Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Top 15 Films of 2015

1= Star Wars: The Force Awakens

1= Mad Max: Fury Road

3. Inside Out

4. Whiplash

5. Birdman

6. Steve Jobs

7. Sicario

8. It Follows

9. Ex Machina

10. The Duke Of Burgundy

11. The Lobster

12. John Wick

13. Enemy

14. The Martian

15. Macbeth

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - review

"There has been an awakening... have you felt it?"

There certainly was an awakening last night as this Star Wars fan found that the love he had for the original trilogy, a love that was thought lost forever, returned in force.
From the moment the Lucasfilm logo appeared and the famous crawl stretched up the screen to the familiar score of John Williams, you couldn't remove the grin from my face.
But wait, I had been here before. Star Wars for want of a better analogy is like the love of your life who broke your heart and turns up years later wanting to get back together. You know that it could end badly but you just can't help yourself and give it another go.
Thankfully JJ Abrams et all knew that the passion I and many other fans had for Star Wars was still inside us. We might not have know it ourselves but just as Luke believed that there was good still inside Darth Vader and fought to bring it out of him, they have done just that with The Force Awakens.
I will not go into details of the plot for fear of spoilers, after all we don't want another Homer Simpson situation on our hands do we?

Suffice to say that The Force Awakens is everything that fans who were disappointed with the prequels would want from a Star Wars film.
Gone are the trade federation taxation routes and political posturing. Gone are the overly CGI backgrounds and wooden acting.
The movie feels like it has been shot in real locations with CGI characters used sparingly with a focus on make up, costume and puppetry to bring them to life.
The script is a lot sharper and brings back that sense of fun. There are a lot more laughs in the film than I was expecting but it all works for the characters.
Not only that but the film has what was sorely missing from the prequels... Han Solo. It was his world-weariness and roguish charm that appealed to audiences, and that presence was not filled by any characters such as Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan or Jar Jar Binks.
The newcomers to this saga such as Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren fit in perfectly to the established universe and the welcome return of Han Solo and Chewbacca acts as a nice bridge between the trilogies, especially as Harrison Ford really does look like he is enjoying being back in the cockpit again.
Kylo Ren in particular, proves to be a much more complex villain than initially thought (just look at how his reaction to bad news differs to that of Vader) and Adam Driver is excellent in the role which will evolve into something really special over the course of the films. The same goes for Daisy Ridley as Rey.
Is The Force Awakens a perfect film? No, it is not. You are occasionally left wanting more from some of the characters, some of whom deserve more screen time, and the movie poses more questions than it answers (clearly conscious of being part one of a new trilogy rather than a stand alone film like A New Hope was originally).
Is it the best film of the year? No. However this film was never going to be judged merely on the quality of this one particular installment. It would always be reviewed and thought of as one part of a much larger universe.
Compared to the crushing disappointment and anger that the prequels generated, causing many people to turn to the dark side, this has shown us the path back to the light.
Any film that has me consistently laughing, close to tears on three separate occasions and leaves me with a grin frozen in place like Han in carbonite is always going to win out on an emotional level.
The Force Awakens proves that "the force will be with you always" and as I left the screen as the credits rolled I whispered "I love you" and Star Wars replied simply with... "I know".

4 stars

Monday, 2 November 2015

Halloween Column

With All Hallow’s Eve approaching, the Belmont could not let the opportunity to screen a scary movie pass us by and that is why this Halloween we are screening… Halloween.
John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic that introduced the world to one of cinema’s greatest boogeymen and one of the most influential horror films of all-time.
Horror films used to be about Gothic threats like ghosts, vampires and werewolves but Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960 gave evil a human face and brought the horror into suburbia when Janet Leigh met her fate in a shower in the Bates Motel.
18 years later Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would become the new Scream Queen.
She plays a babysitter who is stalked and terrorised by the phantom-like figure of Michael Myers.  A monster who killed his sister when he was a child and returns to his home town to kill again on the anniversary of her death.
Halloween was the film that set “the rules” of the genre. Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex. Don’t ask “Who’s there?” and so on and so on.
It may have popularised the Slasher movie and prompted a host of remakes, reboots and rip-offs but Halloween remains the original and best... and most importantly, the scariest.

