The Shape of Water (2017)

shape of water poster

I’m a bit late to the game with this one, but at least I get to say “Yes, I know it won the Best Picture Oscar, but…”

I haven’t seen the other nominees, but I’m still finding it odd that this got the top honour. I mean, it’s a good movie, and there are layers to it, it looks amazing, and the performances are outstanding. But if I had to sum it up in one word, I’d have to go with “weird”.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a cleaner at a government research facility, and when they bring in a new ‘specimen’ (Doug Jones, once again under layers of aquatic prosthetics) she soon befriends the unfortunate creature. Tensions ratchet up when creepy project lead, Strickland (Michael Shannon), decides the research is going nowhere fast, and his preferred route forwards turns towards dissection.

The early 1960s time period setting works brilliantly here, adding in elements of Cold War paranoia, homophobia, racism, and dreadful sexism, all of which can be said to find parallels in the ‘alien’ treatment of the creature. Elisa’s muteness is also a fantastic device, allowing both the main characters to be completely silent while her friends – both from poorly-treated minorities at the time – give her voice. Not that she wholly needs it: the facial expressions and body language is a masterclass.

So, all good. But… well, hmm. I dunno, there was just something a little too bizarre to everything for me, I think, with a mix of elements that just seemed odd. In hindsight, yes I assume that no decision was made without due thought, but when you’re sitting at the start of a fantastical, cinematographically delicate, period-rich fairy tale, it was really really jolting to be left thinking, “Wait, was she really just masturbating in the bath – to an egg timer?!” o_O

I’m going to go with: yes, it’s a good film and very well worth the watch, but between the Academy Award and the rest of the hype, perhaps my expectations were just a bit too high. Still, what do I know – it did win Best Picture, after all!

Released: 14th February 2018
Viewed: 8th March 2018
Running time: 123 minutes
Rated: 15

My rating: 8/10


Black Panther (2018)

black panther poster

Superhero movies. Dumb and overdone, right? And yet, I’m growing increasingly convinced that it’s through these ‘silly’ movies that we’re seeing a shift in all sorts of cultural norms. Wonder Woman gave us our first female-led superhero movie, and now Black Panther is the first set in Africa, with an overwhelmingly black cast. Both show us (futuristic ideals based on) cultures not usually put on the big screen in movies like this, and both are massively better for it. Oh, and Black Panther is just a really very good blockbuster!

Following the death of his father, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) is about to be crowned King of Wakanda. Any opponent who might step forward is less of a challenge than the pressures to review Wakanda’s self-protectionist policy of hiding itself and its vastly superior technology away, disguised as a stereotypical third world farming culture. Is it time to show a better face to the world? And what if parts of that world are intent on breaking in?

One of the criticisms of Marvel movies has been the relatively weak villains and/or their motivations. This bucks that massively: the bad guys are nuanced, and not entirely wrong. The good guys sometimes do bad things. Choosing between a good leader and policies you believe in isn’t black and white (no pun intended). There’s actually a ton to come away and think about after you enjoy the battle rhino’s charge!!

BP balances well interpersonal and familial tensions with the expected OTT ass-kicking expected from a movie like this. The sci-fi elements are a ‘wow’, the cinematography is lush, and there’s enough snippets of humour that a movie like this needs. If I had any complaints it’s possibly over some of the accents, and a slight ‘hmm’ over the idea that a futuristic society is still doing challenge-by-combat – but hey, the Dora Milaje (female bodyguard squad) is utterly, utterly badass! 🙂

I sort of regret giving Wonder Woman as high a mark as I did – it’s culturally important, and blew me away for reasons other than a rather so-so storyline. BP on the other hand, has both: it’s culturally important AND well made AND a lot of fun. But hey: there’s plenty room for both, and here’s to all sorts of diversity showing up in future superhero – and other! – movies!

Released: 13th February 2018
Viewed: 21st February 2018
Running time: 134 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 9/10

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017)

jumanji poster

This sequel to Jumanji (1995) shakes things up a bit: the game itself takes the dismissive “who plays board games anymore?” to heart and evolves into a video game. And instead of releasing its dangers into the world, this time it’s going to suck its unwitting players into the heart of the jungle itself. And, perhaps my favourite alteration, once inside the game the four teenage leads are transformed into their character avatars, meaning we get The Rock, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, and Karen Gillan playing ‘teenagers’ trapped in very different bodies.

The laughs are mainly around this body-swap idea, with the scrawny geek now a muscle-bound fighting machine, the self-absorbed selfie queen finding herself now a tubby, middle-aged man (as shown in trailers), etc etc. There’s a hefty dollop of self-discovery to be had along the way, of course, as our team face myriad dangers and amusing video game tropes, like the NPCs with limited dialogue capabilities.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this, especially as I hadn’t been a big fan of the original. Losing the younger cast helped a lot, for me, and the adult actors are all pretty spot on. Even Kevin Hart, who annoyed me greatly in his last collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, Central Intelligence (2016), fits really well.

It’s far from perfect – oh, what is?! – but I was pleasantly surprised and found this to be amusing and fun. Recommended for a Sunday afternoon, or when you need a daft pick-me-up.

Released: 20th December 2017
Viewed: 17th February 2018
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7/10

When We First Met (2018)

when we first met poster

Noah (Adam Devine, Pitch Perfect) thinks he’s made a connection with Avery (Alexandra Daddario, Percy Jackson) after they meet at a party. Three years later, he’s still carrying a torch and wondering what went wrong as she celebrates her engagement to Ethan (Robbie Amell, The Flash). Drunk and bitter, he discovers something amazing: a photo booth that lets him travel back in time. Can he figure out his mistake, redo the whole evening, and create the perfect future?

