The Mule (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: Clint Eastwood 
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Bradley Cooper, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Peña, Dianne Wiest, Andy García 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 116 mins

The Mule is the latest by Clint Eastwood and his first performance in front of the camera since Trouble with the Curve back in 2012. Inspired by a true story, this film 90 year old horticulturist and Korean War veteran, Earl Stone, who becomes a drug mule for the Mexican Cartel. At the start of the film, we see that he is in financial hardship and estranged from his family. When he takes the job due to his love of driving and seeing the country, he doesn’t realise what he is doing until he takes a look at what he is transporting in the back of his van. Due to his age and unthreatening nature, the Cartel begin to entrust him with bigger amounts of cocaine and more trips. At the same time, the DEA are investigating the Cartel and start to close in on Stone. Eastwood has a knack for working with fascinating material, demonstrated by his vast filmography both in front of and behind the camera. Both American Sniper and Sully were excellent additions to his most recent filmography but The 15:17 to Paris marked a major disappointment, despite the interesting premise.

The Mule is a gripping film that ramps up the tension throughout its run time and has a commanding, grizzled performance from Eastwood. Eastwood has played this type of gruff character many times throughout his impressive career but it still works, particlarly when paired with the fascinating story.  The film also teaches some well-intentioned messages and morals and there’s an admirable relationship within Stone’s family that felt authentic and also the relationship between Eastwood and Bradley Cooper’s DEA agent. I also really liked how Eastwood humanized the drug cartel members which results in some memorable characters for Eastwood to interact with. In fact, the script by Nick Schenk, who also wrote Gran Torino which is another excellent Eastwood film, is razor-sharp and efficiently paced. Much like The Old Man and the Gun, another recent release which tackles many of the same themes as this film, The Mule interrogates the existential themes of what makes Eastwood’s character work and why he continues to work for the cartel when he knows what he is doing.

The film is not without fault and there is one scene that is a mis-step in this film. There is a sequence in which Eastwood’s character is invited to meet a cartel member and what follows is a sequence of debauchery which is quite uncomfortable in how straight it is played and unnecessary.

Ultimately, The Mule is a return to form for Eastwood after a disappointing blip and is a gripping account of this interesting narrative. Out of the films Eastwood has directed in the 2010s, it would be a close call between The Mule and Sully between which is the best. It’s a shame this film hasn’t made a bigger impression critically within the film industry and much like Robert Redford in The Old Man and the Gun, if this does end up being Clint Eastwood’s swansong in front of the camera, it would be a fine note to go out on.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

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Destroyer (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Karyn Kusama 
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Sebastian Stan, Toby Kebbell, Tatiana Maslany, Bradley Whitford, Jade Pettyjohn, Scott McNairy
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 123 mins

Although much has been touted of Nicole Kidman transformative performance, Destroyer functions well first and foremost as a film. This is a dark, twisty crime thriller that follows Kidman’s unorthodox LAPD detective who tries to take down members of a shady gang, after her cover was blown years prior, which the film portrays these events in tandem. Kidman’s detective looks not far from death with a weary, almost decaying face and she doesn’t keep herself in good health.  However, Kidman isn’t the only bright spot of the cast as they are all transformations, with Toby Kebbell in particular standing out as the slimy main antagonist. Although a small role, Bradley Whitford also makes an impression as a nasty lead in Kidman’s case.

Director Karyn Kusama has had a somewhat spotty career, previously behind the now positively reassessed feminist dark comedy Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation, the latter of which had a great premise but a lacklustre third act. Destroyer definitely marks her best work and her direction is fantastic, from the way in which the story is told to the technical aspects. There is a particularly gripping and gritty action sequence set in a bank in the latter half of the film which is just jaw-dropping in its unpredictability and rawness. Julie Kirkwood’s cinematography further heightens the tension and the film has an interesting colour pallette.

Ultimately, Destroyer is a dark and suitably dour descent into the unravelling of Kidman’s go-for-broke detective that is a dark horse this Awards season. It deserves far more credit than it has recieved as it is a much better film than people are making out to be, with the highlight not just being Nicole Kidman’s performance that many see as the film’s main asset.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Vice (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Adam McKay
Starring: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry, Alison Pill, Jesse Plemons, LisaGay Hamilton, Eddie Marsan, Bill Camp 
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 132 mins

Vice is Adam McKay’s second foray into more serious filmmaking after directing The Big Short which did well in its respective Awards season. Before then, McKay was responsible for his many collaborations with Will Ferrell, with films such as Anchorman and Talladega Nights. The Big Short was an interesting film – an unconventional investigation into the American financial housing crisis in 2007-8 that regularly broke the fourth wall with its explanations of financial concepts and had some good performances. However, the ambition behind the camera was more admirable than the film itself as I found it very obnoxious tonally and its pacing was very disjointed. McKay’s sophomore more serious effort is a biopic, very much in the same vein of The Big Short, focussing on Dick Cheney and his path to becoming the controversial, powerful Vice-President. Christian Bale looks unrecognisable as Cheney, gaining 18kg and wearing lots of prosthetics, much like Gary Oldman’s take on Churchill last year in Darkest Hour only with a bit more effort on Bale’s part put in by gaining the weight.

