REVIEW SPECTACULAR 5: 2019 EDITION

If you’re just now dropping in on these:

I’ve been doing quick reviews/recommendations via FB for years but have finally decided to move them over to the blog here.
There are five collections dating back to 2016 posted now, but from here on out each new review will get its own post so follow my various social medias for notifications!
I try to stay mostly spoiler free and give my impressions and broad recommendations over any in-depth discussions of plot etc. So much of the fun is going into a film or series knowing very little, but there’s always exceptions.
No ratings as they’re too reductive.
I don’t always watch things right when they come out and I don’t always watch everything.
Sometimes I’ll have rewatched something and have noted what I thought that time.

Here’s all of my 2019 watches so far, starting from the most recent:

IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)
GLOW s03 (2019)
DARK PHOENIX (2019)
MINDHUNTER s02 (2019)
MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL (2019)
ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993)
INVADER ZIM: ENTER THE FLORPUS (2019)
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
THE BOYS s01 (2019)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
THE WAILING (2016)
THE LION KING (2019)
DUMBO (2019)
DETECTIVE PIKACHU (2019)
HELLBOY (2019)
HALLOWEEN (2018)
SHAZAM! (2019)
STRANGER THINGS s03 (2019)
MIDSOMMAR (2019)
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)
OVERLORD (2018)
BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)
VEEP (s01-07)
CHERNOBYL (2019)
JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM (2019)
GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS (2019)
ALADDIN (2019)
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
mY GAME OF THRONS REVEIW (2019)
BUMBLEBEE (2019)
PET SEMATARY (2019)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT s05 (2019)
AQUAMAN (2018)
BLOOD MERIDIAN or THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST – Cormac McCarthy (1985)
US (2019)
LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS (2019)
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (1996)
CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)
RUSSIAN DOLL s01 (2019)
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)
LOST IN SPACE s01 (2018)
VELVET BUZZSAW (2019)
GHOST STORIES (2018)
BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH (2018)
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)
MOWGLI (2018)

Enjoy!

IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)

Weirdly almost ignores the first film’s existence by retreading a bunch of ground with the kids but told through flashback from the perspective of the adults in a way that negates any of the character growth in either of them.
I get it, the adult story features Pennywise less and you need sequences with the scary clown to keep a fickle audience entertained, but it also comes across as a lot of Telling rather than Showing so I’d suspect the test audiences messed with the original intentions.
Casting is A+++, it’s staggering how well matched each of the adult/kid counterparts are to each other. Bill Hader suddenly takes over a huge chunk of the emotional heavy lifting and he’s brilliant, but in doing so takes some wind out of the other Losers’ arcs. Seems like it’s going to play with the notion that the adults are all successful away from Derry but are still arrested in many ways as echoes of who they were as children… then it didn’t really follow through on what was in the first one and instead threw a heap of extra stuff in the way.
Could have easily lost at LEAST 30min overall and told the story in a darker, stranger way that relied much less on the same pattern of building to a jump scare/chase and then having a different CGI thing be suddenly too close running at the camera with a loud noise attached. The adult part is kinda meant to be a very different tone, seven stories about coming to terms with childhood trauma and it gets muddied here by needing to placate the audience with jump scares every 15min so they don’t get bored by all the talking (which is genuinely most of the best stuff).
Pennywise is less of an ominous presence, even though Bill Skarsgård is still great he never really feels like he’s adept at trying to run them out of town or can actually do them any harm. There’s some really cool psychological stuff in the climax that I would have liked to have seen more of.
Between the two movies now is enough material to fan-edit together a sprawling 4 hour movie that’s a bit more cohesive and concise, contradictory as that may sound. It’ll be over a decade before they can try again but it’d really be best served as a Netflix series whenever Mike Flanagan has worked his way through enough Stephen King stuff to want to give it a go.
Overall, lost sight of the themes that made the first film so much fun, but was still pretty enjoyable. Above average but could have been great.

 

GLOW s03 (2019)

Does an excellent job of giving everyone ALMOST what they want, but in a context that makes them re-evaluate themselves and grow out of the experience in new and bright ways.
Perhaps not the strongest season overall, but ultimately it’s a great step in a fresh direction going forward and the dynamics of the cast are, as always, wonderful. The back half of the season is where things really start shaking and if you’ve followed this far, you’ll want to keep going.

