Stan and Ollie (2019)

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Double acts are a common thing to come by but not many of them have become as instantly recognisable in the same way that Laurel & Hardy did. Just from their bowler hats alone, you’d have to be living under a rock not to know who is underneath the famous head wear, so it’s surprising it’s taken this long to get a biopic about them but it’s worth the wait.

In 1937, Stan Laurel (Steve Coogan) and Oliver Hardy (John C. Reilly) were at the top of their game, a pairing known the planet over but this film follows them 16 years later, as they hope to shoot a feature in England but in the meantime they tour small venues across the UK, hoping to retain their sparkle and put aside past differences.

This comedy/drama is directed by Jon S. Baird and it’s definitely a departure from other works he’s been behind. Swept away are the ruder and more adult examples like ‘Filth’ and TV series ‘Babylon’ and bouncing forward is this clean and family friendly film. Baird really captures the sheen of their career highs, managing to present the current UK dreariness of tired music halls and strained tensions as a great opposite to the golden years. That isn’t to say that the director is stating that their later years were less special, if anything, it is more delightful to watch them as they tour, appear for press snapshots and witter away with one another.

‘Stan & Ollie’ may be somewhat gentile and doesn’t completely immerse you at all points; it possesses  that generic TV movie atmosphere but the magical partnership between the lead actors does more than enough to warrant it’s big screen outing. It’s not a story bursting to life and breaking the biopic mould, you know what beats will be hit and when they will happen but a tried and tested model isn’t broken so why fix it, especially when a predictable yet fantastic final showcase does its job in making you well up slightly.

It’s certainly a film that mirrors the charm of Laurel & Hardy; from a sublime tracking shot in the open which initiates the audience into the Hollywood studio lot and the cinematic world of which the comedy duo are so at home in to a good couple of skits which are tame yet visually pleasing to tickle the funny bone and show off their unmistakable chemistry.

John C. Reilly and Steve Coogan are a joy to watch, hitting the highs and lows of their friendship and work-life to glorious effect. The movements and mannerisms they’ve honed not just in dance routines and theatrical set pieces but off stage also, are expertly done and really help you feel like you’re watching the real deal. Shirley Henderson and Nina Arianda are marvellous too, as a back-up double act to their husbands showing their adoration in different ways through emotion and well scripted squabbling.

One word can sum up this film: delightful.

7.5/10

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2018 Top 50

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Smile folks, it’s been an absolute blast this year in the cinemas and on streaming services alike. Yes, if you want to jump right in with my top 10 movies, I have already compiled a top ten list which you can find HERE, but if like me, you can’t abide a whole ton of great movies not getting their dues then this is their time to shine as I’ve come up with my first ever Top 50 countdown!

*Disclaimer* – I have not seen certain films like ‘Mandy’ or ‘Leave No Trace’ hence their absence and no ‘Truth or Dare’ doesn’t rock up, though it was a fine comedy. Okay, away we go…

50 – NEXT GEN

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A surprisingly fun and pacy cartoon flick with futuristic ideas and a charming connection between gal and bot.

Review – ‘Next Gen’

49 – MARY POPPINS RETURNS

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Emily Blunt steps into the ten to two shoes of Julie Andrews and does a spiffing job as the prim and proper nanny with magic endlessly pulled from her special bag.

Trip the Light Fantastic over to my review – ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

48 – ROMA

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Alfonso Cuaron’s black and white semi-biographical tale which hit Netflix is absolutely beautiful to look at but I just can’t quite connect to the majesty that everyone else has seen. There’s a fine story and lovely cinematography but that’s about it, no higher in the list. Don’t @ me.

My review is here – ‘Roma’

47 – BUMBLEBEE

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If someone had told me that a ‘Transformers’ spin-off would have featured higher than a stunning foreign movie lauded for Oscar glory I would have scoffed…a lot. But Travis Knight has captured the fun and nostalgic appeal that Michael Bay could only dream of.

No Decepticons here, this is a good film, my review – ‘Bumblebee’

46 – A STAR IS BORN

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Bradley Cooper dons a stetson and the first-time director title in this fourth telling of ‘A Star is Born’, it has some issues but a mostly great soundtrack and the might of Lady Gaga help this romantic country and western musical come alive.

Step into the Shallow end with my review – ‘A Star is Born’

45 – JOURNEY’S END

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A sombre and reflective WW2 drama, this truly grips you and makes you thoughtful about the dark trench warfare these brave soldiers faced. Sam Claflin and Asa Butterfield are excellent.

