Sunday, 21 July 2013

2013 Top 10 So Far

It seems like lots of folks have been taking stock of the year that is 2013 so far seeing as we are over half way through it. As I'm about to take my mid-year holiday and probably won't be doing a lot of film watching for the next few weeks, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to make a note of all the (UK cinema) new releases I have seen in 2013 and what my favourites of the year have been so far.

So firstly here are all of the 2013 releases I have watched so far in the order that I watched them:
  1. The Impossible
  2. Flight
  3. The Bay
  4. Les Miserables
  5. Rebellion
  6. No
  7. Wreck-It Ralph
  8. I Give it a Year
  9. The Fall of the Essex Boys
  10. Warm Bodies
  11. Hitchcock
  12. Cloud Atlas
  13. Song For Marion
  14. A Good Day to Die Hard
  15. Stoker
  16. The Paperboy
  17. Django Unchained
  18. Zero Dark Thirty
  19. Broken
  20. Robot and Frank
  21. The Incredible Burt Wonderstone
  22. Sleep Tight
  23. The Lords of Salem
  24. Trance
  25. The Liability
  26. Side Effects
  27. Evil Dead
  28. Spring Breakers
  29. Olympus Has Fallen
  30. The Gatekeepers
  31. Iron Man 3
  32. Bait
  33. The Look of Love
  34. Bernie
  35. Everybody Has a Plan
  36. 21 & Over
  37. Side by Side
  38. Sound City
  39. A Hijacking
  40. Sweet Vengeance
  41. This is the End
  42. Come as You Are
  43. Summer in February
  44. Man of Steel
  45. Star Trek into Darkness
  46. Desert Runners
  47. Monsters University
  48. The Internship
  49. To the Wonder
  50.  The Deep
  51. The World's End
  52. Frances Ha
  53. Dark Skies
So 53 of the 95 films I have watched this year have been brand new releases which must be some kind of record for me and I have Filmoria to thank for special advance screenings of many of these. Without further ado, here is my top 10 of 2013 so far:

10. I Give it a Year 
9. This is the End
8. Evil Dead
7. Desert Runners
6. Cloud Atlas
5. Django Unchained
4. The World's End
3. Side by Side
2. Spring Breakers

Please click any title for my reviews of the films. It's a pretty crazy list for me. A rom-com??? A remake??? Two documentaries, what looked like (and probably is to some extent) sexist crap, two comedies about the end of the world and a true life tale of massive loss of life. Cheery isn't it?

So that's my top 10 of the year so far (I think). What have been your favourite 2013 films so far? Perhaps The Impossible has stuck with me the most because I'm off to Thaliand. Though it may have focussed on only one family, it is still the true story of the deaths of 200,000 people and was therefore bound to have a strong impact. It is certainly the film that had the biggest emotional effect on me this year. 

I'll be back in a few weeks so until then... take care now and bye bye then!

July Movie Reviews and Round up

I'm having to wrap up July's movie watching because as of tomorrow morning I am off on holiday for a few weeks to go and explore the wonderful Thailand and some its many beautiful islands. Hopefully I'll be watching some good films on the flights but there is no way I'll be doing any blogging with the beaches calling me every day.

I've also got to make this quick as I should really be packing.

So this month I have watched:

Foxy Brown
The Deep
The World's End (Please watch out for a cameo from the train station of my hometown High Wycombe in one scene)

Runaway Train
Frances Ha

Escape (review published on Filmoria on Monday 22nd July)
Dark Skies (review published on Filmoria on Monday 29th July)

I also watched the whole of series 2 of Danish crime series Unit One which I reviewed for Filmoria.

I also wrote a piece on the career of James Wan so far as his film The Conjuring is out this month.

Dredd is the 95th film I've watched this year, not counting the other 17 films I've re-watched. I've just finished reading The Hobbit this month for the second time in my life and I must say, I only enjoyed it a little more this time. I'm now very much looking forward to seeing how Peter Jackson expands the story in The Desolation of Smaug and There and Back Again as the book did feel a little stunted particularly towards the end.

The World's End was my favourite of the month. I think I might have time to write up a quick top 10 of the year so far post if I rush before leaving! What have you watched this month?