Dallas King

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ext. New York City - update

It's been a while since I posted on the blog but I haven't been sitting around doing nothing. I have been watching lots of films but only posting mini review on Twitter for the time being.

Instead all of my focus is currently going into my book on New York film locations.

I went over in July and with my official photographer aka my dad, we walked the equivalent of three marathons in 3 days as we ventured all over Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Coney Island) to photograph as many locations as possible.

In the end we visit over 90 locations which has provided lots of material for the book which I am now in the final stages of writing.

I hope to have a draft finished by the end of August with a view to publish it myself in September/October.

More news to come as I reach the finishing stage but in the meantime, here are a few taster images from my trip...

Sunday, 21 June 2015

EIFF - Empire Podcast Live and Ewan McGregor In Person

An early start to hop on the 6.35am Megabus to Edinburgh was required this morning in order to attend two of my most anticipated events at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.
First up was a live recording of Empire Magazine's Podcast featuring regulars Chris Hewitt, Phil DeSemleyn, Ali Plumb and Helen O'Hara.

This was the second year in a row that they have done a recording at the Festival and this was just as informative, intellectual, irreverent, hilarious, full of spot prizes of varying quality and PG-13 material as last time.
As well as the usual movie news, reviews and readers questions (well audience questions in this case), they were joined by guests Robert Sheehan, director Corin Hardy and actress Emily Mortimer.
It is great to see the podcast being recorded in person for the full "live and uncut" experience as the comoradarie between the Empire guys is evident in person and often allows for some more risqué humour which probably will not make it into the final edit (those who were there will know what I'm talking about but essentially involves Ron Weasley and a 99 cone).

Following on from the podcast, there was time for a quick pitstop in Festival HQ (aka the Filmhouse Cafe Bar) before heading over to the Lyceum Theatre across the road for Ewan McGregor In Person.

Interviewed by Edith Bowman, Ewan started off by talking about the film he was at the festival to promote, The Last Days In The Desert, in which he plays Jesus AND Lucifer.
Following that they took a relaxed and candid tour through his career with wit and charm, from the likes of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting to working on Beauty And The Beast.

Highlights included:

  • Realising that despite having a French wife and four children who speak French, he couldn't initially do a French accent for Lumiere without it sounding Mexican.

  • A moving story about how his parents let him leave school early to pursue acting and how some advice from his Uncle Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles in Star Wars) helped him understand the craft and get him into an acting school.

  • Talking about the method of "playing with himself on screen" when he plays the dual parts of Jesus and Lucifer.

  • Having buried the hatchet with Danny Boyle, he is now open to the idea of a Trainspotting sequel.

  • His regret that Peter Capaldi hadn't secured funding for his script where Ewan would have played four parts (Bonnie Prince Charlie, his decoy, an American actor playing Bonnie Prince Charlie and a Scottish lookalike).

  • He is looking forward to the new Star Wars film but scoffed at the hilted lightsaber believing that if you are using it properly you don't need a hilt.

  • He would also be happy to become Obi-Wan again to tell the story of what happens between Episodes III and IV.

  • Despite being in conversation for over 90 minutes, it only scratched the surface of a wide and varied career of Scotland's most successful export since McEwen's and the crowd would have happily sat there for another 90 to ask more questions but alas he had to head across town to present the screening of The Last Days Of The Desert... but not before a few photos on stage (where he did some mime) and a couple of quick selfies and autographs outside.

    Then it was time to get the train back up the road but a fantastic day at the Festival and looking forward to one final trip back down next weekend to see one of my all-time favourite films Back To The Future with a live orchestra score.