There’s a lot more to like in Vice compared to The Big Short as it features a tremendous performance by Christian Bale and it tells an interesting story of his rise to power. However, it’s unfortunate that the film runs into pretty much all the same problems that plagued The Big Short as it also is rather disjointed in its pacing and similiarly boisterous in tone. There is no subtlety to McKay’s direction whatsoever and he drives his political message home with a sledgehammer throughout which often crosses the line of being preachy. Whilst there are a number of comedic moments that work, there are also moments where the film is aggressively unfunny.

At least these negative aspects to the film are significantly muted compared to The Big Short. The story itself that McKay tells is fascinating and the way the story is structured is interesting. The performances are uniformly strong with Bale the obvious standout and there’s also a brilliant, muted performance by Tyler Perry. Technically, the film is excellent. All of the characters look impressively authentic and the film is well-shot and edited.

Overall, Vice is definitely watching alone for the Christian Bale performance and although McKay’s directing won’t be to everyone’s tastes, he’s working with some strong material. It’s one of the lesser films this Awards season and the lavish praise this film has recieved is rather baffling. But taken on its own merits, this is an interesting and unconventional telling of America’s most powerful Vice-President in its history.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Glass (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Starring: James McAvoy, Bruce Willis, Anya Taylor-Joy, Sarah Paulson, Samuel L. Jackson
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 129 mins

Glass, director M. Night Shyamalan’s latest, isn’t a sequel in the traditional sense. It serves as a sequel to Unbreakable and to Split, a film which in a genius end-credit twist revealed itself to be a psuedo-supervillain origin story / spin-off to Unbreakable. This film sees the return of Bruce Willis’ David Dunn as his path crosses with James McAvoy’s multiple personalities. When both get arrested after Dunn tries to bring him to justice, they are both put in a psychiatric hospital where it is revealed that Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr Glass has also been secretly locked away in the years between the end of Unbreakable and this film. The unit is run by Sarah Paulson’s Dr Ellie Staple who tries to convince the trio that they have convinced themselves wrongly of their superpowers, questioning their past experiences and making them doubt themselves.

M. Night Shyamalan has had an interesting directorial career, his films varying wildly in quality. After a long slump with dud after dud, Shyamalan bounced back with the one-two punch that was The Visit and then Split so this is an important film for audiences to like and many fans have been waiting for a sequel to Unbreakable for years. Unbreakable was an excellent film and proved a tonic to the emerging superhero genre of its time, in effect acting as a superhero deconstruction piece. I also found a lot to like in Split but it does suffer with some creaky expository dialogue that weighs the film down. Unfortunately, initial reviews for this film are mixed-to-negative, so I was trepidatious before seeing the film to say the least due to the good work Shyamalan had done so far.

Glass is an excellent end to this trilogy and mostly represents Shyamalan at his best. It is pretty much a knock-out. Shyamalan develops these characters extremely well, furthering their character arcs and subverts expectations, for better or worse for some viewers. It is very cine-literate and further deconstructs the generic constructs of the superhero genre and offers some fascinating commentaries on these.  As is to be expected, there is a Shyamalan twist and it does undo the good work a little as it isn’t one of his best twists but if you can buy into the film’s central conceit beforehand, it really is excellent. As with a lot of Shyamalan’s filmography, it would be very easy for one to laugh and sneer at this film, as the film walks a fine line.

The performances are uniformly excellent, with Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson the standouts. Both characters have interesting arcs which are unexpected, Willis a more mature and sombre David Dunn if a little underused who evokes a Batman-like, vigilante figure, putting in one of the best performances in his career. Samuel L. Jackson is also great as Elijah and the film fully utilises his skill-set again. James McAvoy again is reliably great as he was in Split. Of the rest of the cast, Sarah Paulson makes a good impression as the psychiatric doctor with her own agenda but Anya Taylor-Joy‘s character is a little forced and I didn’t quite buy into her relationship with McAvoy’s character.

Technically, Glass succeeds in spades too. The score is outstanding, West Dylan Thordson returning from Split and successfully melding both past themes whilst creating some memorable new ones. DP Mike Gioulakis is also great and there are numerous shots which are just a work of art to look at.

Ultimately, Glass is a welcome surprise and for the vast majority of its running time, is a gripping and intelligent sequel. Its ending does threaten to undo some of the good work somewhat as it feels as though Shyamalan hasn’t quite figured out what to do. I loved Glass and can’t wait to watch it again and it might possibly be the best film in the trilogy if it holds up on future viewings.  I sincerely hope that in a few years time, this film will be reassessed as it’s been really unfairly recieved.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (Excellent)

Stan and Ollie (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jon S. Baird
Starring: Steve Coogan, John C. Reilly, Nina Arianda, Shirley Henderson, Danny Huston, Rufus Jones
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 97 mins

Stan and Ollie is a well-intentioned dramatisation, but rather shallow retelling of the final years of the iconic comedy duo. The film tells the story of the final years of the duo as they embark on a tour of Britain in the hope of getting a feature film made so that they can return to their former glory. Although there are some narrative bright spots and some good character moments, the success of this film hinges more on the performances than the actual film.  Even then, the film never truly gets under the skin of these characters. The narrative is obvious and the script rather on-the-nose, which hampers the film somewhat. Jon S. Baird’s direction is unflashy but lacks any sense of personality.