 

DARK PHOENIX (2019)

Take a drink every time you roll your eyes or yell “FOR FUCK’S SAKE NOBODY CARES” at your screen and you’ll have invested in a game 400% more interesting and engaging than anything this has to offer.
Essentially a duller remake of X3, not worth the two/whatever hours it takes to slog through.
Not even entertainingly bad, just fucking bleh.
I saw it so you don’t have to. Watch literally anything else.

 

MINDHUNTER s02 (2019)

Some interesting developments late in the game that sadly sideline an important character to personal drama and bench them for most of the run, this season remains an otherwise good procedural that feels like it was treading water until it can pick up steam with the next arc.
I enjoyed it, but it also makes me miss the dark complexity of HANNIBAL and wonder if/when they’re ever going to swing the mythical fourth season SILENCE OF THE LAMBS arc.
Good, but could be great if it was just a little bit tighter and scarier.

 

MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL (2019)

Medium everything.

 

ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993)

Cary Elwes looks like he’s having the time of his life. Pre-fame Dave Chappelle likewise.
Jokes are about 50/50 but there’s a few absolute corkers in there. Visual humour from another time but broad enough that it mostly dodges being dated too badly.
Worth a (re?)watch.

 

INVADER ZIM: ENTER THE FLORPUS (2019)

Yep, it’s everything you could want from a ZIM revival crammed into a loud, erratic 60ish minutes.
Jhonen Vazquez is on board and it’s an insane, irreverent trip.
Pudding Monster might even be my favourite Zim character.
Loved it.

 

TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)

One of the all-time greats of the zombie genre.
Korean horror crushed it again.
Absolute must-watch.

 

THE BOYS s01 (2019)

The anti-superhero superhero show.
And not in the “haha aren’t they all terrible haha this is silly” sort of way.
More like a “Jesus Tapdancing Christ that’s the nastiest thing I’ve seen in a while” sort of thing.
Make no mistake, it’s a damned good show, it’s not pulling its punches when it comes to the graphic nature of physics and the human body, among other things. So, fair warning on content, the screen at the start of each episode means what it says.
Oh, and also corporations are horrible and would 100% basically use supers as branded, marketed superweapons complete with PR teams to manage their very human, very awful personalities.
Ultimately, it’s a show about power dynamics and supers are just one part of the very fucked up equation.
Karl Urban steals the show among solid performances.
Worth a watch.

 

ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)

Almost certainly Tarantino’s most self-indulgent film, and ultimately in the lower rankings of his canon (which is still better than most films in general).
I liked it, but there is SO MUCH in the first 60-90min of runtime that could have been excised completely and had no effect on the final film other than to make it leaner and sharper and punchier. Y’know, like Tarantino films are.
The back half is where it finally begins to get fun and it’s brilliant when it finally goes up but it’s a drag getting there.
Honestly if he’d cut 90% of Dicaprio’s stuff and made it all about Pitt it would have been far more engaging, but that would remove the chance for Q to recreate old Westerns wholesale for no reason.
Oh, and if you love his shots of women’s feet you’re in luck. To a distracting degree.
The whole Sharon Tate section feels like a giant red herring for those in the know about the time the film takes place (you’re doing yourself a favour by looking up her death before going to see this), but it’s such a weirdly meta wink at the audience how it pans out even if the last 25min is far and away the best bit of the whole thing.
Inconsistent, but enjoyable for the most part.

 

THE WAILING (2016)

Korea has really stolen the Asian horror mantle from Japan as of late.
THE WAILING runs longer than expected, and the last 45min or so is an insane stacking of plot twists that keep folding and folding back into itself, to the point of exhaustion. That’s its aim, though.
There’s a much bigger emphasis on how a curse or horror impacts a broader community, as opposed to the usual narrower focus on the family unit prevalent in Western fare. There’s a creeping sense of spreading corruption, a growing realisation that something otherworldly is at play.
Strange and slow, you’ll be discussing what the hell happened for days afterwards.

 

THE LION KING (2019)

A technical marvel, but still the inferior version of a classic.
Loses a lot of the tightness and dynamism of classical animation in the translation to overly-faithful realism, with flatter performances coming through both in voice and animation.
Timon and Pumbaa are great, but overall could have used a dash more color and high fantasy to make it feel larger and more grand. There were a few moments that were big meta nods to the original that I found jarring.
As it stands it’s incredible to look at knowing that it’s entirely artificial, though a lack of expression in the performances lessens the impact of the drama.
Worth a watch, not really an improvement.

