Jurassic World

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I’ve never seen Jurassic Park III, and it’s quite likely that I won’t see number 6 either. The inevitability of the contemporary big blockbuster franchise and the laws of diminishing returns set up history to repeat itself. Of course though, the whole intent of Jurassic World is to profit by reproducing earlier success.

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And that sums up the setup of the movie. Both park and film exist 20 years after the first; the poor sequel and unloved third film now erased from canonical existence. A new park lives, full of more spectacular genetically enhanced dinosaur simulacra.

I’m generally fine with repetition – after all most superhero movies end up in city-wide destruction and most westerns are resolved in a shoot-out – but there’s something so niche about Jurassic World’s setting that it makes the plot feel even more of a predictable churn than, say, the latest X-Men or Spider-Man movie. I mean, what can you really do with a theme park full of dinosaurs other than have them escape and terrorise the patrons?

Despite that, Jurassic World is an enjoyable event movie, with all the thrills and spectacle in the right place. It has forward momentum, it has relatively memorable characters, and the action sequences are coherently shot and edited.

Chris Pratt makes up for any potential tedium. He has a rare leading-man screen presence that makes him eminently watchable regardless of script. When you consider the bland Sam Worthington types who were leading “this kind of thing” a few years ago, the current success and bright future of Pratt is a huge relief.

This review might sound relatively negative, but it’s not. I left the screen satisfied, and I can see why it’s been such a box office success. I’m just saying I’m not looking forward to the inevitable ‘dinosaurs in the city’ sequel. And that I’ll probably ignore the film after that all together.

My favourite things of 2014

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It’s that time of the year when I start making lists. Here is some of the pop culture I’ve enjoyed in 2014.

Movies

2014 started wonderfully for film with Only Lovers Left AliveHer and Inside LLewyn Davis remaining three of my favourite flicks throughout the year.

My film of the year, The Wind Rises

My film of the year, The Wind Rises

However, there were two films that massively stood out for me. Those are Richard Linklater’s wonderfully absorbing indie marvel Boyhood, and Hayao Miyazaki absolutely beautiful melancholy animation, The Wind Rises. Both, I feel, have become instant classics.

Meanwhile, Marvel once again proved they’re the studio that knows how to do contemporary blockbusters with Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Their main challenger for action movie of the year was the exciting and satisfying Tom Cruise sci-fi film Edge of Tomorrow.

January / February’s Oscar contenders were also solid this year, particularly Dallas Buyers Club and 12 Years A Slave.

Music

This is the year in which I turned Spotify full time, and the number of artists I’ve listened to as a result is both large and varied.

Old Crow Medicine Show on stage at the Roundhouse, Camden

Old Crow Medicine Show on stage at the Roundhouse, Camden

There were two albums that I played more than any other though: Being As An Ocean‘s Dear G-D, an existential post-hardcore riff on faith, fate and relationships, and Body Clocks by Climates, and up and coming British metal/hardcore band with a killer opening track ‘Leaves of Legacy‘.

In terms of pop music, the year really revolved around Chvrches’ electro-indie The Bones of What You Believe and adorable YouTube twink Troye Sivan‘s debut EP TRXYE for me.

I saw some great gigs too, the pinnacle of which was probably country/folk band Old Crow Medicine Show from Nashville, Tennessee putting on one hell of a show in Camden’s beautiful Roundhouse.

Comics

I’m pretty sure my comics collection has tripled in the last year.

Billy (Wiccan) discovering his powers in Young Avengers

Billy (Wiccan) discovering his powers in Young Avengers

My favourite moment was reading the whole of Young Avengers Volume 3: Mic-Drop at the Edge of Time and Space in one sitting when it released in April (I love those characters so much, and Gillen/McKelvie are a great creative team). And then there were those few months where I got really obsessed with Jonathan Hickman’s entire Fantastic Four run from a few years back.

Image were consistently great in 2014, with Saga still going strong, plus Deadly Class and East of West particular favourites.

The BFI London Film Festival 2014

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This month marked the 58th occurrence of the BFI London Film Festival and my fourth year in attendance. I love the London Film Festival – it’s a very ‘London’ combination of excellent films and overpriced tickets with a general air of hipster, and I wouldn’t have it any other way (except maybe the ticket prices). 

A still from Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Winter Sleep

A still from Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Winter Sleep

The great thing about LFF compared to other film festivals is a. it’s in the city where I live and b. it takes place after all the other major festivals and therefore acts as a kind of ‘best of’ compilation, capping off the festival season and setting up the awards season. This year I was able to see Cannes Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep, whilst much talked about films like Brad Pitt flick Fury and angry drumming film Whiplash were also playing. But LFF also presents the chance to see more obscure films, which is something I really appreciate happening in my home town once a year.