The main asset that carries this film are the performances, which elevate the flawed script and safe direction.  John C. Reilly as Ollie is the standout, who embodies the persona of the character to a tee, forming a strong emotional connection. Steve Coogan fares well too as the loveable character who just wants to regain his former glory with his partner but Coogan’s American accent does slip up sometimes.

Ultimately, Stan and Ollie passes the time fairly well, but it’s a shame that the film never really aspires to be more than just a simplistic biopic. When the emotional climax of the film arrives, it doesn’t quite pack as big of a punch as it could ahve done as it hasn’t quite earned the right to. That said, for John C. Reilly’s transformative performance alone, it is worth the watch.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

The Favourite (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Yorgos Lanthimos
Starring: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn
Certificate: 15
Run Time: 120 mins

The Favourite is the new film by Yorgos Lanthimos, a director who has proved himself a big talent in the film industry. Starting out making films in his Greek homeland, Lanthimos first came to prominence when he made Dogtooth, an interesting coming-of-age drama with a disturbing edge. After making Alps, he transitioned to English-language pieces with films such as The Lobster, another absurd and somewhat dystopian drama. Most recently, he directed the deeply unnerving The Killing of a Sacred Deer, which I consider to be his best work so far. Both of these films, as well as his earlier Greek works, are all works rich in meaning and contain fascinating, psychologically challenging characters who speak with Lanthimos’ signature arch dialogue. The Favourite is a period drama set in the court of Stuart-monarch Queen Anne who struggles to rule the country and is presented as quite child-like in that she wants people to think the best of her. She enjoys eccentric activities such as racing ducks and tending to her collection of rabbits, who represent her lost children. Rachel Weisz’s Sarah Churchill essentially controls the Queen like her puppet but when her impoverished cousin, Abigail comes looking for employment, the two start vying for the Queen’s approval and courtship, with sinister methods.

The Favourite is another odd film from Lanthimos and isn’t the natural project one would expect a director of his background to take. It retains his directorial identity, with some archly constructed characters and a generally sharp and bitter script. There are some memorable exchanges and some funny moments, as well as some creepy and disturbing diversions as expected from him.

But The Favourite strangely feels like it has lost a lot of Lanthimos’ identity as a director in that tonally, the film doesn’t nail the distinction between the drama and the humour like his other films did. It feels oddly more corporate and more toned-down than it should be, which made for a bit of a frustrating watch. I think the reason The Favourite doesn’t quite deliver is due to the fact that Lanthimos isn’t working from a script that he wrote with his regular collaborator, Efthymis Filippou. This script is written by duo Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara and whilst it’s a good script, the characters feel a lot more vanilla than how Lanthimos would have interpreted them as. Furthermore, whilst Robbie Ryan’s cinematography is interesting and disorientating with wide angles, it lacks the claustrophobia and nightmarish atmosphere of Lanthimos’ regular collaborator Thimios Bakatakis.

The performances in this film have been widely acclaimed and all three of the actresses are very good in their roles. Olivia Colman is expectedly great as Queen Anne but I don’t think it’s her best performance – far more deserving of Awards attention would be for her performance in Tyrannosaur where she is just jawdropping. Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz are good as well and have good chemistry together but again, both have done better work.

Overall, The Favourite is a good film and represents an interesting transformation for the period drama genre, making it feel rather contemporary. However, it is Lanthimos’ weakest film in that it lacks a lot of his signature style and it is tonally flawed. It also lacks the weight that his other films have and that is what makes them so memorable and unnerving. Whilst it’s obviously great to see Lanthimos get Awards attention as he has deserved it for a while, it’s annoying that it’s for his weakest film and this is rather reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s success last year for Dunkirk. I will certainly rewatch The Favourite again as there are things I think I will pick up from it on a second viewing but my first impressions are that is a suitably odd and strange work that lacks the heft of Lanthimos’ previous works.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

2019 Oscar Nominations – My Thoughts

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The nominations for this year’s upcoming Academy Awards have been announced and we now know exactly which films will be vying for the coveted golden statuette. My general opinion is that it’s a pretty poor mix of films, especially in the Best Picture field. This is in-keeping with the ongoing fiasco they are facing from not having a host, facing controversy with a proposed new category and relegating certain categories to be announced in commercial breaks. But it is what it is and the Oscars are never going to be universally correct for everyone’s tastes. In fact, 2018 in general wasn’t a great year for films and there were just too many films that disappointed and didn’t reach their full potential.

