These Are A Few Of My Favourite Films: 2018 Edition

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Okay, because many folks have asked… here are my favourite nine films from 2018.

Notice I said favourite and not best. I was recently interviewed for a newspaper piece where the reporter asked my favourite three movies. This felt like a refreshing change as I didn’t feel a need to spend time over-intellectualising my responses as I might have done if she’d asked what I thought were the best three films ever.

Before I launch into my list, it’s worth pointing out I still have some catching up to do, hence no possible entries for films such as Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse, You Were Never Really Here or Bohemian Rhapsody.

So, with that caveat clear and without further ado, let’s head to my favourite nine (…nine, because, why not!?) films of the past twelve months…

9. Mission: Impossible – Fallout.

I have to admit the M:I films were mostly sort of washing over me, enjoyable in the moment but somewhat unmemorable bar their set-pieces. But then Fallout appeared, not only leaving me with a bill from my local cinema for having left fingernail holes in my seat, but also with a much greater enthusiasm for the previous entries. I’m gearing up for a run-through of the series at home in readiness for a second viewing of Cruise and Christopher McQuarrie’s remarkable piece of breathless skullduggery. Also, finishing off a series with two films featuring Sean Harris is always a bonus.

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8. The Rider.

Yeah, yeah, I know that it premiered in the Directors’ Fortnight section at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, but those of us in the real world didn’t see it until its official release in 2018. Hopefully that doesn’t trigger anyone too badly.  Chloé Zhao’s contemporary western drama concerning rodeo riders feels like a top contender for the ‘film more people should see‘ award, 2018. Both painfully intimate and sweepingly widescreen, Zhao paints a portrait of a contained community with universal problems. You can read my full review here.

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7. Eighth Grade.

In many ways this shares some DNA with The Rider, taking me to a world I knew nothing about. This time, the unknown is the life of an adolescent girl in a time of social media, and this smart, sensitive, occasionally excruciating and ultimately uplifting film, from director Bo Burnham, features a hugely engaging central performance by newcomer, Elsie Fisher.

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6. A Quiet Place.

The first of two horror films in a strong year for the genre (see also Apostle, Mandy, Halloween, etc). Unfair on my behalf, but I was absolutely not expecting this from Jim Halpert from The Office. Directed and co-written (along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods) by John Krasinski, this post-apocalyptic monster movie hits all the right beats, gradually unveiling a world of silent terror using a personable family, headed up by Krasinski and the always-excellent Emily Blunt. Understated until it doesn’t have to be, this is great, old-school horror that could easily have worked as an old Twilight Zone episode.

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5. Ant-Man & The Wasp.

Tricky one, this. I didn’t want to fill my list with Marvel movies (seeing as we had three releases from them in 2018) and I really struggled between this and Black Panther, but in the end I had (slightly) more fun with Peyton Reed’s delightfully light-touched sequel, especially since I’m the type of Marvel Geek who believes this film will pay off more once we see Avengers: Endgame.

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4. Hereditary.

Ari Aster’s uneven but striking mix of family grief and the supernatural is a divisive film, very much a case of go-with-it-or-don’t. The first three-quarters of the movie is mostly all slow-burn intensity until the final twenty minutes or so go off into full-blown hysteria (which is where many viewers seem to check out). I went with it the whole way on my viewing, but will be curious to see how it holds up next time. Worth pointing out that regardless of any future reaction, I’ll still laud it for probably the most outrageous WTF moment in cinema this year.  Review here.

3. The Meg (just kidding).

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3. The Other Side of the Wind.

Freewheeling and meticulous, Orson Welles’ lost masterpiece (never a more fitting appellation) first started production in 1970 and was only completed after Welles’ death by a team headed up by Peter Bogdanovich and producer Frank Marshall. Released onto Netflix at the end of the year, Welles’ mesmerising film is both a celebration and a satire of Classic Hollywood and avant-garde filmmaking. Review here.

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2. Roma.

The only disappointing thing about multihyphenate Alfonso Cuarón’s almost tone poem telling of a tumultuous period in the life of his childhood home-help is that I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see it on a cinema screen, seeing as it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve laid my eyes on in a long time (to avoid a lynching by my significant other, I mean cinematically, of course). Review here.

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1. Avengers: Infinity War.

