Mission: Impossible – Fallout (2018)

As robust and practical an action movie as there ever was. Fallout takes a second to ease into once you realise that, oh wait, you need to actually remember what happened in the last instalment this time around, but it soon makes you comfortable with its non-stop assault of gorgeous set-pieces anchored by Cruise’s ever-reliable charisma and dedication. This movie is like a swiss watch. You can practically hear every shot clicking into place with each cut, like a tiny bit of the machine slotting into place to keep the cogs spinning. Even with something as rudimentary as establishing shots, McQuarrie goes that extra mile to make them sing. All the wide open vistas here look like stunning IMAX postcards, huge snapshots of tranquility and architecture about to be lit up by that Mission: Impossible fuse.

These movies have assembled such a terrific supporting cast by this point that you practically yelp with excitement once a familiar face pops up (Alec Baldwin! Rebecca Ferguson! Simon Pegg! Ving Rhames! Sean Harris! Michelle Monaghan!) and the new additions here, Vanessa Kirby, Angela Bassett, are no different. Special shout-out to Henry Cavill though for absolutely tearing up his supporting role with one of the most memorable popcorn performances I’ve seen all year. His clobbering boots, square frame and thick moustache cuts one hell of an iconic blockbuster silhouette. I’m in the bag for any extended Point Blank reference though so I was all in from his first frame. Love it.

One of the most exciting and exhilarating moviegoing experiences I had in 2018 which, thankfully, still kicks ass on home rewatches. I want Tom Cruise to keep making these until the day he dies, which clearly will never come.

Watched on blu-ray.

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Cam (2018)

Even wrapped up in a potentially problematic genre framework, Cam avoids the pitfalls that weaker films about this subject matter would fall into and succeeds as a thoroughly entertaining and effective invasion shocker.

Madeline Brewer’s performance is great, managing to exude the extreme confidence and vulnerability the movie demands of her. It’s a tricky role; not only does she have to convincingly exhibit her sexuality, but also constantly react to screens and technology with varying degrees of engagement and distress. As a result, there are extended periods of Cam where you’re just enjoying watching Brewer navigate the material.

Writer Isa Mazzei is an ex-cam girl herself and the movie is greatly deepened by her experience. There are clearly moments Mazzei lived herself, and the film’s autobiographical edge is ever present, even when it gives way to the film’s more extreme genre impulses. As a result, Cam works as both a metaphorical horror movie about the malleable concept of identity in today’s internet age, as well as a fascinating delve into an online world and community that contemporary mainstream cinema is usually too judgemental or prudish to tackle. One of the great surprises of the year.

Watched on Netflix.

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Tideland (2005)

The deranged lovechild of Lewis Carroll, GummoNekromantik and Malick nobody asked for. Endlessly icky and puzzling but one of those hard Gilliam tonal swings you wouldn’t want to be without. The mix of innocence and perversion soon becomes tiresome but there are bizzaro/subversive images throughout so audacious that you’ll repeatedly wonder how the hell this got made. A childlike nightmare thats kind of wonderful to wince through.

Watched on Arrow blu-ray.

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The Exorcist III (1990)

This is genuinely creepy in parts and works better as a companion to Blatty’s own The Ninth Configuration rather than a second sequel to The Exorcist, but it’s not a bad one of those either. George C. Scott delivers an angry, blustering performance – the kind the latter half of his career was defined by it seems – in a film dominated by grizzled or shaggy old men. It makes you realise this type of studio-funded horror flick with major franchise branding is pretty much dead now. Could you imagine a Purge or Conjuring sequel primarily headlined by actors over 50? Hell no. The Exorcist always lent itself to more world-worn faces though – mid to late-life crisis of faith and all that – but I do wish this kind of casting made a return to genre filmmaking.

