Olivia’s 20 Best Films of 2018

Is there anything worth saying for a feature of this nature that hasn’t been said already? You’ll get your critically acclaimed style lists, full of movies you haven’t heard of, and then you’ll get the ones fuelled solely by fun: so, why not have half and half as Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96) takes you down the best films of the year?

20. Venom

Venom was one of the most enjoyable experiences I had both in the cinema and online in 2018. It’s also not a good movie. I made that clear in my review of it earlier in the year. The pacing is all over the place, it’s filled with early 2000’s comic book edginess and Tom Hardy spends the entire film looking like he slept in his car. But I genuinely can’t deny the immense amount of joy Venom brought me this year.

From the endless memes, thirst for the alien sludge tongue (and the immense amounts of porn that name of it), Tom Hardy’s entire performance of just doing weird shit for the sake of it, the way in which it could be easily read as a rom-com between a journalistic human disaster and a sentient pile of alien goo, Venom is the pure definition of just kicking back and having a good-natured riff. What helps is despite the endless story, character and tone problems, there’s very little cynicism to Venom. In being produced by a studio that obviously had no faith in it, there was a real sense of just going for broke and hoping it would survive.

And it worked – in spite of the reviews, Venom turned out to be a surprise hit and most people I’ve seen who like it do so for the same reasons as me. It’s stupid, campy, it has Tom Hardy being the absolute most and it’s strangely endearing in spite of itself. I can’t say it’s on the list as a genuinely good film but I’d be remiss not to give a mention to a film that genuinely brought me joy this year, even for unintended reasons. It may be some turd in the wind trash but it’s my turd in the wind trash.


19. Annihilation 

Believe it or not, I’m actually a huge sci-fi fan. Honestly, I’d put it up there as one of my favourite genres. However, when it comes to the sci-fi that grabs me, I usually find myself much more on the philosophical side of asking questions about the nature of our lives instead of detailed explorations of lore, character or world-building. So, I’m less of a Doctor Who or Star Trek fan and a bigger fan of sci-fi films that ask more questions than they do answer them.

Annihilation was that film this year. Taking a simple concept to explore multiple facets of ecology and human reflection, Annihilation is an intelligent, bold and frustratingly intriguing watch. The ending particularly leaves the viewer thinking long after the credits roll and I hugely respect its restraint in not talking down to its audience by explaining what and how you are supposed to feel at all times. One of the more underrated releases this year but definitely the pick for viewers hungry for some brain food.


18. Halloween (2018)

When it comes to Halloween sequels, Halloween (2018) really didn’t have a high standard to live up to. While some people have a soft spot for Halloween II and III, it’s generally agreed that none of the other films in the franchise touch the subtle magic of the original. Until this sequel, which gave us a genuinely great Halloween movie with Michael Myers and Laurie Strode back on top form. It makes enough call-backs to the original to not seem gimmicky and the visuals are striking with a great comeback performance by Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s the sequel fans were truly waiting for.


17. Deadpool 2 

While it has some writing issues and some things that could’ve been reworked, I thoroughly enjoyed Deadpool 2 more than the first. Since Deadpool’s origin story is now out of the way, the sequel gives the chance to do more with his interactions with other characters and it succeeds for the most part.

The jokes are funny, the queer-coding has been upped with many of the characters (our prayers of Negasonic Teenage Warhead getting a girlfriend came true. If only she got more screen-time), the new characters are all fun and memorable and the dramatic moments hit closer to home than the first one for me. Add in a great soundtrack and Deadpool 2 is a thoroughly satisfying trip to the movies.


16. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

As I progress in film studies, I learn more and more that trying to define film in technical terms and tropes is not only obnoxious but counterproductive to how we judge what films have merit and which don’t. For as much as film geeks (speaking as one) love to pretend they have refined tastes and their favourite films are a list of “important” Hitchcock and Tarantino films with a special mention to whichever indie director is being racist this month, film is a visual and personal medium and we have no way of knowing what will personally affect us. As Marie Kondo said; if something sparks joy, it has inherent value. Sometimes we don’t need a long, intellectual explanation of whether a film is “objectively” good or not and the reason for liking it can simply be “it makes me happy”.

This is a convoluted way of saying I had a blast with Mamma Mia, Here We Go Again!. I squealed when Cher showed up for no reason, I enjoyed the cheesy covers of lesser-known ABBA songs, I loved the beautiful Greek landscape, I loved Lily James and the sex-positive, female-centric aspect of the story (even if there’s more than enough continuity errors from the first film) and it’s surprisingly heartfelt ending. It’s dumb, cheesy, silly and fun and I was unabashed in my enjoyment of every minute.


15. They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead

I love films about films. Whether it’s a ‘based on a true story’ adaptation such as Saving Mr. Banks or The Disaster Artist, or documentaries about the life and work of actors/directors working on iconic or infamous films that even they didn’t know would hold such influence, I adore learning about the creative process. My love for film goes beyond what is just on the screen and finding out about the lives and trials of directors and actors throughout is every bit as fun for me as enjoying the art itself.

They’ll Love Me When I’m Dead explores the bibliography of Orson Welles, argued by many to be one of the greatest directors who ever lived. However, as the title indicates, he was only truly thought of as such following his death. While everyone around him argued Citizen Kane was the greatest film ever made (much to his amusement as he didn’t think much of it) Welles maneuvered the world of cinema with a wry humorous cynicism, willing to break the rules and conventions of film-making and producing work that was lambasted at the time and now regarded as some of the finest innovative cinema ever produced. This film is a wonderful look back on one of the true pioneers of the artistic merit of film.


