THE CINEMA FIX PRESENTS – TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019!
So, here are my TWELVE FAVOURITE FILMS I watched last year at the cinema, at film festivals and on streaming platforms such as Netflix, Curzon and Amazon etc.!
It was another very good year full of entertaining and thought-provoking cinema. If I have missed any films out it’s because I did not enjoy them as much as you — or have not seen them yet. If I have missed any must-see films then please point out any glaring omissions.
For comparison here are my FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2018:
A Quiet Place (2018)
A Star is Born (2018)
The Favourite (2018)
First Reformed (2018)
First Man (2018)
Game Night (2018)
Phantom Thread (2017)
Sorry To Bother You (2018)
The Shape of Water (2017)
12 FAVOURITE FILMS OF 2019
So, here are the films I enjoyed watching most of all last year. Films I also really liked but narrowly miss out on this list are: Doctor Sleep (2019), Green Book (2018), Harriet (2019), Little Women (2019), Paddleton (2019), Ready or Not (2019), The Report (2019) and Vice (2018).
AD ASTRA (2019)
“James Gray’s existential space epic finds Brad Pitt journeying into the abyss of space with tremendous results.“
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
“…the Marvel production team deserve so much credit for bringing this multi-stranded story home in such a thrilling fashion.”
“…With incredible scenes of documentary realism the director Nadine Labaki has delivered a powerful piece of cinema.”
DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019)
“… it’s a testament to the ability, talent and infectiousness of EddieMurphy. Comedian and B-movie star, Rudy Ray Moore, is a part he was born to play.”
THE FAREWELL (2019)
“… Awkwafina provides subtle brilliance in her role as Billi, yet, Zhao Shuzhen steals the show as the effervescent Nai-Nai in this funny and moving drama.”
THE IRISHMAN (2019)
“… Netflix have an absolute monster of a gangster film here, with Scorsese once again delivering a very special cinematic offering.”
JOJO RABBIT (2019)
“… Taika Waititi just manages to balance parody and pathos in this risky, but brilliant rites-of-passage comedy-war film.”
“… marrying Taxi Driver (1976) with a DC comic-book super-villain is a masterstroke; making it one of the most compelling films of 2019.”
KNIVES OUT (2019)
“… Rian Johnson is back on the form with this breathless murder mystery, which works brilliantly as fast-paced, witty and intricate film entertainment.”
MARRIAGE STORY (2019)
“… an emotional and funny relationship drama that’s full of standout scenes, with Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson on top form.”
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
“… a near three-hour arthouse classic, especially if you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt.”
“… Jordan Peele skilfully delivers another great horror film, thanks to clever writing, masterful film production and an incredible cast.”
I am still perplexed how the Netflix business model works, however, the amount of viewing I get for my subscription fee is quite incredible. In the last month or so I have squeezed even more value out of it too.
Having caught up with some Amazon, Netflix and Sky television shows of late, I realised I had missed a number of film releases on Netflix. I have since rectified that by watching loads of them in an unofficial Netflix Film Festival.
So, here are some quick-fire reviews of newer film releases, ones I missed on initial cinema release and some re-watches too. All are marked out of eleven and organised in order of enjoyment.
BLACK 47 (2018)
Excellent chase thriller set in Ireland during the famine of the 1840s. Like Rambo meets Irish historical drama, it was both gritty and compelling throughout. Mark: 8 out of 11
This excellent urban comedy-drama impresses with humour, poetry and adroit social commentary. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal excel as friends trying to steer clear of the law – Mark: 8 out of 11
This quarter-life crisis drama meets monster movie is tonally uneven, but full of fantastic ideas. Anne Hathaway is great as the party person trying to get her shit together! Mark: 9 out of 11
EL CAMINO (2019)
Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesse Pinkmon (Aaron Paul) after Breaking Bad finished? I didn’t. But this neo-Western fills in the gaps in an entertaining and solid fashion. Mark: 8 out of 11
THE GUILTY (2018)
Danish thriller findsan emergency call handler (Jacob Cedergren), striving to save a woman’s life. Tense, claustrophobic and full of twists, it’s low budget but high in suspense. Mark: 9 out of 11
Starring the affable Mark Duplass and the brilliant Ray Romano, this low-key story of friendship is both funny and moving in equal measures. Mark: 8.5 out of 11
AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018)
Pretentious, elegant and beautifully told story of the last days of Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) Mark: 7 out of 11
BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE (2019)
Sporadically hilarious talk show parody, with Zach Galifianakis asking dumb questions to a host of celebrities. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
I AM MOTHER (2019)
Almost brilliant science fiction film, full of great concepts and visuals. It’s let down by a very confusing ending. Mark: 7 out of 11
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)
Very effective mixture of sci-fi and B-movie thriller genres, finds Boyd Holbrook’s cop chasing a serial killer. Mark: 7.5 out of 11
Interesting portrait of a dysfunctional 1960s U.S. family. The acting is great but the story rarely catches fire. Mark: 7 out of 11
NOT TOO BAD!
