Game Night (2018)

2018 #111
John Francis Daley & Jonathan Goldstein | 100 mins | download (HD) | 2.39:1 | USA / English | 15 / R

Game Night

Despite what the poster suggests, the cute dog is not in fact one of the three leads.

1 out of 5

Okay, okay — let’s put the Westie-based bait-and-switch advertising aside and give the film a fair hearing, because it’s actually surprisingly brilliant.

The other poster stars, Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, play hyper-competitive couple Max and Annie, who love nothing more than the weekly game night they host with their best friends, from which they exclude their odd next-door neighbour, Westie-loving cop Gary (Jesse Plemons). One week, Max’s super-successful older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler) unexpectedly shows up and gatecrashes game night, then offers to host an even better one. For that he arranges a real-life mystery game, where he gets kidnapped and the others have to track him down… except then he gets kidnapped for real, and they only have the rest of the night to rescue him.

If you’ve ever wondered “what if someone reimagined David Fincher’s The Game as a comedy?”, Game Night is probably the answer. Personally, I’ve never wondered that, but I’m up for it. That said, I was all prepared to let it wait until it popped up on Netflix or something, until the film’s home release in the US a couple of months back prompted a wave of praise from critics I follow on Twitter. Now I’m adding my small voice to those urging you to check this movie out.

Wanna play a game?

It’s the kind of film where I don’t want to say much more than I already have, because obviously the joy lies in the jokes (and jokes are a lot less funny if you spoil them) and the plot developments. At the risk of just reeling off a list of superlatives, I’ll say that what unfolds is fast, inventive, clever (after you’ve seen the film, check out this spoilersome bit of trivia. I mean, that’s superb!), and, above all, hilariously funny. There are more laughs in its opening montage than many modern comedies manage in a whole film. Jesse Plemons transcends the “budget Matt Damon” jibes (but, c’mon, he really looks like an own-brand Matt Damon) to all but steal the film with his hysterical straight-faced supporting role. I only say “all but” because everyone else is firing on all cylinders too: it’s a cast full of likeable, well-performed characters, not least Max and Annie. McAdams, in particular, gets to give a line delivery that’s an all-timer. If there’s a criticism in this regard it’s that, with so many characters competing for screen time, I’m not sure how well their individual arcs really work, but that’s a minor distraction.

One other thing I will criticise — which is nothing to do with the quality of the film itself, but bugged me enough that here’s a whole paragraph about it — is the scarcity of extras on the Blu-ray, which total just ten minutes. Seriously? Put some effort in! All the praise from American Twitter led me to acquire the film via Alternative Means, but, being the good honest film consumer I am, I was going to rent it when it came out here as retrospective payment. But then I loved it so much I thought I’d just go ahead and buy the disc. But a full-price new release of a film I’ve already seen with a grand total of ten minutes of special features? You’re having a laugh. Were there no deleted scenes? Could they not stump up for a commentary? Surely they filmed longer interviews than that just for the EPK? But no, all we get is a 6½-minute gag reel and a 3½-minute “featurette” (I’m being kind — at that length it can’t be much more than a trailer). I’m going to buy it eventually, in a sale, because I enjoyed the film enough to add it to my collection, but you cost yourself a day-one purchase there, Warners. I don’t know how much the general film-viewing populace still care about special features, but us aficionados do, and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way about this particular title. Anyway, rant over.

Who's stealing the film now, eh?

For pure enjoyment, I came very close to giving Game Night the full five stars — when it works, it absolutely sings — but there are just a few bits, here and there, that fell a little short. Nonetheless, it’s certainly the kind of film I loved in spite of its flaws. If only the adorable dog had been in it more, maybe this’d be a five anyway…

4 out of 5

Game Night is available to own digitally in the UK from today, and on that disappointing DVD & Blu-ray from next week.

It placed 15th on my list of The 26 Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2018.

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Morning Glory (2010)

2015 #194
Roger Michell | 107 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Rachel McAdams takes a break from time-jumping rom-coms to lead a film where the romantic subplot is merely tacked on, presumably for marketing purposes. Really, it’s about a woman in love with her job.

McAdams plays the producer of TV’s worst-rated breakfast show, but her dream career faces ruin when it’s scheduled for cancellation. If only she can persuade her hero, investigative reporter turned disgruntled host Harrison Ford, to toe the line…

Overlong, predictable, and not the sharpest newsroom-based comedy, Morning Glory’s likeable cast nonetheless carry it to a level of entertaining amusement. Not the disaster it’s been painted as.

