Friday, 30 December 2011

2011 List #5: TV

I don't watch much TV.  Sometimes it gets in my line of sight and grabs me but generally I'd rather be watching a film.  Occasionally if I've heard great things about a TV show, I'll rent the boxset.  But this year I have had the pleasure of some of the best TV I have ever seen.

This is England 88 soared above everything else.  It was absolutely perfect, except for one (likely improvised) fight scene that went on slightly too long.  The performances and the writing were captivating.  I have banged on about it enough this year in these two posts here and here.  But it came out of nowhere (I had not heard that there would be a TIE88 until I saw the TV advert about a week before it aired) and slapped me round the face.  It was grim but not nearly as depressing and shocking as TIE86.  There was a slightly hopeful ending that leaves me desperate for the next installment, TIE90, that Shane Meadows has promised.  The show was Meadows at his best; warm, real, complex, sad and funny.  All this and more.  Go watch it.

I kept hearing so much about John Lithgow in Dexter Season 4 that I decided it was time to give this show a go.  So far I've made a start by watching the first two series.  Dexter is played by Six Feet Under's (a show I have been forced to sit through but actually admired a great deal) Michael C. Hall and is an interesting if slightly silly character.  The first season was pretty good but the second season took it up a notch with a brilliant character coming to an unexpected end at the climax of the series.  I hope the show can maintain it's appeal for me through the third season despite the loss of a great character.  I'm definitely going to stick with this one just to see what all this fuss is about Lithgow in season 4. 

This year I watched season 7 of Entourage.  It's still painfully sexist but wierdly Sasha Grey, the actual ex-porn star, playing a version of herself came out as quite an interesting and vaguely complex character.  The guys still make me laugh but deep down I still hate them for not being grateful enough of their blessed lives.  Jeremy Piven is consistently brilliant as agent Ari Gold, a character you love to hate or hate to love.  I'm still not sure.  Looking forward to the final season and movie in the near future.

The Walking Dead should have been the ultimate TV show.  Finally a TV series following the lives of characters stuck in the middle of a zombie apocalypse.  But the first season underwhelmed me.  I like that it had a great deal of focus on the characters and not so much horror but I felt that the characters are not brilliantly written and some of the acting didn't seem spot on for me.  I still find it hard to accept Andrew Lincoln's American accent and if you asked me to name any of the characters I couldn't.  However I look forward to Michael Rooker (minus one hand) coming back into the series at a later date.  And from the first couple of episodes of season 2, it looks like this series is going to get better and better.

I finished Lost this year.  As much fun as it was, the ending was bloody terrible.  I really enjoyed it's absolute ridiculousness and it's a shame they tried to provide answers in the end.  Lost had it's ups and downs but consistently made me jump up and down going WTF???  But by the end I wanted it to get lost.

Two more series I started but decided not to invest any more time in to were Rescue Me and Mad Men.  The former was quite good and I watched the entire first season.  I like Denis Leary and was keen to see how the writers would tackle the aftermath of 9/11 and it's impact on New York firefighters.  But the show seemed to just want to show that these guys are politically incorrect assholes just like most other people.  The characters are sexist and homophobic and despite their clearly heroic job, I didn't feel the need to spend any more time with them after the first season.  Mad Men seemed intriguing but just didn't grab me.  It looks amazing, the acting is fantastic and the creation of the near-past is faultless.  However I don't think it's for me. 

Finally Black Mirror, created by Charlie Brooker is a fantastic three episodes of wierd, technology-obsessed dystopian tales.  Beginning with an episode where the Prime Minister is forced to have sexual relations with a pig, the show just got wierder, cleverer and more prescient as it continued.  The episodes all featured a new cast, new characters but similar themes; the dangers of our reliance and obsession with technology.  It is an absolute must-see.  Sharp, serious satire from a cynical, sarcastic genius.  Find a black mirror and watch it.

