Friday, 15 December 2017

2017 - The Year In Review

2017 - A Year In Review

It would be easy to write up a review of the year looking at the big stories of the year but it would make for depressing reading now and no amount of "Now Wolverine can team up with the Avengers" can make up for that.

Instead this will be a bit of a statistical analysis of my year of cinema going along with my picks for the best (and worst) films of the year along with movie moments and performances.

When compiling my list of what I had watched this year, it became apparent that I will need to move with the times in 2018 as I only had kept track of films that I had seen at the cinema and not at home via Netflix, such as Gerald's Game and The Circle.

From 1st January, that will change as there are more and more original films being released via online platforms, including Duncan Jones's upcoming Mute (which will hopefully also receive a small theatrical release).

Films watched at the cinema - 142
New releases watched in 2017 - 115
Repeat viewings of new releases - 9
Classic re-issues watched on the big screen - 18

Worst Films of 2017

  1. Transformers 5: The Last Knight
  2. Song To Song
  3. The Snowman
  4. Geostorm
  5. The House

Movie Moments Of The Year

  1. Luke & Leia (The Last Jedi) - Don't want to go into spoilers but safe to say that when Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are reunited on screen, it is a scene that would turn even the most hardened Sith back from the Dark Side.
  2. Joi, K and Mariette (Blade Runner 2049) - The A.I. Joi melds with a replicant prostitute in order to become physical with Gosling's K and the CGI used in this scene is the most stunning that I have ever seen and blew my tiny human mind as it struggled to comprehend what it was seeing.
  3. Epilogue (La La Land) - A beautiful "What If" recap of this stunning, joyous musical which simultaneously becomes the most bittersweet ending to a romance since Casablanca.
  4. Spitfire vs the Bomber (Dunkirk) - The airborne dogfight cinematography is the highlight of Nolan's film but the acting and emotion cannot be overlooked during the scene where Hardy's pilot silently decides whether to fly home to safety or turn around to take on a German bomber to save more soldiers, knowing it will leave him out of fuel and probably sending him to his death.
  5. The Knock On The Door (Wind River) - When Elizabeth Olsen knocks on the door of a cabin, what happened next completely threw me for a loop.
  6. Post-credit Sting (Split) - One comes to expect a twist from an M. Night Shalamyan film and this was no different but when the film revealed where the story would go in the future I properly "marked out" and was astounded and delighted we would see more from the world of *redacted*
  7. Bellbottoms (Baby Driver) - The opening bank robbery and resulting car chase is a tour de force of action directing and editing, with all the action set out meticulously to the soundtrack of Bellbottoms by Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and sets the tone for Edgar Wright's bold, brash and brilliant Baby Driver.
  8. Anything with Korg (Thor Ragnarok) - Taika Waititi's hilarious rock monster Korg was the breakout character of Thor Ragnarok. Always there to undercut the tension with a joke or two, I certainly hope to see more of Korg and Miek in the MCU.
  9. Michael Stuhlbarg's monologue (Call Me By Your Name) - Stuhlbarg steals the film out from under the feet of Chalamet and Hammer right at the end with a tender, beautiful speech to his son that earns him the title of best movie parent since Stanley Tucci and Patricia Clarkson in Easy A.
  10. "Oh hai Mark" (The Disaster Artist) - Yes it was featured in the trailer but the filming of this scene in The Room is fantastic (as is the spot on recreations of scenes from the film played side by side during the end credits).

Best Performances Of The Year

  1. Emily Beecham (Daphne)
  2. Tom Hardy (Dunkirk)
  3. James Franco (The Disaster Artist)
  4. Harrison Ford (Blade Runner 2049)
  5. Jessica Chastain (Miss Sloane & Molly's Game)
  6. Michael Stuhlbarg (Call Me By Your Name)
  7. Rafe Spall (The Ritual)
  8. Mark Hamill (The Last Jedi)
  9. Hugh Grant (Paddington 2)
  10. Jack Black (Jumanji: Welcome To The Jungle)