Best Picture

A Star Is Born
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
Green Book
Roma
The Favourite
Vice

Predicted Win: Roma

I really do think this is a poor field. This category can have between 5 and up to 10 nominees depending on the Academy’s votes and I’m surprised there are only 8. At the time of writing, I am still yet to see A Star Is Born. BlacKkKlansman, Green Book and Roma are probably my favourites but they are all films that have some serious flaws. I liked Bohemian Rhapsody but I’m surprised it’s featured here as it recieved quite a mixed response and especially for all of its behind-the-scenes drama. I also like both The Favourite and Vice but neither film is their respective directors best work and I have some serious issues with both of them. Black Panther is here for a different reason I think, mainly to satisfy more casual filmgoers and despite the rapturous response from both critics and audiences it recieved, I think it really succumbs to all the usual third act antics and Michael B. Jordan’s villain isn’t as developed as everyone seems to think he is.

I think Roma will win here as it’s the only deserving winner from the films that I have seen. I loved Green Book but its subject matter would be a problematic win. Despite me really liking BlacKkKlansman, it’s not Spike Lee’s best work and has a really wobbly first act and is very preachy in its main message. Even being nominated, unfortunately Roma represents Netflix’s continuing rise and the inherent problems of their films distribution is only going to increase. Now that they have a filmmaker of the calibre of Alfonso Cuarón on board, they’re only going to go from strength to strength.

As for films that were snubbed, it’s a real shame that Widows didn’t get quite the response it deserved as this would have been a really deserving film here, as would Boy Erased and also First Reformed and Leave No Trace. The other Awards contender that looked likely to gain a spot was If Beale Street Could Talk but I am yet to see the film. It was never going to be nominated for anything but my controversial personal favourite film of last year, Sicario 2: Soldado, also is more than worthy of a place here.

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Best Actor

Bradley Cooper for A Star Is Born
Christian Bale for Vice
Rami Malek for Bohemian Rhapsody
Viggo Mortensen for Green Book
Willem Dafoe for At Eternity’s Gate

Predicted Win: Christian Bale for Vice

I think this is a three way race between Bradley Cooper, Christian Bale and Rami Malek. Although I am still yet to see A Star Is Born, I think Bale is the deserving winner who delivers a knock-out performance as Dick Cheney in Vice. Cooper could win here as he has hasn’t received a Best Director nod for his directorial debut and Rami Malek won at the Golden Globes so it could be any of the three. Viggo Mortensen is also brilliant in Green Book and the performances in the film really carry it but I don’t think he’ll win.

It’s a shame that Ethan Hawke hasn’t been nominated here for his excellent performance in First Reformed, Robert Redford for his swansong The Old Man and the Gun and Clint Eastwood for The Mule. Benicio Del Toro is also wonderful in Sicario 2: Soldado, which again never would have featured but it’s criminal he wasn’t nominated for the first film.

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Best Actress

Glenn Close for The Wife
Lady Gaga for A Star Is Born
Melissa McCarthy for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Olivia Colman for The Favourite
Yalitza Aparicio for Roma

Predicted Win: Glenn Close for The Wife

This is a very strong category and I think it’s a race between Close and Colman. I think Close is more likely to win due to her Golden Globe speech but both have never won the coveted Award. It’s great to see Yalitza Aparicio get a nomination here for Roma which she was so good in and this will undoubtedly boost her career. It would have been good to have seen Toni Collette’s career best performance in Hereditary to be featured here as well, but instead of who is difficult to call. Nicole Kidman also puts in a great performance in Destroyer.

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Best Supporting Actor

Adam Driver for BlacKkKlansman
Mahershala Ali for Green Book
Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Sam Elliott for A Star Is Born
Sam Rockwell for Vice

Predicted Win: Richard E. Grant for Can You Ever Forgive Me?

A fairly weak collection of nominations. I think Richard E. Grant could win this as even though Mahershala Ali is probably the strongest competition, he has won recently for Moonlight. That said, Ali does seem to be getting all the Awards so far. It’s good to see Sam Elliott nominated but surprising to see Sam Rockwell as his performance as former President Bush is overshadowed by Christian Bale in Vice and he won just last year for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Adam Driver has continued to get attention for his performance in BlacKkKlansman but I don’t think he’s particularly great in it so I think he’s a wasted slot in this field. Daniel Kaluuya in Widows would have been a much better choice, as would Joel Edgerton for his sinister turn in Boy Erased or even Josh Brolin in Avengers: Infinity War.

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Best Supporting Actress

Amy Adams for Vice
Emma Stone for The Favourite
Marina de Tavira for Roma
Rachel Weisz for The Favourite
Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk

Predicted Win: Regina King for If Beale Street Could Talk

This is another strong field for actresses this year but I think Regina King will win for her rapturously acclaimed performance in If Beale Street Could Talk. Any of these would be worthy winners and I’m particularly happy to see Marina de Tavira get nominated as I think arguably she gives the best performance in the film. Sometimes the Academy can surprise! It’s also interesting to see both Weisz and Stone recieve nominations, not just one of them. As for omissions, I’d love to have seen Tilda Swinton featured for her three performances in Suspiria.