 

DUMBO (2019)

Y’know, I didn’t hate it.
As far as adapting it out to almost twice the length of the 1941 original (which hasn’t aged very well) it’s fairly competent, even if the general feel is the kind of artificial cartoonish digital uncanniness that modern Tim Burton films are all guilty of. There’s a lot of style, but it feels over-designed and veneer-like instead of anything really real or tangible.
Still, Dumbo himself is a big ol’ cutie with a little sweet story of his own. I just wanted to give him a hug the whole time.
Otherwise, this pretty much closes the book on old-timey circus movies. We can move on.
I don’t think it needed to exist, but it’s ok.

 

DETECTIVE PIKACHU (2019)

Charming, competent, as well realised as any live-action Pokémon movie we should ever be so lucky as to see.
Some great gags, the creatures are fun, the story’s decent even if it seems to definitely close the door to sequels without some narrative trickery, and they set up a really interesting possibility in the finale only to undo it minutes later.
Overall, pretty good. If you’re a Pokémon fan you’ll probably love it, if not you can still have a good time.

 

HELLBOY (2019)

Hooboy, what a mess. Shame, really.
There’s a lot of really good stuff in here, some great design and an intriguing mythology… that goes off the rails about 25min in and keeps bouncing all over the place with unwanted exposition dumps, flashbacks, needless subplots and extremely inconsistent CGI.
GOOD: the pig monster antagonist is awesome, the Blood Queen is a good sort of ticking time bomb of a threat (even though she barely does much), cast is fantastic, the Helldemon designs at the climax are AMAZING, violence is messy and gross and fun, some of the soundtrack is bang on point.
BAD: stakes suddenly start changing gear rapidly after the first act and it’s super unclear what the actual priority or threat is, there’s a whole Baba Yaga sequence that has great visual design but contributes absolutely zero and should have been cut entirely, the were-leopard CG is atrocious, FLASHBACKS ARE BAD NARRATIVE DEVICES, the rest of the soundtrack is kind of jarring, all the dialogue feels overdubbed because the editing is a trainwreck through the whole middle, lots of the dialogue feels rushed and expository because they have to stitch all this extraneous shit into the main narrative and it makes incredibly unfocused, the big climax keeps cutting back and forth to stuff outside without a POV character to care about so it’s just exposition/unrelated carnage/exposition/more carnage/stakes are raised except they’re already too high/exposition/etc.
Reeks of massive studio interference and ultimately doesn’t cohere into the single straightforward narrative it had clearly been at some point.
Worth a watch with low expectations to see the cool junk it has to offer, just don’t hold out for it to be great.

 

HALLOWEEN (2018)

A sequel to the original, erasing all the other sequels and picking up with Laurie Strode now a grandmother who’s had her whole life overshadowed by being the lone survivor of the Michael Meyers killings.
Except she hasn’t been idle all these decades.
Great reminder of what made The Shape such a terrifying force in the first place.
Would recommend!

 

SHAZAM! (2019)

Actually really wholesome and heartfelt, light and breezy superhero material.
A few good left-field turns in the final act and a solid underlying message of family, maturity and responsibility. Weak points are really only that, since it’s an origin story, we see the same beats retread as always but at least this has a fresher take than most others and an infectious sincerity. Some great gags in there too.
The best DCEU film — sorry WONDER WOMAN, you got edged out when you dropped the ball on a PS2 boss battle finale.
Pleasantly surprised!

 

STRANGER THINGS s03 (2019)

It’s good!
Smart move keeping it to 8 episodes, pacing hits right in the sweet spot for the sort of extended Stephen King telemovie chord that the show so skillfully strikes.
Really like the reshuffling of the character dynamics again (Team Steve!) and the monster is one part a good evolution of the threats from previous seasons and one part a play on 80s Red Scare Soviet panic (and a throwaway gag about D&D inspiring Satanism) with a cool design that makes it feel like some gross RESIDENT EVIL boss.
Nostalgia feels a wee bit forced from time to time, but overall it doesn’t detract. Soundtrack is great and for the most part the 80s-ness feels well integrated into the story/world and not like something desperately tacked on.
Plenty to like, but if you’re a fan you’ve probably already smashed through the whole thing over this past weekend so I don’t need to tell you that.

