Horror Tuesday: The Host (2006) Review

This 2020, every Tuesday I will reviewing a horror film, and this week we have 2006’s The Host.

2019 has been a hell of a year for director, Bong Joon-ho. The South Korean director has been making films since 2000 with his debut Barking Dogs Never Bite, and has become one of the biggest South Korean directors around with films that include Memories of Murder (2003), Mother (2009), Snowpiercer (2013), Okja (2017) and of course, Parasite (2019). The latter of which has famously become one of the most critically acclaimed films of recent years, appearing (often near the top) of various best of 2019 and best of decade lists by critics, went on win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and there have been buzz circling that it could be the first foreign language film to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

Before all of that, however, 13 years prior, Joon-ho made the monster movie, The Host (2006). The plot stars Song Kang-ho as Gang-du, a goofy, clumsy guy who runs a small snack-bar with his father (Byun Hee-bong) and has a young daughter, Hyun-seo (Go Ah-sung). Soon, tragedy strikes when a huge creature emerges from the Han river and begins attacking, killing, eating and kidnapping people, including Hyun-seo, leaving Gang-du devastated. Believing that Hyun-seo is still alive, Gang-du makes his mission to find her, with help from his brother, Nam-il (Park Hae-il) and sister, Nam-joo (Bae Noo Na)

Something that Joon-ho is not afraid to do is to tip into genre film-making. He has done so with most of his films in a way that, while a lot of them deal with heavy themes (Parasite for example, deals with class prejudice and capitalistic greed), often make them very fun and entertaining crowd-pleasers. Here, The Host is a monster movie and creature feature in sometimes a very pure way – it centres on a goofy hero who, over the course of the movie, matures and becomes a better person (in the vein of Simon Pegg’s titular hero in Shaun of the Dead (2004)) and often includes various sequences of people running scared from the titular monster in the vein of monster movies like Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), Godzilla (1954) and Jaws (1975)

However, much like a lot of his work, the film balances a lot of different genres, including black comedy, family drama and social satire. The black humour is very successful here, particularly in a scene after the first creature attack where all the family over-dramatically wail on the floor in grief at Hyun-seo’s (apparent) death. The social satire here is also very well-drawn and successful. It is quite similar to Okja in how the film details what happens to the environment when humanity is hapless and not sensitive.

The film, however, really succeeds because of the family drama and relationship drama. The relationship between Gang-du and Hyun-seo in the film is very well-drawn and interesting, as is the various relationships between various family members. The film also gives all of the characters rounded arcs, and in a very Joon-ho way, the characters are stereotypes that subvert them over the course of the film – Nam-il is a smart, pretentious college graduate that is actually an emotional distressed alcoholic; Nam-joo is a sophisticated and famous archer that is actually nervous and self-sabotaging and Gang-du is a clumsy misfit that turns out to be brave and heroic. In contrast to some monster movies to come out recently (like Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)), the film takes real care and gives real depth to it’s main characters, and still manages to feel like an intelligent, personal movie.

The only problem with the film is that is not that scary. The monster itself is not that terrifying, unlike the central monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon. Also, the film seems to be a little confused as whether to take the film-making approach in not showing the monster as a was of building tension, in the same vein as Jaws, or showing the monster in full to scare the viewer, in the same vein as The Thing (1982). The end result is that sometimes the monster is on screen, and sometimes not, and this all feels a little uneven. Also, it seems like they would of been benefited from not showing it, because the design is not that terrifying.

Joon-ho might be the auteur of 2020 for me – I am still to watch his first two films and Mother and I honestly can’t wait to watch them. Parasite is honestly one of the best films I’ve seen in a long time, and although, I’ve only seen it once, it’s probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen in my life. However, The Host still remains a complete triumph for Bong Joon-ho. It is a fun, entertaining monster movie that still manages to feel like a small personal movie from him. It was really terrific.

Rating: 8/10

Next Week on Horror Tuesday: The Orphanage (2007)

My Top 15 TV Shows of 2019

There have been some fantastic television this year. Television cultural phenomenons like Game of Thrones and The Big Bang Theory ended this year, as did other critically acclaimed television shows like Veep, Broad City, Orange is the New Black and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Meanwhile, television shows that recently premiered this year, like The Mandalorian and The Witcher, are already on their way to becoming cultural phenomenons.

Tim Blake Nelson (playing Looking Glass) in this year’s Watchmen.

There are my 15 best television shows of the year:

Firstly, some honourable mentions include Bojack Horseman (part 1 of season 6), Catastrophe (season 4), Dead to Me (season 1), The End of the F***ing World (season 2), Good Omens, Killing Eve (season 2), Mindhunter (season 2) and Santa Clarita Diet (season 3)

15: Rick and Morty, season 4

Dan Harmon continues to be the king of cult television (after Community), with the fourth season of Rick and Morty. Despite taking over two years to produce this season, it well worth the wait as the show remains as wonderful as ever. Although only five episodes have aired, hopefully they keep up the standard for the remaining five episodes.

14. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, season 4

As someone who has been a die-hard fan of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ever since it dropped on Netflix in the UK in 2016, it almost pains me that this is only number 14 on the list, and that is mainly because this season felt a bit like an extended epilogue to the series (also, it didn’t need to be 18 episodes long) and the show slightly peaked in it’s devastating and emotional season 3. However, with the show’s unique mix of musical comedy, relationship drama, and heartbreaking truth about mental health, the show proceeds to be as terrific with its final season. Also, as always, this season boasts some terrific songs (from “Anti-Depressants Are So Not a Big Deal” to “Don’t Be a Lawyer” to “The Darkness” to “Slow Motion”) and some great performances (particular by Bloom and Donna Lynne Champlin).

