It’s almost time for the year to end but first there’s Christmas and I’ve got an invite to some big fancy Christmas party in a skyscraper in Los Angeles (that looks eerily similar to Film ‘89 Towers!) I must’ve been invited by mistake, who knew? Anyway, as I sit here on the plane (I suffer with jet-lag, got any tips?) I thought I’d weigh in with my little old review of 2019. My picks aren’t anything controversial and have pretty much already been chosen and more eloquently covered in-depth by a few of my Film ‘89 counterparts, so to save repetition I may skim over some subjects, but I’ve got a few hours of travelling before the festivities with time to kill so I’ll do my best to give certain choices the attention that I believe they deserve.
My choices aren’t in any particular order of preference. That’s far too challenging for my brain at this altitude! So I’ll just tell you what I liked and maybe didn’t like so much. But it’s almost Christmas and that’s the time for miracles so I’ll mainly concentrate on the good. I’ll start it off with;
Once Upon a Time In… Hollywood
This twisted and sometimes Grim(m) Hollywood fairytale could only be told by Tarantino and made for compulsive viewing. The mark of perhaps more mature and solid storytelling from the writer/director, it’s a tale of a friendship entwined with tragedy and one of Hollywood’s darkest chapters.
I virtually came straight from the cinema to record the podcast with Skye and Tony Stella about this film, still unsure of how I felt about it. Sure, I could easily review Avengers: Endgame only hours after seeing it whilst recording the Film ‘89 Podcast and give it a perfect score of 10/10 (a score I still stand by) but with this film I knew I had to be more reserved. Initially scoring it an 8/10, confident that the score would probably rise as time went on, and it did. I simply couldn’t stop thinking about the film over the ensuing days and weeks such was impact it had on me. The scenes replayed with more and more reverence.
Rick Dalton’s scene in the TV western, playing against what would tragically be the last time we would see Luke Perry. That one shining moment when we’re given a glimpse into what could’ve been had Dalton not let life and his vices get in the way and instead concentrated on what was really important. I guess there’s a little Rick Dalton in all of us eh?
Cliff entering the dangerous Spahn Ranch. That brilliant scene shared with the always captivating Bruce Dern who was filling in for the also sadly deceased Burt Reynolds. Upon repeat viewings it’s easy to imagine “The Bandit” in that role, but for me I’m glad we never got to see it. (You’ll see why a little further down the trail).
Did Cliff Booth really get away with murder or defeat Bruce Lee? Or was he the king of making his own legend? It didn’t really matter because on that one night, tripping his balls off on a fifty cent acid cigarette, he changed the course of history and whilst this isn’t necessarily true, nothing about Cliff may be true. Of course, we’d seen “The Tarantinoverse” change history before but my god, the tension felt prior to the final act made me relived that I was once again a visitor to that alternate reality.
Both Pitt and DiCaprio lit up the screen with the kind of machismo mixed with tainted flaws that many would instantly condemn these days, and with some regards those critics would be correct, but they could also learn a thing or two from the relationship and two-way bond between these two friends. To paraphrase Kurt Russell’s narration, “Closer than a brother and a little less than a wife.”
After a second viewing the frustrated (and suitably untalented) screenwriter in me fulfils my admiration for this film and provides the need to send a love letter to Tarantino’s love letter to this era with the voice of Russell giving me my own private epilogue:
“Dalton’s life would change for ever that night, in more ways than he could see at the time. And whilst he never got a role in any Polanski movies, he certainly got invited to the right parties after that. His star rose once more, playing a tough ass, maverick cop and upon moving behind the camera he even managed to bring relevance back to the Western genre during the nineties. At over 90 years old he is still directing films to this day.
Cliff, well he hooked up with an old buddy of Rick’s by the name of Burt. Burt and Rick had previously starred together in a pilot called Raw-something or other before Rick had landed Bounty Law. Burt even based a film in the early eighties around Cliff’s stuntman lifestyle. Cliff died how he lived. Spectacularly.”
I land at the airport and miraculously they’ve also sent a car to collect me! I’ve never been in a limousine before and I’m not sure that you’re supposed to ride up front? Anyway I strike up a conversation with the nice driver. We both agree that Rambo: Last Blood was a bitter disappointment and that Terminator: Dark Fate was a complete “Shit-Show”. I tell the nice young man that for a further in depth analysis of why this is the case, he should check out a few of the episodes in the back catalogue of the Film ‘89 Podcast. He tells me that he’s already listened as he’s a subscriber and has of course left a positive review on Apple Podcasts. I told you he was a nice guy.
I make my way into the building and catch the elevator to be met by a very talkative, boastful man called Ellis. He shows me into an office and tells me that Holly won’t be long (I have no idea who Holly is). To kill time waiting for her arrival I take out my phone and type up what’s next on my review of the year;
When this film was first announced there was much confusion and dare I say, a tinge of dirigible laughter in the hallowed halls of Film ‘89 Towers. Just when would Warner Bros/DC get a solid plan in place? This film is set in the past and doesn’t connect to the current DCU? It’s in the vein of Scorsese’s back catalogue and has Joaquin Phoenix in the lead? Coming from the guy behind The Hangover? This sounds crazy! Well that’s rather fitting given the character being studied.
I was perhaps guilty of championing this film a little more than I should have to my fellow league of the Film ‘89 crew during our midnight boardroom meetings. Couple this with me missing out on the initial release induced endorphins due to a family holiday and I’ll admit I left my later, initial viewing somewhat unfulfilled. A second viewing has filled that gap somewhat but a nagging question that filled my mind after that first viewing still persists. Is this truly a great movie or a good movie with a great central performance?
