Archive for July, 2014

The day after my sixth birthday my brother told me about the most amazing television program. I’m not entirely sure how he knew so much about it when I didn’t, I can only assume being two years older than me he had a later bedtime. That evening we sat down to watch what turned out to be the final episode. More than thirty years later I remember nothing of the program other than the final scene that I remember in great detail. It is probably this spoiler that has preventing me from ever looking out the show until now. The program in question is Blakes 7 created by Terry Nation (the man responsible for creating the Daleks for Doctor Who) and made by the BBC.blakes 7

Around 36 years after it first aired I have just watched the first season. A sort of intergalactic Robin Hood. Set in a future reality and following a group of escaped convicts led by Roj Blake, a political dissident fighting against the injustice and corruption of “The Federation”, the totalitarian government of the universe. The group travel on a mysterious alien spaceship known as the Liberator. The Liberator is conveniently faster and better armoured than the ships of the Federation who are always one step behind. The locations are a similar combination of studio interiors and English countryside to early Doctor Who. A reboot has often been muted but never realised, however themes of the show have been seen in other programs such as: Red Dwarf, Farscape, Lexx, Andromeda, Firefly.the liberator blakes 7
As with any program of the day the sets are cheap and effects are terrible at best. However the production design is surprisingly good. This combination of good and bad is the main reason why it could benefit from a reboot.  Hopefully anyone thinking of remaking it will remember to put an apostrophe in the title.


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Diminished Expectations?

I go to the cinema a lot. Watching over 100 films a year, and going back to see the ones I really like more than once. To put it another way, in an average month I see more films at the cinema than I had seen by my eightieth birthday. But would I go so often if I had to pay full price? Probably not!

This article started out as something very different. I intended to talk about the directors whose films I would go and see without knowing a thing about them. When Kathryn Bigelow made The Weight of Water (2000), a film that was so far below the radar most people have forgotten it exists (if they knew it existed in the first place), and Martin Scorsese made Hugo (2011), a kids movie in 3D, I went to see them without reading a review. There are a handful of other directors that I feel the same way about, however suddenly I came to realise something hence the change in direction of this post. I have seen all of Paul W.S. Anderson’s films and all but one of Michael Bay’s films, I couldn’t bring myself to see Pain & Gain. My expectations and the standards I expect from a film have dropped.The Weight of Water

I have mentioned previously that I pay for a monthly cinema pass, It works out as less than £2 a film in comparison to the £8 to £10 that my local cinemas charge saving around £1,000 a year. At full price it is unlikely that I would have seen all the films that I have this year. The ones I am unlikely to have bothered with are: I, Frankenstein, Robocop, Lone Survivor, Jack Strong, Stalingrad, The Lego Movie, 300 Rise of an Empire, Need For Speed, A Long Way Down, The Last Days on Mars, Brick Mansions, Pompeii, Sabotage, Maleficent, 22 Jump Street, 3 Days To Kill, Transformers: Age Of Extinction. Looking at it from the other point of view, I have been back to see the following films for a second time: Only Lovers Left Alive, The Grand Budapest Hotel, X-Men: Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow. I intend to see Boyhood again later this week. This is something I wouldn’t have done at £10 a time.Boyhood

But there is another factor at play. I have had my current pass for 14 years, before that I used to buy the old 8 week mega pass from Virgin. Back then I watched a lot of films but not as many as now. I didn’t “keep score” until I started blogging but am sure I watch a lot of films I wouldn’t have before I started blogging. I don’t kid myself that I am as immersed in film or see anything like the number of movies as a professional critic but understand the more I see, and the more variety I see the more I understand film. The only downside to this is that I watch less older films than I used to.

I’m not sure that my expectations are diminished I just choose to watch more films and more varied films because I can.