As an advocate for this show for the longest time, hopefully give it another 10 years, and this show will be a cult classic, in the same vein as Arrested Development and Community.

13. Barry, season 2

Barry could be the closest thing we have to be a successor to Breaking Bad, in how it features a central anti-hero character that, despite the terrible things he has done, manages to remain sympathetic with the show’s wonderful writing and powerful lead performance by Bill Hader. By combining pathos, black comedy, heart-breaking drama and wonderful supporting performances (by Henry Winkler and Sarah Goldberg), this show is one to watch, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

12. Veep, season 7

In case you were one of the few who didn’t know, Game of Thrones ended it’s 8-season run this year in, ahem, divisive (and that’s being kind to it) ways. Meanwhile, at the exact same time, another long-running HBO show, Veep ended on a pretty much perfect note. Julia Louis Dreyfus, who portrays lead, Selina Meyer, remains as electric as ever, and has some of the best comic timing by any actor I’ve ever seen. Also, unlike the lead female heroine, Daenerys in Game of Thrones, the show is able to end Selina’s character arc in an absolutely perfect way. Also, there some lovely supporting turns this season by Hugh Laurie, Better Call Saul’s Rhea Seehorn and Tony Hale.

Despite the first few episodes feeling a little bit filler, the finale was absolutely brilliant and remains one of best ways to end a series in recent years.

11. The Umbrella Academy, season 1

This very peculiar superhero series debuted on Netflix in February, and seemed to be an odd mix of Tim Burton, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pushing Daisies and Heroes. Benefiting from some ambitious character arcs (specially by Ellen Page’s Jean Grey-inspired Vanya), deft interplay between the eccentric characters and an original visual style, this was one of the best Netflix Originals of recent years, and I can’t wait to see where it goes next.

10. Sex Education, season 1

Another Netflix original here that premiered earlier this year that was absolutely terrific. Much like the teen film, Booksmart from earlier this year, this show managed to reinvigorate the coming of age genre with wit and a renewed energy. The show benefits largely from charming lead performances by Asa Butterfield and Gillian Anderson, along with loads of appearances by various promising newcomers (notable cast members include Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey and Aimee Lou Wood). Blending the heart-breaking and harsh truth of teen dramas like Skins but still with a lighthearted charm, I can’t wait to see where this goes for season 2, to be released this January.

9. The Good Place, season 4

In a world of television series being dark and depressing and focusing on anti-heroes, it’s wonderful to see to see a show like The Good Place that remains unapoletically optimistic in it’s final season. Although this season has yet to end (with 3 episodes left), the show remains as charming and lovely as ever, and it’s bonkers and weird premise still hasn’t run of steam it’s final year – if anything, the show has just got more entertaining. Hopefully, unlike Game of Thrones, it will end the series just as brilliantly.

8. Schitt’s Creek, season 5

The small underdog series that has finally managed to break into the mainstream, Schitt’s Creek has really come into it’s own in it’s latest two seasons. Perfecting it’s vein of awkward comedy and heart-warming relationship drama, Schitt’s Creek has become possibly the best comedy on television. Also, Caroline O’Hara is a comedy legend.

7. Chernobyl

Following from Game of Thrones disappointment, HBO rebounded with this miniseries, detailing the devastating true life Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, which easily became one of the best miniseries of the year. Every element of production was fantastic from the writing, the direction, the production design and the performances (especially by Jared Harris). It’s very hard to watch, but it’s still very much worth it for just how brilliant it was.

6. Russian Doll, season 1

Much like Sex Education, Russian Doll has managed to successfully reinvigorate a hired genre – this time, being the time loop/ personal improvement genre in the vein of Groundhog Day and It’s a Wonderful Life. It has managed to do that so brilliantly with the wonderful writing and great lead performance by Natasha Lyonne. Hopefully, they don’t mess it up for season 2.

5. Derry Girls, season 2

Although Derry Girls – the Irish comedy-drama, produced by Hat Trick and Channel 4 – probably won’t be known to international audiences, it’s one probably the best British comedy out there at the moment. Filled with wonderful characters, brilliant one-liners (particular by Siobhan McSweeney’s deadpan Sister Michael and Louisa Harland’s bonkers Orla) and great writing, Derry Girls is one of UK’s greatest hits of recent years.

4. Unbelievable

This true life Netflix miniseries was utterly heartbreaking and captivating. The series combines two central story-lines – the harrowing story of the rape of Marie Alder (played by the brilliant Kaitlyn Dever, who broke out this year with equally wonderful Booksmart) and the investigation of various rapes by two chalk-and-cheese police detectives (played by equally great Toni Colette and Merritt Wever). Through brilliant performances, the series manages to completely surpass it’s true crime and police drama roots to create something riveting. A must watch.

3. Fleabag, season 2

These top three are so bloody fantastic that any one of them could be to number one. But currently, in my mood at the moment, the second series to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s breakout series, Fleabag ranks at number 3. The series combines some of the best writing seen on television with brilliant performances by Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman and Andrew Scott (with a nice cameo by Kristen Scott Thomas). The end result is a heartbreaking and riveting depiction of addiction, trauma and grief, whilst retaining a real wit at the same time. Hell, even Obama loves it, so it you don’t, you have no soul.

