Monday, January 7, 2019

Hindsight: A 2018 Cinematic Retrospective

I saw quite a few films of 2018 in 2018 itself, although I suspect I saw more non-2018 films. Maybe I should do a post about that instead.

Films I haven't seen yet but might in future
Early Man
I like Aardman, and the teaser I saw was kind of amusing, but I admit that I was put off when I saw in the full trailer that this was going to be a football movie with a claymation cave man facade over the top, and by the time I checked to see when it was coming out it turned out that it had already been released and left cinemas, so there's a good example of marketing gone wrong.

Isle of Dogs
I dunno about this one. I saw the trailer too many times before other films and it didn't grab me.

A Quiet Place
I just got this on blu-ray so I intend to watch it very soon.

Update: Hmm. It's stylish and well-made, but I found it to be a bit "Hollywood" in terms of plot and character, at least after the little kid was killed off at the beginning, which was a satisfyingly ballsy move for such an otherwise emotionally predictable film. Other elements, like the generic nuclear family, the difficult relationship between the dad and his teenage kids, and the self-sacrifice at the ending, were all somewhat safe. Supposedly the writer/director (who was in the US Office, which I've never seen) was inspired in relation to the anxiety of being a new parent or something – as if that's some groundbreaking subject matter. The final shot was pure cheese too, which I felt undermined the film's mood, but perhaps it was intentional. Emily Blunt's good in it, I suppose, but everyone expects her to be. As I say, a very solid film but perhaps too straight-laced for a weirdo like me.

Super Troopers 2
The original Super Troopers is a sort of 'cult if you were a teenage boy in the early 2000s' dumb comedy for which I have a certain affection. Apparently this sequel was crowdfunded, presumably by the same people now adults with disposable incomes. I doubt it even got a theatrical release over here.

Deadpool 2
I wanted to see this but it came out at the same time as Infinity War and Solo and something had to give, especially as I saw those two films with people interested to see them, while I didn't know about anyone who cared about Deadpool 2 who hadn't seen it already.

Bad Times at the El Royale
Apparently this is good. I want to see it too.

Halloween (2018)
I have a weirdly high knowledge of the Halloween franchise despite having only seen some of the first one, as a result of watching Cinemassacre videos. I know they already tried a 'let's ignore the earlier sequels' sequel with Halloween H20, and it was weird but interesting to hear that they were doing it again. Maybe I should watch the original (and the first sequel? Does H20 follow that?), H20, and this one, and see what I think.

Suspiria (2018)
I only watched the original Suspiria (1977) this year – I liked it a lot; my kind of thing – and I have to admit that I was a bit concerned that a remake would probably prioritise storytelling over atmosphere. I've heard this is good, but I'm not in a rush to see it.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
They're been very clever with the marketing for this because I initially thought that this was Spider-Man: Far From Home when I saw the poster. I've heard it's good but the superhero exhaustion has been pretty overwhelming this year.

I just couldn't be bothered. I suppose I'd be kind of curious to see Patrick Wilson hamming it up as Ocean Master?

Update: Well it's no Wonder Woman (or Shazam! for that matter) but it's all right. It's too long and the undersea CGI action is weightless and lacking in stakes, but as an over-the-top underwater melodrama crossed with a superhero film crossed with a bit of an adventure film it's not that bad. At times it does take itself too seriously, and Mamoa and Heard really lack the acting chops to be a particularly effective leading pair, but I did find something entertaining about how simultaneously ambitious and predictable it was. It exceeded my admittedly very low expectations.

Films on my radar that I actively didn't want to see
Ready Player One
God damn this sounds lame.

Too many superhero films! Go away! Apparently this did big money in China or something.

Johnny English Strikes Again
Did Rowan Atkinson want to buy a new car or something?