My pre-viewing assessment was pretty simple. A powerful actor, taking on an iconic role set in a style that is revered, featuring perhaps its biggest star in the form of Robert De Niro, it had more than a fighting chance of pulling it off and to a degree it did. The film has some impressive, impacting aspects within its narrative and Phoenix doesn’t disappoint. But I still feel the built in aspects of the character allowed him that luxury to a degree. The film doesn’t dissatisfy me, but I wish that they had pushed the envelope a little further and maybe kept the Batman element out of it completely. I would’ve rather that Joker not be mentioned at all if I’m honest. Call it “The Clown” or even “Arthur” (wait, that may have caused some confusion). In my assessment it’s a good film. For all the minor niggles I may have with it, this story is not “The Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario I initially feared it may be after that first viewing but for me, it’s still not fully dressed.
Talking of not being fully dressed, if you’re suffering with jet-lag, does taking your shoes and socks off really work? I just tried it out, whilst making fists with my toes. I’m getting bored here, so I’ll talk some more about 2019.
Avengers: Endgame & Spider-Man: Far From Home
What can you possibly say about Endgame that hasn’t already been said? A film that has capped off the way a long-form cinematic story (and it IS cinema!) can be told. A fitting end to a story that has spanned a decade with an embarrassment of riches. An emotional ending with more than one of its heroes dying and one of them finally getting the chance to truly live. I laughed, I cried, I can finally claim to have a Superhero’s physique (thanks Thor) & I punched the air when Cap picked up Mjölnir!
I know it’s easy to sit with the cool kids at the back of the bus and diss such comic-book fare as being “like a Theme-Park ride”, but if it’s all the same, I’ll stay down the front end of the vehicle with the nerdy kids where Stan Lee is cameoing as the bus driver.
Recently whilst in discussion with Skye about our son’s indifferent attitudes towards the new Star Wars saga, I remarked that they couldn’t possibly comprehend how we felt about the original trilogy as they got Infinity War and Endgame within the space of twelve months. They, along with us “older children” have been truly blessed during the last ten or so years with this franchise and it seems set to continue. I’m supposedly the adult in the situation and yet both my teenage son and I genuinely sat on tenterhooks when it looked like Spider-Man would be leaving the MCU after the lifeline that the Endgame-following Far From Home, provided. Thankfully money talks and Sony and Disney came to their senses and wild celebrations flowed in the Gaskin household that night.
Spider-Man: Far From Home was of course much lighter in tone than Endgame and it needed to be. It married up well in its balance with Endgame’s finale, while giving us perhaps the start of something ready to take on the beginnings of its own new story that will no doubt tie in with other future MCU projects and after the initial scares of us never getting to see where it goes, I am throughly looking forward to seeing where it does go.
This one really hit me straight out of nowhere. My interest in seeing it wasn’t anywhere near as high as any of the pictures I’ve already written about and I definitely don’t consider myself a horror film buff by any degree and although I’d always enjoyed The Shining, it was a film that I had not rewatched for about ten years prior to seeing this sequel. I knew very little of the premise pre-viewing having not read King’s book, but my word, what a pleasant surprise I had the night I accepted that last minute invitation to join my Film ‘89 buddies Skye & Steve to watch it.
Doctor Sleep benefits from a strong leading cast and some pretty amazing direction in places from Mike Flanagan. As with a lot of my picks, this movie has already been more than adequately covered in my co-writer’s 2019 reviews so I will not cover the same ground here. What I will say is that it is absolutely insane that more people didn’t go to see Doctor Sleep at the cinema, and if you’ve the chance to see it on whatever format anytime soon, then please do as it deserved a far better theatrical fate than the one it was dealt
Wait was that fireworks? I could’ve sworn I heard something like firecrackers going off?
Moving on to Television…
Afterlife, written by and starring Ricky Gervais was definitely a high point for him and for me as a viewer. It is, in my humble opinion, the best thing that he’s done since The Office. What could’ve easily veered towards morose or conversely schmaltzy was instead a deeply touching and incredibly funny series that I found myself compelled to binge watch in just one night.
I wish I could say the same about the final season of Game Of Thrones. I won’t harbour on about it too much as I know it’s already been covered in other reviews but…
Sorry I just got involved in a bit of a scuffle with a gentleman with rather small feet.
Anyway, like I was saying, Game Of Thrones… I’ve enjoyed it pretty much all the way through and even allowed for a few shaky moments later on in its journey but honestly? That was the best they could do? I find myself in a curious situation where if I had to recommend it to someone, I would have to apologise for it’s ending beforehand and that’s not the kind of recommendation I’d like to give. Similarly I find myself in the same sort of conundrum with Stranger Things after its third season. Maybe watch the first season and, at a push, the second, but with hindsight I’d give the third a miss. Hardly a recommendation any show wants to get.
There was more good on television though. Star Wars may have just found its new direction in the form of The Mandalorian. It’s so painfully obvious that people were just crying out for a story like this but for whatever reason, the films have basically fallen foul of trying to reinvent the wheel and just when it seemed as if Star Wars may have been completely washed away at sea by a tidal wave of unnecessarily agenda led filmmaking, this show appears as a lifeboat. Hopefully this first season’s success will encourage Disney that there are a lot more ideas worth pursuing in the Lucas-created, but now mostly discarded from canon, expanded universe. Kathleen Kennedy’s recent bizarre comments about not having any back catalogue of stories to fall back upon can perhaps be re-addressed by people who actually just want to tell a good Star Wars tale.
I’m a bit sorry I came to this party now if I’m honest. I think I’ll nip off early before I get caught out as a gate crasher and maybe just go and grab a burger on the way home. Anyway, a Merry Christmas to you all and to all a yippee-Kai-yay!