Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Top 15 Films of 2015

1= Star Wars: The Force Awakens

1= Mad Max: Fury Road

3. Inside Out

4. Whiplash

5. Birdman

6. Steve Jobs

7. Sicario

8. It Follows

9. Ex Machina

10. The Duke Of Burgundy

11. The Lobster

12. John Wick

13. Enemy

14. The Martian

15. Macbeth

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Star Wars: The Force Awakens - review

"There has been an awakening... have you felt it?"

There certainly was an awakening last night as this Star Wars fan found that the love he had for the original trilogy, a love that was thought lost forever, returned in force.
From the moment the Lucasfilm logo appeared and the famous crawl stretched up the screen to the familiar score of John Williams, you couldn't remove the grin from my face.
But wait, I had been here before. Star Wars for want of a better analogy is like the love of your life who broke your heart and turns up years later wanting to get back together. You know that it could end badly but you just can't help yourself and give it another go.
Thankfully JJ Abrams et all knew that the passion I and many other fans had for Star Wars was still inside us. We might not have know it ourselves but just as Luke believed that there was good still inside Darth Vader and fought to bring it out of him, they have done just that with The Force Awakens.
I will not go into details of the plot for fear of spoilers, after all we don't want another Homer Simpson situation on our hands do we?

Suffice to say that The Force Awakens is everything that fans who were disappointed with the prequels would want from a Star Wars film.
Gone are the trade federation taxation routes and political posturing. Gone are the overly CGI backgrounds and wooden acting.
The movie feels like it has been shot in real locations with CGI characters used sparingly with a focus on make up, costume and puppetry to bring them to life.
The script is a lot sharper and brings back that sense of fun. There are a lot more laughs in the film than I was expecting but it all works for the characters.
Not only that but the film has what was sorely missing from the prequels... Han Solo. It was his world-weariness and roguish charm that appealed to audiences, and that presence was not filled by any characters such as Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan or Jar Jar Binks.
The newcomers to this saga such as Finn, Rey and Kylo Ren fit in perfectly to the established universe and the welcome return of Han Solo and Chewbacca acts as a nice bridge between the trilogies, especially as Harrison Ford really does look like he is enjoying being back in the cockpit again.
Kylo Ren in particular, proves to be a much more complex villain than initially thought (just look at how his reaction to bad news differs to that of Vader) and Adam Driver is excellent in the role which will evolve into something really special over the course of the films. The same goes for Daisy Ridley as Rey.
Is The Force Awakens a perfect film? No, it is not. You are occasionally left wanting more from some of the characters, some of whom deserve more screen time, and the movie poses more questions than it answers (clearly conscious of being part one of a new trilogy rather than a stand alone film like A New Hope was originally).
Is it the best film of the year? No. However this film was never going to be judged merely on the quality of this one particular installment. It would always be reviewed and thought of as one part of a much larger universe.
Compared to the crushing disappointment and anger that the prequels generated, causing many people to turn to the dark side, this has shown us the path back to the light.
Any film that has me consistently laughing, close to tears on three separate occasions and leaves me with a grin frozen in place like Han in carbonite is always going to win out on an emotional level.
The Force Awakens proves that "the force will be with you always" and as I left the screen as the credits rolled I whispered "I love you" and Star Wars replied simply with... "I know".

4 stars

Monday, 2 November 2015

Halloween Column

With All Hallow’s Eve approaching, the Belmont could not let the opportunity to screen a scary movie pass us by and that is why this Halloween we are screening… Halloween.
John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic that introduced the world to one of cinema’s greatest boogeymen and one of the most influential horror films of all-time.
Horror films used to be about Gothic threats like ghosts, vampires and werewolves but Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960 gave evil a human face and brought the horror into suburbia when Janet Leigh met her fate in a shower in the Bates Motel.
18 years later Janet Leigh’s daughter Jamie Lee Curtis would become the new Scream Queen.
She plays a babysitter who is stalked and terrorised by the phantom-like figure of Michael Myers.  A monster who killed his sister when he was a child and returns to his home town to kill again on the anniversary of her death.
Halloween was the film that set “the rules” of the genre. Don’t drink. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have sex. Don’t ask “Who’s there?” and so on and so on.
It may have popularised the Slasher movie and prompted a host of remakes, reboots and rip-offs but Halloween remains the original and best... and most importantly, the scariest.