Most Enjoyable Cinematic Viewing Experiences

  1. The Room
  2. Edinburgh International Film Festival Q&As - This year I was lucky enough to host a couple of Q&As at EIFF including Daphne with a breakout performance from Emily Beecham and a packed house in Filmhouse 1 for The Beautiful Fantastic with Jeremy Irvine.
  3. Raiders Of The Lost Ark with live score at Usher Hall - One of the greatest films of all-time with one of the greatest film themes of all-time played live by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. What's not to love?
  4. Star Wars: The Last Jedi Midnight Screening 
  5. Dunkirk on 70mm & IMAX - Flawless projection from the team at Filmhouse for the gorgeous 70mm print. Sadly there were projection issues at Glasgow IMAX but I did notice the reactions of audience members around me with one girl utterly engrossed with the dogfight scenes so much that whenever Tom Hardy appeared on screen, she moved forward to the edge of her seat. At the end when he opens the cockpit to parachute to safety she started to cheer, only to look around at other people in shock when he closed it to safely land the plane on the beach and burn it so the Germans couldn't use it. It reminded me of the power that cinema can have over people.

Top 17 Films of 2017

  1. Blade Runner 2049
  2. Dunkirk
  3. Wind River
  4. Get Out
  5. The Last Jedi
  6. La La Land
  7. A Ghost Story
  8. Baby Driver
  9. Mother!
  10. The Disaster Artist
  11. Logan
  12. T2 Trainspotting
  13. Call Me By Your Name
  14. Paddington 2
  15. Raw
  16. Kaleidoscope
  17. It Comes At Night
Honorable Mention: War Of The Planet Of The Apes - Who can honestly say that in 2011, when a prequel/reboot to a Sixties sci-fi film that spawned a number of terrible sequels and remakes would produce one of the greatest film trilogies of ALL-TIME, anchored by an incredible central performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

4DX - review

At the end of November, Cineworld Union Square Aberdeen opened their recently converted 4DX screen and today I went along to try it with a second viewing of Star Wars - The Last Jedi.

4DX for those not in the know, attempts to put you into the movie with various tricks such as chairs that move with the action, strobe lighting, wind machines, spraying water and mist plus smoke machines.

The biggest question, given the increased price tag of watching a movie this way, is: does it increase the film viewing experience.

The answer is... not really.

While the initial feeling of having your chair rock back and forth, side to side, as the spaceships fly around the screen and pufts of air blast round your head during explosions is mildly amusing, it feels like the Terminator 4D ride that was at Universal Studios drawn out over two and half hours.

Ultimately, instead of taking you further into the film, it consistently drew me out of the film as I was conscious of the mechanisms at work and it can become a little distracting. Plus having a screen dedicated to films compatible with 4DX technology, it can reduce the choice and availability at multiplexes even more than it currently does, especially at times when the majority of screens will already be playing Star Wars.

I certainly would not recommend it for a first viewing of a film so can focus completely on the story but if you were looking for a bit of fun with a repeat viewing of a big action blockbuster, it certainly can provide a little fun.

The 4DX experience only gets 2 stars!

The Last Jedi - review

When the Force awakened two years ago, a new hope was born for Star Wars fans. Fans that had succumbed to the dark side following feelings of fear, anger and suffering after being disappointed by George Lucas's prequels.

The Force Awakens was a welcome return to the Star Wars universe we all knew and loved. From the effects, the characters and the story.

The story however was slightly too close to the originals for some, with many arguing that it was simply a beat-for-beat retread of A New Hope.

In terms of plot, there will be no discussion of where the story goes and certainly no spoilers but after the opening salvo where sceptical audiences may think "Here we go again", believing that this is simply a repeat of The Empire Strikes Back, it is fair to say, just as Luke says in the trailer "This is not going to go the way you think" and writer-director Rian Johnson (Brick, Looper) successfully delivers a series of unexpected twists and turns as our heroes and villains journey through a galaxy far, far away.

This means that The Last Jedi will potentially divide audiences between the dark side and the light.

And there certainly is a lot of light. For The Last Jedi is easily the funniest Star Wars film in the saga by a Kessel Run parsec or two. It is a huge gamble as the jokes are not the kind that have featured previously in the franchise and the odds are higher than even Han Solo would like but they all landed perfectly with an eager midnight crowd.

Elsewhere, Johnson makes some incredibly bold choices in terms of story and character in an effort to shake off the shackles of 40 years of history and prove that the saga can look ahead to the future and not be tied to the fate of the old guard. Sometimes literally throwing away everything you think you know.

