Saturday 23 January 2016

Different Strokes

It seems like not a day goes by lately without me seeing something that starts to get my hackles rising. But that's the internet, right? It's just an avalanche of everything from everyone . . . . . . everywhere. And being bothered by it is about as useful as being bothered by a cloudy day during a Scottish summer, right? On the one hand, yes. But it's also good to let off some steam now and again. And I am going to do that right now as I highlight some important differences.

There's a difference between not liking something and being offended by it. If you happen to be, for example, a British man named Kevin (like, hmmmm, me) and someone makes a joke that happens to make fun of someone called Kevin then that isn't actually a reason to be offended. If you were a gay, British man named Kevin then that would not automatically make the joke-teller a homophobe. As long as the joke was still just about a general Kevin. But even if it was a joke about YOU, it's still not terrible if it's about your general Kevin-ness, as opposed to your sexuality. And using stereotypes and exaggerated negative attitudes to make a point is not the same as actually endorsing either. It's often a tightrope-walk, no argument from me there, but people are too quick in this time of split-second judgment to jump to whatever conclusion allows them to start fighting their good fight for the day.

There's a difference between supporting friends or favourite artists and just blindly endorsing everything that they do as one of the best things ever. I have a lot of friends who put creative works out there and I would never want to tell them if/that they suck. It's not nice. But I would offer constructive criticism, whenever possible, or just keep my mouth shut. Foaming at the mouth with praise for something just because a) someone is a friend or, more commonly, b) you hope to connect with someone famous online will only make your opinion worthless and stunt the potential growth of the people you may want to lend real support to. It's even worse than just saying "good job".

Writing a "clickbait" headline or Top 10 article is not usually the same as writing something that's actually worth the time a reader can spend on it. It's an easy way to get your numbers up, whoopeee, but I've recently discovered that taking the easier way to get your numbers up actually works against you. People respond better to you if they know that you're actually putting some thought into what you're writing. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, you won't BELIEVE what happens next.

Although folks can pretend otherwise, nobody knows everything. That's okay. Don't pretend to know everything. The best thing you can do, most times, is to know what you don't know. If that makes sense. And admit it. Because you'll be caught out eventually.

Having a different opinion to others is not the same as starting an argument. I've seen plenty of polite and civil disagreements online, and loads of healthy conversation that have stemmed from them. In fact, some of my most enjoyable discussions have developed from a difference of opinion. Of course, this is accompanied by the proviso that we should remember that not all opinions are equally valid. That's not to say that someone who hates John Carpenter movies isn't entitled to hate John Carpenter movies, but if they've only seen Ghosts Of Mars and Vampires, for example, and are weighing them against the likes of The Shining, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Suspiria, etc. then it's not exactly the same criteria being used to contrast and compare his filmography.

Last, but not least, there's a difference between writing carelessly and writing without a care. The latter should be your default position. Please yourself and perhaps sometimes other people will also enjoy it. But write carelessly and you will probably end up pleasing nobody.

End rant.

Saturday 9 January 2016

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Although he's become, arguably, a much more divisive figure in recent years, Quentin Tarantino is a director who certainly knows how to sell his product. The hype machine for The Hateful Eight started up quite a while ago, and continues while the movie is on release (thanks to the limited 70mm screenings - which are even more limited here in the UK, unfortunately). Which makes it hard to process if you come out of the cinema having not completely loved one of his films. Thankfully, that's a rare occurence. Aside from Death Proof (which I still rate as a solid 7/10) and the second volume of Kill Bill, I've never felt disappointed by Tarantino. I have an idea of what to expect going in, and he delivers.

The Hateful Eight is his second Western, coming along after his first full feature in the genre (the superb Django Unchained). Whereas the film before it, however, was a lively mixture of violence, comedy, and discomfort, The Hateful Eight turns out to be quite a different animal. Despite still having a similar mix of ingredients, in differing amounts (which I guess you could say about every Tarantino film, of course).

Kurt Russell plays John Ruth, a man travelling with a woman named Daisy Domergue (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh). He's taking Daisy to the town of Red Rock to collect a bounty and see her hung. Unfortunately, the wagon that the pair are travelling in can barely keep ahead of a blizzard that's on their tails. Major Marquis Warren (played by Samuel L. Jackson) is stuck in the snow, and eventually receives a life from Ruth. As does Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a little while later. And the new quartet get themselves to Minnie's Haberdashery, just in time to get much-needed shelter and warmth, where they meet some other men who are also avoiding the blizzard. But everything might not be as it seems.