Other Monthly Round-Ups:

June Movie Reviews and Round up

May Movie Reviews and Round up

Movie watching and writing in April 2013

Movies in March Round-up

February Movie News and Reviews 

January Movie News and Reviews

Friday, 12 July 2013

No Fate But What we Make: Terminator Reboot

One of my two worst movie fears is coming true with the news that Terminator is getting a reboot that will (inevitably) be the beginning of a new trilogy. My other worst fear is that next in Hollywood's sights will be the Back to the Future trilogy. Robocop and Total Recall remakes I can handle but Terminator 1 and 2 and the BTTF trilogy are my untouchable sacred cows.

I can deal with endless inferior sequels to classics like Die Hard and I can handle remakes of some of Hollywood's output but I can't stomach a Terminator reboot. Every year I show students in my Film Studies class both Terminator 1 and 2 when we are studying how to analyse films from a genre and feminist approach. Each year some students grumble about Terminator 1 which occasionally looks very dated in places but then we get to Terminator 2 and I think pretty much every student loves it.

Some would argue the first Terminator is in need of a remake then if it fails to grab the youth and looks dated in terms of 80s hair cuts and some dodgy stop-motion scenes. I would argue otherwise. With Terminator 2 still looking relatively fresh and still dazzling in terms of its brilliant use of CGI, the pair of films perfectly complement each other and while the original might be a bit harder to stomach for modern young audiences, it is an inspiring example of what can be achieved on a modest budget.

I hear Arnie might be back for the reboot, no doubt shoe horned in by some dodgy bit of screen writing that introduces him as the creator of the Terminator programme or something. I also hear rumours of Paul Walker appearing which is worrying. No real offence to Paul Walker but I can't bear to see him as a new Kyle Reese. Admittedly though, he looks ok below. I guess as long as he's not John Connor.

I just don't see how a reboot can improve on the original stories or action scenes. Then again, I'm not sure reboots often even have the intention of improving on anything. I want to say boycott this reboot at all costs but on the other hand, I know as the stills, posters, and trailers start to roll in, I'll probably start getting excited about it. However if we can convince enough people to stay out of the cinemas for this one, perhaps we can stop the inevitable Back to the Future prequel which I can predict won't be far behind. (They're bound to try and get Fox and Lloyd in for cameos).

There are so many things I don't want to see ruined about these movies, I can't even begin to count them. I wish instead of rebooting, Hollywood could just take a chance on something original that could potentially be of the same quality as James Cameron's films. Before buying a ticket for the Terminator reboot, I urge you to please remember there is no fate but what we make for ourselves.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Summer of 2050 at the Cinema

Picture it. The summer of 2050 at the cinema. The studios probably already are. They've already got their sure thing tent poles already picked out and ready to grab the masses, pulling in ridiculous profits. Their market research has led to more 'sure things' than ever before.

Marvel Phase 14 is well under way with Avengers 14 out next summer. Star Wars Origins have seen spin offs of every major character in the original Star Wars trilogy from birth to puberty to retirement and episode 16 is due any day now. Spiderman is on his sixth reboot, Fast and Furious 50 promises to be a landmark in the franchise and vampire and zombie movies are still selling well.

J.J. Abrams and his two offspring will of course be directing most of these with Christopher Nolan producing from his death bed. Elderly stars like Tom Cruise and their increasingly important stunt doubles are mo-capping for digitally rendered versions of their younger, prettier selves and still making the studios a mint.

The summer schedules are filled with blockbusters and the trailers are now six minutes long and feature excerpts from every major set piece expertly edited together with juicy sound bites of increasingly ridiculous and repetitive dialogue. 

The cinemas all have bouncers who patrol the aisles with night vision goggles, looking for pirates at work. They watch you endlessly as you try to watch the film, trying even harder not to notice them. There are now nearly 10 minutes of messages warning you not to pirate movies or you will kill cinema.

The average length of a film is now just shy of 3 hours and cinemas have gotten wise, having an interval in most and sending staff in to sell you food and drink, scratch cards, name it. The second half is usually filled with kids waving light sabers excitedly in the air. Many people take the option of a three course meal for the duration of the film and wear bibs due to the difficulties of eating in the darkened cinema.

The norm will be to tweet, text and Facebook your friends during a film (even if they are in the seat next to you). Thankfully most phone batteries don't last as long as a film anymore, so by the second half most have died and all those bright white lights have disappeared (to be replaced by kids with replica plastic lightsabers).