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Best Director

Adam McKay for Vice
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Pawel Pawlikowski for Cold War
Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite

Predicted Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

This is a weak field this year and I think this will be a very easy win for Alfonso Cuarón as his influence is all over Roma and many will appreciate it for its autobiographical quality. Spike Lee and Yorgos Lanthimos are good nominations but neither of their films are their best. Adam McKay’s nomination is laughable. Like Marina de Tavira in the Best Supporting Actress category, it’s suprising to see a nomination here for Pawel Pawlikowski, but a welcome one. A stronger field would have consisted of Steve McQueen for Widows, Luca Guadagnino for Suspiria and Paul Greengrass for 22 July.

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Best Original Screenplay 

Paul Schrader for First Reformed
Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly for Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite
Adam McKay for Vice

Predicted Win: Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara for The Favourite

A good selection and a tough one to call. I suspect The Favourite is probably the mostly likely to win here, as that script perhaps carries the film more than the other films. It’s particularly pleasing to see Paul Schrader feature even though the film was snubbed in other major categories as the script. Ideally, I’d like to see Schrader win but I think that’s a tall ask.

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Best Adapted Screenplay

Eric Roth, Bradley Cooper and Will Fetters for A Star Is Born
Charlie Wechtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty for Can You Ever Forgive Me?
Barry Jenkins for If Beale Street Could Talk
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Predicted Win: Charlie Wechtel, David Rabinowitz, Kevin Willmott and Spike Lee for BlacKkKlansman

Another strong selection and another tough one to call. I think Holofcener and Whitty deserve to win for Can You Ever Forgive Me? but seeing as BlacKkKlansman has won this Award so far in other ceremonies, perhaps this might again. Good to see The Coen’s get a mention here too.

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Best Foreign Language Film

Capernaum
Cold War
Never Look Away
Roma
Shoplifters

Predicted Win: Roma

Rather ignorantly I must admit, I am yet to see most of these films and the only one I have currently seen is Roma. But over the past few years, there have been some excellent films nominated (possibly even better than the main Best Picture category!) so I will definitely watch these at some point. This is a difficult category to call as I have predicted Roma to win Best Picture so it might seem a little unfair if it were to take the gong here as well. If Roma doesn’t win here, I suspect Cold War will win, particularly as it’s managed to achieve nominations in other major categories.

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Best Animated Feature

Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks The Internet
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

Predicted Win: Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse

This is another interesting field and I think the race is probably between Incredibes 2 and Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse. Pixar normally dominate this field and whilst reviews were very positive for this long-awaited sequel, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse could edge it as no-one expected it to be as good as it is. I think it would be my personal choice as well as I found Incredibles 2 a rather underwhelming sequel.

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Best Cinematography

Matthew Libatique for A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal for Cold War
Caleb Deschanel for Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón for Roma
Robbie Ryan for The Favourite

Predicted Win: Alfonso Cuarón for Roma

This isn’t all that strong a field and I think this is probably Roma‘s to win again, as it really aids the film in how it tells its story and it is beautiful to watch. The same can be said for Cold War, which is probably the next contender if Roma doesn’t take it but I think that would be unlikely. A stronger field would have included Sean Bobbitt for Widows, Seamus McGarvey for Bad Times At The El Royale, Benjamin Loeb for Mandy and Sayombhu Mukdeproom for Suspiria.

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Best Editing

Barry Alexander Brown for BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman for Bohemian Rhapsody
Patrick J. Don Vito for Green Book
Yorgos Mavropsaridis for The Favourite
Hank Corwin for Vice

Predicted Win: Hank Corwin for Vice

Unless Christian Bale wins for his performance, I think this is Vice‘s best shot at an Oscar.

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Best Production Design

Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart for Black Panther
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas for First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim for Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez for Roma
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton for The Favourite

Predicted Win: John Myhre and Gordon Sim for Mary Poppins Returns

These are all worthy nominees and it’s a tough one to call. My hunch would be Mary Poppins Returns seeing as there’s always a film that hasn’t featured in the main categories and then gets this and hairstyling. If not, then probably The Favourite.

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Best Costume Design

Ruth E. Carter for Black Panther
Sandy Powell for Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne for Mary, Queen of Scots
Mary Zophres for The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Sandy Powell for The Favourite

Predicted Win: Sandy Powell for The Favourite

I think this is again between Mary Poppins Returns and The Favourite, but I think The Favourite will probably edge it here.

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Best Make-Up and Hairstyling

Goran Lundstrom and Pamela Goldammer for Border
Jenny Shircore, Marc Pilcher and Jessica Brooks for Mary, Queen of Scots
Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney for Vice

Predicted Win: Greg Cannom, Kate Biscoe and Patricia DeHaney for Vice

This is probably another one for Vice in terms of how it aids the performances.

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Best Original Score

Terence Blanchard for BlacKkKlansman
Ludwig Görannson for Black Panther
Nicholas Britell for If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat for Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman for Mary Poppins Returns

Predicted Win: Ludwig Görannson for Black Panther

A mixed bag. Firstly, how did Marc Shaiman get in here? I’m also surprised that Alexandre Desplat managed to get in as well. Terence Blanchard’s score is good but I think the win will be for Ludwig Göransson. There were loads of snubs in this category that could have dramatically improved this – West Dylan Thordson for Glass, Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans for Boy Erased, Johann Johannsson for Mandy, Thom Yorke for Suspiria and Justin Hurwitz for First Man.

