Oscars 2016: It’ll be all white on the night

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If you’ve been away from glowing screens for the past week, you should know that a media shitstorm has rolled through town since the Oscar nominations were announced. For the second year in a row, all the acting nominees were white and only one non-white director was given the nod. People got pissed at the lack of diversity and the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite started trending soon after. Then, Jada Pinkett-Smith, her much more famous and likeable husband Will and Spike Lee announced their intentions to boycott the ceremony. The Academy has since responded and has released a statement about the Board “doubling the number of women and diverse members of the Academy by 2020” as well as reviewing their lifetime membership policies.

Much like most of the Academy voters, I haven’t seen half the films nominated. I’m going on basic critical consensus and “my mate said it was good” anecdotal evidence. Should Creed and Straight Outta Compton have got more nominations? Almost certainly. From what I’ve heard, both are equally as decent as some of the other contenders with more noms. You’d have thought the Academy would have realised that only nominating the white people involved in predominantly black films would raise eyebrows at the very least, if not a few torches and pitchforks.  I can’t believe Beasts of No Nation got completely snubbed. Despite being a Netflix film, it played in LA cinemas making it eligible for consideration. It’s complete and actual bollocks (the non-inclusion that is, the film is great, if emotionally draining). I’m saving the actual film for a Blu-ray viewing, but I’m already pre-scandalised that Benicio Del Toro didn’t get a nod for his role in Sicario.

The issue isn’t black and white in all senses of the phrase. The whitewashed nominee list is just a symptom of a bigger problem. Unfortunately, it’s not one that the Academy booting a few dusty old farts out of their comfy lifetime board seats is going to fix. Diversity is a problem in media full stop. Women and people of all ethnic backgrounds, disabilities and sexualities need better representation. The Oscars are just a reflection of how things are at the moment. Most films are still stories about white dudes doing white dude things. That needs to change and the only sure way it will is by people and wallet power. The sole thing we can do this side of the screen is to continue to support the kind of films we want to see more of.

I’ve not cared about the Oscars for a long time. It’s been nice when someone or something I liked got the nod, but I haven’t given a thimbleful of spunk about the results for years now. I’ve mostly used the winners list as recommendations for what to see at some point and even then, when I’ve sat down to watch one, the record is patchy. Hopefully, the Academy’s new recruiting policies will send ripples through the industry. It won’t happen overnight, but admitting you have a problem is an important first step in fixing it.

Perhaps this added diversity will mean relevance once again. Maybe it’ll mean an end to bland, sort-of inspiring period dramas or films about how bloody brilliant cinema is being dead certs for Best Picture. The fact that there’s a “type” of film that usually wins the big awards is fucking embarrassing. The only thing that should unite them is quality.

Actually, whilst I’m on that subject of quality, let’s start to break down the dumb two-tier system between “serious” and “pop” movies when it comes to showing some award love. Last year, Vin Diesel said that Fast and Furious 7 was going to win Best Picture. That’s charmingly optimistic, but there’s no real reason why something as popular and crowd-pleasing as one of the F&F films couldn’t be considered if the quality was high enough. “Blockbuster” is not necessarily a synonym for something that’s artistically worthless. Guardians of the Galaxy was excellent and wouldn’t, in my awesome opinion, have been out of place amongst 2014’s Best Picture nominees, especially if it bumped American Hustle out. Guardians even had the superior Bradley Cooper performance.

Still- one step at a time for the Academy. They’ve only just discovered that there are other flavours besides vanilla out there.

The Hateful Eight (2016)

I’ve been a Tarantino fan for many years. I feel it’s necessary to qualify that bias straight of of the gate. Sometimes Tarantino fans can get carried away stumbling over themselves to call his latest film a masterpiece or something similar, whilst ignoring any legitimate flaws. As loath as I am to use the word, it happens with most “fandoms”, but Tarantino disciples can be pretty bullheaded in their defence of their chosen one. This may explain the mixed critical reaction to QT’s latest, The Hateful Eight, which is both the most Tarantino-ist film that ever Quentined, but also the least like his usual work.

The Hateful Eight follows a bounty hunter, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) as they travel through a blizzard so that Ruth can claim the bounty on Domergue’s head. They take refuge in a remote cabin to wait out the storm and find it occupied with several more colourful and likely untrustworthy characters.

As opposed to the roaring rampages of revenge we’ve been used to, The Hateful Eight is like an extended Agatha Christie mystery. The film spends most of the runtime in the same cold looking cabin  and uses the interplay between the characters as the set dressing. There’s a wonderful creeping tension as allegiances are made and broken based on new information coming to light about the characters. It also reminded me strongly of The Thing, another Kurt Russell film. One of the criticisms (that I can’t disagree with) of Tarantino is that he stitches films together out of stand-alone scenes and sequences. Hateful Eight is a lot more like a conventional, logical story played out in front of us. It would make a fantastic stage play, something which Tarantino says he’s working on.

