Film & TV

  1. Ruining Mad Max: Fury Road

    I walked out of Mad Max: Fury Road after barely an hour, which, judging by the uniformly-positive reaction everywhere to the film, puts me squarely in the role of Nancy Bellicec at the end of Body Snatchers. It'd be unfair to critique the film when I didn't see all of it so I'm not going to, but I did think a lot about why I reacted so poorly towards it, when it's objectively one of the best-realised films this year and a great example of its form.

  2. Joss Whedon’s Avengers: Age of Ultron

    One of the biggest fan complaints about Man of Steel was that there was something very un-Superman-like about Superman, levelling Metropolis during his fight with General Zod but doing nothing to ensure the safety of the people; director Zack Synder estimated the death toll at 5,000, but somewhere around 129,000 seems more likely. Synder's claim that all those deaths are narratively necessary so that Superman can feel, like, really heavy with sadness is spurious; having Superman save people AND defeat Zod at the same time would have given him the moral high ground, but, whatever, this isn't the time or place.

  3. Marvel’s Daredevil

    I've found it interesting that where Marvel has overwhelmed DC in the film world, the reverse has been true when it comes to TV. Where Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D struggled to be any better than tolerable and Agent Carter struggles to get distribution because oh my GOD she's a LADY, DC's been striding ahead with the remarkably solid Arrow and its sunnier, more fun spin-off The Flash, both of which have introduced a slew of DC heroes and villains ready for yet more spin-offs and team-ups.

  4. Review of Tommy Lee Jones’ The Homesman

    Tommy Lee Jones' The Homesman is a film never sure what it wants to be, a tonally-mismatched piece that never commits to the horror of its initial situation, mixing scenes of rape and violence with ill-judged 'odd couple' moments of comedy and light slapstick.

  5. The videogame mechanics of Patema Inverted

    The conceit behind Patema Inverted, a 2013 anime by Yasuhiro Yoshiura, is that at some point in the past, scientists inadvertently reversed the direction of Earth's gravity, causing mass destruction and many deaths, with the survivors splintering into two societies, one above ground and one below, each subjected to an opposing gravitational force: those above appear to be pulled down into the planet, and those underground appear to be pulled upwards, toward the sky.

  6. My 2014 film highlights

    My annual film highlights post, in which I highlight 20 films from all that I saw during 2014. This time I've selected from 232, and as usual the only limitation is that I saw the film last year; no restrictions on release date. The films listed aren't necessarily what I'd call the best, but I think they're all noteworthy for various reasons. I think this might be more of a downbeat list than previous years. Such was 2014.

  7. Review of Alejandro Iñárritu’s Birdman

    In 2008, Jean-Claude Van Damme appeared as an unflattering version of himself in JCVD, a washed-up film star unable to find work who returns to Belgium and finds that a misunderstanding during a post-office heist helps revitalise his career. It's a pretty good film, and there's a lot of similarity between it and Birdman, which sees Michael Keaton playing an equally-unflattering version of himself as a washed-up former comic book film star trying to put on a Serious Play in a bid for relevance.

  8. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes

    Big Eyes, the story of mid-century artist Margaret Keane who took her husband to court to prove that her popular portraits of big-eyed children were by her, and not him, is more interesting as a new direction for Tim Burton than it is as a film in its own right.

  9. Review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

    I quite liked the first Hobbit, though it was worryingly over-stuffed with Christopher Lee cameos and whatnot. The second film on the other hand was all stuffing and no meat, a relentless parade of middling events and characters apparently only there to pay off in the third film. In retrospect, so few of those moments and characters actually do pay off that it makes me dislike the middle film all the more.

  10. My annual Christmas film marathon

    For a long time I always tried to spend Christmas with people, because society says that’s what you do at Christmas and if you’re not doing this then you must be a sad, lonely bachelor eating beans on toast for Christmas lunch and wishing your life was a bit less depressing than the Eastenders Christmas Special.