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” But all the clocks in the city begin to whirr and chime:
‘O let not Time deceive you, You cannot conquer Time”.
W. H. Auden

For people who are obsessed with film (and to start and write a movie blog for over five years I must be pretty obsessive about film) there are directors that you feel belong to you. When I was a student and completely immersed in film the big name to break through was Quentin Tarantino, I love most of his films, but he was never “mine”. When Pulp Fiction opened in 1994 the queue was round the block, Tarantino was everyone’s director. But Richard Linklater always felt like my director. I didn’t see his early films in the cinema, but watched Slacker (1991), Dazed and Confused, (1993), Before Sunrise (1995) when they first came out on video and have seen the second two countless times since. Dazed and Confused is one of my most watched films even making it onto my Desert Island DVDs list ahead of Fandango. As a student none of my contemporaries at university were aware of Dazed and Confused, or Before Sunrise until I recommended them. They are both films I have always been happy to recommend as I am yet to find anyone who hasn’t at least enjoyed them. Film snobs can be a little sniffy about Dazed and Confused but were won over by Before Sunrise (1995). Richard Linklater’s new film Boyhood potentially eclipses all his previous work.boyhood poster

I first became aware of Boyhood when it appeared on IMDB as “untitled 12 year project” at first I thought it was the rumoured Before Sunrise sequel but them Before Sunset (2004) was announced and releases. Then I thought it may be part three, wrong again. Then, if not a synopsis, an idea of the mechanics of Boyhood appeared. Since then I have been hearing rumours about the film and finally got to see it this week. With a Runtime of 166 minutes it is almost exactly the same length as Transformers: Age of Extinction, both are long films but very different films. Despite the fact nothing unusual or outstanding really happens in Boyhood it is totally enthralling, captivating and the three hours flew by. Michael Bay’s latest epic instalment of his robots hitting each other is dull despite almost constant action. Boyhood’s budget was about one-hundredth what Bay spent, while Transformers is certain to make infinitely more money, it is disposable at best, Boyhood will be remembered as being as close to perfection as a film can be.boyhood
For those who don’t know, Boyhood is a unique and a uniquely ambitious film. The idea was conceived by Director Richard Linklater around 2001, he started filming the following year. He cast seven year old Ellar Coltrane in the lead role supported by Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as his parents and Lorelei Linklater (Richard Linklater’s Daugter) as his sister. The film was then shot over the next twelve years telling the story of Mason (Coltrane) from the age of six until he leaves for collage at the age of eighteen.boyhood and Patricia Arquette

What could easily have become an interesting gimmick actually transpires to be by far the best film I have seen all year. Throughout the movie nothing out of the ordinary happens, to make this interesting is the sign of true greatness. To attempt to review a film like this could never do it justice; you could call it a document of an age, a character study, a brilliant comedy, a heart-warming drama or a beautiful film; you could comment on the fantastic script or the brilliant natural acting; or even the interesting concept. All of these are true but also miss the point. The film depicts the milestones of Mason’s life but without the grand moments, it concentrates on the simple day to day as much as the big events. Ultimately it is document of a life, it has no great subtext or agenda, it just follows the twists and turns of adolescence. The film is at its best when it is at its most ordinary. To quote Celine and Jesse from Before Sunrise “all those mundane boring things, everybody has to do every day of their fucking life” or “The poetry of day to day life”. Shot over a number of years it can’t help but document the time in which it is set, in an interview with BBC Radio 4 Richard Linklater describes the film as “a period piece in a present tense”. We see advances in technology and document the political landscape of a nation but they are just background. The marvel of this anomaly of the format is that it doesn’t dwell on it. The same is true of the music. From the opening bars of Aerosmith’s Sweet Emotion in Dazed and Confused it was clear that music is an important part of Linklater movies. Without been too overt the film charts the musical landscape of the time with music as varied as Coldplay, The Flaming Lips, Lady Gaga, Sheryl Crow and Bob Dylan.boyhood ethan hawke

Going into the movie knowing the format I could not help but watch for the changes from year to year, looking at how the actors changed, looking out for the songs of the day, but after a while I completely forgot this and enjoyed it for what it was. This suddenly hit me as Mason reached 18 and I suddenly realised the film would be over soon. Having been sat for nearly three hours I found myself wishing the film would go on for longer. There are very few movies that leave this feeling, is it a sign of perfection or manipulation? Interestingly Dazed and Confused leaves the same feeling as we see Wooderson’s car driving off into the distance.Ellar Coltrane

