Monthly Archives: January 2015

I Could Do With Your Help

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Hello lovely film fans – I could do with your help.

I have the chance to become a film reviewer for Vue Cinemas. British readers will know who that is, but for those in other countries Vue is one of the largest cinema chains in the country.

I have reviewed Kingsman: The Secret Service along with a load of other people and the person whose review gets the most votes becomes a reviewer for Vue.

Here is the like where you can vote for me – http://www.myvue.com/peoples-pundit-competition-action

For the few people searching for Terry Malloy, my name is actually Chris Thomson and you’ll see my lovely face on there too. I know this is a bit rich considering I’ve not been round many people’s blogs for a while, but it would mean a lot if you could vote for me. You can do so via Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

If you do give me a vote and I go onto win then I’ll personally thank you on here in a post and link through to your blog.

Let’s show those other reviewing upstarts the power of us bloggers. Or something. Please get friends and family to vote as well if you’d be so kind, that’d be amazing!

Anyway, thanks very much in advance, really appreciate it!

Chris

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Does The Academy Have a Duty To Represent Diversity?

Should the Oscars Better Represent Divsersity?

The internet loves a good kick off, doesn’t it? If it’s not about freedom of speech over potentially blasphemous material then it’s Cadbury’s changing their Creme Eggs (location specific, that one). Of course, the most pertinent issue right now is the 87th Academy Awards, or as we peasants call them, the Oscars.

Now, we always get the usual ‘film X should have been nominated’ or ‘film Y shouldn’t have been nominated’ or ‘how on earth did Bradley Cooper get nominated again?’, but this time there’s a slightly more contentious issue – the lack of diversity in the nominations.

More specifically, it’s the lack of female and non-white nominations, particularly in the ‘major’ categories. But does the Academy have a duty to diversify its nominations or have we made a lotta something outta a lotta nothing?

First of all, we all know that the Oscars doesn’t truly represent the year of film and so they’re never really going to be that diverse anyway. The fact that the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ category even exists is proof of this. There are always films made by men and women of various races and ethnic backgrounds that don’t get a look in, so why are we really surprised that it’s not a particularly diverse year?

Now let’s rewind to last year. Amongst the winners were a a film made by a black director (Steve McQueen), a black woman (Lupita Nyong’o) and Jared Leto winning for playing a transgender character. Not hugely diverse given the number of overall nominees and winners but there is diversity in there, and amongst the big categories, too.

Ava Duvernay

Ava Duvernay, director of Selma

Onto this year and there isn’t a single black nominee in any of the acting categories. Only Ava Duverny represents any kind of diversity in the main categories for Selma in the Best Picture character, but other than that everything is a whiter shade of pale. There are, however, several women nominated in the Actress in a Leading Role and Actress in a Supporting Role categories.

On a serious note, why is this? It’s difficult to say and it would take a much deeper digging than I am capable of or can be bothered doing. It’s likely a much more complicated issue than simply saying the Academy are white or male biased – although that’s not to say there isn’t some truth to that! You need to look at production companies, agents, producers, sponsors, and probably just about every other aspect of filmmaking. We don’t really know how much pressure the Academy is under, if any, to choose particular films over other.

But here’s the question… should the Academy be duty bound to represent diversity? Those making the nominations may argue that the films, actors and actresses they have chosen really are the best this year, and if that’s really the case then should they be made to change their nominations to include a more diverse selection? Perhaps the make up of Academy members or the voting process needs looking at, or should there even be other categories created to represent the under represented?

It could well be that this year is somewhat of an anomaly, albeit a slightly worrying one, and that next year the nominations will be more diverse. But what if they’re not? Does it matter? The Oscars already alienate a lot of people, so let’s hope they don’t make it even worse.

What do you make of this year’s Oscar nominations? Is the lack of diversity an issue and if so, what should they do about it?

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Film Review: Birdman

Michael Keaton & Edward Norton in Birdman

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up actor who once played an iconic superhero. He must overcome his ego and family trouble as he mounts a Broadway play in a bid to reclaim his past glory.