14. Love, Simon

Love, Simon was ground-breaking for a number of reasons and as I revisit it, I find myself appreciating it more and more. While the plot and style of acting are intentionally over the top in accordance with 2010’s teen comedies, the anxiety and isolation felt by Simon as he struggles to come out to both himself and the people around him is treated seriously and sensitively. Some actors are little too over the top (the head teacher in particular tries to be hip with the kids and talks in a way no head teacher has ever spoken), a few scenes are fairly awkward and Logan Miller’s performance of an intentionally annoying character really makes you want to strangle him, which is probably the sign of a job well done but it doesn’t make the character any more pleasant.

But the core of the story about Simon’s relationships and his terror at everything changing once he comes out makes it stand out from other films of the type. The plot of two teens writing to each other having no idea who the other is a concept that can and has been done with heterosexual couples and films targeted towards teens but the film addresses that these experiences of crushes and not knowing the identity of who you’re crushing on takes on a specific fear for LGBTA+ teenagers. Simon has good parents, nice friends (somewhat) and some people would question why he would feel so trapped about his sexuality. But this is a fear that many LGBTA+ people (myself included) face constantly in our relationships: you could have the most progressive, loving parents and friends possible and there will still always be that corner of raw doubt and fear in the back of your mind. There’s a wonderful scene between Simon and his mother once he is at his lowest point and the words she gives him are the exact words any good parent should give their child in the situation.

It may unfortunately not be the reality for many LGBTA+ people but it’s a perfect example of how things should be. It’s an appreciation for the risk Love, Simon truly was as the first teen gay romantic comedy backed by a major studio. For as much as many like to pretend that LGBTA+ people and teenagers are more accepted now than they have been in the past, the fact remains that many films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships are often independent projects, as many big-name studios are unwilling to risk a large investment in films focusing on LGBTA+ relationships due to the risk of financial loss from casual homophobes (who unfortunately are a large demographic). Additionally, when they are made, many will often receive a higher age rating than a film with the same content focusing on a heterosexual couple. For a film about a gay teenager who is struggling with coming out to explore the anxieties related to it, getting a happy ending with a fairy-tale kiss that isn’t censored or implied and being rated as appropriate for the teenagers it’s targeting is ground-breaking and should be seen as such.


13. The Shape of Water

One of the things I love about Guillermo del Toro’s work is how he tends to have one foot in cold, harsh reality and the other in pure fairy-tale fantasy when making his films. Pan’s Labyrinth was the clearest example of this, with the Alice in Wonderland inspired story taking place against the brutal backdrop of the Spanish Civil war.

However, while Del Toro showcases both the beautiful and the brutal sides of human nature in The Shape of Water, his unabashed romanticism and love of fairy-tale logic and story-telling combines with his compassion for those outcasted by society, especially in 1950s Cold War-era America. The relationship in the film is a metaphorical statement made literal, showing the love that many outcasts hold in their heart. It takes the harshness of its setting and shows it in all its ugliness, just to completely reject it. It is his most personal film to date and also one of his best.


12. Black Panther 

Two big Marvel movies this year seem to have audiences spilt down the middle; most people I meet seem to like both but seem to love one while thinking the other was just okay. For some, Black Panther is the best Marvel film of the year and Infinity War is just okay; for others, Infinity War was the film they’d always been waiting for and Black Panther was just another good entry into the Marvel hero canon.

I find myself in the former camp; while I do think Infinity War is a good film, I find more things about it that irritate me the more I think about it whereas Black Panther is just as good the next time as it is the first. The characters are well-drawn and some of the most complex and likable in the MCU so far. While dues are rightfully given to Michael B Jorden’s amazing performance as Killmonger, I also think Chadwick Boseman’s performance of T’Challa’s thematic and emotional arc throughout is more interesting than many fans give it credit for. And of course, Shuri is wonderful. Infinity War is undoubtedly the more ambitious film but I also feel it is more flawed by comparison, while Black Panther utilises its isolated conflict to create more a more satisfying and complete film overall.


11. Paddington 2 

Paddington 2 is so unabashed in how genuine and sweet it is, I could swear I felt my teeth falling out at the end. It doesn’t have one hint of cynicism and its simplicity in just making the title character the most likable bear ever seen on screen is enough to melt the stoniest of us. Every actor’s dedication to the quaint and sweet tone the film sets completely sells it. It’s just a lovely film.


10. The Happy Prince

I adore Oscar Wilde and I’ll admit, a lot of reason for this film being on the list is through emotional attachment rather than the logistics or technical aspects of the film. However, I can’t imagine anything that could be truer to his spirit than choosing with your heart rather than your head. Named after his famously sombre fairy tale, The Happy Prince tells the story of Oscar Wilde’s life after the scandal that destroyed his career and eventually his life.

Being his first film as well as playing the title role, this is clearly a personal passion project for Rupert Everett. There are many roles actors can take that can be seen as a blatant Oscar grab, especially if they are a long-respected veteran who haven’t won one yet (Gary Oldman as Churchill in Darkest Hour and Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady are the first to my mind). However, Everett combines the subtle pain with the natural flamboyancy that Wilde was known for as an unabashed and poetic romanticist with a wonderfully forward outlook on life and love, which the world around him cruelly rejected. He was also imperfect. He was selfish, frivolous and frequently took advantage of his friends. But the film consistently highlights that some of his more selfish actions may not have been necessary if he hadn’t lived in the time he did and even respected artists of the time were not immune to the prejudices of his society (if anything, they were heightened due to the public disgrace).

There’s a great line in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water (featured above) in which one of the character’s remarks to the Asset “sometimes I think I was born too early or too late for my life”. This line sums up the sheer unfairness of how Oscar Wilde spent his final days and the film highlights the tragedy of Wilde being a prime example of a man born in the wrong time.