So far the film has made a modest profit, how much money it makes is insignificant, however the more people who see it the better. It isn’t a film that will change the world, but it may just make the people who see it think. Richard Linklater has already received two Oscar nominations, both for “Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay” (Before Midnight (2013) and Before Sunset (2004)). Unless there are some truly amazing films released in the next six months he surly deserves an third nomination along with one for best director. Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette wouldn’t be out of place amongst the supporting actor nominations. Just like the box-office the awards it wins don’t really matter, but if it picks up a few high profile awards it will encourage more people to see it.

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As we pass the halfway point of the year one of my most anticipated films for a long time, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood has just opened and I will be watching it sometime this week. The end of the month sees The Avengers universe expand a little further with Guardians of the Galaxy, but what am I looking forward to for the rest of the year. Here are a few:

The Rover: Director: David Michôd: 15 August 2014 – Australia, 10 years after a global economic collapse, a man goes after the people who stole his only possession, his car. A sort of neorealist Mad Max.The Rover

A Most Wanted Man: Director: Anton Corbijn: 12 September 2014 – Political thriller based on a John le Carré’s novel. Sadly one of the last films to star the late Philip Seymour Hoffman.A Most Wanted Man

Kingsman: The Secret Service: Director: Matthew Vaughn: 17th October 2014 – Vaughn and long time collaborator Jane Goldman adapted comic book about a veteran secret agent and a young recruit.Kingsman The Secret Service

Gone Girl: Director David Fincher: 3rd October 2014 – A man reports his wife missing only to become the prime suspect. Adapted from a bestselling novel.Gone Girl

The Homesman: Director Tommy Lee Jones: 3rd October 2014 – A road/trail movie in the old west, Tommy Lee Jones stars as well as directs.The Homesman

Interstellar: Director Christopher Nolan: 7th November 2014 – Space travel and wormholes and things like that, we can’t be sure because its Christopher Nolan, we don’t care because its Christopher Nolan!Interstellar

The Hunger Games Mockingjay: Part 1: Director Francis Lawrence: 21st November 2014 – The first part of the final part of The Hunger Games, the revolution starts here.The Hunger Games Mockingjay

Unbroken: Director: Angelina Jolie: 26 December 2014 – True story of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and WWII POW.Unbroken

The Imitation Game: Director: Morten Tyldum: 14 November 2014 – The true and ultimately tragic story of Alan Turing, one of the men responsible for cracking the Enigma code during World War II.??????????????????

Snowpiercer: Director: Joon-ho Bong: Date TBA – The remnants of humanity fight a class war on , a train that travels around the globe. (on my list of anticipated films 18 months ago, I hope to see it this year).Snowpiercer

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At the start of the film Iron Man (2008) you would be forgiven for thinking that you were watching a film set in the real world. As it went on it remained on the edge of reality with the only science fiction being the technological advances of Iron Mans suit. Later the same year The Incredible Hulk (2008) added more sci-fi and fantasy to the story as did Captain America: The First Avenger ( 2011), Thor (2011) and The Avengers ( 2012). Later this month will see the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, a film within the same fictional universe as the Marvel movies but set “In the far reaches of space”. This leads me to ask the question; have you ever noticed that is space set Sci-Fi movies we can never get too far from earth? When I say too far, I am talking I am not talking physical distance. With the exception of Star Wars (1977) most notable “space operas” tend to be set a few (or many) years from now and feature humanity exploring or colonizing other worlds. The other common plot involves returning to a Earth after some near apocalyptic event. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with films that are tied to earth, humanity and reality but the freedom that George Lucas gave himself and the makers of the new films by setting the first film “A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…” is immeasurable.Guardians-of-the-Galaxy