Love, disaster and survival set on a yacht – Mark: 6 out of 11
A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (2018)
Amusing look at the history of satirical magazine, National Lampoon – Mark: 6.5 out of 11
CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)
Hit and miss historical satire about the war in Afghanistan. Mark: 6 out of 11
HUNTER KILLER (2018)
Efficient Cold War B-movie with dodgy plotting, but decent action set-pieces – Mark: 6 out of 11
KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)
Interesting but undramatic profile of a journalist who uncovers a US Government conspiracy. Mark: 6 out of 11
MURDER MYSTERY (2019)
The cast get a luxury holiday as the audience get a frothy and silly Agatha Christie knock-off! Mark: 6 out of 11
Entertaining and tense, race-against-time thriller which finds a mother with an unenviable dilemma. Mark: 6.5 out of 11
THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT (2018)
Sam Elliott excels in this weird, slow-moving drama, which in no way lives up to the fantastic title. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019)
Great cast and worthy narrative cannot save this political thriller from falling short by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
Samuel L. Jackson acting talent cannot quite save another reboot of the classic 1970’s private investigator. Mark: 5.5 out of 11
HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)
Gross out puppet comedy which is horrific in every way! Mark: 2 out of 11
IN THE TALL GRASS (2019)
Decent horror story, ultimately gets lost in the weeds! Mark: 4 out of 11
Two narratives fail to gel in this 1950’s set misfire! Mark: 4 out of 11
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019) – FILM REVIEW
Directed and Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Produced by: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Al Pacino, Mike Moh, Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Damien Lewis, Kurt Russell and many, many more.
Cinematography: Robert Richardson
**MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS**
From watching the trailers for Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), I remember thinking: this looks so cool and I’m glad they haven’t given away much of the story here. Because, I hate those darned trailers which give away the story!
So, you watch Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film and then you realise, after the excessive running time, THERE ISN’T REALLY ANY STORY as such! Okay, DiCaprio’s character suffers an existential career crisis but that’s kind of it. Instead, you get mostly a nigh-on three-hour historical and cultural nostalgia trip down memory lane filtered through the artistic and fetishistic vision of one of cinemas great filmmaking iconoclasts.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), is essentially an arthouse character study where you get to hang out with two-and-a-half lead protagonists, plus a whole army of fictional and ‘real’ life supporting characters from the 1969 Hollywood era. Our two main “heroes” are neurotic, alcoholic B-movie actor, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), and tough, handsome and laconic, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The two characters contrast and complement each other perfectly. Moreover, the star quality, chemistry and fine performances of the lead actors bind the movie together amazingly.
Brad Pitt is especially brilliant. His character is not, until the violent ending, given much to do story wise; however, he does it with such charm. He imbues a character who has accepted his place in the world with such easy-going humour and control, it is an absolute joy to watch. It’s an iceberg performance which seems shallow on the surface, but has hidden and unsaid depth. I really wanted to know more about his character, especially what appeared to be a very colourful backstory.
DiCaprio, on the other hand, has the showier performance. Edgy, hungover and insecure due to his characters’ fading Hollywood career, DiCaprio gives another fantastic movie performance. He commits to the Dalton character and features in some wonderful sketches which pay homage and parody B-movies, TV variety shows and old TV Westerns. What I loved was his ability to demonstrate different levels of acting skills. DiCaprio can fuck up Dalton’s acting on set one moment, but then deliver acting on a Shakespearean level the next.
Margot Robbie, who we know is a brilliant actor in her own right, alas, is not afforded the same level of care in regard to the characterisation of Sharon Tate. More of an ornamental character in the film, she looks great going to the cinema, packing a suitcase, driving and generally just being effervescent. Yet, it’s truly is one of the film’s major flaws that it doesn’t make more of Robbie’s acting talent. Even the fantastic ending, which Tarantino, takes incredible liberties with in regard to actual events, finds Tate’s character development unfortunately left bereft of emotion.
