14 CAMERAS- Directed by Seth Fuller and Scott Hussion
Synopsis: When a family of five rent a beautiful house for their summer vacation, the price seems too good to be true. Unbeknownst to them, the lascivious owner has set up a series of spy cams throughout the house, documenting their most intimate moments and live streaming them to the dark web.
Pros: I was a fan of Victor Zarcoff’s original film “13 Cameras” (aka Slumlord), and the sequel further helps to build Gerald’s world. There’s a lot to like about this follow-up and it starts with returning lead actor, Neville Archambault. He’s such a brute of a man and his portrayal of the seedy and perverted Gerald is extremely unnerving and memorable. Too few characters and ones that were somewhat unlikable was an issue in the first film, and that element is certainly rectified here. We get multiple characters, dueling storylines and different avenues for the footage to be displayed via. Both suspense and violence are more prevalent and the writing cleverly ties into a particular plot device from the first film.
Cons: Patchy editing and inconsistent lighting techniques combined with a handful of sloppy continuity errors hurt the film somewhat.
ANNIHILATION- Directed by Alex Garland
Synopsis: A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition into a mysterious zone where the laws of nature don’t apply.
Pros: Annihilation has a hint of both “Arrival” and even “Avatar” about it. A solid cast with good performances from both Portman and Isaac. Certain CG set pieces are memorable – one involves an oversized beast that attacks the group of researchers. The atmospheric environmental disaster zone looks gorgeous and the tension among the group feels organic. There’s even some nice practical blood and gore on display.
Cons: The pacing is a little on the sluggish side and the overall runtime is a touch long. The final twenty minutes peel back a series of layers that take this in a more spatial direction and are perhaps a little hard to fully comprehend given what you’ve seen prior. There’s an essence of “2001” about the visual fx heavy climax and I’m still not sure it totally works.
ANY BULLET WILL DO- Directed by Justin Lee
Synopsis: Taking place during 1876 in Montana, a ruthless headhunter tracks his own brother through Big Sky country with the help of a young fur trapper.
Pros: It really is a travesty that more people aren’t talking about Justin Lee’s independent Action/Western flick, “Any Bullet Will Do”. This is one of the best western’s of the year (if not the best). Boasting good characterization, mostly authentic dialogue, and some great action, albeit restricted (due to budget). Will Turner’s photography is stunning, Justin Forman’s score is beautifully haunting, and each actor gives the best performance of their career thus far.
Cons: Creative license is taken by Lee on occasion, leading to characters actions not always making the most sense e.g leaving someone for dead after you’ve only shot them once. Sections of dialogue feel a touch too modern and the inclusion of a more intimate flashback or two between the brothers would’ve been a welcomed addition.
BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE- Directed by Drew Goddard
Synopsis: Circa 1969, several strangers, most with a secret to bury, meet by chance at Lake Tahoe’s El Royale, a rundown hotel with a dark past. Over the course of one night, everyone will show their true colors – before everything goes to hell.
Pros: It’s a 69-period piece written by Goddard that fuses elements of Drama, Crime, Mystery, and Comedy. Bad Times boasts a truly impressive ensemble, resulting in good performances by all. Bridges and Pullman give the two strongest performances. The films vignette style setup for each player ultimately sees characters crossing over into each other narratives in surprisingly different and effective ways. The vocal driven soundtrack and thematic score are both a lot of fun. A bout or two of graphic violence occurs and the humor definitely has a place.
Cons: The runtime feels noticeably excessive though, especially from about the midway point where the film starts to lose a bit of steam. A lot of conversations and interactions don’t appear to count for all that much until Goddard requires them to. Not all of the character arcs are that engaging, and whilst Hemsworth does his best playing a self-proclaimed god of sorts, it’s a little to carbon copy Charles Manson for my liking. Oh yeah, I hated Rose, she got under my skin. The showdown in the hotel lobby was long-winded and no one seemed all that concerned with getting out of the burning building – that was weird. Bad Times certainly isn’t without its plot conveniences too.