The Hateful Eight is in no rush to tell its story. Clocking in at just over three hours, the pace is leisurely and may frustrate some. The whole thing is rather indulgent and I can see how people have been turned off by the trudging pace. However, I must admit that I was absorbed by the whole thing. I’m a mark for Tarantino’s writing and to hear quality dialogue spoken by actors I respect and admire like Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell was a treat. As the story progresses, we do move into vintage violent territory, but by that point, I feel it has been earned. The film has been amping the tension up and it’s rather satisfying to see the balloons burst after a long time inflating.

The film is split into chapters and I agree with the detractors that one entire chapter could have been taken out and the story would have still made sense. However, I feel it makes it more of an experience, considering you’ve been in the same seat for three hours. I am aware that I’m in the minority on this one. I watch deleted scenes and director’s cuts. The Hateful Eight feels like an extended director’s cut of a film I’ve never seen the theatrical version of. It’s a little baggy narratively, but it contains more juicy dialogue and character beats for me to gorge myself on.

Do I really need to comment on the cast? They’re all seasoned actors, most of which have appeared in previous QT films, and they’re all brilliant. The title isn’t wrong either – all the characters are terrible, loathsome human beings and the cruelty on display may be too much for some people. To a twisted husk like me, it was magic. This kind of Sam L. Jackson is my favourite kind of Sam L. Jackson – quiet and reserved, but a hat drop away from being all bulgy eyed and intense. Also, the film serves as a great reminder of how good Tim Roth is. His character, Oswaldo Mobray, was easily my favourite, coming off like a cross between Christoph Waltz and Tim Curry. Newcomers to Tarantino’s collection like Jennifer Jason Leigh and Channing Tatum also do stellar work. I really hope to see them in future projects.

The Hateful Eight is perhaps not as fun or as accessible as previous films like Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. However, I enjoyed the hell out of it. It felt like a proper cinema experience. I loved the fact that Hateful Eight had an intermission built into the film itself. It’s little old-school touches such as that that makes me a fan of the man and his work.  I’m not sure where it fits in with the other seven QT titles just yet, but I’m looking forward to repeat viewings to find out.

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My favourite Alan Rickman roles

I know. Fuck, I didn’t want to have to write this for a good long while yet. I loved Alan Rickman. Tons of people did. He was an amazing actor who just seemed to be an agreed-upon thing. Being the type of person to seek out or instigate discussion about films and/or actors, I’ve heard some surprisingly vitriolic spiels about who I thought to be universally beloved people. It says a lot that I’ve never heard anyone say a bad thing about Rickman.

So, again, I feel I must celebrate the man’s work in my own dumb way. I rewatched Anthony Minghella’s Truly, Madly, Deeply to remind myself of a subtler turn by Rickman before I realised the folly of doing so. I definitely recommend the film and his performance in it, but that’s not who Alan Rickman was to me. The fact that I could barely remember anything about it was a clue. Let other sites dogmatically talk about “The Definitive Rickman Performances” or “Every Rickman Movie- Ranked!”. Instead, all the roles listed below are straight from memory- no rewatching or research required. These are all films I’ve seen countless times and all occupy special places in my brain.

Die Hard – Hans Gruber

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Die Hard has a huge legacy. It’s been imitated but rarely, if ever, improved upon and it gets better with age. It’s a fucking masterpiece in my eyes and I don’t think I’m overstating things. A good chunk of the film working can be attributed to the villainous Hans Gruber. Pre Die Hard, there had of course been Euro villains. There had been raving psychopaths who couldn’t give a squirt of piss about human life too. Gruber was a newer, smarter breed of baddie that incorporated those qualities and more. His role required actual acting. That sounds like a knock against most action movie baddies, but Gruber’s whole thing was deception. He and his goons take over Nakatomi Plaza under the pretense of some lofty political statement, but their motivations boil down to a bog standard down and dirty cash grab.  Rickman is masterful in the role. He took lines that would have more than likely clunked out of other actors’ mouths and made them quotable brilliance. His casual quip about the recently murdered Mr. Takagi not joining them “for the rest of his life” is superb.

Defining moment: When Gruber gets caught sneaking around by McClane, affects an American drawl and pleads for his life. McClane, only having heard Gruber’s Germanic tones over the walkie-talkie believes him and advises that they stick together- the tension always building as to when Gruber was going to reveal his true self, especially when McClane hands him a pistol for protection.

Galaxy Quest – Alexander Dane/Dr. Lazarus

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Never will you find a warmer spoof than Galaxy Quest. It’s a smart, incisive and affectionate parody of Star Trek. Rickman plays serious theatre luvvie Alexander Dane, who in a take-off of Leonard Nimoy’s “I Am Not Spock” phase, hates the fact he’s known as Dr. Lazarus, a part he considers well beneath him. Rickman’s dry humour is perfect for the role and Dane’s hatred of the part and his “stupid line”. His flat, eye-rolling delivery of “By Grabthar’s hammer…what a savings!” at a low key superstore opening fucking slays me every time.

Defining moment: When Dane realises that his “stupid line” is more than just about him and speaks it to a fallen friend as a comfort. It’s genuine, earned and rather touching.

