to be one of his generation’s most versatile and under-rated actors.
Choose Film 8/10
Basically a first-time watch given how little I remembered from the first time around, other than some stuff involving water. To be honest I remember more of the parody elements from Scary Movie 3 than anything else. I loved almost all of this film. The family dynamic between Mel Gibson, Joaquin Phoenix, Rory Culkin and Abigail Breslin was great, the story was interesting and well told (although there were a few too many flashbacks to the same event in the family’s past), the comedy was extremely entertaining, especially from Phoenix, someone I’d always taken to be a very serious, humourless performer, the cinematography was well executed, everything was great. That is, right up until the end, when every plot element we’ve been shown so far, be it life-alteringly important or minor character quirk, leads up to this very purposeful narrative bow that infuriated me greatly. It seems Shyamalan wanted to prove how neatly he could tie up a bunch of plot threads, and so reverse engineered everything in the film from the elements of one climactic scene, which maddened me immensely. Coincidence cannot be the narrative reason for things happening, that’s just not satisfying. I still recommend seeing the film, but focus more on the journey, not the destination.
Choose Film 6/10
After Earth (2013)
I’m so annoyed I had to watch this again! Such a bad film on every level, from a nonsense set-up – humanity abandoned a polluted Earth to live somewhere else but were hunted by aliens who created beasts that could sense human fear, only for a ranger (Will Smith) and his trainee son (Jaden Smith) to find themselves trapped and injured with one such creature back on Earth – to just the worst acting – Jaden isn’t a professional actor and it shows, whilst Will is playing a character who is devoid of all emotion, i.e. the perfect fit for one of the most charismatic leading men of the past twenty years. So many plot problems – why does it even have to be Earth? WHY? IT ADDS LITERALLY NOTHING OTHER THAN A TWIST IN THE TRAILER?!?!? an awful script (“He doesn’t need a commanding officer, he needs a father.”), weird magic shape-changing spears, nonsensical flashbacks and characters who are paper-thin. Damn I hate this film.
Choose Life 1/10
Wide Awake (1998)
Shyamalan’s second film, and the one released just before he became a household name. This follows Joshua (Joseph Cross, Michael Keaton’s son in Jack Frost) struggling to get over the death of his grandfather (Robert Loggia), and attempting to meet with God to check that he is alright. The supporting cast includes Rose O’Donnell as a comedic, baseball-loving nun at Joseph’s Catholic school and Denis Leary, Dana Delaney and Julia Stiles as Joshua’s parents and sister. It’s a pretty straightforward coming-of-age school movie with the same hurdles to clear – antics with a best friend, being bullied, first kiss etc. – but it gets a bit too schmaltzy with the grandfather flashbacks and is overall relatively lightweight. Some of the laughs were genuinely funny though, and the score is very reminiscent of Jurassic Park.
Choose Life 4/10
Praying with Anger (1992)
Shyamalan’s first film, made whilst he was still in university. It’s impossible to not immediately recognise this as a student film – the opening shot is of a lit cigarette in an ashtray, the smoke curling to the ceiling – and it hits a lot of cliches. The story follows an American-born Indian (played by Shyamalan) visiting India for the first time at his mother’s behest, and learning about the culture. It’s very typical fish-out-of-water/culture clash stuff with little innovation until the third act, when it attempts to tackle the entire notion of religion, which seems more than a little ambitious for a first-time film. Shyamalan isn’t terrible as the lead, but he’s not quite strong enough to carry the entire film.
Choose Life 3/10
The Post (2017)
Another Oscar nominee, and another underwhelming film. As with Darkest Hour, this is very much in Spielberg’s Lincoln mould, depicting a segment of a true story with an all-star, character-actor-filled cast surrounding big-name leads. Here Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks lead the pack as the Washington Post’s publisher and editor-in-chief respectively, with the likes of Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Alison Brie, Carrie Coon, Jesse Plemons, Zach Woods, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Cross and Pat Healy rounding out the supporting roles. The problem with having so many great actors is none of them get enough to do. Odenkirk and Greenwood shine in showier roles, but all Alison Brie gets to do is tuck alongside Meryl Streep’s elbow for a few scenes whilst Sarah Paulson is relegated to the kitchen making sandwiches. It doesn’t help that most of the actors, including the two leads, all seem to be running in a low gear and not giving it their all, which may also be due to their being so many other shoulders around to help carry the load. Story-wise I found it difficult to follow and often more than a little boring, and I doubt I’ll be giving this much thought at all in just a few months time. Considering the same can be said of Spotlight and All The President’s Men, which I thought were both good or great at the time but have made little impact on me in the couple of years since I saw them, there’s a good chance I’mfor some reason biased against newspaper-based films for reasons I can’t explain, especially given I used to want to be a journalist and did two weeks work experience at the Southern Daily Echo as a kid. On a positive not, I did love seeing the practical methods of printing the papers, with setting the type and the beautiful columns of flowing, spinning papers at the end. I should write a full review of this as it’s a Spielberg film, but I think I’ll wait for a second viewing.