The journey begins with my review – ‘Journey’s End’

44 – CAM

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Another Netflix feature that took me by surprise, this has dark and original ideas and a blisteringly brilliant performance from Madeline Brewer makes this tech-thriller/horror a sexy yet smartly creepy film.

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43 – GAME NIGHT

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Jason Bateman & Rachel McAdams are a fun pairing in this entertaining comedic flick but the true MVP and best selling point for the films worth is Jesse Plemmons.

Roll a dice, right foot yellow and review is yours – ‘Game Night’

42 – ISLE OF DOGS

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Another quirky and lovely stop-motion outing from the wonderful Wes Anderson, this poochy plot has moments of rabid darkness but plenty of delightful storytelling.

Woof! My review is out of the kennel – ‘Isle of Dogs’

41 – A SIMPLE FAVOR

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Paul Feig’s latest has definitely divided audiences but I for one thoroughly enjoyed this strange concoction of humour and thrills all tinged with a French cinema flavour.

Only a simple favour to ask but please check out my review – ‘A Simple Favor’

40 – THOROUGHBREDS

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Olivia Cooke and Anya Taylor-Joy are chillingly exceptional in this fairly cold yet entrancing off-beat film. It’s quite simply put, an original film with unsettling music and unpredictable moments.

Give my review a thoroughread – ‘Thoroughbreds’

39 – MOM AND DAD

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Crazy is as crazy does: surely a motto best suited to Nicolas Cage. This frenzied and pacy film may not be a superb film but I had a right good time watching the madness unfold and it knows what it is – a pure delightful crash of crazy.

Read more – ‘Mom and Dad’

38 – THE NIGHT COMES FOR US

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Woah Nelly! This Indonesian action which is on Netflix is a furious and bloody thriller which may be light on plot but is soaring to the heavens with hellish injury detail and electrically charged, fascinating fight choreography.

37 – GHOST STORIES

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Originally a stage show, which is somewhat evident at certain points, what with some theatrical elements and practical frights leading the way, this is a nightmarish and engrossing British horror with clever storytelling.

Boo! My review – ‘Ghost Stories’

36 – TULLY

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This is most certainly a film that goes somewhere a healthy percentage of audiences might not expect but it doesn’t tarnish the previously built maternal plot and Charlize Theron’s stunningly crafted performance, if anything it just makes it a more memorable story.

Don’t dilly dally – ‘Tully’

35 – THE HATE U GIVE

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Upon seeing the trailer I really wasn’t expecting to get anything from this film. Happily it’s much more than a generic YA adaptation, it has emotion, heart and the richest relevance to current world events. Amandla Stenberg & Russell Hornsby are mind-blowingly effective in this.

Don’t let the THUG-life get ya, read my review – ‘The Hate U Give’

34 – THE SHAPE OF WATER

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You can always trust on Guillermo del Toro to make a dark fantasy a totally captivating experience and this time the Academy Awards agreed, gifting this woman-loves-fish story the Best Picture trophy. It’s beautiful, weird and Sally Hawkins is the perfect lead.

The Shape of my Review can be found here – ‘The Shape of Water’

33 – BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE

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A true ensemble piece of cinema and a film noir that almost fully sinks its teeth into you. Aside from a slightly dissatisfying story that takes over, this is a clever, highly original movie and well acted thriller which deserved higher box office.

No bad times with my review – ‘Bad Times at the El Royale’

32 – CRAZY RICH ASIANS

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I openly admit I’m not an advocate for the rom-com genre but this family set story around an impending wedding really bowled me over. The luxurious visuals, stunning locations and more stunning cast balance romance and humour with finesse.

Take a walk down the aisle to my review – ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

31 – YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE

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Lynne Ramsay excellently weaves a gritty and immersive city thriller, aided by an astonishing turn from Joaquin Phoenix, this has threads of ‘Taxi Driver’ and is a bold and tense piece of cinematic art.

30 – RALPH BREAKS THE INTERNET

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Fairly bloated with internet bustin’ gags and Disney references, but it’s fun, fast and a well animated sequel with Ralph and Vanellope just as endearing a friendship duo as back in 2012.

It’s good and that’s not bad, my thoughts – ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’

29 – SORRY TO BOTHER YOU

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Truly original and absurd, two qualities which you can’t complain about in the climate of sequels/prequels and the like. Boots Riley goes all in directing & writing a superb screenplay that links to current affairs and issues in an offbeat, comical and twisted manner.