Speaking of the old guard, it is great to finally have Mark Hamill back in a speaking role as a grizzled, world-weary Luke Skywalker but one possessed with Hamill's now trademark playfulness that he has developed since the original trilogy.

Special mention to Carrie Fisher for a strong, steely final performance as General Leia Organa and it is with great sadness that one can only imagine what would have happened in Episode IX, given that VII was Han's story, this is Luke's and it feels as if it would have naturally been her turn in the limelight.

The new generation of Isaac, Boyega, Serkis, Ridley and Driver continue to grow effortlessly into their roles, with Driver particularly fast-becoming the most complex and fascinating character in the saga.

Of the episode's new additions, the stand-outs are veterans Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro, who finally answers the question of what would happen if Fenster from The Usual Suspects went to space.

It is Johnson's ability to elegantly fuse the old and the new which is one of the major successes. Not just fitting new characters into the story but new locations such as the planet of Crait which provides the backdrop of a major battle with striking imagery of white salt flying up off the ground to reveal a blood red surface. There is also a welcome return to practical effects with a focus on puppetry and make up which seamlessly fits with the space battles and stunning CGI of Andy Serkis's Snoke.

Finally, it is time to address the elephant in the room... Porgs! No complaints here as I am now a fully paid up member of Team Porg. They are funny, not overused, not annoying in the same way as the Ewoks were and impossible to resist as testified by the sight of 400 people simultaneously "Awwwing" at a Porg.

The Last Jedi is the strongest instalment of the saga since Empire but that is where the comparisons to Episode V should end as Johnson is now forging a new path for the rebellion and the franchise, one that is built on much more than just hope but skill, wit and passion and the Star Wars is once again a Force to be reckoned with.

4 stars

Sunday, 13 August 2017

A Ghost Story - review

On paper, and even in reality, A Ghost Story should not work. 90 minutes of Terrence Malick-esque meditation on death featuring Oscar-winner Casey Affleck in a sheet and a scene where Rooney Mara spends over five minutes silently eating an entire pie. It is the sort of thing that will alienate a lot of viewers. It certainly did in the screening I was in.

However, just as there are some people unwilling to believe in life after death, for those who are able to open up their minds to the possibility of something other than exists upon this mortal coil, A Ghost Story offers one of the most beautiful, moving and haunting (pun intended) films of the year.

Shot in 1:33 Academy ratio, writer-director David Lowry takes a look at the effect death has on a couple played by Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck (the later whom suddenly passes away), leaving Mara to grieve as Affleck returns to their shared abode in a plain white sheet that initially draws comparisons to Michael Myers in Halloween and E.T.'s Halloween costume in E.T. The Extra Terrestrial.

Yet Affleck is able to bring so much (after) life to the sheet and you can feel, just from his body language, how it is feeling at any time.

For a film called A Ghost Story, there are surprisingly few horror movie tropes. At no point (well nearly none) does the ghost appear out of nowhere signalled by a sudden crash of a piano.

That is because interestingly the focus of the film is from the perspective of the ghost rather than the loved ones, with the transition coming during the most talked about cinema scene involving pie since American Pie... Or The Help!

The aforementioned scene has proved too much for many to stomach (the character included) as Rooney Mara attempts to fill the hole left behind by eating an entire pie from start to finish. The scene last over five minutes and initially may seem slightly on the absurd side but as it went on I found it oddly compelling and when a large chunk of the pie crust fell on the floor I became obsessed with knowing if she would pick it up and eat it.

Just like the leftover crumb, "it is always harder for the one left behind" and in this respect that applies to the ghost who must witness his former partner move on from him; first with another lover and then moving out of the house, leaving him to wander the rooms waiting to complete his unfinished business which is linked to a secret note hidden by Mara's character and destined to become a Macguffin as hotly debated as what Bill Murray whispers as at the end of Lost In Translation.

The ghost is certainly unlikely to find himself in high spirits as he contends with the greatest enemy to us all. Not loss but time. Time catches up with us all. Forced to spend an eternity in that spot, he witnesses other people come and go in the house and developing his powers to influence the lighting and objects within his domain in an almost impotent rage. Grief can outlast even bricks and mortar as the house decays around him but time eventually can heal all wounds and offer a second chance, which is where Lowry's story begins to converge on similar themes to Nolan's Interstellar.

So just as the ghost is emotionally tied to the house he shared with his love, A Ghost Story will stay with you long after you leave the cinema.