4 out of 5

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

2015 #186
Anton Corbijn | 122 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK, USA & Germany / English | 15 / R

John le Carré adaptation starring Philip Seymour Hoffman as a German secret intelligence operative who must battle internal politicking while tracking a political refugee who may actually be a terrorist.

A typically complex plot requires the viewer to keep their attention level high. Some find the story a plod, but (one languorous interrogation sequence aside) I thought it relatively brisk, aided by accent-defying performances from Hoffman, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Rachel McAdams, and Grigoriy Dobrygin as the refugee. Though beware: its level of realism, with real-life levels of compromise and betrayal, doesn’t make for an ultimately cheery or triumphant conclusion.

4 out of 5

About Time (2013)

2015 #192
Richard Curtis | 123 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / English | 12 / R

After Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) learns he can time travel back through his own life, his father (Bill Nighy) cautions him not to attempt anything too drastic — so he sets about finding love.

Ostensibly another of Curtis’ oh-so-British rom-coms, it plays that way for a while, but long before it’s done develops into something deeper: Tim gets the girl (Rachel McAdams), then learns about life, family, and what you might really want to do with such power.

About Time ultimately displays an emotional depth and maturity that marks it out from its science-fiction stablemates, and the rest of Curtis’ oeuvre too.

4 out of 5

Tomorrow: more time travel in my next 100 Favourites selection.

The Climactic Monthly Update for December 2015

Happy New Year’s Day, dear readers!

The quest for 100 films has little regard for it being the first day of a new year, however — it’s still the start of a new month, which means it’s time to reflect on the last. And as it’s the last month of 2015, to reveal just what my final tally actually was…


#183 Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)
#184 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
#185 Terminator Genisys (2015)
#186 A Most Wanted Man (2014)
#187 Tomorrowland: A World Beyond (2015)
#188 Begin Again (2013)
#189 Escape from Tomorrow (2013)
#190 Le Mépris (1963), aka Contempt
#191 Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
#192 About Time (2013)
#193 Happy Feet Two (2011)
#194 Morning Glory (2010)
#195 Dreamgirls (2006)
#196 Aladdin and the King of Thieves (1996)
#197 AfterDeath (2015)
#198 Heaven Can Wait (1943)
#199 Slow West (2015)
#200 Dressed to Kill (1946)


  • #200 is the final Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film. It’s taken me almost eight years to get through that series — longer than they took to make — so it seemed an appropriate choice for such a momentous number.
  • With four WDYMYHS films left, I managed to watch… one. That was Le Mépris. On the one hand, not watching 25% of my list is a bit of a failure. On the other, watching 75% of it means I’ve watched nine films this year that I should’ve seen but hadn’t got round to, and almost certainly wouldn’t’ve got round to without WDYMYHS. So it shall continue next year, though I’ve not decided on the selection process yet.
  • Remember back in my October update, when I mentioned re-watching the Veronica Mars movie to get 2014 finished? Bloody well didn’t bloody happen, did it! I’ll do it in January.
  • Apropos of not very much, the version of Rawhide sung by the elephant seals in Happy Feet 2 is awesome.


The headline news here is, of course, that this year I reached #200.

That’s my highest final tally ever, by 64 films — 47% higher than the next best year! You could add together my two poorest years (2009 and 2012) and you’d still be nine films short of 2015’s solo total. Anyway, more whole-year stats in my next post — for now, let’s just look at December.

This month I watched 18 new films. Most importantly, that exceeds this year’s ten-per-month goal, making 2015 the first time I’ve done it for a whole calendar year. (It’s also the 19th consecutive month.) It’s only the second-highest December ever, just behind 2008’s 19, but it does pass the December average (10.86; now 11.75) and beats December 2014’s total of 15, the 11th month this year to beat its previous equivalent (only November let the side down). In terms of 2015, it beats the monthly average of 16.67, and is actually the third highest month of the year, settling in behind the record-breaking feats of September and October.

I always end these analyses with a look ahead to the rest of the year… which is now over. So what for 2016? Having reached 200 films in a year, will I be seeking to equal it next year? Perhaps even to better it? I can confirm that…

No. No I won’t.

There are so very, very many films that I want to see — and they keep making more of the darn things! So many that even watching 200 new films isn’t enough to make a serious dent in the “to see” list. But there are also TV series I want to watch, books I want to read, audio dramas I want to listen to — not to mention movies I want to re-watch — and the film fixation engendered by a goal as vast as 200 new films in a year is counterproductive to doing anything but watching new films. So of course 100 Films will continue, and maintaining my ten-per-month streak would be nice, but if this time next year I’ve watched 200 new films and not watched many TV series, or read books, or listened to audio dramas, then I won’t be dancing a victory dance. Quite the opposite. Whatever the opposite of “dancing a victory dance” is.