Dogma – The Metatron

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In a bit of inspired casting thanks to his instantly recognisable tones, Rickman was tapped to play the Metatron, an angel tasked with being the voice of God, in Kevin Smith’s Dogma. Dogma is my favourite of Smith’s movies and to my mind, the best written. Many of the characters get extended monologues and they’re golden. The Metatron is no different. I love his fiery entrance and opening speech which gets interrupted by Bethany dousing him with an extinguisher. After things calm down slightly, we get this great exchange, delivered in the way only Rickman could do:

BETHANY: What are you?

METATRON: I’m pissed off is what I am! Do you go around drenching everybody that comes into your room with flame-retardant chemicals? No wonder you’re single.

Defining moment:  A revelation hits home the enormity of Bethany’s holy mission and she ends up in on a riverbank- cold, wet and defeated. The Metatron appears, walking on water towards her and explains the situation. She sobs that she doesn’t want any of it and that the task is too big, to which the Metatron replies that Jesus said the same thing. He tells her about coming down to Earth to tell a scared child he’s the son of God and will be persecuted and crucified by the very people he’s trying to help. It’s a beautifully written moment and both Linda Fiorentino and Rickman sell it perfectly.

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves – The Sheriff of Nottingham

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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is pretty mediocre. It’s inoffensive enough, but having the supposedly rakish and dashing Robin Hood being played with bland indifference by Kevin Costner puts a cap on the fun you can have with it somewhat. Thankfully, Rickman is playing the Sheriff of Nottingham like he’s in a different film altogether, chewing on scenery and snarling out genuinely funny one-liners. He and Morgan Freeman seem to be the only people actually having fun. Rickman’s so great, his performance elevates the entire film. He ends up walking away with the whole film tucked under one arm and I love him for that.

Defining moment: A lot to choose from, but dictating the following to a scribe is pretty fucking delicious:  “Cancel the kitchen scraps for lepers and orphans, no more merciful beheadings and call off Christmas” As is this bit below:

SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM: [to a wench] You. My room. 10:30 tonight! [to another wench] You. 10:45… And bring a friend.

The Harry Potter series – Severus Snape

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Yeah, there was no way this wasn’t going to appear on this list. The Harry Potter films were massive and Rickman’s portrayal of ostensibly evil Potions master Severus Snape is genuinely great. He appeared in all eight films and was a fantastic presence throughout. Casting career baddie Rickman as the not-quite-what-he-seems teacher was a masterstroke. I’m happy that he played a role that would impress on children how awesome he was. I saw a lot of snark online the day he died, calling out kids for only knowing him as Snape. So fucking what? If they enjoyed him as youths, they may be open to exploring his back catalogue as they get older. They may stumble across some of the films detailed above and like them as much as I do. Who even cares anyway? Snape is the definitive role for Rickman and it’s what he’ll be mostly remembered for. To be honest, it’s a hell of a legacy to leave behind.

Defining moments: As there are eight films, I allowed myself two moments. One is the end of series flashback that you all must know by now.

DUMBLEDORE: “After all this time?”

SNAPE: “Always.”

Secondly, it’s his flamboyant and angry entrance to his Potions class in Prisoner of Azkaban. He strides past the class, slamming the window shutters closed with his wand, pulls down a screen and says “Turn to page 394!”. I’ll admit that it’s not the most amazing line to justify an entrance like that, but that’s what I love about it. Snape could be an intimidating bastard, but also had some camp value to him, making him a character that played to Rickman’s strengths.

Cheers Alan. Thank you.

My favourite David Bowie soundtrack appearances

I’m sure you’ve all heard the sad news that David Bowie passed away yesterday. I’m not a Bowie superfan who has listened to every album he’s put out or anything, but I love his songs as well as respect him as a fine actor in his own right. He was and will continue to be such a huge part of pop culture, I felt I had to write something to commemorate the man and his legacy in my own very small way. A collection and analysis of his film appearances seemed the most logical choice until I realised I’d only seen about half of them and would have to rely on writing an embarrassing amount about his short cameo in Zoolander to make up for it.

Whilst rewatching Inglourious Basterds to get mad hype for seeing The Hateful Eight this week, I was reminded of the babe how awesome film scenes can be made with a little sprinkling of Bowie. Looking at his IMDB page, the man has hundreds of credits for movies, games and tv shows. So, I decided to revisit and list my personal favourite times films borrowed a bit of magic from the great man himself.

1. Inglourious Basterds – “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”

Eager film remixer that he is, Quentin Tarantino used Bowie’s title track from Paul Schrader’s 1982 erotic horror film Cat People for his tale of revenge and Nazi scalpings. As with all Tarantino soundtrack choices, the song fits perfectly as the backing to Shosanna’s (Mélanie Laurent) preparations for her long-gestating ultimate payback plan.  Never at a loss for words, Tarantino explained the inclusion:

“I’ve always loved that song and I was always disappointed at how Paul Schrader used it in Cat People because he didn’t use it — he just threw it in the closing credits…And I remember back then, when Cat People came out, going, ‘Man, if I had that song, I’d build a 20-minute scene around it. I wouldn’t throw it away in the closing credits.’ So I did.”

Can’t argue with that.

