Everything Else I Watched this Summer...

Everything Else I Watched this Summer...

First off, yes this is an idea I stole from Karsten Runquist. Sorry Karsten. And I do realise that summer has been over for quite a while now. But, having been rather quiet for a few months here (soz again), I thought it would be a nice refresher to look at everything I watched this summer (that I haven’t previously reviewed) and do a lil write up for each one. Hopefully this will be of some interest to some of you? Enjoy…

The Ritual (2017) - Often referred to as The Descent but with men, this British horror film delivers a largely effective, if tired, story of a Scandi hiking trip gone wrong (think Blair Witch but with some interesting creature designs and a greater abundance of jumpscares). A solid cast including Rafe Spall do a lot to lift this film above the sea of generic horror shlock, and there are some genuinely very creative uses of recurring images and twisted visual touches, if, as mentioned, far too many jumpscares do spoil the fun a bit. It’s hard to recommend this over The Descent but if you like your horror loud and British, you could do much worse.[GRADE: B-]

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) - Turns out they weren’t so smart after all. [GRADE: B+]

Spartacus (1960) - Kubrick’s one and only major studio vehicle struggles to find its footing early on but excels in the second half, with Kirk Douglas in rip-roaring form as the eponymous hero. [GRADE: A-]

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The Goldfinch (2019) - Oscar bait that ended up being barely third-rate, this much anticipated adaptation of Donna Tart’s literary sensation is convoluted, woefully uneven, and features quite possibly the worst editing of any film released this decade. Ansel Elgort does his best impression of a blank slate, Finn Wolfhard is mind-numbingly irritating, and Nicole Kidman just sort of wafts around and does nothing. How John Crowley went from Brooklyn to this I will never understand, but the worst offence The Goldfinch commits is just how damn pretentious it all is, when it doesn’t deserve the right to be in any way at all. So it will probably sweep the Oscars (Green Book nightmares intensify). [GRADE: F+]

Fahrenheit 11/9 (2018) - Regardless of your political views, you gotta admit that Michael Moore can make a damn good documentary. The absolute high point of this portrait of contemporary America is the vital and heartbreaking commentary on the Flint water crisis. [GRADE: A-]

Apostle (2018) - Gareth Evans of The Raid fame turns his attentions to the horror genre with this disappointingly uneven tale of a remote cult that fervently worships an ancient deity, with predictably ill-fated consequences. The film shines when Evans finally lets go and injects the final act with his trademark kinetic action style, but the buildup to this is a tad too sluggish and cliched to quite earn this payoff. Top marks though to Michael Sheen, reliably putting his all in as the cult’s subtly maniacal leader Malcolm. [GRADE: B-]

The Woman in the Window (1944) - Edward G. Robinson is at his captivating best in this Fritz Lang thriller, though the ending leaves much to be desired. Still a lot of fun to be had with this one. [GRADE: B]

8 Mile (2002) - A nice reminder that Marshall Mathers aka Eminem was once a talented guy. A fun, if formulaic, rags to riches tale that delivers a great rap battle finale and some interesting observations on inequality in the States. Bonus points for a young Michael Shannon. [GRADE: B]

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014) - What did I miss with this one? After all the hype and trumpeting of Kingsman being supposedly one of the best action films of the past few years, I feel like I must have been watching a completely different film to everyone else. Exhaustingly irritating and horribly smug, Kingsman is a tired attempt at a spy caper that never works as either a comedy or a thriller. Further proof that Matthew Vaughn hasn’t made a good film since Kickass. [GRADE: D]

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) - A cult classic that was slated across the board upon its release, Terry Gilliam’s adaption of Hunter S Thompson’s drug-fuelled roman à clef is a crackpot bizarro trip (in both senses of the word) through the murky depths of America that simmers with an acid tipped insanity and a whole bunch of classic crazy Gilliam visuals. Johnny Depp is great as the twisted gonzo journalist Raoul Duke but it is Benicio Del Toro who consistently steals the show as Duke’s lawyer Dr Gonzo, a powerhouse performance that fully drives home the film’s madcap insanity. [GRADE: A-]

