Film Review: Ghost Stories (2018)

I had high hopes for this film. An interesting idea, at least it looked like it from the trailer. And what a cast!

It was, though, entirely unsatisfying.

The key aspect to any good scary movie is that it stays with you after the movie ends. You walk out of the dark cinema into the night with a growing sense of anxiety, looking left, looking right, peering repeatedly into the back seat of your car as you drive home.

This film doesn’t leave you with a lingering feeling of fear, it leaves you with a lingering feeling of disappointment.

Without giving any spoilers, watching this film is like standing next to a Michelin-starred chef while he prepares the most amazing meal you can imagine. The sights, the sounds, the smells are almost overwhelming, your mouth waters for the denouement, for that exquisite moment when everything comes together with a bang at the end and you experience the meal of your lifetime.

But in this case, you get a cold burger and a can of pop.

This film promised so much, and delivered so little. I feel cheated.

This film gets 2/10 for the cast alone.

Film Review: A Quiet Place (2018)

A tense thriller directed by that guy from The Office US you say? Starring him as well? I mean, I enjoyed The Office a LOT and he was great in Something Borrowed, but this seems like a bit of a stretch right?

Hell no.

John Krasinski is an absolute force in this movie. He has crafted something so tense, so well plotted, so well shot, that the almost dialogue-less movie has the power to silence viewers (how much popcorn was left uneaten in the cinema when you saw it? A lot I bet) and keep them in a seemingly never ending bubble of fear and horror.

There is a great cast here: Krasinski and his real-life wife Emily Blunt play the parents struggling to keep their children alive in the newly silent world. Their acting is superb.

It’s a silent world because in the back story we learn that alien (we assume alien) invaders are killing off the human race, literally ripping them apart, but the kicker is that these aliens are blind. They can only kill you if they hear you.

Krasinski and Blunt are trying to bring up their children in this new world, adapting as best they can, and trying to live as normal a life as they can. They are supported by their children, most notably by Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actor who brings real life experiences to her role.

I can’t say too much in this review without spoiling the movie for you.

Know this: this is the best movie I have seen this year so far. Go see it now. You will not regret it.

See it at the cinema, not on TV at home, it won’t be the same.

And if you go to the cinema, don’t take any loud snacks. Definitely no popcorn.

I give this film a very well deserved 9.5/10.

Film Review: Unsane (2018)

I was initially intrigued by this film because it was shot entirely on an iPhone 7.

The result of that is a much narrower shot than standard movie fare, and it is incredible. It gives the viewer a sense of intimacy and unease that traditional filming doesn’t.

There are interesting angles and closeups that add to the viewers sense of unease, that heighten the sense of anxiety from being up close and personal with the mental breakdown of another human being.

At times its almost like being inside Clare Foy’s head, the shots are so close.

There is an inconsistency to the shooting that I think also adds to the sense of unease. One minute you think you have your finger on how the director is shooting the movie, and then suddenly it’s all different. I’ve seen other reviewers who criticise this; one mentioned it felt like there were multiple directors each filming in their own style, but I think it was a decision of genius on the part of Steven Soderbergh, as it made me more and more uneasy as the film progressed.

Without giving too much of the plot away (no spoilers here!), this is a film of two distinct halves, both of which are excellent in their own right.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and I have to say it left me feeling uneasy for a couple of days.

I give this an easy 8.5/10.

Film Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

I remember back when Angelina Jolie was Lara Croft (Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – 2001), running around in ridiculous outfits, spouting off silly one-liners as responses to equally silly one-liners from her fellow actors.

It was a great idea, poorly executed, and something that we look back on now as being of its time, in the same slightly derogatory way that we think of Benny Hill or the like as being of its time.

So, we all had high hopes for a Tomb Raider in 2018. It was time for a new female hero, someone strong and resourceful, someone real and human, dressed sensibly and not salaciously, using strength and intellect to solve problems and defeat foes. Someone like Lagertha in The Vikings perhaps?

Did we get that? In large part I think we did.

Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft is a person in crisis, struggling with her own demons and trying to find her place in a world that doesn’t make sense to her. Her father is missing, presumed dead as those closest to her stress, but she won’t let go.

Motivated in the main by a desire to find out what happened to her father, and save him if she can, she eschews her inheritance in favour of a hand-to-mouth existence doing odd jobs.

This is a good example of where Tomb Raider falls down for me: the plot is thin, and really only a device to move us on to the next action set piece.

I wanted to understand Lara more, to find out more about her as a character, but we never really do, and without that there just isn’t the engagement with her character. Without that, the peril she is in doesn’t hurt us as much, so we don’t care as much as we could.

I enjoyed it overall, but it could have been a lot better. Alicia Vikander was great, while Dominic West as Lara’s father drew the short straw from the writing pool: his character was only briefly painted in.

I’m hoping the powers-that-be fund a sequel to give the writers a chance to paint Lara as a more rounded, credible character that we can care about a lot more than we do.

I give this film 6/10.

Film Review: The Maze Runner – The Death Cure (2018)

Well, what can we say about the climax movie of a tried-and-tested franchise like The Maze Runner?

Okay special-effects, flimsy writing, middling acting.

Was it good? No, but it was enjoyable for what it was.

I’ve definitely seen worse in the genre. Mad Max: Fury Road anyone? I know it got great reviews, and it was about time we saw a credible and strong female lead in a blockbuster action movie, but really, apart from that and the special effects (which were awesome), it was terrible.

