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Well at least that’s over. What now?
At the end of what has been a personally difficult year in which circumstances have massively restricted his film viewing, Slarek sifts through the list of film, TV and Blu-ray releases that he did manage to catch in 2018 and picks a few favourites, and also has a seasonal moan about Trump and Brexit.
 

We've once again just emerged from that time of the year time when Christians give thanks to their deity by decorating their houses with the iconography of paganism, and when armchair atheists celebrate the birth of the son of a god they spend the rest of the year claiming not to believe in. It's also a period when even piddling little film news and review sites like us draw up a list of their favourite titles of the past 12 months. This year, for me, that's proved a tougher task than usual for the seemingly unforgivable reason that I've not seen many of the year's most celebrated movies. I've made no secret of the reasons why. For the first three months of the year, almost every free minute of my time was spent helping my sister take care of my terminally ill mother. During this period and the two months that followed her passing, cinema visits were just not on the cards, and a subsequent deterioration in a health issue that has robbed me of the ability to walk more than a few steps without serious pain – coupled with a daytime workload that got seriously out of hand – has continued to restrict my access to many films that would stand a good chance of making it onto my list. Following a recent alteration to my daytime workload, I am now in the process of catching up with the films that I have missed, but there are many that I will not be able to see until early next year when they are released for home viewing or we screen them at our cinema-based film society. In the next season alone, which begins in January, we are showing A Prayer Before Dawn, The Rider, A Sicilian Ghost Story, Nae Pasaran and Beautiful Boy, all of which are potential contenders. And I am absolutely aching to see Shin'ichirô Ueda's zombie comedy, One Cut of the Dead.

These same issues have also reduced the number of disc reviews I have been able to complete and upload to the site, reviews that each take some while to complete at the best of times but can take an age when I am only able to write for half-an-hour at a time or have to watch the special features over the course of several days. My fellow reviewer, Camus, is a film industry professional by trade and has to take work when it comes in, and recently this has had to take precedence over disc and film reviews, which he does still manage to squeeze in when he can. It doesn't help that the discs we get sent tend to have a lot of special features (a good thing, generally), which on a number of occasions has resulted in me having to play a kind of review lottery with supplied discs, one in which I also have to pick the winning numbers. As a result, I was unable to find time for a number of titles that I was genuinely looking forward to covering – how can I, as a lifelong fan of martial arts movies, have failed to review and enthusiastically champion Eureka's Blu-ray double of Jackie Chan's Project A films? So erratic was our coverage earlier in the year that Arrow stopped posting review discs to us and I stopped asking for them, and Arrow's 2018 release slate was littered with the very sort of films that I set up the site to promote in the first place. Eureka continues to send us almost everything it puts out and it guts me that I've been unable to cover them all. Having said that, I'll admit that the label's non-Masters of Cinema titles have included a small number of films that I have little enthusiasm for, and when it takes several days to complete a review I prefer to focus that time on a work for which I am just a little bit fired-up. I have no real excuses when it comes to the fabulous Second Run, though their discs have tended to (coincidentally) arrive at moments of personal crisis for whoever has been slated to take them on. This still does not explain why I didn't simply repost L.K. Weston's spot-on DVD review of Věra Chytilová's superb Daisies and update the technical specs to reflect the new HD transfer and special features. It's a similar story with the good people at Indicator, who also send us all of their releases and promote our most positive reviews more effectively than any other distributor, but whom we occasionally have let down due to lack of time, sudden changes to personal circumstances or – on a rare couple of occasions – apprehension over investing a considerable amount of our limited free time explaining why we didn't like a film that others might regard as a masterpiece. If you can't say something nice...