Franchises rule, originality is dead, but at least audiences still love the movies. 

More moaning at I Love That Film:

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Recent writing around the web

Haven't had much of a chance to do any blogging this week so thought I would share some of the bits and pieces I have been writing around the web over the last few days instead:

The World's End Review at Filmoria

Deconstructing Cinema: This is England at Static Mass Emporium

The Deep Review at Filmoria

Roland Emmerich Retrospective at Filmoria

Not film related but I've also been blabbing away at Yahoo about all sorts of stuff like:

Why we should celebrate the NHS

Why conflict avoidance will make a happy relationship

I'm currently writing a James Wan retrospective for Filmoria ahead of the release of The Conjuring and then I'll be writing ones on Paul Greengrass and Edgar Wright later in the year. For regular readers, you may know I'm currently writing a book on The Blair Witch Project. I'm trying to get the first draft finished in the next two weeks and then hopefully I will make revisions when I get back from holiday and perhaps it may get published this year!

I hope you will be tempted to go and check out some of my writing elsewhere and particularly the top two which I am very proud of.

Also check out my top 10 films to see in July. If you haven't got a copy of Starbust magazine for this month, there may still be some on shelves for a little while longer and I'd love it if you checked out my two articles inside. Better still, subscribe to Starburst here.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Top 10 Films to Look Forward to in July 2013

Out in UK cinemas this month have thieving magicians, thieving little rich kids and thieves of national secrets. Last month I promised to start writing a regular top 5 films of the upcoming month post but this month I have decided to extend it to 10. There's some good looking stuff out in July and I'm trying to avoid just reeling off all the biggest films and instead dedicate a little bit of time and space on this blog to some films that might go under some radars. Without further ado, here is the top 10 to look forward to in July:

Now You See Me

Now you see a fantastic cast led by Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco but also supported by Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Mark Ruffalo. Magicians rob banks and dish out the stolen loot to their audiences while the Feds try to catch them in the act. Sounds like a lot of fun and must be worthwhile to watch that cast but many accounts suggest it is let down by a ludicrous ending.

The Internship

Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson reunite to play two technophobe dinosaurs who join the intern programme at Google. Not literal dinosaurs by the way. Its pretty funny in places but I wouldn't say it's worth rushing out to see in cinemas.

The Bling Ring

Sofia Coppola tells the true story of a gang of rich kid brats who went on a thieving spree in 2008 and 2009, robbing the homes of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Hermione stars and is apparently quite good while Paris Hilton's actual house has a cameo.

A Field in England

Simultaneously being released in cinemas, on DVD and Blu-ray and being shown on TV channel Film 4 all on the same day, it sounds like Ben Wheatley has really gone off the rails in this one. Civil War soldiers trip out on mushrooms after deserting a battle in a neighbouring field. In England. Sounds completely bonkers.

Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer

Documentary about the Russian feminist punk band that dared to protest against Putin's political status and got locked up for their troubles. 

The Deep

True story of a ship sinking off the coast of volcanic islands nears Iceland and the one survivor who faced unbelievable odds and made it home despite the rest of the crew either freezing to death or drowning.

Pacific Rim

Del Toro's monster mash with giant robots taking on giant monsters. If this was Michael Bay, people would be dismissing it but as it has the auteur of Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy behind it, you can't help but be excited.

We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks

The title says it all really. A documentary about the beginnings of Wikileaks but also a look at both sides of the story; the idealism, courage and insensitivity of the actions of activists at the centre. It's also made by Alex Gibney who made the shocking, riveting Taxi to the Dark Side.

The World's End

The dream team of Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost re-team for the final part on their so-called Threee Flavours Cornetto trilogy. The cast is superb with Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan joining Pegg and Frost on screen in a story of the pub crawl to end all pub crawls.

Frances Ha

Written and directed by Noah Baumbach, the guy behind the incredible The Squid and the Whale, Frances Ha stars indie queen Greta Gerwig as a New Yorker struggling to grow up, stay true to her friends and become self-reliant.

There's also Monster's University if you fancy the Pixar prequel.

That's it for July (mainly). What on this list takes your fancy?

Top 5 Films to Look Forward to in June 2013

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

What if Predator had been written and directed by Christopher Nolan?