2. Stranger Things, season 3

The breakout Netflix series shows no signs of slowing down for it’s third season, with possibly the best season yet. While, the second season of the show felt like a homage to David Cronenberg and John Carpenter’s The Thing (1984), this season felt more like a homage to popular 80s summer blockbusters movies, in the vein of Back to the Future (1985). The real strength of the season is how brilliantly directed it is, keeping it very briskly paced, whilst developing all of it’s characters in interesting ways. It’s just wonderful.

1. Watchmen

The loose adaptation/ continuation of Alan Moore’s classic 1986/87 graphic novel, Watchmen is the definitely best TV show of the year. The real strengths of the series is how each every episode of the series feels completely unique and different, while contributing to the overall story. Highlights include “This Extraordinary Being”, a black-and-white trip back to the 1930s; “Little Fear of Lightning”, a dark character study about the depths of PTSD and “A God Walks Into Abar”, a really heartbreaking love story. The characters and performances, from Regina King’s Angela to Tim Blake Nelson’s Looking Glass to Jean Smart’s Laurie, are really fantastic. Even though it stands beautifully as it’s own self-contained series, I would still like to see where this goes for season 2. It was just fantastic, and it’s my favourite show of the year.

My Top 15 Films of 2019

From Left to Right: Ana de Armas and Daniel Craig in Knives Out

What a year 2019 has been for film. We have had huge event movies like Avengers Endgame, extremely polarizing movies like Joker, disappointing sequels like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and It: Chapter Two, and critically acclaimed films like The Irishman and Little Women. Here, however, are my personal favourites of the year.

Firstly, some honourable mentions: Apollo 11, Avengers: Endgame, Blinded by the Light, Doctor Sleep, Dolemite is My Name, The Favourite, Hustlers, Ready or Not, A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon, The Sisters Brothers, Spider-Man: Far From Home and Stan & Ollie

15. Burning

An earlier release from this year, this South Korean psychological thriller/ mystery film (directed by Lee Chang-dong and starring Yoo Ah-in, Steven Yeun and Jeon Jong-seo), was hypnotic, strange and utterly captivating. The film plays out like a mixture between David Lynch and Park Chan-wook in it’s mysterious characters and weird imagery. It’s a very slow-burn, but for those who have the patience for it, it will be an utterly rewarding watch.

14. Eighth Grade

This film, directed and penned by comedian/YouTuber turned director, Bo Burnham, felt so true, real and honest. Featuring an terrific central performance by Elsie Fisher, the film deals with serious themes, such as young teenage angst, mental health, consent and the impact of social media on the youth of today. Yet, it manages to do so in a witty, funny and accessible way. It’s just great.

13. If Beale Street Could Talk

Barry Jenkins’s follow-up to 2016’s Moonlight (which was one of my favourite films of recent years), this may not of been as devastating or engrossing as the Best Picture winner was, but it was still wonderful. Jenkins has a real talent for infusing terrible and depressing situations with some real wonder and hope, and he does that beautifully here. Also, all the performances are great, particularly Regina King, who deserves the Oscar alone just for THAT mirror scene alone. I wait to see what Jenkins does next.

12. Rocketman

After the surprise success of the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody (which I also unashamedly loved), Dexter Fletcher follows that up with this new biopic about the life of Elton John. In the same way as Bohemian Rhapsody did, here Fletcher directs the musical sequences in such a passionate and entertaining way, creating probably the best musical of the year. Also, the lead, Taron Egerton continues on his streak of being one of the best actors around, creating a very nuanced portrayal of John (and by the look of it, will unfortunately be snubbed for a Best Actor nomination). It’s just so much fun.

11. The Peanut Butter Falcon

Playing like this decade’s answer to 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine, this film was just so sweet and lovely. It’s the film that will most probably sell you on Dakota Johnson as a screen presence, as she’s great in this, as is Shia LaBeouf, who seems well on this way to having a career revival. Also, Zack Gottsagen as the lead is a revelation. It’s one of the most recent examples of how to make a sweet and heartfelt film, but not having it reduced to sentimentality.

10. Klaus

Being the first animated feature to come originally from Netflix, this lovely movie serves as an origin story to Santa Claus. With absolutely beautiful old-school hand-drawn animation, a heartfelt story and great vocal performances, this movie ranks up as one of the best animated films of the year. Also, as a Christmas film, this will no doubt be featured as one of the most recent examples of modern holiday classic.

9. Toy Story 4

Another animated film here, Toy Story 4 did the impossible by upping what was the perfect trilogy into what is now the perfect quadrilogy. Although, it is no doubt an extended epilogue to the series, it still manages to end every character’s arc in a completely wholesome way, and never feels like a cynical cash grab (which I’m sure it really was). Also, if you don’t cry at the ending “To Infinity… And Beyond” scene, you have definitely have no soul.

8. Us

Jordan Peele’s follow-up to the 2017’s brilliant Get Out (one of my favourites of the decade), Us will no doubt not be for all tastes, but I loved it, and seems to be getting better the more times I watch it (I’ve seen it 3 times now). Like Get Out, the film combines some hilarious black humour and biting social commentary, but this time, mixed with a much scarier and nastier tone, which Peele always feels completely in control of. As much as I loved Doctor Sleep, this is definitely the best horror film of the year.