9. I Tonya

I’ve always felt Margot Robbie was underrated. Even when the projects she’s in tend to be utter garbage (hello, Suicide Squad), she is usually a bright spot in whatever she stars in and I was waiting for a film that would allow her to show off her range. I, Tonya is that film and I still say she absolutely deserved a best actress nomination for it. There were parts of this film that reminded me of Charlize Theron’s performance in Monster (2002), in which she loses herself so much in the character you forget you’re watching a performance. The rest of the actors are all great, with main players Sebastian Stan and Allison Janney also giving standout performances.

The film ingeniously uses transcript interviews from the real Tonya Harding and her associates, many of which contradict each other, leaving it up to the viewer who to believe and how much of each character you can believe. Instead of demonising or sympathising with Tonya, the film instead smartly asks you to draw your own conclusions, with a fair bit of dark humour thrown in.


8. Won’t You Be My Neighbour

I didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers as a kid. While I was a devotee of many an American children’s show such as Sesame Street and Arthur, being a UK kid largely meant most of my exposure to Mister Rogers came through the internet. I knew he was a kids show host from the 1960s and was intensely beloved by all who grew up with him. His catchphrase “Won’t you be my neighbour” is the title of this one-and-a-half-hour documentary regarding his legacy as the host of one of the longest running children’s shows on PBS Mister Rogers Neighbourhood.

Like other icons such as Bob Ross or Steve Irwin, it seems radical at the time and nowadays for a single person to be so unflinchingly kind yet stoutly progressive. The film covers an incredible moment in television history in which he not only saved funding for public children’s television in front of the US Senate Subcommittee, his words are so powerful the Committee head doubles the amount of funding being cut. His argument that the ethics of kindness and teaching children that their emotions are valid and important is ingrained into the philosophy of how he lived and taught in his life. It’s hard to believe he was every bit as kind when the cameras were turned off but every acquaintance and friend he made testifies as such.

His concern was that children were emotionally intelligent and observant and deserved to be treated as such and the impression he left on the people he grew up with is undeniable. As someone who didn’t grow up with Mister Rogers, I’m not ashamed to say I sniffed and cried almost all the way through.  


7. Blackkklansman

BlacKKKlansman ties with I, Tonya for being the most well-acted docu-drama of the year. John David Washington and Adam Driver have incredible chemistry in this hard-hitting story that’s so implausible, it’d be impossible to believe if it wasn’t true. Spike Lee has never been one for subtlety but in this day and age, that approach is necessary to convey the parallels of 1970s race relations to modern day, showing how much has changed and how much has not changed while also being engaging as a straight-up great buddy-cop film.

While the film may have comedic moments of just the sheer absurdity of the situation, the story of African-American police officer Ron Stallworth’s infiltration of the Ku Klux Klan hits hard in its depiction of true events and real mind-sets with an ending that left the cinema I was in so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.


6. Overlord

Few movies captured the mood of the year better than Overlord. In the year of rising political tensions and fascism back on the rise, the catharsis of this bombastic, insane gore-fest can’t be overstated. Overlord is the prime example of taking an insane B-movie concept of an American soldier squad going up against mutated Nazi superhuman zombies and running to the moon and back with it, resulting in what can only be described as Inglorious Basterds on acid. It’s gross, disturbing and ridiculously fun, with all the Nazi killing you could ever want. What else do you need in a film?


5. Widows

If there was a list for best cast in a film this year, Widows would be at the top. With performances from acting powerhouses at the top of their game such as Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Daniel Kaluuya and Elizabeth Debicki, Widows is a poetically shot and soberingly empowering film with some of the most well-developed and realised protagonists in any film this year.

Steve McQueen is one of the most uncompromising story-tellers working in directing today and his empathy in which he writes his characters elevates them from a simple heist movie. It’s slick, stylish and a testament to the strength of its cast.


4. Mandy

It’s been a surprisingly good year for Nicholas Cage. From his campy yet dramatic performance in the dark comedy Mom and Dad to the pitch-perfect casting of him as Spider Noir from Into the Spider-Verse, his reputation for saying yes to every script he’s offered finally seems to be turning out some good material and Mandy is arguably his best film in years.

Marrying intense emotion and horror with ridiculous bombast, Mandy gives Cage the perfect bonkers premise to really show off his range. Visually, it was one of the most appealing films of the year for me (I’m a sucker for that surreal neon grindhouse aesthetic) and topping it off with a dueling chainsaw is the perfect formula to have me grinning like an idiot the whole way through.


3. Hereditary 

Hereditary is one big gasp of ‘holy shit!’ all the way through. While an excellent film as a whole, the first half is undeniably stronger than the second. I feel the second half could have kept a few more answers in the dark instead feeling the need to explain nearly everything in a rush, as if afraid the audience would have been angry with a more ambiguous conclusion. But it’s still a good second half coming off of an incredible first half. While the latter half is horrific in a more conventional sense (though no less shocking), the first half of Hereditary is horror characterised as a howl of pure despair.

I’ve rarely been so uncomfortable and so upset simply watching a scene of a family eating dinner in silence, knowing the circumstances surrounding it. Hereditary forces you into a purely empathetic state with its characters, with many of their actions and words that would cast them as irredeemable in any other film coming with an understanding of the raw emotional pain every single character is going through under the circumstances. There’s no escaping the confrontation of what happens to them and the intensity of facing these ugly, horrific thoughts and emotions made for some of the best acting in Toni Collette’s career.

Save for my number one pick, it was probably the rawest and visceral experience I had in the cinema in 2018.


2. Into The Spider-Verse

Hands down the best-animated film of the year. What fascinates me about Into the Spider-Verse film is how little I can find wrong with it. One way to identify a successful film is looking at what it aims to achieve and how it accomplishes what it sets out to do. This doesn’t always mean the film is good or pleasant (the majority of early 2000s gross-out comedies aim to disgust and alienate the audience and they succeed. This doesn’t mean they are good films). But considering Into the Spider-Verse aims to adapt a large amount of characters and their universes through the use of multiple animation techniques to create a layered experience, it’s incredible how well they are adapted.