Dallas King

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ext. New York City - update

It's been a while since I posted on the blog but I haven't been sitting around doing nothing. I have been watching lots of films but only posting mini review on Twitter for the time being.

Instead all of my focus is currently going into my book on New York film locations.

I went over in July and with my official photographer aka my dad, we walked the equivalent of three marathons in 3 days as we ventured all over Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Coney Island) to photograph as many locations as possible.

In the end we visit over 90 locations which has provided lots of material for the book which I am now in the final stages of writing.

I hope to have a draft finished by the end of August with a view to publish it myself in September/October.

More news to come as I reach the finishing stage but in the meantime, here are a few taster images from my trip...

Sunday, 21 June 2015

EIFF - Empire Podcast Live and Ewan McGregor In Person

An early start to hop on the 6.35am Megabus to Edinburgh was required this morning in order to attend two of my most anticipated events at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival.
First up was a live recording of Empire Magazine's Podcast featuring regulars Chris Hewitt, Phil DeSemleyn, Ali Plumb and Helen O'Hara.

This was the second year in a row that they have done a recording at the Festival and this was just as informative, intellectual, irreverent, hilarious, full of spot prizes of varying quality and PG-13 material as last time.
As well as the usual movie news, reviews and readers questions (well audience questions in this case), they were joined by guests Robert Sheehan, director Corin Hardy and actress Emily Mortimer.
It is great to see the podcast being recorded in person for the full "live and uncut" experience as the comoradarie between the Empire guys is evident in person and often allows for some more risqué humour which probably will not make it into the final edit (those who were there will know what I'm talking about but essentially involves Ron Weasley and a 99 cone).

Following on from the podcast, there was time for a quick pitstop in Festival HQ (aka the Filmhouse Cafe Bar) before heading over to the Lyceum Theatre across the road for Ewan McGregor In Person.

Interviewed by Edith Bowman, Ewan started off by talking about the film he was at the festival to promote, The Last Days In The Desert, in which he plays Jesus AND Lucifer.
Following that they took a relaxed and candid tour through his career with wit and charm, from the likes of Shallow Grave and Trainspotting to working on Beauty And The Beast.

Highlights included:

  • Realising that despite having a French wife and four children who speak French, he couldn't initially do a French accent for Lumiere without it sounding Mexican.

  • A moving story about how his parents let him leave school early to pursue acting and how some advice from his Uncle Denis Lawson (Wedge Antilles in Star Wars) helped him understand the craft and get him into an acting school.

  • Talking about the method of "playing with himself on screen" when he plays the dual parts of Jesus and Lucifer.

  • Having buried the hatchet with Danny Boyle, he is now open to the idea of a Trainspotting sequel.

  • His regret that Peter Capaldi hadn't secured funding for his script where Ewan would have played four parts (Bonnie Prince Charlie, his decoy, an American actor playing Bonnie Prince Charlie and a Scottish lookalike).

  • He is looking forward to the new Star Wars film but scoffed at the hilted lightsaber believing that if you are using it properly you don't need a hilt.

  • He would also be happy to become Obi-Wan again to tell the story of what happens between Episodes III and IV.

  • Despite being in conversation for over 90 minutes, it only scratched the surface of a wide and varied career of Scotland's most successful export since McEwen's and the crowd would have happily sat there for another 90 to ask more questions but alas he had to head across town to present the screening of The Last Days Of The Desert... but not before a few photos on stage (where he did some mime) and a couple of quick selfies and autographs outside.

    Then it was time to get the train back up the road but a fantastic day at the Festival and looking forward to one final trip back down next weekend to see one of my all-time favourite films Back To The Future with a live orchestra score.