Script excerpt #1

                  Eighteen hours ago I was
                  informed that one of our
                  choppers, transporting three
                  presidential cabinet members
                  from this charming little
                  country – and I say this as a point of heavy-handed irony to indicate my contempt for anywhere outside of North America - was shot down...
            (points to the circled area)        
               This is really bad because cabinet ministers are important to running our country. They could also be ransomed or interrogated for information that might compromise our national security.
                  The pilots radioed from the
                  ground that they were all
                  alive.  Their position was
                  fixed by the transponder – a device that emits an interrogating signal in response to an interrogating received signal -
                  beacon onboard the chopper.

         Schaefer studies the map.  He looks up at Philips.

                  That's over the border,
                  General. I am suspicious about this because we do not normally send cabinet ministers over the border. We also have no legal jurisdiction there. It will be dangerous because locals have the advantage.

                         (dead serious)
                  That's the problem.  Apparently
                  they strayed off course.
                  We're certain they've been
                  captured by the guerrillas. This would be bad because, in case the audience didn’t get the point earlier, our national security would be compromised. The guerrillas don’t like us. They are brown people and they are bad.

         Schaefer looks up, puffing lightly on the cigar.

Why do you always smoke those cigars, major?

It is a symbol that serves to remind the audience of a number of things – my social status, authority, ruggedness and excessive traditional masculinity. They may infer from its scale and phallic shape that I am equally well endowed.
                  That’s it for thematic exposition just now. Let’s get back to the plot. What have you got in mind, General?

Script Excerpt #2
                  Dillon, you son of a bitch.

         The two men step forward and simultaneous swing from
         the hip as it to land a punch...but their hands SLAP
         together in a gesture of friendship, their forearms
         bulging, testing each other's strength.

                  How you been, Dutch?

         They continue the contest, Schaefer has the edge, forcing
         Dillon's arm slowly downward.

                  You've been pushing too many
                  Pencils, Dillon. If people didn’t gather you had been out of soldiering for some time, I’d just like to underline that your physical strength is diminished. This will also serve to demonstrate that I am more masculine than you. Had enough?

                  No way, old buddy.

                  You never did know when to
                  quit. I hope that this does not lead to a dramatic conflict between us later, or even lead to your death as you stubbornly face-off against an opponent who vastly outclasses you.


I love Predator. In many ways, it is a more perfect sci-fi actioner than Aliens. The effects still stand up today, the script is tight and efficient, the set-pieces punchily cut yet imbued with fluid movement. It is a simple film, and it should not be any other way. Running it through the Nolaniser, as I have done so above, clearly does it no favours.

A quote often credited to Albert Einstein is that “any idiot can make things more complicated – it takes real genius to make things simple”. Predator must be genius. The original script and movie have invented many clichés for us to abuse today, and is built upon gleefully cheesy archetypes. It knows what it is meant to be, and isn’t frightened of it.

It also isn’t frightened that the audience might not know what it is meant to be, or that they may not understand its zeitgeist references to South American tensions, or basic symbolism.
This is where Christopher Nolan comes in.

I’ve critiqued his work in detail before, so I shall keep this brief and have faith in my audience to follow what I am saying. I do not tend to enjoy Nolan films, and if I do it is only the first time. Once their gimmicks and plot convolutions are exposed, they are almost impossible to re-watch. There is nothing else to them. What bothers me most is that almost anything he is involved in spends much of its time explaining how clever it is to the audience and – by extension – how clever they are for watching. There is so much exposition and explication in his films, Inception and parts 2&3 of his Dark Knight work especially, that they can be very tiresome to watch. If you already got the point, it feels like your teeth are being pulled. If you didn’t get the point, it is because Nolan is so poor at communicating through images, actions and throwaway metaphorical lines that only a page of prose can really save it. I think my Nolanisation of Predator’s script is just the tip of the iceberg, but if you feel I’m being a little unrealistic I should refer you to some key scenes in his films, starting with a better one that still uses ‘the world’s greatest detective’ as a cypher for an audience that ‘might not understand’ the metaphor:

I’m fairly certain people would be able to figure out the point on their own, but Bruce still asks the question and Alfred still has to answer it. It’s not so in your face as some moments, but still overdone. Here’s another unnecessarily explicit one:

We’ve already seen Bane being badass. We know Bruce is injured. We can guess he’ll get his ass handed to him by Bane – and he does. Wouldn’t it have been more gratifying for the audience’s prediction to be correct, rather than to make it an ‘I-told-you-so’ moment for Alfred. Everything’s been communicated visually. There is no point in the two minutes you have just witnessed. The film Austin Powers even mocks this tendency before the time of Nolan by naming its exposition character … Basil Exposition. Inception is full of lengthy, talky exposition, but this episode of South Park called Insheeption illustrates the point far more elegantly (i.e through images rather than prose) than I could.