How do you review a film like Birdman? It’s virtually impossible to truly describe it and do it justice using only words on a page or a screen. I did consider writing this review in one continuous sentence or paragraph as a nod to the film’s camera work, but decided it would just make reading my stuff even more painful than usual!

So where do we start? Let’s go for Birdman himself, Michael Keaton. Getting Keaton to play the role in the first place is a stroke of genius considering his role as Batman in Tim Burton’s Batman and Batman Returns. Like Riggan, Keaton has never been as popular since playing a superhero and you could argue that Birdman is Keaton’s version of the play Riggan is attempting to direct.

Keaton is fantastic as Riggan, constantly walking the lines between creative genius, enthusiastic try-hard and mental breakdown, all three personalities vying for centre stage. Due to the semi-autobiographical nature of the film, it does feel as if we’re seeing a window into Keaton’s own mindset and, as such, it feels like a very personal performance. A scene in which Riggan lays into a Broadway critic feels very much like he’s finally spewing forth an opinion he, and countless other actors, have been waiting a lifetime to express.

Emma Stone as Riggan’s daughter and Edward Norton as an arrogant Broadway star also put in excellent performances, both of whom also seem less than mentally stable themselves.

Michael Keaton in Birdman

Birdman’s cinematography is in the hands of Emmanuel Lubezki, who did such sterling work on Gravity, and here, along with Alejandro González Iñárritu’s direction, he’s created something quite breathtaking. Birdman is shot as if it’s one, continuous sweeping camera shot, swooping gracefully from one scene to the next and occasionally using timelapse to advance the narrative, all set in and around Broadway’s St. James Theatre.

Like Hitchcock’s Rope, edits are hidden very cleverly, although on first viewing the whole thing may be a little distracting as you could be forgiven for focusing more on the camera technique than anything else. It is, however, nothing short of a technical and creative marvel and should be applauded for helping to make Birdman something rather unique.

There’s a fair bit going on under Birdman’s hood, which is why a written review barely scratches the surface. It’s about fame, popularity, social media, mental health, the film industry and a million other things. It’s one of those films in which you get out what you put into it; there are metaphors and subtexts at every turn and you’re never really sure whether what you’re seeing is literal or metaphorical. For example, does Riggan really have the telekinetic powers he exhibits when no-one else is around or are they figments of his imagination? It’s a film that lets you make those kind of decisions for yourself.

You could even go as far to say that there’s actually a little too much going on. With the aforementioned camera work, the erratic drum soundtrack and myriad of ideas and themes criss-crossing here, there and everywhere, it can be a little difficult to take it all in, at least on first viewing. It’s all good stuff that’s being thrown at you but with so much of it, only some of it can actually grab your attention at any one time.

Birdman is one of those films that almost demands a second viewing (and perhaps a third and a fourth) but it’s such a whirlwind of an experience there’s every chance you’ll watch a different film each time. It’s difficult to say Birdman will appeal to everyone as it most likely won’t, but if you want a film that’s innovative, thought-provoking and unique then it’s an absolute must-watch.

Pros

  • Breathtaking camera work
  • Great performance from Michael Keaton and surrounding cast
  • Gives you plenty to think about

Cons

  • Sometimes a little too much going on for its own good

4 and a half pigeons

4.5/5 pigeons

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My Top 20 Films of 2014 – Part 2

I covered the first part of my top 20 a few days ago, and so here is part two – numbers 10 to 1 of my top films of 2014. Enjoy!

10. The Lego Movie

The lego Movie

It could have gone so very wrong. Everything about it screamed corporate cash-in but The Lego Movie actually turned out to be bloody fantastic. Poking fun at pop culture at every turn, there really is something for Lego fans young and old to revel in, and the fact that literally everything on screen is made from Lego bricks makes for a visual treat. Full review here.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy

With our cinemas bursting at the seams like Hulk’s shorts with superhero films, Marvel took a massive risk bringing a relatively unknown franchise to the big screen in Guardians of the Galaxy, but it was a risk that paid off. The script was witty, the soundtrack was brilliant and most of all it was damn good fun.