UNFRIENDED: DARK WEB- Directed by Stephen Susco
Synopsis: A teen comes into possession of a new laptop and soon discovers that the previous owner is not only watching him but will also do anything to get it back.
Pros: It sounds like the plot to some sort of Jason Statham heist flick right? Well perhaps minus the teen bit… and the possession bit (haha), but other than that? Much like the earlier 14 Cameras, I quite enjoyed the first film in the “Unfriended” franchise (is it a franchise? I guess it is). Sure, the writers were probably just cashing in on the gimmick of shooting an entire film from the point of view of a computer, but hey, it can work and in this case, it does. Much like with the aforementioned, Dark Web is an improvement on the first film in just about every facet. The characters are more interesting and real, not to mention that they’re all likable. The performances are engaging and Susco manipulates the sinister material in new and improved ways, in turn making you think twice about your online persona and the safety of your personal information. The dig at technology is never so in your face that it becomes preachy, I liked that. This film is stiff to not end up on my top movies of the year list.
Cons: It’s a stretch to have actor Colin Woodell playing a teenager (the guy’s about 28 or something haha). As much as a majority of the footage is perfectly watchable, the static and blurry imagery used to represent outside interference is cheap and amateurish. Cover those characters faces and that’s the problem solved right there. Come on, it’s 2018 people. There has to be a better way of conveying that. The ending goes the way that best serves the narrative, but seeing a character put him or herself in such a vulnerable position given everything they’ve just witnessed, seems like kind of weak and non-sensical finish.
GAME NIGHT- Directed by John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein
Synopsis: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of one of them is seemingly kidnapped by dangerous gangsters.
Pros: It’s rare to find a genuinely funny and consistent comedy these days but I can safely say that Game Night is just that. The bar has been set so low in recent times that even Peter Dinklage can reach it (I love him, it’s just a joke people). Game Night makes for a really fun concept, the writing is built around good clean fun and relatable gags involving situational comedy. The Denzel Washington story is hilarious and Jesse Plemons’s dry as hell and understated weird neighbor shtick is actually so funny. I’m just pleased that in 2018 a comedy can exist without resorting to low brow toilet humor, kudos John and Jon, kudos. Bateman and McAdams are a blast together, the little white terrier is adorable, and Plemons gets the MVP in this one.
Cons: Honestly, there’s very little not to like about this one. It really challenges for the top films of the year but just misses out.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI- Directed by Martin McDonagh
Synopsis: A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.
Pros: Whilst McDonagh’s (In Bruges) latest Drama/Comedy/Crime film “Three Billboards” technically fell under films from 2017, it wasn’t released in Australia until the first day of January (making it 2018 in my book). At its core, it’s a character piece about love, loss, and redemption for those living in a small town, in particular, grieving mother Mildred Hayes (played sublimely by Oscar winner Frances McDormand). The cast is all superb and it’s great to see someone as talented as Sam Rockwell finally being acknowledged by the academy. Martin’s writing is as witty and fresh as ever, Harrelson gives another damn fine performance, so to Dinklage, and Carter Burwell’s southern western style score fits nicely.
Cons: Some of the developments feel a little labored and a few scenes could’ve been cut and the film wouldn’t have lost anything. The film lacks attention to detail in terms of authentic accents (with the exception of Rockwell), and there are weird inconsistencies like with Abbie Cornish’s patchy accent. Lucas Hedges plays Mildred’s son but never quite finds his place either. Three Billboards has a habit of negating its poignant moments with an offbeat line of dialogue or something completely unrelated. Oh yeah, that CG deer looked pretty hokey too.
CALIBRE- Directed by Matt Palmer
Synopsis: A shocking deed turns two friends weekend away into a nightmare. Now their only hope is to swallow their paranoia and act normal.
Pros: Netflix’s Calibre turned out to be a very good debut feature-length film from Palmer. It’s equal parts Drama/Thriller and reminiscent of the underrated “Eden Lake” and even “In A Lonely Place”. It’s well shot, the music is eerie, and the tension remains high for the entire duration. Despite being a little immature, you can certainly feel for best friends Vaughn and Marcus and it raises the question of what you’d do if you were put in their shoes. Tony Curran delivers a strong performance and you’re bound to be on the edge of your seat anticipating the fallout from what was a terrible mistake.