Similarly, the Hollywood cameos echoing throughout the films are pure style over substance. For example Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski and Bruce Lee feature but these are mostly inconsequential encounters. The Bruce Lee representation and scene is actually really funny as Cliff Booth and the martial arts star face off in a hilarious flashback. Typically, Tarantino has caused controversy with his Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) rendition. Personally, I respect that people may be offended, however, it’s more comedic and iconoclastic rather than overt racism. After all, this is a fairy-tale vision of Hollywood and not a documentary. Plus, Tarantino knows he’s going to piss people off so it’s obvious he’s playing with people here.
While Bruce Lee’s persona is playfully satirized or racist depending on your point-of-view, Tarantino’s representation of the Manson family is more damning. It’s clear he absolutely hates hippies, especially acid-looped killer hippies. Dalton and Booth represent the old-school, honest Hollywood working class, so are the antithesis of the drop-out youths. The culture clashes between this era and the new flower-power cults is something Tarantino explores. Charles Manson, who barely features, is a ghost-like figure though. Instead, it is the character of Tex (Austin Butler) and the females of the commune who are most prominent.
Margaret Qualley as Pussycat is especially hypnotic in her role. Exuding both sexuality and acid-drenched nihilism, Pussycat is a siren hitcher, luring drivers to symbolically crash against the cliffs. For me, Tarantino should have made way more of the old and new California culture clash themes, as they resonated powerfully when on screen. Plus, the scenes on the commune were actually quite creepy, so more should have been made of this threat from a dramatic perspective. Lastly, the irreverent and violent final act carnage exploits the clashing of these two different cultures, but more could have done throughout to enhance this dynamic.
Overall, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood (2019) is a near three-hour arthouse classic. If you like films about film and TV making, driving, feet, ensemble casts, films within films, cinema-going, Los Angeles, more feet; and hanging with the marvellous DiCaprio and Pitt in a 1969 setting, then you will love this beautifully rendered and lovingly crafted film about Hollywood. Otherwise, you will probably find it a boring, indulgent and style-over-substance folly. Either way you have to admire Tarantino’s exquisitely controlled writing and direction. He certainly does!!
Safe to say though Tarantino will not care either way, because most of his filmic output has made a lot of money at the box office. This has now allowed him the luxury, like that of true cinema artists such as Kubrick, Altman and Antonioni, to make whatever films a studio is prepared to give him the money for. He’s basically making films for himself and doesn’t care if the audience likes it or not.
I personally found myself magnetically drawn to Tarantino’s vision and from a purely filmmaking and artistic perspective I was totally immersed throughout. Having said that, if the incessant driving and shots of dirty feet were cut and Dalton and Booth had been given a proper plot, rather than the thin stranded narrative within the impressive gallery of cameos and set-pieces, I would definitely expect to be writing about one of the best films ever made.
Way back in September 2015 I wrote an article listing some great ensemble film casts. Please feel free to read it here at this link.
If you can’t be bothered to read it the list of films are as follows:
12 ANGRY MEN (1957) AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012) GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014) INCEPTION (2010) LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997) THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) MAGNOLIA (1999) MEANTIME (1984) THE OUTSIDERS (1983) PULP FICTION (1994) SHORT CUTS (1993) TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY (2011)
Never one to worry about originality, I have decided to follow up this article with another list of great ensemble film casts.
The challenge second time round though is to EXCLUDE the films of directors or franchises ALREADY LISTED.
For those who may have lazy-read this I WILL REPEAT!!!
NO DIRECTOR’S OR FRANCHISE WORK FROM LIST ONE WILL BE ON LIST TWO!!!
It would be so easy to include all of Paul Thomas Anderson, Quentin Tarantino’s or the Marvel films. So I am not going to do that. Anyway, here are another TEN films with great ensemble casts (in alphabetical order).
WHAT’S IN A NAME? A BRIEF CONSIDERATION OF FILM TITLES
While reviewing the entertaining HBO show Barry, it struck me that I have an irrational dislike of film and TV programmes which resort to using people’s singular names in the title. Why, though? Let’s be honest: it’s not a big deal. So, why does it bother me? To answer this question I decided to a hold a brief whimsical exploration of such titles.
Titles are important. They create the first contact for the audience. They pull you in or push you away before you even know who made the film or who stars in it. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch a film called: Jaws (1975) or Alien (1979) or The Terminator (1984)? Conversely, who wants to watch a film called The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants 2 (2008)?
Obviously, big decisions are made at the title-naming stage of any works. Or are they? I think naming a film after a single name, on the surface, just seems a tad lazy. But, on reflection, using single names for the titles of a film or TV show can be impactful and to the point.