7. Marriage Story

Scarlett Johansson and especially, Adam Driver give career-best performances in this heartbreaking Noah Baumbach film. The film combines comedy, drama, and oddly, some musical moments, and ends up creating a very true, and emotional depiction of marriage, divorce and family. If Joaquin Phoenix wins the Best Actor Oscar over Driver then, we riot because Driver deserves it much, much more.

6. One Cut of the Dead

Much like recent film, Parasite (which, if it had come out in the UK this year, would no doubt, be part of this list), the least you know about this film, the better. The first 40 minutes may take some patience to get through, but once that is over, the film becomes incredibly smart, clever, witty and heart-felt. The second act also completely justifies the opening act, and remains a great deconstruction for the zombie genre and of low-budget filmmaking. It has to be seen to believed, as it’s just wonderful.

5. The Farewell

This film, about a family (headed by a young woman, played by Awkwafina) who decide to not the matriarch that she’s actually dying of terminal cancer, is equals parts devastatingly emotional and equals parts very funny. The film also always finds a way to feel very real and relatable, even if you have never been through anything remotely like this. Also, the out-of-character serious performance by Awkwafina is fantastic, and should get an Oscar nomination. I loved it!

4. Little Women

Greta Gerwig follows up her great 2017 coming-of-age comedy-drama, Lady Bird (which I love love loved) by writing and directing the seventh adaptation of Louise May Alcott’s classic novel. Gathering a huge ensemble cast (including big names ranging from Laura Dern to Meryl Streep to Chris Cooper to Emma Watson to Bob Odenkirk), EVERYONE in this film is so good, but the standouts are Saoirse Ronan and this year’s breakout star, Florence Pugh. This film is also beautifully directed, and remains just so lovely, heartfelt and universal for everyone to watch.

3. The Irishman

This Martin Scorsese picture seems him back on regular ground after some more experimental films from him in recent years (like 2016’s Silence & 2011’s Hugo) and reunites him with a plethora of talent including Robert De Niro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci. Although not as exciting as films like Goodfellas or The Departed, this film is melancholic, quiet, and deeply affecting. Dealing with themes of ageing, regret and leaving a legacy, this film will stick with you long after the credits start rolling.

2. Booksmart

Olivia Wilde completely revitalized the coming-of-age genre this year with the smart and hilarious Booksmart. Wilde is absolutely fantastic behind the camera, directing the film in a zippy and energetic way, and script is able to get the right mixture between funny moments and a genuine heartfelt story. Also, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein are stars in the making. If anyone says that comedy in 2019 can’t be done (I’m looking at you, Todd Phillips), this is all the proof you need that comedies can still be rip-roaringly hilarious.

1. Knives Out

Yes, this film may not have the most depth or emotional resonance as some films this year, but it was this Rian Johnson-penned whodunnit was the one that kept me entertained and invested more than any other film. It’s incredibly smart, unpredictable and shocking whilst still remaining witty and funny, and having a genuine heart underneath the drama (mainly due to a very good Ana de Armas in the lead role). If you go to see, you will not be disappointed because it’s just so damn entertaining.

Monthly Recap: December 2019

Considering that I can’t review everything that I watch in a month (I don’t have that kind of time) – I’m doing a quick recap from each film and TV show I watch, and what Comics I read every month. Here they are:

First Time Watches

Catching up with this year’s releases:

  • A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) – Review at https://885.movie.blog/2019/12/11/a-beautiful-day-in-the-neighbourhood-2019-review/
  • Brittany Runs a Marathon (2019) – This was fine. It felt like it was trying too hard to be The Big Sick (one of my favourites from 2017) in dealing with serious themes in a funny and mainstream way. It didn’t quite achieve that, however, I liked it’s central messages and Gillian Bell’s lead performance.
  • Burning (2018) – One of the year’s earlier releases that I missed, this movie was hypnotic, strange and dreamy. It was very reminiscent of David Lynch and I really liked it.
  • Charlie’s Angels (2019) – I was quite disappointed my this. I went into it thinking it was going to re-launch the franchise in a fun, interesting way, but the end result was very uneven. The three leads are perfectly fine (Naomi Scott is really great, but Kristen Stewart as the comedic relief doesn’t quite work), but I just wished this was much better.
  • The Good Liar (2019) – I feel like if I hadn’t watched Knives Out recently – which did something new, different and subversive with the twisty-turny thriller genre, that I love love loved – I might of liked this better. It just felt quite formulaic and uninspired, and all the twists I could easily see coming. Helen Mirren and Ian McKellan were perfectly fine, though.
  • Harriet (2019) – I liked this one quite a bit. There were some elements about that didn’t quite gel, especially Harriet Tubman’s premonitions and visions of god, but overall, it was quite a solid and engaging biopic. Cynthia Erivo’s lead performance was very good.
  • Jojo Rabbit (2019) – A review of this might come when this is properly released in the UK in January because I really really liked this one. It’s very peculiar and I do wonder how the film got made, but I loved it’s balls. Also, it was so funny. All the performances from the cast are great, particularly a very impressive Scarlett Johansson. If it was released this year properly, it probably would have one of my favourites of the year.
  • Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) – Review at https://885.movie.blog/2019/12/18/jumanji-the-next-level-2019-review/
  • Little Women (2019) – This adaptation of Little Women was just utterly wonderful – it may have even bested director, Greta Gerwig’s other film, Lady Bird from 2017 (which I love love loved). All the performances are fantastic (Saoirse Ronan and Florence Pugh are the real stand-outs, but I love EVERYONE from Timothee Chalamet, Laura Dern, Chris Cooper and Bob Odenkirk) and the direction from Gerwig is very passionate. One of my favourites of the year, for sure.
  • Marriage Story (2019) – Review at https://885.movie.blog/2019/12/06/marriage-story-2019-review/
  • Parasite (2019) – Like Jojo Rabbit, I will probably do a review of this when it hits UK theatres in February because honestly, I don’t really have the words right now to describe how I feel about this movie. It’s like watching Alfred Hitchcock direct Fargo. It’s honestly one of the best films of the 21st century, and probably one of the best films I’ve ever seen in my life.
  • The Souvenir (2019) – This one was slightly divisive with audiences – some called it slow and pretentious, while some called it interesting and polished. I’m somewhere in the middle with it – I thought the direction and production design made it a very polished movie, and I loved the performances (Honor Swindon Byrne is a star) but I felt it lacked emotion and I was quite detached from it.
  • Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) – The critical response to this was a little unfair, as this Star Wars movie was fine, but that’s really all it was – just fine. The first half was a little painful, and was terribly written, but the film started to get a lot better in the second half, made infinitely better by Adam Driver’s performance. The real problem is that this movie didn’t really live up to the high standard set up by The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.