Cons: Despite internal reassurance that everything is going to be okay, the boys don’t ever really sell the notion that they’re innocent. There’s little mystery as to whether the town will find out what became of one of their locals, it’s more just what’ll they do once they know, and the film loses a little something on account of that.
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM- Directed by J.A Bayona
Synopsis: When the island’s dormant volcano begins roaring to life, Owen and Claire mount a campaign to rescue the remaining dinosaurs from this extinction-level event.
Pros: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a pretty solid follow-up to 2015’s Jurassic World (which I thoroughly enjoyed despite the mixed reviews). I’m never not going to revel in big-budget dinosaur caper, especially after some of the SyFy channel stuff I’ve seen over the years… trust me when I say you get a newfound appreciation for quality digital fx work (among other things) when you’ve seen some of what I’ve seen. Pratt and Howard’s characters ultimately return to their charming and loving ways, it’s cute albeit cheesy. The performances are alright without requiring anything special, but James Cromwell does make for a nice inclusion to the cast. The social commentary on climate change and the environment and where we’re heading as a society helps to give a little more substance to proceedings versus say the usual evil corporation foundation (I mean don’t get me wrong that’s still in here). The action content isn’t as strong as it was in the first film but the CG is quite good. The highlight comes in the form of a girl sleeping in her room where she’s stalked by a dinosaur. The destruction of the island is pretty impressive too.
Cons: Ted Levine’s character making one of the dumbest decisions anyone’s ever made. Maybe don’t mess with the prehistoric creature mate? Just an idea (haha). Rafe Spill’s character has little going for him and you can immediately pick that his greedy big bad businessman persona is going to rear its ugly head at the midway point – and it does. We don’t always need that scene where the character at the center of the plight tracks down their old reliable partner who’s now all of a sudden disinterested and or living an isolated life. Seriously, write something different guys. We’ve been there done that. For examples just look to Kong Skull Island, Geostorm, The Meg (and that’s just in recent memory). The climax is neither here nor there. Owen’s pet raptor “Blue” (now all grown up) fights the genetically altered dinosaur and it’s yet another predictable development.
HEREDITARY- Directed by Ari Aster
Synopsis: After the family matriarch passes away, a grieving family is haunted by tragic and disturbing occurrences, and begin to unravel dark secrets.
Pros: I give massive props to Ari Aster for leaving it all out there with his debut feature-length film, Hereditary. The opening shot of this film is masterful. It tracks from a wide shot of a small dollhouse and then slowly through and into one of the individual rooms (revealed to be the set) and is probably one of the best single sequences of the year. Toni Collette’s emotionally dynamic performance deserves the highest of accolades and the remainder of the cast also have their moments. Aster often creates tension through his ability to linger on certain beats, and you just know something has to eventually come to a head in the Graham household. There’s an extremely uneasy feeling right from the outset, further exacerbated by Colin Stetson’s nerve-jangling score. There’s a shocking and powerful revelation at the end of the first act which sets events in motion for the remainder. It was a bold move that results in some strong scenes in the second half.
Cons: Although I enjoyed sizeable chunks of Hereditary something was amiss. I need to revisit it in order to put my finger on what it was. Alex Wolff has some good scenes but he also has some very poor reactionary moments. The forced crying during the attempted séance rivals Nic Cage’s awful over the top crying in the infamous bathroom scene in “Mandy”. Gabriel Byrne’s Steve seems aloof most of the time and I’m not sure why. Characters often act in a bizarre fashion and seemingly only do so because it fits the atmosphere of the film. Due to the pre-existing friction in the family, there’s no real fallout from the tragic events that occur. I understand people go into shock and there’s grief etc but there’s no way you wouldn’t divulge what occurred and instead just leave your family to process the unknown or pick up the pieces. The ending is cryptic and ambiguous and there are simply too many ideas at play. It’s heavy-handed on the metaphors and I think it would have worked better with its roots in pure drama.
