Mini film reviews – Part One

I’ve decided I don’t do enough with this blog any more, but since I’ve a few things lined up for the year to come I’d like to provide it with some padding to soften their landing a little. I’ve watched quite a few movies since the start of 2018, so I’m going to post groups of ten mini reviews as I go.

Fehér isten (White God)

A strange Hungarian movie, which starts off quite realist but escalates in unusual ways. It follows a young teen girl, Lilli, whose relationship with her pet dog Hagen is undermined by her unfriendly, estranged parents (problematic adults proving nigh universal here). Girl and dog are separated and her story continues, but the film spends at least an equal amount of time on the dog — and it’s quite a performance, easily able to hold the viewer’s attention. The animal action never feels staged exactly, but it’s not exactly naturalistic either, especially when things go way off the deep end. The film has a home-made quality at times, or better to say that some of the shooting/editing used to get around elements of violence feels a bit old-fashioned; but the final sequence is powerful stuff, and the final shot… strange.

Paddington

I’m not above treating myself to a good family flick — plus, I get to actually enjoy the experience, not being troubled by the presence of squalling juvenile humans in my home. I’d only heard good things about Paddington, and the appearance of a sequel with an equal reputation pushed me into risking a warmed heart. A joy from start to finish, it delivered just about everything you could want: thrills, spills, played-upon heartstrings, and I laughed throughout (plus I loved that author Michael Bond got a fleeting cameo and a tip of the hat from his creation).

Brawl in Cell Block 99

After I watched Bone Tomahawk, probably about a year ago, I found myself wondering if writer-director S. Craig Zahler felt some kind of personal grudge against that part of the human anatomy I’ve best heard referred to as “the chin-rest”. Having now seen Brawl in Cell Block 99, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was wrong: it’s heads he’s got the problem with… In every way a crunching bit of crime-and-then-prison drama, though “drama” doesn’t really cut it. It all gets a bit medieval (as do the prison sets, with a definite slide from the modern to the old school to the grimly Gothic visually underlining a monotonally impassive Vince Vaughn’s progressive imperilment). Proper Grindhouse stuff, this. Grit your teeth and enjoy.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It was… pretty good. Sadly, I’m a moderate “bah-humbug” when it comes to the reboots of all my old scifi faves: the Trek efforts have got worse each time, and Blade Runner 2049 was disappointing. In the case of Star Wars I find I admire the scope, and yet I feel like these films try to juggle too many things and suffer from bloat in a way that the original trilogy didn’t; and that sense of over-reach is, sadly, balanced by under-reach in terms of the script – in this vast universe, it seems there are only so many familiar-flavoured soundbites through which galaxy-spanning drama can be played out. I don’t think they do for the culture what the originals did; maybe that’s not possible any more, but I suspect there’s a next-level pop-scifi narrative overdue (but it won’t be a remake/reboot, and it won’t be a Marvel franchise either).

The Levelling

It seems to be a feature of the post-millennial entertainment era that you can play spot the Game of Thrones actor with almost any production coming out of the UK, be it television or film. The Levelling stars Ellie Kendrick, last seen helping drag Bran Stark back and forth through the snow — here she plays a grieving sister and alienated daughter who returns to her struggling family farm after a tragedy, only to find there is more to what took place in her absence than she’s been told. A sombre piece of drama, but well-written, directed and played throughout.

Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Courgette/Zucchini/WhatEVER)

A short but beautiful stop-motion film, Ma vie de Courgette follows a young French boy who is sent to a foster home after his distant, alcoholic mother’s death and has to find a place for himself amidst a group of other troubled kids. Not the usual kind of focus for bright and colourful animation, obviously, but difficult subject matter is handled frankly and simply, and the result is a sweet, funny tear-jerker, really wonderfully done.

The Florida Project

Set in the shadow of Disney World, The Florida Project mixes gritty with a healthy dose of humour. It follows, mainly, the daily lives of a handful of kids of the semi-permanently residents of run-down motels just the other side of the wall from every child’s dream holiday. This side of that wall includes sub-minimum-wage employment or worse, and in the case of the children no education except for what they make for themselves or glean from the often questionable behaviour of the adults around. It melds an almost documentary air with some great juvenile performances, and the adults (led by Willem Defoe) get it all right too.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Continuing a pretty stellar start to my viewing year, this is probably an Oscar-level effort on at least four counts: Francis McDormand for Best Actress, Sam Rockwell for Best (probably Supporting, although I’d say) Actor, and writer-director Martin McDonagh for either of those. Skates knowingly close to cliche but steers clear each time, and made me laugh aloud on several occasions. Not bad for what’s at times a harrowing drama (I wrote this just before the Golden Globes gave Three Billboards… three out of the four, so I was feeling pretty smug right then..).

The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro shifts between sort-of-art-house and sort-of-mainstream fantasies, and this is the former. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth in that it transplants archetypal fantasy into an oppressive historical setting, here we have something akin to Beauty and the Beast played out against Cold War ’50s America. In my opinion it’s not as good as Pan’s Lab, but I still found it enjoyable throughout — Michael Shannon is always a treat and here he delivers a fine mix of seedy and disturbed, and Sally Hawkins led the line well (she was good in Paddington too!).

Cop Land

Watched due to seeing someone on Youtube (this guy) talk about the script’s history as a well-regarded pseudo-western passed around Hollywood for years before finally being made, and its somewhat retrospective acceptance as a bit of a classic. I thought it was… not bad. Quite a cast (Stallone, Keitel, De Niro and Liotta make the cover, but there were a handful of others of note — Michael Rapaport and Robert Patrick spring to mind) and they do a solid job, the story is refreshingly direct, and the shoot-out was worth the wait. Some smart lines, too. This is the good ear, right?


Okay, there we go, my first ten films of the year! I’m confident I’ll watch more films than this, so expect another post like this sooner or later. Plus there’s all the movies I watched last year that I could mini-review too — hey, and the year before that…

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