2.  The Martian- “Starman”

As you may have gathered by it appearing in both my Scenes of the Year list and this one, I liked The Martian very much. I was enjoying the shit out of it anyway, but when “Starman” started playing, I knew this love was for real. I’m glad they didn’t go for the obvious choice of “Life on Mars?”. It’d have been too on-the-nose and wouldn’t have worked nearly as well. It’s hard to pick, but I think “Starman” may be my favourite Bowie track. I’m going to be vague here as the film isn’t even out on DVD yet, but it’s used to great uplifting effect in The Martian, playing over a montage of people deciding how to deal with Watney’s situation.

3. A Knight’s Tale – “Golden Years”

I feel A Knight’s Tale doesn’t get enough love in general. It seems to be one of those films people have seen, but only the once when they were younger. If they do remember the film, it’s usually for the anachronistic soundtrack which folded the likes of Queen and Thin Lizzy into a medieval setting. One of the best examples of this is the use of Bowie’s “Golden Years” when Heath Ledger’s bluffing fake knight is asked by the scowling Rufus Sewell to show everyone a traditional dance from his home of Gelderland. Ledger struggles before Shannyn Sossamon’s Jocelyn steps in and takes the lead. I love the slow build up to the track and the familiar “Angelll!” in the background before the song kicks off properly.

4. Guardians of the Galaxy – “Moonage Daydream”

If you make a throwback space opera with a prominent ’70s/’80s soundtrack, it makes all kinds of sense to include a bit of Ziggy Stardust. Luckily, director James Gunn thought so too and used “Moonage Daydream” to soundtrack our heroes arriving at Knowhere- a busy mining colony located inside the floating severed head of a gigantic ancient godlike being known as a Celestial. It’s a short scene, but the trippy quality of the track really establishes the setting well. Fuck, that soundtrack is great.

5. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou – “Life on Mars?”

Bowie features heavily on the Steve Zissou soundtrack. Brazilian musician Seu Jorge’s character translates and performs many of Bowie’s hits like “Rebel Rebel” and “Space Oddity” in Portuguese throughout the film. It’s all wonderful, but my favourite use is of the original “Life on Mars?” to score Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) meeting Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson), a man who may be his son. He chats for a while before the realisation sets in and he makes his excuses. He strides to the prow as the song swells before getting there and sparking up a much-needed, head-fugging joint. It’s such an oddball choice, but then that’s both Wes Anderson and David Bowie all over.

6. Labyrinth – “Magic Dance”

There was no way I couldn’t include this one in the list, considering Bowie performs it too. Labyrinth is such a fun and weird slice of ’80s fantasy. Bowie is fantastic as Jareth the Goblin King and every time I watch the film I always look forward to “Magic Dance”. It takes a talented performer to not look lost in a room full of puppets and a baby and Bowie pulls it off with style.

Right, I’ve made myself a bit sad now. Still, whenever anyone dies, we should try to concentrate on celebrating their life rather than mourning their death. Rest in peace Mr. Bowie. Thanks.

Scenes of the Year 2015

As 2015 shambles over the horizon and we cautiously snuggle up to 2016, it’s time for me to indulge my now annual tradition of picking my favourite bits from what 2015 had to offer. As always, a few caveats before we start. Firstly, I haven’t seen every film 2015 had to offer. If you think there are some unforgivable omissions- click “email” in the info box at the top right of the page and tell me how I got my own opinions wrong. Secondly, some of these entries concern what some would consider spoilers, so proceed with caution. With all that in mind, here are my picks for the filmic moments of 2015:

1) Mad Max: Fury Road – Chain gang

Fury Road is probably my favourite film of the year. I loved every demented second of it. I knew that it would feature on my list in some capacity but, considering the film was basically one long action sequence, which bit to pick? I decided that the brutal chain fight involving Max, Furiosa and an unconscious Nux was the one for me. It’s not the most impressive sequence in the film, nor the one with the biggest bangs, but it was a great piece of physical storytelling. Few words are spoken, but we learn truckloads about the characters involved. Charlize Theron’s Furiosa is a fucking beast who will do anything to protect her women and, on the other side, Hardy’s Max is a survivalist who will do anything to ensure that he keeps ticking. It’s a brilliantly choreographed sequence that has the confidence not to bombard us with rapid editing to make the fight seem more chaotic. Max finally bests Furiosa with the help of Nux, but it’s clear that the two are equals who could do a lot worse than work together.

2) Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Kylo’s Sith fits

I really enjoyed The Force Awakens. It’s not a perfect film as there are many instances of narrative corner-cutting present, but none of that ended up mattering. Star Wars is back and I couldn’t be happier. New villain Kylo Ren was the highlight for me. Initially, Ren is every bit the Vader-like badass. He’s legitimately intimidating and clearly powerful. However, as the film goes along, the mask slips and we see that Kylo Ren is a petulant youth who freaks out when things don’t go according to plan. My favourite bit was when Ren is given some particularly bad news. He proceeds to lose his mind and hacks the shit out of a control console with his lightsaber, fueled by pure rage. Later on, Kylo unleashes the beast on a conspicuously empty chair. Two stormtroopers round the corner, see the carnage and wisely decide to back off, providing a big audience laugh. There are other scenes later on in the film that are more than worthy of a place here, but I pulled a muscle even thinking of the linguistic gymnastics I’d have to execute to avoid describing who the main players were.