Next year I will be continuing with Dexter and The Walking Dead and should probably try and get round to starting The Wire.  I'm also desperate to start Breaking Bad which I have heard very good things about.  Anybody want to recommend me any more TV to dip my toes in in 2012?  Anyone see any of this lot?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

2011 List #4: Catching Classics

One thing that sucks about being a film buff is that a lot of people expect you to have seen EVERYTHING!  People look at me in disgust when they reel off classics that I haven't got round to.  "You haven't seen West Side Story???" my Dad exclaims every Christmas.  You haven't seen a single Rocky film most people weep as I tell them.  As a result my list of films I need to see grows and grows every year no matter how many films I watch.

Well this year I made a list of classic films I needed to see as soon as possible.  I managed three out of the ten on that list.  A very poor show considering how bloody fantastically Eric over at The Warning Sign is doing at his 50 Movies I Need to See by the End of the Year.  Puts me to shame!

But I have made an effort to watch some classic and older films that I felt were important to my film buff credentials.  Some may not be considered real 'classics' (ahem Copland) but I 'd heard so many good things about them for so long that I felt they could be included here.  So following from my previous three 2011 lists so far; Documentary, Horror, Worst, here is my list of classics I watched for the first time this year and how I would rate them.

Kings of the classics

  1. Das Boot (Tense and brilliant)
  2. Spartacus (Epic)  

 Undisputed champions 
  1. Rocky (Surprisingly little boxing)
  2. The Great Dictator (Making a mockery of Hitler)
  3. Paths Of Glory (More Kirk Douglas goodness)
  4. City Lights (More Chaplin sweetness and slapstick)
  5. The Player (Brilliant Hollywood satire)
  6. Cop Land (Stallone CAN definitely act)
  7. Breaking The Waves (Von Trier breaks hearts) 
  8. The Thing (Not as good as Assault on Precint 13)
  9. Frankenstein (Sympathy for the monster) Reviewed here
Worth the wait

  1. Modern Times (More Chaplin satire)
  2. Wages Of Fear (A lesson in tension)
  3. The Hours (Acting masterclass)
Ripe for a remake

  1. Lawrence Of Arabia (Epic, beautifully shot, but very slow and dated) 
  2. Mad Max (The madness of mad Mel)
As you can see I've loved Charlie Chaplin, Kirk Douglas and Sylvester Stallone.  Why doesn't Stallone do better stuff?  I think I'm going to skip Rocky's 2-5 but might catch Rocky Balboa in the New Year.  I'm going to give David Lean another try with Brief Encounter.   And I will be happy to see Mad Max get a remake.

Anyone want to send me death threats over my comments on Lawrence of Arabia?  What are the classics you have yet to see?  Does anyone know why I find films from before the 70s to be nowhere near my favourite films ever?  Have they just dated or am I a philistine?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

2011 List #3: Worst of the year

Seeing as how every film deserves at least a little praise just for getting made, I'll keep this brief.  The directors, producers and crews should all be applauded for their hard work and dedication to filmmaking.

But unfortunately not every film works.  Maybe it doesn't work for me, maybe it doesn't work for the general population, maybe it fails to find an audience for some reason or maybe it's just by all accounts a bit shit.  But I would never suggest you do not watch these.  Please seek them out, watch them and let me know what you think!

Like the two previous lists I have made of films watched in 2011; Documentary and Horror, this list has films from outside 2011.  Any film I watched for the first time this year could have been included here.

  1. The Silent House (Proof that editing is vital in film) 
  2. Unstoppable (Make it stop Tony Scott!)
  3. Jackboots on Whitehall (Unfunny puppets)
  4. Knight and Day (The stars don't shine)
  5. Bubba Ho-Tep (Cult crap)
  6. The Collingswood Story (Bad idea)
  7. Snuff Movie (Bloody mess)
  8. Baghead (As bad as the title and reviewed here)
  9. The Fourth Kind (Unbelieveable) 
  10. Remember Me (tasteless twist)
So has anybody seen any of these?  Have I got it wrong?  Is Bubba Ho-Tep actually comedy genius?  Or is Remember Me a powerful drama with a powerhouse performance from R-Pattz?  Or is Tony Scott getting better with age and directing fantastic action thrillers like Unstoppable?