I am thus not in a position to make an authoritative list of my choice of best films of the year (though who really is?) for the simple reason that I've not yet seen a good many of the titles that would likely appear on it. That said, I do sometimes find myself out of step with general critical consensus on films that I fully expected to fall in love with. As a horror fan, for instance, I was absolutely riveted by the first half-hour of Ari Aster's widely praised Hereditary, whose sometimes overpowering sense of dread seeped out of the screen and into my bones. Yet from the moment characters start talking about contacting the spirits of the departed, the film began to lose me, as its earlier originality and eerie credibility gave way to a string of familiar horror tropes and adaptive borrowings. It's still an interesting film, and that first half-hour is a slow-burn belter. Just as highly praised was John Krasinski's evocatively titled A Quiet Place, a genuinely nail-biting horror-thriller whose almost constant air of tension and refreshingly limited use of dialogue (almost all of the exposition is handled visually) was undermined a little by some significant logic holes that served to pull me out of the story and intermittently remind me that I was watching an otherwise immersive construct (see Camus' review for more detail on this).

With so many films still to catch up on, I've thus chosen to select ten films and one series from the ones I have seen that made a particular impression on me this difficult year. There won't be too many surprises here. Due to my relative confinement and other disruptions, there is an inevitable bias towards films that I was able to watch on home turf – it may not be ideal, but it proved to be a bit of a sanity-saver over the course of the past 12 months. After this, I have listed some of my favourite Blu-ray disc releases of the year, a couple of which we didn't get around to reviewing and thus doubly deserve an end-of-year shout here. Again, there are many fine releases last year that I have yet to get my hands on and watch, including a slew from Arrow and the BFI.

As is the norm, I'm likely to go on a political rant before this article is over, something I'll confine to the two paragraphs immediately following my pick of this year's Blu-ray releases, so if you really want to skip that then just give those two paragraphs a miss. Following that, I'll say a few words about a couple of things that will be affecting the site in the first few months of 2019.

And so, to the films, which as ever I've listed in alphabetical order, not by any preference.

the films

Apostle

The first of three films on this list funded by Netflix and made by filmmakers of note (well, four if you include the series detailed below) came as a bit of a surprise given that director Gareth Evans made his name with the high-octane martial arts action of Merantau and The Raid. Apostle has its roots in the folk horror cinema of The Wicker Man and Blood on Satan's Claw in its turn-of-the-century tale of a gruff drifter who infiltrates an island-based religious cult to rescue his sister, who is being held for ransom by the cult leaders. A strong cast lead by Dan Stevens, Michael Sheen and Paul Higgins (the incendiary Jamie from The Thick of It) and a treacle-thick atmosphere keep the tension on the boil, and when the violence comes it's genuinely nasty – a stomach-churning scene of religious 'cleansing' so shook my generally horror-loving girlfriend that she had a nightmare about it, one in which I was somehow cast as the persecutor. Read into that what you will.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

As funding surprises go, few were bigger this year than the news that a new Coen brothers film was being made for Netflix (though apparently the Coens themselves had ruled out the prospect of getting film studio funding from the off), and it really is a cracker. A compendium of short stories of varying tone and content set in the Old West, it opens with a hilarious dissection of singing cowboy and hotshot gunslinger genre clichés, then gradually takes a more serious turn. Tales follow of a bad luck-afflicted bank robber, an ageing impresario and his limbless performer, a gruff and elderly prospector and his lonely search for gold, the varying fortunes of a young woman travelling to Oregon on a wagon train, and five stagecoach passengers making their way to Fort Morgan in Colorado. A terrific cast, a couple of whom I almost didn't recognise under the costumes and beards, includes Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Stephen Root, Liam Neeson, Harry Melling, Tom Waits, Zoe Kazan, Tyne Daly, Brendan Gleeson and Saul Rubinek, and even the darker drama is run through with the Coens' signature black comedy.


BlacKkKlansman

I had high hopes for Spike Lee's latest based on the premise and the trailer alone, and it absolutely lived up to and even surpassed my expectations. Based on the true story of Ron Stallworth, who in the early 1970s became the first black police officer in Colorado Springs and managed to somehow infiltrate the Ku Klux Klan, the film blends sometimes hilarious deadpan comedy (the early scenes in which Stallworth tries to settle in to his new position are often a hoot) with serious drama, and is peppered with nail-chewing sequences in which Stallworth's Jewish white co-worker Flip Zimmerman goes undercover with the local Klan chapter and falls under the suspicion of one of its more unpleasant members. The parallels drawn to Trump's America are for the most part subtle but always on the nose, and even the scenes that seem to play out for longer than they need to are shown to do so for good reason. The final, real-world reminder that the extreme right are more vocal and dangerous now than they have been for many years genuinely brought tears to my eyes.