8. The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game

The importance of what Alan Turing did can simply not be underestimated, and neither can the barbaric treatment of him at the hands of the UK government simply because of his sexuality. The Imitation Game gives a ‘for dummies’ guide to Turing’s work and life, which is by no means a criticism, hitting most of the important points and driven by a brilliant central performance by Benedict Cumberbatch. Read a mini review here.

7. 12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen’s harrowing tale of Solomon Northup being sold into slavery isn’t an easy watch, but is an incredibly important story that is depressingly not as long ago as it should be. Chiwetel Ejiofor gives a brilliant performance as Solomon, whilst the cinematography, as you’d expect from McQueen, is stunning. Read my full review here.

6. The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel couldn’t be more of a Wes Anderson film if it tried. A picture book caper stylised to its limit, it’s glorious fun from start to finish. It might be a little too frenetic and stylised for some, but fans of Anderson will lap this up, whilst it’s also brilliant to see Ralph Fiennes revelling in a comedic central performance. Read my full review.

5. Boyhood

Boyhood

Richard Linklater’s Boyhood took over 12 years to film, following the same characters and cast members as they grow up. It sounds a bit of a gimmick, and it could have well turned into one, but what we got instead was a wonderful study of family and growing up, not just from the viewpoint of Ellar Coltrane’s Mason as the lead, but also of all those around him. There’s something here that almost everyone will relate to. Read my review here.

4. Her

Her

The story artificial intelligence and its sentience is something that outdates cinema (probably) but very few films have covered it like Spike Jonze’s Her. It’s a world of high-waisted trousers and one that sees human interaction dying out in favour of artificial intelligence, something that doesn’t seem to improbable. Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic but it’s Scarlett Johansson as the disembodied Samantha that really steals the show. Read my full review here.

3. Nightcrawler

Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler

Nightcrawler’s look at the seedy world of crime ‘journalism’ has plenty to say about our modern form of news and how we consume it. We may baulk at what Jake Gyllenhaal’s Lou Bloom does but we lap it up at the same time, feeding his lust for fame and validation. Gyllenhaal’s performance is outstanding, channeling Travis Bickle whilst adding enough of his own style and menace to stand apart from De Niro’s character. Read more of my thoughts here.

2. Pride

Pride

It’s a story that almost sounds too bizarre to be true, but when a group of gay men and lesbians rocked up to a lowly Welsh village in support of the miners’ strikes it showed that we all aren’t so different. Pride tells that story and will warm even the coldest of hearts. Sure, it may be a little stereotypical and cheesy at times, but it does what it does remarkably well and is accentuated by some stellar performances. A crowd pleaser if ever there was one. Read my review here.

1. Frank

Michael Fassbender as Frank

Michael Fassbender wearing a big paper mache head – what’s there not to like?! Frank takes its inspiration from Manchester performer Frank Sidebottom who did indeed used to wear a head just like the one in the above picture. That, however, is where the similarities between the two Franks end and instead we get a fantastical tale of trying to make it big in the music industry, but with something much deeper bubbling under the surface. Michael Fassbender is phenomenal as Frank, especially considering he’s essentially acting with his body and voice, removed of all facial expressions aside from the one painted onto his fake head. It’s quirky and indie and this may put some people off, but it was the film that bewitched me the most in 2014. Read my full review of Frank here.

There we have it – my top 10 films of 2014. Agree? Disagree? Don’t care? Let me know in the comment below! Thanks very much for sticking around even though I haven’t been around as much, and hopefully see you all a bit more in 2015.

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My Top 20 Films of 2014 – Part 1

When I compiled my top 10 of 2013, I didn’t include those films that came out just in 2015 here in the UK but still featured on many people’s lists as they came out in the US in 2014 and were in the running for awards.