Monday, 26 December 2011

2011 List #2: Horror

I watched 32 horror films (first viewing) this year.  I re-watched many others but those are not included here.  Many of this list were watched as part of my research for my PhD.  Many were just watched becuase I love a bit of horror.  Like my list of best documentaries I watched this year, this list does not just consider films released in 2011, but just those films I watched this year and had not seen before. 

As with most years, I've seen some sick shit on screen.  People being stitched ass to mouth... check!  A tyre blowing it's victims heads up... check.  And as for A Serbian Film... well I'm not even going to discuss the non-stop waterfall of vicious, disgusting, sick and twisted shit that showered over me while watching that.

So anyway, on that note... Merry Christmas for yesterday merry readers!

5 stars

  1. Rubber 

 4 stars

  1. Rare Exports - A Christmas Tale 
  2. Lake Mungo
  3. The Horde
  4. The Thing
  5. Frankenstein
  6. Let Me In

3.5 stars

  1. Insidious
  2. Resurrecting the Street Walker
  3. The Human Centipede - First Sequence
  4. The Collector
  5. Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil
  6. The Last Horror Movie
  7. Stake Land

3 stars

  1. Man Bites Dog 
  2. Paranormal Entity
  3. Re-Cut - Blu-ray
  4. Home Movies
  5. Paranormal Activity 3
  6. The Last Exorcism
  7. Exhibit A
  8. F

2.5 stars

  1. Saw VII - The Final Chapter 
  2. Colin
  3. A Serbian Film
  4. Atrocious
  5. World of the Dead - The Zombie Diaries 2
  6. The Fourth Kind - Blu-ray

2 stars

  1. The Collingswood Story 
  2. Snuff Movie
  3. Baghead

1 star

  1. The Silent House (La Casa Muda)

Friday, 23 December 2011

2011 List #1: Documentaries

Here's the best 10 documentaries I've seen this year.  Not the best 10 documentaries of 2011.  Just the ones I watched for the first time this year that I liked the most.  Catfish probably shouldn't be here as it's not really a documentary from what I've heard but I've included it here anyway.  It's not been a brilliant year for documentaries as far as I can see but then again, I still need to see Senna.  And if you're interested you can see my top 10 documentaries of all time here.

1. Life In A Day  (Watch it here legally and for free online.)  I reviewed it here.


2. Paradise Lost - One And Two 


3. Hoop Dreams  

4. Inside Job

5. Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape

6. Rio Breaks

7. Catfish

8. Iraq In Fragments

9. Loose Change 9/11 - An American Coup

10. Restrepo

That's my list!  Don't forget to check out my all time top 10 documentaries here.  Anyone got any recommendations for documentaries of 2011 or any other year for that matter?

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Another Precious Trailer

The return of Gollum, Bilbo and Gandalf gets a trailer today.  Gollum is kept in the shadows, Gandalf gets bad-ass and Martin Freeman gets to show us his take on Bilbo.

There are lots of nods to The Lord of the Rings trilogy thrown in and brief introductions to the dwarves but no Smaug the dragon yet.  Middle Earth still looks fantastic (particularly the Shire) and the Dwarves singing gives the trailer a great, moody, atmosphere. 

It all ends with the introduction of Gollum and the warning from Gandalf that this 'Unexpected Journey' will change Bilbo forever.  The ring shines in the foreground and many of the shots here are a reminder of why Jackson is such an exciting and entertaining director.

So it's just a year we've got to wait for this one then.  With this, The Dark Knight Rises trailer and the Prometheus trailer tomorrow, 2012 is shaping up extremely well from the look of the blockbusters.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Trailer for a Trailer: Prometheus

Advertising sucks!  It makes me want shit I don't need and tries to make me feel bad for not having the products it's selling.  But movie marketing on the other hand... well that's a different story.  It sells me films I DO need.  Films I need like a fix. 