Marvel Geek nirvana. The Russo brothers and co. pulled off a remarkable, if overpacked, feat in bringing to a head ten years of films across multiple franchises while still managing to create a cultural zeitgeist moment with a single finger click. Of course, we know most of the galaxy’s missing half will be restored (…don’t we!?), but the joy, as with many comic books of the source material, is in seeing how our heroes snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. And now we don’t have much longer to wait. Review here.

Dishonourable mention: Suspiria (don’t @ me).

See you all in 2019. Feel free to leave me your favourites from 2018 in the comments below.

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Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma: Ethereal And Magical

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Sometimes you come away from a movie thinking, “Yeah, I really enjoyed that.” Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma is not one of those films, instead I came away full of the wonderful feeling of pure joy gifted to us by the very best of cinema, almost overwhelmed that something had reached into me and left an indelible mark.

Cuarón’s film, making its debut on Netflix, is based on the director’s memories of his childhood, but rather than a direct translation of the director as a child the story is instead told through the eyes of the domestic worker who raised him.

Yalitza Aparacio, a complete newcomer to cinema discovered through a year of casting calls across Mexico, plays Cleo, one of two women who help run an upper middle-class household in the neighbourhood of Roma, in Mexico City, and the film follows her through events taking place in 1970 and 1971.

And really, plot-wise, there’s not much else to tell you, except to say that over the course of two hours and fifteen minutes, Cuarón weaves cinematic magic with a steady pace and a simple, direct and deeply emotional story. To say more would be to spoil the slow-burn pleasure of watching the lives of the members of the household unfold before you.

Cuarón, his own cinematographer (as well as writer and producer), ravishes the senses with almost every gorgeously-composed shot, filling the black & white frame with detail, movement and life, allowing Aparacio’s remarkable and honest performance to quietly simmer and make us feel every ounce of the pain and joy she experiences. Her character is swept along by events both personal and external, and the actress conveys a huge amount with minimal dialogue.

In fact, so magically ethereal is Roma, that it could very nearly be told as a silent movie, its emotional reach raw and potent. What Roma “lacks” in dialogue it more than makes up for with sound, featuring no musical score but a densely layered soundscape from the world the story inhabits: from planes roaring overhead to barking dogs and marching street bands.

I watched this at home on Netflix, but I cannot recommend highly enough also seeing this at a cinema (and I will take the earliest opportunity to treat myself) as this is undoubtedly one of the most profoundly powerful films of 2018.

Roma is simply beautiful and brilliant.

Let Them Fight! Godzilla: King Of The Monsters Promises Monster Mash-Up!

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Alongside the reveal of the awesome new poster, “Let them fight!” seems to be the message from the brand second trailer for Godzilla: King of the Monsters as it promises one almighty monster mash-up.

The film has quite the impressive cast on new and returning actors, including Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, Charles Dance, Thomas Middleditch, O’Shea Jackson Jr., Ken Watanabe, and Zhang Ziyi.

Several of these good people will obviously survive their encounter with the big guy this time and will be returning for the already-in-production Godzilla vs Kong, which is due to stomp everything in its path on on May 22, 2020.

Meanwhile, the King of the Monsters gets ready to do battle with Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah on May 31, 2019. Get ready to rumble…

Avengers 4 Trailer Is Here And We Have A Title…

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Okay, I know why you’re here, so…

I’d say that’s the very definition of a teaser trailer: our heroes are definitely on the ropes, but they have a cunning plan and… wait… here’s Hawkeye and Ant-Man to save the day, the universe… and multiple franchises.

Oh, and Avengers: Endgame it is, which, I’m not so wild about, but I guess it does what it says on the tin.

Are we excited yet…? I know, I know, silly question.

Avengers: Endgame opens May 3, 2019. It’s possible we’ll all be going to see it, I guess…

Marvel Launch New Captain Marvel Trailer

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Marvel Studios have given us an early Christmas-gift with a brand new trailer for Captain Marvel.

There’s a lot of fun new stuff in there, including a better look at the shape-shifting Skrulls, our first glimpse of Annette Bening and even an introduction to Captain Marvel/Carol Danvers’ pet cat, Chewie. It also leaves us in doubt just how much Marvel are going to be leaning into the cosmic side of their universe, with Captain Marvel roaring through space zapping spaceships.