LEAVE NO TRACE- Directed by Debra Granik
Synopsis: A father and his thirteen-year-old daughter are living an ideal existence in a vast urban park in Portland, Oregon when a small mistake derails their lives forever.
Pros: Leave No Trace is a part coming of age story and part family drama from the Writer/Director of “Winter’s Bone”. It never actually got a wide release, which is a shame because it’s a very well made film. It’s a simple story about a father and daughter’s bond and their very different existence of living in isolation. Ben Foster is an extremely underrated actor who delivers yet again with another great performance here. Young, Thomasin McKenzie is the shining light though, grounding her character with innocence and the naivety that comes with being a teenager. The luscious forest makes for a beautiful setting, the film is nicely shot and gently scored.
Cons: My only complaint is that due to its slow-burn pacing, the film could have benefited from 15-20 minutes of transition scenes and establishing shots being cut. Alternatively, Granik could have had Foster chew the scenery a little more by divulging some of his character’s feelings about PTSD, even show some flashbacks to his service. More conversation, in general, wouldn’t have gone astray.
BLACK PANTHER- Directed by Ryan Coogler
Synopsis: T’Challa, heir to the hidden but advanced kingdom of Wakanda, must step forward to lead his people into a new future and must confront a challenger from his country’s past.
Pros: Filmmaker, Ryan Coogler teams with Chadwick Boseman and “Fruitvale Station” actor, Michael B. Jordan to create the best film of the Marvel universe to date (a lot better than Infinity War). Wakanda’s design is simply stunning and the waterfall fight challenge for the throne is epic. Constructed with a colorful palette in mind, Black Panther opts for a traditional African style approach by incorporating plenty of bright colors and lively music. Getting away from the tired tropes of a decade worth of cut and paste from the MU was long overdue. For the most part, the visual fx work is seamlessly blended, overall it looks stellar. Coogler doesn’t overdo it with the action portion either. There’s an origin to the story and a number of the characters have more than just a one-dimensional arc. The native accents are pleasant and mature, and in turn, each of the performances is great. Boseman leads from the front, Jordan makes for a worthy foe, and Forest Whitaker is the consummate professional as always. The supporting cast includes the likes of Daniel Kaluuya, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, and Andy Serkis, who each have a scene or two to make their respective screen time count.
Cons: One of the only issues I have with Black Panther is that some people wanted to make it into a larger than life deal – it’s a movie. Endless praise for the fact that it’s the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast, yet it still became the highest grossing movie of the year (correct me if I’m wrong). It shouldn’t have to be about race or equality or any of that stuff. Black Panther is a well written, well conceived entertaining superhero film that focuses less on both the super and the hero. 99% of people couldn’t care less the ethnicity of the people in it, if it’s a good film it’s a good film, and if it’s not… well you know. It’s a fraction long and not all of the lighter comedic moments land, but other than that, there’s a lot to like.
SUMMER OF 84′- Directed by Francois Simmard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell
Synopsis: After suspecting that their police officer neighbor is a serial killer, a group of teenage friends spend their summer spying on him and gathering evidence, but as they get closer to discovering the truth, things get dangerous.
Pros: The latest film from the team behind “Turbo Kid” (one of my favorite films). They’re back, and this time it’s at the helm of their first studio film – a nostalgic 80’s coming of age/murder mystery film. Since “Stranger Things” hit Netflix back in 2016, 80’s nostalgia has been at an all-time high. So why not cash in on that? At least that’s the mentality of this French Filmmaking trio. The group of young actors in Summer Of 84′ is one of the huge pluses. They’re all likable in their own way, consisting of your generic stereotypes of whom can be found in just about anything from “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, all the way through to “IT” (among other films). The interactions are organic and the banter among them is usually fun. The obligatory synth pumping soundtrack goes hand in hand with the era and I’m a sucker for that. Tiera Skovbye makes for good eye candy and Rich Sommer is well cast as Wayne Mackey – the man in question. The small town setting works and the attention to detail is generally quite thorough.