  11. Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner

    I’m increasingly impatient with long films; 90 minutes feels just right, but anything over two hours has to really try hard to justify itself. The Great Beauty, weighing in at 142 minutes, never felt long to me, with its superb visuals, soundtrack, characters and performances all working together to carry its lazily-meandering story along; when this film ended I could have watched it from the beginning again straight away, because it easily earns its length. On the other side you have Peter Jackson’s gruelling Hobbit films, masterpieces in padding; of the 161 minutes of The Desolation of Smaug, you could probably cut out about 150.

  12. Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida

    Ida, a starkly-presented, brief, almost minimalist piece, is one of the most subtle, compelling and smartly-handled films I've seen this year, at times feeling more like a fable than the gritty realist drama it is.

  13. James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy

    Part of the success of the Marvel film series comes from following the structures set down by much of contemporary TV: the Marvel films from Iron Man to Avengers Assemble are like the first season of a big-budget TV series with a story arc built through each episode and culminating in the Avengers getting together in the finale. Guardians of the Galaxy plays like that whole series concentrated into one film; it's a dense, colourful and playful piece that's just a little back-heavy and slightly forced. It isn't as sharp as Whedon's Avengers Assemble but it's certainly sharp enough.

  14. Matt Reeves’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    Rupert Wyatt's Rise of the Planet of the Apes was unexpectedly excellent, revitalising a franchise that had been worn into the ground with a great blend of story, character and action. Matt Reeves' sequel is enjoyable but doesn't expand enough away from Rise to feel like anything more than an extended epilogue, focusing exclusively on a single group of surviving humans bumping up against the ape society. While this keeps the film tightly focused, it also doesn't tell the audience anything we couldn't have assumed for ourselves. There's some solid direction, a great score, and great performances from the ape cast, but the end result feels a little inessential.

  15. Review of Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises

    As Miyazaki's choice for his last film, it's hard not to wonder what statement he's trying to make; The Wind Rises is not a whimsical fairytale but a tale of artistic obsession, and the subject, Jiro Horikoshi, is the designer of planes used by Imperial Japan during the second world war. What Miyazaki presents is such a forgivingly-neutral portrayal that, with knowledge of events of that time, I found it a little hard to stomach.

  16. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla

    I'm a big fan of Gareth Edwards' debut feature Monsters, a low-key character piece that eschewed extravagant set-pieces in favour of some smart world-building, showing how humanity could adapt to live with a passively-invasive, natural force. There's some of that in Godzilla with the positioning of the monsters as barely-seen background forces for so much of the film, but, while the spectacle impresses, the film is weakened by bland and forgettable characters.

  17. Review of Richard Ayoade’s The Double

    Richard Ayoade's The Double, a fable-like tale of a shy, socially-backwards man replaced by a confident double, is an uncomfortable yet mostly brilliant work. The impeccable cinematography, imaginative set design and jarring score all work in perfect harmony to unsettle, and Jesse Eisenberg puts in a great, exaggerated and unreal performance as both the shy Simon and the confident James. However, while ostensibly this is a dark comedy, the tone is overwhelmingly sour.

  18. Thoughts on Inside Llewyn Davis

    What a cold and bleak film Inside Llewyn Davis is, as bitter as the winter in which Llewyn Davis finds himself so ill-equipped to function in. There's some laughs -- it's a Coen brothers film after all -- but under the surface is a metaphor for depression that offers no solution, no saccharine Hollywood uplifts or hopeful closing notes. Inside Llewyn Davis is brutal.

  19. My 2013 film highlights

    2013 saw me taking in approximately 230 films, slightly fewer than last year though in part I blame that on films all seeming to be about three hours long these days. As with last year, here's 20 that stood out. Not all of the films I've listed were released in 2013, but that's ok, it's my website, my rules.

  20. Review of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

    There's a moment in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug where Gandalf has wandered off from the company of dwarves and is creeping his way through an ancient crypt. Discovering an open tomb, he's startled by Radagast the Brown. "Why are we here, Gandalf?" asks Radagast. Good question, I thought; "To set up the next film" appeared to be the answer.

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