Others:

  • House on Haunted Hill (1959) – A very campy, fun and quite silly horror classic. It has some genuine scares, too, especially the Old Woman scare. Great fun.
  • In the Mouth of Madness (1994) – This John Carpenter joint was quite uneven – it had some moments of unintentional hilarity, and the plot was a little all over the place. However, I loved it’s visceral special effects, and I admired it for it’s flat-out weirdness. I overall really liked it.
  • Jack Frost (1997) – Combining the Christmas spirit, and my love of horror films, this film was so bad, that it was so good. I mean it was no Chopping Mall, and my critical faculties can’t defend it at all, but I had fun.
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947) – Finally got round to watching this Christmas classic, and I really liked it. It was sweet, lovely and really cute.
  • Top Hat (1935) – Another classic that I finally got round to watching – this was a lovely Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musical. The musical sequences were absolutely fantastic, and although, they were probably better than the overall film, it was still really lovely.
  • Wild Tales (2014) – Finally got around to watching this, and I absolutely LOVED it. It was so dark, cynical, witty and funny. Also, unlike many anthology movies, with each segment, the film just seems to get better. If I had seen this in 2014/2015 time, it no doubt would of been one of my favourites of the year.

Re-watches

Re-watching some of the year’s most popular films:

  • Avengers: Endgame (2019) – The biggest movie of all time happens to get the right mixture between big epic scale, emotional resonance and cathartic moments. Game of Thrones and Star Wars, wishes – this is how you end a popular franchise.
  • Booksmart (2019) – God I love this film. I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it, I love it.
  • The Irishman (2019) – One of the year’s best, and Scorsese’s best in 13 years since The Departed. One of my favourites of the year, for sure.
  • Knives Out (2019) – Review at https://885.movie.blog/2019/11/27/knives-out-review/
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) – Much like Joker this year, I slightly conflicted about this film (although, I do like this one much, much more). I love the craft and passion involved (I love the performances, and how the production design and costume design really invoke you in 60s era), and I love that it’s more a mature film from Tarantino (in the same vein of Jackie Brown), but I think there are many sequences (particularly Leonardo DiCaprio filming his western) that feel indulgent and over-long. It’s still quite good fun, though, and THAT ending is properly fantastic.
  • Rocketman (2019) – I really loved this movie – it doesn’t re-invent the musical biopic genre or anything, but it’s so much fun. The musical sequences and Taron Egerton’s performance are just wonderful.
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019) – This was doesn’t hold up so well on fourth (yes, that right, fourth) viewing, but as a huge Spider-Man fan, I still really liked it.

Films that are always regular Christmas viewing:

  • Barefoot in the Park (1967) – It’s my mum’s favourite film, and we always watch it on her birthday (which is Christmas Eve), and it’s just wonderful.
  • Die Hard (1988) – Who cares what Bruce Willis says, this IS a Christmas movie, and it’s a wonderful one at that.
  • Gremlins (1984) – The super dark, daft and fun Christmas horror movie that I always love watching.
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – Watching this with my dad is one of my highlights of each┬áChristmas.
  • National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989) – Chevy Chase is hilarious in this stupid but hilarious movie.
  • Paddington 2 (2017) – One of my favourite films of recent years, this movie is WONDERFUL.
  • Rare Exports (2010) – As someone who used to be terrified on Santa, this film takes a needed dark take on Santa and Christmas. It’s just great.
  • Singin in the Rain (1952) – One of my favourite films of all time, this movie is made with such passion, craft and personality.
  • Trading Places (1984) – One of the most underrated Christmas films of all time, I love a lot about this movie – the social commentary, the one-liners and the performances. It’s just great.

Others:

  • Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (2004) – My mum wanted to watch this on New Years’ Eve. It isn’t as well-written or smart than the first film, but it’s still quite funny.