Films I saw
Black Panther
I have to be honest; I wasn't that into this film. I didn't find the characters terribly interesting apart from Kilmonger, with whom I sympathised more than T'Challa, the end battle was the usual CGI sleeping aid, and I've got to put it out there: I find the idea of Wakanda as basically a Western-style metropolis with a culture that's a mashup of existing African elements both limited and... uh... kinda racist. To clarify, I felt this because I felt like it implied that different African cultures were interchangeable and homogeneous, and it also implied that Western-style urbanisation was correlative with being "advanced". I mean, I'm a white guy, so it's not really up to me to make those kinds of claims about it, and people in general loved it, which is obviously a good thing, but it just wasn't my cup of tea.

The Death of Stalin
This was a damn good film. Armando Iannucci's political comedy is always terrific (see The Thick of It and Veep – I'm not devoted enough to have watched Brass Eye, yet at any rate) and the combination of a top notch cast with an absurd but real situation in an absurd but real setting makes for an excellent satire of powerful people, and how their ridiculousness is often hand-in-hand with their power. Obviously Steve Buscemi is great as Krushchev, but the highlight for me, beyond Jason Isaacs' turn as Zhukov, was seeing Michael Palin back in action as Molotov; very pleasant to see that he's still got it. For Iannucci, it was interesting to see how his stylings could be deployed in a setting in which, unlike his twenty-first century tv series, violence could openly be used as a political tool, which increased the pitch-blackness of the humour to even greater levels.

Avengers: Infinity War
I took a long time to see this because I was burnt out on superheroes after Black Panther, but in the end I enjoyed it much more than I expected. The huge cast was all used reasonably well, especially the Guardians of the Galaxy – proving unfortunately, but I suppose in a timely fashion, that they don't need James Gunn – and obviously Josh Brolin was pretty compelling as Thanos, even if wiping out half of all life in the universe would only delay overpopulation for a few decades at the most. I guess he's not "the mad Titan" or no reason. Ultimately my only serious objection to this film is the boring battle scene at the end in which the supposedly super-advanced Wakandans line up in a row like the Battle of Hastings and let Thanos' alien dogs run at them. What happened to those gunships from the Black Panther film? A couple of machine-gun nests would have annihilated Thanos' troops. Basically what I mean is that this final battle could have been presented in a much more interesting way. Other than that it was actually pretty good.

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Messy, pointless and forgettable, a handful of engaging elements can't elevate this misconceived piece of product above the weight of its sloppy execution. I don't have enough to say about this to bother going any further; check out my first impressions post here if you want to read more, or see my Star Wars Rankings article for why I consider this to be better than overrated fan darling Rogue One.

A very effective horror film, albeit not one that completely blew me away instantly, Hereditary seems to be one of those films that bears a bit of thought. I do think the plot, ultimately, was a little bit safe, featuring a dead grandmother making a pact with a demon for wealth and power in return for the soul of her grandchildren, but in this respect Hereditary almost felt like the plot of the Paranormal Activity franchise done in a classy and stylish way. The lack of jump scares is very satisfying, and the general sense of morbid dread that hangs across the whole thing is affecting; particularly noteworthy is the moment in which Charlie is decapitated in a drunk driving accident and the traumatised Peter leaves her body in the car to be found the next morning. The use of the house models to reflect the family's situation, while a little direct, also contributes to a disturbing tone. It's a very well-made film; not the most adventurous horror film of recent years, but effective nonetheless.

Incredibles 2
Is it enough to say "it was good, but not as good as The Incredibles?" The first film is one of my favourite films of all time, so this one had a lot to live up to. Despite sounding old (apart from the voice of Dash, who was recast and whose voice actor I think was actually a little better than the first one), the returning cast do a good job, and it was nice that this film focused on Helen to a greater extent than Bob. That being said, the characterisation of the two non-superhero main characters was a little confusing regarding why one loved and the other hated superheroes respectively, and I found the ending a bit bland. I dunno. Supposedly this was meant to come out in 2019 but because production was running more smoothly than that of Toy Story 4 their release dates were swapped, and a little part of me really would have liked to have seen what this film could have become if it was given those extra months. Also, continuing the story directly after the first film was an odd choice. Obviously it would have been repetitive to have pulled a Toy Story 3 on it and have set it a real-time number of years later, but I think a focus on new characters wouldn't have hurt; then again, I enjoyed the focus on Helen. As I say, it's a decent sequel, but it could probably never have lived up to the original.