The film manages to tell the story of Miles Morales, keeping the focus on him and having him as the perfect vessel to explore the concept of multiple universes, each with their own spider superhero. Each spider incarnation is so likeable and charming and the animation corresponds with each of their characteristics perfectly. It’s so bright, creative, colourful and fun and easily the best Spiderman film, which is surprisingly a high bar now considering Tom Holland’s excellent reimagining of the character in Spiderman: Homecoming. But Into the Spider-Verse just gets everything right and accomplishes everything it sets out to do, which qualifies it for one of the best films of the year in my book.


1. Suspiria 

There’s a saying that the mark of an impactful film is one that doesn’t leave your mind long after the credits roll. Notably ‘impactful’ doesn’t always translate to good (I couldn’t stop thinking about The Greatest Showman when I saw it but that was more thinking about every single thing wrong with it and how frustrating it was) but it leaves a deep mark on your brain, an impression in long sea of everything you watched in the year. I have not stopped thinking about Suspiria (2018) since I saw it and I’ll probably continue thinking about it for the rest of my life.

A reimagining of Dario Argento’s horror aesthetic 70’s classic, director Luca Guadagnino stated that he based this film more on the feelings he experienced while watching the original rather than a straight remake. The result is a psychedelic explosion of ideas and concepts that better utilise the premise and complexity than the original. The original is a beautiful film but also very straight-forward – it’s true innovation comes from its atmosphere and aesthetic rather than being a tour de force in story or character.

Tilda Swinton’s triple performance not only testifies to her incredible skill but informs of her role in the philosophy of the story once all three parts are considered, matched by Dakota Johnsons subtle but unnerving performance once all about her is revealed. Guadagnino takes the opportunities that the original presents and goes all the way with what it can do, resulting in a final act that had my jaw on the floor and the need for a post-coital cigarette. There is so much explored through the visual storytelling and revealed nature of the characters, resulting in a film both stunningly beautiful, intrinsically layered and cringingly grotesque.

Top it off with Thom Yorke’s amazing score, which may be one of my favourite film scores of all time, and Suspiria is an uncomfortable, uncompromising, challenging and beautiful watch. It is definitely not for everyone but it is almost certainly for me.

Venom proves to be a piece of toxic tripe

words fae Olivia Armstrong (@starcadet96)

This isn’t Venom’s first debut on the big screen, much to Sam Raimi’s dismay. Despite his personal dislike for the character, studio interference insisted that Raimi have him appear in his third installment of his original Spider-Man trilogy, despite the script already being full to bursting with characters and plotlines. As a result, the first cinematic debut of Venom in 2007 (played by Topher Grace) gets as little screen-time as was allowed and has almost no bearing on the whole film save for one fight scene at the end, which left many fans disappointed.                          

This is Sony’s third attempt at a Spider-Man property, as The Amazing Spider-Man series was cancelled after a mere two films, with Andrew Garfield playing the role and Sam Raimi’s original trilogy still being well-regarded but left on a sour note with many fans. Despite loaning the titular web-slinging hero out to Marvel and consequently being unable to use the character themselves, Sony still very much wants to make it known that they are clinging onto the rights to the Spider-Man universe like Uncle Ben on his death bed.                

Despite the fairly impressive effects of Venom in all his gooey glory, the first trailers didn’t do much to build hype for the film, with awkward editing and the inclusion of lines that were hard to believe were actually real (the infamous “turd in the wind” line has already reached meme status due to the disbelief that something so hilariously stupid was meant to be seen as a badass threat). Sony’s review embargo until October 2nd wasn’t a good look either, as it came off as a borderline admission from Sony that they were aware they had a stinker on their hands.

The first half hour of the film largely relegates itself to clunky exposition and establishing Eddie Brock as one the worst journalists in comic book film history. We learn that he has a hugely popular show and is regarded as an excellent investigative journalist. But that doesn’t seem to match up with what we see, as he talks over his interviewees, dresses like he slept in his car, doesn’t bother to fact check (to the point where in his opening interview with the corrupt corporate villain, he is corrected by the bad guy himself) and hacks into his girlfriend’s computer to find classified information and stupidly use it live on air right in front of the villain instead of doing any investigation of his own. This, of course, gets him fired and his girlfriend dumps him on the spot.

But things pick up when it’s revealed that alien organisms known as Symbiotes are being tested on human hosts by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who’s been using poor people and addicts as test subjects to see if he can give birth to a new superior race of alien-humans able to live in space. After being smuggled in by an employee who decides to trust him for some reason (despite previous establishment of him as a terrible journalist), the Symbiote known as Venom escapes and it turns out he and Eddie are a perfect match.

Tom Hardy is one of the most likeable and enjoyable actors working today, but even he has his limits and this film found them. Not to say that he is boring or uncomfortable. On the contrary, he makes what would be a bland and forgettable product into an insane buffet of ham and cheese through his performance. It’s a perfect combination of under-acting and extreme over-acting that brings us head-first into Nicolas Cage‘s Ghost Rider territory. Considering the rumours that large chunks of the film were cut (and it shows),  what they did decide to keep is strange, to say the least. There is even a moment in which he makes out with a sexy Venom. I’m sure there’s one guy out there rejoicing that the fanfiction he wrote while stoned one night was noticed by the films writers and put into the script on a dare.

While there are some intentional laughs in the film, the biggest ones are in the sheer clunky nature and badly-timed humour that’s so unfunny that it comes back around and gets a laugh. There’s even an end credits scene hinting at a cinematic universe, because all the cool studios have cinematic universes now and Sony just wants one so bad.