 

MIDSOMMAR (2019)

Visually arresting, slow and strange.
I found this a little more predictable than HEREDITARY, though that’s not a criticism, it’s just different to H’s creeping dread. You can tell right out of the gate the sorts of horror movie type things that are going to happen, but to its credit MIDSOMMAR brings enough flair to its execution and the performances are excellent throughout.
There’s some absolutely horrifying stuff in here too, as well as some scenes that are just so absurd that they’re laughable, but again, that’s not a criticism, it’s all part if the very strange mood spell it casts.
Bonus points for absolutely nailing what hallucinogenic mushroom visuals look like.
It’s slow, colourful, weird and absolutely harrowing in parts. Worth checking out if that’s at all your thing.

 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)

It’s great!
Charming and fun, perfect follow-up to the heaviness of ENDGAME. Everyone just seems to be having a really good time, and the energy is infectious.
My money is on SDCC this month (next?) for Marvel to start dropping their Phase Four plans – this moves a lot of pieces into place for wherever they’re going without being heavy-handed about it, in fact it feels more like the MCU has gotten so comfortable rolling with the punches that it can just drop mind-blowing stuff in the mid/post-credit sequences and it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film.
There’s some real fun spoilery things there.
Enjoy!

 

OVERLORD (2018)

If you only watch one WWII Nazi horror movie this year, make it this one. Best if you don’t read up on the premise at all and just go in blind.

 

BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)

Should have won the Oscar, but how many films can we say that about at this point?
A black cop in the 1970s infiltrates the KKK with the help of his white Jewish partner.
Spike Lee knocks it out of the park – funny, tense, complex and beautifully shot.
It’s great. Must-watch.

 

VEEP (s01-07)

Julia Louis-Dreyfuss deserved all the awards for portraying the worst (fictional) VPOTUS/POTUS ever. Narcissistic, cruel, vindictive and shallow, responsible for (fictional) headlines that were as staggering as they were prescient to the real world, often by years. Sometimes it seems like the Trump campaign took pointers from these assholes.
The writer’s room on this must have been ridiculously fun – the banter is a non-stop barrage of foul-mouthed takedowns and one liners that more than once stopped me dead in my tracks thinking “Jesus Fucking Christ that was savage”, and I ain’t faint of heart on that stuff.
It’s hard to pick who the worst staffer of the lot is, there’s truly someone awful for everyone to hate.
Crude, vulgar, sharp as a tack, hilarious.

 

CHERNOBYL (2019)

The only thing worse than lethal exposure radiation is the gross misconduct, pride and lies that allow it to happen to a huge community.
Bleak and horrible and incredibly well made, this is the kind of thing HBO was known for before it became all about GoT. Good to know that with the budget freed up they’re back making things of as high a quality as my anxiety levels were throughout this.
Recommended, if you can stomach a solid dose of existential dread. The epilogue alone is haunting as hell.

 

JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM (2019)

Probably the best of all three!
Forsakes a bit of the straight-ahead simplicity of the first two in order to build the world out some more, but this is still mostly a continuation of an utterly exhausting few days for John Wick, the greatest fucking assassin in the world.
Action sequences rank up with the absolute best of the best in action movies, including several that pull stuff off you’ve never seen before. Keanu working as his own stuntman allows for a visceral feel to every encounter and the pacing only slows for brief stretches before it’s right back to insanely drawn-out encounters. The body count in this one is ridiculous. The staging and choreography is fantastic, seeing this with a crowd in a theatre was an orchestra of gasps, shouts and cheers.
I hope they keep the franchise running at this quality – consistently a great time.
Highly recommended.

 

GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS (2019)

To quote no less than four different dudes at ticket kiosks next to us: “Ah fuck, John Wick’s sold out?? Dammit!!”
Some absolutely baffling choices and really dumb shit that threatens to derail the whole thing, but at the end of the day it’s a forgivable monsters v monsters movie that could have been executed with a bit more style and imagination to gel the ridiculous (fun) parts together.
Some cool stuff sprinkled throughout. Could have shaved 40min off and made it much better. Momentum kept getting disrupted by A and B stories that were slightly out of sync so dramatic tension was all over the place.
I’d put it on par with AQUAMAN, I guess.
TLDR; Mostly terrible.