The films I saw at the festival are some of the best I’ve seen all year, and they’re the kind of thing that are (unfortunately) unlikely to get any kind of wide release. I found Macondo an insightful and engaging interaction with the inhabitants of a refugee settlement outside Vienna from a child’s point of view, which includes a stunning non-professional cast; The Way He Looks was the most adorable and heart warming story about the developing sexuality of a blind Brazilian teen; and Kelly & Cal was the kind of independent spirited American film I like, about an unconventional relationship with a particularly excellent performance from Juliette Lewis.

Ramasan Minkailov in Macondo

Ramasan Minkailov in Macondo

On a side note about wide releases, LFF often presents that odd aspect of the film industry (in particular the UK film industry) where films successfully play festivals across the world and then take an age (or fail altogether) to get a general release – and not just the ‘small’ films like the ones mentioned above. It’s absurd that last year’s ‘Surprise Film’ – Wong Kar-Wai’s The Grandmaster (a martial arts film directed by one of the world’s finest filmmakers, with Hong Kong’s most recognisable stars, an international cut overseen by Harvey Weinstein, and two Oscar nominations) is still waiting for a UK release which is now scheduled for this December, 14 months after its LFF debut. The film industry probably needs to make films more accessible, right?

The other great thing about LFF is how it shows off London. There’s a great atmosphere across the West End when it’s going on, with red carpet premieres, directors in attendance of most films, and a feeling of shared experience as hundreds of film fans crowd into the bigger screenings at Vue or Odeon in Leicester Square. But LFF makes the most of London’s smaller venues too. I am increasingly convinced after seeing Kelly & Cal there this year and Drinking Buddies last year that Screen 1 of Hackney Picturehouse is my favourite place to see a film in London. Plus one of my favourite things this year was when I had 45 mins to get from a West End screening to a Hackney screening, adding a kind of thrill to the chase and a city wide scale to the festival.

My only slight annoyance with LFF is the ticketing process. Not having a BFI membership makes it hard to get tickets for the big films, but on the upside I like picking up the left over tickets that go on sale a just before the festival begins and I enjoy scouting out the smaller films. And then there’s the ticket prices – £16 for a regular evening screening is pretty steep and Galas or Imax films go above £20. This definitely limits the number of films I can see, but hey, it’s to be expected from London I guess.

LFF is one of the many reasons I love living in London – having the connection to these kind of events is something that makes this city great.

June to December 2013 in review

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I had recently been feeling like this year has been a lacklustre one for movies and that there hadn’t been much that truly grabbed me. Then, as I did back in June, I looked back at the list of films I had watched over the last 6 months. To my surprise, I’d actually seen a ton of good and great films. So what’s a sporadic film blogger to do other than categorize them?

Tier 1 (the great stuff)

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  • Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare gets the Joss Whedon treatment. I laughed out loud. Lots.
  • Something In The Air – wonderful French coming of age drama.
  • A Field In England – bleak and intelligent, I’m itching for another viewing.
  • Wadjda – a touching film about a young girl just wanting to ride a bicycle and the impact of institutionalised sexism.
  • Frances Ha – Greta Gerwig is great as a lost 20-something.
  • The Way Way Back – ‘the feel good comedy of the summer’.
  • Blue Jasmine – Woody Allen at his finest.
  • Drinking Buddies – mumblecore goodness set in a brewery. Awkward romance ensues.

Tier 2 (good or very good)

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  • Gravity – I’ve never felt as tense during a film or as elated afterwards. Slips into Tier 2 simply because I can’t stomach a re-watch.
  • The World’s End & Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa – grouped together for filling my summer with brit-com excellence.
  • The Grandmaster – Great martial arts film, sub-par Wong Kar-wai film. I’ll take it.
  • Ender’s Game – surprisingly my favourite blockbuster of the year.
  • Computer Chess – mumblecore goodness set at a computer chess tournament in the 80s. Awkward ensues.
  • Metallica Through the Never – refreshing concert film which works brilliantly by adding in narrative elements. Dane DeHaan <3

Excellent stuff I’ve watched at home

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  • Harakiri – masterful samurai drama.
  • The Others Guys & This is the End – two comedies I really enjoyed whilst consuming alcohol on a Friday night.
  • Fast and the Furious 1-4 – this series is just so full of fun. The cast feel like a family. RIP Paul Walker.