Venom is bad but it’s bad in a way I’d be eager to see more of. Fantastic Four (2015) had everything wrong with it but one of its biggest crimes was that it was duller than dishwater, with long stretches of boring dialogue and almost nothing happening for two hours. After a clunky start, Venom just never stops with its endless barrage of dumb and almost seems to revel in it.

I don’t think Sony is self-aware enough to know people are laughing at them rather than with them, but at the same time, any laughter is better than none at all. It takes a certain mindset to watch Venom and there’s no mistaking it for a good film, but if this is your kind of dumb, this might just be the turd in the wind for you.

The Golden Run Is Over: Solo Is Disney’s First Star Wars Dud

words fae olivia armstrong (@starcadet96)

Solo: A Star Wars Story is yet another side story in the Star Wars franchise after the success of Rouge One. However, this time it tells the story of fan favourite and fanboy self-insert of the franchise: Han Solo. Despite obviously making the money that Disney needed it to, there seemed to be a distinct lack of hype and epic scale of the release of this film, which is strange considering who it’s about. Even the marketing seems downplayed by Disney standards and it seems to be banking on its connection to the franchise to pull through. So the question is posed: is there any good here? Does it need to exist? How does it rank against the franchises other installments?

For as much as the complaints regarding the lack of need for a Han Solo movie, there is a fair amount of good choices to be found. For example, Donald Glover is a fantastic choice for Lando Calrissian and he deserves at least double the screen time that he has. His charisma oozes through the frame in every scene he’s in and it’s only once he appears that the story begins to pick up. The whole first act of the film really begins to drag but once he shows up, the new team finally begins to do what they set out to after failing the first time. He also has a droid co-pilot (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) who is also a fun character, being a snarky, rebellious activist for equal rights for droids and most of her comedy comes from her snark with the other characters instead of being a joke herself like most of the other droids. Woody Harrelson is also a fun as Han Solo’s mentor/partner, although I always wonder if seeing him in these movies comes from a determination for him to be in every single sci-fi franchise war film ever.

Image result for lando calrissian solo

There is a fair amount of good wholesome fun, particularly in the last third with betrayals, backstabbing, double-crossing and character motivations changing and revealing new things. For example, Han’s relationship with his girlfriend throughout the film is rife with back-and-forth of what will come of it (as we all know from the future films that the relationship is doomed). There’s a surprise cameo from an unexpected iconic villain and the ending is one of the few parts to actually have some weight. However, most of this film is extremely light on story and character and while it is showing the past of Ham Solo, it does so in a way that doesn’t tell us a lot more about him and unfortunately a lot of that comes from the central performance. There are also points where the story drags and almost loses focus and it becomes a chore to sit through, even in parts that should be exciting. Even as a smaller story, the plot is so thin that what should be exciting, fun action becomes frustrating when they can’t just get from point A to point B already.

Sadly, Alden Ehrenreich in the titular role feels just miscast here. Despite clearly trying his best, he just doesn’t capture the attitude of Harrison Ford’s iconic portrayal of Han as being both the cool guy and a complete disaster who doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing. The understanding is that this portrayal of Han is as a more wide-eyed, excitable young thief before he became so jaded in A New Hope but even that feels distinctly off in this performance.

It’s not entirely his fault; some of the dialogue comes from writers desperately trying to capture what they think Harrison Ford would have said but Ehrenreich’s performance doesn’t enhance any of the material. Whatever interpretation of the character they’re going for, it just feels unconvincing and almost constantly reminds you that you’re watching an actor and not a character.

Image result for alden ehrenreich han solo

Despite the moments mentioned earlier, the biggest downfall of Solo: A Star Wars Story is how completely inconsequential it is as a film and not just as a Star Wars film. While the “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” title card is shown, we get no iconic Star Wars text scrawl explaining the setting and building the hype. Instead, we get a few screenshots of exposition and then the film just starts. It almost feels like an admission from the creators that they know you don’t really need to watch this. And that’s the biggest tragedy of the film; for all it’s fun and occasional tense moments, there’s absolutely no grand scale to the presentation. Rogue One, for all its faults, took its smaller story and gave some weight to the build-up of what was to come in in the later films and did have some incredibly memorable moments (especially the scene with Darth Vadar). Star Wars, even when it’s bad or divisive, is almost always memorable and the biggest tragedy of Solo is how much it doesn’t square up to that.

The bland moments don’t come close to the enjoyably bad cringe-fest of Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones while the fun moments still can’t compete with the fun and excitement of defeating the empire in Return of the Jedi. On top of that, there’s absolutely no risk factor in the decision making and it’s as safe as film-making can possibly get. Say what you want about The Last Jedi (that request is rhetorical; I’ve heard far too damn much about what people have to say about The Last Jedi) but it and The Empire Strikes back took some of the most daring risks in the franchise and succeeded in fuelling fan discussions for years. There’s so little of the spirit and mythology of Star Wars in Solo that it feels like any sci-fi space universe (the Force isn’t even mentioned a single time).

So, where does that leave Solo: A Star Wars Story?

I’d say only see if you’re a die-hard Stars Wars fan or if you or your kids just want a cute space adventure that doesn’t require too much thinking. Aside from that though, I sadly can’t say this instalment of the franchise will leave its mark on the galaxy.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events continues to be a delightfully dark and faithful adaptation

words fae olivia armstrong (@starcadet96)

Before I begin, I would like to say that the review you are about to read is very unpleasant. It tells of many awful things, such as a Netflix adaptation of an exceptionally depressing series of children’s books, detestably great casting choices and adaptational changes that serves the story well. It is my sad duty to document this series and inform of whether it is worth your Netflix subscription. But you could certainly find more pleasant things to read on this site, such as Looking Back At…Elephant –  The White Stripes by Ethan Woodford or Every Biffy Clyro Album, Ranked from Worst to Best by Liam Menzies.