Giddy up over to my review – ‘Sorry to Bother You’

28 – PHANTOM THREAD

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Possibly Daniel Day-Lewis’ final feature, his role under the direction of Paul Thomas Anderson is sublime, as are Vicky Krieps and Lesley Manville…and a beautifully acted breakfast scene for the ages. This early UK 2018 film looks gorgeous and bursts with spits of spite and comedy.

Sew, a needle, pull and thread – ‘Phantom Thread’

27 – IN THE FADE

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Diane Kruger’s first German feature and one that’s put across the audience in three parts. Not every part is as strong as the other and a finale may be slightly lacking but a gritty opening and glossy, tense court room second act along with Kruger’s formidable performance make this a solid thriller of loss and revenge.

1, 2…Kruger’s coming for you – ‘In the Fade’

26 – BLACK PANTHER

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A massive hit and an even bigger stepping stone for black representation in superhero movies, this Marvel entry deals with spectacle, politics and leadership with detail and thought, fuelled by a great villain expertly handled by Michael B. Jordan, ‘Black Panther’ is a near-perfect comic-book film.

Enter Wakanda – ‘Black Panther’

25 – AMERICAN ANIMALS

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This is a clever spin on the heist genre as director Bart Layton mixes truth and fiction by blending the real life people alongside his actors. As the films plan nears fruition, the gang and audience alike are left unable to back out to culpability.

A review is up for grabs just here, go on, go – ‘American Animals’

24 – THE INCREDIBLES 2

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After 14 years too long, Pixar returned to the Parr family and their mix of city saving powers. The one animated feature deserving of a sequel, this one does not disappoint. Apart from a predictable turn of events and villain, this is a joyous and stunning animation to watch and any return of Edna Mode is a positive in my book.

Dash over to my review – ‘Incredibles 2’

23 – BLACKKKLANSMAN

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This Spike Lee joint is a funny and disturbing tale of KKK infiltration. It makes you laugh but importantly, it’s something which makes you irate, angry and fits nicely against the backdrop of divide so felt nowadays. Style and power rip through this film.

Don’t be a Duke, click my review – ‘BlackKklansman’

22 – THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS

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The Coen Brothers enter the Netflix way of life with this western anthology of six mini stories. The likes of James Franco, Tim Blake Nelson and Zoe Kazan excel in their segments. Sure, not all the tales are great and there may not be a resolute connection between them but it’s masterfully acted and captures the heart…and dust of the western genre.

21 – OVERLORD

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You’d not be wrong in thinking from outside glance this would be a naff horror but it’s in fact so much better than that. A gem of war, thriller and gory zombie effects, this is a brain-splattering delight.

Come on over – ‘Overlord’

20 – WILDLIFE

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Paul Dano & Zoe Kazan create a thing of quiet beauty in this drama about family. The former calls the shots as debut director and this adaptation of a 1990 novel is stunning not to just to look at but to revel in the towering acting from Jake Gyllenhaal and Carey Mulligan. Scenic views, fraught relationships and a teen running home in the snow are tenderly accomplished.

Check out the ‘Wildlife’

19 – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI

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I’ve always enjoyed the writings of Irish playwright and ‘In Bruges’ commander Martin McDonagh, this angry tale of grief and, well anger is no exception. The mix of great comedy and uneasy darkness clouding over Ebbing are thickly coated but don’t outweigh Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand.

More of my musings – ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

18 – HEREDITARY

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Jinkies, this horror from Ari Aster is a chilling and terrifyingly effective narrative of family tensions. If you took out all the damned creepy moments then this would be a drama on grief and that only highlights the weirder, scarier qualities included by Aster. Toni Collette is absolutely fantastic in this.

Don’t click your tongue, lcckk – ‘Hereditary’

17 – WIDOWS

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Steve McQueen tackles the thriller genre but makes sure to keep his sturdy understanding of character to make this an investing movie, led by four strong women. The moments of heist drama are tense and the more politically angled aspects are wonderfully handled.

Mission: read my review. I’m sure you’ve got the balls to pull this off – ‘Widows’

16 – COCO

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Two Pixar releases for the UK in 2018 and both make my top 50, mostly because their animation is always so delectable but on top of this they’re a studio almost always capturing emotional and captivating stories. ‘Coco’ is no exception, this Day of the Dead inspired animation tugs on the heart strings and incorporates tingling music and colourful visuals.