5 stars

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Top 5: Edinburgh International Film Festival

Last month I was lucky enough to host some Q&As at the Edinburgh International Film Festival including Daphne and This Beautiful Fantastic.

However I did manage to fit in a few screenings during my time in the Auld Reekie. Here is a quick rundown of the best films I saw at the Festival.

1. Kaleidoscope

Easily the best film I saw at the festival. The less you know going in the better so no spoilers here but this dark psychological thriller features standout performances from Toby Jones and Anne Reid in the most disturbing mother-son relationship since Norman and Norma Bates.

2. My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea

If you can picture an animated version of a mixture of Saved By The Bell meets The Poseiden Adventure then you are on the right tracks with this crudely animated by quirky and charming disaster movie where characters must not only navigate the everyday troubles of high school but also an ever increasing water level.

3. Attraction

Of the two Russian sci-fi films premiering at the Festival this year, Attraction received a lot less buzz than the Marvel rip-off Guardians but it is a vastly superior film, not only in term of special effects but also in performance and narrative. Billed as Independence Day meets Starman, it features two strong leads as a daughter of a general tasked with investigating an alien landing finds herself in contact and falling in love with the humanoid alien... Much to the chagrin of her current boyfriend. One of the most affecting sci-if films of the year so far.

4. Daphne

Emily Beecham quite rightly won the Best Performance In A British Film (jointly with Anne Reid for Kaleidoscope) for her role as the titular Daphne. She plays a woman who admits she has "lost faith in people" and following a traumatic event, loses faith in herself and starts down a path of self-destruction. Beecham is in every scene and carries the movie drawing the audience into the story of a woman who might not be likeable but is ultimately recognisable, relatable and utterly fascinating.

5. Okja

Now available on Netflix, I was lucky to be able to see this on the big screen. Which given what happened to Bong Joon-Ho's last film Snowpiercer in the UK, is a rarity and should be grasped with both hands and it certainly benefits from the big widescreen presentation. Snowpiercer is one of the best films of the last few years and following The Host and Mother, it was Joon-Ho's first branch out into an East-West crossover featuring a worldwide multicultural cast that proved his can tell a story and make a film that can appeal to all audiences.

Initially Okja seems like a family friendly tale of a young girl trying to rescue her giant super pig friend from captivity but between the strong language and ever-darkening tone once Okja reaches the test facility, this is a much more adult story that looks at our treatment of animals and the way the media is used to influence our decisions about what we eat.

It is thoughtful and vastly entertaining, with Ahn Seo-Hyun's soulful performance as Mija counterbalancing the over-the-top performances from Tilda Swinton as Mirando CEO Lucy and Jake Gyllenhaal's wildlife expert Johnny Morris that is wild but captivating.

You'll come out of it questioning whether you want that next bacon sandwich!

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Top 5: Library Scenes in Cinema

Today I start a new job as Event & Programming Officer at the City Libraries and to celebrate, here are my Top 5 scenes set in a library.
1. Ghostbusters
The opening scene in the New York Public Library perfectly sets up the movie but it is the subsequent scene in the library as the Ghostbusters encounter their first paranormal apparition that allows the audience to see the dynamics within the team of Peter, Ray and Egon.

2. The Breakfast Club
90% of this John Hughes Eighties classic is set in a library as it is where the group spend their Saturday afternoon in detention. Difficult to pick one scene out of so many but got to go with the moment they cut loose and dance around the library.

3. All The President's Men
An iconic shot in cinema history as the camera pulls back to reveal the enormity of the task ahead of Woodward and Bernstein as they look through the records of every book checked out by the Nixon administration.

4. Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade

Indiana Jones searches a Venetian library for a clue in the hunt for the Holy Grail where X marks the spot.

5. Stephen King's IT (1990)

When the adult Richie returns to town, he encounters Tim Curry's Pennywise within the local library. Laughs and scares come in equal measures.

Friday, 30 June 2017

Top Ten Films of 2017... So Far!

1. Baby Driver

2. Get Out

3. La La Land

4. John Wick Chapter 2

5. T2 Trainspotting

6. Jackie

7. Logan

8. Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2

9. Ghost In The Shell

10. Miss Sloane

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Baby Driver - "Wheelie F*cking Good"

The first words in my head to describe Baby Driver after emerging from last night's Cineworld Unlimited Preview were "Wheelie F*cking Good" and not my words Carol but the words of Top Gear Magazine!