The Death of Stalin

Armando Iannucci's blackly comic recreation of the internal and personality-driven power struggle that unfolded following the ignoble death of Russian dictator Joseph Stalin is a film that took me a couple of viewings to fully appreciate, but has since become my most frequently re-watched movie of the past year. As with several of the films on this list, a belter of a cast – which includes Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin, Andrea Riseborough, Jeffrey Tambor, Adrian McLoughlin, Olga Kurylenko, Paul Whitehouse and so many more – is on consistently top form, and by allowing them to speak in their natural accents rather than feigning Russian ones (a neat trick borrowed from Private Schulz), the actors are able to capture the true essence of the people they play instead of attempting awkward impersonations. Based on the French graphic novel, La mort de Staline, it never loses sight of the horrors inflicted on the Russian people by the more corrupt and even monstrous members of their own government, and in spite of some almost farcical elements the film sticks surprisingly close to recorded historical facts.

film review >>

The Endless

The Endless

A film that was recommended to me by a writer for the site who has since disappeared (he does this intermittently and may well be back) and that was subsequently booked for a film society screening and that I was utterly gripped by. Writer-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead also star as two brothers who for reasons that make sense in the movie choose to revisit a UFO death cult they fled from years before, where they are reunited with old friends but discover that there is something peculiar about the area in which the group camp is located. Playing the sort of "what the heck?" indie games with time and reality that made Shane Curruth's Primer so fascinating – albeit on a less mind-bending scale – it builds a compelling air of mystery and unease that ultimately pays off without actually paying off, a claim that for some will make as much sense as the film. If you like the film, then Arrow's richly featured Blu-ray release is also a must.


The Haunting of Hill House

As a director, Mike Flanagan's been on my radar for some time now, if not prominently so. His thoughtful handling of horror tales Oculus and Hush lifted both films a little above the genre norm, and his compelling 2017 Stephen King adaptation Gerald's Game found its way onto a whole string of Best Horror Films of the Year lists, and with good reason. But his 10-part adaptation of Shirley Jackson's seminal ghost story, The Haunting of Hill House, saw him move into a different league entirely, expanding on the novel's themes and telling a complex, creepy and utterly riveting non-linear tale of how a family is torn apart by supernatural events that may or may not have really been manifestations of their various personal traumas. My girlfriend and I binge-watched this over the course of two evenings because we just couldn't break away, and if you want to get an idea of the high regard in which it is held, then none other than Stephen King – a long-standing fan of Shirley Jackson's novel – suggested it was touched by genius. Wow. Another Netflix production (just for the record, I'm not sponsored by these fuckers), and while there is rumour of a possible second season, I'm not sure that's such a good idea unless the filmmakers choose to go the Fargo route and tell a completely new story with different characters.


Lucky

There's almost a generational handover aspect to what was both actor John Carroll Lynch's first film as director and the great Harry Dean Stanton's acting swansong, one of those rare films in which everyone involved seems to have a perfect harmony of vision. If the title character seems ideally suited to the then 90-year-old Stanton's talents then know that Lucky was based specifically on him and that some verbal exchanges in the film were drawn from Stanton's life by scriptwriters Logan Sparks and Drago Sumonja, both of whom had known and worked with him for years. One risk the film takes that really pays of is its refusal to encumber this richly drawn and fascinating character study with a traditional narrative, instead observing Lucky as he goes about his day and interacts with others in the small desert town in which he lives, and quietly grapples with the notion that he is not long for this Earth. Stanton is absolutely wonderful here, and is backed by a lovely supporting cast that includes Ron Livingston, Ed Begley Jr., Beth Grant, Tom Skerritt and David Lynch. No other film I saw last year left me with a wider a smile on my face than this, a beautifully observed tonic for troubled times.