As well as this latest trailer for the good Captain, there are plenty of rumblings that Marvel will drop a new trailer tomorrow for the still untitled Avengers 4, which at this rate will likely have the title card blacked out at the end. I’m kidding, of course, but only just.

And if that isn’t enough to fry your geek brain, there are even more rumours suggesting the trailer for Peter Parker’s adventures in Europe, a little film called Spider-Man: Far From Home may land on Thursday or Friday (possibly giving us our first glimpse of Jake Gyllenhaal’s villainous Mysterio).

Captain Marvel is released on March 8th, 2019, Avengers 4: Whatever It’s Called will follow two months later on May 3rd and Spider-Man: Far From Home lands July 5th.

What a time to be a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Feel free to let me have your thoughts on all of this, below…

April 5th 2019 Just Got More Chilling

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Regular readers of this blog will know that we’re all about Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, so you can imagine our excitement at this newly dropped trailer for Part 2 of the Netflix series.

As well as the trailer we also have a release date, April 5th, 2019, so we can start getting excited for next year already. Before that, of course, we have the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Christmas special, which will drop on December 14th, and which promises a look at our favourite witch testing out her new, fully unleashed powers, after (SPOILERS) signing the book of the Dark Lord at the end of season one.

All in all, it’s a good time for fans of the Teenage Witch. Now all we need is for Archie Horror to finally getting around to releasing some more of their seemingly infinitely delayed comic books and all will be right with the world…

Hear John Williams’ New Star Wars Music for Disney Theme Park Land

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Legendary film composer John Williams has provided brand new music for the forthcoming Disney theme parks land, Galaxy’s Edge and you can hear it right here, along with a preview video of the site itself:

As you can see, the video shows the alien world of Batuu, currently under construction at both Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Orlando, Florida.

The village, known as Black Spire, is a remote trading outpost tucked amid the rocky spikes of an ancient petrified forest. The town serves as a Casablanca-like nexus between the forces of good, evil, and in between as they clash over control of the galaxy.

The site opens in autumn 2019 and, if this second video featuring the Smuggler’s Run attraction which gives you the chance to pilot the Millennium Falcon is anything to go by, the Force will need to be strong with you in order to obtain tickets quickly!

Personally, I’m willing to gut a Tauntaun to get there, so I’ll see you in line…

Stan Lee – So Long, True Believer!

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It isn’t too often the death of a celebrity affects me emotionally, but today is very different. Stan ‘The Man’ Lee has passed away.

It’s difficult to talk about Stan without discussing my own life, so ingrained is he in the very core of the person I am today. Comic books were always around me, from my very earliest memories in the mid-1960s, those beautiful and crazy, four-colour treasures were always to hand, courtesy of a family that believed in the power of reading and in the stimulation of the imagination.

At first the comics were probably quite random, though I recall some Superman titles and an adaptation of King Kong that I literally read to pieces. These, along with the seminal American monster magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, were the guides that quickly took me past Jack & Jill books.

Then in 1972, Marvel, whose characters until then had been spottily reprinted in comics from other UK publishers, such as Odhams, launched their very first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel.  A weekly title, featuring Fantastic Four, Hulk and Spider-Man, it continued in the house style set by the original US Marvel comics, crediting the creators of the strips and led by the breathless purple prose of the personable and garrulous front-man for the company, the one and only Stan Lee.

Like Lee’s teenage hero Peter Parker being transformed by the radioactive bite of a spider, I was bitten and entranced with not only these larger than life super-hero characters, but by the very idea of Marvel and its editorial Bullpen, where creators such as Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Marie & John Severin, Don Heck, John Buscema, Gene Colan and many more dreamed up a never-ending series of stories to further stimulate my senses and, even better, encourage my own budding talents as an artist!

In October 1975, Lee and Hulk artist Herb Trimpe came to the UK to appear at the music venue, The Roundhouse, in London’s Camden. The show they put on was like a music gig, with Lee & Trimpe striding the stage like Plant and Page, rock gods of the comic pages to these youthful eyes. I had a front row ticket, alongside my lovely, flu-ridden Mum, who didn’t want eleven year-old me travelling across London on my own at night. Getting to meet my hero was beyond exciting, and that night is still firmly fixed in my head, as I can still feel the heat of the spotlights and hear my Mum coughing beside me.