However, if you wish to read about this sorry series, we shall press on with the second season of this adaptation of the trials of the Baudelaire orphans.

This season continues where the last left off, with the Baudelaire’s being sent to boarding school at Prufrock Preparatory and Count Olaf hot on their tail with his intent to capture their large fortune. The structure of this series is the same as the first, with each book being split into two episodes going from book 5 to book 9, with more details of the true underlying story unravelling and more quirky characters to be found as the Baudelaire’s situation worsens with each passing episode.

The show continues integrating the VFD plot into the narrative much more than the books did and the few adaptational changes they make in terms of detail and characters are welcomed. Olaf’s henchman, in particular, are given far more character and screen time than they ever had in the book and the expansion on the VFD agents as they track down the Baudelaire’s ties the mystery of the story in much more closely. This season also marks the darker territory of the later installments in the series, with The Hostile Hospital being particularly dark even by the standards of the series. But there is just enough of that dark whimsy that keeps it a hugely fun ride. While there are a few modern references and fourth-wall jokes, most of the dialogue lifted from the books keep in with the quirky and timeless dark humour of the books.

As established in the first season and the book series, A Series of Unfortunate Events is set as more of a dark tale in an ignorant world as opposed to any sort of realistic setting. The adults of the world never being able to recognise Count Olaf even when he is right in front of them and the Baudelaire’s being the only characters who seem to have any common sense are stables of the series at this point and should be expected from fans of the original books. It’s a surreal yet delightfully macabre story of children who are never listened to in a world that refuses to take them seriously, highlighting the absurdity and ignorance of the world of adults who refuse to listen to the children.  

The original actors continue to reprise their roles and do an exceptional job. Patrick Warburton once again sells the gloom and dark humour of Snicket’s overwrought dialogue and the comic timing of Neil Patrick Harris as Olaf and his acting troupe keep the dark giggles coming. As far as new characters, two casting choices emerge as the stand-outs. Kitana Turnbull as Carmelita Spats deserves her due, as she turns a character who is unbearable on paper and makes her hilariously obnoxious as a complete brat who makes Count Olaf look bearable by comparison.

Another standout is Lucy Punch as Esme Squalor, who is the absolute highlight of this season. When you manage to out-ham Neil Patrick Harris in every single scene, you’re doing it right. She completely steals the show as the devious partner/semi-girlfriend of Olaf who is insufferably rich and completely fabulous in her deviousness. Lucy Punch is already a great comedic actress but it’s wonderful to see her take a larger part than is usual for her and run to the moon and back with it.

Netflix’s adaption of A Series of Unfortunate Events continues to be a delightfully dark and faithful retelling of the series, with some adaptational changes which are very welcomed for the most part. If you love series or dark comedies, you’ll watch this sorry tale until the end and won’t be able to look away, to Lemony Snicket’s dismay.

The Shape of Water is the Valentines film you didn’t know you’d need

FILM REVIEW

words by olivia armstrong (@starcadet96)rating 9

Guillermo del Toro is something of a visionary when it comes to his storytelling and presentation. The man is an endless foundation of creativity and he refuses to be trapped by the conditions set out in traditional film-making. His aims are higher and more ambitious and the results are endlessly fascinating. However, out of his impressive body of work, The Shape of Water stands out as his most intimate and personal work to date.

What makes him one of the most interesting and impressive directors currently working is both his commitment to his ideas and his visual talent in bringing his stories to life. Indeed, it’s hard to think of another director who could take this idea and produce something extraordinary. He only cares that his stories are told in the way he envisions them, as can be seen in his most acclaimed work Pan’s Labyrinth. Similar to Pan’s Labyrinth, The Shape of Water plants one foot firmly in fantasy and the other in reality. It takes the romanticism of fairy tales and old Hollywood films and translates it into 60’s cold war era America.

Every member of the cast is pitch perfect in their roles but a special mention has to go to Sally Hawkins. Being the main character, it is already expected that she would steal the show but her devotion to the role cannot be overstated. Elisa is a mute and lonely woman, who finds solace in her work-friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), who shares her love of classic Hollywood movies. She works at a research facility, mopping floors and keeping her head down. Every intimate detail of her life is explored (pun intended) and she is utterly loveable as a hopeless romantic who conspires to break out the creature (or “The Asset”) she has fallen in love with. Even moments that should feel too silly or too cheesy are heart-wrenching because of her commitment to the character.

What is apparent throughout is Del Toro’s deep sympathy and empathy for those deemed worthless for not fitting the ideal mould of what the current time prioritises. This obviously comes through best with Elisa and the Asset but the whole film is an ode to the love story of the outcasts; every heroic character suffers from the prejudices of the time in some way. Giles is gay, as well as a struggling artist and Zelda is a black woman in 1960’s America. The paranoia concerning communism and Russian spying is also explored via another character, who proves vital in Elisa’s plan. Del Toro has stated that a large amount of inspiration for this film came from his own feelings living in America as an immigrant, a feeling of complete isolation and finding other outsiders to connect with.

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By contrast, the head of the research facility (Michael Shannon) is terrifying in how he shows the absolute worst mankind can offer while still being an example of what has been glorified and distorted into a twisted desire to assert dominance and prove his masculinity to ridiculous lengths. He presents at first as a creepy, bigoted but inefficient man who vastly underestimates what Elisa is capable of but as the rug is pulled out from beneath him, the simple metaphor of him being the real monster becomes terrifyingly literal.

Del Toro has said that out of all the films he has made, this is the one he considers the proudest of at this point in his career. This makes a great deal of sense; despite the universal themes of love and romanticism against the backdrop of a cold and unforgiving point in history, it also feels intimately personal to him as a director. Out of all his films, this one feels the closest to his personal viewpoints towards love (a hopeless romantic and believer in true love, similar to Elisa) and whom he considers to be the true monsters, hiding in plain sight amongst us as we look away to place blame on those living in isolation.