 

ALADDIN (2019)

Obviously there’s a bunch of stuff you can do with animation that doesn’t quite translate to live action, but for the most part it’s a fun retelling of the 1992 classic.
A few action sequences and some shots are a bit flat and weird, as are some of the characters (Jafar/Iago don’t have that same spark and menace or charm at all), but Jasmine and Aladdin are pitch-perfect casting and even a lot of the Will Smith genie stuff that I wasn’t digging in the promo material came together much better in the film itself. Nobody could ever replace Robin Williams and they wisely take another approach that works much better with this version of Agrabah.
VFX is mostly well done, though sometimes has the same over-worked feel that these live-action remakes carry. Musical numbers aren’t bad but Guy Ritchie seems like he’s a little lost or hogtied with choreographing some of the sequences (studio oversight, probably).
Runs longer and so doesn’t feel as lean or punchy, but overall, it’s a solid remake.
Mostly pretty good, I liked it more than I expected to.

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)

I mean… goddamn.
There’s 181 minutes of this and they didn’t waste one of them. An absolute love letter to the MCU with its heart right on all of the character growth that’s come from TWENTY TWO FILMS up until this point.
There’s SO MUCH going on and so many satisfying moments.
But yeah, anything else is a spoiler. You’re almost definitely going to see this – it’ll make $2b probably. Good luck to anyone trying to ever top something this hugely complex and ambitious and well done to everyone who pulled this together.
It’s the Most Comic Movie Ever Made.
Enjoy the ride.

 

mY GAME OF THRONS REVEIW (2019)

Well, they finally jumped the shark – almost literally. A mermaid army is probably the laziest attempt to cash in on another franchise’s success (looking at you, AQUAMAN) besides a frankly jarring musical number at around the halfway mark.
Book fans will be pleased to know that Pigly the Minstrel finally made it into the show, but his depiction doesn’t really line up with how he’s portrayed in WINDS OF WINTER and he’s more like an amalgamation of several other characters, all of whom would have been better suited solo.
By the time Doiglas arrives on his wyvern (marvel of Jim Henson puppetry, Mr Puffs) to break the political stalemate with piña coladas, it’s pretty apparent that the showrunners have stopped giving a fuck and have totally caved to fanservice.
Overall, pretty hard to follow coming off season 7, even after watching two hours of recap videos.
Disappointing, probably won’t be torrenting the rest of it.

 

BUMBLEBEE (2019)

This is what the TRANSFORMERS franchise should have always been.
I don’t really have that much affection for the series besides thinking the toys were cool about 25 years ago, so I really didn’t have any investment, but this was a pleasant surprise.
Animation/action is clean and readable, designs are cool and well executed, human characters have complete arcs, things have logic and followthrough… the whole thing feels… competent. Shocking, right?
More IRON GIANT than anything Michael Bay.
Can we give this director the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles next? This guy gets it.

 

PET SEMATARY (2019)

Pretty straightforward, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve literally seen the entire film. Whoever cut that together should be fired immediately cos they torpedoed any vague surprise this adaptation had in its corner.
Felt like a wasted opportunity to revisit the creeping dread of the book. Was a bit too aware of the things that You, The Audience knew and expected and tried to be too clever in subverting those expectations – in the process it lost anything resembling a personality. “We know you know THIS THING about the story, but what if we do THIS INSTEAD??” There’s some fairly significant changes that affect the overall structure and plot and I just wondered…. why? They don’t bring anything to the table that you wouldn’t have gotten better by doing a more direct adaptation and adding some style.
It’s a perfectly normal horror movie, straight ahead, no frills. In that regard (as a fan of the book and even the cheesy ‘89 movie in its way), it’s fairly disappointing that they somehow made this run for 2 hours and did nothing remarkable.
It’s not BAD, it’s just not really distinct or interesting. I gave up trying to get drunk partway through.

 

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT s05 (2019)

Look, I’m one of the great s04 apologists. While not as brilliant as the first three (what is?), it’s got some quality setups and does some funny shit with the Bluth family five years down the line. Layered jokes, callbacks, the works. It’s a good season, dammit!
Season five is garbage.
Don’t even bother.