3) Kingsman: The Secret Service – God Hates Firths

I was primed to completely love Kingsman. It was sold as a Bond pastiche done by the team behind Kick-Ass. I enjoyed it, but not to the breathless excitement levels I expected. However, one scene clearly stood out as a pick for this list. Colin Firth’s Galahad finds himself in a Deep South church full of the sadly non-fictional racist, homophobic and odious end of the Christian faith. After making his excuses and attempting to leave, Samuel L. Jackson’s villain activates his mind-altering app that causes murderous rage and violence in anyone close to an electronic device. What follows is an extended, bloody and ludicrously over-the-top sequence where Colin Firth unleashes the fury and takes out the rioting masses to the strains of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird”. It’s the perfect accompaniment as the scene is just as awesomely indulgent as the song itself. The main thing I loved was that fact that it was Colin Fucking Firth in the centre of the ruckus looking every bit the hard-bitten action hero. Fantastic.

4) The Martian – Hot Stuff

I don’t think The Martian would have worked quite as well without Matt Damon grounding the whole thing. We have to spend a lot of time in his company and he’s insanely watchable. His character, Mark Watney, is stranded on Mars and he starts to make plans to survive long-term, documenting his progress with the numerous cameras left behind by the NASA mission. Watney realises he needs the rover to go long distances and hatches a dangerous plan to keep himself from freezing at night. He digs up a decaying plutonium radioactive isotope to keep himself warm and stows it in the rover. He takes his mind off the potential nuclear disaster in the backseat by going through the absent Commander Lewis’ music collection and picking the “least disco” track possible: Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff”. It’s Damon’s withering look to camera that got me, but I couldn’t help but smile when he started dancing and stomping to the beat. I didn’t think a film could equal The Full Monty‘s inspired use of the song, but The Martian did just that.

5) Fantastic Four – Heads you lose

Fantastic Four was shite- no two ways about it. However, this list is about calling out the good when I see it. FF would never make any best of list, but Scenes of the Year? Sure. Y’see this scene summed up the film for me. It was a glimmer of something shiny in amongst the sewage runoff that trickled into cinemas. There’s one scene that concerns the awakening of Toby Kebbell’s Dr. Doom, who is restrained and examined after being rescued from an alternate dimension. Doom is bitter and resentful about his initial abandonment and uses newfound telekinetic powers to exact revenge on some innocent guards and scientists. He breaks his bonds and slowly walks down a hallway, exploding peoples’ heads with his mind. It’s a dark scene that reminded me more of Scanners than anything else. I’m a sucker for Frankenstein’s monster style breakout scenes, hence its inclusion here.  It was a hint at a darker and more interesting take on the tale. I’m not saying that I would want to see a grittier take on the Fantastic Four- far from it. I would have just liked to have seen how far they would have taken it had the studio not got scared and sanded off 90% of the edges.

6) Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation –  Puccini pummelling

I’m happy for the Mission: Impossible series to go on for as long as it wants to. Whilst Rogue Nation didn’t quite hit the highs of Ghost Protocol for me, it was still a sodding blast. The stand out scene was a sequence set at the Vienna State Opera during a performance of Turandot. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) are desperately trying to foil an assassination attempt. Hunt creeps around, exploring the precarious rigging hung high above the stage before confronting a would-be sniper. Hunt battles with the big man in a sequence that reminded me of the sort of old school Bond scraps that happened between Roger Moore’s 007 and Jaws. The sequence cuts between techie Benji, Hunt and Rebecca Ferguson’s morally grey Ilsa Faust who, rather memorably, rests an arm on one of her fine, elegant legs as she lines up her shot with a custom rifle. All of this action is beautifully edited in time to Puccini’s music and everything comes together to become a great scene as well as a real series highpoint.

7) Avengers: Age of Ultron – Vision expresses

I know it probably seems like I’m being deliberately contrarian at this point in the list. I dug Age of Ultron a lot and so picking out a sequence for important cataloguing purposes was tough. The obvious answer was the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster scrap, but when it came down to it, it was the final confrontation between Ultron (James Spader) and Vision (Paul Bettany) that encapsulated the strengths of the film. Despite a massive CGI filled finale, the film came down to two complete opposites talking in a forest. Both parts are perfectly cast and I thought Joss Whedon’s dialogue fucking sang at this point. Broken and defeated, Ultron is confronted by the god-like Vision. Vision calmly explains how he’s come to support humanity’s plight. Ultron dismisses this out of hand and calls him “unbearably naive” to which Vision replies, quite truthfully, “Well, I was born yesterday.” Bettany’s delivery is perfect and it sells the moment wonderfully.  I can’t wait to see more of him in future Marvel films.

8) John Wick – Dinner reservations

If you like your action, John Wick is a must see. It’s an admirably pared down film about a retired hitman who unretires himself after thugs kill his dog and take his car. The film’s directed by stuntman Chad Stahelski, so the fight choreography is understandably top drawer. All the action scenes could go on here, but it’s the home invasion scene that takes the prize. In it, Keanu Reeves’ titular hero takes on armed goons and -spoiler alert- fucking destroys them. The action is slick and impactful. Wick pops off headshots like he’s using an aimbot and the scene unfolds at an insane pace. After an amusing interlude with a cop coming to the door, the cherry on top is when Wick dials a special number to confirm a “dinner reservation for twelve” as he looks round his corpse-strewn house.