In a way, it almost feels like a spiritual successor to Pan’s Labyrinth but with a more direct look into adulthood, rather than the viewpoint of a child. His complete commitment to the idea keeps it from being laughable and instead finds it captivating. It’s a beautiful, dreamlike film and may well be considered one of the greats in several years.

How “The Best Worst Film Ever Made” Resulted In One Of 2017’s Top Movies

By Liv Armstrong (@starcadet96)

It’s hard to overstate the cult following Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 film The Room would receive in wake of its release. It made $1800 on opening night, compared to the over $6 million Wiseau himself mysteriously was able to put into the film budget. The entire cast and crew were convinced no one would ever see it. And why wouldn’t they? The Room is often (affectionately) referred to by many of its fans as “the best worst movie ever made”. It not only defies the laws of film-making, it renders them completely irrelevant. Entire scenes have no effect on the plot. The dialogue is beyond bizarre. Every line is wrong.

And at the centre of it is one of the most bizarre performances to ever grace the screen by one of the most indescribable men; Tommy Wiseau himself. For years, fans have been speculating and theorising about both the film’s production and the man himself; what could have happened to give us the result seen in the final product?

Then The Disaster Artist was published, a tell-all memoir by Greg Sestero, who played Mark in the film and worked closely with Wiseau during and before production. He is also possibly Wiseau’s only close friend. It revealed that the making of the film was every bit as bizarre as the film itself and this film adaptation by James Franco brings to life the story of the friendship between the two that began in an acting class and ended with one of the most unlikely independent film success stories in movie history.

Upon their meeting, neither one could be more different to each other; Greg (played by Dave Franco) is a young, attractive yet extremely shy aspiring actor who doesn’t have the confidence to let go and show his abilities to the class. Tommy (played by James Franco) is older (despite what he claims) and fearless in achieving his ambitions to become a great actor. The only problem is that he is also completely terrible at it. They do have one thing in common though; no one seems to give them a chance.

Greg is inspired by Tommy’s ambition, even if the rest of the class is completely baffled by it. After some misadventures and a promise that they’ll make it together, it leads the two to Los Angeles where they try to make it in the movies. However, neither of come close to their big break, especially Tommy who is crushed by the reality of the situation. It comes to a head when Tommy is ready to give up and Greg is also disheartened. “Wish we could just make our own movie,” he says. Tommy turns to him slowly. “That’s great idea,” he replies. And the rest, as they say, is history.

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James Franco’s direction takes an almost documentary-style approach to film, with the camera often shaking slightly and close framing. It works to the effect of feeling like a behind-the-scenes feature during the production. As Wiseau, it is important to understand his desire to capture the spirit of the man rather than an exact-life portrayal. The voice is spot-on and it’s very easy to imagine the real Tommy in many of these scenes and scenarios. But what is most impressive is the dramatic scenes between him and Greg, in which he switches between being sympathetic and embarrassing in seconds. It would have been easier but much less effective to simply focus on his strange afflictions and mannerisms which are infamous to anyone familiar with him. 

However, Franco’s portrayal emphasises the comedy and sympathy of the man; he isn’t simply a joke or a figure to be mocked. He is a real person (despite some people’s theories to the contrary) with some extreme eccentricities and his friendship with Greg is ripe with cringe comedy. But his desire for both him and Greg to become huge film stars because Greg is the only person he views as a friend is completely genuine and it forms the heart of the film between the uncomfortably hilarious journey for the two to make their own movie.

In one scene, one of the crew muses on the idea that the film is autobiographical for Wiseau; that someone broke his heart and he feels like the world is against him. While we don’t delve into any of Tommy’s mysterious past simply because no one, not even Greg Sestero, knows the truth of his origins, it’s easy to look at Tommy and Greg’s relationship and see some parallels that show up in the script Tommy produces. In the plot of The Room, Lisa cheats on Johnny (played by Wiseau) constantly with his best friend Mark, causing Johnny’s infamous declaration of “Everybody betray me! I fed up with this world!” As Greg begins to receive more acting opportunities and enters a stable relationship with his girlfriend, leading to his declaration to Tommy that he is moving in with her, Tommy is angry and terrified at the thought of Greg moving on without him. The tension between Tommy and the cast and crew of the film leads to paranoia on Tommy’s part, spying on them behind the scenes and believing they are all conspiring against him – “betraying” him, if you will.

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When the premiere finally arrives and the time comes for the screening, the reaction is exactly would anyone familiar with The Room would expect. At first, Tommy is devastated, seeing his script and film that he believed he put his heart and soul into not receiving the reaction he expected. But Greg tells him to stop and listen to what is actually happening – they’re happy. They love the film. Even if it wasn’t the way he wanted, Wiseau had created something no one had ever seen before. It’s a surprisingly warm end and leaves with a good feeling, especially considering much of the cringe comedy and sympathy for Greg as well as the cast and crew of the film over Tommy’s antics.

While it may not have been the way he envisioned, Tommy Wiseau created something completely unique and original to the world of pop culture. Reading the book and viewing this film, it’s sometimes hard to like him. His vision is misguided. His friendship with Greg, however genuine, could be seen as toxic. He treated the cast and crew of the film terribly. He did every single thing wrong and was a complete pain in the ass at times. But at the same time, it’s hard not to admire what he accomplished. It’s possible to see in him what Greg saw at the beginning of the film; a man who may not be following any kind of rules of filmmaking but just went and did it anyway. His fearlessness and blind belief in his ability (or lack thereof) led him to technically follow his dreams. And in the end, he did make something meaningful to a lot of people. The film’s cult fanbase speaks for itself. Many of them dress up as the characters, can quote every line and scene and the midnight screenings sell out in an instant. Simply saying “Oh, hai Mark,” is enough to send many of them into hysterics. And that’s a kind of magic that can’t be defined.