    Thursday, 18 June 2015

    EIFF 2015 - Maggie

    Maggie is being sold on it being a zombie movie and the movie in which the world discovers that Arnie can act.
    Only one of these facts are true and shockingly it is the second one because the former Governer and Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers what is arguably his finest on screen performance to date (although is that difficult given his previous benchmarks? After all he is a movie star rather than an actor).
    As a father struggling to come to terms with the fact this his daughter will evolve into a zombie, Arnie delivers a surprisingly tender and emotive performance, even shedding the odd tear or two.
    Despite it being marketed as a zombie movie, it is a far away from your typical zombie flick as Let The Right One In is from a vampire movie.
    There is no widespread panic, massive scenes of desolation or Arnie fighting off hordes of the undead.
    Instead at the heart of the film is a family drama where a biological outbreak has created a disease that causes people to slowly turn into the undead.
    The disease is treated in the early stages just like any other, with patients patched up and sent home with a pamphlet on preventing the spread of the disease until it is time for them to "turn" and they are shipped off to quarantine.
    Quarantine is meant to be where the infected are cared for in their final days but according to some, it is in reality a horrific place where all the infected are left to rot and feed off each other.
    And so to the central crux of the story and what Maggie is really about.
    The film is actually a comment on the moral dilemma of assisted suicide. Should Arnold allow his daughter to get taken to quarantine where the quality of her life is not assured and she slowly and painfully deteriorates into someone that they and she herself no longer recognises or does he do the humane thing and help her end her life?
    All three central performances are strong, with Breslin providing a lot of pain and empathy as the girl who will turn and Joely Richardson offering a counterpoint to Arnold's desire to protect his daughter as the stepmom who doesn't see Maggie as one of her own.
    The tagline for the film could have been "Don't Get Too Close" but this is close to being the freshest take on the zombie film since 28 Days Later and won't be undead on arrival in cinemas this July.

    4 stars

    EIFF 2015 - Opening Night Gala - The Legend Of Barney Thomson

    Last night saw the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival kick off festivities with its opening night gala premiere of The Legend Of Barney Thomson, directed by and starring festival patron Robert Carlyle.
    Having missed last year's opening gala without an unfortunately timed and incredibly painful case of kidney stones, it was exciting and reassuring to be able to walk the red carpet in my tuxedo (which up until an hour before still had the tags on from its purchase last year!).
    The film tells the story of Barney Thomson, a Glaswegian barber who is down on his luck and accidentally kills a co-worker who fires him from his job.
    With a serial killer stalking the streets of Glasgow and mailing body parts of their victims to relatives, Barney's mum (a hilarious Emma Thompson) convinces him to ride on the coattails of the killer to get the police (including a dogged Cockney copper played by Ray Winstone) off his scent.
    There are parallels to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (particularly with Ray Winstone in the film as he played the barber on BBC) but Barney is a much more sympathetic character, with the emphasis on the pathetic.
    The psycho Begbie is nowhere to be seen here as when we meet Barney he is sad, alone and about to be fired from his job. Even then he can't seem to muster the energy or passion to fight back, only killing his co-worker by accident. Then his attempts to dispose of the body set off a hilariously awful chain of events that cause Barney's life and lies to spiral out of control, and Carlyle plays his sense of hopelessness and growing anger at his inability to change things quite wonderfully.
    The sense of humour that runs through the film is as sharp as the razor that Barney uses at work. A lot of it comes from the situation that Barney gets himself into and a fair dose comes from Emma Thompson's turn as his ageing, bingo obsessed mother.
    She delivers the "Glasgae banter" with aplomb and receives many of the films biggest laughs (although one does wonder if anyone outside of Scotland will understand what she is saying half the time).
    The film's subplot about inter-departmental police rivalry could have done with a trim, or even a short back and sides, but Carlyle (in his first film as director) has delivered a accomplished tale of the macabre that should play well to audiences who enjoy a wild, wacky and wicked ride.
    The Legend Of Barney Thomson was a cracking, crowd-pleasing choice for the new direction of the Edinburgh Film Festival and proved to be a bloody good laugh.