After yesterday's release of The Dark Knight Rises new trailer comes a trailer for the trailer of Ridley Scott's Prometheus.  So this is new... a trailer for a trailer.  When will it end?  A trailer for the announcement of the beginning of pre-production?  A trailer for the script being written?  Well that's fine with me.  I'll lap it up because often following the marketing can be a much more thrilling, exciting and fun experience than actually watching the final film.  But then maybe that's the fault of marketing and my silly expectations.

Anyway, the trailer for Prometheus is out Thursday so here is the trailer for the trailer.  It's looking very exciting with the promise of big ideas and big action and it's cool to get a glimpse behind the scenes.

That's two trailers for my hot tips for 2012 released in the same week.  Next I just need a trailer that shows Tarantino rehearsing with his great cast for Django Unchained and a trailer for the wrap party of World War Z and my Christmas will be proper sorted!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Batman has Bane's permission to die

It's here!  As the viral marketing campaign kicks into gear and following the awesome poster recently revealed and the teaser trailer released earlier in the year, along comes a first theatrical trailer for Christopher Nolan's epic trilogy-closer The Dark Knight Rises.  Despite more Bane, Bale, a bit more Batman, a bit more Hathaway and the return of Oldman and Caine, as well as a snippet of Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it's got not quite everything I'd hoped for.  That said it's still bloody good!

I spend enough time complaining about trailers that give away too much so I should be happy with this one.  But it just still feels like too much of a tease.  Not too much of a surprise as we're still months away from the film's release.  Still with this trailer, the cool poster and positive feedback from those who have seen the opening, I may not be much of a comic book/superhero fan but in Nolan I trust.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Catching Up with Old Friends

Anyone else feel like film characters are friends?  Don't leave me hanging here.  With the immense satisfaction that I'm getting from Shane Meadow's latest TV series This is England 88, comes a realisation that I want to see these characters; Lol, Woody, Shaun, Smell and even Combo grow old.  After the unrelenting despair of the previous series, This is England 86, the two episodes of '88 screened so far have been bleak but with many more moments of lightness, not least from Joe Gilgun's fantastic comic/tragic performance as Woody.

Last night's episode had two standout scenes though.  Both featured exceptional acting from Bafta winning Vicky McClure as poor old Lol, still struggling to deal with her harsh past.  But in both scenes, McClure was brilliantly supported by other fine actors.  In the first scene, Lol broke down and opened up to a nurse perfectly played by Helen Behan.  It was truly hard to believe she is not a real nurse Meadows plucked off the street.  In the second scene, Lol visits Combo in prison and Stephen Graham's performance is another example of heart breaking perfection.  From film to '86, Combo has transformed from racist messed up bastard to a truly sympathetic character.  Both scenes made my eyes do this strange watering thing.  It is a testament to Meadows that there are so many outstanding performances in the film and the series.  I look forward to the final episode tonight with bated breath and hope that This is England 90 materialises on our screens in the not-too-distant future.

With no sign of my good friends, the This is England gang, disappearing from screens anytime soon then, I began wondering what other films I'd love to see get a TV series follow-up catching up with the characters 5, 10, 20 years later.  It's been amazing watching the characters (and actors) grow, particularly Thomas Turgoose as Shaun who has gone from boy to young man on screen.  I have heard that the Tomorrow When The war Began series will begin with three films and turn into a TV series, a format which I have to agree will work best for these book adaptations.  So here's a selection of films I'd love to see a TV series follow-up of:

1. Mallrats (Kevin Smith, 1995) One of my favourite films of the 90s, I'd love to catch up with Brodie and T.S. and see that they are still hanging out at the mall causing trouble with Jay and Silent Bob.  Smith gave us Clerks 2 and Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back so we've seen the further adventures of many of his Jersey characters, but Brodie's always been my favourite and Jason Lee is no stanger to TV now with My Name is Earl.  Ok so the actors are now sixteen years older (and they already looked a bit old for hanging out in malls in 95) but I'd still be curious to see if Brodie stuck with Rene (Shannen Doherty) and has grown out of videogames and settled down with a job and kids.  Could be depressing though.