 Don’t forget to click my review, Remember Me – ‘Coco’

15 – ASSASSINATION NATION

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This is 100% a movie which will split people, I can see why some will dislike the heck out of it but I positively loved the stuffing out of this bold, loud and violent film. It pops with trigger warnings of every nature and the feminine power of the above fearsome foursome are a force to be reckoned with as their town turns on them.

Reveal some more secrets – ‘Assassination Nation’

14 – ANNIHILATION 

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Shamefully Alex Garland’s recent sci-fi didn’t get to UK cinemas but it’s streaming on Netflix and is a sheer masterpiece of visuals and is also a movie which leaves you thinking. Headed by a brave team of females, this mix of science and horror is dreamy, ambiguous and downright superb.

Enter the Shimmer – ‘Annihilation’

13 – UPGRADE

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Rammed to the skies with inventive camera shots and pacy fight scenes, this adrenaline fuelled futuristic flick bursts out of the screen with entertaining energy. On top of this, it has flashes of humour, body-horror and stylish flair.

There’s no need to Upgrade to find my review – ‘Upgrade’

12 – A QUIET PLACE

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This film has magnificent levels of sustained threat, wince-inducing visuals of pain, smart uses of playing around with sound and Emily Blunt on top form as a pregnant wife caught up in a farmhouse of fear. John Krasinski becomes feature director for the first time and really gets to grips with the model of horror building making this one of the most effective cinema experiences I’ve ever been part of.

Ssssh, my review is over here – ‘A Quiet Place’

11 – THE BREADWINNER

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The creators behind ‘Song of the Sea’ have gifted the world another animated gem. This one is less fantastical though and this Middle-Eastern texture only makes the film a much more heart-felt trip, one that’s interspersed with yarns of magic but the plight of a girl stepping up and out to help her family is a powerful and outstanding watch.

My review for #11 is here – ‘The Breadwinner’

There we have it, those were my top 40 films of 2018 and now it’s time to reveal my faves of faves as I collect the big 10.

10 – SEARCHING

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John Cho leads a frenzied hunt for his missing daughter in a screen-set thriller that is anything but a cheap gimmick. The tension is palpable and the story is riveting, as it’s portrayed through calls, Facebook and other social media searches.

No need to search far as the review is here – ‘Searching’

9 – HALLOWEEN

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Michael Myers returned, swiftly and thankfully, slashing away all the sequels, letting this story follow on 40 years after what happened to Laurie Strode that fateful Halloween night. David Gordon Green shows he has a skill for the horror genre and the entire team clearly adore the original which is why this feels like a perfect chilling return to form for the Shape.

Don’t fear the Boogeyman – ‘Halloween’

8 – LADY BIRD

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Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a brilliant, humour filled coming of age story about mothers and daughters. There are great pangs of emotion and with perfect performances from Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf, you feel wrapped up in a comforting blanket watching this film.

It’s the titular role – ‘Lady Bird’

7 – HEARTS BEAT LOUD

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Well, here is a film that utterly bowled me over and completely surpassed my expectations for it being a generically mediocre Sundance indie. What this film is, is pure charm and sunshine, with Offerman and Clemons providing great music as a dad and his daughter. The songs are glorious and I’d be lying if I said I don’t listen to them almost constantly.

Don’t blink, my review isn’t a million miles away – ‘Hearts Beat Loud’

6 – BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

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I truly don’t care what some filmy types and critics have been saying about this film. I positively adored the majority of this foot-tapping, hand-clapping tale of Queen and its front man, the legendary Freddie Mercury, who is exquisitely played by Rami Malek. The film is fun and the music speaks for itself. A stadium sized biopic that will rock you.

You are the Champions if you give my review a read – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

5 – I, TONYA

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Margot Robbie steps onto the ice as Tonya Harding in this fresh and exciting visceral take on an ill-fated moment of Winter Olympics drama. Allison Janney is a great supporting feature as Harding’s mum and throughout we see a story presented in way that’s unreliable but entertaining, which makes the latter emotional moments that more resounding.

Get your skates on to the review – ‘I, Tonya’

4 – REVENGE

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This is a blood soaked film, one which side-steps away from the schlock way of vengeful flicks and becomes an engrossing thriller capably led by bad-ass Matilda Lutz. This is an explosive female led and directed movie from Coralie Fargeat which arrived in May and I haven’t forgotten about in the slightest.