Phoenix (2014) - A film noir mystery is unravelled in Christian Petzold’s smartly effective period piece that revolves around identity and the price of attempting to repair a life that has been brutally ripped from you. Nina Hoss is electric as the disfigured concentration camp survivor Nelly in this, her sixth on-screen collaboration with Petzold, the recently released Transit marking their seventh. [GRADE: A-]

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High Plains Drifter (1973) - Clint Eastwood gets weird and wacky in his favourite genre, the western. Lots of horror elements are at play here, making this a wonderfully unpredictable experience and a hell of a ride. But my god is Eastwood’s character not the most vile anti-hero ever committed to the screen, for better or worse. [GRADE: B+]

Days of Heaven (1978) - Terrence Malick could direct a documentary about house prices in Stoke and it would still turn out to be the most beautiful film ever made. [GRADE: A+]

Ready Player One (2018) - Awful, awful, awful. Steven Spielberg makes us pine for his classic films with this cringeworthy, clunky mess that is so riddled with awful CGI and forced references, it hardly deserved a cinematic release at all. This film really got under my skin in the worst way possible, and it speaks volumes of the quality of the whole thing when its best sequence is just a bad recreation of The Shining. Offensively dated and lazy at its best, downright grotesque at its worst. [GRADE: F-]

Wild Tales (2014) - Short film anthologies live or die depending on the quality of each individual piece, and often they end up as rather lopsided affairs. That is except for the Damián Szifrón directed, Pedro Almodóvar produced Wild Tales, a thrilling collection of 6 shorts that places characters in extremely stressful situations and lets havoc ensue, with plenty of glorious carnage along the way. My one issue was that the opening sequence is so strong and outrageous, it raises the bar just slightly too high, each following vignette never quite hitting that same level of wackiness again. [GRADE: B+]

Bumblebee (2018) - “A Transformers spin off directed by animation genius Travis McKnight? Um… ok? Wait… it’s actually good fun and a huge u-turn away from the exploitative cynicism of the Michael Bay films? Wow.” - probably my internal dialogue while watching Bumblebee. [GRADE: B+]

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Climax (2018) - There is a select group of filmmakers who need some serious therapy and a lot of r ‘n r. Gaspar Noé is definitely one of these filmmakers. Trippy, challenging, and visually exquisite, Noé’s films are certainly not everyone’s cup of tea and understandably so. But if you prescribe to his acid-soaked vision of the world and his oppressively chaotic cinematic style, Climax will be right down your street. Centered around a dance group who discover that their sangria is laced with LSD and quickly begin to feel it’s hallucinatory effects, this is an outrageous, disgusting, and at times horrific, nightmare that pushes its characters to the very edge of sanity and leaves them there to suffer. It is a glorious cinematic masterpiece, one that sees its director in his absolute element, executing extended sequences of violent revelry and orgiastic carnage with a visual panache that very few could even dream of coming close to. The ultimate bad trip, a colourful mess of carnage that rejects and revolts. [GRADE: A+]

The Miseducation of Cameron Post (2018) - Chloe Grace Moretz delivers her finest performance yet in this phenomenal indie drama about a gay conversion therapy camp that is both heart-breaking and life affirming. One that stuck with me for weeks. [GRADE: A-]

Stranger Than Fiction (2006) - A sporadically effective, by the numbers drama that sees Will Ferrell at his most uninteresting and Maggie Gyllenhal doing her best to breathe life into an overstretched and increasingly melodramatic concept. Meh. [GRADE: C-]

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) - A superhero film that is boldly creative, technically stunning, and packed with a surprising amount of tenderness? Lord and Miller strike gold once again. [GRADE: A]