Blu-ray review >>

Mandy

Mandy

Having not at the time of viewing seen director Panos Cosmatos' debut feature Beyond the Black Rainbow, I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down for his follow-up, Mandy, but I'm not sure I could ever have anticipated what unfolded before me. On paper, this is a revenge-horror in the 70s and 80s grindhouse tradition, but the hallucinatory manner in which it plays out assures that it looks and feels unlike any of the films from which it theoretically takes influence. The story of a forest-dwelling couple whose seemingly idealistic world is turned upside-down by a Manson-like religious cult seems almost secondary to the sometimes mind-bending audio-visuals of the handling, and while a few too many reviews have suggested that Nicolas Cage is at his wildest here, for me his performances is absolutely spot-on, with even the more extreme moments absolutely right for the film. A trippy use of light and colour coupled with and haunting soundtrack and another mesmerising score from the late, great Jóhann Jóhannsson, create a sense of oncoming dread even more potent than the one that fuels the first half-hour of Hereditary, while the violence, when it comes, delivers a considerable punch.

film review >>


Phantom Thread

I have to admit that I nearly didn't put Paul Thomas Anderson's widely acclaimed and multi-award nominated latest on this list, not due to any deficiencies with the film – which is excellent – but because I've become a little weary of highbrow reviewers claiming that filmmakers somehow 'mature' when they make formally structured films about self-centred middle-class (and preferably English) dicks. But there's just too much that is so damned good here to let personal prejudices sully my appreciation of what Anderson has achieved. The story of über-fussy master dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock and his attraction to and subsequently troubled relationship with hotel waitress Alma is interesting in itself, especially in the film's intriguingly developed later stages, but the principle attraction here lies in the performances and Anderson's precision direction. Despite having no credited director of photography, it's one of the most visually ravishing films of the year, while Anderson's dialogue (written in collaboration with his leading man) is beautifully constructed. And oh, the performances. Daniel Day-Lewis, in what he has claimed will be his final screen role, is consistently compelling as the pernickety Woodcock, creating a character who is as fascinating to watch as he is infuriating and whose every line delivery seems layered with secondary meaning. He's not alone. Leslie Manville is just terrific as his sister Cyril, while Vicky Krieps matches her at every step as Alma, and many of those at the lower end of the supporting cast are so naturalistic that their performances don't feel like acting at all. Oh yes, and there's also Jonny Greenwood's handsome score. Yeah, I liked it.


Roma

Another Netflix production, one that saw Gravity and Children of Men director Alfonso Cuarón return to his native Mexico to make film that is so stylistically different from his English-language work that you wouldn't even think it was by of same filmmaker. The story it tells – a year in the life of Cleo, the maid to a middle class family in Mexico City in the early 1970s – is neither new nor particularly surprising in its overall arc, but it's how Cuarón tells his tale that makes Roma so special. It certainly doesn't have an obvious immediate hook, with the early scenes playing out in long-held wide shots that slowly pan but never move in to character-bonding close-up, which has just of whiff of Béla Tarr about it. Yet as the story gradually unfolds this observational approach exerts an almost invisibly tightening grip, as we come to understand the integral role Cleo plays in a family that slowly starts to fracture over the course of the 12 months over which the film takes place. Although an intimate story, it takes place at a time of social and political upheaval and scenes intermittently become genuinely epic in scale, memorably an extraordinary sequence in which dangers initially referenced only in dialogue exchanges explode into a full-scale riot outside a store in which Cleo and an elderly family member are shopping, eventually spilling inside and directly threatening both women. Strikingly photographed in monochrome scope by Cuarón himself, it also boasts one of the most vividly recorded and mixed surround soundtracks I've heard in years.

You Were Never Really Here

You Were Never Really Here

It's always a bit of a thrill when you sit down for a movie and you get hooked by the filmmaking alone before the story itself even gets under way, and that's just what happened to me with Lynne Ramsay's riveting film adaptation of Jonathan Ames' 2013 novella, You Were Never Really Here. A heavily bearded Joaquin Phoenix plays Joe, a traumatised Gulf War veteran who rescues female victims of sex trade trafficking and is not above dishing out brutal punishment to those responsible. As with We Need to Talk About Kevin, writer-director Ramsay delivers an object lesson in how to adapt a novel for the screen, delivering a waste-free drama that is simultaneously gripping and poetic, while Phoenix's performance as Joe – a model of pent-up trauma and hair-trigger danger – is one the year's best. Particularly notable is Ramsay's handling of violence in a film that is peppered with brutal acts that we rarely see and that are never glorified. The sound mix is remarkable and Jonny Greenwood's score is one of his most evocative yet.

