Before we get started let’s discuss the major event in my absence, the new Avengers: Infinity War trailer, obviously! The extreme secretive nature of the film and its potential to completely change up the MCU, Kevin Feige has spoken repeatedly that this film represents an ending for this current version of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, has meant footage has been tightly controlled. Marking this and last years teaser trailer as being the only glimpses we’ve had, albeit now Black Panther has come and conquered expect a plethora of TV spots to launch.
To be fair what more do they need to show, this 2min montage covering the full spectrum of just how epic this experience is going to be. Characters we’ve fallen in love with joining forces with each other to battle the long teased Thanos. I still have slight reservations about having a CGI villain being at the centre of all things but each new snippet of footage the work on him has noticeably improved. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo also seem pretty clued up as to the potential pitfalls of such a villain so fingers crossed. April 26th cannot come soon enough….
This shot alone gives me all the goosebumps…..
Now that I’ve got the nerdiness off my chest you may be wondering (well the 3 of you that read this blog) where I’ve been this last month or so. Numerous factors have played into my absence; an amazing trip to California, promotion at work and looking for a new place to live have all played their part, but there is one key reason for my disappearance. A rest!! I started MovieHangover as an outlet for my film adoration, with the target that I wasn’t particularly bothered if anyone read it or not. Alas as time went on the blog became more of a hindrance, my enjoyment of watching films tempered by the need to write a review or discuss about it as soon as. I realised I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself to post when for one; not many people were going to read it, and two I couldn’t just focus on the screen in front of me. Now this wouldn’t be a problem if writing about films was my permanent job (what heaven that would be) but in trying to balance work/life and an adequate conveyance of my movie opinion it led to more frustration than anything else.
I did consider quitting the site completely but my wise and gorgeous girlfriend persuaded me to instead take a break. To rediscover my filmic love, and in turn return to writing when I felt ready for it, not through some misplaced sense of impatient publication. So here I am, returning to the fold but with moderation. I will be posting less but with any luck an increased skill and focus in my writing (or just more nonsensical rambling if I’m feeling lazy). For starters I’m going to provide a brief rundown of the films witnessed in my downtime, a few of them that’ll most definitely end up in my top 10 of the year…
Studio comedy was starting to feel a little dry in the last few years, with most proving forgettable, uninspired and lazy. However 2018 is having a solid return to comedies featuring charismatic stars, unique ideas and emotional undercurrents, with Game Night leading from the front (also see below). A fun concept, a regular game night between 3 couples turns chaotic when a role play night turns out to be real, given real mileage via a consistent bout of laughs. It certainly helps to have adept comedic performers mining the material for all its worth. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams had started to feel a little predictable in their schtick but Game Night reminds us that with the right script they are incredibly likeable. McAdams especially blesses her character with a sweet naivety cut through with a biting sarcasm. Supporting MVPs are Jesse Plemons as a darkly droll neighbour, stealing the film with a depressive dry wit, not to mention an utterly cute dog central to a terrific and bloody set-piece. Billy Magnussen also delights as a painfully stupid member of their crew. Game Night is hopelessly predictable at times (one joke is so obvious members of the audience were saying it out loud before it came) but directed with energy and verve. The visuals often utilise camera trickery to make it seem like the locations are in an actual board game, just one of many little details adding up to a fun time at the flicks. ***
Further on from Game Night comes an even better big studio comedy. Faced with the prospect of their children losing their virginity on Prom Night, parents Leslie Mann, John Cena and Ike Barinholtz venture into a night of insanity to prevent the so called #sexpact2018. Directed by Pitch Perfect’s Kay Cannon, Blockers features some of the biggest most consistent laughs (wait until you see a game of blindfold foreplay turn weird) but stays in the mind thanks to an air of heartwarming honesty. The three daughters are equally as charismatic as their adult counterparts, notably Geraldine Viswanathan’s drug crazy and sardonic Kayla. It’s sexual politics are also refreshingly current, taking in teenage sexuality, adult sexuality and homosexuality with a non-judgemental honesty. What could’ve been stock characters are in fact made charmingly real, none of them coming across as villains, such as the geeky fat kid who is never made a punchline but a fully formed person. Oh and former wrestler John Cena is an absolute treat as a bulky, culturally dim yet loving parent. Who would’ve thought that was possible. ****