In conclusion, my personal goal for next year is… well, 100 films — that’s why it’s the name of the blog. But I’ll be aiming to maintain my ten-per-month run, making the target 120+ Films in a Year. Plus lots of TV and books and audio drama and films I’ve seen before and special features and goodness knows what else. There still won’t be nearly enough time, anyway.


Thanks to the advent calendar, 44 films were reviewed this month(!) Here’s a full alphabetical account:



The 7th Monthly Arbitrary Awards

Favourite Film of the Month
It’s not been a bad month, but there aren’t a great many stand-out options here. Although I hugely enjoyed the new Star Wars, and some other 2015 blockbusters I caught up on weren’t as bad as expected, the winner is easily best-of-year contender Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

Least Favourite Film of the Month
It’s not been a bad month, but there are still a few three-star-level contenders here. In the end, I decided to pick the film I felt I was most likely to never bother to watch again, and while there are a few I’m not likely to ever revisit, the least likely was AfterDeath.

Best Use of Time Travel
Was it to visit a wondrous future city of joyous technological advancement? Or to spend more precious time with your dying father? Or to send a cyborg to protect your mother from your robot enemy before your best mate arrives to stop that enemy murdering her before you’re born then trying to disable said robot enemy before it’s ‘born’? Or to get Emilia Clarke naked? How about using it to make Rachel McAdams fall in love with you in About Time. That and the dad thing.

Best Theme Tune
Oh sure, there’s John Williams on Star Wars… but of course there was. And I’ve already said how much I liked Rawhide in Happy Feet 2, but it’s not functioning as theme tune there. So the winner is composer Joe Kraemer finally giving Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme a suitable big-screen rendition not once but twice in Rogue Nation.

The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
When you think about it, this should come as no surprise. In a month that featured 47 new posts (it sounds a little insane when you put it like that), the most-read is one that was a hive of activity for 25 days: the 100 Films Advent Calendar 2015.


…will be 31 days into 2016. Before all that, though, I’ll thoroughly look back and dissect 2015 — the largest year of 100 Films ever!

(Dog-loving regular readers will be pleased to know that (further to September’s update) Millie is still with us, and coping admirably with there already being a new Irish Wolfhound puppy in the family.)

State of Play (2009)

2009 #20
Kevin Macdonald | 127 mins | cinema | 12A / PG-13

This review contains minor spoilers.

State of PlayState of Play is one of my favourite TV series of all time, a densely plotted thriller that packs every minute of its six-hour length with clues, characters, twists, revelations, humour and moments of sheer brilliance. It introduced me to James McAvoy and Marc Warren, both of whom are now leading men to one degree or another (and their appearance together in Wanted gave me a bizarre frisson of fanboy delight that’s unusual outside the realm of sci-fi/fantasy), and Bill Nighy, who was surely known before but has since gone on to even more. And that’s to ignore the fantastic performances of John Simm and David Morrissey, two of our finest actors, carrying Paul Abbott’s beautifully convulted plot through all its intricate twists to an inevitable but powerful conclusion.

Much imitated, though the imitators have either fallen short (The State Within) or been flat-out dismal (The Last Enemy), it therefore seems inevitable that State of Play has followed in the footsteps of Traffik and headed for the US big screen. In the process, it squishes six hours down to two and replaces the Simm/Morrissey dynamic with the filmfan-pleasing reunion of Brad Pitt as brilliant-but-troubled reporter Cal McAffrey and Edward Norton as wunderkind politician Stephen Collins. Y’know, in their hands, it might just work!

Except Pitt walked and Norton followed, hastily replaced by the unwaveringly grumpy Russell Crowe as Cal and the offensively inoffensive Ben Affleck as Collins. Oh dear, it’s not off to a good start…

Fortunately, State of Play: The Movie quickly turns out to be a good case for not judging a book by its cover — or, literally, a film by its cast. To be blunt, none are as good as in the original, but that’s the nature of the beast here — even a Pitt/Norton pairing would have struggled to achieve in two hours what Simm/Morrissey could in six. Helen Mirren fares best as editor Cameron, the Nighy role, though doesn’t have the screentime to make it her own. Crowe, Affleck and Rachel McAdams (in a beefed-up role as young reporter Della Frye) are all above average, but none come really close to the originators. Jason Bateman’s appearance as Dominic Foy is probably more than decent — certainly, other reviewers clearly unfamiliar with the original have hailed him as Best Supporting Oscar-worthy — but is as nothing compared to Warren’s creepy wimp in the series. When Collins breaks his cool and attacks Foy, the Affleck/Bateman version packs none of the punch of the Morrissey/Warren original.