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Best Original Song

‘Shallow’ in A Star Is Born
‘All The Stars’ in Black Panther
‘The Place Where Lost Things Go’ in Mary Poppins Returns
‘I’ll Fight’ in RBG
‘When A Cowboy Trades His Spurs For Wings’ in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

Predicted Win: ‘Shallow’ in A Star Is Born

This seems to have dominated so far so I suspect this wins.

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Best Sound Mixing

Tom Ozanich, Dean A. Zupancic, Jason Ruder and Steven Morrow for A Star Is Born
Steve Boeddeker, Brandon Proctor, Peter J. Devlin for Black Panther
Paul Massey, Tim Cavagin and John Casali for Bohemian Rhapsody
Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, Ai-Ling Lee and Mary H. Ellis for First Man
Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and Jose Antonio Garcia for Roma

Predicted Win: Skip Lievsay, Craig Henighan and Jose Antonio Garcia for Roma

A tough one to call here but again, I would say if Roma has a sweep, this could be another award to add to its collection, but First Man could also prevail here as it’s a more technical film.

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Best Sound Editing

Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl for A Quiet Place
Benjamin A. Burtt and Steve Boeddeker for Black Panther
John Warhurst and Nina Hartstone for Bohemian Rhapsody
Ai-Ling Lee and Mildred Latrou for First Man
Sergio Diaz and Skip Lievsay for Roma

Predicted Win: Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl for A Quiet Place

This category is A Quiet Place‘s sole nomination and I think it could actually win here, as sound is so important to the central conceit of the film.

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Best Visual Effects

Dan DeLeeuw, Kelly Port, Russell Earl and Daniel Sudick for Avengers: Infinity War
Chris Lawrence, Mike Eames, Theo Jones and Chris Cobould for Christopher Robin
Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and J. D. Schwalm for First Man
Roger Guyett, Grady Cofer, Matthew E. Butler and David Shirk for Ready Player One
Rob Bredow, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan and Dominic Tuohy for Solo: A Star Wars Story

Predicted Win: Paul Lambert, Ian Hunter, Tristan Myles and J. D. Schwalm for First Man

A very intersting if not slightly disappointing field and a tough one to call. I’m gobsmacked that Christopher Robin and Solo: A Star Wars Story have been able to garner nominations. I think the winner will be First Man. Glaring omissions include Aquaman, Mandy and Annihilation.

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Overall

So based on my predictions, I’m predicting Roma to be a very dominant presence with the other Best Picture nominees perhaps picking up an Award here and there. Roma’s success isn’t certain though and this makes for quite an exciting year due to how unpredictable it is. In the technical categories, Roma, The Favourite and First Man potentially pose the biggest threat.

There are a few films that, inevitably, have been overlooked. These include:

  • Widows – no nominations at all despite getting good reviews and being released in Awards season
  • Boy Erased – some found this to be Awards bait but I really liked it
  • First Reformed – other than one nomination for its screenplay, this deserved to feature more
  • Sicario 2: Soldado – my personal favourite film of 2017, although this was never going to get a nomination

But other than these, a generally unremarkable set of nominations and it’ll be interesting to see who goes home with what award.

The Academy Award Winners will be announced on Sunday 24th February

Ranking The Comic-Book Films of 2018

The comic-book genre is continuing to reach new heights and 2018 brought 7 new films (6 live-action, 1 animation) to the table. This continues the trend of an increase in this type of film each year. As a reflection on last year, in this post, I will rank these films in order of my personal preference.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe reached giddy heights this year, particularly with Avengers: Infinity War acting as a culmination of all the films thus far and a storyline that will carry on in the upcoming Avengers: Endgame. Many would argue that Black Panther was the studio’s crowning achievement with it being the first Marvel film to earn lots of Awards nominations and even be nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award through its progressive representations of diversity. Whilst Ant-Man and the Wasp didn’t receive as rapturous a response as Marvel’s two other efforts, many felt it to be an enjoyable pallette cleanser ahead of Endgame.

DC mainly sat the year out but struck big with Aquaman in December which recieved positive reviews, course-correcting their shaky track record so far. It also made a splash at the box office earning over $1 billion dollars along with Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.

Whilst three films were meant to be released in the X-Men film series last year, only Deadpool 2 made it into release which was another success for the studio. Now that the merger between Fox and Disney is underway, the future of this series is unclear but fingers crossed Dark Phoenix and The New Mutants get a release this year.

Finally, Sony had an interesting year with the genre. Venom, a Spider-Man spin-off focussing on the famous nemesis released and there was a big divide in response, critics mixed and audiences generally liking it. It also surprisingly did well at the box office which has resulted in a sequel being greenlit. Lastly, Sony also released the animated Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse in December which opened to surprisingly overwhelmingly positive reviews despite the marketing of the film making it look rather lacklustre.

Overall, I would say this was a disappointing year for the genre in that nothing really excelled and this has been quite a hard list to rank as many of them are very similar in quality. Let’s get started!

