Thursday, 8 May 2014

Best films of 2014 so far

Best that 2014 has offered so far:

14 Blue Ruin
13 We Are The Best
12 The Muppets Most Wanted
11 The Wolf Of Wall Street
10 12 Years A Slave
9 Captain America: The Winter Solider
8 Starred Up
7 Calvary
6 August: Osage County
5 The Lego Movie
4 Tracks
3 The Double
2 Her
1 Under The Skin

And the Worst:

5 Noah
4 Last Vegas
3 The Amazing Spider-man 2
2 Divergent
1 Labor Day

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

2013's Best in Film (so far)

When it comes to film, 2013 may have had a disappointing start, but 8 months in, and there are lots to choose from. Here are my top 9. (In no particular order)

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine)

Spring Breakers had a wafer-thin plotline, an arrogantly adolescent soundtrack and was borderline misogynistic.
But no, it has not been added to the wrong list. There is something hypnotically satisfying about Harmony Korine’s chaotic filmmaking that makes for an unforgettable rollercoaster. Though there is very little character development, we still develop an affinity and understanding with Selena Gomez’s Faith, rooting for her escape from the farfetched and ridiculous situation she has found herself in. And while his character is never likable, James Franco’s Alien is the most enchanting lunatic you will watch all year.
     You’ll never listen to Britney Spears in the same way again.

Before Midnight (Richard Linklater)

When nothing happens in a full 95 minutes of film and you still come out of the cinema feeling changed, you know you have witnessed something masterful. This slots perfectly into the Before Sunrise/Sunset trilogy, but more importantly works as a film in its own right. Never has a relationship drama felt so painfully honest - when you watch these two, not entirely likable people laugh and fight you realise that you are these people inside your own current or past relationships.
Without for one second being tacky, patronising or working in clichés, Richard Linklater gives us a very personal lesson in what love really is.

Behind The Candelabra (Steven Soderbergh)

When you think of the great onscreen romances you think of Kate and Leo or Fred and Ginger...You would not expect to add Matt Damon and Michael Douglas to the list. This biographical account of piano-legend Liberace and his long and complicated relationship with his partner Scott Thorson is as vibrant and fun as it is tender and touching. 

Though this was not originally meant to be a motion picture, and instead a TV-film, it shows the great skill and depth that Soderbergh possesses, and this is truly his last feature it is a great shame, as no other film screams “Oscar” louder than this. Soderbergh clearly still has a great deal to give.

Star Trek into The Darkness (J.J. Abrams)

Man of Steel, World War Z and Iron Man 3 are among some of the action blockbusters to hit our screens this year – but one stands above them all. This sequel to the solid 2009 reboot is packed full of action, while never once becoming repetitive or dull. The sci-fi epic still manages to spend enough time focusing on the character development of its well-known protagonists - led by a faultless performance from Zachary Quinto as the iconic Spock and a fully on-form Benedict Cumberbatch, who spooks us as the menacing Khan. Bring on the third instalment.

The Place Beyond Pines (Derek Cianfrance)

It may not have been as tragically gripping as Blue Valentine, but Derek Cianfrance’s latest feature is still one to watch. The indie-drama is separated into 3 separate sub-plots and, admittedly, some characters’ stories are more interesting than others. Gosling, though treading on familiar ground, still gives a remarkable performance as Luke, while Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes provide strong backup.
Cianfrance recreates Blue Valentine's haunting sense of stillness in this atmospheric crime drama. It is exciting to anticipate what this budding-auteur might do next.

Mud (Jeff Nichols)

The trailer was less than inspiring. Matthew Mcconaughey and Reese Witherspoon did not appeal as leads. The plot looked done. But one cannot argue with 98% on Rotten Tomatoes, so, begrudgedly, I went to see what the fuss was about.
           Luckily, the performances were solid and refreshing and the story was believable and well structured. It may have been a slow burner, but the audience's perseverance is rewarded with an action-packed finale. 
         Cinema’s most pleasant surprise of 2013.

Stories We Tell (Sarah Polley)

Sarah Polley has shown a lot of promise as a director in the past few years, but none of the stories she has told have been as interesting as her own. Though at a first glance, this interview-based documentary is just about family, you soon realise that it also studies memory, character and forgiveness.
          It is an intensely emotionally and revealing experience, told from the point of view of Polley’s nearest and dearest. One of this bibliographical picture’s biggest triumphs is the reincarnation of Polley’s mother – Diane McMillan, through vague re-enactments and with the interviewees’ various recollections, we feel as if we know her - a struggle many directors have with characters they actually have dialogue for.  

