Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Whiplash - review

Back at school, we all had that one teacher that took a particular shine to us (not in that way) and encouraged us to be better and achieve our goals, and in Whiplash a promising young drummer finds that person in the form of music professor Fletcher, played by J.K. Simmons.

But be warned, this is no Dead Poets Society. There is no "Carpe Diem" or "Oh Captain my captain" to be found here.

Simmons is a shoe in for an Oscar nomination as the tyrannical teacher who terrorises his students both physically, emotionally and verbally in order to force them to fulfill their potential and elevate his band. He spits out insults at a rapid tempo that are simultaneously obscene yet have a rhythmic musicality that build towards a combustible crescendo and he emerges as the most eloquent executioner of profanity since Peter Capaldi's Malcolm Tucker.

This film is what would have happened if R. Lee Emrey's drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket had pursued a career in music instead of the armed forces.

Miles Teller (who performed all of his own drumming) is equally impressive as the ambitious student who is put through the proverbial wringer and following in the footsteps of other films which deal with performance and obsession (Birdman, The Wrestler, Black Swan), it is not certain whether or not there will be a happy outcome for Andrew.

At times it might seem like a horror or psychological thriller but at its heart, Whiplash is a love story... it's just that Andrew is confused as to what is his true love.

Is it Nicole, the cute girl at his local cinema? Is it the drums? Or in a case of a quote from Birdman, "you confuse love with admiration", is it actually Fletcher?

There is enough homoerotic insults and symbolism (or should that be "cymbalism") being thrown around to argue this point. Fletcher certainly seems to take a sado-masochistic pleasure in watching Andrew violently beating his four skins.

Damien Chazelle has written and directed an incredible film that simply crackles and fizzes with energy and passion, and this is nowhere more apparent than in the finale where the editing is exemplary as Andrew and Fletcher prepare for a final showdown.

So don't drag your heels. Rush out and catch this film that is destined to win BAFTAs, Oscars and all that jazz.

5 stars

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death- review

This unwanted and unnecessary sequel feels like a completely different horror script has been reworked to take place in Eel Marsh House.

The first Woman In Black was a genuinely scary horror film (especially for a 12A) but this one is a damp squib by comparison, relying on nothing more than fake jump scares.

It also doesn't help that all the potential scary moments have been featured in the trailers, and I mean all of them, thus reducing any impact on the viewer.

The point the film well and truly lost this audience member was after a group spend a long time trying to light a candle in the dark, upon realising a child is missing, one of them runs off to find them, turning on his flashlight in the process... his FLASHLIGHT! Why didn't he turn that on before?!

The Woman In Black 2? Wish I could have blacked out and pretended it was all a bad dream.

1 star

Monday, 5 January 2015

Birdman - review

Much of the marketing of Birdman has focused on the meta-casting of Batman Michael Keaton in the role of Riggan Thomson, a washed up actor most famous for playing a superhero called Birdman, who attempts a comeback by writing, directing and starring in a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver short story.

Yes, there is a critique of the current superhero boom (when needing a replacement for an actor, Riggan lists off a few names but is told they are all busy filming comic book movies) but in fact it is a much darker look at the current trend of Hollywood actors, or as one critic derisory calls them "celebrities", trying to legitimise their careers by having a crack at theatre on Broadway or the West End.

Currently finishing up runs on Broadway are Bradley Cooper (Rocket Raccoon) and Birdman co-star Emma Stone (Gwen Stacy) and the last couple of years in London has seen the likes of James McAvoy (Charles Xavier) and Tom Hiddleston (Loki) tread the boards when they are not part of the Marvel Universe.

A star name can help boost ticket sales and generate publicity for a show but it can come at a cost and that can be the feeling of resentment from old school thespians and theatre audiences who are unwilling to accept the baggage that can come with that type of celebrity and it is something that the film addresses head on as Riggan starts to unravel as he heads towards opening night.

Having put everything he has on the line to put on the show, the pressure builds and not only is he put under pressure by his obnoxious, pretentious co-star Mike Shiner (a hilariously pompous Edward Norton), his former-junkie daughter who he is trying to reconnect with (Emma Stone) and the voice in his head... Birdman (Keaton's own voice played with a Christian Bale's gravely growl).