Elsewhere you’ve got a loopy Brad Dourif performance, which is always worth a punt and a load of theatrical lighting and camerawork. Blatty didn’t make that many movies but he was a pretty accomplished stylist, much more than a novelist turned filmmaker reputation would suggest. The infamous hospital corridor sequence here is so expertly staged that it has become the film’s biggest selling point for sequel cynics. Wether watching out of context on youtube or within the film itself, that jump scare is seriously major.

Note: I watched the original version and not the re-assembled Legion cut. Even in apparently compromised form this works. I look forward to checking out Blatty’s preferred cut upon the inevitable rewatch.

Watched on blu-ray.

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An Evening with Beverly Luff Linn (2018)

It’s definitely fun to see Jim “Greasy Strangler” Hosking graduate into a bigger budget tier, allowing him to cast a roster of impressive top-level Hollywood comedy players while still retaining his distinctive brand of cinematic what-the-fuckery. The relentlessly forced weirdness doesn’t always work for me – sometimes it’s downright painful to get through, akin to a film applying a John Waters instagram filter rather than conjuring the real thing, too slick, too manufactured – but I admire filmmakers this dedicated to their own bizzaro muse, laughing in the face of bad taste and better judgment in order to generate humour only they might find funny. Everyone in Beverly Luff Linn is so willing to go wherever the film takes them, even if it’s completely off the deep end, and that’s always thrilling to see.

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Blindspotting (2018)

For better or worse Blindspotting is a film totally energised by the pulse of unrest in today’s America. White cops shooting unarmed black men, gentrification, racial tensions at breaking point, shifting social attitudes and the air of political claustrophobia are all threaded into the film’s swift and urgent 90 minute runtime. For these characters, there’s a feeling that there’s nowhere left to turn. Conflict is everywhere. The world is burning. The question is, are you going to simply fan the flames or try to create something new from the ashes?

Written by and starring Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, both actors feel like revelations. Not since Good Will Hunting have two leading actors taken creative control of their destinies with such a firm grasp; writing themselves parts they know they deserve, generating a piece of material they can be proud of. And like Good Will Hunting, which was directed by Gus Van Sant but is primarily regarded as the creation of its young actor/writers, Blindspotting will be seen as the work of Diggs and Casal. Which isn’t to say nothing of Carlos López Estrada’s direction, which is flashy, stylish and always in service of the film’s constant forward momentum and careful character beats alike.

Diggs and Casal’s fearlessness in engaging with timely political subjects reminded me a lot of Spike Lee’s early work. Not just in the anger and confidence, but in how passionate and committed to its stance it is. There are creative swings here, in performance and structure, which might derail the film for some, but they are so sincere and extraordinarily bold – even in the face of potential ridicule – that I was constantly on the film’s audacious wavelength. Few films surprised and caught me off guard with their artistic gambits in 2018 as much as this one.

Blindspotting is a shout of anger, a plead for understanding and a call to arms all at the same time. Yet, for all its confrontational furore and brazen topicality, it’s also supremely entertaining and watchable – an impressive tightrope act it shares with Lee’s Do the Right Thing, still the high watermark for films of this kind. It’s tricky to gauge how films like this will stand the test of time, but, if nothing else, it’s an exemplary insight into, and document of, the various types of turmoil experienced by many Americans in 2018.

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In Fabric (2019)

The first half of this is Peter Strickland at his best. An aesthetic to die for, dizzyingly controlled, deliciously odd, deranged humour. Phrases like “transformation sphere”, “artery red” all pop out at you. Amazing to see Secrets & Lies‘ Marianne Jean-Baptiste given such a gift of a part. All the actors here are so fucking good. Fatma Mohamed is the entire film personified. Is she literally playing a mannequin with a pulse? I could just bathe in this style and universe for hours. Wow.