9) Ant-Man – Train set-piece

Marvel’s now-standard “risky” prospect Ant-Man charmed me. No pun intended, but the smaller-scale focus on fathers reconnecting with daughters as well as action sequences revolving around shrinking powers convinced me that a film based around a C-list Marvel hero was no bad thing . The big (small) set pieces were all fun and inventive, but it’s the final battle between Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) and Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll) that gets the nod. They fight in Rudd’s daughter’s room, with her train set becoming the main battleground. Zoomed in, the fight is just as epic, loud and violent as most blockbuster end sequences, but director Peyton Reed occasionally gives us a real world view of a tiny lightshow happening around a toy train going round a track. It feels fresh and funny, which are two of the film’s main strengths as a whole. Hats off to whomever came up with the idea for a Thomas the Tank Engine cameo too.

10) Ex Machina – Dance floored

2015 was undoubtedly the year of Oscar Isaac. Whilst I didn’t like A Most Violent Year as much as everyone else, he was definitely the best thing in it. With the one-two punch of portraying tech genius Nathan and roguish ace pilot Poe Dameron, he cemented his place as one of my new favourite actors. Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is an insidious bastard that preys on your unease. You feel something’s not on the level with the eccentric Nathan but you’re not sure what. When Domhnall Gleeson’s nervy programmer Caleb confronts assistant Kyoko (Sonoya Mizuno) for some answers and a drunk Nathan walks in, you know something’s going to go down, but a disco dancing scene probably isn’t first on your list of possible outcomes. Both Isaac and Mizuno display some sweet moves and the scene manages to be both fun and unsettling in equal measures. An impressive feat.

11) Furious 7 – The last ride

Few series are as unapologetically cheesy and stupid as the Fast & Furious franchise. I mean none of that negatively. The series delivers ludicrously fun action and I love it for that. However, real world shit impacted on F&F‘s dumb party when main cast member Paul Walker was tragically killed in a car crash. As a result, Furious 7 became tinged with a palpable sadness and it became the entry that hammered home the series theme of family. The ending was handled perfectly. Our gang watch Walker’s Brian laughing on the beach with his family and realise that this is where they must part ways. We get a montage of moments from previous films with Vin Diesel’s almost fourth-wall breaking voiceover. We cut to Toretto, driving his Charger around a winding road before Brian pulls up next to him in his signature Supra- “Thought you could leave without saying goodbye?” O’ Conner smiles.  The two race for a stretch before hitting a fork in the road and taking different paths. It’s a genuinely touching and honest tribute and easily worth a place on this list.

Jurassic World (2015)

“After some consideration, I have decided not to endorse your park.”

Jurassic World hits home media today and the dinosaur-flavoured hubbub that engulfed my Twitter and Facebook feeds reminded me I never shared my thoughts on the film on this site. The original review was done for the lovely people at OnboardOnline, where the majority of my new content can be found.

Jurassic World (2015)

Like many others, I consider Jurassic Park to be a formative film in shaping both my future film tastes and blockbuster expectations. To expect a new release to live up to that, despite it selling itself on that very goodwill. is unfair. I wasn’t anticipating a masterpiece or anything like that, I just wanted to kick back and have fun with it. There’s always at least one big film per year where my opinion differs so greatly from the critical consensus that it causes me to have a small existential crisis. Last year it was the still a load-of-old-toss Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Why did it have to be Jurassic World this year?

Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original disastrous realisation of John Hammond’s vision. Jurassic World is a fully-functional theme park that has been attracting visitors for a decade. Dinosaurs and the concept of a prehistoric park are as commonplace as visiting the zoo. We follow two brothers, sulky teen Zach (Nick Robinson) and excitable youth Gray (Ty Simpkins) as they prepare to visit Isla Nublar and their park operations manager aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Visitor numbers have been in decline and the park’s lab scientists have cooked up a bigger, louder and scarier hybrid dinosaur they dub “Indominus Rex” in an attempt to boost ticket sales. Predictably, this proves to be a terrible idea and the double-tough I-Rex escapes, endangering the lives of thousands of park patrons and staff alike. Claire enlists the help of ex-Navy man turned dinosaur wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to find the Indominus Rex in the park’s vast lands before any lives are threatened.

I liked the first half hour or so of the film. Seeing a fully functional Jurassic Park is a treat and there’s an appropriate sense of awe when we see sights like the gigantic crocodile-like Mosasaurus leaping out of its aquarium and gobbling a suspended shark whole. There were nice little details that sold Jurassic World as a fun place to visit. Despite being for children, I could easily spend hours in the dinosaur petting zoo alone were it real. John Williams’ iconic theme also went a long way to sell the majesty of it all. However, once we started to get into the main plot, the wheels started to fall off.