 

I'll give a special mention here to a handful of other titles that helped to get me through some difficult days. As I said, I'm still catching up with missed movies, but did see and enjoy both Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs, Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Leigh Whannell's curiously bypassed (at least in the UK) Upgrade, an entertaining twist on the Robocop premise. I got really caught up Netflix's smart, visually stunning and heavily Blade Runner-influenced Altered Carbon, though like some other commentators I did become a little irritated by the lead character's sometimes incoherent habit of mumbling his lines. As the plot and character connections to Breaking Bad evolve, Better Call Saul continues to prove that it is far, far more than a spin-off show, and for some (not me, not quite yet) has now even surpassed its birth mother. Regarding shows I'm still catching up on that might have made the list, I've yet to watch season 2 of Glow (I was a big fan of the first series and hear the second is even better), and have only just started watching David Simon's latest, The Deuce, so will not get to season 2 for a few weeks yet.

the blu-rays

 

Blue Collar / Little Murders (Indicator)

There have been so many excellent releases from Indicator this year, and while I've tended to highlight the collections rather than the single-film titles, I'm including two individually released directorial debuts – the first from Paul Schrader, the second from actor Alan Arkin – for the simple reason that I've been hoping for years that either of these films would get the sort of Blu-ray release that they landed here. Both discs have restored and remastered transfers and some excellent special features, and while I would normally have rushed to cover both, my fellow reviewer clydefro's request to review Little Murders came at a time when I was not in position to start pulling rank. Happily, I am in complete agreement with everything he said about the film and the disc.

Blue Collar Blu-ray review >>

Little Murders Blu-ray review >>


Candyman Limited Edition (Arrow)

A sublime Limited Edition Blu-ray release for Bernard Rose's still-terrific Clive Barker adaptation, one boasting a handsome HD transfer, two edits of the film and a sizeable collection of first-rate special features. In common with several of the Limited Edition releases here, it's also beautifully packaged and includes physical extras that you'll miss should physical releases of films ever disappear.

Blu-ray review >>

If You Meet Sartana... Pray for Your Death

The Complete Sartana (Arrow)

Almost everything I praised the Candyman Blu-ray for also applies here. The added bonus for me was that I'd never seen a Sartana film before the review discs landed on my doormat, which gave me the chance to watch all five films in a row, each of which has been remastered and comes with its own film-specific special features. As a result, in the space of a couple of weeks I went from being a Sartana novice to an enthusiastic fan.

Blu-ray review >>


Daisies (Second Run)

Věra Chytilová's 1966 Czech New Wave delight gets a serious upgrade from Second Run's already impressive DVD edition. A glorious HD transfer is backed by two excellent audio commentaries, one from our favourite Daughters of Darkness, Samm Deighan and Kat Ellinger, the other from learned film historians Peter Hames and Daniel Bird. Retained from the DVD release is Journey, Jasmina Blaževič's celebrated documentary portrait of Chytilová, a 2009 trailer, and a booklet featuring a substantial essay on the film by Peter Hames.

DVD review >>


Invention for Destruction (Second Run)

Following on from its excellent 2017 Blu-ray release of Karel Zeman's wonderful The Fabulous Baron Munchausen, Second Run this year did likewise for Zeman's equally magical forerunner, Invention for Destruction, a consistently inventive, entertaining and visually striking adaptation of Jules Verne's novel, Facing the Flag. A spanking transfer and a solid collection of extra features make this one of the year's must-have discs.

Blu-ray review >>

Peter Cushing in Cash on Demand

Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent / Hammer Volume Three: Blood & Terror (indicator)

Indicator's box sets of less widely seen Hammer titles have introduced a whole new audience to some unfairly forgotten titles from the studio's back catalogue, all of which have been handsomely restored and are backed with a typically fine collection of special features. Not all of the films have dated as well as you might hope, but there are some real gems in each of the collections and both of these box sets (Volume One was released in 2017, so isn't included here) will keep you entertained for days at a time. And yes, word is that a fourth set is on the way...