Cons: The sizeable X struck through the middle of Summer of 84′ is that when you strip the ear and eyegasm for the 80’s away, it’s essentially just “Disturbia” (which was essentially just Rear Window). A majority of the parents never show up so I guess we’re just led to believe the kids in this town do what they want. Unfortunately, barring the last 15 minutes or so, the film contains very little surprise. There’s a couple of scenes that generate some tension but it’s quickly evaporated and never really found again. I’m not sure how to feel about the dark turn it takes, especially considering everything before it seems quite harmless (well as far as the display of a murder mystery goes). Fun to be had, but again, it’s Disturbia.
PLEDGE- Directed by Daniel Robbins
Synopsis: A group of college freshmen pledge an exclusive fraternity but soon realize there’s more at stake than they could have ever imagined.
Pros: “Pledge” is what Jeremy Saulnier’s “Green Room” should have been. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the latter but it still lacked in a number of key areas. William Babcock’s clean shooting style makes for a really crisp looking film. The score is appropriately subtle and fits hand in hand with the young pledges slowly and methodically being led up the garden path. Performances are strong, with Zach Weiner essentially playing Jonah Hill’s Seth from “Superbad” and doing it well. Aaron Dalla Villa’s, Max is a character you’ll love to hate and he should be talked about for anyone ranking performances from independent films of 2018. The subject matter is interesting but confronting, and it highlights the dangers of conformity, which is a notion that’s seldom looked at in films. Robbins approaches the violence with a certain level of restraint but you can be sure it’s all going to come to head at the pointy end.
Cons: Whilst Pledge is a standout as far as fraternity films go, some have certainly been and gone before it. Although it dealt with different specifics, the masterpiece that was “Brotherhood” contained similar themes, and in recent times both “Goat” and “Haze” looked at the harsh reality of those societies. Certain characters levels of stupidity are a little frustrating at times and the end raises some questions – it’s something I’d like to have seen further explored.
DEADPOOL 2- Directed by David Leitch
Synopsis: Foul-mouthed mutant mercenary Wade Wilson (AKA. Deadpool), brings together a team of fellow mutant rogues to protect a young boy with supernatural abilities from the brutal, time-traveling cyborg, Cable.
Pros: The first thing at the top of everyone’s positives when it comes to Deadpool is Ryan Reynolds. Simply put, he was and is the man for the job and it’s great to see him back. Tim Miller’s original film was a whole lot of fun and even though the sequel doesn’t reach the same heights, it’s still a damn fun time. The introduction of the time-traveling Cable is something I was pretty happy about it – Brolin was a good choice. There are a number of funny gags in here, namely the situational stuff as each of the rogue mutants skydive and prepare to deploy on the ground. Reynolds brings his A game again and the action content is pretty consistent. Cable’s fight with Domino inside the truck is one of the highlights.
Cons: The problem with Deadpool 2 is that we have to suffer through Julian Dennison’s “Firefist”… I just don’t like the kid (the character should I say). The New Zealand accent has always been harsh on the ear – it grates. He feels like he’s overacting in nearly every scene and most of his lines aren’t funny. It wouldn’t be so much of a problem if he was a secondary character, but he’s second only to Wade. As with most comedies, half of the gags fall flat or wear out their welcome, and even some of the scenes are too stupid for me – the mini Wade stuff comes to mind. The runtime is a little long for a movie of this nature and it loses its way somewhat.
STRAWBERRY FLAVORED PLASTIC- Directed by Colin Bemis
Synopsis: A sensational, sentimental, and philosophical horror neo-noir that follows the still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.
Pros: Disregarding the rather undistinguished title, Colin Bemis’s unfiltered look at a serial killer in Strawberry Flavored Plastic goes down as one of the surprise packets of 2018. The found footage presentation gives this one a real authentic feeling, that when combined with Aidan Bristow’s intense performance sees it rivaling just about anything in the serial killer sub-genre. Noel, the protagonist (or antagonist depending on how you see it) is an endearing sort of guy and you can see how the two documentarians are intrigued by him and what makes him tick. Bemis’s choice to address the audience on occasion gives the character a real Patrick Bateman vibe, and that’s the highest of compliments.
