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

Monday, 12 January 2015

Ext. New York City - Superhero City

One of the reasons I have been not as frequent in my blog posts this year is that I have started work on a new writing project called "Ext. New York City - Discover The Reel New York City On Location".
In 2009 I visited New York for the first time and fell in love with the city and have visited it every year since. However I think I had fallen in love with the Big Apple even before I had ever walked along the streets of Manhattan thanks to the movies.
As a huge fan of the movies and of the city, I am currently writing a travel guide that will cater and appeal to film fans looking to visit and discover more about the locations made famous in the movies.
I am under no illusions here and fully expect to self publish the book on a digital format but who knows, there might just be a publisher out there for this type of book.
In the meantime I will work away with an aim of completing it this year... perhaps making one more trip back to the Big Apple to get a few more pictures before then.
However I wanted to post a little preview of what I'm doing and so therefore here is a little taste of what is to come in the form of a sample chapter looking at the Superhero genre in NYC.
Hope you like it.

As witnessed in the chapter on apocalyptic New York, the Big Apple can often find itself under threat and holding out for a hero.

Thankfully in the realm of comic books and their big screen adaptations, there are many superheroes that call New York City home and will fight to defend it including your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man and Brooklyn's very own Steve Rogers aka Captain America.

The headquarters of Marvel Comics has always been based in NYC and many of their characters also live within the five boroughs.

Part of the comics and characters enduring appeal was that even though these characters were mutants or beings with fantastical powers, they were grounded in a reality that was familiar to the readers and seeing them interact with real-life places and situations helped to increase their relatability and popularity.

You have Peter Parker residing in Queens, Daredevil patrolling the streets of Hell's Kitchen and the Fantastic Four live and work in the fictional Baxter Buiilding that appears in the Manhattan skyline.

So when it comes to adapting these stories to the big screen, the producers are lucky in that a large proportion of the location scouting, production design and even storyboarding has already been provided for them by the comic book artists. Although these are not always set in stone as the key word is adaptations, with the makers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 sadly not opting to recreate the infamous cover of issue 122 come the finale.

Even DC Comics, who created fictional cities for thier most famous heroes Batman and Superman, have used the backlot that is New York City when it came to bringing Metroplois to life in Richard Donner's Superman and elements of Gotham in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy.

The current boom in comic book movies really took off with the success of Spider-Man in May 2002, becoming the first film to take over $100 million at the US box office on its opening weekend.

Part of this may be down to the fact that following the events of 9/11, America and New York in particular was in desperate need of a hero and they found one in the form of a costumed superhero from their very own backyard.

For the last twelve years Earth's mightiest heroes have defended its greatest city before coming full circle and culminating in the Battle Of New York in The Avengers, which became the first film to take over $200 million in its first weekend.

It is fair to say that the city and its inhabitants are characters in their own right which adds to the stakes of the adventures e.g. the New Yorkers on the bridge in Spider-Man who defiantly shout to the Green Goblin that "you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us" or the NYPD who move people to safety in The Avengers at the behest of the embodiment of the American Dream Captain America during their battle with the Chitauri.

Although in the comics and movies, superheroes have not always gained the approval of the authorities or certain editors of The Daily Bugle, they have been welcomed with open arms by the people of New York and the same goes for comic book fans with lots for them to do in the Big Apple.

Every October, the city plays host to the New York Comic Con (www.newyorkcomiccon.com), held at the Javits Convention Center. It welcomes 120,000 visitors every year over a four day period making it the largest event of its type outside of San Diego.

Recommended comic book stores include the original Midtown Comics near Times Square (200 W 40th St & 7th Avenue) and St. Marks Comics (11 St Marks Place between 2nd & 3rd Avenue).

For those looking to walk in the footsteps of their favourite superheroes, then Celebrity Planet's Superhero Walking Tour is highly recommended. Running every Fri/Sat/Sun at 2.00, it lasts 90 minutes and will take you on fun, fact-filled guide through some of Midtown's iconic locations. (www.celebrityplanet.com/newyork/the-superhero-tour-of-new-york.html). Cost - $35.

Superman (1978)

The Daily Planet - New York Daily News Building, 220 East 42nd Street between 2nd & 3rd Avenue)

The interior lobby and exterior of the building would play the part of the offices of The Daily Planet newspaper where Superman would work undercover as Clark Kent and first meet Lois Lane.

Spider-Man (2002)

The Daily Bugle - Flatiron Building (175 5th Avenue)

In Sam Raimi's trilogy of Spider-Man films, the famous Flatiron building is the home of The Daily Bugle where Peter Parker sells his candid photos of Spidey to his most vocal naysayer, editor J. Jonah Jameson.

The Avengers (2012)

The Battle For New York - Grand Central Station/Pershing Square/Park Avenue

When Loki opens a portal above Stark Tower (digitally replacing the Metlife building above Grand Central Station) and unleashes the Chitauri army upon Manhattan, the Avengers predominantly battle them in the area surrounding the station which includes Pershing Square and Park Avenue.

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