Film & TV

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. Trailer for Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla

    I really enjoyed Gareth Edwards' Monsters in 2010, which saw Scoot McNairy and Whitney Able as a mismatched couple trying to work their way back to America through Mexican territory infested by alien creatures, so I was already sold on Godzilla. What interests me about this trailer is that it feels like it's the first action film in a LONG time not to use the Inception-style foghorn effect, instead using what sounds like the score from 2001: A Space Odyssey, specifically the score played during the monolith's first appearance in 2001 (about three minutes in to this video). It gives Godzilla a proper other-worldly feel to it; this isn't just another film where something big's going to turn up and smash things; this is something different.

  11. Review of Thor: The Dark World

    Of all the pre-Avengers Marvel films, Thor unexpectedly turned out to be my favourite. Funny, decent action, fun characters and an airy, spacious feel unlike any of the New York-based hero films; Thor is the most comic-like of all these comic adaptations. Thor: The Dark World, on the other hand, is flat, dull and joyless.

  12. Review of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty

    It's difficult for me to write about The Great Beauty without gushing, but I found it to be a film that cried out to be annotated, discussed and picked over, every line, scene, every note in the score, every action and reaction. While it's a heartbreakingly beautiful film with barely a single frame I didn't want to tear out and stick on my walls, behind it all is an atmosphere of worn-out indolence.

  13. First impressions of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

    A great pilot should, obviously, want me to come back for more. I've always been fond of the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, for its odd blend of action (the revisiting of Wolf 359) and philosophy (a discussion of linear time with aliens that exist outside of it) that made it seem like it would be more than just a Next Generation cast off. More recently, the pilot for Sleepy Hollow grabbed me just because of Tom Mison's dry, witty performance as Ichabod Crane. It doesn't take much for me to give a show a chance, but Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gave me very little. There's a lot of potential -- a Whedon-produced TV series set in Marvel's comic universe with Clark Gregg returning as Agent Coulson is hard to imagine going wrong, but the pilot was just ok. It wasn't great.

  14. Review of David Twohy’s Riddick

    After the risible attempt to make a mythic space opera hero out of Riddick in Chronicles of Riddick, Riddick is a back-to-basics attempt to remind audiences how great the character is. The problem is, he isn't; he's one of the reasons Pitch Black is great, but he's not the reason, and his story was essentially complete in that film. Where Chronicles tried to mythologise him, Riddick simply boringly retreads him.

  15. Review of James Mangold’s The Wolverine

    The tendency for film adaptations of superhero comics has been to provide spectacle and city-smashing action. The stakes are always high in these films; the whole of humanity or mutantkind itself is usually in danger of imminent destruction or oppression. The Wolverine, which sees the character mooching around Japan charged with protecting just a single woman, is pretty refreshing for its small-scale ambitions.

  16. Review of Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim

    At first glance, Pacific Rim seems like a shallow film with paper-thin characterisation and performances from a Wing Commander cut scene; all this can make it hard to see the film as anything other than an overgrown cartoon. Fortunately, what the film lacks in those areas it more than makes up for with gristly, weighty action, a coherent and interesting world, a great, memorable score from Ramin Djawadi and a unique and beautiful palette.

  17. Review of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel

    I enjoyed Man of Steel. Now it's over I'll argue that it suffers from weak plotting, a dodgy script and a bland leading man, but I won't deny that I was transfixed from start to finish, and I say this as one not given over to drooling over spectacle. Sadly, while it has plenty of outstanding and brutal action, it also lacks a heart.

  18. Review of Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing

    In retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought I'd enjoy Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing. Sure, it's directed by Joss Whedon, and stars most of my favourite actors from the Whedon stable, but it's still a Shakespeare comedy with all the comic sophistication of an episode of Miranda.

  19. Review of Kim Jee-Woon’s The Last Stand

    The Last Stand is Schwarzenegger's first film for a few years, returning now that his political career is over, and I wish he'd stayed in politics. There's a great cast, script and film here but Schwarzenegger's presence is a cartoonish distraction.

  20. Review of Shane Black’s Iron Man 3

    As the first post-Avengers Marvel film, Iron Man 3 feels a little peculiar. It's a decent enough film, but it feels like a minor offering; if I feel like an Iron Man film in the future, I'll probably watch the first one or The Avengers, and if I feel like a Shane Black film in which Robert Downey Jr. gets pushed around a lot, quips, teams up with a slightly mis-matched partner and is set during Christmas, I'll watch Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

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