          Stories we tell is never just a Documentary. It is an investigation, an experiment and most importantly, a story.

The Bling Ring (Sofia Coppola)

As an admirer of Sophia Coppola’s work, there was a sense of relief when the credits rolled. The Bling Ring is an effortlessly executed yet also profoundly complex investigation into the shallow world of celebrity fascination. Fortunately, though this is arguably Coppola’s most commercial picture to date, she does not lose the unique style of film-making which made her past four features so poignant: throughout the mayhem of this satirical-drama, Coppola manages to project that dreamy and somewhat detached sense of wonder that made Lost in Translation and The Virgin Suicides so aesthetically appealing.
            ‘America has this sick fascination with the whole Bonnie and Clyde kind of thing’, one of her protagonists proclaims, but it is not just America, it is everyone, and that is what makes this such an intriguing picture. Coppola does not go down the obvious directorial path – we are not compelled to judge these people; instead with are invited inside of her bling ring so that we can live the events amongst them.

Much Ado About Nothing (Joss Whedon)

After The Avengers became the third highest grossing film ever, it is hard to believe that Joss Whedon’s next cinematic release would be a micro-budget Shakespearean adaptation filmed in black and white and shot over 12 days in his own house mostly using the cast of Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse.
         Well, it was, but of course Joss can do no wrong.
         This is a charming, vibrant and snappy little film and may well be the best Shakespeare –to-film we have had since Baz Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Top Films of 2012

There have, of course, been the yearly disappointments, (Killing Them Softly, Holy Motors, The Master, Take This Waltz) and the outright turkeys, (American Reunion, Seeking a Friend for the End of The World, The Dictator). But overall, as with music, it has been a fantastic year for film and has been difficult to whittle it down

... Here's my ten...

10) Amour (Michael Haneke) - A heartbreakingly realistic story about the demise of the human condition. Perfectly bleak and depressing. 

9) Chronicle (Josh Trank) - This is Marvel and DC comics' distant and estranged cousin. Chronicle shows us that having the biggest budget, the biggest names and the biggest hype doesn't always give you the biggest film. 

8Moonrise Kingdom (Wes Anderson) - Another win for Wes.

7) Killer Joe (William Friedkin) - This intense and gruesome piece of cinema redeems Matthew Mcconaughey from the huge disappointment that was Magic Mike

6) Lawless (John Hillcoat) -  Nothing particularly innovative here, yet the solid storytelling and gripping performances are triumphant. The most underrated film of the year. 

5) The Impostor (Bart Layton) - The most shocking, unsettling and sometimes humorous documentary of the 2012. Though it relies mainly upon fact, this Docu-drama has as many twists and turns as a David Fincher film. 

4) ParaNorman (Chris Butler) - There have been a lot of children's animated films this year but this one is a standout. Boundary breaking, colourful and fun.

3) Beasts of the Southern Wild (Benh Zeitlin) - Quvenzhané Wallis gives a faultless performance as 6-year-old Hush Puppy, who is the most endearing and captivating  character of the year. The rest of the film is pretty decent, too. Oscars for all! (probably not).

2) Life of Pi (Ang Lee)- Emotional, stunning, unforgettable.

1) Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard) - Another two fantastic performances in this tragic story based on a life-changing accident.
 French cinema definitely dampened the mood this year, but they did it with such style. 

Runners up include; Anna Karenina, The Dark Knight Rises, Cabin in the Woods and Argo

Sunday, 30 December 2012

My Top 13 Songs of 2012

It's been a great year for music and has been very difficult to condense into a list of just 13 songs. Sorry Kelly Clarkson, you just didn't make the cut. 

13) M.I.A - Bad Girls
It may not have been huge- but 'Bad Girls' is a far superior song to the mega-hit, 'Paper Planes' in my eyes. Fierce Bitch.

12) First Aid Kit - Emmylou
These two cannot go a foot wrong - their second album is equally as strong as their last. I'm incredibly jealous of their talent.

11) Dirty Projectors - Dance For You
I'm not sure if this was released as a single, but this was a stand out from the album for me.

10) Lana Del Rey - Ride
Say what you like about Lana, her sometimes annoying persona, her overlong music videos or her questionable live performances - this song is still beautifully produced, written and sung.

09) HAIM - Don't Save Me
This is the female Hanson we've been waiting for since 1996. I'm feeling 2013 will be a big one for these three Californian ladies. 

08) Bat For Lashes - Laura
Another spellbinding record from Natasha Khan. Chills. 

07) The 1975 - Sex
This is a strong indie-rock (or pop?) record from Manchester newcomers - The 1975. 'Sexis catchy, fun and will get you on your feet, yet it still has a haunting aftertaste. 

06) Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill (2012 A Deal With God Remix) 
Though technically not  a song from this year, the remastered version of this 80s classic was one of 2012's most pleasant surprises. 

05) Miike Snow - Paddling Out
The second album from this Swedish Trio did not, admittedly, grab me as much as their first album. However, 'Paddling Out' is one of a handful of songs off the record that many artists would be lucky to boast.

04) Angel Haze - Werkin Girls
Move over Azealia. Sorry Nicki. This song might not be to everyone's tastes but I think Angel Haze is one of the most talented and real female rappers (or just rappers) we've ever seen.

03) Girls Aloud - Something New
I know it might be a difficult fact for many people to swallow - but Xenomania (The geniuses behind Girls Aloud) have made some of pop's most brilliant songs over the past the ten years. And 'Something New' is no exception - it is perfect celebration of everything great about pop. Once it grows on you, it never leaves you.

02) Sky Ferreira - Everything is Embarrassing
I don't know if this even charted in the top 200 in the UK. Either way, you only have to listen to this timeless and powerful song once, to know that it should have been number 1.

01) Marina and The Diamonds - Power and Control 
Though some of the magic was cut from the shorter, radio version of this song, it remains one of the strongest pieces of music Marina has offered us. An underrated pop masterpiece.

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Amazing Spider-man - Film Review

It has been only a short ten years since Sam Raimi brought our favourite arachnid to the big screen - and this instantly leaves us with the question of just how innovative this new telling of the story can really be. 
While the initial plot, though dressed up, remains the same, director Marc Webb does make some notable changes, the most obvious being a change in the love interest; Red-headed girl next door, Mary Jane Watson is replaced by yellow-haired Gwen Stacey, who alas, still just reminds us of Mary Jane – now donning a blonde wig.

Webb has the upper-hand with visuals, as special effects have come on a long way in the past ten years. With the addition of 3D, the film is truly spectacular making the climax one of the most thrilling climaxes to come from Hollywood yet.

One of this action fantasy's greatest assets is its actors: Andrew Garfield, Rhys Ifans and Sally Field all give charismatic and sympathetic performances, which help the rather thin and stretched-out story move a little faster. 

2002's Spiderman was one of the very first films to start up the modern phenomenon of comic-book movies. Luckily for him, Raimi got there first and since his adaptation was such a strong one, it was always going to be a difficult wall to climb over. 

Ultimately, this new offering of Spiderman may be thoroughly entertaining and even thrilling in parts, but it offers very little to the webbed crusader's world that we haven't seen before and nothing new to the Marvel Universe. 

Monday, 2 July 2012

2012 Film Round-up

The Best in Film of 2012 (So far)

We’ve passed the half way mark of 2012 and though nobody could deny that there has been a fair share of cinematic disappointments (American Reunion, The Dictator and even Prometheus) and even some outright turkeys (Piranha 3DD anyone?) but we have still had a reasonably strong year in film so far. With The Dark Knight Rises, Great Gatsby and Perks of Being a Wallflower still to be released, here’s a look at 2012’s finest offerings thus far.

Martha Marcy May Marlene Sean Durkin

his is one of those haunting films which subtly eats away at your brain even after the film has ended. Utilising the original concept of the film, rising star Elizabeth Olsen gives one of the most intriguing yet disturbing performances of the year. Her character’s paranoid mind flashes back to the years she spent living with an abusive cult, shortly after escaping from them. It may not be an enjoyable film to sit through, or even one that you'd care to go back to - but it is still a necessary experience... Mary-Kate and Ashley who?

Marvel’s The Avengers/ Avengers AssembleJoss Whedon

Nobody cam deny that this is 143 minutes of unadulterated entertainment. It may have some strong contenders when it comes to comic book adaptations; but  Avengers Assemble is certainly up there with the best. Showcasing a host of interesting and multi-layered heroes (sadly only one of which being female), a snappy script and a breathtaking climax there is not much to complain about. It may not offer anything that is tremendously original or groundbreaking but it certainly raises the bar for future superhero and comic book adaptations.

ChronicleJosh Trank

From one superhero picture to another, this hand-held adventure gives us a completely different experience: this is the Blair Witch of the superhero world. And while it could be a total disaster given its popular choice in plotline, it still packs a punch. Its three main characters could be the most complex characters we have seen in the genre - Dane DeHaan’s chilling performance is a standout as his sinister portrayal of Andrew pulls us uneasily in. Though it becomes almost too camp in some parts, this is a thrill ride you cannot miss.

