Category Archives: 2018

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square-eyed-geek’s Top Ten Films of 2018

I’ve found it increasingly difficult over the years to condense my favourite films down to a top ten. But 2018 has been the hardest yet. There’s been so many gems this time around, despite the fact that I’ve definitely missed out on a few that will be amongst other people’s lists (The Phantom Thread, Halloween, […]

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square-eyed-geek’s Top Ten Films of 2018

I’ve found it increasingly difficult over the years to condense my favourite films down to a top ten. But 2018 has been the hardest yet. There’s been so many gems this time around, despite the fact that I’ve definitely missed out on a few that will be amongst other people’s lists (The Phantom Thread, Halloween, … Continue reading “square-eyed-geek’s Top Ten Films of 2018”

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AQUAMAN – Review

Jason Momoa as Arthur Curry in AQUAMAN (Warner Bros. (c), still photo by Mark Rogers)

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Jason Momoa’s effortless charisma and a rich score from Rupert Gregson-Williams are all that prevent the DC universe’s latest voyage from totally capsizing. In all fairness, neither Aquaman or its leading man can be blamed for the reverse-engineered structure of Warner’s attempted rivalry to the MCU – our protagonist has already appeared in two previous instalments before this, his actual origins story. Nor can they be blamed for the simple fact that digital technology – as powerful as it is – simply isn’t able to convincingly deliver the vast underwater world demanded by the premise. In a comic book? Yup. In animated form? Fine. In a 143-minute ‘live action’ film? Give it five years and a breakthrough in swimming simulations, then we’ll talk.

In the meantime, however, this overstuffed adventure will have to tide fans over. Despite saving the surface world in Justice League, Arthur Curry (Momoa) refuses to accept his Atlantean heritage. His mother, Atlanna (a quite literally washed-up Nicole Kidman), fell for lighthouse keeper, Tom (Temuera Morrison, rather shoddily de-aged). But beneath the ocean waves, Arthur’s half brother, Orm (Patrick Wilson), rules with an iron fist, planning to wreak havoc on the human world for their crimes against the environment. With the help of sea sorceress, Mera (Amber Heard, in a wig that the cast of RuPaul’s Drag Race might generously deem “a bit much”), Arthur sets out to reclaim the all-powerful trident of Atlan and reclaim his soggy throne.

Director James Wan upturns the tech toybox to play out his kid-in-the-bathtub fantasy, but an enormous visual effects budget is all for naught when spread so unevenly. Giant seahorses, crab monsters and sharks with “frickin’ laser beams attached to their heads” are impressively rendered, but the compositing of human characters leaves much to be desired. There’s a difference between pushing the boundaries and simply pretending they don’t exist: watching the climactic showdown (two armies of pixelated humans astride copy-pasted monsters smashing into one another), I finally understood how audiences of 2002 felt, experiencing George Lucas’ unchecked digital ambition unfold. With the exception of one impressively physical fistfight in the bowels of a submarine, derring-do here is an entirely weightless, witless affair.

But that’s where similarities to the Star Wars prequels end. In 2018, such displays of extravagance are the norm, no longer the stuff of a single visionary auteur fusing Greek tragedy with the cutting edge of filmmaking. Plus, while clunky expositional dialogue wasn’t exactly thin-on-the-ground in Lucas’ trilogy, Aquaman positively drowns in its own storytelling. Besides Arthur’s main quest for the trident, we also have Orm’s uprising, numerous flashbacks to our muscleman’s childhood, and a second – more entertaining – villain in the shape of Black Manta (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), a pirate with a score to settle and the laser-spitting helmet to prove it.

So, let’s take stock: a central hairy hero’s quest to show his worth by reclaiming an ancient weapon, a lush fantastical world, a super-powered royal family, a sibling rivalry that threatens to lay waste to the outside world, and a secondary antagonist with a penchant for face-based plasma. Yep, it’s Kenneth Branagh’s Thor…with drumming octopuses!

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'The Streaming Pile' – October 2018

Welcome to this first edition of The Streaming Pile; my excuse to use a good pun thinly disguised as a monthly column discussing the latest crop of Netflix’, er, ‘cinematic’ content. This month saw the release of three fairly high-profile films (as opposed to the usual strain of Friday night horror dreck): Operation Finale, 22 July, and Apostle.

