2018 was an odd year in film for me, as, while I watched more films than ever -- 333 according to Letterboxd -- I found slightly fewer than usual that I felt enthusiastic enough to write about, with only 16 highlighted below rather than my usual 20, and many of 2018's biggest hits leaving me, not cold as such, but just...not significantly moved. It's perhaps a sign I need to change my approach to how I watch things; we'll see how 2019 goes. →
Ten years and 18 films later, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is approaching an ending of sorts, as a burgeoning cast and converging narrative meet the real-world realities of contract expiry and expanding budgets. Avengers: Infinity War may not be the final film of the MCU, but it definitely feels like, and is being marketed discreetly as, a culmination. It may not be the end, but it could be the beginning of the end. →
It’s starting to feel that Duncan Jones has an issue with timing. After the instant classic Moon and the brisk and punchy Source Code, Jones disappeared off into the wilderness to return five years later with Warcraft, a decent fantasy action piece that unfortunately arrived after the cultural phenomenon of World of Warcraft had long since peaked. Mute, described by Jones as far back as 2009 as his “love letter to Blade Runner” arrives now on a platform that heavily promoted its own Blade Runner-influenced production — the TV series Altered Carbon — just weeks before, and also just a few months after an actual Blade Runner sequel has been and gone. In this context, the impact of Mute is, well, muted. →
My annual film round-up, in which, as usual, I pick out 20 films to highlight, the only requirement being that I saw the film during 2017, regardless of when it was released. →
To be clear upfront, Street Fighter is a mediocre film and you absolutely should not waste any time on it. If you have an opportunity to watch it then there is almost certainly something better and more worthwhile you could be watching instead. Director Steven de Souza was a successful screenwriter (48 Hrs., Commando, The Running Man, Die Hard), but he definitely didn’t become a successful director. Street Fighter fails as an action film, a fighting film, and as a videogame adaptation. This isn’t a “Street Fighter is actually good” piece. And yet. →
Thor as a character has worked best on screen when he’s been allowed to be funny; that’s not to say he isn’t good when serious as well, but there’s a balance that needs to be struck to get the best out of him. The original Thor found that balance, contrasting the serious Asgardian family drama with Thor’s fish out of water antics on Earth, and the film became one of my unexpected favourites from the Marvel stable. Thor: The Dark World on the other hand is an uneven, gloomy film that only sparks to life when Loki is around, and while I’ve grown more forgiving of the film after multiple viewings, I still find it a damp and dreary piece. →
I’ve written a few times before about my gaming ability but to recap: I’m terrible-to-average at games generally, and even worse at games that involve playing against real people. Splatoon, first on the Wii U and now on the Switch, is ostensibly a team-based online shooter, which is so many of my least-favourite words it’s amazing I even typed them all together like that. Despite this I’ve found myself sinking hours into Splatoon without complaint, enjoying the game and willingly returning for more. →
I saw Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element on release in 1997, and immediately hated it. Being a cynical, sneering teenager, I had no time for the bright and colourful visuals, the self-consciously wacky characters, the broad, slapstick comedy, the baffling Lee Evans cameo. Eventually though, as the real world grew progressively duller and my hair increasingly greyer, I came to appreciate the film for what it was rather than what it wasn’t, and it’s now a film I check on every few years. Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets has a lot in common with The Fifth Element, and having trained myself to appreciate the former, I found it easy to appreciate the latter. →
I’ve found the last few years of superhero films to be enough of a slog that I was starting to resent not just them, but myself for continually falling for the positive reviews. Marvel’s films have suffered from increasingly conservative storytelling, DC’s efforts have been visually splashy but in all other aspects terrible, and the X-Men series was effectively ended in my mind with the one-two punch of a bland and overstuffed X-Men: Apocalypse, and Logan, which was excellent but also practically sequel-proof. Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, on the other hand, reminded me why I love the genre as much as I do, and why I keep coming back for more. →
Notes on a train
A recent trip to Oxfordshire let me try out the recently-refurbished ‘GWR’ trains, introduced…
A misanthrope abroad
Back in 2010 I wrote about how hard I found it to go on holiday for a variety of reasons, but the last few…
Those asking for nature words to be reinstated in a junior dictionary are wasting their time.
January is the most miserable month of the year. It’s dark when you leave for work and it’s dark…
Around the start of last year I was performing my annual “Stroking of the books” ritual, where I…
James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy 2
The joke that opens Guardians of the Galaxy 2, where the Guardians fight a giant monster in the background of…
Ghost in the Shell (2017)
Ghost in the Shell, a remake of the 1995 anime of the same name, is so lacking in ambition and style I was…
James Mangold’s Logan
Logan, the second Wolverine film directed by James Mangold and featuring the final performance of both Hugh…
Falling in and out of love with La La Land
I want to start this piece (which does contain spoilers), by stating my credentials: despite my rock-hard,…
My 2016 film highlights
My annual film highlights post, in which I highlight 20 films from all I saw during the previous year. Not all…
Breakfast at No. 1 Duke Street
No. 1 Duke Street is the Richmondiest place you can go for breakfast in the whole of Richmond, because while…
Granger & Co. OttolenghiDaylesford
Generally, I try not to get into queues with people who don’t mind they’re in a queue. A queue is…
Breakfast at The Putney Canteen
A recent move to the south-west of London opened up a rich seam of easily-accessible breakfast venues in…
Breakfast at Berners Tavern
If you’re going to make me book a table in advance for breakfast, you ought to be offering something…
Breakfast at Damson & Co.