My review won’t put up a fight – ‘Revenge’

3 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

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Snapping its fingers and claiming bronze, this is an epic comic-book celebration that I saw three times and didn’t tire with any minute of it. Unlike repeat viewings of ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Age of Ultron’, this is a blockbuster outing which grows better upon more watches. There’s the purple might of a superb villain, great visuals and a cracking conclusion to ten years of MCU building.

You don’t need to assemble any heroes to locate my review – ‘Infinity War’

2 – SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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Miles Morales swings into the hot spot of silver, in the only animation to feature on my top ten. This is not only one of the most sensational animations I’ve seen but one of the best films, full stop. The styles are incredible, the voice work is perfect and the story is just right for the Spider-Man world.

Sling yourself over to the review – ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’

1 – MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

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This is the sixth instalment in the M:I franchise and it is showing no signs of exhaustion, in fact quite the contrary, with action hero Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie again teaming up to make Ethan Hunt and his globe-trotting, ankle-breaking antics an exhilarating treat to see. The stunts are next level and knowing they are practically executed makes you appreciate the action that much more than a second rate movie filling in set pieces with CGI. Fallout is 100% the real deal and is one of the finest action films I’ve seen…ever.

My review won’t self destruct in 30 seconds – ‘Mission:Impossible – Fallout’

2018 Top Ten

Well, another year has gone by and it’s been a barnstorming year for cinema. From superheroes becoming dust and Black Panthers to a luxury Singapore wedding there’s been a boom in film from all walks of life. Also, it’s definitely been 365 days where the horror genre has stepped forward as an exciting one to watch…if you forget about ‘The Nun’. It seems that each year it gets tougher and tougher to whittle down a best of list and this year is no exception, so much so in fact that I just can’t leave some movies out so a Top 50 run will follow very soon…

So without further-ado, here is my countdown of my favourite ten movies to be released in UK cinemas from 2018:

10 – SEARCHING

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John Cho leads a frenzied hunt for his missing daughter in a screen-set thriller that is anything but a cheap gimmick. The tension is palpable and the story is riveting as it’s portrayed through calls, Facebook and other social media searches. No need to search for my review as it’s right here — ‘Searching’

9 – HALLOWEEN

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Michael Myers returned, swiftly and thankfully, slashing away all the sequels, letting this story follow on 40 years after what happened to Laurie Strode that fateful Halloween night. David Gordon Green shows he has a skill for the horror genre and the entire team clearly adore the original which is why this feels like a perfect chilling return to form for the Shape. Head down Haddonfield with my review — ‘Halloween’

8 – LADY BIRD

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Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut is a brilliant, humour filled coming of age story about mothers and daughters. There are great pangs of emotion and with perfect performances from Ronan and Metcalf, you feel wrapped up in a comforting blanket watching this film. My review — ‘Lady Bird’

7 – HEARTS BEAT LOUD

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Well, here is a film that bowled me over and completely surpassed my expectations for it being a generically mediocre Sundance indie. What this film is, is pure charm and sunshine, with Offerman and Clemons providing great music as a dad and his daughter. Check out my thoughts at Flickfeast — ‘Hearts Beat Loud’

6 – BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY 

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I truly do not care what some film fans and critics have been saying about this film. I positively adored the majority of this foot-tapping, hand-clapping tale of Queen and its front man, the legendary Freddie Mercury, who is exquisitely played by Rami Malek. The film is fun and the music speaks for itself. Rock on over to my review — ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

5 – I, TONYA 

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Margot Robbie steps onto the ice as Tonya Harding in this fresh and exciting visceral take on the wintry ice-skating scene. Allison Janney is a great supporting feature as Harding’s mum and throughout we see a story presented in way that’s unreliable but entertaining, which makes the latter emotional moments that more resounding. Skate on over to my review — ‘I, Tonya’

4 – REVENGE 

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This had been a blood soaked film sitting pretty in my top three up until the very last moment. It’s still no less fantastic, a film which escapes the schlock way of vengeful flicks and becomes an engrossing thriller capably led by bad-ass Lutz. This is an explosive female led and directed movie from May, that I haven’t forgotten about in the slightest. See my review — ‘Revenge’