Taking cues from his previous works, Agatha Christie, and The Thing, Tarantino would seem to have lined up another treat for fans. The cast certainly stay on the top of their game - alongside those mentioned, viewers will enjoy turns from Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, and Michael Madsen, as well as a few others. The premise is solid. And the framing and cinematography is often gorgeous, even if the majority of the movie takes place in the one location.

The big surprise here is also the biggest disappointment. The writing isn't up to scratch. Oh, there are moments that will tickle your earbuds, and moments that I am sure the cast absolutely relished sinking their teeth into, but there are also some big mis-steps. For example, one scene shows a character who barely brings himself to talk to another character, except in anger. But that only last a few scenes, only until Tarantino NEEDS the characters to talk in order to set up a big scene. Then we have two scenes that utilise a voiceover narration because, well, I just don't know why. If the whole movie had the same kind of commentary then it would be fine, or if the scenes couldn't be expressed in a purely visual manner, but it doesn't and they could. Making the decision to clumsily chat over just a couple of random scenes quite a bewlidering one.

The other aspect of the writing to cause some frustration is the level of self-cannibalising that Tarantino indulges in. Viewers know that you can rely on ol' QT to pepper his movies with a veritable cornucopia of references to other films, which is part of the joy, but when he sprinkles in enough moments that feel as if they're referencing his own past glories then it's hard not to think that you're watching a copy of a copy, inevitably appearing as a weaker image. Even the one or two songs used on the soundtrack don't feel right. They just feel as if they've been put there by a man who knows that it's expected of him. This may seem like a minor niggle, and something not worthy of this full paragraph, but once it's noticed it then becomes hard to completely enjoy the movie without considering the shadow cast over it.

But let me clarify something. Although I have gone on about the negative aspects of the movie, I still had a hell of a great time with The Hateful Eight. I was on board as soon as Russell and Jackson started to speak to one another and every subsequent character introduction set another smile on my face (especially Roth, who really should be getting more great movie roles). There's an original score by Ennio Morricone for fans to enjoy. And when the script works, as it does in many instances, then you can revel in the simple pleasure of great actors delivering great lines.

Overall, this is far from his best work. But I'll take a lesser Tarantino movie over many other viewing choices, any day.

NB - due to the fact that I don't live within a reasonable distance of Leicester Square in London, the version of the movie that I watched wasn't the full 70mm version, that comes complete with a few minutes of extra footage, overture, and intermission. BUT all of you lucky Edinburgh folk, and anyone near enough to commute, DO get the chance to see the full version next month, at The Filmhouse -


Pick up this Tarantino boxset here, to tide you over until The Hateful Eight is released -

Saturday 2 January 2016

2015: Top 10 And Honourable Mentions

As is my habit, I will add my small amount of opinion to the deluge of Top 10 lists and best/worst pieces that always populate the internet at this time of year. The lack of daily writing on this here blog should not be taken as a sign that my movie viewing schedule has become any less cluttered. Indeed, the opposite may well be true. Cinema trips, my growing movie collection, film festivals, and even one or two screener discs - all of them have helped to fill up my year, cinematically speaking, and my appetite remains as strong as ever.

Although only one made it on to my Top 10 list for this year, 2015 could very well be labelled as the year of the spy movie. Spy, Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Mortdecai (much maligned by almost everyone, except me), Spooks: The Greater Good and Bridge Of Spies were just a few of the secret agent movies you could see this year. Oh, and there was a limited release you might have noticed for a film entitled Spectre. There were more, but I won't list them all here. Suffice to say, fans of spy capers should have been kept very happy this year.

But what else was pleasing folks? Well, the box office figures can show you what went down well with most viewers (big hitters included Jurassic World and Furious 7). And all I can tell you is what I ended up enjoying the most. And here they are:

10. Amy - My full review for this one is here.

9. Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation - It's slightly overlong, a bit choppily edited in the hand to hand action scenes, and highly derivative of both recent Bond movies and past M:I flicks, but this is the mainstream action film gold standard in 2015 during the major set-pieces. The cast all have a lot of fun, as does Christopher McQuarrie - fitting into the franchise like hand in glove with the great chase sequences, moral ambiguity, and grit scattered throughout the gloss.