 

AQUAMAN (2018)

It’s like six movies trying to be the same movie at once. There’s an Indiana Jones/National Treasure bit, some kind of Lord of the Rings battle with insane seahorses and crab people and merpeople and sharks, a coming of age hero story, a Journey to the Centre of the Earth bit immediately following a sort of deep-sea horror bit, a pirate subplot, a Game of Thrones subplot, a lost romance subplot, a Gladiator battle and an island sized monster voiced by Julie Andrews. Somehow all this still feels like it’s playing safer than it could have.
None of these things really connect to each other in any especially meaningful way, but you also get the impression that the makers don’t really mind so much about such trivialities. The cast is having fun in B-movie roles. The soundtrack is distractingly anachronistic. Costumes and design are legitimately great. Action is well shot. CG is wildly inconsistent, even to the point of matching shots looking different sometimes.
It’s ok, I guess. Would have been better if it had really, REALLY buckled down and gone full camp and held onto a tighter narrative rather than bouncing around so much, but as it stands it feels like it got sanded down just enough by studio/committee to miss being above “goodish”.

 

BLOOD MERIDIAN or THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST
– Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Nasty, savage, brutal and cruel.
The fantasy of the romantic West starved in the sun and scalped.
Bloody good read.

 

US (2019)

Sort of weirdly straddled a line of horror and comedy that didn’t quite work for me. Wasn’t sure if that was intentional or if the inherent absurdity of some of the idea just made it funny rather than scary.
Lots to like – it’s very well shot, the cast is great, the general concept is creepy. Ultimately it didn’t click tho. Pacing and tension was off, some twists and turns came at odd places in the story so felt unearned. Raised a lot of questions that felt like they should have had simple answers, and a couple of the reveals only served to make earlier reveals make less sense rather than snapping the story into something truly chilling.
Overall, I mostly enjoyed it, but it’s not as good as GET OUT. Still, I’d rather see more films with this sort of weird ambition so maybe check it out and let me know what you made of it.
Sidebar: This was the worst cinema audience I’ve ever been in and I ended up yelling at a guy two seats down to shut up during the climax because he was talking CONSTANTLY.

 

LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS (2019)

Really earned the R rating on this one!
Bloody, sexy, violent and dark as hell – a wild ride into 18 short animated films, each based on an existing scifi short story. Some experimental, some more straightforward, not a real dud in the lot.
The animation is incredible, several of the shorts really pushing what’s possible these days. So, yeah, pretty much exactly my thing.
I won’t mention specifics as each is best experienced blind, but I’m keen tohear anyone’s thoughts/favourites below.
You can burn through the whole lot in two hours or so. Well worth it.

 

MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (1996)

Still bloody great.
The real treasure is Tim Curry taking scenery chewing to the next level. Special mention to the D-plot of 4th wall breaking rats using the ship as a pleasure cruise.
So many cheap gags and bad puns.
Love it.

 

CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)

Phase Three ambition with Phase One execution.
It’s probably around the middle in terms of Marvel movies – lots of fun stuff and mostly well executed, but feeling like its reach exceeded its grasp.
Needed to be much tighter, and it’s definitely noticable that the directors weren’t experienced making action sharp and punchy. Tried to be more things at once than it needed to be and overall felt unfocused as a result.
Still, the buddy-cop parts of it were really fun, the mysteries were good but lacking real tension due to a lack of confidence showing rather than telling and the Skrulls were actually great (special mention to Ben Mendelsohn). Plenty to like, but Carol will benefit from being in the hands of more experienced directors for ENDGAME and beyond.
Pretty standard Marvel origin film in a time when we expect something more. Not bad, but not amazing either.
Upon rewatch: Yeah, more or less the same. It’s fine.

 

RUSSIAN DOLL s01 (2019)

It’s basically GROUNDHOG DAY but with a foulmouthed nihilistic Millennial in the pilot seat.
Which might sound offputting to a lot of people but it’s actually really great.
Natasha Lyonne is brilliant, smoking and drinking and cursing and screwing her way through the same events over and over, then bringing a surprisingly weighty bit of heart to things in the back end.
The whole shebang is only 8x 25min episodes and it does a lot of fun stuff with the premise.
You should watch it.