It’s weird, because I don’t mind place name titles at all. In fact, Fargo (1996), is one of my favourite films. The singular title just works. Similarly, so does Chinatown (1974). Fargo, especially, names both a place and the two syllables within the place — ‘far’ and ‘go’ — suggest the actions of the characters in the story. Chinatown, on the other hand, is more poetic; naming a place but also hinting at something exotic and mysterious. Either that or a cultural area where you can visit and perhaps get a certain kind of food.
I also don’t object to personal names being part of the title. For example, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), is such a great title because it’s better than just plain old ‘Rosemary’. What does the singular Rosemary tell us? Very little. But add the ‘baby’ element and you conjure up suspense and a desire to know what will happen to Rosemary and her child. Similarly, When Harry Met Sally (1986), is a simple yet delightful title which tells you the character names, events and we’re most likely to witness some form of romance.
It may be that the film is an adaptation and just named after the original source material. Rebecca (1940), by Daphne Du Maurier is a good example of this. Rebecca works for me though as the name has a haunting feel; and this is certainly confirmed once you read the book or watch the film. On the other hand, the film Carol (2015), feels benign in comparison. Based on Patricia Highsmith’s literary classic, it’s a sumptuous and touching romance, however, the title did not draw me in. It was only when I saw the cast and that it was directed by Todd Haynes, I decided to watch it.
The best singular name film is Rocky (1975). Here is a classic underdog story of a boxer who is Rocky by name and rocky by nature. He’s streetwise but lacking intellect and seems to have literal rocks in his head. He’s scrabbling around trying to make ends meet with a head as hard as rock too. But, because of this he can take the blows and punches and still come back for more. We love the character because he never gives in; he literally rocks!
In conclusion, like everything, there are good and bad examples of film titles. Some singular named titles work way better than others. Titles like: Barry (2018), Dave (1993) and even a fine film like Carol, seem weak to me. Meanwhile, a title like Rocky just works perfectly. Anyway, here are eleven singular named film titles which also fly against my pet annoyance and mostly work really well.
Eight years ago I wrote some articles for a nifty little website called Obsessed with Film. The site was independent and would have some geeky and interesting articles on film and television. Years later the site became the click-bait-pop-ups-from-hell-advertising-led-but-still-not-too bad: www.whatculture.com
Anyway, one of the articles was about some “forgotten” films or, as I shall refer to them, under-rated film classics. Basically, I listed films which I felt were deserving of further praise or viewings. The first list and subsequent list included: Bad Santa (2003), Dog Soldiers (2002), Chopper (2000), Midnight Run (1988), Tremors (1990), Locke (2014),Dead Man’s Shoes (2004) and many more.
My rules are simple. An under-rated classic can be a film I love plus not be one of the following:
Must not have won an Oscar.
Must not have won a BAFTA.
Must not appear in the AFI Top 100 list.
Must not appear in the IMDB Top 250 list.
Must not appear in the BFI 100 Great British films.
Must not appear in the all-time highest grossing movies of list.
So, with these criteria in mind I present a further sequel to my previous article with another set of under-rated film classics. If you have any suggestions that fit the criteria please do let me know and I will include them on my next list.
BEFORE I WAKE (2016)
Before I Wake tells the moving story of an orphaned boy fostered by Thomas Jane and Kate Bosworth’s grieving parents. This was a dream-like and touching tale with a powerful element of horror which benefits from great performances by Bosworth and Jacob Tremblay. I imagine I’m the only person who actually rates this film but I think, despite some plot issues, it remains a beautiful hidden movie gem.
After the mostly horrendous Sylvester Stallone starring Judge Dredd adaptation, Karl Urban subsequently stepped into the boots of the ruthless cop hell-bent on bringing justice to Mega City One. It’s a lower budgeted, but tremendous action thriller with Dredd battling nefarious druglords in a fortified tower block complex; led by a grand turn from Lena Headey. Violent and darkly humorous, Dredd was not a box-office success, but it was short, sharp and loud with Urban, keeping his visor firmly to his face, giving a steely performance as the grizzled, veteran law-keeper.
GOODBYE CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2017)
This British independent period drama is not something I would usually go for. It’s a period drama and biopic about Winnie the Pooh creator A.A. Milne and while these films are often by-the-numbers, this rendition of his life post World War I is a touching and emotionally heart-warming narrative. Thematically it is very strong with evocation of the post-traumatic stress Milne suffered after returning from war, plus the negative effect fame had on his family when his books became bestsellers. Domnhall Gleeson, Kelly Macdonald and Margot Robbie shine in their respective roles, but Will Tilston as young Christopher Robin/Billy Moon is a revelation as Milne’s young son.