I’d meet Stan again the following year, and buried somewhere in my loft (I hope) is a glossy, black & white still of me handing him my copy of Captain Britain, issue one, to sign (I still have that too).

I grew up alongside Peter Parker (some years older than me, of course, so he was a fictional, aspirational character), watching him graduate high school and head to college, then find himself in the hectic world of the freelance photographer – I could never have imagined my own life path would be so similar. This explains a large part of why Parker and Spider-Man remain my most-loved of Lee’s co-creations.

Only in my wildest dreams did I ever see myself actually working for Marvel, and yet, many years later there I was. Frankly, my career could have stopped at that moment and I’d have died with a grin on my face. Seeing my first Marvel pay cheque (ah, the days of printed pay cheques) emblazoned with images of the Hulk and Spider-Man was a genuinely surreal moment, to the point I almost (almost, mind…) didn’t cash it!

As I got older, I became more aware of the realities behind the comic stories: of the horrible practices of the comic book industry that saw creators robbed of their artwork and their intellectual ownership of characters that would go on to be financially exploited in all kinds of media. Slowly, and often posthumously, these creators or their families are seeing deals made to bring some equity to this shameful situation, and my hero turned out to have feet of clay as it’s pretty obvious that Lee helped perpetuate these problems.

That’s alway a useful learning curve for fans, of course, to be able to see those we admire as imperfect people instead of lofty icons.

And there was further sadness involving Stan, as in recent years he became embroiled in health and money issues, in seemingly endless attempts to recapture the creative heights of years long gone. This day has seemed ever more inevitable as he became more fragile with each appearance. And so it is.

But what a legacy this man left. A modern-day mythology that carries on the ages-old traditions of heroic storytelling, fables of characters we can and must aspire to be, whose ultimate goodness is set not in the wheel of victory, but in the attempt of victory, to be the better part of ourselves. Isn’t that something to get excited about?

For me personally, Stan and his amazing co-creations literally changed my life. Does that sound grandiose? Perhaps, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Stan appearing in my narrative directly led to me working in comic books for many years, and I wouldn’t now be working in animation had his vast imagination (and those of the people he worked with) not stirred my own imagination, my own creativity.

Thank you, Stan, for everything. You were The Man.

Excelsior.

Yours truly, with my original copy of the comic book that changed my life.
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My copies of the Origins of Marvel Comics (and its sequels), signed by Stan in 1975 and ’76.
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Toy Story 4 Gets Forked!

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Pixar/Disney have just dropped the teaser trailer for next summer’s Toy Story 4, and here it is for you:

Now, I’m not entirely certain the world needs another Toy Story movie (I have to admit to only seeing the last entry once, and I was ferociously drunk, which I fully agree may not have been the best way to appreciate its charms, however it does render my recall of it in particularly vivid tones), but I also have to admit to being happy to see these characters here.

The addition of the frankly surreal Forky character is a welcome bonus. The plot of Toy Story 4 spells out his role a little more:

Woody has always been confident about his place in the world and that his priority is taking care of his kid, whether that’s Andy or Bonnie. But when Bonnie adds a reluctant new toy called ‘Forky’ to her room, a road trip adventure alongside old and new friends will show Woody how big the world can be for a toy.

Toy Story 4 hits next summer (nine years after Toy Story 3), and will likely make all the money.

Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic – Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

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First created in 1962 (by writer George Gladir and artist Dan DeCarlo), Sabrina The Teenage Witch has become a mainstay of popular culture, existing in comic books, a long-running, live-action TV series, animated series and more.

More recently, Sabrina Spellman found herself reinvented once more, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, with art by Robert Hack, for the line of Archie Horror comics, replacing the more child-friendly version with a darker take on the same material.

Now Netflix has given this latest incarnation a new afterlife as a ten episode first season, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.

The essential set-up is the same, half-witch, half-human Sabrina lives (in Greendale, neighbouring town to Riverdale, home of Archie, Jughead, Betty & Veronica) with her witch aunts, Hilda and Zelda, and dates the human Harvey Kinkle. As the show opens, Sabrina is approaching her sixteenth birthday, when she will attend an unholy ritual to sign over her soul to The Dark Lord (that’s Satan, to you and me). Of course, Sabrina has been keeping her true nature a secret from Harvey and her school friends, Roz and Susie. And Sabrina, deep in the throes of love with her human boyfriend, is having doubts about her forthcoming dark baptism.