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)

I liked it!
Being not particularly familiar with the manga it’s based on, I will say that I did notice a bit of crunch inevitable to squeezing clearly long serial arcs into a single two-hour experience, but overall it didn’t bother me so much.
The design and animation is fantastic – the sheer scope of creativity and artistry on display in the cyborgs alone is a sight to behold. Some of the action sequences are the best of their kind. It’s surprisingly violent in several places.
Alita herself uses the edge of the Uncanny Valley to her advantage in that you’re occasionally reminded she’s not a flesh and blood actor on screen, but that realisation is continually overshone by her personality and execution. She’s near-human, and the effect only serves to enhance that.
Some of the dialogue is a little stilted, some sub-plots could have been pruned to the minimum or removed altogether (*cough*teenromance*cough*), and it ends in a weird spot.
But it’s fun and interesting, the cast look like they’re having a good time in this ridiculous world and it’s a shame it probably won’t do well enough for any follow ups.
A good time, probably the most successfully ‘anime’ live-action film, for better or worse.

 

LOST IN SPACE s01 (2018)

Well executed modern reimagining of the classic series. Cinema-grade production values, good characters and a solid first season set up for an ongoing story.
Parker Posey’s Dr Smith and the design of the robot are highlights. It’s worth a look.

 

VELVET BUZZSAW (2019)

More of a blunt appraisal of the shitty people of the art world than a straight horror film, it goes a long way in demonstrating how the entire industry is a complete scam and a sham and then sort of adds supernatutal punishment as retribution on top?
It’s not perfectly executed, or indeed especially well executed for a horror movie. But there’s some good stuff in there, even if the story can’t capitalise on it as well as you’d hope from its stronger elements.
Cast is great, performances are appropriately insufferable, ideas are interesting, much of the design is cool. Enjoyed it but it’s not one of the greats.
Oh, and DO NOT watch the trailer – it literally spoils every single thing in the movie. I think I might have enjoyed the horror side more if I hadn’t had all the mystery already shown to me beforehand. Whoever cut that together should be fired.

 

GHOST STORIES (2018)

I feel a little spoiled going into a ghost movie following on from how successfully THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE absolutely nailed basically every ghost movie trope so perfectly earlier last year, so this benefits from being very different to your regular straight-down-the-line spooker.
It’s tough to go into this without giving away the conceit in some sense. It’s sort of an anthology, focusing on the protagonist attempting to debunk three supposedly unsolvable paranormal cases. But then, it’s not that exactly, and to describe how is to both ruin the strange trip and to set you up to look for a twist or something similar, which isn’t the point.
It’s strange, and surreal (especially in the back end) and worth the little journey through it.

 

BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH (2018)

If the logical endgame of a Choose Your Own Adventure story is a deep paranoia/parallel universe/meta narrative, then what a brilliant move to make the first proper CYOA film (?) exist within the pananoid, self-aware BLACK MIRROR universe.
Yeah, as an experiment, this totally nails it by playing into exactly what it is. How any other attempt at this will approach the same question is yet to be seen.
But it’s fun! We found around six or so different endings and saw avenues for several others, and I have the impression there’s still a wealth of weirdness to discover. Oh, and we found some pretty dark stuff in there too – it is BM after all.
I’m not going to mention any of the content because I managed to go in fairly blind and I found that made the initial experience curious and involving.
After a few hours I still want to go back and find out what other choices would have lead to, and ultimately that’s a success in my eyes. A really impressive experiment that will open the door to much better and much worse variations on the concept.
Give this a go if you haven’t yet.

 

THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)

Six shorts about the Old West, or perhaps six stories about the different kinds of films made about the Old West; almost like little cinematic tone poems, but with the Coen’s trademark wit and whimsy.
All of them are succinct and quick enough to not wear out their welcome, each of them a kind of tragicomedy depending on how you generally feel about Coen Brothers films.
I went in knowing as little as possible about any of them and would recommend the same – it’s a great way to spend two hours and it’s fun to pause and talk about each of them as you go if you’re watching with others.

 

MOWGLI (2018)

Wow, that was joyless.
Aside from most of the animal faces looking uncomfortably wrong, this feels like a gritty Dark Universe take – which is truer to the source material and not intrinsically a bad direction in itself but it’s just not very engaging.
Trying to tackle outsider psychology is really muddled across the cast, as both those who embody it as either a positive or a negative quality are equally treated cruelly for being unique. There are no real heroes in the jungle, and despite all its talk about the importance of its laws we never really see much meaningful consequence to either upholding or breaking them.
Maybe that’s the point? If there’s a message here, it’s lost.
The Disney version is way better.

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