This is a rather saccharine romcom version of The Butterfly Effect, with a time travel device that’s surely related to the aging wish-granter of Big. Noah tries again and again to alter his path to true love, and we’re shown most of the ways in which he gets it wrong along the way.

There’s nothing either surprising or objectionable to this, it’s just… fine. The cast are all pretty and/or bland, although the lead borders on irritating. There are a few laughs along the way, and exactly the message you’re expecting after about, oooh, reading the description 😉

So, while nothing special, if you have Netflix and nothing better to do for Valentine’s day, this isn’t the worst option. Probably 😉

Released: 9th February 2018 (Netflix)
Viewed: 10th February 2018
Running time: 97 minutes
Rated: 12

My rating: 5/10

The Death Cure (2018)

death cure poster

The story that began with The Maze Runner (2014) reaches its conclusion with the delayed (after an on-set accident) final part of the trilogy. Can Thomas finally escape from WCKD’s attentions? Can a cure for the deadly Flare virus be found before the whole world is turned into zombies? Can I remember much of anything about the previous movies, or in fact the books they are based on?

To be honest, I went to see this for lack of better options, and an excuse to try out the new 4DX screen at my local cinema – that’s the one where the seats throw you about, air puffs at your ears every time a bullet is shot, and the occasional weird scent is wafted at you. Hmm. Okay, it did add a certain something to the whole experience, but striping away that novelty, the film underneath was just a bit… so-so.

I was desperately unimpressed with the middle installment of the trilogy, The Scorch Trials (2015), so there was no way I was going to rewatch it for the plot reminder – although I possibly could have done with it. Still, there’s not vast amounts that you can’t pick up – Brenda must have been bitten at some point, for instance, and Minho captured. Thus we begin with a reasonably action-packed rescue scene. Get used to it: the original movie was about escape, the second all about running away from various things, and now we have the rescuing everyone repeatedly.

It’s not a bad movie. It’s not great, either, although it is an improvement on the previous film. The acting is reasonable, it’s been made well enough and has some interesting and effective visuals. Ultimately, though, I think the story underneath just isn’t as strong as it thinks it is.

Released: 26th January 2018
Viewed: 27th January 2018
Running time: 142 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6/10

Pitch Perfect 3 (2017)

pitch perfect 3 poster

Three years after graduating from Barden University, the former Bellas – the all-female, champion acapella group – are finding the real world less than perfect. Realising how exciting the prospect of a reunion is, they get themselves on a USO tour to entertain US troops abroad (although we’re talking Spain, Italy, and France, for some reason – I’d expected, y’know, warzones?). And just because there HAS to be a competition (a bit of an in-joke in the movie), the headlining DJ Khaled will be picking his favourite from the tour performers to open for his own act.

But can the Bellas compete against actual bands with actual instruments? Will Aubrey ever get her dad to a performance? What about Fat Amy’s dad and his shady past (not to mention very dodgy accent!)?

The reviews for PP3 were less than glowing, but I love the original movie – it’s one of my go-to feel-good movies. The sequel was a bit missable, imo, and I found the new ‘Legacy’ character annoying (also an in-joke on screen here), so my own expectations for part 3 were pretty low.

Thankfully, I was proved wrong: this is a lot of daft fun! There’s a slightly different vibe going on as the group have grown up – okay, still 90% singing, but instead of romance and struggling to find jobs, we get a ‘success at college isn’t life success’ message – just before the stakes are turned up to involve kidnapping, armed combat, and explosions! 🙂

So yes, very silly, but I really enjoyed it. I think it’s better than the middle instalment, if not quite hitting the sheer joy of the original. There’s also a bit of a finality to the tone here, which adds an unexpected tiny dash of poignancy – or, it’s just out and out slapstick, take your pick! 🙂

Released: 20th December 2017
Viewed: 13th January 2018
Running time: 93 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 6.5/10

The Greatest Showman (2017)

greatest showman poster

There’s nothing like a rousing, feel-good musical to kick off a year’s cinema – and this is absolutely that!

It’s perhaps a little odd, given the subject matter: the real PT Barnum was a lot less ‘nice’ than portrayed here. While that might kick up some controversy, I say: keep in mind that this is fiction, a story to entertain and uplift, and don’t take it as truth just because of the inspiration.

That said, the basic facts are all real enough, if much mixed up in timelines and intentions. ‘Inventor’ of showbusiness, Phineas Taylor Barnum, did indeed start a circus of ‘freaks’, and he did finance a tour for a singer he had never actually heard sing. The rest perhaps owes more to providing a fulfilling story than reality, but hey: this is showbusiness!

Hugh Jackman might be best known for playing Wolverine, but his heart clearly lies on the stage, belting his lungs out (see also: Les Miserables (2012) and Oklahoma! (1999)). He was made for this role, really, and I thought he shone in it. The rest of the cast also seems – thankfully! – picked for strong singing abilities: no Pierce Brosnan moments here 😉

Ah, the music! The bulk of the movie is spoken, with regular show song moments. The song used in the trailer, This is Me, has been stuck in my head for absolutely months. It’s a belter of a tune, and a perfect summing up of the core message: that those marginalised by society can and should stand up for themselves. While that was the standout track for me, several other songs were close and only a couple were a little unmemorable.

Overall, I absolutely loved this film. It absolutely shines with heart, and is possibly the best musical we’ve been treated to in years, avoiding the pitfalls of so many others: it’s more feel-good (if a little more predictable) than La La Land, better performed than Mamma Mia!, and the story works perfectly, unlike Into the Woods. So, finally – look out, here it comes! 🙂

Released: 26th December 2017
Viewed: 2nd January 2018
Running time: 105 minutes
Rated: PG

My rating: 9/10