Edgar Wright's long term passion project (that wasn't Ant Man) has been parked in neutral for several years but now he has ditched the Cornettos in favour of a Zoom as Baby Driver is the most exhausting thrill ride since Mad Max: Fury Road because one it puts the pedal to the metal, it doesn't take its foot off the gas.

Born out of a music video he directed for Mint Royale and the idea of setting a car chase to the tune of Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's song Bellbottoms, this is Wright's love letter to the classic car chase movies. Now we're talking about The Driver, Bullitt, French Connection, etc. NOT The Fast & The Furious franchise.

Wright's first film as sole writer/director is a "World's End" away from Spaced and the Three Colours Cornetto Trilogy. This is a much more American Hollywood style of filmmaking, albeit with some traditional Wright-esque flair when it comes to editing and use of music, with virtually every action sequence meticulously timed to the beat of the song. Think of Michael Mann directing Drive choreographed by Bob Fosse.

Following Scott Pilgrim where Wright worked with Captain America, Captain Marvel, Superman and a Punisher, here he continues to expand his superhero collection with Lex Luthor (Spacey), Electro (Jamie Foxx) and another Punisher (Jon Berthnal). I wonder if Dolph Lundgren will appear in his next film?

Performances are strong across the board with extra praise going to Ansel Elgort (NOT Angel Elsort as I am prone to typing) delivering a breakout, star making role as the getaway driver who just wants to get away, and Jon Hamm having a lot of fun getting to switch gears throughout the three acts.

A breath of fresh air in a multiplex full of sequels and remakes, fantastic reviews and strong word of mouth should drive audiences to the box office ensuring that nobody puts Baby Driver in the corner this summer.

5 stars

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

La La Land - Review

"City of Stars, are you shining just for me? City of Stars, you never shined so brightly"

The bright lights of Hollywood draw in and seduce many a dreamer, like moths to a flame, but do their dreams come true and end up with their name in lights or do they go down in flames?

Films set in the City of Stars can go either way. The Neon Demon and Mulholland Drive show the dark side of what can happen to innocent souls in pursuit of fame and fortune but La La Land, from the outset anyway with a glorious opening number Another Day Of Sun set in a traffic jam, certainly feels like it is full of rays of sunshine, hope and optimism.

This is the L.A. from the movies where anything is possible if you believe you can make it.

Of course, we've all know that isn't strictly true and our main characters Mia, a barista and aspiring actress, and Seb, a jazz pianist who wants to open his own club, both have their own dreams and the film follows them as they face obstacles to their goals and the prospect that what they have been seeking all this time might not be success but actually each other.

If Hollywood still operates under the Studio System, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone would be permanently paired together for the rest of time. The chemistry that was first showcased in Crazy, Stupid Love is off the charts here and is one of the major reasons that the film works so well.

Another reason it works is that it is not beholden to the pitfalls of a stage-to-screen adaptation. Sometimes musicals when they transfer from stage to screen (Chicago, The Producers) struggle to escape the feeling that you are just watching a show. La La Land follows in the footsteps of modern musicals such as Moulin Rouge, South Park: Bigger, Longer Uncut (yes, it is a musical and a damn good one at that!) and has a natural ebb and flow as it follows the central relationship through the seasons.

There were sequences in the film that caused a smile to break out across my face from ear to ear and fill me with a joy I haven't felt in a cinema screen since the final tap dance number in The Artist. And like that film, expect to hear "And the Oscar goes to... for La La Land" quite a lot as Hollywood loves nothing more than a film that celebrates the industry.

There are references to an entire library of cinematic classics; including Singin' In The Rain, Vertigo, Rebel Without A Cause and Casablanca. Like these films, La La Land remembers that the purpose of cinema is to provide an escape from everyday life, to transport you to another place and time and it certainly does that.

City Of Stars might be gaining all the attention but it was the song Audition (The Fools Who Dream), which reminds me of The Rainbow Connection, I was transported back to Studio 54 watching Emma Stone perform in Cabaret, where she first proved that she could hold a tune. Gosling equips himself well too and while not quite Fred and Ginger, they are the modern day Fred and a Ginger.

To quote an internet meme, find someone who looks at you the way critics look at Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone look at each other on screen.

5 stars