TV Shows Watched this Month

  • Watchmen, season 1 – I loved this series so much – it’s one of my favourites of the year and possibly the best superhero series of all time. The series is very well-structured and well-plotted and each episode feels unique and special. All the performances are great, as well, particularly Regina King and Tim Blake Nelson. I just loved it.
  • Gavin & Stacey, 2019 Christmas special – I’m sorry, I’ve tried loads of times, but I just don’t get Gavin and Stacey. Ruth Jones is great, though.
  • Don’t F**k with Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer – This series is incredibly hard to watch at times, but it was very shocking and ultimately very fascinating. The only problem with it was that it became more of a standard killer/man hunt type thriller after a while, and lost it’s shocking edge. That being said, this miniseries was well a watch (even if you have to watch it through splayed fingers).

Comics Read this Month

  • Skyward, Volume 1 (Issues 1-5) – This series is so much fun. It has taken over as my favourite new comic to come out recently since Paper Girls ended in the summer. It’s feels very fresh, entertaining and clever.

Film of the Month:

Film watched for first time: Parasite (2019)

Runner-ups: Little Women (2019) & Marriage Story (2019)

Re-watched Film: Singin in the Rain (1952)

Runner-ups: It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) & Paddington 2 (2017)

Jumanji: The Next Level (2019) Review

2017’s Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle was possibly one of the most surprisingly great films of all time. A sequel-cum-reboot to the 1995 Robin Williams film could of ended up feeling like a cynical cash grab, but with four great central performances and a wonderful script, it ended up being a fun winter-time treat. The film was also a huge success with audiences, grossing nearly 1 billion worldwide, so obviously, a sequel would be required.

The original centrally starred Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black and Karen Gillan as four avatars in the video game of Jumanji (adapted from the board game of the original), and saw four teenagers take on these avatars after entering the game. The sequel takes place 3 years later, in which our central characters have all moved on and are now young adults in college. Feeling his life was better when he was in the game, Spencer (Alex Wolff) decides to re-enter the game, and soon enough, his friends, Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Bethany (Madison Iseman) and his girlfriend, Martha (Morgan Turner) decide to also re-enter the game once again to save Spencer. However, this is complicated when instead of Bethany, the game actually sucks in two new players, 70-somethings, Eddie (Danny DeVito), Spencer’s grandfather and Milo (Danny Glover), Eddie’s former friend.

One of the central charms of Welcome to the Jungle was the role reversal of seeing the four teenagers in an avatar that was largely against type – for example, we the wimpish Spencer in the tough and burly Johnson avatar; the macho and tall Fridge in the small and slightly pointless Hart avatar; the shy and reversed Martha in the confident and scantily-clad Gillan avatar and the shallow and look-obsessed Bethany in, as she puts it, the “overweight and middle-aged” Black avatar.

The Next Level continues on this role reversal centrally, but tries to shake up the formula. The absolute highlight is seeing the elderly Milo inside the Hart avatar. Seeing Hart play against his normal acting style of talking in quite a high-pitched, shrieking and fast-paced manner and instead, talking in a slow-paced, and articulate manner is by far, the funniest part of the movie. Hart has appear in a lot of mediocre movies in the past, but from this and also his solid dramatic starring role in The Upside earlier this year, it seems like he is improving as a screen performer. For anyone normally annoyed with his over-the-top shrieking, will be largely impressed by him in this movie. Hart in this movie is not only, the funniest part of the movie, but one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a movie all year.

The other 3 avatars are not as entertaining as Hart, but still have some fun moments. This time, Johnson ends up getting DeVito in the game, and seeing him take on DeVito’s mannerisms is quite entertaining and funny. Also, the comedy stemming from seeing Johnson and Hart play older men (who are suddenly freed from bad hearing and bad hips) could of been written with a little more wit, but still has some fun moments.

Also in this movie, we see Fridge again end up in the complete opposite avatar, this time in the Black avatar. The humour stemming from it is pretty much the same joke repeated from the first movie (this time with the added joke that he’s “now white!”), but it still fairly works. The only cast member really given the short straw this time is Gillan, who was an absolute hilarious highlight in the first movie, and doesn’t really get much to do this time around. This time she ends up being Martha’s avatar for the second time, which is a bit tiresome, but as this happens, she ends up being a good conduit into this world for the second time.

Bonus characters this time around include a new avatar called Ming Fleetfoot, played by rising star, Awkwafina. The former rapper turned actress made a solid debut in last year’s Ocean’s Eight, and earlier this year, gave a terrific, possibly Oscar nominated serious turn in the superb The Farewell, and she is also very funny here as we see her portray various characters.

The only real problem with this sequel is the script isn’t quite as witty as the original. One of the highlights of the original was it’s entertaining satire of video games (for example, seeing Gillan complain about what exactly the point is of her wearing a scantily-clad Lara Croft outfit), but it feels like that is lacking from this one. Also, the script is not as tight or well developed as the original. The original also had a running joke of giving the characters three lives in a video game-like way, and often killed off the characters in a way that felt effortless and creative, and it feels like this one lacks that part of the script. The script just needed just a better put-together narrative.

The end result is slightly uneven, and also lacks the pleasant surprise that Welcome to the Jungle had. Despite this, it is still an entertaining follow-up that will keep parents and kids entertained this winter break. Despite this, it will probably lose it’s charm if they keep making these (which I’m sure they inevitably will).