However, by doing that I last year, I need to include those films this time around which makes choosing a top 10 really freakin’ difficult, and rather than try and whittle them down and because i’m weak and indecisive, I decided to do a top 20 instead. I have split it into two parts, however, so it’s not a complete bore to read in one go.

You will notice that some major films aren’t here but appear in others’ lists purely because they’re out over here in 2015.

So here are numbers 20-11 of my top films of 2014…

20. Calvary

Calvary

The McDonagh brothers have a bit of a thing for black comedies (The Guard, In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) but none of them are as black as Calvary. In fact, you might be hard pressed to even call it a black comedy at times, rather a drama with sprinklings of comedy here and there. Either way, it’s an absorbing tale of a good priest being threatened with his life and a brilliant performance by Brendan Gleeson. Read my review.

19. The Raid 2

The Raid 2

The Raid was a lesson in how to bring martial arts to the masses and The Raid 2 takes what the first film did so well and turns everything up to 11. The fight scenes are unbelievable, almost balletic in their choreography, and are as brutal as anything else you’ll have seen this year. Its attempts to create an interesting story miss the mark, but we’re only really here for the fights and they don’t disappoint. My review.

18. The Babadook

The Babadook

It’s always refreshing when a horror film doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares, and thankfully The Babadook steers away from these for the most part. It plays on the audience’s familiarity with the situation and mixes in elements of the uncanny to create an intriguing story, even if it does lose its way slightly in the final third. Read my mini review here.

17. Locke

Locke

Being stuck in a car with Tom Hardy may well be many people’s idea of a dream day out but his Ivan Locke is a little unhinged and we stare in fascinated horror as he does his best to stop his life falling apart around him. Hardy is the sole (on-screen) character and he carries the burden with ease, proving that he can turn his hand to just about anything. Read my full review.

16. Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davies

For me, The Coen Brother’s Inside Llewyn Davis is an easier film to admire than it is to love, but by God there’s a lot to admire. Wonderfully shot with chilly, muted tones, it’s packed full of metaphor and subtext and has some brilliant performances at its core. Not the most accessible film of the year but definitely one of the most thought provoking. Read my full review.

15. Interstellar

Black Hole in Insterstellar

Sometimes a film does some things so well that it makes you forgive the things it’s not so good at. Interstellar has some horrendous plot contrivances and some dodgy plot points, but it also has some absolutely stunning visuals and Christopher Nolan’s lofty ambition, making it simply one of the most pure cinematic experiences of the year. Read my review here.

14. Dallas Buyer’s Club

Dallas Buyer's Club

As we all know, Dallas Buyer’s Club picked up the Best Actor (Matthew McConaughey) and Best Supporting Actor (Jared Leto) awards at the 2014 Oscars, and for good reason. Both McConaughey’s and Leto’s performances are the heart and soul of the film and really sell this heartbreaking true story. Read my full review here.

13. Gone Girl

Gone Girl

David Fincher has built up quite the cinematography and Gone Girl is another excellent addition. It starts as a whodunnit of sorts and then however transforms into something wholly different with twists and turns lacing the narrative throughout. Affleck’s great here but Pike is even better and Fincher’s attention to detail really helps draw you in. Read my full review.

12. The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street

It’s Scorsese and DiCaprio working together once again, this time on the tale of Jordan Belfort and his rise to astronomical wealth and influence on the stock market. Some fantastic performances help to pull the film through which runs about 6 weeks in length, although it still left DiCaprio waiting for that elusive Oscar. Read my review.

11. Paddington

Paddington

For film viewers of a certain age, Paddington Bear will have a certain nostalgic value, but for many he’s somewhat of an unknown. Either way, Paddington is absolutely essential family viewing. It’s utterly charming, like a mug of hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day. It also carries an important message about accepting those different to yourselves, so has plenty of substance to back up its marmalade-laced hi-jinx.

That’s numbers 20-11 of my top 20 of 2014. Let me know your thoughts below and stay tuned for my top ten of 2014 in a few days.

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