God bless Alicia Vikander. She truly makes it work as best as she can in Tomb Raider. Looking the part with a sweaty, bruised physicality that would make Indiana Jones proud. Sadly the film around her desperately wants to measure up to that fedora wearing king of the action genre, without staking out any real personality of its own. Action beats are fine, and the survival aspects primarily inspired by the most recent 2013 game reboot of the previously misogynistic iteration of the character work well. It just doesn’t ever come alive. Director Roar Uthang (what a name!) keeps things moving at a fair old lick but I’d challenge any of you as to whether you’ll be able to give a shit. I’d certainly love to see more from Vikander in the role, but a film that fails to utilise bug eyed bad guy extraordinaire Walter Goggins to the max has truly missed the mark. **
Not since John Hughes at his peak has film culture truly represented teens as they truly are. TV has been consistent in this realm but films too often show off schools lacking in diversity or making their issues seem trivial whilst attempting to convey teen speak with an arch eyebrow raised. Blockers, Spider-Man: Homecoming and now Love, Simon are all steering the ship in the right direction. Love, Simon gets extra marks for marrying relatable diverse teenagers with a story far too often left out of mainstream moviemaking, coming out as gay. It is almost embarrassing that it has taken until 2018 for a film to feature as its lead a gay man. Love, Simon never stands on a pedestal about being a groundbreaker though, instead constructing a story of real dramatic weight. Similar to Blockers this also never paints anyone as the villain, only conflicted individuals with their own internal challenges, struggling to bring those to bear against their preconceived notions of what others may believe. Nick Robinson conveys the immense struggle of being a gay man but never outweighs it against his searching wit and affectionate nature. The fact this film even makes the usually generic Josh Duhammel lovably endearing is testament to its skills. But foremost amongst all of its other successes (a great soundtrack being high among them) is how young men and women who are struggling with their own sexual identities can see themselves represented with care, truth and humour. ****
Alex Garland has steadily proven himself via The Beach, Sunshine etc as a master of science fiction storytelling without ever letting go of character. Ex Machina marked his movement into the realm of directing, releasing onto the world a tale of technological malaise, questioning humanity and stunning visuals. It was a shame then to see his directorial follow up going straight to Netflix, courtesy of some messy studio politics within Paramount Pictures (long story short incoming production head sees the film as too brainy and a financial risk so dumps it). Much has been spoken of the potential for this to lead to a fundamental shift in filmmaking within the studio system but what of the film itself. A haunting, deliberately paced picture, focusing on a team of female scientists venturing into a mysterious ever expanding dome which has randomly appeared in the middle of nowhere. Inside the dome genetics begins to mutate and evolve bringing with it some truly shocking imagery. Through it all Garland keeps the lens tight on Natalie Portman’s lead. Closed off and damaged, her intelligence and probing inquisitiveness providing one of many similarities to 2016s Arrival, another sci-fi filled with haunting melancholy. Portman delivering a sombre performance alongside a cast of other terrific actresses. Tessa Thompson eliciting the strongest reaction as a quiet but pained member of the team, seeking to cover the desperate sadness within herself via suicidal exploration. The lower budget is sometimes stretched to its maximum, but the mood permeates with an uncontrollable tension. However it is the last act that will divide people. A surreal eerily scored moment of poetic craziness. It is hard to venture into more without spoilers but I can understand its ability to frustrate people. I certainly was not fully aware of what I was really watching but thematically it clicked and out of all the films I’ve seen this year it has truly stuck with me after the credits rolled. Although the sequences throughout of Portman narrating events before they happen is strangely counterproductive, robbing the film of its own surprises. I’m not entirely sure of its purpose beyond making the film more palatable for wider audiences. It should not detract, however, from a film of immense intelligence, potent emotions and unique concepts. ****
Ready Player One
I had serious reservations about Ready Player One. The book is terrific but dense with nerdy pop culture referencing and world building that would require an immense running time or a TV minseries to do it justice. The saving grace for me was a man by the name of Steven Spielberg. The World’s Greatest Director (!) has never been one to shrink from challenging material (he did direct Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the very same year remember) but the first footage left me cold. I should never have doubted the man. Although Ready Player One has its faults; excessive exposition especially in its first act, a by-necessity-of-its-story over reliance on CGI, and broad character work with little nuance, but it is Spielberg cutting loose with an energy not seen since his 80s blockbuster work. Ernie Cline adapts his own book here and contrary to writers who have the inability to let go he is willing to eviscerate his tome down to its basics. Outside of a heavy plot setting info dump in the opening 15 minutes Spielberg dives right into the story of Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan-solid). A young lad from a poor background who ventures into the virtual reality world of the Oasis as a means to escape, as does the entirety of the Earth’s increasingly ravaged population. He must join forces with other members of this VR world in order to find a mysterious Easter egg buried by the Oasis’s creator (Mark Rylance adopting an oddly pitched voice but conveying eccentric loneliness well) and gifting the winner the ownership of the Oasis itself. Ben Mendelsohn provides