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) Review

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this film is a biopic focusing centrally on Tom Hanks portraying Fred Rogers – primarily known for the American childrens’ show, Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood (which ran for 33 years between 1968 to 2001) – from the amount of awards buzz from his performance (and having just nabbed a Golden Globe nomination for his performance), and also how, the film’s poster sees him front and centre. However, the film itself, while partly a biopic, is a very different beast.

Based on the article Esquire magazine article “Can You Say… Hero” by journalist, Tom Jurod, the film focuses on Lloyd Vassel (portrayed by Matthew Rhys, which is loosely based off of Jurod), who is given an assignment to interview Rogers. Vassel – who has a new baby with his wife, Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and is dealing with a long-standing feud with his father, Jerry (Chris Cooper) – soon has his outlook on life drastically changed by Rogers and his lovely positivity.

Firstly, Hanks’s performance is really terrific. The bit of casting could appear slightly on the nose, as like Rogers, Hanks is often known in real life, for being a really nice guy. However, what is sometimes forgotten about Hanks is that he really is a fantastic actor, and here, Hanks really embodies Rogers. Much in the same way as Renee Zellweger’s terrific performance as Judy Garland in this year’s Judy (which has also just nabbed her a Golden Globe nomination), Hanks also manages to capture the essence of Rogers, including his voice and his mannerisms.

The film often details Rogers’ wonderful acts of kindness (including how he always greeted an fan before filming an episode) and how he always seems genuinely interested in every conversation he has, and Hanks is able to make these moments feel very real and believable. This is particularly significant for this film because when the film descents into sentimentality, it never feels schmaltzy or fake, and you can honestly tell how Vogel ends up opening up to Rogers, and having his life changed.

When Hanks is off-screen, however, the film slightly struggles. The story of Vogel, his family and his relationship with his father is perfectly fine, and Rhys gives a pretty solid performance. However, it all feels slightly too predictable, and a little too safe. Also, as perfectly fine as Watson is, her character of Vogel’s wife is slightly poorly developed. It’s the sort of movie in which the characters consistently complain the lead character, and the film sometimes fails to articulate properly why he is so unlikeable.

The film, directed by Marielle Heller – who over the past decade has directed critically acclaimed films, The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015) and Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018) (she likes her long titles) – makes some odd directional choices here and there. The film has a peculiar framing device in how Rogers starts telling the story on one episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood, which never quite works or clicks into place. There are also some strange scene transitions, here and there, that go from this framing device to the actual story, that never quite work.

The real strength of the film, however, is Hanks’ performance. Heller, who directed Oscar nominated performances by Richard E. Grant and Melissa McCarthy in Can You Ever Forgive Me?, definitely knows how to direct good performances, but still needs to improve on making really investing films. Despite this, however, the film overall is really heart-warming and lovely film that is well worth seeing for Hanks.

Marriage Story (2019) Review

Noah Baumbach has been on a roll recently – coming out with really insightful and interesting comedy-dramas in the form of While We’re Young (2014), The Meyerowitz Stories (2017), and now possible Oscar contender, Marriage Story. The film, influenced by various films, such as multiple Oscar winner, Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), takes a detailed and insightful look at marriage and divorce.

The film stars Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson as the young couple, Charlie and Nicole Barber, who have a 8-year-old child, Henry together. Charlie is a theatre director living in New York City, making strange avant-garde plays, while Nicole is a former teen actress who often stars in Charlie’s plays. As Nicole moves to Los Angeles to star in a new television pilot, the divorce proceedings start to begin. As Charlie is torn between his child in Los Angeles and his work in New York City, proceedings between the couple begin to turn ugly.

The film, which has had a early release in various film festivals over the past 3 months, has been making waves, with particular acclaim for it’s two lead performances. Driver and Johansson have both been stated to get a lot of awards love, with some staying they will be competition for original favourites, Joaquin Phoenix and Renee Zellweger for Best Actor and Best Actress, respectively (although, it does seem like the controversy about Joker will more hurt Phoenix’s chances more).

Firstly, Driver’s performance is really terrific. The actor – who has also starred in the summer’s disappointing zombie flick, The Dead Don’t Die; the recent Amazon Prime original, The Report and will star in the forthcoming Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker later this month – is really having his “moment” right now. As one of the most hardest working man in show-business, he has risen up acting in various indie films with some fantastic directors (including Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese and the Coen brothers). He seems to be in the rank of select group of actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling that can seem to mix both small, independent movies with big-budget blockbusters. This, however, might be his best work. He follows Dustin Hoffman’s template in Kramer vs. Kramer by being small and subtle whilst remaining very powerful and impactful.

Johansson is also very good. Like Driver, she also seems to be having a “moment” right now, including this, her acclaimed work in Taika Watiti’s film, Jojo Rabbit (which has yet to come out in the UK), and her small, but pivotal role in Avengers: Endgame earlier in the year. Here, she makes a return to the subtle, engaging lead performances not particularly seen since her work in Lost in Translation over 15 years ago. Her work in the early parts of the film is particularly heart-breaking, particularly a long monologue about how her life has not turned out the way she hoped.

Along with the two fantastic lead performances, the supporting cast are also terrific. Laura Dern is on good form (building on her recent great work on the television series, Big Little Lies and the news she is returning to the Jurassic Park series) as Nicole’s whip-smart, sharp-tongued lawyer. There are some good cameos from various character actors, including Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Merritt Wever and Julie Hagerty.