Serenity (2005) Set mainly in the outer worlds away from the Alliance government, it is basically the American west or frontier in the late 19th century, with the addition of space travel. The towns on many of the planets look intentionally like those from western movies. There are no alien life forms or creatures, everything has an old fashioned look to it. This is contrasted with the new and shiny cities on alliance planets. The film uses its settings and the idea of humans colonising the universe to its advantage in the plot of the film. I can’t remember any reference to Earth in the Firefly, the TV show that spawned the movie, but the film starts with the explanation of earth not being able to sustain us so new planets were found and terraformed. This comes back to bite humanity later as we learn what was created in the process. There is a nice symmetry about the way the story creates its own monsters “like the bogeyman from stories”, this gives an extra dimension and meaning to the plot. It makes the back story of the setting integral to the current plot but also grounds it somewhere near reality.serenity

David Lynch’s Dune (1984), is a more complicated story, there is no reference to earth in the film, but there is in Frank Herbert’s source novels (a reference to Chaucer as I remember it). It is the film, after Star Wars that best creates a believable universe. There are planets with different ecosystems and inhabitants. The Spacing Guild acts as an antagonist in the story, with a monopoly on banking and interstellar travel, I have always suspected they were an inspiration for the Trade Federation in Star Wars. At the time of its release, it was hit with the duel criticism of not being faithful to the book at the same time as being unintelligible to anyone who hadn’t read the book. I have never understood this, I saw the film on its initial release when I was around ten years old, several years before I read the book and had no trouble following the plot. We only see a handful of the planets and the people who populate them, as the story is mainly set on the planet Arrakis (also known as Dune) rather than the rocketing around the galaxy. Dune is the centre of the universe because of the presence of Spice, the most valuable substance in the universe. Unlike the McGuffin Unobtainium (Avatar) Spice becomes central to the plot of the film.Dune

Alien (1979)and its sequels are all about humans in space, despite the extraordinary alien creatures the film always has a sense of realism. There is always an unbalance between the working man and the plans of big business. There is always a desire to capture the alien to study and weaponise it, this is both a plot point and the bases for the movies subtext. The themes explored give it more in common with a Bruce Springsteen song or a John Steinbeck novel than with Star Wars. Most of the action in Alien takes place onboard a spaceship. Aliens (1986) relocates the action to the surface of the planet, that is undergoing terraforming leaving the action mainly in an industrial interior.Alien

There is then sub genre of films about protecting the world from an alien invasion or attack. Notable among these are The Fifth Element (1997), Flash Gordon (1980), Starship Troopers (1997). Notable, not for how good they are, but because they leave the confines of earth and are set in part on alien planets. Of these only Flash Gordon does any notable “world building”, but this is largely inspired by earlier film, TV, and comic versions of the story. One of my most anticipated films of the year is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, a film that appears from the trailer to be a film about space exploration set in a near future of depleted resources. I’m sure there is more to it than that but the less I know going in the better. interstellar

I understand the reason for tethering a story to earth and humanity, and the emotional connection it gives an audience to the plot and characters, however I want to see something different. Films will always be filled with meaning, metaphor and subtext. A films social and political stance will always be grounded in the era its is from, but cutting the ties from earth and humanity as we know it could be the start to it. I’m not sure if there is a film other than Star Wars set in a totally fictional universe, but if there is I would like to see it. If there isn’t it’s about time someone made it. With a new Star Wars trilogy and at least two stand alone films I think they will have the market cornered, but my hope, and the real reason for this article, can they inspire future generations of film makers the way Star Wars inspired a generation in 1977?A_long_time_ago

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Since writing my blog I have read less and less of the opinions of professional critics, this is not because there is anything wrong with of professional criticism, it is simply because I choose to watch films with less information than I did in the past. Reading the writings of other bloggers I have noted that many feel the same as me. Some because they don’t want to be influenced before their inevitable review. Others like me enjoy the movie more without too much prior knowledge. I’m sure a few just don’t have the time.