    4 stars

    Tuesday, 5 May 2015

    John Wick poster

    There were two items of good news regarding John Wick this week because not only was there an official announcement about production of a sequel John Wick 2 (which will need a snappier title I imagine) but I also found out that my alternative poster design won the Hey U Guys competition!

    The prize is that I will receive a framed print of the finished poster to hang on my wall which will make me feel like the new Saul Bass, Drew Struzan or Olly Moss.

    Really I'm just happy that people have liked the simplistic but retro design and the feedback has been very encouraging and I might enter more creative brief competitions in the future.

    Friday, 24 April 2015

    Avengers: Age Of Ultron - Review

    In 2012's The Avengers, Nick Fury and Joss Whedon were both faced with an impossible task:

    How do you solve a problem like Maria Hill? Just kidding.

    No, I obviously meant how do you bring together Marvel's greatest individual superheroes together into one successful and cohesive unit?

    Well thanks to Whedon's writing and directing skills, the answer was... "Very easily" because it became the most successful comic book movie of all-time.

    It couldn't have been easy coming back to try and achieve the impossible one more time. Particularly when Marvel Studios have really raised their game in Phase 2, with them on their best run of movies so far with Iron Man 3, Winter Soldier and Guardians Of The Galaxy (we'll skip over Thor: The Dark World).

    Thankfully Joss is up to the task, delivering a film that simultaneously feels bigger in scale but more intimate in terms of character development.

    Following an attack on a HYDRA base, Tony Stark is haunted by a vision of a world (and Avengers) defeated by the return of the Chitauri army.

    He creates the Ultron program, designed to be "a suit of armour around the world", but as anyone who has ever seen a movie about artificial intelligence would know, it is not the best idea as any Skynet-esque defence system will soon realise the best way to protect the Earth is to rid it of its most destructive force... Humans.

    And so Ultron is born. Brought to life (so to speak) by a fantastic vocal performance by James Spader who brings charisma, humour and villainy in spades.

    He recruits two "Enhanced" characters, whatever you do don't call them "mutants", in the form of super fast Pietro and telekinetic Wanda Maximoff to take down the Avengers whilst preparing his masterplan.

    As if that wasn't enough for them to deal with, the Avengers all have their own issues going on:

    Stark is faced with the Frankenstein-esque guilt of his creation. Black Widow and Bruce Banner are getting close but the Hulk keeps getting in the way, with them sharing one particular exchange reminding us of Whedon's work in Buffy. And it nice to see Hawkeye finally get a proper story arc with a surprise reveal as to his past.

    As mentioned before, the action set pieces are HUGE and while at the end it once again falls into the third act trap of people fighting metal men but interestingly there is continuous mention of how Captain America and the gang focus on saving lives and minimising damage.

    Was this a deliberate middle finger to Man Of Steel? I for one like to think so.

    Every single member (of the ever expanding team) gets a chance to shine with the movie's most crowd-pleasing moment going to new character Vision.

    On first viewing there is just so much happening in Age Of Ultron that it seems overwhelming and certain bits can feel lost in the overall mix but it could benefit from repeat viewings.

    Overall Whedon has once again assembled a great movie out of Hollywood's biggest and busiest franchise and his absence going forward will be sorely missed.

    In the meantime with Marvel Studios advancing to Phase 3 and rumours of the fall-out of this film affecting the plot of Captain America: Civil War does this make Age Of Ultron technically aka Ul-Tron Legacy?

    4 stars

    Tuesday, 7 April 2015

    John Wick - review

    John Wick is proper old-school filmmaking. The kind of movie that can be described and pitched in one sentence:

    "Keanu Reeves kills everyone associated to the Russian gangster who murdered his dog".

    Or even more succinctly, "Don't get on John's Wick"!

    This is a throwback to the action movies of the 80's and if filmed back then, would probably have starred someone like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal.

    Reeves is arguably an actor who, as Ronan Keating might put it, "says it best when he says nothing at all", and it works perfectly for the character for whom actions speaks louder than words and starts off as a man consumed by the loss of his wife and sees a glimmer of hope in the form of an adorable puppy called Daisy.