Chris Weitz (directing for the first time since 2011’s A Better Life) oversees Operation Finale, a historical thriller detailing the hunt for Nazi war criminal and architect of the “Final Solution”, Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley). On his trail is Oscar Isaac as Mossad agent Peter Malkin. Malkin tracks Eichmann to Buenos Aires, but complications arise when he and his team must secure their prisoner’s signature, to officiate his appearance before a court in Israel. 

The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley are – as one would expect from two of Hollywood’s finest presences – riveting, and there’s certainly thrills (however scattershot) to be had in the Argo-like mission to capture Eichmann. The supporting cast are – perhaps as a result of having to square up to the two leads – somewhat less engaging, and the casting of American comedy staple Nick Kroll as one of Malkin’s subordinates is more distraction than revelation. 

Also, the moral conflicts presented by Eichmann as an attempt to throw Malkin off his game feel thin and half-baked, and are almost immediately disregarded by the viewer because (thanks to seven decades of hindsight) we know him to be a cruel, deceitful manipulator. Nevertheless, it’s a largely gripping race to the finish with a sublimely righteous coda.

Far less successful (and efficiently constructed in all the wrong ways) is Paul Greengrass’ 22 July, which details the events and aftermath of far-right Anders Breivik’s attack on a government building and a Workers’ Youth League summer camp in 2011.

Greengrass begins with a well-detailed re-enactment of the atrocities, then following both Breivik’s internment and one of his victims, Viljar Hanssen (Jonas Strand Gravli). And it’s that latter half (largely centred on the all-too engaging Anders Danielsen Lie as Breivik) that presents a problem: this is one instance where the United 93 director’s even-handed, tell-both-sides cadence is unsuccessful at best, and abject moral cowardice at worst. 

Its frame is cold, its focus is askew, and fails to make any real statement beyond ‘this is what happened’. When it comes to showcasing such appalling acts of violence, taking a detached standpoint is precisely why monsters continue to rise in Breivik’s stead, because cinema (and the media as whole) continue to give his ideologies as much air – if not more – than the voices of his victims. Simply presenting a competent, functional thriller-drama – as Greengrass does here – is not enough anymore.

Gareth Evans’ Apostle, too, contains no deeper message, meaning, or political persuasionand is all the better for it. In stark contrast to the timid Welshman’s previous efforts – high-octane martial arts duo The Raid and The Raid 2 – this slow-burn chiller takes its cue from classical British horrors like The Wicker Man and Witchfinder General. Dan Stevens (who, for this writer’s money, doesn’t appear in enough movies) stars as a tortured traveller, bound for a remote island in search of his kidnapped sister. 

The tiny isle is the home of a religious cult under the sway of Michael Sheen’s rabid preacher, Malcolm. Stevens’ character, by virtue of existing in the early 1900s, has never seen a film before and hence doesn’t run a mile when confronted with the aforementioned premise and it’s connotations. Thus, he’s caught off-guard when the eerie power of the island and Malcolm’s religious fervour take a darker turn.

What happens next is best left unspoiled, but rest assured that fans of The Raid films (who might find themselves on uncertain turf here) will be more than sated by the final act. Their salvation is signalled by the moment when someone has their leg broken from under them while another takes a spear through the face: “There he is! There’s our Gareth!”

Operation Finale, 22 July and Apostle are now available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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“The Greatest Snowman” or: How I Learned To Love Confused Customers

“Two for the…uh…that one with…” the middle-aged gentleman stood across the till from me turned desperately to his partner, who returned his blank look. I waited. The silence stretched. The queue fidgeted.

“Oh, bloody hell, what’s it called again?” he gesticulated to no-one in particular, before clapping a hand to his forehead. Sighing internally, I scanned my screen for the list of possible titles.

Insidious 3?”
Three Billboards?”
Darkest Hour?”
All the Money in the World?
“Yes! The J. Paul Getty one! All the World’s Money! Knew it was something like that.”
When you start working at a multiplex, there’s a lot you prepare yourself for: an unshakeable popcorn smell, complaints about how you need to “take out a mortgage” to afford a cinema trip, and, of course, the usual mental strain that comes with a largely thankless retail job. But one unforeseen difficulty in getting patrons from queueing to viewing is their inability to remember what multimillion-dollar filmmaking exercise they’re donating to in the first place.