I also like to read the opinions of other bloggers, there are a lot of them out there; In 2010 my blog appeared on list of “600 Movie Blogs You Might Have Missed” in Total Film. They describe it as ” We did a little digging, and came up with a pretty damned comprehensive list of blogs”. There are a lot more of them now! At last count 1740 bloggers had joined the LAMB (Large Association of Movie Blogs) with an estimate of over 1000 active members. Bloggers cover every part of the spectrum of knowledge and writing ability from those who struggle to structure a coherent sentence to the ones who put many pros to shame.lamb-banner-wide

Film blogging has become a community with a large proportion of people who read blogs being bloggers themselves. This is why professional criticism is more important than ever. The film industry responds to the public, the public respond to critics, therefore it is import for the wider public to have access to professional critics, as strange as it sounds, this is too bigger responsibility to be left up to people like me.  I can happily read reviews of people like: Ryan from The Matinee, Caz from Lets Go To The Movies, Allison form My Film Habit. I have read so many of their reviews to know that not only do they know what they are talking about, but I also know where their opinions differ from mine. But your average film fan needs to dip into any publication an trust that there is a certain neutrality to a reviewers work. Listening to Roger Ebert’s widow Chaz talking about Life Itself (2014), a documentary about her late husband summed this up. Although Ebert was a advocate for online film criticism, both amateur and professional he had sound advice for people wishing to become film critics: Go to college, get an education in something other than film such as English and or Journalism. Study other subjects like history or science, and most importantly, experience life.roger and chaz ebert

I have listened to podcasts from both sides of the Atlantic, both by professionals and armatures, the consistent thing about them is the inconstancy. Some are eloquent, some are knowledgeable, some are both, others are neither. it isn’t always the ones you think it will be. The significant and potentially dangerous ones, are the critics on the fringe of professionalism, they have the opinions and the eloquence but aren’t immersed in cinema in the way that is needed to be a competent critic let alone a great one. The notable film critics in the UK at the moment are most probably Mark Kermode, Mark Cousins, James King, Peter Bradshaw and Philip French. Again, like the bloggers mentioned above, I have read and heard enough of their reviews to understand their prospective and some of their ideals and agenda. But anyone who has never read any of their work can pick it up with the confidence they are reading a review by someone with both breadth and depth of knowledge.Mark Kermode

But what do filmmakers think? Jon Favreau’s recent movie Chef is hailed as an allegory for his return to independent cinema, however if we take this subtext, we have to embrace the full meaning of it. The film charts the rise, fall and redemption of its central character (like so many films that have gone before it), however the catalyst for this story ark is a critic. If Favereau’s Chef character is a representation of Favereau the director, Oliver Platt’s critic must be seen as a representation of film critics. This takes on its greatest significance when we realise that Platt is ultimately right.oliver platt chef

Just like my article about blogging last year wasn’t anti-critic, this one isn’t anti-blogger, they are both a reminder that we do similar but significantly different things and there is space for both of us. The industry would surly suffer if there were no more professional critics. While, there is relevance to what I have to say, true film criticism is too important to be left up to me.

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While researching an article on film certification I came across the BBFC podcast.  In one of their episodes they mentioned the highest number of complaints they have received in recent years was for Black Swan (2011).  The most interesting thing was how few complains and what they were for;  The number was around 40 and the reason, parents complaining that their daughters who were expecting a nice film about ballet. It was clearly a case of expectations.  The trailer makes the film look like the giallo inspired psychological horror/thriller that it is.  As someone who grew up watching films on video with a certificate beyond my age I may not have the best judgment on the subject, however I do think the 15 is about right.black-swan-movie-1

A look at the BBFC website gives a interesting insight into how they came to the decision “Black Swan presented the BBFC with a whole range of classification issues when it was submitted for an advice viewing in 2010”.  It appears the reasons the film received the 15 certificate and was considered for an 18 include: Sex, language, drug use, self harm and bloody images as described in the BBFCinsight (BBFCinsight is aimed particularly at parents. It offers a summary of how and why a film was rated at any given category). The film’s director Darren Aronofsky previous made Requiem For a Dream (2001) that received an 18 certificate for “strong drug use, language, violence, sex and medical gore”.  Everything in the film stems from the drug use, and if there ever was an anti-drug film this is it.REQUIEM FOR A DREAM