    I can legitimately use the word "adorable" as I experience an entire audience at my Unlimited preview collectively "Awwww" when he stared at him with those puppy dog eyes... and the puppy stares back.

    When Russian gangsters attack Wick, take his car and kill his dog, slowly but surely the real John Wick begins to emerge as he returns, step-by-step, kill-by-kill, into the world he left behind.

    The movie takes it time with the slow reveal of exactly who Wick is and what he did... most of it revealed in a great monologue about the Bogeyman by one of the film's trump cards Michael Nyquist, who delivers a terrific deadpan comic performance as the gangster whose son unleashes the beast in Wick.

    Directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch are former stuntmen who worked with Reeves on The Matrix and have crafted action scenes that utilise the skills he has learnt over the years ("I know Kung Fu") and have developed a new style of fighting involving weapons that could be deemed "Gun Fu".

    The film, like its title character, is lean, mean and doesn't outstay its welcome.

    At one point Wick remarks "People keep asking if I'm back and I haven't really had an answer, but yeah, I'm thinking I'm back."

    Not only is Reeves back with a bang, but in a world that features so many great ideas like a hotel just for assassins with "house rules" and a cleaning company that specialises in the clean up of murders where everything is paid for in gold sovereigns, there is so much more to explore that I for one hope that John Wick is back for good.

    5 stars

    Tuesday, 10 March 2015

    Millarworld: The Proving Ground for Superheroes

    With Spider-Man recently finding his way back home to the MCU (well joint custody at least between Marvel Studios and Sony), talk has turned to who will play Spider-Man in the upcoming film Captain America: Civil War in which the character has a pivotal moment in the comic written by Mark Millar.

    One of the names mentioned has been Taron Egerton who recently starred in Kingsman: The Secret Service, directed by Matthew Vaughn which is also based on a comic book series by Mark Millar.

    If they do go with the character of Peter Parker for the latest reboot of Everyone's favourite neighbourhood Spider-Man (rather than Miles Morales) then Egerton stands a very good chance of landing the role.

    It's not just because he is British. Lots of America's top superheroes have been played by Brits (Batman = Christian Bale, Spider-Man = Andrew Garfield, Superman = Henry Cavill).

    It is actually due to an interesting trivia fact that proves that Mark Millar comic book adaptations are the proving ground for future Marvel and D.C. Heroes.

    Example 1) Wanted (2008)

    Millar's first comic to be adapted for the big screen was Wanted which starred James McAvoy in the lead role of Wesley.
    McAvoy would go on to play Professor Charles Xavier in X Men: First Class and X Men: Days Of Future Past.

    What people might not remember is that Chris Pratt aka Star Lord in Guardians Of The Galaxy played Wesley's friend in the film...

    Which led to this incredible moment where Professor X knocked out Peter Quill with a keyboard!

    Example 2) Kick-Ass (2010)

    The first Kick-Ass film was directed by Matthew Vaughn (who would also go on to direct McAvoy in X Men: First Class) and starred Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Dave Liewiski and Evan Peters as his friend Todd.

    In a very strange coincidence, both actors would later be cast as the same comic book character.
    Evan Peters would play Pietr Maximoff aka Quicksilver in X Men: Days Of Future Past and Aaron Taylor-Johnson would play Quicksilver aka Pietr Maximoff in the upcoming Avengers: Age Of Ultron.

    Taron Egerton should keep his webbed fingers crossed because starring in a Mark Millar based comic book adaptation directed by Matthew Vaughn can lead to great things as a quick look through his back catalogue further exemplifies.

    Vaughn's 2007 film Stardust starred then unknowns Charlie Cox and Henry Cavill...

    Who would go on to play Daredevil and the Man Of Steel himself Superman.

    And let's not even get into Vaughn's directorial debut Layer Cake which featured Tom Hardy aka Bane in a small role but is even more bizarre for featuring a scene where James Bond steals Q's girlfriend!

    If comic book movies operated in the same terms as Scottish Football, Marvel and D.C. would be due Millar and Vaughn several large Bosman-style payouts for scooping up the young talent nurtured by them on previous projects.