3 – AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

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The spot most recently filled by ‘Revenge’ has snapped its fingers and shifted up a place, I mean, I saw it three times and didn’t tire with any minute of it, so it has to claim a bronze medal. Unlike repeat viewings of ‘Iron Man’ or ‘Age of Ultron’, this is a blockbuster outing which grows better upon more watches. There’s the might of a superb villain, great visuals and a cracking conclusion to ten years of MCU building. Further thoughts — ‘Infinity War’

2 – SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

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Miles Morales swings into the hot spot of second in the only animation to feature on my top ten. Yes, he’s fended off Pixar’s ‘Coco’ and the internet busting moves from ‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ because this is not only one of the most sensational animations I’ve seen but one of the best films, full stop. The styles are incredible, the voice work is perfect and the story is just right for the Spider-Man world. My review — ‘Spider-Verse’

So…they were my top 9. It’s time to unveil my all time favourite movie that I saw in 2018. A movie with grand stunts, great scope and a moustache to set the internet alight, yes here is my number 1 – 

MISSION:IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT

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This is the sixth instalment in the M:I franchise and it is showing no signs of exhaustion, in fact it’s quite the contrary, with action hero Tom Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie again teaming up to make Ethan Hunt and his globe-trotting, ankle-breaking antics an exhilarating treat to see. The stunts are next level and knowing that they are practically done makes you appreciate the action that much more than a second rate movie filling in set pieces with CGI. Fallout is 100% the real deal and is one of the finest action films I’ve seen…ever. My review if you choose to accept it — ‘Fallout’

Roma (2018)

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Hitting select cinemas and streaming worldwide over Netflix is this black and white diamond from Alfonso Cuaron. It’s a commanding and quietly fascinating story that speaks of class, family, conflict and love.

Cleo Gutierrez (Yalitza Aparicio) is a housemaid for a well off family and her time off is spent with fellow maids and her boyfriend. However when Cleo believes she’s pregnant her partner scarpers. As she continues looking after the children and chores she tries dealing with her impending due date.

Opening and closing on a worms eye view of a gliding plane overhead, this film feels like a smooth flight. Cuaron not only directs, but produces, writes and edits this film that he’s called a semi-autobiographical take on his own bringing up. The way he captures the story is fairly exquisite, with serenely tracking camera movements being the predominant feature of how we see this world.

‘Roma’ is a film that looks grand yet is a story that is contained and beautiful. The visuals of many extras and bustling Mexican streets either through well captured protests or classes in martial arts look amazing, they retain some calm engrossing quality that show how visuals can do the talking more than bundles of dialogue do. A beach scene in the Galaxie is mesmerising and tense and ends on a cinematic shot shown in the above poster that will doubtless be an iconic image for years to come.

The story itself may be simple but it’s sold by a fantastic performance from Aparicio, who has never had any form of drama training, furthering the proof that she’s a talent to keep an eye on. The way she almost mutely goes through this story is oddly powerful and you can feel, through her ordeals and duties, a very personal mood that must emanate from Alfonso Cuaron and his childhood.

This is a film that I definitely would have loved to have witnessed up on a big screen but in a way, ignoring all the grand framings that Cuaron has mastered, it is a narrative which suits the small screen, something you can really draw up close to and appreciate. There’s a calming spirit which flows with effortless glory throughout the movie and it goes to show what a force of good storytelling lies within the soul of Cuaron.

Though it might not be something I’d repeat watch in a rush, it’s a gorgeous piece of cinema that needs to be seen at least once.

7.5/10

Mary Poppins Returns (2018)

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It’s been 54 years since ‘Mary Poppins’ came out, so it’s definitely been a while in terms of sequel making. ‘Chicago’ and ‘Into the Woods’ director Rob Marshall in charge of this one, would the gap seem like a pleasant breeze or should it have been a one time only deal?

The Banks children; Michael and Jane (Ben Whishaw & Emily Mortimer) are 30 years older but with their father’s home on the line it seems the skies need to send down the witchy wisdom of Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt) once again. She is on hand to help Michael’s three children and with the assistance of lamplighter Jack (Lin-Manuel Miranda), a new generation of Banks’ will witness the brilliance of Mary.

The 1964 original is a bonafide classic and appears on UK televisions pretty much every seasonal opportunity, so there was no fear that Disney couldn’t pull in audiences with a sequel but does a new Mary capture the same fire? Almost is the answer. It takes a while to really get into the swing of things, even Mary’s arrival doesn’t kick-start the fun, once the characters crack on into the China bowl then the musical gets into its stride. The ending is fairly flat too, like a balloon flopping to the floor when you’d wish it’d soar but the middle is grand.