As mentioned, it’s all a matter of perspective.  Black Swan is a psychological thriller about the breakdown of an emotionally fragile young woman.  On the other hand the seminal Ballet movie Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s THE RED SHOES (1948) is actually a darker movie.  When you strip away the stunning photography and fantastic score you are left with a story of a woman who is forced to make an impossible choice between love and the job she loves.  It’s a fairytale with all the sweetness and happiness removed.  A movie that is as devastating as it is beautiful.  Without the sex, language, drug use, self harm and bloody images the film has a U rating meaning anyone of any age can watch it without any warning that they are going to have their heart and hope ripped from them.the red shoes moira shearer

I’m unsure what conclusions we can draw from this other than to say films aren’t always what you expect and the written guidelines such as BBFCinsight are probably more relevant the simple number or letter of the certificate.

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In a Football interrupted month I have been to see eight films, fortunately they have been better than England’s Performance at the World Cup:

Edge of Tomorrow: This time loop, alien invasion, war movie is far more than just a Tom Cruise Vehicle. Using the time loop well to create in interesting and exciting story with just enough dry dark comedy. It also finds a suitable part for the normally underused Emily Blunt.edge of tomorrow

22 Jump Street: When 21 Jump Street was announced no one expected 27 year old Jonah Hill and 30 year old Channing Tatum to work, as it turned out that was half the joke of the movie. So how do you follow that? By doing exactly the same thing again and making a joke of the fact you are doing the same thing again. Worth seeing for the closing credits alone.22 Jump Street

Belle: The true (ish) story of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of the nephew of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice of England. Raised by her great-uncle and his wife, the film speculates on what impact Belle may have had on his ruling in an important court case of the day, one contributed to the abolition of slavery. A little lightweight but beautifully shot and really well acted.Belle Movie Stills

Oculus: A horror film full of TV stars Karen Gillan (Doctor Who), Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica), Rory Cochrane (CSI) and Brenton Thwaites (Australian soap Home and Away) doesn’t fill you with confidence. However Mike Flanagan’s movie based on his own earlier short is well scripted with a great concept; most of the film is set in a single location but at two different times. A superior horror that aims to disturb rather than shock and succeeds admirably.Oculus

3 Days to Kill: Kevin Costner plays a terminally ill CIA hit-man trying to bond with his estranged daughter whilst doing one last job in return for an experimental drug that may save his life. Written and produced by Luc Besson comparisons with Taken are inevitable, so I will compare it to Taken! Not as nasty as Taken but also not as focused or as taut.3 Days to Kill

Jersey Boys: “Goodfellas the Musical”. Clint Eastwood’s movie of the stage musical of the same name tells the story of Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons from their beginnings in New Jersey. The characters do not break into song and dance, instead the singing is restricted to performance, rehearsal and the bands recording sessions; however the characters do break the fourth wall and narrate direct to camera, this is distracting. Largely enjoyable but unmemorable.JERSEY BOYS

Cold in July: After a small town Texas family man (Michael C. Hall) shoots and kills an intruder, the dead man’s farther Sam Shepard turns up. Avoiding the pitfalls of going all Max Cady the story takes an interesting twist. Set in the late 80’s the electro-synth gives a real 80’s feel and is reminiscent of John Carpenter and early Michael Mann. The most accessible and mainstream of Jim Mickle (writer, director) and Nick Damici (writer, actor), although not their normal horror, the film is still a genre film, and a real genre film, not a mainstream movie pretending to slum it.Cold in July

Chef: After suffering career death by social media the chef of the title goes back to his roots and opens a food truck. Much has been made of the plot of the film being a metaphor for writer/director/start, Jon Favreau returning to his indie roots, this kind of loses its way given the A list cameo’s and supporting cast. Forget all this and take the film for what it is, an amiable comedy road movie charting the fall and redemption by bonding with his young son.Chef

Cold in July and Oculus came close but are not movie of the month. Released in the last few days of May and still in cinemas as we enter July, now it earns the ultimate accolade, my movie of the month is: Edge of TomorrowEdge-of-Tomorrow

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