Lists: 2018 Movies, Steven Spielberg Movies
Choose Life 6/10
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Another best picture nominee, and this time it’s a good one. Frances McDormand plays Mildred, the mother of a girl who was raped and murdered seven months before the film begins. The police have come up with no leads and all but abandoned the case, so she rents three billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri that directly call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his supposed incompetence. This is the front-runner for, amongst other things, Best Actress for McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell as racist officer Dixon. Both are great, as is Martin McDonagh’s screenplay and pretty much everything about the film. It’s very entertaining, darkly comedic, well shot (Rockwell gets a long take that you can’t tear your eyes from) and surprisingly satisfying despite how the story plays out. I’ve heard many complaints though that the film is racist, which I’ll take a crack at addressing, but it involves spoilers so if you’ve not seen the film go right ahead and skip the rest of this review. [SPOILER WARNING] The film ends with Dixon and Mildred driving off together to go and beat the ever-loving shit out of a known rapist in Idaho, who was suspected of raping Mildred’s daughter but has a water-tight alibi, but was heard bragging about raping someone else. Before this point Mildred and Dixon have been fierce enemies, which has resulted in injury and shame on both sides. Also before this point we’ve witnessed Dixon be a despicable SoB to pretty much every variation of human currently known, and shows little-to-no remorse over his actions, but at the end is seen as being on the same side as our protagonist, which has been read as a kind of hairpin-turn in morality, and almost a vindication for his actions, which I’ve heard read as being a commentary that Dixon, the kind of man who would vote for and condone the actions of Donald Trump, is OK to have acted the way that he has throughout the film, and no punishment or justice should come to him because of it. In my opinion, the moral to be taken from this film is that yes, people have disagreements, there will be others who have differing views in terms of pretty much everything in the world, and you can both waste your short existences scrapping with each other and causing pain and loss on both sides. Or, you can find some common ground, some third party you both love or hate, and work together in agreement towards building or destroying that goal. In that instance you may find your past disagreements are forgotten or discussed in a more civil manner, from which a degree of understanding may be achieved, and the world will be improved thusly. We’re also shown that Dixon’s brand of racism and misogyny is genetic, having been passed down to him by his outright detestable mother (Sandy Martin). This doesn’t excuse his behaviour, but it does provide some explanation from where it derives from, as hate begets hate. That’s my opinion, if you disagree please say in the comments, I’d love to have a discussion on this.
Lists: 2018 Movies
Choose Film 8/10
The Shape of Water (2017)
Yet another Best Picture nominee! At this point I’ve only got three I’ve not seen (Phantom Thread has only just been released here, Lady Bird is a couple of weeks away and Call Me By Your Name is currently unavailable). This was the one I’d been itching to get to soon though, given it’s thirteen nominations, many of which it has a great shot of picking up. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a research facility cleaner with damaged vocal chords so she is unable to speak. She cares for her elderly neighbour (Richard Jenkins, fantastic, I’d like him to win the Supporting Actor award if possible, please and thank you) and cleans with her colleague, friend and sign language translator Zelda (Octavia Spencer). There’s a new delivery to the facility, being overseen by head of security Michael Shannon and experimented on by scientist Michael Stuhlbarg. That’s a cast of actors filled with people I love, and they’re all on point. Michael Shannon is always great at playing deranged lunatics, and here may see his most evil character yet, who starts out as just disgusting and dickish – insisting that real men only wash their hands before they urinate, doing so afterwards reveals weakness – before gradually increasing into incarceration-worthy heinous acts of depravity. Oh, I forgot to mention the fish-man. He’s the latest guest at the facility, and is played by Doug Jones in a prosthetic suit that looks bloody amazing. He and Elisa build a non-verbal relationship together and whilst some of the directions that took did lose me a little here and there, in remained beautiful throughout. The climax relied upon a couple too many cliches but was still entertaining and satisfying, and damn if the production design isn’t some of the best I’ve ever seen.
Lists: 2018 Movies
Choose Film 8/10
Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (2017)
Sometimes I hate writing these posts because I’ll stick a film on in the background that I don’t think will be worthy of my attention enough to actually focus on, and then I get drawn in and watch it, which not only delays the finishing of this post but adds a whole other film I need to comment upon! That was the case with my wife’s choice of Friday night movie, the latest (and hopefully last, please say they’ll end it now, please!) Pirates movie. It doesn’t matter what happens in it. It doesn’t matter who the new actors are. It doesn’t matter who returned and for how long. All that matters is that you, me and everyone we’ve ever met stop seeing and discussing these new films. This is bad. It’s structurally a mess, packed with nonsense mythology and time-line fracturing inconsistencies. The effects are fine, and there’s a sequence involving zombie sharks, but please, please, please just stop it now, alright? Everyone involved is better than this.
Lists: 2017 Movies
Choose Life 3/10
Posts you may have missed:
Favourite Scene Friday: Inception – Hallway Scene Over on To The Escape Hatch I looked at one of my favourite scenes from Inception.
MILFcast #104 Tournament of Champions For the second year running I competed in the Milfcast’s Tournament of Champions! Did I do better than last year, or crash and burn as soon as possible once again? Listen to find out!
Lambcast #408: MOTM – Ishtar I was joined by Richard Kirkham, Sean Homrig, Chris Staron and Rebecca Sharp to discuss January’s Movie of the Month, the not-as-bad-as-expected-but-still-not-great Ishtar.
Lambcast #409: Most Anticipated Movies of 2018 I was joined by Jess Manzo, Rebecca Sharp, Kristen Lopez and LeAnne Lindsay to run through our top 5 most anticipated movies for the coming year.
Lambcast #410: Bring A Discussion Topic I was joined by Howard Casner, Heather Baxendale, Damien Riley and Cameron Kanachki to discuss everything from Woody Allen to apocalyptic movies, and everything in between.
Lambcast #411: M. Night Shyamalan Director Retrospective I was joined by Todd Liebenow and Bubbawheat to discuss all twelve of M. Night Shyamalan’s films, as well as the recent Oscar nominations.