The Disaster Artist is a hilarious, genuine and surprisingly delicate look at one of the most beloved and bizarre success stories in film-making history. Whether we’ll ever see another film that reaches the cult magnitude of The Room in our lifetimes remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: there will never be anything else quite like it. It’s one of a kind and James Franco’s retelling of its origins brings the laughs and the heart of how two unlikely friends ended up conquering the world of cult cinema.

Is Justice League Really That Bad?

By Liv Armstrong (@starcadet96)

DC seemed to be on a bit of a winning streak for a while. Despite the DCEU getting off a rocky start with critics and audiences with the likes of Man of Steel, Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, their reputation seemed to be on the up. With the Lego Batman movie being both a hilarious parody and a surprisingly genuine good Batman movie and Wonder Woman defying everyone’s expectations with the talent of Patty Jenkins as director and a much brighter, optimistic tone as well as better writing, many were cautious yet optimistic when the trailers for Justice League were released. After all, DC had been doing pretty well. Would they keep up the streak or take a giant step backwards?

A giant step backwards.

There are so many articles and reports online detailing the troubled and rushed production of this film and to say it shows onscreen is a gross understatement. It serves as a directing collaboration between Zack Snyder (who had to leave the project for personal reasons) and Joss Whedon, who took over direction in his place. The result feels like two halves of an incomplete whole, battling between over-editing and exposition combined with humour that comes as thoroughly stale at this stage for comic book movies and a group of heroes with so little chemistry, you’d prefer watching grass grow. Which results in a final identity as a bland, over-edited pile of nothing that eats up two hours of your life that you could’ve spent doing something else.

For as much as both critics and myself have criticised Snyder in the past, I’ll be the first to admit he does have a genuine amount of visual talent. He has done a lot of work in his early career with music videos and it shows in the majority of his films. But a lot of that style just doesn’t transfer very well to these films – the overuse of slow and fast-motion would look impressive in a three-minute MV (which the opening credits scene closely resembles) but becomes extremely distracting in a two-hour film when it happens every five minutes, even in scenes that aren’t action scenes.

It doesn’t help that the CGI used is some of the worst ever seen in the DCEU. Some of it is so bad, it’s actively distracting. The entire internet has made its jokes about the digital removal of Henry Cavill’s moustache and while it doesn’t look too bad from a distance or when his face is neutral, every time he smiles it looks like his entire top lip has morphed into his nose. It’s fairly jarring at best and unintentionally hilarious when he has a zoom-in confrontation with Batman after being resurrected by the Justice League (because he’s a metaphor for Jesus. Get it? GET IT?!) with one of the three glowing Rubix cubes that serve as the MacGuffin for the movie.

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The main villain Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) wants these three boxes for evil reasons that include destroying the earth. Aside from the fact that he looks like a terrible D&D character, that is all you need to know about him. This film also serves as the official introductions of Aquaman (played by Jason Momoa), The Flash (played by Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (played by Ray Fisher). While some of them had made cameos in previous DCEU films, this film serves as their official debuts and yet the film itself seems bizarrely uninterested in them. We learn almost nothing about them personality-wise and the bits of backstory we get are all shoved in to be awkwardly explained by other characters, so much so that Cyborg’s entire conflict with his father is dropped in the first third, as if even the film itself just gave up on it.

The saddest thing about this film is its waste of a genuinely talented cast. Aside from Henry Cavill’s Superman, whose acting range is still on par with a soggy piece of toast, the rest of the cast fit their roles rather well but are given almost no good material to work with. Most of their dialogue consists of either clunky exposition or awkward humour. The only actor who comes out of it fairly well is Ezra Miller as The Flash, as he’s mostly relegated to comic relief and manages to walk the line between funny and annoying fairly well without crossing it.

Gal Gadot has made her mark as a great Wonder Woman in her solo movie but here, she is woefully underused and it’s easy to tell where Joss Whedon’s influence rears it’s ugly head when it features not one, but two of the male main characters drooling over her, including a scene where The Flash ends up on top of her and face-planting into her breasts (which bears an eerie resemblance to a similar scene in Age of Ultron between Black Widow and Bruce Banner). Also, the Amazon’s new costumes are terrible. I won’t dwell on that too much as many on the internet have already expressed their opinions clearly but seriously, they suck.

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Ben Affleck’s Batman stands out for being arguably the most useless character in the entire movie, as the grand majority of what he does consists of brief action scenes (that are rendered so badly they look like trailers for the Arkham video games), brooding to Alfred (Jeremy Irons) and asking people to fight with him. Despite having probably the most screen time of the whole group, the focus on him is so minimal he might as well not be there.

By the time the final act drags its heels to a stop, it becomes actively difficult to stay invested when Superman finally appears at the end and basically solves the whole problem himself (which begs the question, what is even the point of the Justice League if Superman is so much more powerful than any of them? And more importantly, what reason do we have to care?).

So, how does Justice League rank in the current string of DC movie blunders? It’s hard to say. Whereas Man of Steel and Batman v Superman were miserable yet reasonably competent films and Suicide Squad sets out to assault as many of your senses as possible, the biggest crime of Justice League is how it leaves little to no impact. It feels like watching two hours of explosion-y nothing. Aside from an occasional giggle at the awful effects and one or two lines that work (The Flash asks what powers Batman has. He responds with “I’m rich.” I’ll admit that gets a laugh), there’s almost no reason to see it. It doesn’t feel big, it’s not exciting and it just feels a fart in an elevator – it happens, it’s mildly unpleasant but you forget about it five minutes later.