Oscar nominations could be in store for Keaton's regenerative performance as well as Norton's (literally) scene-stealing turn but if there is one guaranteed Oscar destined to come Birdman's way it will be award to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (which would be a back-to-back win after Gravity).

When you become aware of the cinematography and editing and start wondering just how they did it, it can sometimes take you out of the film but what is amazing about following Chris Haarhoff's steadicam around the backstage corridors of the St. James Theatre in one seemingly continuous take is that it gives this sense of immediacy and realism that instead creates the feeling that you are watching a play (within a play/film).

And in a film featuring one "single" extended shot, it is the final shot that will leave audiences filled with that genuine sense of wonder because they have indeed witnessed something super.

There is a saying in the entertainment world - "Theatre is life, film is art and television is furniture" and Birdman beautifully blurs the lines between life and art, cinema and the theatre, creating an experience that truly soars.

5 stars

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Review Of The Year

As 2014 comes to a end, I wanted to look back over a great year of cinema with a few personal highlights beyond my own Top Ten Films Of The Year (which you can read here).

Actor Of The Year - Chris Pratt

2014 was the year that Chris Pratt became a man... a leading man to be exact.
Alongside scene-stealing turns in the likes of Delivery Man and Her, he proved he could carry a movie with a great vocal performance as Emmett in The LEGO Movie and dancing onto the big screen as a fully formed action hero as Peter Quill aka "Star Lord" in the best superhero movie of the year Guardians Of The Galaxy.
It's no wonder he is in such high demand, with his name being attached to every franchise going and 2015 should be just as big with a role in Jurassic World.

Actress Of The Year - Scarlett Johansson

It has been a very good year for Scarlett Johansson, who at one point could have been in half of my top ten films of 2014, with career best performances in Her, and Under The Skin, a cameo in Chef alongside leading the push for a solo female superhero movie with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and beating The Rock to the top of the box office with Lucy.

Best Male Performance - Tom Hardy in Locke & Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Ultimately I couldn't pick between these two as they are both terrific and for different reasons.
Tom Hardy does an incredible job of carrying an entire movie which consists of him talking on a phone while driving a car. He provides just enough backstory throughout his conversations to create a fully realised character and earns bonus points for his spot on Welsh accent and concrete has never sounded so interesting.
Jake Gyllenhaal's Lou Bloom is a cross between Patrick Bateman and Travis Bickle who does whatever it takes to achieve his warped perception of the American Dream. Many critics focused on his weight loss and gaunt appearance but it is much more than that as he disappears into the character to create a wolf in sheep's clothing that can flash that killer smile.

Best Female Performance - Essie Davis (The Babadook)

Scarlett Johansson might have received the MVP Award for 2014 but the single best female performance of 2014 was Essie Davis's incredible turn in Australian horror film The Babadook.
Playing a woman trying to cope with the grief and sense of loss following her husband's death whilst trying to take care of her son who begins to act out when he discovers a mysterious pop-up book, which may or may not have summoned an evil spirit, Davis superbly executes a fine balancing act between fragile mother and deranged lunatic that evokes memories of Belen Rueda in The Orphanage and Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

Poster Of The Year - Under The Skin

Best Fight Scene - The kitchen fight in The Raid 2

Quite frankly if I had done a top ten fight scenes of 2014, the majority of the entries would have been from The Raid 2, but the cream of the crop was the kitchen fight between Rama and The Assassin which was six minutes and thirty seven seconds of the most amazing and brutal choreography that caused me to break out into a round of applause in the cinema screen and cemented Gareth Evans as the greatest action director of his generation.

Best Horror Film - The Babadook

It wasn't a great year for horror with a lot of duds like Devil's Due, Annabelle, etc however there were two welcome exceptions.
Oculus was very good but taking the top spot was The Babadook.
What really makes the film stand out from other horrors this year is the story and characters are as three dimensional as the pop up book which proves the catalyst for this terrifying tale.
So take my advice. Just take one look. You'll be thrilled and wowed by The Babadook

Best Song - Everything Is Awesome

Honourable Mention - Please Mr. Kennedy


The catchiest ear worm of a song in 2014 could be nothing other than Everything Is Awesome from The LEGO Movie because it is simply... awesome.

Please Mr. Kennedy from Inside Llewyn Davis must get a mention as not only a great song but for now having the ironical standpoint that two of the three people who were singing about not getting sent into outer space are now starring in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens!