The Killing (1956) - Ostensibly a heist film but with a surprising amount of madcap humour and self-awareness, The Killing saw director Stanley Kubrick finding his feet as a filmmaker by delivering a well-paced and smartly written film noir that boasts great performances from Sterling Hayden (who would return to work with Kubrick in Dr Strangelove as the domineering General Ripper), Marie Windsor, and Elisha Cook Jr. The ending is an excellent exercise in tragicomedy too, serving as a great example of how not to smuggle stolen money. [GRADE: B+]

Only You (2018) - A sweet but vitally sincere British drama that explores the lengths a relationship can be tested to, driven by excellent lead performances from Josh O’ Connor (previously seen in the fantastic God’s Own Country) and Laia Costa (previously seen in the equally fantastic Victoria). An absorbing watch that shines an important light on the difficulties of childbirth and the power of relationships (though it pales in comparison to the recent Netflix release Private Life, which deals with a similar subject matter with slightly stronger results). [GRADE: B+]

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018) - Gus Van Sant finally made another good film! Sound the alarms! [GRADE: B+]

A Simple Favor (2018) - A delicious piece of high-concept trash, and evidence that perhaps Blake Lively can act after all? Sign me up. [GRADE: B+]

The Square (2017) - Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure was one of my favourite films of 2014, a brutally incisive take on modern masculinity and the falsehoods of familial security that delivered an avalanche of black comedy and satire. So it was no surprise to find Östlund’s follow-up, The Square, to be another intelligent and bitingly sardonic satire, this time focused on the art world and inequality within modern day Sweden. Though rougher around the edges and slightly looser with its pacing, The Square still delivers plenty of grandstand moments and weird and wacky surrealistic touches, along with two surprising cameos in the form of Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West. Bizarre, bonkers and dizzyingly wacky, this is an uneven but always captivating watch. Never change Ruben, never change. [GRADE: B+] 

Enemy (2013) - One to avoid for any arachnophobes, Jake Gyllenhall sees double in this intriguing experimental turn from Denis Villenevue. Contains one of the most horrifying final shots I’ve ever seen, no joke (spoken as a true arachnophobe myself). [GRADE: A-]

Free Solo (2018) - The documentary phenom that sweeped through awards season and got everyone talking for a hot minute about rock climbing (or more specifically how insane free soloing is), this National Geographic release followed climber Alex Honnold as he attempted to become the first person to free solo (climb without any supports or ropes) the 3000 feet high El Capitan wall. The doc is very impressive in its no holds barred approach to capturing Honnold’s climb, with cameraman perched on the mountain along with the use of long-shot camerawork and drone shots to keep us right in the thick of Honnold’s climb, but the most interesting part of the film is actually Honnold himself. His difficulties to express emotions and hard exterior make for a very unique subject, and his rocky relationship with his girlfriend Sanni, who struggles to deal with Honnold’s death-defying career and abrasive personality, make for absorbing and occasionally rather troubling viewing. [GRADE: B]

The Chambermaid (2018) - An emotionally draining and thoroughly thought provoking study of Mexican working class life, Lila Avilés’ impressive directorial debut is unflinching in its vision and quietly powerful in its execution, Gabriela Cartol superb in the title role. [GRADE: A-]

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Upgrade (2018) - I felt rather disappointed with Upgrade, a film which had received much hype online and promised a refreshingly unique take on the sci-fi genre, but which, despite several standout sequences, largely flounders with a paper-thin story and an uneven script. Some very impressive camerawork and visuals aside, this was largely a let down considering the promising discussion surrounding it. [GRADE: B-]

The Fugitive (1993) - Harrison Ford, Tommy Lee Jones, a tiny cameo from Julianne Moore… what more do you need? This extremely 90’s thriller follows Ford as Richard Kimble, a doctor on the run from the law after his wife is murdered. Of course, Kimble is not responsible for this crime, and he thus sets out to find the real culprit, all the while being pursued by Jones and his team of US Marshals. Action-packed and stuffed with ridiculously over the top sequences, it’s impossible not to love this film, even with the incredibly wooden, but always lovable, presence of Ford. Interestingly, the director Andrew Davies would go on to make Holes, a 2000s kids classic. [GRADE: B]