The story is the sticking point. The dialogue is flat and the characterisation is confused. Tinkering with genetics with no thought for the ramifications is a series hallmark, but having a wicked smart hybrid dinosaur with superpowers was a stretch too far for me. I don’t think it would have been so bad if the film didn’t use the I-Rex’s abilities so lazily and only to move characters from one setpiece to the next. It has a camouflage ability that it uses precisely once for example. The I-Rex is portrayed as more of a scheming serial killer than a dangerous beast. Midway through the film, it digs a tracking device out of its flesh because it apparently remembers it being planted and knows what it is. It’s funny how my disbelief can be extended beyond creating dinosaurs but comes to a sudden stop when a dino uses a tracking device to ambush a bunch of soldiers. The film is schizophrenic in its approach, dedicating time to explain how the creatures are just animals, but then treating them as legit characters. One scene shows a bunch of slaughtered brontosauruses and Grady remarks that the I-Rex is “killing for sport” like it’s an example of how smart and evil it is. Surely that’s just animal behaviour? If a fox goes on a rampage in a henhouse it doesn’t make it the Jack the Ripper of the countryside.

The film was in development hell for over a decade and it shows. The script has so many different fingerprints on it it’d probably be sticky to the touch. Being a JP supernerd, I know that the film is stapled together from all kinds of sources. Some elements are from the original Michael Crichton novel and others are from the crappy original leaked script that boasted terrible ideas like dinosaur/human hybrids. There are even some pieced from previous films’ deleted scenes, including a sequence involving a helicopter and flying Pteranodons originally scripted for The Lost World. It feels like a connect-the-dots puzzle done simultaneously by four people who hate each other.

The cast are fine and elevate the material somewhat. The trouble is that the characters are stock. Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady is an all-purpose badass who is never wrong and has no character flaws. He has no real arc and it was hard to get involved. Claire has a bit of character development, but it’s a shallow turn from stuffy businesswoman to slightly tough maternal figure. Her arc seems to be just accepting that Owen Grady is awesome and coming around to his way of thinking. The gender politics on display prove that dinos aren’t the only lumbering prehistoric beasts present. Having said that, it didn’t strike me as intentional, it feels like it was arrived at accidentally. It was just some knocked-together filler inbetween the film’s tentpole sequences.

Vincent D’Onofrio shows up as military man Hoskins, who has the crazy idea of weaponising trained Velociraptors. He does his best with what he’s given, but there’s no escaping the fact that he’s a weak villain. There’s one moment where Owen punches Hoskins for no apparent reason other than because the film has arbitrarily decided at this juncture that he’s the bad guy. It’s completely unjustified and like many of the relationships between characters, it just seems assumed. Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson are alright, although again it’s like their personalities have just been copied and pasted from a list of character archetypes. The cardboard characters led to a lack of involvement on my part and as such, I didn’t care whether somebody lived or died.

I kinda liked the reflexive approach the film takes. Both the park and the film itself are trying to make dinosaurs exciting again to audiences. The film has some truly meta moments when talking about product sponsorships and a heavy reliance on focus groups. It’s two-faced, however. It will slag off commercialisation with one side of its mouth and then have a sleek car driving sequence which resembles a Mercedes advert. Jurassic World wears its Spielberg love on its sleeve, but the numerous references to the original film started to grate on me after a while and reminded me of all the ways the film wasn’t Jurassic Park. Both the Jurassic World park and film are giving the audience what they think they want- wall-to-wall dinosaur action and references to the only good film in the series. These are both hollow joys, however, when the story groundwork hasn’t been done properly.

You can’t move for dinosaurs in this film. In one way, this is fantastic as we get to see some interesting and unique looking species. However, it also smacks of pandering to the short attention spans of young teens. It’s more of an action film than anything else and that saddens me. Some of the sequences are really well done and we get some great humans vs. dinosaur and dino on dino action. The body count in this film is significantly higher than in previous entries and to me, that outlines the problem. Every death in Jurassic Park meant something because we got to know the characters. None of Jurassic World‘s deaths really mean anything. Also, what it the point in having a park full of squishy, bite-sized humans and only having one sequence where flat-out carnage happens? The only semi-memorable death in this one actually struck me as needlessly nasty and karmically unwarranted. With this line, I’ve realised I’ve turned into my parents as we had this same issue with the original film 22 years ago, but people with young children eager to see it may want to hold fire on a viewing. It’s pretty damn violent in places and I can’t imagine the kiddies being too happy when the cuddlier, less toothy herbivore dinosaurs start kicking the bucket.

I started to get on board with the film’s goofier charms towards the end, but by then it was too late. I was mentally checked out and deflated. It’s probably the best of the sequels, but that’s not saying much. I really wanted to like the film, but the unfocused script lets it down with stupid contrivances, inconsistent motivations and huge logic leaps. If they wanted to (needlessly) prove that dinosaurs are exciting again, they’ve done their job, now they just need to work on making it all mean something deeper than just colour and noise for the already in-production sequel.

Fantastic Four (2015)

Fantastic Chore

Fantastic Snore

Fantastic Bore

Pigshit Sandwich

Fantastic Four (2015)

So, as you may have heard, Fantastic Four has bombed pretty damn hard and received a critical mauling in the press. Naturally, I felt the need to check it out. So I did. Incredible story, I know.