Cabin in the WoodsDrew Goddard

Though a lot of critics were on the fence with this one, its ridiculousness has already generated a cult following. While The Avengers boasts a polished, well structured and Hollywoodised product of screenwriter Joss Whedon’s talent, Cabin in the Woods lets his imagination run wild and free. There are numerous winks to the fans of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and homage paid to various horror films of past and present.  This is by no means a ‘scary movie’, but it makes up for it by being just as thrilling as it is funny.

Moonrise KingdomWes Anderson

Every carefully grafted shot is framed like a painting or photograph in this off-beat comedy about childhood romance. Anderson’s depth and unique eye for detail makes this a visual feast. However, the way the film appears is not the only positive with Moonrise. Since it is not directed by Tim Burton, style and substance are on equal footing.  This picture provides us with two poignant, yet witty performances from its 13-year old leads which are backed up by impressive acting from Edward Norton and Bruce Willis. Though he is now a respectable auteur, this is arguably Anderson at his eccentric best.

The Five-Year year EngagementNicholas Stoller

If you are expecting another Bridesmaids or The Hangover; The Five-Year year Engagement may disappoint. This is as much a commitment to being a relationship drama as it is a comedy, as Stoller sacrifices some of the belly-laughs to showcase realistic relationship problems. While there are some questionable performances from the supporting cast, Emily Blunt and Jason Segel easily carry the film with their charm and wit. Admittedly, at least twenty minutes could be shaved off this Rom-Com, as the cinema chair begins to feel uncomfortable towards the end. However, this is still an honest insight into marriage and relationships with good performances and enough humour to keep it afloat.  The best comedy of the year.

Killer Joe - William Friedkin

While we wait for Django Unchained, William Friedkin keeps us occupied with his Tarantinoesque drama. I use the Tarantino reference lightly though, as though this black comedy does have a similar feel, it definitely is its own film, still baring Friedkin’s distinct stamp.
There are great performances all round, especially from the women, Juno Temple and Gina Gershon, who present us with non-clichéd and interesting female characters. Emile Hirsch also shines as he bounces back from a string of questionable films. 

This grotesque story of family can be a difficult watch and might have you swallowing your own vomit at times but you won’t look away as the story is as captivating as its characters. And what more would you expect from the director of The Exorcist?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

GIRLS - Review

After watching the first two episodes of HBO’s Girls I am going to make as bold a statement as to say that it is some of the best television I have seen in about half a decade.

Though I do not want to delve too far in to the racial politics, in fear of offending someone, I will just very quickly address the widespread criticism of the ‘All-white cast in a multi-cultural New York’. Admittedly, it did not go unnoticed – and certainly does not feel right: As a viewer you do definitely question the producers’ logic with regards to their casting decisions. However, I do not see this, necessarily, as a deliberate decision, but maybe as more of an oversight? It could have simply been that the actors, who were best suited to play the characters, just happened to be Caucasian.  Alas, while speculation is welcome, we cannot know the truth behind the casting at this moment.

Not since Six Feet Under left our screens in 2005 have I watched such a brave portrayal of women on the small screen. Even Alan Ball’s more recent True Blood, though deliciously entertaining, still falls short when it comes to the sincerity of its characters (yes I know, they’re vampires). Girls, in fact could be seen as the sassy product of Six Feet Under and Sex and the City’s wild drunken night at the HBO Christmas party – and that’s a good thing.

Though lots of the themes of Girls are similar to those of SATC, it is a more brutally relatable portrayal of the women. We know women (and men) may wish to talk about their various issues regarding sex: but unfortunately, not everyone can afford to spend the time and money doing so, every night, in a bar in Manhattan - whilst drinking an over-priced cosmopolitan. Instead we have penniless college-graduates discussing abortion as they sit in the STI clinic. It’s Bleak.

The Bravery of the writing makes the characters easily accessible and though we have only known these four women for a total of 57 minutes, we are already fully rooting for them. Without playing any ‘archetypal female roles’, we get four very different and complex characters – none of which could be seen as the stereotypical woman… Well, maybe Jemima Kirke’s Jessa (who plays the free-spirited and typically cynical Brit) but I’m willing to overlook this because she still remains an intriguing character.
Sex and the City showed the highs and lows of the women’s sexual life, but all four women seemed to strive for (and often achieve) perfect happiness in the bedroom.  Girls does not glamorise the orgasm or sex in the same way, we are only really seeing the lows. ‘Sex is really, really overrated,’ advises one of the girls.

It is this blunt writing style which makes this a fresh and terrific show, standing out from the crowd with heavy competition from various new (and old) shows. Let’s just hope that that the next eight episodes remain as strong and that we will hopefully see some more cultural diversity in the future.

One to watch.