Hammer Volume Two: Criminal Intent Blu-ray review >>

Hammer Volume Three: Blood & Terror Blu-ray review >>


The Last House on the Left (Arrow)

Wes Craven's notorious, troubling but enormously influential debut feature gets the sort of luxurious treatment from Arrow that only lovingly crafted disc releases of films can deliver. You get three cuts of the film – all of which have undergone 2K restorations – plus a slew of interviews and featurettes, the archival documentary Celluloid Crime of the Century, audio commentaries, postcards, a sizeable booklet, a double-sided poster... I love releases like this.


Mishima (Criterion)

Essentially a Blu-ray upgrade of Criterion's already excellent DVD edition, but Paul Schrader's masterpiece is one of my very favourite films and to see it looking as glorious as it does here, and backed by such a fabulous collection of special features, was one of the highlights of my film year. I was particularly chuffed that this was one of the titles selected by Criterion and Sony for a UK release, which knocked several quid off the import price and negated the need to play fiddle-arse games with the remote control to change my player's region settings.

Night of the Demon

Night of the Demon (Indicator)

When Indicator posted a tweet asking what titles we'd all most like to see them release, Jacques Tourneur's brilliantly realised adaptation of M.R. James' Casting the Runes was probably the most frequent suggestion. There were thus whoops of joy all round when it was revealed that not only was the film on Indicator's 2018 release slate, but that the package in question was going to have so many special features that Camus began to regret his eagerness to review it. It's an amazing release, one that could only have been put together by passionate enthusiasts for the film, and the Limited Edition sold out so quickly that Indicator made the rare move of re-releasing it as a Special Edition in order to satiate demand.

Blu-ray review >>


Night of the Living Dead (Criterion)

George Romero's seminal 1968 zombie movie has had more disc releases over the years than almost any other horror title. The quality of the various DVD editions tended to vary wildly, and when the film made its UK Blu-ray debut from Network in 2009, an almost complete lack of extra features (all we got was a trailer) and a transfer that saw the highlights horribly burnt out effectively quashed hopes of seeing a decent HD release of the film for some time, at least in the UK. Nine years later all that was put right and then some by Criterion, whose 2-disc Blu-ray release features a glorious new 4K restoration of the film, a never before released work-print cut titled Night of the Anubis, two audio commentaries and a strong collection of supporting extras. This really is the version we've been aching for.


The Old Dark House (Eureka)

James Whale's glorious 1932 horror comedy arrived on UK Blu-ray at a particularly downbeat time in a difficult year, and the love that clearly went into this release genuinely warmed my cynical old heart. Sporting an immaculate HD transfer from a new 4K restoration by the Cohen Media Group that visually transformed a film I'd only ever seen before in shoddy condition, it includes three excellent and very different commentary tracks and a small but useful collection of interviews and featurettes. A great film on a great disc.

Blu-ray review >>

Once Upon a Time in China

Once Upon a Time in China Trilogy (Eureka)

Eureka delivered some excellent special editions of martial arts classics in 2018 (see below), but the best was this feature-laden four-film collection (yes, I know it's a trilogy but a fourth feature has been included as an extra) of films that showcase Jet Li at his iconic best as legendary martial artist Wong Fei-hung. All four films have been handsomely restored and the good people at Eureka have pulled together just about every extra feature they could lay their hands on and commissioned a few new ones besides, including busy and informative commentaries on the first three films by genre experts Mike Leeder and Arne Venema. A lovely set. And while we're on the subject of martial arts classics...

Blu-ray review >>


Police Story & Police Story 2 / Project A & Project A Part II (Eureka)

Eureka really did well by Jackie Chan in 2018, and while his 1993 City Hunter also has a solid release, it was the two-disc sets of the first two Police Story and Project A films that really got fans of Chan's classic Hong Kong period excited. And both sets really delivered, with strong restorations and HD transfers, alternative cuts of three of the films and a slew of special features both old and new. This is Chan at his comedy-action peak, and both sets should be considered essential purchases for genre devotees.