Fantastic Four tells the story of a gang of young scientists who crack the secret of interdimensional travel. Genius Reed Richards (Miles Teller), his best friend/muscle Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell), weirdo loner Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell) and tearaway Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) end up teleporting across dimensions to a new and dangerous planet. Bad science stuff happens and Victor doesn’t make it back. The accident gives Richards, Grimm and both Storms (Kate Mara’s Susan Storm is caught in the explosion when our heroes return) superhuman abilities.

It’s tempting to stop the review there and mention all the problems I have with the whole direction of the film. They’re big goddamn problems too. However, this is the product that’s been delivered to cinemas, so I won’t shit up good ol’ criticism with my lacklustre fan fiction-y ideas of what I wanted the film to be. Whilst an origin story, especially one that takes as long as this one does, is definitely not needed, I can appreciate it on some level. I had a problem with the Muppet Babies version of the team, but the cast did enough to convince me it wasn’t the worst idea. I liked Miles Teller as Reed Richards. He’s not the old-school father figure that he is in the comics, but he’s affable enough. The narrative concentrates on him and he’s actually fleshed out rather well. I was sceptical about Jamie Bell’s apparent miscasting as The Thing, but he does decent work as Ben Grimm. Again, he’s not the comic book version, but I could get on board with him as Reed’s designated protector. Less of a success is the rest of the cast. As you may have gleaned from the plot summary, Sue Storm is largely pushed to the side. She’s not even part of the expedition, which is baffling to me. I think Kate Mara did alright with what little we saw of her, but the film isn’t interested in her, so her impact on the film is minimal. Fuck, the Jessica Alba version of Sue Storm was better sketched than this AND had a more convincing wig.

I really expected Michael B. Jordan’s Johnny Storm to be the breakout character. Disappointingly, he was weirdly subdued. Jordan is a great actor but it feels like the film hasn’t got time for much fun with him and his powers. He doesn’t strike me as the impulsive hothead he should be. Doom is another story. I could dig where they went with him. I rolled my eyes just as hard as everyone else did when leaked info pointed to Von Doom being an angry bedroom hacker. In practice, I could appreciate the idea of taking an angry computer nerd with strong opinions on the government and corporations and giving him a scary amount of power. Kebbell even manages to be fairly effective in the face of slapdash writing and leaden dialogue.

My problems with the characters sum up my opinion on the film as a whole. I can see what they’re doing and can appreciate it to a point but the whole thing is schizophrenic. It’s like a PG-13 edgy science-fiction film that has to be a superhero film under duress. Up until the gang get their powers, there is some solid characterisation on display. After the incident, it just becomes a jumble of hackneyed bullshit and rudderless CGI. There were bits past this point I enjoyed, but I liked them in a vacuum, free from the incoherent mess around them. For instance, I liked the weird body horror elements when the four wake up and find themselves in terrifying personal predicaments. I loved the hell out of a horror-like segment where the enraged Doom wakes up and starts exploding peoples’ heads Scanners style whilst walking down a corridor. These feel like glimmers of better and rougher drafts that somehow made it into the finished film.

I don’t have a problem with origin stories. When people say they do, I feel it’s akin to saying you don’t like books because you read some bad ones once. Some of the greatest and most enduring stories in human history are about the birth of heroes, so it seems weird to me that they’re usually the least compelling in a series. Despite what Hollywood would have you believe, there are ways to ensure your precious franchise starter doesn’t suck straight out of the gate. Fantastic Four unfortunately ignores all of them and as such has to be chucked on the ever growing pile of shitty reboots with overambitious sequel plans. The film is a stapled-together mess. There are some genuinely inventive and decent ideas in the script, but it’s all neutralised thanks to having to conform to the superhero norms. Josh Trank was probably the wrong man for the job. He’s talented as hell, but this one reeks of studio interference and meddling. That’s not to say he’s completely blameless but the fact of the matter is that I don’t know what went down behind the scenes. However, it seems likely that Fox execs saw the darker, more interesting scenes like the David Cronenberg-esque awakenings and freaked out, beating the creative team over the head with demographic charts until it was deemed “safe” enough for public consumption.

I really wish I could punch this film’s third act in the face. It’s honestly like the film has stopped trying. It’s all just colours and noise. For valiantly hanging on in there, all the remaining audience are treated to is cringeworthy dialogue and a complete pixelfuck of a conclusion that threatens more terrible films. By the end I was pissed off. It’s not because I saw a bad film –  I see ’em all the time. What angered me was the fact that this version of Fantastic Four could have conceivably worked. It wasn’t a great adaptation, but it had a fresh angle of attack. it just failed at knowing what to do when it got there.

Fantastic Four is pretty damn bad. It definitely doesn’t deserve the horrifying 8% it currently holds on Rotten Tomatoes though. It’s more of an interesting failure than a full-on trainwreck. However, I can’t recommend it in good conscience. It’s a mostly banal retread of the same old shit we’ve seen before and we should and do expect more from our superhero epics. Here’s hoping this causes a massive rethink at Fox HQ and we get an actual F4 film next time.