Cons: There are some technical issues with editing and camera techniques and I didn’t love the choice of conventional music tracks, it felt out of character for Noel. Errol and Ellis’s failure to set boundaries and guidelines before they venture into a working relationship with Noel is a problem. There’s a couple of outbursts which don’t garner any sort of reaction from the other characters in the scene either – that was weird.
HOTEL ARTEMIS- Directed by Drew Pearce
Synopsis: Set in riot-torn, near-future Los Angeles, ‘Hotel Artemis’ follows the Nurse, who runs a secret, members-only emergency room for criminals.
Pros: The thing of note to mention here is that this marks Jodie Foster’s return to the screen for the first time in five years. Hotel Artemis has the futuristic vibes of something like “Dredd” but establishes a world similar to that of “John Wick” (sadly no connection). The idea of the existence of a hotel that some of the worst people in society frequent to get patched up or to seek refuge in makes for a really unique premise. The Artemis has rules, most of which come into play at varying stages of the film. Foster’s character of “The Nurse” is inherently likable and you want to know more about her and her life before 2025 (or whatever the year was). There’s quite a colorful collection of characters in and around the hotel. Characters played by Dave Bautista, Sterling K. Brown, Charlie Day, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum and Zachary Quinto. The neon lighting gives it atmosphere, the synth score is cool, and the action, when it is present, is good fun. Hotel Artemis has an emotional layer that gives it some much-needed heart.
Cons: Charlie Day. Well… he’s not exactly bad but the character is a bit of a chore to sit through. The loudmouth persona only gets you so far and the profanity often feels forced, because in his case it’s every other word. Pearce breaks his previously established rules when the film calls for it. A character directly references leaving the hotel at one point because someone’s coming to get them, yet we know there’s no killing allowed on the premises – it doesn’t make sense. Goldblum is charming but underused and Quinto’s Crosby needed more screen time in order to establish himself as someone worthy of being taken seriously. I wanted to know more about Morgan as well. Also, I’m bummed that Artemis isn’t a precursor to the hotel in John Wick – goddamnit.
DEN OF THIEVES- Directed by Christian Gudegast
Synopsis: A gritty crime saga which follows the lives of an elite unit of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and the state’s most successful bank robbery crew as the outlaws plan a seemingly impossible heist on the Federal Reserve Bank.
Pros: Gudegast’s new bank robbery film sort of flew under the radar, even with the likes of Gerard Butler and Curtis Jackson (50 Cent) attached to it. Den Of Thieves is one of the best films Butler’s been a part of since “Law Abiding Citizen”. His character, Nick O’Brien is a bastard and he makes no apologies for it. He’s got an attitude, a drinking problem and personal issues galore. It’s a tough balancing act to make a character like that watchable and worthy of support, but Christian manages to pull it off. Pablo Schrieber’s, Ray comes from a military background but he has a chequered past and it’s sent him on the wrong path – a path that will see him meet Nick. The film opens with a swift and violent heist that gets things rolling nicely. The performances are generally good, and whilst the humor is undoubtedly dark, it’s entertaining. The Federal Reserve Bank job and final showdown make up almost the last hour of the film and that’s where it’s the strongest. Den Of Thieves is the better-paced version of “Heat”
Cons: There can be no denying that the bulk of Den Of Thieves is just a remake of “Heat”. Detail for detail and scene for scene it’s like a mirror image for sizeable chunks of the runtime. Speaking of which, 140 minutes is overkill. Pointless scenes like 50 Cent’s character intimidating his daughter’s prom date have no purpose in the film. Some of the dialogue is weak and I can’t help but feel like Nick and his “elite unit” would have still had superiors to answer to for some of the actions and techniques they chose to carry out – that element stretched the credibility somewhat. I also found it difficult to believe that Nick couldn’t predict Ray’s diversion. I’d need to re watch the film to better discuss the ending but I’m not sure it makes a whole lot of sense either.
RAMPAGE- Directed by Brad Peyton
Synopsis: When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.