    It would be fair to say that based on the evidence they have that adamantium touch when it comes to spotting superhero potential.

    Monday, 2 March 2015

    Top 21 Horror Films since 2000

    Following the release of the 5 star It Follows, the best horror film of 2015 and destined to be a cult classic, I've decided to look back and pick the 21 best horror films of the last 15 years.
    I was initially going to limit it to 15 films (i.e. the best horror film of each year) however 2012 proved a particularly strong year so upped the limit to 21 films.

    The list contains 9 American, 5 British, 3 Japanese, 2 Spanish, 1 Australian and 1 Swedish film.

    Interesting to see how my tastes have varied across the years going from an Asian Extreme vibe through body horror to European then a resurgence of UK/US horrors, in particular those that pay homage or deconstruct the genre.

    2014 - The Babadook

    Heed my advice. Just take a look. You'll be thrilled and scared by The Babadook.

    2013 - Maniac

    Elijah Wood butchers the memory of Frodo and stuffs the remains into a bin in this first person horror which draws the audience into the mindset of a killer and makes them complicit in his gory actions.

    2012 - Sinister

    Ethan Hawke delivers a great performance as a writer who may or may not be driven crazy as he investigates a series of brutal killings for a book he is writing. "Lawn Work" provides the biggest jump scare since the bus moment in The Orphanage.

    2011 - Kill List

    A film that descends into a darker and darker place as it goes on and prompted me to exclaim "What. The F*ck?" when it ended.

    2010 - Black Swan

    An Oscar-winning horror film? Indeed it is, certainly from my perspective. This is a "Were-Swan" horror with echoes of Polanski as a ballet dancer is driven to the edge of madness as she struggles to cope with the pressures of the dual roles in Swan Lake.

    2009 - Let The Right One In

    Devoid of sparkle, this was the perfect antidote to Twilight and one of the best vampire movies in years, along with being an incredible love story.

    2008 - The Orphanage

    A brilliant old-fashioned ghost story that, like The Babadook, explores the darker side of maternal loss.

    2007 - [*REC]

    Before Paranormal Activity caused every horror film to be filmed from a found footage perspective, this Spanish horror breathed life into a sub-genre that hadn't really been exploited since The Blair Witch Project in 1999.

    2006 - Slither

    This is body horror at it's most body orientated and most horrific (as well as its funniest). James Gunn created some of the most revolting scenes committed to film since David Cronenberg's Eighties heyday.

    2005 - The Descent

    It would have made this list for that "Night Vision" camera jump scene alone but it is a tense, gripping horror in two halves with claustrophobic cave crawling scenes at the beginning before giving way to a traditional horror once the group discover they are not alone in the caves. Also receives bonus points for having an all-female cast.

    2004 - Saw

    It gave a jump start to the body horror genre, and prompted several sequels which all tried to outdo the previous entry by coming up with even more inventive traps to kill people, but the first Saw remains a great horror that genuinely surprised me with the twist at the end.

    2003 - Ju On: The Grudge

    2002 - 28 Days Later

    The film that reinvented the zombie genre... even though it is not technically a zombie movie. It have given the world fast moving zombies... even if they were just people infected with a rage virus but even more terrifying than that were the scenes of deserted London.

    2001 - Audition

    I first saw this film late one night on Channel 4 and thought I was watching a Japanese romance until the moment when the bag moved. Then there is the final segment which I won't spoil here but suffice to say I can never here the phrase "kitty kitty kitty" in the same way again!

    2000 - Ringu

    Going full circle (hah) from It Follows, Ringu is the earliest film on the list and also centres on a curse that must be passed on in fear of death. It was one pf those films that came to me through word of mouth, introduced me to Asia Extreme films and one of the first horror films since The Shining to truly frighten me and make me scared to turn on my VCR!

    The Best Of The Rest

    Berberian Sound Studio
    The Cabin In The Woods
    Paranormal Activity
    The Woman In Black