Oldboy (2003) - I genuinely can’t believe it took me this long to see Oldboy. [GRADE: A]

Brightburn (2019) - Most of the “hype” surrounding Brightburn centered on James Gunn’s role as producer following his controversial firing by Disney (he was later reinstated by the studio), rather than the actual film, which looked to be a reinvention of the superhero genre by way of stealing a number of tropes from the horror world. Surprisingly enough, Brightburn turned out to be a pretty watchable piece of popcorn fodder that delivered a handful of impressive visuals and a great turn from Jackson A. Dunn as the young protagonist in this edgy R-rated origin story. [GRADE: B-]

The Wife (2017) - Glenn Close is damn good. The Wife is not. [GRADE: C-]

Anima (2019) - Netflix delivered the unlikeliest collaboration of 2019 with this “one-reeler” that saw legendary director Paul Thomas Anderson working with Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke to deliver a visual accompaniment for three tracks from the latter’s new solo album. Beside the typically fantastic bleak visuals and excellent shot composition of PTA’s 15 minute piece, the standout element is the choreography that animates Yorke and a troupe of mysterious dancers into a bizarrely beautiful series of dance sequences, fitting perfectly alongside the album tracks. [GRADE: A-]

The Driver (1978) - Wow, Nicholas Winding Refn sure did draw a lot of inspiration from this film. A strange but compelling little thriller that features Bruce Dern at his scenery-chewing best. This article from Little White Lies makes good reading: https://lwlies.com/articles/the-driver-walter-hill-car-chase-la-noir/. [GRADE: B+]

Ghost World (2001) - One of my favourite watches of the summer and one that has been very very long overdue, Ghost World may just be my new favourite coming of age film, one that perfectly captures the feeling of growing up in a small town environment where nothing ever happens and no one ever seems to leave. Adapted from Daniel Clowes’ cult classic graphic novel and starring Thora Birch of American Beauty fame and Scarlett Johansson of pretty much every film fame, famously reclusive director Terry Zwigoff perfectly captured the style of the original piece while firmly imprinting his own wonderfully unique style on the proceedings (his documentary Crumb is now top of my watchlist). There is so much to say about this one that it definitely merits a long-form write-up in the future; there is just so much to love here. In short, Ghost Town is a touching, hilarious and lovingly made film that delivers one of the most beautifully ambigious and delicately delivered endings of all time. [GRADE: A]

Tropic Thunder (2008) - Middling outrage comedy from Stiller and co. delivers occasionally on the laughs and is self aware enough to just about carry itself along, the biggest surprise being an almost unrecognisable and wonderfully ridiculous turn from Tom Cruise. [GRADE: C+]

Paddleton (2019) - As a long time fan of the Duplass brothers and their work both in front of and behind the camera, Paddleton was always going to be a home run purely on the basis of the film’s central pairing of Mark Duplass and Ray Romano. A quietly devastating and mature film that focuses on Michael’s (Duplass) diagnosis with terminal cancer and his friendship with neighbour Andy (Romano), the success of Paddleton rests firmly on the chemistry between the two leads, who are both at their very bests in tackling this brutal subject matter. By turns lighthearted, earth-shattering, and heart-wrenching, this is a powerful exploration of the stark impacts of terminal illness and the importance of friendship delivered without an ounce of cheesy sentimentality. It left me in an absolute wreck. [GRADE: A-]

Wildlife (2018) - Dano directs, Gyllenhal and Mulligan star. And yet the young Ed Oxenbould rises above them all. What a champ. [GRADE: A]

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A Single Man (2009) - Fashion designer makes movie, movie looks bloody gorgeous. Hardly a surprise really is it? Tom Ford reached out of his chic comfort zone with this Colin Firth vehicle that backs up its ravishing visuals with a sharp script and a strong dosage of savage emotional undercurrents, depicting a man haunted by the sudden death of his boyfriend and struggling to bring his life back into any sort of clarity. Ford would follow this up with 2016’s Nocturnal Animals, a brilliant piece of thriller cinema and proof that he was far more than a one hit wonder. [GRADE: A-]

