Tuesday, 31 December 2019


I probably dodged a lot of bullets in 2019 by seeing fewer films than usual. Still picked up a few flesh wounds though...

All-star reality-bending nonsense whose final twist is a throw-something-at-the-TV-in-disgust moment that would have been only slightly less stupid if Matthew McConaughey had suddenly woken up and It Had All Been A Dream.

London gangster non-epic that wants to be Goodfellas and absolutely isn't. Every single one of the unloveable, unlikeable, deeply unsympathetic and charmless characters can go die in a skip. It's tiresome, it's tedious, and it goes on for ever.

Peter Strickland continues to make films that I don't like, or at the very least don't get. As far as cursed red dress movies go, this isn't as good as Tobe Hooper's I'm Dangerous Tonight, and that was piffle. This is arty toss of the worst kind.

What possessed Henry Cavill, after three Superman movies and a high-profile villain turn in the last Mission Impossible, to play a slobby cop-on-the-edge in a sleazy abduction psycho thriller with a crashingly obvious twist? Money? Ben Kingsley, Alexandra Daddario and Stanley Tucci also need to look deep into their souls and ask why.

Borderline unwatchable amateur-night horror that underwhelms on all fronts, mysteriously granted a (probably tiny) cinema release before its rightful home on Tesco's bargain racks and selected branches of Cash Converters. With Neil Morrissey.

Dishonourable mentions: High Life, Lords Of Chaos, Tales From The Lodge, Midway, Hustlers.


This is a much shorter list than usual. For various reasons I haven't seen anywhere near as many new movies this year - only 93 of the films that got a theatrical release in 2019, and not all of them in cinemas anyway - so I'm restricting myself to a Top Five rather than the traditional Ten and including a bunch of movies that are only there because there's not a lot to pick from. Maybe 2020 will be better.

As usual, this only includes films given a theatrical release in 2019 according to the FDA's website; films shown only at FrightFest (such as Feedback, The Drone and Rabid) don't count; films released in 2018 that I didn't see until 2019 (such as Aquaman) don't count. They do count if they were shown in regular cinemas in 2019 but I missed them and caught up with them on DVD later.

Creepy, thoroughly engaging, visually striking and some terrific monster designs; one of my favourite horror movies of the year and a FrightFest highpoint. More of this sort of thing please.

I laughed a lot: Johnson and Statham's alpha banter is hilarious throughout and the film delivers on the full-throttle slam-bang idiocy we've come to expect from the F+F franchise. The action hit of the year for me.

[3] LE MANS '66
More car stuff, but more measured, more character-based, with gorgeous period production design and the best racetrack action since Rush, and Bale is terrific. Could have done with ten minutes lopped off the end, though; it should have concluded with the victory.

The first film I saw in cinemas this year and it never moved far from the top of the list: joyous, perfect leads, impeccably done.

The Noises Off of zombie cinema is an absolute gem. Not just for its astonishing 45-minute single-take opening of a terrible zombie film, but the behind-the-scenes joy at seeing all the jokes fall into place to explain how and why it was so terrible. An exhilarating work of meta genius.

A few honourable mentions: Official Secrets, Destroyer, Zombieland: Double Tap, Happy Death Day 2U (shut up, I liked it), Godzilla: King Of The Monsters, Toy Story 4, 21 Bridges.

Sunday, 22 December 2019



Really? Another Black Christmas? Well, yes, although it's actually nothing to do with either the 1974 film or the 2006 remake, just an entirely unrelated story given a familiar title - and if I'd known that before, I probably wouldn't have bothered rewatching those two earlier films in preparation.

Bob Clark's Black Christmas is probably the first teen slasher movie proper, dating from 1974 (the same year as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but it predates Halloween by four years and the first Friday The 13th by six) and certainly one that boasts a lot of what would later be the over-familiar tropes and cliches of scores of cheap teenkill quickies. It's just coming up to Christmas and most of the college housemates are either planning to leave for the holidays or staying over in the sorority house, but it's not long before People Start Disappearing. Does it have anything to do with the Obscene Phone Calls? Are the calls actually Coming From Inside The House? Is there Something Spooky In The Attic?

This is the third of Bob Clark's horror films, after Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and the rather good Dead Of Night, and I was never much of a fan of it but at least it's cruel and nasty. By later slasher standards it's actually quite restrained, concentrating on quiet atmosphere rather than loud shock, and with some respectable names in the cast including Olivia Hussey and Margot Kidder among the girls, Keir Dullea as a ludicrously creepy boyfriend and obvious suspect, and the great John Saxon as the cop on the case. It's not actually much fun (though the later payoff to Kidder's fellatio prank is hilarious), generally playing things pretty serious, responsible and grown-up rather than going for the traditional sex-and-booze teenage co-ed antics.

Oddly, the 1974 film still carries an 18 certificate, probably for its aggressive use of the C-word in the obscene phone calls. By contrast, Glen Morgan's 2006 Black Christmas gets away with a mere 15 despite racking up much more gore, violence, sleaze and depravity, with incest, cannibalism and gouged eyeballs sprinkled on top, to perversely satisfying levels. It takes Billy and Agnes, two random names included in the first film's threatening phone calls, develops them into a complete backstory and shuffles them into all the first film's tropes, along with Maniac Escapes From Local Asylum, Douchebag Boyfriend's Secret Sex Tape, The Killer's POV Of Girl In Shower and a final rendition of The Killer Isn't Dead After All. This, frankly is much more fun on a dumb popcorn level even though it's far sillier, has too many characters getting offed and, stuffed with cliches and familiar moments as it is, I have always had a soft spot for it that I'll accept it doesn't entirely deserve.

Sophia Takal's 2019 horror Black Christmas is [1] nothing to do with Black Christmas 1974, [2] nothing to do with Black Christmas 2006, and [3] pants. Dispensing entirely with Billy and Agnes, it's a clunky hashtag drama with nonsensical supernatural overtones and a plot that makes even less sense than the 2006 film. Again it's the last week before Christmas break at the upmarket and very expensive Nathaniel Hawthorne College (named for its occultist and colossally misogynist founder) where sexual assault victim Imogen Poots and her sorority sisters find themselves up against the elitist sexual predator fraternity possessed by the undead spirit of Hawthorne. Cue hooded cult members wielding crossbows, insufficient splatter due to the demands of the PG13 rating, and fierce arguments of sexual (and to a lesser extent racial) politics between #MeToo and #NotAllMen so clumsily shoehorned into it that it sometimes feels less a horror movie with a contemporary and relevant subtext, than a preachy feminist drama with a few killings dotted through it - a pity, since the opening stalk-and-slash sequence is actually quite nicely done.

This one is bland and soft, a crustless lettuce sandwich of a film, and its villains are so obviously the chiselled male models of Alpha Alpha Alpha that it's almost surprising that that's exactly who they are, and the climactic free-for-all is just a mess. I wanted to like it (obviously; why wouldn't I?) but aside from a few nicely handled moments it's entirely unremarkable and hardly worth the hassle of going to the cinema for; DVD is really its natural home. Disappointing.