    Thursday, 18 June 2015

    EIFF 2015 - Maggie

    Maggie is being sold on it being a zombie movie and the movie in which the world discovers that Arnie can act.
    Only one of these facts are true and shockingly it is the second one because the former Governer and Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger delivers what is arguably his finest on screen performance to date (although is that difficult given his previous benchmarks? After all he is a movie star rather than an actor).
    As a father struggling to come to terms with the fact this his daughter will evolve into a zombie, Arnie delivers a surprisingly tender and emotive performance, even shedding the odd tear or two.
    Despite it being marketed as a zombie movie, it is a far away from your typical zombie flick as Let The Right One In is from a vampire movie.
    There is no widespread panic, massive scenes of desolation or Arnie fighting off hordes of the undead.
    Instead at the heart of the film is a family drama where a biological outbreak has created a disease that causes people to slowly turn into the undead.
    The disease is treated in the early stages just like any other, with patients patched up and sent home with a pamphlet on preventing the spread of the disease until it is time for them to "turn" and they are shipped off to quarantine.
    Quarantine is meant to be where the infected are cared for in their final days but according to some, it is in reality a horrific place where all the infected are left to rot and feed off each other.
    And so to the central crux of the story and what Maggie is really about.
    The film is actually a comment on the moral dilemma of assisted suicide. Should Arnold allow his daughter to get taken to quarantine where the quality of her life is not assured and she slowly and painfully deteriorates into someone that they and she herself no longer recognises or does he do the humane thing and help her end her life?
    All three central performances are strong, with Breslin providing a lot of pain and empathy as the girl who will turn and Joely Richardson offering a counterpoint to Arnold's desire to protect his daughter as the stepmom who doesn't see Maggie as one of her own.
    The tagline for the film could have been "Don't Get Too Close" but this is close to being the freshest take on the zombie film since 28 Days Later and won't be undead on arrival in cinemas this July.

    4 stars

    EIFF 2015 - Opening Night Gala - The Legend Of Barney Thomson

    Last night saw the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival kick off festivities with its opening night gala premiere of The Legend Of Barney Thomson, directed by and starring festival patron Robert Carlyle.
    Having missed last year's opening gala without an unfortunately timed and incredibly painful case of kidney stones, it was exciting and reassuring to be able to walk the red carpet in my tuxedo (which up until an hour before still had the tags on from its purchase last year!).
    The film tells the story of Barney Thomson, a Glaswegian barber who is down on his luck and accidentally kills a co-worker who fires him from his job.
    With a serial killer stalking the streets of Glasgow and mailing body parts of their victims to relatives, Barney's mum (a hilarious Emma Thompson) convinces him to ride on the coattails of the killer to get the police (including a dogged Cockney copper played by Ray Winstone) off his scent.
    There are parallels to Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (particularly with Ray Winstone in the film as he played the barber on BBC) but Barney is a much more sympathetic character, with the emphasis on the pathetic.
    The psycho Begbie is nowhere to be seen here as when we meet Barney he is sad, alone and about to be fired from his job. Even then he can't seem to muster the energy or passion to fight back, only killing his co-worker by accident. Then his attempts to dispose of the body set off a hilariously awful chain of events that cause Barney's life and lies to spiral out of control, and Carlyle plays his sense of hopelessness and growing anger at his inability to change things quite wonderfully.
    The sense of humour that runs through the film is as sharp as the razor that Barney uses at work. A lot of it comes from the situation that Barney gets himself into and a fair dose comes from Emma Thompson's turn as his ageing, bingo obsessed mother.
    She delivers the "Glasgae banter" with aplomb and receives many of the films biggest laughs (although one does wonder if anyone outside of Scotland will understand what she is saying half the time).
    The film's subplot about inter-departmental police rivalry could have done with a trim, or even a short back and sides, but Carlyle (in his first film as director) has delivered a accomplished tale of the macabre that should play well to audiences who enjoy a wild, wacky and wicked ride.
    The Legend Of Barney Thomson was a cracking, crowd-pleasing choice for the new direction of the Edinburgh Film Festival and proved to be a bloody good laugh.

    4 stars