Police Story & Police Story 2 Blu-ray review >>


Samuel Fuller at Columbia 1937-1961 (Indicator)

The first review I elected to take on after the long site lull that followed my mother's passing was probably not the best choice, containing as it did a total of seven feature films that were either written by, based on the writings of and/or directed by Samuel Fuller. I didn't help that I was new to most of them and that the set also included an extraordinary collection of special features, including getting on for 7 hours of rushes for Adam Simon and Tim Robbins' documentary on Fuller, The Typewriter, the Rifle & the Movie Camera. Even by Indicator's consistently high standards, this was an absolute mother of a release and one of the finest Blu-ray box sets released anywhere in 2018.

Blu-ray review >>

Eight Hours of Terror

Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years Vol. 1 & 2 (Arrow)

I came to Arrow's box sets of early features by Japanese maestro Suzuki Seijun arse-about-face, having missed the first set due to personal circumstances but sent the second set for review nonetheless, which I was so enthralled by that I immediately ordered its equally excellent predecessor. While there are couple of oddball titles in there, all of the films are of considerable interest and the best are just terrific, and while there are fewer special features than in some of the box sets featured here, all are well targeted and add to your appreciation of the films and their director. Crucially, this was the first time that any of these films have been released outside of Japan, and with that in mind the quality of the transfers was outstanding.

Seijun Suzuki: The Early Years Vol. 2 Blu-ray review >>


William Castle at Columbia Volumes One & Two (Indicator)

Most of us were well aware of William Castle's eye for inventive gimmicks even before we saw any of his films, but as these two excellent releases most effectively showcase, he was so much more than that. Both sets confirm that Castle was a talented filmmaker as well as master showman, showcasing as they do eight of his films across two Blu-ray box sets, all with spanking new restorations and a consistently excellent collection of special features, including commentaries, documentaries, featurettes and interviews. Indeed, there's easily enough in each set to keep the average working person busy for a week, which is why it takes us so long to write about them in our customary detail – the usual distractions at this time of year mean I'm still some way to completing my review of the second set, but fear not, it will be posted in the very near future.

William Castle at Columbia Volume 1 Blu-ray review >>

and so...

So that's it for 2018. I'd like to think 2019 couldn't be as bad as last year, at least on a personal level, but we live in frankly terrifying times so I'm taking nothing for granted here. The worst American president in history continues to behave like a petulant baby and tell so many blatant and easily disprovable lies that the factual world no longer has any meaning for him or his supporters. In December, fact checkers at The Washington Post recorded that Trump had made 7,645 false or misleading statements over the course of 710 days, that he averaged 15 false claims a day in 2018, and that he made a staggering 139 false or misleading claims on a single day just before the midterm elections. This is the president of the United States we are talking about. He recently shut down the government because congress won't give him $5 billion dollars of American taxpayer money for a pointless wall that he repeatedly claimed that Mexico would pay for, and he's now openly admitting that it might not be a wall after all but a fence. Not sure if anyone's told him, but there's already a fence there. On top of this, having forced federal employees to work without pay over the holiday period (politicians are exempt from this and still get paid, by the way), he has now signed an order freezing their wages because he gave away the money they were due to receive as a cost-of-living rise to his rich friends and his corporate donors. The Democrats are about to take control of the House, but Trump is now under siege from a whole range of investigations and law suits and many of those who were apparently stopping him from doing something really destructive have either resigned or been fired. Literally anything could happen in the next few months, and while we may dream of impeachment, it's worth remembering that he would be replaced by a religious zealot with far-right leanings who will likely be even harder to remove than Baby Bone-Spurs.