It can easily be seen that this movie is cashing in on the nostalgia appeal of which Disney is definitely not shy of lately; what with 3 House of Mouse remakes landing in 2019. This plot feels like it’s just hopping from song to song with a faint thread of banking troubles to link them all together, but smile past this and you’ve got a toe-tapping film which is enjoyable for the whole family.

‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is almost as sweet as the marmalade goodness and Britishness featured in the ‘Paddington’ films and what with Julie Walters playing virtually the same character and two Peruvian bears in the cast, it does feel like Disney are aiming for that charm just within the olde style of England and Poppins universe. There is a charm to be found but it doesn’t feel bold, it feels like it’s just leaning too heavily on what’s come before.

In terms of musical numbers they’re not exactly memorable ditties but they are alright in their own way. ‘Trip a Little Light Fantastic’ is the ‘Chim Chim Cher-ee’ of the movie but wonderfully dings with 1930’s BMXing and lamppost choreography instead of leaping sweepers. ‘The Royal Doulton Music Hall’ is a bouncy bop and ‘A Cover is Not the Book’ is the best song by a mile.

Those last two songs appear in the aforementioned China bowl sequence which is the highlight of the entire film. The production value throughout the movie is stellar but especially so in this part. The crockery world features 2D drawings and painted costuming as Mary, Jack and the 3 Banks’ find themselves surrounded by celebrating animated folk making for a marvellous section in the story.

Blunt is practically perfect in every way and brings the strict yet nonsense-making, magic mistress quality of Julie Andrews to life. She encapsulates the sheen of the film in its better moments. Lin-Manuel Miranda easily tackles the songs as you’d expect from Hamilton master; his tongue twisting storytelling in ‘A Cover is Not the Book’ is pure exhilaration to listen to, Miranda also busts some of his own moves as Bert 2.0 and manoeuvres around the Cockney twang as he pleases but is better than what Dick van Dyke did years ago. Speaking of which, his return is sublime and you can’t help but beam as he dusts off some dance steps. If only they hadn’t revealed his involvement, the appearance would have been an even finer cinematic moment. Meryl Streep and her Russian flavoured role is a hoot and filled with joy, it is a scene that mirrors ‘I Love to Laugh’ but it looks amazing and is catchy.

So whilst the fantastical journey of Mary Poppins’ homecoming isn’t overly magical, it’s saved by the talented duo of Blunt and Miranda.

7/10

 

 

Aquaman (2018)

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Sea-dwelling hero Aquaman has long been the butt of many a joke but with the DC franchise expanding and Jason Mamoa almost selling the character last year, could his first solo outing hush the laughter?

Born to Thomas Curry, an Earth-living lighthouse keeper and washed up Atlanna (Nicole Kidman), the Queen of Atlantis, is Arthur (Jason Momoa), a boy who discovers he can communicate with fish and after years of training he hones his watery powers. Under the seas, Orm (Patrick Wilson) is planning to war against the surface world for all the devastation they’ve caused him and his kind. Arthur is aided by Mera (Amber Heard) who helps him face who he is and who he could be if he returns to Atlantis to stop Orm.

Horror orchestrator James Wan has kick-started ‘Saw’ conjured up a franchise in ‘The Conjuring’, with one speedy blockbuster behind him, which was ‘Furious 7’, so it was definitely interesting to see if the genre director had it in him to make a great addition in the comic book movie world. Safely, it can be said that Wan does do a brilliant job with this sixth instalment in the DCEU. It seems that all the movies featuring just one of the main heroes work well but their universe falls apart when they unite.

What works for ‘Aquaman’ are the impressively epic visuals, the rest of the universe feels way too moody and gritty and gets lost by murky morals whereas this has the scope to explore great new places and Wan truly dives into the expedition of this characters home, with Don Burgess handling vivid and magnificent cinematography, it’s definitely the most colourful DC release yet.

In terms of story, the film doesn’t get to the best of starts. It’s sorely missing impact and the mix of Curry’s origin and the birth of another villain are fairly bog standard, uninteresting plots to follow. Gladly, once we and Aquaman enter the Kingdom of Atlantis the film gets better and more confident in its storytelling and style. Yes, there are still issues with the overall length of the movie, chunks of the plot are way predictable and cringey snippets of dialogue are more soaked through the film than it’s heavy CGI but the whole feature is just foolish fun.