THE MIST (2007)
Frank Darabont had tremendous success with a number of Stephen King adaptations, notably the now revered The Shawshank Redemption (1994). But, his rendition of King’s The Mist is an equally powerful movie. Starring: Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, Toby Jones, Laurie Holden and Darabont regular, Jeffrey DeMunn, the film centres on the aftermath of a violent thunderstorm in Bridgport, Maine. As townsfolk get trapped in a supermarket, any attempt at escape is prevented by a monstrous presence in the mist. With the supermarket representing a microcosm of humanity, the film poses the idea that religious fanatics are as much a threat as the aliens outside; with Marcia Gay Harden on ferocious form as the lead zealot. Thrilling and dark, The Mist is relentlessly frightening with a jaw-dropping ending.
THE OTHER GUYS (2010)
Adam McKay’s silly genre movie is an entertaining comedic cop film parody, thrilling action spoof and, on occasions, full of smart social commentary. It begins with an incredible chase sequence involving hero cops played by Samuel L. Jackson and Duwayne Johnson; only they are NOT the main protagonists because they are soon dispatched very early in the story. Enter the mismatched duo of Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg as the eponymous anti-heroes who pursue Steve Coogan’s crooked CEO. Further, McKay has digs at money-men who manipulate the stock market to save their dishonest hides. With a twisting narrative, brilliant running gags and Wahlberg and Farrell’s stupendous double act, this is a highly memorable comedy full of stupidity, hilarity and style.
Phantasm is a synthesis of genres from rites-of-passage, suspense, horror and science fiction. Ultimately, it’s the epitome of a cult classic and a triumph of concepts over finance. It’s full of mood and atmosphere and has a creepy synth-based soundtrack that cranks up the fear factor. Director Don Coscarelli created an imaginative fantasy concerned with death and mourning that has stood the test of time. It may lack the polish of big budget productions but the scares and surrealism reminded me of the works of Italian horror-master Lucio Fulci and Spanish filmmaking genius Luis Bunuel. It’s a film I would wholly recommend for devotees of horror and for those who like their movies raw, inventive and nightmarish.
PUSHER II (2004)
Pusher II is even more relentlessly grim than the original featuring all manner of dumb, lower-class hoods trying to scrape gold from Copenhagen streets paved mainly with heroin and blood. It’s an unglamorous and honest realisation of criminal-life as low-level drug pushers fuck one another over on a regular basis. Mikkelsen’s Tonny is a tragic character, who is left rudderless by a manipulative father and just cannot cut a break due to both his own lack of intelligence or positive role models. Never has there been so much sympathy for a movie thug like Tonny as Mikkelsen extracts every bit of humanity he can from the poor beast.
RUNNING SCARED (2006)
This Paul Walker starring crime thriller is a proper B-movie and arguably isn’t even that good. Indeed, it does seem to fall into that sub-Tarantino narrative bracket. However, every time I have watched it I have been glued to the twisty plot and violent gun-play. Walker is the low level mobster in New Jersey, who, after a drug deal goes wrong, must locate an incriminating and missing hand-gun, or face a violent death. I think it’s the frantic pace and action that’s full of surprises and punchlines which kept me enthralled; and despite the generic nature of the story I really rate it as a proper guilty pleasure.
Cruelly buried by the Weinstein studio on initial release, this under-rated graphic novel adaptation is absolutely brilliant. Set in an apocalyptic future, the train becomes an analogy for class struggle between the haves and have-nots. The action is relentless as it depicts the working class struggle. Their revolution occurs with Chris Evans’ character leading the hungry poor to the top of the train where the rich and privileged live a life of luxury. Bong Joon-ho directs Evans, Jamie Bell, Octavia Spencer and Tilda Swinton expertly, as the film marries social commentary and blistering action with aplomb.
Written, surprisingly enough, by Wentworth Miller, the lead actor from Prison Break, this is a subtle and bleak contemporary Southern Gothic tale. Directed by genius filmmaker Park Chan-wook, it stars Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and the under-rated Matthew Goode as a dysfunctional family unit who all have secrets to hide. While the film moves slowly it creepily spreads a steady flow of dread as we never quite know which character holds the biggest threat. Inspired by Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt (1943), this psychological thriller is full of death, grief and mystery and if you prefer slow-burn suspense this is definitely a film for you.