And then there's our own country, which is currently just 12 weeks away from hurling itself into a gigantic shit creek without a paddle or even a boat as politicians in all parties blunder about without even a hint of a cohesive plan. I'm serious about the boat bit of that analogy, by the way – just a couple of days ago we learned that a company named Seaborne Freight has been handed a £13.8 million contract to run extra ferries in case of a no-deal Brexit (because we'll need them to transport food and medical supplies due to a likely shortage of both – this is not a shop low on stock, it's a fucking country!), but which actually has no ships and no experience whatsoever of running a ferry company. What a perfect metaphor for our times. What's perhaps most troubling about this whole thing is how blissfully indifferent so many people seem to be about the potential catastrophe that is just around the corner. And just who do you think will be made to financially pay for the cost of this folly? The wealthy politicians who enabled it? Kind of doubt it. Remind yourself who is in government and especially of the views of those self-centred and financially protected scumbags who are currently angling for power. Their boasts about lowering unemployment mean little to those forced into jobs where even toilet breaks are banned or you are fined for being ill, and those positive sounding stories about rising workers' pay do not take into account the fact that pay awards are not made across the board – as an example, I know from personal experience that there are people working in further education and other local government positions who've not had even a cost-of-living pay rise for 10 years straight now, while food, fuel costs and rents continue to rise. Is that going to be addressed in 2019? Is it fuck.

Right, I've had my annual rant, and while there is so, so much more I could say on these matters, I need to get this finished so that Camus can proof read it, and he's a busy man. As for the site, things have recently changed at my workplace in a way that has drained my job of what little satisfaction it had but that should also prove less punishing on my mental health and free time, so I do hope to up the review count and get back into posting regular blogs. And yes, I'm aware that I've said that before more than once.

There are going to be two sizeable disruptions to our workflow in the first half of the year. In January, Camus is off on a filming assignment to (interesting) far-away places, so will not be posting any reviews until late February at the earliest, then in mid-March, I'm off on a four-week trip to Japan, a country I adore but can only afford to intermittently visit. My mobility issues are going to restrict where I can go and what I can do, and as I've kind of promised friends and remaining family members that I'd send them occasional video diaries of my trip, I'll be hauling my laptop with me and thus should be in a position to keep the site updated. There will, however, be some limitations on this. If Camus or clydefro or anyone else send me a review, then I will certainly be in a position to format and upload it, and if discs land on my doormat before I depart, I can assess the picture and sound details before I leave and write the reviews in quiet moments as I sit down for a meal at my favourite gyoza restaurant or soak up the volcanic water at an onsen while supping a glass of premium schôchû. Oh man, I can't wait. Any discs that arrive after I leave are unlikely to get covered, unless we're still close to the release date when I return. This also means, of course, that I'll be halfway around the world when this country falls off a cliff and that I'll be coming back as the effects of it really start to bite, whatever they may or may not be. The cost of the trip, meanwhile, continues to rise as the value of the pound keeps bloody falling (will you stop!) and the yen continues to strengthen. Maybe, just maybe, I've not timed this holiday as well as I could have. But oh, do I need it...

In the meantime, I continue to live by the philosophy of planning for the worst whilst hoping for the best, and in that spirit I can at least dream that 2019 won't be quite as shitty as I fear that it will be. 2018 was certainly a fine year for interesting movies – many of which I've still yet to see, as I said – and we can only hope that 2019 proves to be likewise, and that those distributors who valiantly stand by the benefits of physical media over streaming continue to flourish and deliver the sort of releases that make enthusiastic collectors of us all. So as this new and uncertain year gets under way, my very best to all of our readers, and just remember that when all around seems dark, you can still rely on cinema to shine a comforting and encouraging light.

Previous annual reviews:
2003 [Camus / Slarek]
2004: Documentaries [Slarek]
2004: Films [Slarek]
2004: DVDs [Slarek]
2005: Films [Slarek]
2005: DVDs [Slarek]
2006 [Camus]
2006 [CNash]
2006 [Slarek]
2007 [Camus]
2007 [Slarek]
2007 [Lord Summerisle]
2008 [Slarek]
2009 [L.K. Weston]
2009 [Slarek]
2010 [L.K. Weston]
2010 [Slarek]
2011 [L.K. Weston]
2011 [Slarek]
2012 [Slarek]
2012 [Timothy E. RAW]
2013 [Slarek]
2014 [Slarek]
2015: Films [Slarek]
2015: Discs [Slarek]
2016: Films [Slarek]
2016: Discs [Slarek]
2017: Films and TV [Slarek]
2017: Discs [Slarek]

article posted
2 January 2019

See all of Slarek's reviews and articles