The second half is….well, different. It’s so unlike anything Strickland has made before, the preceding hour especially, to such a degree that you maybe suspect this covert anthology film is the work of two directors and not one. It’s looser, sillier, cruder. The transition didn’t sit well with me but I was constantly in awe of Strickland’s audacity to stage such a drastic change of pace and tone. It’s a choice alright. Looking forward to revisiting this upon its proper release next year. I suspect the audience will be as drastically divided as the two segments that make up the film. Can’t wait for the conversations.

Watched at Leeds International Film Festival

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Widows (2018)

McQueen had me from the first frame. Seen a lot of people wishing this was more fun – which I get – but in what world was this ever going to be Steve McQueen’s Ocean’s 8? It’s based on an 80s BBC drama for crying out loud. I came for the stoic faces, formal control and awesome cast, wasn’t really expecting a good time but it does pulsate with a steady, white-knuckle fatality that I found extremely gripping.

As to be expected with McQueen, the instances where it engages with race and politics head-on can be a little shaky – the cop scene is too much, the extended take mounted on the car exterior is stellar overt symbolism – but the fact it’s willing to engage with these topics at all is admirable. I like that this feels more like a blunt instrument than a scatter gun. It’s tough, but the women headlining the cast – Davis, Debecki, Rodriguez, Erivo – command the screen. Matt Lynch compared this to the work of Jack Hill and that’s right on the money. Easily my favourite McQueen since Hunger.

Watched at the cinema.

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Madeline’s Madeline (2018)

“You’re going to tell the story of the inside of her brain?”

Best categorised as a film of the mind, Madeline’s Madeline hypnotises you with its smeared imagery and swirling editing, evoking the feeling of a waking dream rather than anchoring you to a traditional narrative. Josephine Decker has conjured a film of such unconscious beauty and lyricism, it feels alive in your hands – film as wet clay, the possibilities seem endless. Her trademark affinity for strange POV’s electrifies the entire film. At various points the camera wanders away from its main focus, finding life on the fringes of the frame. We see the city at night, all the lights smudged together like an oil painting in a downpour of rain (or tears) or catch momentary glimpses of lives on the periphery. These seemingly improvisatory flourishes stem from the film’s focus on performance.

At the centre of it all is an attempt to stage a piece of theatre, less a play than the depiction of a certain headspace mounted on a stage. The trio of central performances from Helena Howard, Miranda July and Molly Parker are exceptional, so alive and thoroughly contained by Decker. These aren’t the kind of great performances that overshadow a film, where praise on the actors exceeds praise of the overall work, but rather performances that enhance and electrify the whole into totality. Decker controls so many shades here – beautiful and strange one minute, sickening and mad the other – that her film resembles a great magic trick. I don’t know how she and her collaborators did it, but I don’t want to know either. Extraordinary.

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Snatch (2002)

Probably the definitive distillation of Guy Ritchie’s brand. Overly stylish and cocky yet totally controlled and entertaining. The attempt at zingy dialogue is certainly too clever for its own good but Ritchie does have an ear for rhythm. The constant repetitions and “to me to you” banter filtered through the variety of accents lends the whole film a musicality which I enjoy, though I can see why it might grate on many. This is definitely a film full of characters who are no more than the sum of their quirks and colourful monikers. Richie wants you to walk out of his movies and think back to characters like Bullet Tooth Tony, Frankie Four Fingers, Boris the Blade and Brick Top and go, that guy, he sure is a character! It helps that all the actors are on the same page and make a meal out of Richie’s universe.

Being British, born in the 90s and growing up through the 2000s, watching Snatch and quoting it endlessly was a real rite of passage but I always preferred Lock Stock. Maybe because it was more of the underdog. As time has gone by, however, I’ve come to appreciate Snatch as the better film that still holds up through the lens of its endless imitators. Watching this after many years away was like triggering some kind of dormant muscle memory. I’d love to see Richie return to this world again but I suspect the polished grime and punkish energy of his early films has been completely scrubbed from under his fingernails in favour of studio fireworks. Never thought this would be a film I’d remember fondly in 2018 yet here we are

Watched on blu-ray.

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