Pros: Brad Peyton (San Andreas) joins forces once again with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, this time to bring to life the cinematic version of the 1986 video game “Rampage”. In spite of the critics hating on this one, I knew all I wanted from it was monster action on a ridiculous scale and that’s exactly what I got. Most of us paid to see George do battle with other oversized creatures and that’s what we got (well at least for some of it). The film is competently shot, the adventurous score works, and Johnson does his thing (what you see is what you get). Rampage at least attempts to establish a setup before shit hits the proverbial pan, doing so through the cliché channels of evil millionaires and their corporations experimenting with genetic mutations. When the action gets underway the film is popcorn entertainment at its absolute best. The standard of fx are pretty good and if you’ve seen and enjoyed San Andreas you’ll have a blast with this one.
Cons: Spoilt siblings Claire and Bretty Wyden are not good villains – at all. Though to be fair, they haven’t got much to work with. I usually like Akerman, but Claire’s cold and callous front felt forced. Naomie Harris’s character often seemed conflicted and didn’t make a sound decisions throughout the entire film. Jeffrey Dean Morgan was lively but there appeared to be no apparent reason for his sudden change of heart. The military was completely inept even with their billions of dollars of technology, yet a primatologist managed to diffuse the situation? I know it’s a movie, but yeah…. (haha).
THE OLD MAN AND THE GUN- Directed by David Lowery
Synopsis: Based on the true story of Forrest Tucker and his audacious escape from San Quentin at the age of 70 to an unprecedented string of heists that confounded authorities and enchanted the public.
Pros: The Old Man And The Gun marks the final on-screen appearance of the legendary Robert Redford (technically a con as well). What’s more is that this might just be the first bank robbery film with absolutely no violence. Lowery opted to shoot this on 35mm and the result is fantastic. All the little specs of film grain and the softened color correction lend themselves perfectly to the late 70’s early 80’s setting. I think it’s wonderful that Redford and Spacek, at their age, can still be the stars of a film that is as enjoyable as anything else out there. The performances are good and the film has plenty of heart. It’s about life, love, and the chase. And at least for Forrest, it’s about robbing banks. The music had an old-time feel about it which was cool, although it could’ve been slightly lower in the mix.
Cons: Believe it or not, even at just 90 minutes, The Old Man And The Gun feels a little too long – 80 minutes would’ve sufficed. Both the return of Forrest, and another scene showing Casey Affleck’s John just felt excessive. The poetic finish would’ve been to have left the audience with Forrest planning yet another escape from prison. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, bank security was almost non-existent though you would’ve thought after the count began to rise, bulletins and mug shots and such would’ve started going up around the place – making it more difficult for Forrest to evade the law. Even when John vows that he will catch the man/men responsible, Forrest still takes his sweet time making a run for it (hell maybe it’s just because he didn’t care). Either way, I’d still like to have seen him alter his disguise from time to time just for authenticity sake.
Cam- Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
Synopsis: Alice, an ambitious cam girl, wakes up one day to discover she’s been replaced on her show with an exact replica of herself.
Pros: Cam is the fourth found footage inspired film of the year to make my honorable mentions. Cam is unapologetic in its open look at the polarizing world of live cam shows and chats, and the girls and personalities involved. On the darker side of things are the variety of men that support the sites and the girls. Alice is your everyday girl, she comes from a decent family and she lives her life with a certain moral compass. Even in this taboo world she sets boundaries and doesn’t compromise her beliefs. Cam is almost entirely told through the web camera on Alice’s laptop, yet visually it remains fairly interesting for most of the duration. The performances are consistent, the film carried well by lead Madeline Brewer. The neon color palette supports the eerie atmosphere on display. The film’s violence is minimal but something in the air feels off.
Cons: Unfortunately, The general consensus is that Cam begins to unravel at the beginning of the third act. Where things became more sinister in the aforementioned “Unfriended” they just fizzle out in Cam. The idea of a Doppelganger is sort of otherworldly (unless you’re a twin) in an of itself and there’s a certain Lynchian vibe to what’s taking place, though the remainder of the film is grounded in reality so it’s a little jarring. All the details are vague surrounding Alice’s number one donator named Tinker. Not to mention the plausibility behind rogue computer programming or AI being able to manipulate imagery and binary coding to create a replica that appears in a corporeal form…..