familiar villain snarls as the leader of IOI, a company determined to take control for themselves. The plot doesn’t get much more complex from there but the universe in which it plays out does. Wisely Spielberg never over-eggs the pop culture references, allowing them to naturally play out within the story but lacing in enough to stir even the most mild of nerds. Humour is well spliced into the film to keep the energy up and make things much more palatable. However it is all about the visuals (please don’t see this in 3D though) and despite the weak trailers they truly click in the film. Spielberg reminding us just how phenomenal he is at constructing multi-layered set-pieces that build and build. There is so much going on and yet his camera is ever focused never confusing the audience as to what is going on. Ready Player One puts younger directors to shame, proving that when it comes to difficult challenges never count out Mr S. ****
Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson directs great films but he also directs Wes Anderson films. Now there is nothing wrong with stamping your voice on a film, it is what makes a great director rather than just a director. However a Wes Anderson stamp has become a Tim Burton stamp. Predictable. The Grand Budapest Hotel represented his perspective honed to a fine art, crossing over to a larger audience without compromising his distinctive eye. Alas his follow up, the stop-motion Isle of Dogs feels a little tired, a little obvious, a little..well..boring. Building on the beautiful work he delivered with the charming Fantastic Mr Fox, Isle of Dogs is once again crafted with a detail and a rough around the edges vibe that at least keeps the attention even when the story drifts aimlessly. Said story concerns a Japan that outlaws all dogs, sending them to nearby Trash Island to live out their days where they cannot infect anyone with a potent virus. Making the best of their dire situation, the dogs see hope with the arrival of a young man determined to find his dog and get him off the island. Plot-wise this is about all you get, meaning the film lacks any real forward momentum, unlike the chaotic chase elements of Grand Budapest or the formidable threats thrusting Mr Fox into action. Anderson attempts to make up for it with a characterful voice cast who at least deliver warm, eccentric performances. Some merely delivering a few choice lines (I can’t imagine many directors outside of Anderson getting Bill Murray to star despite only having about 20 lines). Jeff Goldblum is an effervescent delight as always as a particularly gossipy pup, Scarlett Johannsson purrs through her role as seductive show-dog and Bryan Cranston provides a booming brooding presence as the dogs self-elected leader. Talk has risen since its release about the supposed racist nature of its Japanese portrayal, and although there is some truth to that there is still some clever ways he conveys cultural differences. Notably in his use of language. For while the dogs all speak in English, the Japanese characters speak in their native tongue with subtitles only present via translator or when repeated back via TV reports. Many personal touches exist throughout but they are not enough to elevate Isle of Dogs beyond mildly diverting. It certainly doesn’t help that the whole film is scored via a constant beating of drums, beats that actually result in sleepiness more often than not. **
A Quiet Place
I’ve saved the best for last!! Not many would have expected The US Office’s Jim aka John Krasinski to churn out one of the best genre films in decades but here we are. A Quiet Place is short, sharp and loaded in so much tension those of a weaker disposition may end up hyperventilating. The concept is simple. An unspecified calamity has left the Earth almost empty of people. Its only survivors faced with having to keep incredibly quiet, for any noise will set off monstrous beasts that eviscerate their prey in seconds. Did they cause said Apocalypse? Newspaper clippings reference a destructive asteroid and alien invaders. But Krasinski is not interested in larger scale contexts. The stakes are set from the opening prologue. We witness a family searching for supplies, tiptoeing around before an unfortunate incident results in a horrific tragedy. This is Day 82. Soon we jump to Day 400+. Krasinski, who also stars as the patriarch determined to keep it all together, captures the daily, fear-ridden, routine of a family who’ve by necessity just had to make do with their new world order. Emily Blunt excels as a mother fiercely protective of her children, and incredibly resourceful, but also one who is heavily pregnant. An impending event that both husband and wife know is incredibly dangerous but vital in protecting the planet’s future. Due to the creatures propensity for sound the family and by nature the film are largely wordless. Marco Beltrami’s intensely smothering score lacing extra tension to an already tense backdrop. Thankfully, and conveniently, the family can talk in sign due to the eldest daughter being deaf herself. Millicent Simmonds, an actual deaf actress, is astoundingly emotive, delivering a performance of maturity layered with a guilt and anger that releases itself in the films powerful closing moments. There are many stars here, Noah Jupe’s fearful son, WETA’s outstanding creature design (yes you do get to see them very closely), the omnipresent sound work (you could hear a pin drop during my screening), but above all else is John Krasinski’s confident direction. Never overplaying events, balancing set-pieces with deft character work and conjuring genuine emotional fallout. This is a film meant to be seen with a large (hopefully silent) audience. Its ending not offering finality but solace that there is hope, albeit you better hope there isn’t a sequel. One of 2018s finest films. *****
Til the next time….