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7) Venom

Venom is a strange concoction. I can’t say I liked the film much and for a lot of it, it is embarassing to sit through. The script is so obvious and cliched and story beats so haphazardly and embarassingly put together. Brock’s girlfriend, Anne Weying, played by the always brilliant Michelle Williams, is a particular sore point as Brock betrays her for the sake of journalism very early in the film and then has the cheek to hang around her trying to win her back. At the beginning, Tom Hardy’s performance is cringeworthy and his character is an annoying loser and an embarassment of a low point of an entry into the career of journalism. Furthermore, the action sequences are ostensibly terrible, resorting to shaky-cam and there is a complete lack of any choreography or movement, making them also incoherent despite them being conventional.

Bizarrely, when Venom enters the film, the film begins to unknowingly start to create an interesting dynamic between the symbiote and Brock, with some rather juvenile but interesting humour. Hardy does better in these scenes and the back-and-forth fares well.Also, there is a genius post-credit scene that hints at a better sequel. With this and Tom Hardy finally coming to terms with his character towards the end of the film, I would strangely look forward to a sequel. (My full review here)

There is now a big step in quality…

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6) Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse 

I’m not sure how to position this film between 5th and 6th place and a rewatch may bump this up but for the moment, I have it 6th. Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an energetic and entertaining film that is heartfelt and provides a refreshing spin on the popular superhero. It packs some good twists in its storyline and should be a delight for comic-book fans through some more obscure and metatextual references. It finds big success in playing with comic-book convention and it manages to not fall into certain pitfalls of the genre. But it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it falls into typical problems of a lacklustre villain who is underdeveloped and underused and the customary final act fight is a little tiring. (My full review here)

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5) Aquaman

Aquaman just about works as a film and it is a largely entertaining underwater extravaganza that is consistently visually stunning. I was frequently in awe witnessing the underwater world Wan created and there are many shots in the film that are wonderfully crafted. Even when the characters are on land, the visuals are excellent and a chase scene in a Sicilian setting is choreographed particularly well. As for Aquaman himself, James Wan certainly embraces the more corny aspects of the character but manages to inject a lot of heart and development to make him more likeable which is a relief. This cheesy tone Wan goes for isn’t entirely successful and the film is stuffed with formulaic dialogue and plot points. It’s also overlong at a whopping 143 minutes and although not to as bad an extent as other films, it does succumb to a CGI-fest in its final act. (My full review here)

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4) Black Panther

Black Panther is a mixed bag and has some severe structural problems that really hinder the film. Coogler fails to develop what are some really interesting ideas and the action sequences are surprisingly poor. That said, it is mostly entertaining and the first half is quite strong. On the strength of some of the characters and with a firmer grasp of the material, there is potential for the future. At least Coogler has created a film that is very standalone in the canon. Black Panther isn’t concerned with setting up future sequels or constantly referencing other films, which is a good thing as there have been some installments that have fallen down this rabbit hole. That said, I really don’t understand why this film is being heralded as one of the best superhero films of all time and the Oscar nominations honestly bewilder me. (My full review here)

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3) Avengers: Infinity War

Avengers: Infinity War begins very strongly with some bold choices in its narrative. The Russo Brothers manage to juggle all the character arcs well and manage to craft a coherent, unified narrative that doesn’t feel overstuffed. What I particularly liked about this film given its flaws was how the Russo’s have admirably attempted to adapt the character of Thanos to the big screen, with Josh Brolin putting in a scene-stealing performance. The idea they had that this film was going to be from his perspective is an interesting one and this would have really worked well and made the film more fresh if they had actually gone in this direction and focussed on him more. There are a number of scenes from his perspective where his motivations are made clear and Brolin’s villain is one that can be empathised with. Thanos has to make a number of key decisions, some that bring a lot of emotional pain and this is dealt with really well.

Unfortunately, the film runs into problems as it then starts to involve too many characters which impact the film tonally and they then makes a cheap, poor choice in its conclusion which is really frustrating. There is always the risk in these kind of tentpole films to lose focus when there is a whole roster of characters to follow and whilst each superhero does get their moment to shine, some inevitably do get more screentime than others. That said, the Russo’s clearly have tried their best and the choices they have made are generally sound in terms of characterisations. (My full review here)

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2) Deadpool 2 

Deadpool 2 was a pleasant surprise given how I wasn’t a big fan of the first film. The film manages to successfully expand on its predecessor and wind up being a far superior film. The jokes land far more consistently than the first film and it’s a far more engaging narrative which successfully subverts the genre and develops the now familiar character. The first film failed to do this with its obvious jokes and its formulaic narrative. Ryan Reynolds once again, completely inhabits the titular role. Director David Leitch slickly directs this sequel (after Tim Miller exited) and as expected, the action sequences are creative and visually pleasing. The laughs fly in frequently to the point where I couldn’t stop laughing and missed the next one. This is definitely a film which requires repeat viewings to fully appreciate this film. The film isn’t perfect and its chief problem is its rather shambolic construction but the laughs make up for it and it all just about comes together in the end. (My full review here)