Though no part of Soho can really be considered ‘off the beaten path’, stumbling upon Damson…
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Playing Breath of the Wild taught me something about myself, which is that I’ll happily put off fighting…
No Man’s Sky, a game of forward motion
I was always going to appreciate No Man’s Sky. The look of the game is pure ‘70s sci-fi trash, all orange…
What kind of a game is L.A. Noire?
I wrote recently about how infrequently I replay videogames, and how small the selection of games that get…
Blinded by the light
One of the many problems of renting a home in London is that all expenses are generally spared, so although…
Final Fantasy VII and replaying games
I re-watch films frequently, I re-read books occasionally, and I re-play games almost never unless it’s a…
- Flatliners (2017): A tepid remake lacking any of the weird neon charm of the 90s original, this went stale halfway through and never recovered
- A Wrinkle in Time: A little more saccharine and superficial than I like my kids’ films to be, this was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours but largely free of calories
- Robot Jox: A cheap and cheerful giant mech fighting flick with occasional surprising depths
- Frankenstein Unbound: A weak and gimmicky take on Frankenstein that throws in a time-travelling scientist and Mary Shelley being driven around in a futuristic car, but Raul Julia is a great Frankenstein so I’ll forgive it almost anything
- 2001: A Space Odyssey: Certainly to my mind this is Leonard Rossiter’s finest film
- Alien: Resurrection: The most underrated of the Alien films, full of casual horror and genuine terror, all filmed with a characteristic French weirdness. Advances the franchise in the exact opposite way that Ridley Scott’s ponderous fan-fiction origin stories have
- Killing Zoe: Mixed feelings; it’s at times an artfully-exhilarating piece, but there’s a clumsiness about it I can’t put my finger on. All felt a bit “overconfident man who’s just graduated from film school”
- Bedazzled: A bit more shrill than it needed to be but Brendan Fraser is a constant delight, and I’m still laughing at the Big Mac and Coke gag
- Super Mario Bros.: Loud, brash, overbearing, incoherent and tonally-inappropriate, but it’s not all bad; some actually amazing set design in a disused five-storey cement factory, and Hoskins, Hopper and Leguizamo are all clearly doing the best they can
- The Sunset Limited: A play by Cormac McCarthy filmed with Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones; it’s exactly as gripping and meatily performed as you’d expect that combination to be
- The Villainess: Some genuinely jaw-dropping action sequences sadly bookending a turgid, flabby, incoherent middle. Watch the start and end on YouTube, and skip the rest
- Jupiter’s Moon: A busy film never quite sure what it wants to be, whether that’s thriller, satire, sci-fi action or social commentary. Regardless, this is still worth watching for some incredible camera work, stunning Budapest views, and a gripping story
- Thelma: Definitely the best Norwegian lesbian supernatural thriller I’ve ever seen. Taut and chilling, highly recommended
- John Carter: “John Carter is good, actually” is the hill I will die on. Fantastic soundtrack, gripping and thrilling action, great performances, tremendous fun.
- The Mermaid: A dorky, dopey romantic comedy from Stephen Chow. If you’ve seen Kung Fu Hustle then you know what to expect, except this time with mermaids
- Your Move: A decent-enough Luke Goss-helmed Taken-lite piece, attractively shot and solidly presented. Very much a “stumbled upon this one night on Channel 5 and was pleasantly surprised” sort of film
- Monkey Business: A dated and exhausting ‘50s screwball comedy that lives or dies on how high your tolerance of Cary Grant acting like a 12 year old is. My tolerance is…not high.
- Annihilation: Objectively I don’t think I can fault it, but I can’t deny I rarely felt engaged by it either. Left me with an overwhelming sense of “Ok, and?”
- The Great Muppet Caper: One of the more manic Muppet films, with maybe a touch too much fourth-wall breaking and ironic winking. How can you not love a film that has that mind-bending cycling-muppet sequence though?
- Sweet Virginia: An enjoyably-dour thriller, slow-burning, plausibly-violent, and intensely performed.
- The Princess Bride: The most fun you can have while storming a castle.
- Hellboy: Much as I love everyone involved, this feels like a first draft, with overlong action scenes, a muddled plot, and not enough of the camaraderie and humour of its sequel. Not bad, but it’s been bettered.
- The Oath: Predictable Icelandic thriller that at least has the novelty value of being filmed in Iceland. It’s fine, but nothing more.
- Winter Sleep: A lengthy Turkish drama that’s completely absorbing. Intelligent and subtly performed, beautifully shot.
- Superman II: Knowing the film’s history means it’s easy to see the cracks, and the film is dragged down by weak comedy, uninspired cinematography, and superpowers that seem to have been pulled from a hat. The Donner cut is more complete, despite being unfinished.