Ant-Man and the Wasp
Apparently people liked this. Really? I thought it was miserable, trying to do comedy but with constant punchline and pacing misfires such that every joke fell flat. I was legitimately keen for a team-up film, especially as this was the first time in Marvel films that a woman superhero was a separate title character. Frankly, I was quite disappointed by this film. I was expecting something funnier and more exciting. Michael Douglas comes across as confused and frustrated (not as Hank Pym the character but in real life), Paul Rudd has even fewer opportunities to actually be funny and Evangeline Lily just has to play the boring humourless characterisation again. Maybe I was just tired when I saw it.

Christopher Robin
A film in which the trailer reveals literally everything that happens, I was also a bit let down by this one. The premise of an adult Christopher Robin having to reassess his priorities after Pooh Bear and friends come back into his life is interesting, but there just wasn't much to this. I know it's a kids' film but it's still predictable and safe. I enjoyed the amusingly Bolshie ending in which Christopher Robin solves his employer's financial hardship by declaring they should make affordable products for the poor, but Mark Gatiss can piss off. Ewan McGregor is reliable, as is veteran Pooh voice Jim Cummings (although why a British Christopher Robin's treasured toy would have an American accent is unexplained) but it's a bit of a waste of Hayley Atwell in a supporting role.

The Nun
To quote myself last time regarding Annabelle: Creation, "it's crap." See my full review here.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Or, as I came to call it, Fantastic Beasts: The Sex Crimes of Grindelwald or Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Johnny Depp. I actually quite liked the first Fantastic Beasts film so it was a shame that this one was such a mess, particularly by bringing back far too many characters from the first film whose stories were over (Queenie, Jacob, Credence Clearwater Revival) and having an utterly pointless twist-untwist-twist exposition dump at the end of the second act which meant nothing and served no purpose. I appreciated JK Rowling's novelistic approach to screenwriting in the first film, but in this one it made the film cumbersome and lacking in narrative thrust. Still, three more films to go so she can presumably only get worse given the decline from the previous film to this one. Also, Johnny Depp is a bloody awful choice as Grindelwald, the entire Grindelwald-Dumbledore story is turned into a boring McGuffin-oriented non-story, and Jude Law is stuck doing a sort of weird Michael Gambon impression.

Holmes & Watson
Subject of walk-outs and being decried as the worst film of 2018, I honestly found this stupid, predictable, lazy and extremely late parody of the Guy Ritchie Holmes films more entertaining than Ant-Man and the Wasp, The Nun or Crimes of Grindelwald. I like the Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories a great deal, but I've always enjoyed the idea of playing up the more cartoonish and buffoonish potential of the characters, and as such I found this to be mildly amusing at points. Probably the biggest problem with it is the waste of talented comedic and dramatic actors including Rob Brydon, Steve Coogan, Ralph Fiennes, Kelly Macdonald and Hugh Laurie in boring and unfunny roles as if someone was worried that they would outperform Will Ferrell. Still, I think John C. Reilly is good value and liked him in this more or less.

Worst film of 2018
I kind of want to give this to Ant-Man and the Wasp because I was so let down by it, but it has to be a toss-up between The Nun and Crimes of Grindelwald. They were both bloody awful, but Crimes of Grindelwald was more boring while The Nun was more incompetent. The Nun was also much shorter than Crimes of Grindelwald and therefore wasted less of my time, so I guess I'll give it to Crimes of Grindelwald.

Best film of 2018
It's either The Death of Stalin or Hereditary. Very different, of course, and very interesting; I think I enjoyed The Death of Stalin more, so I'll give that the title, but Hereditary more than deserves an honourable mention.

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