For the cinemagoers, they rest comfortably in their assumption that we can translate their request for “That one with Joanna Lumley” into “One for Finding Your Feet?”. For those of us on the other side of the counter it’s occasionally frustrating, but never dull.

The categories for incorrect titles are as manifold as the misnomers themselves, but after a few months, the repeat offenders become obvious: mispronunciation, misinformation and abbreviation.

Mispronunciations from those who count English as a second language are fair play, but from native speakers it’s amusing, if a little worrying. See, for instance, the Christian Bale western, Hostiles, spoken aloud by one Cambridge University student as “Hoss-teal-ezz”. Or, how about that new movie about space wizards, Star Wars Episode VIII, with the roman numerals pronounced as “Veeeee”.

Misinformation depends entirely on one’s exposure to the advertising campaign of the film in question. Despite posters plastered across the sides of buses, adverts playing on television, heavy Oscar buzz and a basis in Blitz-era nostalgia, one late-January release inexplicably proved enormously difficult for British citizens to recall. Thus follows a complete list of wrong labels I received for Joe Wright’s World War 2 drama, Darkest Hour:

The Darkest Hour
Our Darkest Hour
Darkest Night
Heart of Darkness
The Darkness
Hour of Darkness
The Hours
Last Hours
Finest Hour
Their Finest
Winston Churchill
The Longest Day

Most forwent any attempt at the correct three syllables and simply asked for “The Winston Churchill one”.

Other marketing mishaps include “Last Call Pitches” (the tagline for Pitch Perfect 3, which enjoyed a larger space on the poster than the actual title) and “Wallace and Gromit” in place of Aardman’s Early Man, a film which sold itself mainly on homegrown affection for the Bristol-based studios original duo.

Abbreviation is where the definite/indefinite articles or any other words deemed extraneous go to die. The former is easily forgivable (also working in reverse, adding “The” to titles that never had one e.g. The King of Thieves). The latter is the most entertaining of all categories, usually reserved for films with unreasonably long names, needless subtitles, chapter numbers and so on. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proved especially popular in this respect. Besides one patron who spoke in a hugely immersive southern drawl, not a single customer bothered to go the whole hog. “Ebbing” was the first to go, followed by “Outside Missouri” (once replaced with exasperation as “Three Billboards in whatever”). By the time its run in UK cinemas was coming to a close, this once prized Best Picture nominee had been reduced to “Billboards”. A personal favourite would be the supremely confident woman who requested a ticket for “Three Billiards”.

But by far the most notable entry here would be (deep breath) The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Customers – understandably – had so much trouble getting through all eight words of this twee British confection that many resorted to “The Guernsey Film”, “The Potato one”, or, brilliantly, “The one with the stupid title”.

All this anecdotal evidence might lead one to consider wrong titles a source of irritation for those of us attempting to whittle down a sizeable Friday night queue. With sparse exceptions (such as a customer who repeatedly and angrily denied that he meant to say The Last Jedi when he asked for “The Last IMAX”), the very opposite is true.

Working in hospitality is repetitive, often exhausting and largely unrewarding, so those manning the concessions stand take our small pleasures where we can. Sometimes it’s worth spending seven hours behind a cash register, dashing about to refill endless popcorn bags, just for that one faintly amusing anecdote about the patron who changed the delicate, intriguing A Simple Favour into the more brusque “Do me a favour”.

So next time you arrive at the box office, desperately trying to recall the name of the film you’re about to pay £10.95 to see, don’t fret. No Googling the cast list, no scanning the foyer for a poster, no turning to your date/friend/mother for help; just give it a shot. Whether you leave out the episode number of the latest Star Wars film, mispronounce a foreign title or accidentally fuse the smash hit P.T. Barnum musical with a Michael Fassbender thriller, we’ll help you find your way.

This article was inspired by the writer’s current working experiences in a British cinema, as well as this Letterboxd list:
Please share your experiences on Twitter, using the hashtag #WrongTitle

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