You’ll watch this movie, nibble on your popcorn, maybe with a glass or two of wine (you are watching this at home right, not paying premium ticket prices at the cinema?) and you won’t be bored. You won’t be particularly entertained either.

Not terrible, but instantly forgettable.

I give this film 5/10.

Film Review: Game Night (2018)

Sometimes a film comes along that is really, truly, laugh out loud funny. This is one of those films.

Max (Jason Bateman) and Annie (Rachel McAdams) have regular game nights with their close group of friends, all very calm and easy going. When Max’s more successful, wealthier brother comes to town after a long absence, he offers to host a game night that will blow their socks off, and that will gain the winner a fabulous prize.

It’s murder-mystery evening, and when Max is kidnapped the group think it is all part of the game. But it’s not.

Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams are perfectly cast together, sparking off each other with great comedic acting and equally great timing.

The supporting cast are also good, although I found the casting of Sharon Horgan to be jarring. She’s a great actor (anyone seen Catastrophe? If not, you should, it’s fantastic, and she and Rob Delaney are both brilliant), but she seem so out of place and out of alignment with the other characters.

The film is very well written, with many very funny moments that are well timed, and all help to move the plot along.

This is a great slapstick movie, one for the collection.

I give this a very well deserved 8.5 / 10.

Film Review: Red Sparrow (2018)

I had high hopes for this movie. I like a good spy yarn, and done well they can make really great movies.

Jennifer Lawrence is pretty good, her character’s story is credible, although there’s little in terms of backstory to explain why she is who she is. She has inherent skills and attitudes crucial to her survival, but we never really find out how she got them.

Watching the film I was frequently reminded of Inception: the plots within plots within plots, such a staple of Cold War-type stories, is done here too clumsily, without any tangible cause and effect. The writer and director drag us along a twisting road, only showing us the what, never the why or the how.

A couple of times watching the film I realised I had lost the thread of the story, and couldn’t work out if Dominika was good or bad, if I should root for her or against her.

I think it fair to say that the writers boxed themselves in with the twists and turns, and the Deus ex Machina expose at the end was required to quickly tell (not show) us the missing why and how.

Overall, a disappointing film that with more subtle and skilful writing / direction could have been wonderful.

I give this film: 6/10.

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2018)

Many reviewers describe Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri as a dark comedy, indeed the poster borrowed for this review calls it “Darkly Comic”. I don’t think so: it’s an emotional rollercoaster, but one that delivers hyped-up, intensified emotions rather than rich emotional experiences. But it delivers them well.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film, the performances by Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell in particular are great. The plot thunders along, twisting and turning with a skill so well honed that it barely registers at the time, and only on reflection after the film closes do you have time to think what the hell?

Because of that, there is a certain detachment: you never get enough time to properly engage with your emotions before you are forced into a contrast. You start to cry, then you are forced to laugh before the tears come; you feel anxious, but elated before fight-or-flight can kick in.

This is a film of extremes: one minute you feel the excruciating pain of a mother who has lost her daughter in such horrible circumstances, the next you laugh at the ridiculous racism and stupidity of Rockwell’s Dixon.

The sheriff is a tragic character, played particularly well by Harrelson. We feel contempt for his apparent red-necked laziness at the start, more Boss Hogg than Tom Bell it seems, but we learn about his complexity, the pain (literal and emotional) he struggles with throughout the film, and end up if not respecting him for it, at least understanding it.

This movie is a demonstration of the art of film making, a great piece of cinematography; whether or not the wild twists make it your cup of tea you will have to decide for yourself.

I give this film: 8/10.

Film Review: Darkest Hour (2018)

Darkest Hour tells the story of Winston Churchill in 1940 as he tries to gain support within Westminster for a firm stand against Hitler and the Nazis.

Gary Oldman is outstanding as Churchill, and has the benefit of a great cast around him, particularly Kristen Scott Thomas.

Set against the backdrop of the collapse of the BEF and the subsequent retreat to Dunkirk, there is a real sense of the fragility of Britain’s position in those dark days, and how we came so very close to invasion and defeat.

The film does have its weaknesses, although only a few. There is a cringe-worthy moment where Churchill takes the Tube, and equally cringe-worthy suggestion that the Churchills were going broke in 1940. When Clementine exclaimed that they will be unable to pay their bills, Winston suggests he will cut down to one cigar a day. This doesn’t exactly paint the picture of a man of the people.

Born in Blenheim Palace, Winston bought the Chartwell estate in 1922, where he lived until his death. Chartwell was sold to the National Trust in 1946, with Churchill retaining a life tenancy.

This is a fantastic film, one that I greatly enjoyed even with the reservations above. I give it 8.5/10.

Film Review: Black Panther (2018)

Black Panther is yet another movie in the MCU franchise. I’m not one for the MCU generally, as with Transformers I think the first in a series is often great, but the sequels are generally poor. MCU and Transformers are high-budget, low-brain movies, mostly about special effects and big bangs.

Black Panther definitely shares some of those problems, but as the first outing of this new franchise I think it was done well enough. The story is well paced, the characters are interesting, and it’s skipped-over backstory and technology-from-nowhere (where are the factories?) doesn’t detract from an action packed story.

It is though, standard superhero fare: unassuming hero, initially unwilling, rises to the challenge of greatness, overcoming his nemesis along the way. There is the obligatory big battle scene at the end, although it was actually more entertaining than others in the MCU stable.

I enjoyed it more than most MCU films I’ve seen, so I’d give it an easy 6/10.