2. La Haine (Mathieu Kassovitz, 1995) Ending with a bang, we know what happened to Vinz but the future of Hubert is uncertain from the final shot of the film.  And Said, poor old Said always caught in the middle.  What would he be doing years down the line?  He may have lost both his best friends.  Would he be in jail?  Still stuck on the estate?  Or would he be campaigning for justice for his friend/s?  I'd love to find out.

3. Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993) So many characters I feel close to after just spending the one night in their company.  What would this lot be doing after finishing school?  They discussed their futures in the film but their destinies are uncertain.  Is Slater still a stoner?  Is Wooderson still picking up high school girls?  What would be going on with these characters in the 80s?  It's time for new TV series Dazed and Confused 86 to check in with these characters ten years on from the film.

4. The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985)  Ok it might be a bit late for a follow-up to this one.  I'm not really sure I want to see what the characters would be doing approaching their forties.  But imagine if the Goonies had gotten back together for a series of adventures in their twenties.  It could have been cool.  Perhaps they became activists against golf course developments and travel the world going up against greedy developers, stealing from the rich to help the poor save their houses.  Or perhaps this is a bad idea.

5. Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, 1996)  Irvine Welsh wrote a sequel to his book and rumours persist that Boyle might get the cast back together (when they look old enough) for a reunion.  Perhaps when they do put Welsh's sequel, titled Porno, on screen they could consider a short TV series.  Boyle started in TV so perhaps he'd be willing to make a return.  It would be great to see Renton and the gang ten years on from the events of the film.  With Begbie released from prison, will Renton have to keep running? 

Anyone else want to see their favourite film characters return in a TV series or is this a really bad idea?  Anyone else loving This is England 88?  Speak freely...

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A Published Article

My eighth article for the brilliant Media Magazine has just been published in the December 2011 issue.  You can get yourself a copy from here.  It's aimed at A Level and BTEC media students but I'm sure anyone with an interest in documentary (particularly in recent years) could find it interesting.  My article is titled Attacking America: A Decade of Documentary Dissent.  

The issue also contains an article from the always interesting James Rose on the politics of the slasher movie.  

This follows my articles in previous issues on:
  1. Participating in a reality TV show (December 2009)
  2. Sacha Baron Cohen's mock-docs (April 2010)
  3. Stop-motion animation (September 2010)
  4. Michael Moore's Documentaries (December 2010)
  5. Ghetto Culture in City of God and La Haine (February 2011)
  6. The collaborations of Fincher and Pitt (April 2011)
  7. The cinema of 9/11 (September 2011)
Here is a brief sample of the new article:

Over the past decade, America, arguably the world’s only remaining superpower, has taken a beating.  September 11th 2001 brought an unprecedented attack on home soil with economic, political and military targets leading to over 3000 deaths.  Less than a month later, America went to war with Afghanistan and their forces are still there a decade later.  Less forgivably, President Bush and his neo-conservative cronies then set their sights on Iraq in the continuing campaign known as the War on Terror.  Starting an illegal war to find Weapons of Mass Destruction that never materialized, American soldiers found themselves dying for a cause that the folks back home soon stopped supporting.  Hurricane Katrina hit the coast in 2005 and was the costliest natural disaster in the history of the USA.  Two wars costing billions of dollars a year, increasing frequency and costs of natural disasters and a deregulated financial industry ended up feeding into a huge economic crisis that caused a global recession, bank bailouts, a huge rise in unemployment and over a million people losing their houses since 2008.  Documentary makers of the world with their tiny budgets began flinging anything they could at the bullying, greedy and corrupt Goliath that America had become.

 Go get yourself a copy here.