Fuck my life

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  • The Counselor – just one entry here. Ridley Scott and the entire cast of top actors completely mishandle Cormac McCarthy’s screenplay.

 

Something In The Air (Apres mai) (2012) – review

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Something In The Air is the kind of film I love. A subtle slow character study, delving into the lives of its ensemble over the course of a summer.

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Student unrest in early ‘70s France places our high school cast amongst the backdrop of a ramshackle communist movement dictated by teenage angst, a desire to belong, and a moderate feeling that something is wrong with the world. As graduation comes, the former friends go their own ways – travel across Europe and India, mundane jobs, and artistic pretensions are all included. It’s a time for growing, and I bloody love a film about growing.

The crux of the film is Gilles, played beautifully by Clément Métayer. His relationships with girls, his father, a friend, art, and communism all come under slow burning scrutiny. It’s a triumph of the actor that you barely notice his character development until the end of the film, when it becomes clear that those around him who seemed to have such defined lives and clear development have in fact learned very little, while Gilles has had time to wrestle with his feelings and convictions, growing into an almost-adult.

The backdrop of post May 1968 France is a fascinating one, and director Olivier Assayas (perhaps best known in the UK for Carlos the Jackal) imbues a real sense of time and place. Something In The Air never really addresses the reasons for the movement or its ultimate lack of results, but by exploring the characters caught up in it, Assayas has produced a wonderful film.

Viewed at: Renoir

Half a year of movie viewing in review

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Because I keep a spreadsheet of these things, I’m aware that I’ve watched 81 films so far this year across both home and cinema viewings. That’s not a bad statistic for the half way point, but considering I watched 200 in total last year, it could be better.

I have however managed to see them in 12 different cinemas, which is more impressive. And they take in wonderful venues like the Phoenix in East Finchley, the cosy Everyman Baker Street and the luxurious Screen on the Green, alongside the shabby Cineworld Haymarket and the downright terrible Cineworld Wood Green – which, with 9 returns, in my most visited cinema this year.

Despite seeing 81 films, the majority were pretty forgettable, let’s do some ranking:

Likely to be near my top ten come December

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  • Hors Satan – arty French miserablist may or may not be evil.
  • Cloud Atlas – a symphonic cacophony of shiny pop philosophy.
  • No – outstanding Chilean political campaign drama.
  • Spring Breakers – a postmodern dismantling of the American dream.

Pretty entertaining cinema releases

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  • Les Miserables – over the top melodrama.
  • Django Unchained – over the top violence.
  • Stoker – stylised black comedy.
  • For Ellen – understated wistful indie.
  • Safe Haven – romantic pic that plays its genre cards well.
  • Underground – 1928 silent set around the London Underground network.
  • Iron Man 3 – (Shane) Black is back.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness – nice character dynamics and lots of running around.

The best things I watched at home

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  • Uzak – slow burning Turkish drama.
  • Touch of Evil – Orson Welles classic.
  • Fallen Angels – Wong Kar Wai classic.
  • Lawrence of Arabia – one hell of a classic.
  • Magnolia – revisiting one of my all time faves was worthwhile.
  • All About Eve – likewise.
  • Pulp Fiction – its been a few years since my last watch, but still holds up.
  • Fallen Angel – a clever and entertaining Otto Preminger noir.

Fuck my life (both home & cinema)

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  • Brick – self indulgent nonsense.
  • Le Mepris – I still don’t quite ‘get’ Godard. Could be described as self indulgent nonsense.
  • Trance – self indulgent nonsense with two gratuitous vagina shots.
  • The Great Gatsby – self indulgent nonsense that preaches against self indulgent nonsense.

So I make that a hit rate of 20 out of 81, or 24.7%. Not bad.

Also, the kind of film I don’t like seems pretty clear now.

 

Review roundup – Spring Breakers, Oblivion, Trance and more…

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Here are a few things I’ve seen in the cinema recently:

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Spring Breakers [pictured] – a really exciting commentary on 21st century entitlement, vulgarity and hedonism, wrapped up in an entirely watchable film that’s actually a whole load of fun. James Franco turns up as a ‘Pitbull’ style rapper underlining the aggression behind much modern pop music and demonstrating the modern American dream of making it by faking it. Harmony Korine directs with an abundance of style.

Oblivion – ultimately shallow, but relatively enjoyable, Oblivion at least does its own thing amongst a sea of sequels and remakes – even if its own thing involves heavily borrowing from the best sci fi of the last 60 years. Nice soundtrack by French electro band M83.