Mixed in with all this are Ambrose, Sabrina’s cousin, a warlock confined to house arrest in the Spellman home and Mary Wardell , Sabrina’s teacher and mentor who proves to be, well, something else entirely…

It’s a great roster of characters and the first thing to say about the show is that it’s packed with terrific actors. A hearty well done to the casting director. Kiernan Shipka makes a superb Sabrina, not quite the bubbly teenager from the 90s show, this incarnation is more complex, and Shipka balances the character’s sweetness with an emerging arrogance and carelessness, while never losing our sympathy. It’s an intriguing juggling act for the young actress to pull off, but Shipka never puts a foot wrong.

Lucy Davies and Miranda Otto are both quite delicious as Sabrina’s aunts, and Chance Perdomo is delightful as her frisky, pansexual cousin. Michelle Gomez is frankly magnificent, obviously relishing her role as Wardell, while Jaz Sinclair and Lachlan Watson make the most of their well-defined ‘best friend’ parts, both providing strong role models. Ross Lynch is somewhat less successful as boyfriend Harvey, which brings me to one of the show’s failings.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina provides us with a raft of strong female characters, with family, friends and rivals all well-written and acted, their relationships complicated and defined. I’m less enamored of some of the fellas, however.

As mentioned, Ambrose is good value, but the other male roles don’t stand up to strong scrutiny. Gavin Leatherwood’s Nicholas Scratch, a classmate of Sabrina’s at the Academy of the Unseen Arts, has mostly been used as a one-dimensional, slutty rival and counterpoint to Sabrina’s boyfriend to little effect, and Richard Coyle, as the Academy’s head (and High Priest of the Coven) is fun and the best of the bunch but, like Scratch, his character hasn’t been gifted with much depth so far. Finally, and most damagingly, Lynch’s Harvey is a 100% genuine wet blanket.

The character is so insufferably dull that you wonder what exactly it is that Sabrina sees in him, and why she might consider giving up her witch-hood for him. Not only does it make any scenes with him a chore but it also diminishes Sabrina’s character as, unfortunately, many of her actions revolve around her relationship with him (which could certainly be argued as another of the show’s failings).

Even when the character finally gets some gumption in the final episode, he does so in a dull-witted manner which just made me want to punch him. Note to writers: must try harder when it comes to Harvey.

The irony of all this is quite rich and I’m sure there might be some readers (rightfully) thinking: well, this is the kind of nonsense female parts have suffered forever! But weak characters make for weak drama, no matter the gender, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina could do with a serious male shake-up for its second season. Be clear, I’m not suggesting the fellas take center stage, far from it. I do feel they should make better use of the corners of the stage they occupy, however. It’s common sense that a show is more enjoyable as a whole if we can get behind all the characters.

Despite these caveats, I can recommend Sabrina as a thoroughly good time. I’ve read certain reviewers having a tough time with the show’s often whiplash changes in tone, but for me this was one of its plus points, adding a frisson of enjoyable unpredictability to proceedings. One moment we’re enjoying Spellman family larks, the next a host of witches are hanging by their necks from a gnarled tree or engaging in a pansexual orgy. Melissa Joan Hart would have a heart attack, but that’s part of the ghoulish fun.

Happily, Sabrina isn’t content to spin its wheels and maintain the status quo, as the show gets gradually darker as the season progresses and leaves many of the characters in very different, more complex places by the end of the final episode.

There’s plenty of subtext behind the show’s blood and zombies too, with fundamentalism and fanaticism, LGBTQ intolerance and even censorship in schools all having healthy swipes taken at them.

For long-time horror fans a swathe of references can be spotted, everything from the sibling cycle of murder and resurrection of DC Comics’ House of Mystery hosts, Cain and Abel, to ‘Salem’s Lot’s hovering ghoul at the window and The Evil Dead’s tree demon. Movies such as Hellraiser, The Shining, The Craft and even The Devil and Daniel Webster all get pointed shout-outs too.

This was a highly anticipated show for me, as I’m a big fan of the Archie Horror comics it’s based on, and while it doesn’t get quite as dark I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed as it does find its own voice and, overall,  I had a blast with it.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has me in its spell and I can’t wait for season two to materialise in a puff of demonic fire and brimstone.