It’s only really in the scenes set upon land that dampen the movie. A vengeful adversary who seems to be getting set up for more come the end of the film is never dark, exciting or captivating enough to face the hulking force of this half-breed hero. Again, the DC figures are so immense and indestructible that any clash of characters is losing a necessary jolt of immersion because you just sit back and know Aquaman will be fine. There is one great land-based clash though, Sicily is the location for this certain showdown and it’s mightily enjoyable to watch.

Momoa is the perfect Aquaman and fares much better with his blend of indifference, humour and growing heroism than he did in the weak ‘Justice League’. This new film has plenty of bad ass imagery and not many other actors could pull of the shot of riding an armoured seahorse, clad in yellow and green with his golden trident firmly in hand. Amber Heard is as fiery as the red hair which she rocks. Princess Mera is a strong and resourceful mistress of controlling water and even if she becomes the obvious and needless love interest, Heard holds her own in the number of fight scenes she’s part of. A great reason why the movie improves once immersed into Atlantis is because we see the plans and calculations of Orm, fantastically played by Wilson throughout the feature.

James Wan masters the ocean and gives the DCEU a welcome step in the right direction, so even if ‘Wonder Woman’ still reigns supreme, this comic book flick is entertaining and makes a substantial splash as worthy second place.

6.5/10

 

Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 (2018)

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Whilst Disney are retelling over their own classic material, it’s fair to say they aren’t adding many sequels to their films. Cue Ralph who smashes his way onto the big screen for a second time, the first Disney sequel in 7 years. Could this lumbering 8-bit character with good intentions capture the glorious magic again?

It’s been 6 years and Wreck-It Ralph (John C. Reilly) is still best buds with Sugar Rush driver Vanellope (Sarah Silverman). They spend all their downtime together but she’s feeling slightly bored in her duty, matters aren’t helped when her game breaks. So when WiFi arrives, Ralph and Vanellope venture into a limitless new land to try and save Sugar Rush but both discover their own meanings in the expanse of the world wide web.

When Ralph and co. rocked up back in 2012, it was a video game delight with neat little nods to old school arcade games and the emotional core between the strained pairing of the hulk-like titular character and his sweeter companion worked nicely. This film follows up by adding more to what we know of the place where Fix-It Felix, Pac-Man and the rest hang out, in fact it adds a humongous amount more. In a way this serves the film well in giving a large scope to riff on but at times it feels like the creators are so preoccupied with this massive environment that the heart is lost.

Directors Rich Moore and Phil Johnston hurl in a mass of references, whether game or internet based. Yes, the world wide web is a great platform to launch a new path for Ralph to travel down but it often has a vibe of shoving all its Easter eggs in one basket. The film is undoubtedly scattered with a stupendous run of playful background sightings and though it can detract from a better orchestrated narrative, there is joy to be had in the madness.

A mini Disney section is gleeful, mostly in the fun attempt to try and spot as many House of Mouse characters as possible. A princess slumber party scene is ace and it gives each doe eyed lass their own joke about the problems they have and face as Disney heroines. There are visual gags aplenty from their pyjama tops to outside Stormtroopers, Iron Man and a later princess sequence aided by powers and shifting musical cues is very enjoyable.

Amongst the sprawling carnage of an 80’s arcade figure exploring the likes of eBay, Pinterest and the Dark Web, there is this unshakeable feeling of it all being weird and that’s even before Alfred Molina slides in as some slug-like virus keeper. A surreal song and dance section, Miranda Sings and zany moments make you feel like you’re surfing the web with constant popups. The story was crafted by 5 people and sometimes it feels like the film is being tugged in all manner of directions. It would have benefited by having a proper villain and earlier introduced too.

The third act itself with a ‘King Kong’ inspired climax is underwhelming considering how big it all is and it’s a strange visual finale for a film about friendship and the pressures of insecurity, it makes sense but it goes overboard. Luckily the actual ending of the film with the main duo provides a touching moment as the journey reaches a conclusion you cannot help but get swept up by the candy sweet emotion, which is further enhanced by the fantastic vocals from Silverman and Reilly.

‘Ralph Breaks the Internet’ is jam packed with references of all kinds and it’s a film warranting a second watch in terms of catching all the detail that’s littered about. In terms of plot however, this isn’t special or really that different to what the first film had. Less is more and this film goes way entertainingly over the top in a visual feast for the eyes but less of a delectable treat in terms of storytelling.

7/10