And the best comic-book film of 2018 is…

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1) Ant-Man and the Wasp 

This is probably a controversial decision but for me, Ant-Man and the Wasp was an absolute blast from start to finish. It is just as good as the original and like it, it is full of heart and character-driven moments. Director Peyton Reed further develops the innovative action sequences through the creative variations in size and spectacle in the first film, a car chase fares particularly well. This is aided again by confident performances from the cast all around and the additions of new cast members make the film feel fresh. Laurence Fishburne and Randall Park fare the best out of the new additions, Fishburne fitting perfectly into this world and Park is frequently hilarious as a bumbling, slightly useless agent. Like Black Panther, this film feels refreshingly standalone within the Marvel canon and despite my frustrations at Infinity War‘s ending, it does tie in well to it. It’s not particularly deep like my winner of last year, Logan, was, nor does it reinvent the genre but this is my top pick purely based on how enjoyable it is. I can’t wait for another sequel if they’re this good. (My full review here)



What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments or tweet @TheFilmMeister


 

Holmes and Watson (Review)

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⭐⭐ (Poor)

Director: Etan Cohen
Starring: Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Rebecca Hall, Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Kelly Macdonald, Pam Ferris, Lauren Lapkus, Hugh Laurie, Ralph Fiennes
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 89 mins

With a cast this strong and the idea of making a comedic version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective sounding like genius on paper, Holmes and Watson sadly fails to deliver on that promise. Etan Cohen’s sophomore directorial effort to the relatively funny Get Hard doesn’t seem to understand Sherlock Holmes well enough and the film’s narrative is very lazy and uninspired. Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly seem to be having fun at least but for both actors, they are laden with a bottom-of-the-barrel script which subjects them to some excruciating dialogue. The film wastes its wider cast too, especially Ralph Fiennes whose role is more of a cameo rather than a relatively high billing on the poster. There’s a couple of slight chuckles to be had (I think I laughed perhaps twice or three times throughout the whole film) but virtually all of the film’s jokes don’t land. It’s quite shocking to witness the lack of creativity in this film as it really isn’t hard to come up with at least one exciting set piece. The ending is particularly bad and is set on the Titanic which is both a cheap move and historically inaccurate to this time period.

Whilst Holmes and Watson seems like a travesty on paper, it isn’t quite as bad as the critics are making out. I laughed two or three times which is better than none. Also, at least the film isn’t offensive. Daddy’s Home, another Will Ferrell vehicle, for example is far worse in that it is mean-spirited in tone and its characters infinitely more annoying. Whilst that’s hardly a ringing endorsement for this film, there is worse out there. Ultimately, it’s a real shame that Holmes and Watson doesn’t fulfil the potential it had on paper and the end result is very disappointing.

⭐⭐ (Poor)

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey & Rodney Rothman
Starring: (voices of) Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, Liev Schreiber
Certificate: PG
Run Time: 117 mins

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is a surprisingly good film that has plenty of heart,  well-developed characters and manages to put a fresh spin on the famous Web-Slinger amidst the superhero fatigue. The marketing siginificantly diminshed my expectations as it looked to be a crowded, overstuffed film that struck a boisterous tone. The idea of having multiple versions of Spider-Man is an interesting one and it gives this film a chance to bring back many fan favourites and explore alternative characters that have been previously marginalised.

This film follows Miles Morales instead of Peter Parker (who features as well), a mixed race teenager who struggles to fit in at school and doesn’t meet the lofty expectations of his parents, specifically his policeman father who also doesn’t see Spider-Man as a benefit to the city. When Miles gets bitten by a radioactive spider to become the eponymous superhero, he stumbles across Kingpin who is trying to experiment accessing parallel universes in an effort to bring back his deceased wife and son. This then, as one would expect, causes problems and different versions of Spider-Man are brought into Miles’ dimension. These include Peter Parker, Spider-Gwen and more obscure versions of the character such as Spider-Noir and Spider-Ham.  They all have to team up to defeat Kingpin so that they can return to their respective universes before they deteriorate.

Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse succeeds in playing with comic-book convention and it manages to not fall into certain pitfalls of the genre. Perhaps the most impressive is how it tells the origin stories of all the characters in the film without spending too much time and doing it in a comedic manner. This is a fun and fresh take on this and allows the film to get to its main narrative thread quicker. The voice cast are all excellent and all seem to be having fun. Although not quite as funny as it could have been, there’s plenty of laughs to be had in this film as well through physical gags to obscure comic-book references for the fans. There’s also a very touching Stan Lee cameo made all the more heartfelt since his passing.

With all that said, I don’t think it’s quite as good as it has been made out to be. It does succumb somewhat to typical third-act antics with an overlong and not particularly exciting final battle. Despite some hints at a more fleshed out character, the villain Kingpin is underused and quite one-dimensional. Both problems this film has are also the downfall of Aquaman as well, currently playing in cinemas too.

Overall, Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse is an energetic and entertaining film that is heartfelt and provides a refreshing spin on the popular superhero. It packs some good twists in its storyline and should be a delight for comic-book fans through some more obscure and metatextual references. But it’s not quite as good as it could have been as it falls into typical problems of a lacklustre villain and a slightly tiring third act.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)