THE EQUALIZER 2- Directed by Antoine Fuqua
Synopsis: Robert McCall returns to serve an unflinching justice for the exploited and oppressed, but how far will he go when that is someone he loves?
Pros: Fuqua’s original Equalizer was right up there with “John Wick” for the best action film of 2014, so it’s great to get a sequel four years on. This time Denzel’s McCall is dealing with something a little closer to home and it helps give the film a more personal touch. I feel much the same about Washington’s anti-hero as I do about Reeve’s in the aforementioned John Wick. He’s a badass that does the wrong thing for the right reason – a MO most viewers can get behind. Melissa Leo and Bill Pullman return, but it’s the addition of Game Of Thrones alumni Pedro Pascal, playing “Dave York” that holds the film in high standing. It’s really nicely shot, tightly edited, and there are some genuinely tense moments. Robert’s natural bond with immature college neighbor Miles is where the heart of the piece lies. The action content from Antoine is always great, and a particularly exciting finish sees Washington outnumbered in the middle of a storm in a deserted coastal town – great stuff!
Cons: There’s a certain level of predictability that comes with these types of films and most of the developments in the story can be seen coming a mile off. Same goes for questionable decision-making at crucial times, and only because the film calls for it. Despite being professionals in their respective fields, certain characters seem to lack awareness when it’s most required. The Equalizer takes the familiar route that a number of Michael Winner’s films did (Death Wish), as well as more modern flicks like “Jack Reacher” or even “Taken”.
PRIMAL RAGE- Directed by Patrick Magee
Synopsis: A newly reunited young couple’s drive through the Pacific Northwest turns into a nightmare as they are forced to face nature, unsavory locals, and a monstrous creature, known to the Native Americans as Oh-Mah.
Pros: Primal Rage is one of those little independent crackers that you wouldn’t expect much from, but in reality, it’s a damn impressive film. Finally, we’re presented with a bigfoot film done the right way, not to mention one where we actually see the damn thing. Forget “Willow Creek” and “Exists” and the countless other attempts that there’s been to tell a story about the bigfoot and look no further than Magee’s entry. It’s well shot by DP, Jay Lee and amazingly and frenetically scored by Ceiri Torjussen. The characters aren’t necessarily the most endearing, but they are realistic in the sense that they’re a real couple with real problems. The plight feels similar to that of Bryan Bertino’s “The Monster” – only the end result is a lot better. The practical design of the monster is nothing short of brilliant, especially considering the modest budget. What’s more is that there’s plenty of on-screen action (far more than its counterparts) boasting impressive practical blood and gore fx. Some of the kills are extremely nasty, the highlight of which involves a man having his jaw completely separated ouch! It’s a more memorable film than “The Ritual” but I just couldn’t quite fit it onto the top list for 2018.
Cons: The characterization is a little weak and both leads give somewhat inconsistent performances from an emotional standpoint. The pacing doesn’t always feel right and the runtime is a fraction long. The witch angle also feels shoehorned in, although I suppose the creature is steeped in folklore so I can let that addition slide.
TERRIFIER- Directed by Damien Leone
Synopsis: A maniacal clown terrorizes three young women on Halloween night and everyone else who stands in his way.
Full disclosure: I served as an associate producer on this particular horror/slasher film and that’s the only reason it didn’t make my top films of the year (a fear of biasedness). I assure you that I approach this breakdown from a fan point of view and not a connected party. Terrifier is built from a simple slasher premise involving an iconic villain and mime named Art the clown, and a whole lot of brutal violence. Sharp 4K cinematography, a pulsating synth score, and 80’s inspired color correction are all examples of the professionalism with which this independent film was conceived. David Howard Thornton is a new level of gleefully sadistic as Art the clown, and the supporting cast gives solid performances as well. Terrifier is all about packing as many kills into the 80-minute runtime as humanly possible. Leone comes from a special fx background and my issue with the genre has always been that nothing is ever gory enough, that can’t be said about this one. Graphic is the word that comes to mind. Crushed skulls, impaled faces, sawn bodies, and decapitated heads are just a few of the set pieces on display here. It’s crazy!