Aside from the performances, the film has some terrific moments and scenes that very much stick out. The opening, in which Charlie and Nicole discuss what they love about the other was so lovely and self-contained that it could of been released a gorgeous short film. Much like, a lot of Baumbach’s work, the film balances a lot of different genres, from wacky, almost-slapstick comedy to heart-breaking drama, and at some points, bizarrely tips into a musical.

One of best scenes include when Nicole’s sister, Cassie (Wever) is convinced by Nicole to serve Charlie the divorce papers, and because of Cassie’s nerves, the end result is a wacky and hilarious scene. In another scene, Charlie has a visit from a caretaker, which is quite awkward and unsuccessful that culminates on Charlie accidentally cutting himself and passing out on the floor (I’m serious). The scene is so weird and bizarre (and surprisingly gory) that it actually ends up being rather brilliant.

Along with the strange, weird and wacky, the film also has a lot of emotional moments – especially a lengthy segment where Driver sings the entirety of Sondheim’s “Being Alive”, which while being beautifully sang, is very emotional and sweet. Another beautiful scene is when Driver reads out the letter Nicole wrote about him aloud to his son (who is struggling to learn how to read), which had me tearing up. The letters in the opening segment also make their way into the rest of the film that is very smartly written and clever.

These are fantastic moments, but sometimes, that is all the film feels like – a variety of scenes and moments. If I have a complaint about the film, it could have a better, tighter and more polished narrative. I hate to say it, but I think that possibly the performances are better than the overall film. That being said, the overall film is still a beautiful and emotional watch, which are worth watching for it’s fantastic lead performances.

Knives Out Review

Rian Johnson follows up one of the biggest movies of 2017, The Last Jedi from a small franchise called Star Wars, with a new film in the form of Knives Out. The film is said to be a return to the old fashioned “whodunnit” genre, influenced by classic murder mystery films, like Clue (1985), Murder by Death (1976), and Gosford Park (2001), as well as television series, Poirot and the works of Agatha Christie.

The film is centred around the Thrombey family, who are dealing with the death of patriarch, Harlan (who true to the genre, is a famous murder mystery writer), whose throat is mysteriously found slit. Soon comes the arrival of various police, including Detective Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who along with Harlan’s maid and good friend, Marta (Ana de Armos), try to solve the case. All of Harlan’s relatives are suspects, and in more true form to the genre, it follows an ensemble cast, including Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer.

There was a lot riding on this movie as a follow-up to The Last Jedi, as well as the huge buzz coming from it’s release at the Toronto Film Festival back in September. And it was a complete and utter blast from beginning to end. It’s the sort of the film that you won’t want to pee because you’ll be afraid of missing a single line of dialogue. If you venture out to see it, it will most likely be one of the funnest times at the cinema you’ll have all year.

If you are ever think that cinema, particularly recent releases, are ever too safe and predictable, then this film will really please you. It is jam-packed full of twists, and it’s safe to say that you never know where it’s going for one second. There is a particular twist after about 30 minutes that felt so brave and unexpected that it rivalled the decapitation moment from last year’s Hereditary.

There was a criticism (along with many others) about The Last Jedi that it was almost “too subversive”, and the film was the film was trying too hard to play with the audience’s expectations. And, along I do like The Last Jedi, Knives Out feels much more polished and well thought-out with it’s surprises. The film, although influenced by mystery cinema, felt more akin to recent movies like La La Land (2016) and Baby Driver (2017) by addressing an old-fashioned genre, but approaching it in a completely modern and new way.

The film also manages to manage it’s surprises and subversive plot with real comedy, wit and sometimes, even heart. Armas is a terrific leading heroine, who despite being possibly the most un-experienced of the main cast, completely held her own. There’s even some (admittedly, very small) social commentary about how she, a Cuban immigrant, manages to come out on top against the self-centred Thrombey family with just her good, nice-hearted nature.

Craig is also a great lead, and it’s great to see him showing his comedic chops after his great work in Logan Lucky from 2017. His southern drawl accent is a element that doesn’t completely work, but that doesn’t matter in the long run. In terms of the supporting cast, it’s hard to find a favourite in the star-studded supporting cast, but Evans and Collette are particularly very great and really funny, as was Plummer in his very small screen-time. There is a moment and scene for every character in this movie, and none of it’s cast members feel under-utilized.

Although the plot feels like it’s plucked straight from a television show (like Poirot), there are moments in this film that feel properly cinematic. Much like The Last Jedi, the cinematography is really gorgeous, especially the establishing shots of the mansion. The costume and set design is also very meticulous and detailed, particularly in the little details about the mansion.

This is probably the best and most polished work from Johnson as far. Brick, Looper and The Last Jedi were all good to great, but lacked feeling like anything more that just an director playing with a certain genre. This film did what the great Edgar Wright movies do by parodying a genre but still completely feeling like an completely individual piece of work.

Also, make sure you see this film in the biggest crowd as possible. I laughed, smiled and gasped, and we all did this together. Also, don’t look at spoilers and don’t let your friends tell you what happened because this is a movie best experience completely fresh. This, along many others (including Booksmart, The Peanut Butter Falcon, The Farewell and One Cut of the Dead), ranks up there as one of the best movies of the year. Hell, it might even be the best movie of the year.