Trance – Danny Boyle’s film looks stylish, but it stops there. It’s neither an effective heist movie nor a coherent mind-fuck. A good thriller should reward the viewer with new developments, different perspectives or plot twists throughout, but Trance it holds all its cards too close and plays them too late. Gratuitous shots of Rosario Dawson’s vagina don’t help, only serving to underline the misogyny of filmmaking’s male gaze.

Compliance – a detestable film, but that’s the point. There were walkouts but I squirmed and writhed my way through this indie flick about fast food workers manipulated  into sexual acts of humiliation by an imitation authority figure. A more effective horror film that the majority of explicitly ‘horror’ films.

Ghost In The Shell 1 & 2 – a Ghost In The Shell double bill at the Prince Charles Cinema you say? God, I forgot how heavy these films can be. The first one contains an overload of plot developments and fine details, the second an overdose of the absurd and faux philosophy. Still they look pretty, and – if you can keep up – provide an enjoyable slice of neo-noir.

Underground (1928) @ The Phoenix, East Finchley

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When I started this blog under its current title this was the kind of thing I wanted to write about. An unusual film in a beautiful cinema, the kind of thing one rarely finds outside of London.

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I had been intending to visit The Phoenix in East Finchley for quite some time but never got around to it. The chance to catch a silent film there seemed all the more exciting. And, as expected, it’s a rather lovely place: a one screen high street cinema from another era. The staff were pleasant, there was an upstairs cafe serving attractive looking food and good coffee, and the whole thing is set up for a good cinema experience. That’s before I even get on to the fact that the room you watch films in looks like this:

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The film itself was wonderful too. A real reminder that late silent films are often amongst the best. Underground is a kinetic film that features some really exiting tracking shots and beautiful chiaroscuro cinematography.

Underground is concerned with a couple of things. First, it shows off the still rather new and exciting Underground network in 1928. But it uses that as a springboard to tell a fascinating story of the interconnected fortunes of four ordinary Londoners. At the centre are two guys trying to win the heart of one girl. But as she falls for one the other gets jealous and a thriller of sorts ensues.

While the historic novelty is certainly a selling point, the real pull of Underground is that it’s simply a great film. British silent cinema seems to often get forgotten amongst the American and German classics of the period, but Underground is real proof that the British could do it just as well.

Viewed at: The Phoenix, East Finchley

The Paperboy (2012) – review

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When I saw The Paperboy it lived up to it’s crowd dis-pleasing reputation. By which I mean there were walk outs. Several of them.

paperboy

The Paperboy certainly is an unusual film, and it treads an uncomfortable line between train wreck and absurd brilliance. An air of schlock pervades as A-list actors like Nicole Kidman and John Cusack descend into white trash roles.

If there’s one thing to say about The Paperboy it’s that it is at least consistently insane. Whether it’s simulated oral sex, crocodile gutting, severe beatings, or Nicole Kidman peeing on Zac Efron’s face, the film never fails at going over the top.

Whether that makes it a good film is questionable. It is essentially a stupid film about unlikable characters. But it is at least a stupid film with some memorable moments.

Viewed at: Cineworld Enfield

Stoker (2013) – review

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Park Chan-wook’s first American film marks the arrival of a great new Hollywood talent. Lets remember after all that many of Hollywood’s greatest directors weren’t Americans – Billy Wilder, Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang etc – and I think what made those filmmakers great was their ability to look into America from an alternative perspective.

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Park Chan-wook brings his exaggerated style and obsession with the morbid to a new audience with Stoker, and it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve seen in a while.

Stoker tuns out to be something like an early Tim Burton film: Dark, funny, and stylish.

Park Chan-wook is a very visual director. Talented and confident, he plays Stoker at a heightened, theatrical level. Editing is rhythmic and acting is perfectly timed. Stoker is more of a film where you go away remembering camera angles, bold cuts, and facial expressions rather than lines of dialogue.

In other words, Stoker cuts away the redundancy of modern Hollywood and tells a story through the medium of film.

And while it’s both dark any funny, it’s still pretty controlled. Remember when Park’s previous effort Thirst started off all dark and intriguing and then became a zany farce? Yeah none of that here. Just a very entertaining film about deep, dark desires.

A mention should be made of editor Nicolas De Toth, who comes of the back of mediocre blockbusters like Terminator 3 and X-Men Origins: Wolverine to make an absolutely outstanding contribution here. Likewise, Clint Mansell deserves a hand – a composer who is fast becoming a favourite of mine.

Overall, Stoker comes very highly recommended.

Viewed at: Cineworld Wood Green