BIRD BOX (2018) & ROMA (2018) – NETFLIX “CINEMA” REVIEWS
Firstly, may I wish you all a happy holiday season and
thank all the people who have visited and read my reviews and articles this
year. There are a lot of film review sites out there so it’s great so get so
many visitors in a saturated online market.
For my final reviews of the year I have decided to
double-up two Netflix releases. I watched them pretty much back-to-back in the
hope, on top of enjoying them for entertainment purposes; I may be able to add
them to my 2018 favourites.
So, here are my quick and concise reviews of Birdbox (2018) and Roma (2018) with the usual marks out of eleven. By the way, if you’re
interested my favourite films and TV show lists of 2018 will appear early in
January. Happy 2019 in advance!
BIRD BOX (2018)
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Produced by: Chris Morgan, Scott Stuber, Dylan Clark, Clayton Townsend
Screenplay by: Eric Heisserer / Based on: Bird Box by Josh Malerman
Starring: Sandra Bullock, Trevante Rhodes, John Malkovich, Danielle Macdonald etc.
It’s the end of the world as we know it: AGAIN! I’d say that many of us may be getting apocalypse fatigue by now. So much so that if the end of the world does happen we’ll be mentally ready. Thus, any genre film about the end of the world must fight against the tide of similar films and TV shows released in the last decade or so to gain our attention or praise. Bird Box, for me, was a very entertaining and thrilling addition to the sub-genre. It benefits from an excellent ensemble cast and sterling lead performances from Sandra Bullock and Trevante Rhodes. Moreover, John Malkovich steals every scene he’s in as a cynical and obnoxious lawyer.
The story involves an invisible alien or natural force which infects the world’s population once they look; seeing it is deadly. It grips an individuals’ mind and then forces them to do horrific acts of violence to themselves. The film establishes Bullock’s character, blindfolded, with her two children just about surviving in the wilderness. After which we flash back five years and find Bullock’s pregnant character thrown into a memorably gripping set-piece. After which anyone familiar with George A. Romero’s zombie-film template will recognise many of the twists and turns in the story. Indeed, Bird Box is not that original because the superior, A Quiet Place (2018), also had a very similar premise but used sound rather than vision as the danger. Nonetheless, as a genre film Bird box rips along compellingly and Suzanne Bier has created some intense horror moments throughout.
Mark: 8 out of 11
Directed by: Alfonso Cuarón
Produced by: Alfonso Cuarón, Gabriela Rodriguez, Nicolas Celis
Written by: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Yalitza Aparicio, Marina de Tavira
Alfonso Cuarón writes, directs, edits and shoots a clear
love and hate letter to his Mexican childhood. It contains the love he feels
for his mother and the maid who helped raise him; and ire towards the men that
negatively affected his young life and his country of birth. Set in the 1970s
it covers around a year in the life of one middle-class family living in Mexico
City; the main focus being the young help, Cleo. We follow her as she carries
out her mundane tasks on a daily basis in an Upstairs Downstairs thematic structure. She is committed to her
work and it is clear that she dotes and loves the children as if they are her
own. As a historical film the era aesthetics are incredibly realistic and
Cuaron’s cinematography, presented in crisp black and white imagery, is
virtually perfect. You feel like you are there with the characters in 1970s
Mexico. Historically too, the film evokes between the lines the politically charged
danger of the era; however, Roma is
more of a personal film than determinedly socio-political.
Cuarón is an auteur at the height of his powers. His
direction on both Children of Men (2006)
and Gravity (2013) was phenomenal;
utilising technological brilliance with fierce storytelling acumen. Likewise,
in Roma his stylistic choices are
fascinating, although I think it actually works against the themes and content
at times. The long take pans and tracking shots, while expertly done, slow the
pace of the story and in my humble opinion are repetitive and overdone.
Moreover, Cuaron the editor has fallen in love with own work and to me would
have been a masterpiece if trimmed to two hours. There are at least four
incredible standout cinematic scenes – that I won’t spoil – which all linger
long in the memory. Furthermore, the characters, led by the humble Cleo are
empathetic and at times tragically formed against the backdrop of political
unrest. Yet, despite evoking the Italian neo-realist era of post-war filmmaking,
Cuaron’s film feels padded at times, lacking the economy of Rossellini’s and De
Sica’s work. Overall, it’s a touching work of cinema about birth, life and
death, which arguably did not need the stylistic flourishes to tell such a
simple, slice-of-life story.