I feel that Nolan is really sucking the joy out of cinema with this kind of thing; pandering to a generation of people who just blurt out, “Who’s this? Why’s he doing that? Why’s Hulk green? Why won’t you like him when he’s angry?” rather than just watching and seeing. The audience is robbed of their journey, of thinking for themselves about what things mean and then seeing if they were right. Or perhaps Nolan is so insecure regarding his ownership of the film that he deliberately shuts down future discussion by being so explicit. He doesn’t often want critics to ponder or audiences to argue about meaning or message. It’s nice that he throws us a bone with the spinning top at the end of Inception where this issue is concerned.

Predator, for all its lack of apparent complexity, is a thematically rich film. In many ways it is incredibly clever; in the very least it is perfectly paced and sequenced so that we do not need wordy explanations beyond the opening briefing which I ran through the Nolaniser.
So how is Predator clever? Let me slip on my Michael Caine mask and I’ll explain through lengthy prose.

Thematically, Predator is a great constructor and deconstructor. It delights in building up modern notions of masculinity just to smash them down. After the briefing and character establishment we have the chopper ride into the jungle, where – superficially at least – the heroes trade sexist banter. The song playing over the top – Long Tall Sally - is about a woman luring a man away from his wife (Short fat Fanny). Two men – Hawkins and Blaine – subtly manage to reveal their own sexual insecurity. With Hawkins it is through immature pussy gags, with Blaine it is claims of being transformed into a “goddamn sexual Tyrannosaurus” by chewing tobacco. The wonderful irony is that they will be the ones getting shafted in this movie!

In a masterful piece of sequencing we then get a Demonstration of Competence moment wherein our team blasts through a guerrilla encampment. This serves two functions. When the titular Predator begins hunting down the team with ease, we can tell it is a whole new level of badass. We do not need Alfred to tell us it is badass up front. Our expectations are toyed with. Additionally, it helps deconstruct the notion of western military supremacy. The elite commando team is picked off by a tree-swinger hiding in the foliage. It fires plasma projectiles, granted, but its weapon still fires about as slowly as an arrow and its camouflage is simply a better version of camouflage that we have used for millennia. Schaefer (Dutch) and his team are so used to fighting with the biggest guns, their balls out and always winning that they are simply unprepared for a foe that has completely mastered the most basic, fundamental aspects of killing.

So Predator is about the failure of cigar-chomping modern masculinity on one level. But on another level, it completely turns the masculinity level on its head. Dutch is stripped down to his barest essentials, using mud as camouflage and weapons made from whittled wood, stone and good old dependable fire. He becomes the truly old-school rugged male – beating the elements, turning them to his advantage improvising his way out of everything in a battle where brains end up meaning more than brawn. So, his sophisticated commando team is beaten by a creature that employs primitive ambush tactics and the way Dutch beats it is to reduce himself to a level that’s even more primitive! Could this movie even be making a statement about how industrialisation has dulled our edge? Nah, that’s probably over-egging it.

…probably. Good job we were not told this by the movie. Where would be the fun in that?

About the Author

David M. Jackson believes that movies should be built for speed, and that Predator’s got everything that Uncle John needs. Oh baby. Yeah baby. Woo-oo baby. I’m havin’ me some fun tonight.

When he’s not smothering himself with mud and preparing to do battle with Christopher Nolan in the depths of the jungle, David teaches English and Sociology in between hurriedly writing novels. In a few months his second, Beta Ascending, will furtively slip into Amazon’s marketplace.

More from David M. Jackson:

Fight Club and the Doors of Perception

Second-Hand Stories, Second-Hand Opinions

Face It - 'The Dark Knight' is Actually Shit

Are James Cameron’s Movies Misandrist, and What Would he Hope to Gain if They Were?

Why I Love That Film: Aliens