8. The Lobster - It certainly won't be for everyone, and one particular scene will upset animal lovers, but no film this year has made me laugh and wince in equal measure more than The Lobster. It's horrifying at times, it's deeply upsetting, and it's also downright hilarious. Colin Farrell gives a wonderful lead performance, but nobody involved (Ashley Jensen, John C. Reilly, Ben Whishaw, Olivia Colman, etc.) hits a wrong note. Surreal, sometimes sick, and sublime.

7. Inherent Vice - This would have been on a few lists for 2014, but it's worth remembering that this movie was released here in the UK in January 2015. Inherent Vice is yet another masterwork from Paul Thomas Anderson. When I first saw it I gave it 8/10 but it's a film that rewards repeat viewings, thanks to the density of the plotting, the performances, and the general atmosphere throughout that left me feeling in the same headspace as the main character (a brilliant, comedic performance from Joaquin Phoenix).

6. Inside Out - My full review for this one is here.

5. Precinct Seven Five - Can you guess? Yep, my full review is here.
And my interview with Mike O'Dowd is right here. I recommend it, but I am biased.

4. The Pyramid Texts - Although it sits here at number 4, this is probably the film, and indeed the performance, that I most implore people to seek out. I reviewed it here.

3. The Martian - Matt Damon may be the titular character, and he may have most of the screentime (by far), but this is a fantastic sci-fi movie that benefits from a fine ensemble - Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Kristen Wiig, Sean Bean, and many more - and a fine return to form by one of my favourite directors, Ridley Scott. The soundtrack is also surprisingly upbeat and lively, considering the tension of the scenario unfolding onscreen.

2. Mad Max: Fury Road - A revving and crunching blend of frenetic action, nightmarish imagery, top tier performances from all the main players, and just a perfect cinema experience. George Miller has been given the funding and support to realise an epic vision, allowing for this instalment to be the best Mad Max movie yet. And that's quite a feat.

1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens - J. J. Abrams basically repeats a lot of the tricks that he used in Star Trek Into Darkness, with one major difference. This time he doesn't also try to be clever and tricksy with viewers. And it works beautifully. The new cast/characters are uniformly excellent, the familiar faces pop up to help move things along, the effects are fantastic without feeling overblown, and the pacing is perfect. I came out of the cinema smiling, I was keen to talk about everything I'd just seen, and (perhaps most amazing of all) I was already dying to see the next instalment. CAN NOT WAIT!

There are many, many other films worth mentioning. I'll try to list most of them here: Cop Car, The Diary Of A Teenage Girl, When Animals Dream, Joy, Brooklyn, Black Mass, The Editor, Musaranas AKA Shrew's Nest, Cub AKA Welp, The Road Within, Future Shock: The Story Of 2000 AD, Song Of The Sea, The Falling, Steve Jobs, Straight Outta Compton, Love & Mercy, Legend, Sicario, Mistress America, Creed and more.

EDIT: I have only just realised that this list misses out some MAJOR favourites of mine, titles such as Birdman and Whiplash, for example. Unfortunately, my memory is more fallible than ever, and these titles tend to be released at the turn of the year, with both of those named hitting the US in 2014 and eventually being released here at the start of 2015. Needless to say, both deserve a high placing in the above list.

Disappointments for the year included, but were not limited to, the following (and I won't repeat my opinion on Spectre which I linked to above): Cooties, Goodnight Mommy, The Good Dinosaur, Gravy, Macbeth, Terminator Genisys.

And the worst of the year: Poltergeist, Dracula Reborn, The Gallows, The Incident, Man Up.

Now, having made these lists (and I AM terrible at making lists), it could be noted that not one horror made it into my Top 10, while a number of them were selected as disappointments or outright bad movies. I'm sure that many will rush to cite 2015 as "another bad year for horror" but that's not the case. It may look like it here, but that's only because a) I saw so many great films at EIFF 2015 b) the quality of the blockbusters this year was pretty damn good, overall, and c) I watch a LOT of horror movies, which also means I watch a lot of crap horror movies. It's a sad truth that I have watched the likes of Sharknado 3 and Lavalantula while other, most probably better, horror movies have passed me by. Hey, I can't see everything. It's just unfortunate that I keep trying to, without thinking about perhaps prioritising my choices. At least I still managed to see the likes of Crimson Peak and Deathgasm, two horror movies that show how fantastic the genre can be in two very different ways.

Here's to the year ahead. I hope it's good to you, equally good to me, and full to the brim with even more filmic fun.

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