But the real focus of this screen-to-bigger-screen translation is that complex six-hour story, condensed from 340 minutes to just 127. This three-fold reduction has been well handled by a trio of screenwriters, and perhaps their most noteworthy achievement is crafting a film that feels entirely like its own entity without sacrificing anything significant from the primary conspiracy plot. The relocation to the politics of Washington is unobtrusive, apparently not encountering issues like the Law & Order: UK writers did in converting across justice systems; as is the focus of Collins’ investigation, switched here from an oil giant to an arms contractor. Both quickly help give the film its own identity, while the latter also makes some plot points more straightforward — with such a shortened running time and so much plot to cram in, this is completely forgivable and works seamlessly. Unsurprisingly some of the depth and nuance of the six-hour version is lost in such an abbreviation, the adaptors choosing to cut characters (Cameron’s son, as played by McAvoy on TV, is a glaring omission for fans) and subplots (Collins’ wife barely features, but again only by comparison) rather than significantly abridge or rush the main narrative. It moves fast, but in a pleasant way — this is not an under-plotted or ponderous thriller.

In all this talk of the plot, original writer Abbott should not be forgotten. While the film’s writers have naturally changed things substantially, much of it is surprisingly cosmetic: the essential cut and thrust of the main conspiracy plot remains, and that’s all from Abbott’s brain. Some of the series’ most memorable moments are intact too, though naturally they don’t quite stand up to comparison — the already-mentioned Collins/Foy beating, for example. Others are sadly lost entirely — my favourite bit of the whole series is when Cameron stops the presses to publish the best opening half-dozen pages of a newspaper ever (so good you would never see something so bold in reality), but that’s nowhere to be seen here. Equally humour is light on the ground, but a few intended laughs do stick through. Their number is quite well-balanced, and all pleasantly natural — aside from a few of Cameron’s one-liners there are no enforced “comedy scenes”, just amusing lines and moments that would be equally unobtrusive in real life.

Macdonald adds his own flourishes to the tale beyond the relocation and business focus. Aside from a slightly unusual obsession with shots of helicopters over the city, his most significant addition is a thematic strand on the potential demise of the newspaper in the face of TV and the Internet. As the story breaks, the explosion of news snippets — from TV, blogs, YouTube — are wonderfully handled, indicating the countless ways we consume news today — and how quickly a lie can spread once someone’s reported it as fact. Sadly these montages fall by the wayside as Cal and Della get deeper into uncovering the complex truth, the movie no longer having the time to indulge them. It’s a shame, because continuing this through every plot twist would’ve helped raise the film’s quality and individuality that little bit extra. Instead, some of the mood and tone they served to create slips a little as the story moves on.

Some reviews have criticised the ending, many going so far as to say it loses all its quality in the last 10 minutes with a dodgy final revelation. This worried me going in, but in fact it remains true to the series’ plot throughout. Perhaps some reviewers need reminding that they’re watching a thriller — you can’t really end with someone confirming what we’ve known for the past half hour, you need a twist. The one that State of Play provides is possibly surprising (I say “possibly” because there will always be those ready to cry “I knew it all along!”) and makes more than enough sense to justify itself. It doesn’t undermine what’s gone before in the slightest; in fact, if anything, it makes it that bit more plausible (unless you really believe huge 24-esque conspiracies are plausible) and casts new light on everything that we’ve seen. Just like the TV series did. It’s not going to be remembered as one of the great twists of all time, but it’s fit for purpose.

For me, the biggest misstep was an incredibly trivial one: the closing credits sequence. Shot in a bright style with relatively jolly music, it totally jars with the increasingly dark thriller just witnessed. The basic conceit of it — the printing of a paper — ties perfectly to the “death of the paper” theme, but its execution is lacking. Of course, when the credits sequence is the only major flaw in a movie (well, aside from the odd spot of clichéd dialogue, and a few moments when Crowe’s hair seems to be auditioning for a L’Oréal advert), you can’t complain too much.

As a fan of the original series, my thoughts ultimately come back to that. It’s a comparison the movie version would always have suffered under, and it’s to the credit of all involved that they’ve managed to create something that exists independently. Even to someone who loves the TV series, watching the film doesn’t feel like a highlights reel or awkward plot summary — it’s the best abridgment one could hope for, uncompromising in not dumbing down the plot, and still managing to add significant elements all of its own. If you remove the TV series from the equation, State of Play stands by itself as an above-average, intelligent and compelling thriller.

Just like the original series, it’s exactly the sort of thing I wish they made more of. Perhaps, if we’re lucky, Abbott will be inspired to revive State of Play 2

4 out of 5