Between Two Ferns: The Movie (2019) - Though the interview sections are the obvious highlights and the rest is a little bleh, this feature length adaptation of Funny or Die’s spoof talk show is just too bright and breezy to dislike even for a second. Zach Galifianakis is great and Will Ferrell surprisingly good too, but the celeb guests are what makes this truly tick. [GRADE: B+]

A Cure for Wellness (2016) - Long, meandering, and convoluted, Gore Verbinski’s A Cure for Wellness was a bizarre and confusing beast of a film, a major studio film that was basically unmarketable and, to top it all off, tarred with an 18-rated certificate. It wasn’t surprising then to see the film become a major box office bomb, taking in just over half of its original budget, but it was a damn shame all the same, as, despite all of its many flaws, Verbinski’s passion project is a largely rather effective piece of atmospheric cinema, proudly prioritising style over substance to deliver a pseudo-gothic take on a Shutter Island-esque story of isolated insanity. If you’re prepared to overlook the plot-hole ridden story and instead just bathe in the film’s murky, mysterious air, you may find quite a lot to love here. [GRADE: B+]

The Stranger (1946) - Edward G. Robinson and Orson Welles together on screen? Welcome to 1940’s cinema heaven. [GRADE: A-]

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Child’s Play (2019) - It’s been another great year for the horror genre, with films like Midsommar, Us, The Perfection, and Velvet Buzzsaw delivering a whole range of creative rejigs to the cliche-laden genre and bringing a whole new audience into the fold as a result. But of course, every year we also see the endless stream of low-effort fodder that has given the genre such a bad name over the years, and for every Ari Aster or Jordan Peele or Robert Eggers film, we get a Child’s Play, an attempted reboot of the Chucky series that is so tired and devoid of original ideas that it manages to overstay its welcome despite being just 90 minutes in length. By introducing a storyline that revolves around the horrors of “the digital age” and the threats posed by technology, Child’s Play loses any of the original’s charm (not counting the many sequels) and replaces it with a lacklustre shell of a film. Worse though is the complete misuse of Aubrey Plaza, which is a crime too hard to bear. [GRADE: D]

Blockers (2018) - Everything about this film, from the title to John Cena, indicated that it would be horrifically awful. Oh how wrong was I. A cracking script and dynamite performances from Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, and Cena make this one to cherish, and, though it is a tad long, this is a great example of a successful major studio comedy done right. [GRADE: B+]

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Knife + Heart (2018) - French icon Vanessa Paradis is sensational in this pulpy love letter to 70’s giallo cinema that delivers equally in laughs and blood-splatters. Following Paradis’ Anne as she attempts to track down who exactly is responsible for murdering the leading actors in her gay porn production, director Yann Gonzalez is careful to never take the proceedings too seriously, indulging liberally in the vivacious and unapologetically brash world of nightclubs and porn shoots and providing every scene with a brilliant dash of evocative colour and vigour. The film does lose its way somewhat in the second act, and there is some unnecessary fluff here and there, but Paradis’ performance, along with a killer soundtrack from M83, brings everything back into sharp focus in the end. [GRADE: B+]

Certified Copy (2010) - The kind of film that film studies majors probably go on and on about while holding a glass of rosé and smoking. It’s pretty damn good though, with a star turn from the ever-dazzling Juliette Binoche. [GRADE: A-]

The Guilty (2018) - A powerful little thriller that showcases the strong storytelling abilities afforded by great sound design, The Guilty does for first responders what Locke did for angry men driving down the M6 (as in, both films are set in a single environment and rely largely on audio). Tense, unpredictable, and excellently paced, The Guilty is an anxious but compelling experience, driven by a great central performance from Jakob Cedergren. [GRADE: A-]

Burning (2018) - Shocking, utterly compelling, completely draining. [GRADE: A]

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The Farewell

The Farewell