Best Score - Under The Skin by Mica Levi

Unsettling, otherworldly, haunting, creepy, beautiful and utterly unique.
An integral part of the film that elevates it to one of the most interesting cinematic experiences of the year.

Soundtrack Of The Year - Guardians Of The Galaxy

The best soundtrack of the year is one made up entirely of songs from the seventies and eighties.
From Redbone's Come And Get Your Love to Hooked On A Feeling, it is full of classics that are given a new twist and spin thanks to their use in the film.
Also it gave us one of the year's best moments with baby Groot dancing to the Jackson 5.

The Best Film You Didn't See - Snowpiercer & The Guest

People are probably sick of me banging on about how great Snowpiercer is and you only could have seen it if you happened to be at the Edinburgh Film Festival or imported the DVD from America or France.

Instead I've picked the best film that most people missed at the cinema this year and it is The Guest.
Featuring a terrific performance from Dan Stevens, it is so much more than the trailer suggested, taking some deliciously dark and twisted turns along the way and delivering a house guest that won't outstay its welcome on DVD.

Worst Film Of The Year

Tough decision as I have seen over 200 films this year and 37 of them received 1 star ratings.

Non-Film Event Of The Year - Hans Zimmer Revealed & Empire Magazine Podcast Live In Edinburgh

Easily the best love concert I have ever attended, one of my all-time favourite composers Hans Zimmer played over two hours of his greatest tracks with a live orchestra and choir.
Every song and theme was fantastic but highlights included Man Of Steel, a Pirates Of The Caribbean medley, The Dark Knight and The Thin Red Line which produced the odd tear down my face.
Hans down one of the best night's of my life.

In June as part of the Edinburgh Film Festival, Empire magazine hosted a live podcast recording and I made sure to attend (despite being hospitalised mere days earlier with kidney stones).
It was a very entertaining couple of hours as Chris, Helen, Phil and Ali provided the usual levels of film criticism, gags and spot prizes along with a great interview with Elijah Wood who got incredibly excited when he spotted a bottle of Irn Bru I had given the team as a welcome to Scotland present.

Favourite Cinema Marketing Campaign - The Grand Budapest Hotel

My personal favourite campaign that we did at the cinema this year was turning the foyer into The Grand Budapest Hotel for the film's opening weekend, complete with our own concierge Dallas K. and a Grand Budapest Hotel version of Guess Who.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Leviathan - review

A powerful film that examines a family in a remote fishing village's struggle to fight the system when their home is threatened by a development.

This is a very thinly veiled critique of the power and corruption rife in the Russian government and political system.

As strong and powerful as the vodka continuously drunk throughout the film. You'll leave feeling intoxicated by proxy with booze and anger.

4 stars

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Thing - review

I can't believe that this film was a failure on its release as it is one of the true classics of the genre. Critics and the public found the body horror of the film too nauseating but Rob Bottin's truly 'out of this world' creations remain a highlight in the world of special effects, and like American Werewolf, all the more effective for being real, practical SFX rather than CGI (which is what would be used in the much-mooted prequel I'm sure). So Palmer's response to seeing a head sprout legs and scuttle away is exactly the same as the audiences "you've gotta be fucking kidding".
I have done film courses on the horror genre before and in them I have talked about the differences between tension and suspense. Suspense is where the audience knows more than the characters. For example, when the audience knows the killer is in the house and is waiting for them to jump out on their victims. Tension however is where the audience know as much as the characters, and this is what makes The Thing so effective.
You have a large group of people in an isolated location who are infiltrated by a shape shifting alien. They know that (at least) one of them is The Thing, and so do we, but nobody knows who it is.
This leads up to one of the best scenes in the movie and in cinema as an example of tension, the blood test.
Also contains one of cinema's best tag lines (Man is the warmest place to hide) and last lines, when two characters (no spoilers) sit down in the frozen camp and suspicious of each other, share a drink "Maybe we'll sit here a while, see what happens".

5 stars

Die Hard - review

Yes, Die Hard is a Christmas movie.

It's set on Christmas Eve and it is the touching story of one man doing everything in his power to be reunited with his family.

It is also one of the best action films ever made with a wisecracking cop with a death wish, a vest and no shoes going up against the greatest ever "British actor playing the villain" performance from Alan Rickman.

So is Die Hard the best Christmas movie ever made? Yippee-Kay-Aye Motherf*cker!

5 stars