Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Film Review: Spectre (2015)

There are few franchises as reactive as the James Bond series. Over twenty-four films and fifty-three years, it has had to adapt and change in order to survive, often taking on the qualities of the trend du jour in order to remain relevant. When blaxploitation cinema was at its height, Bond went to Harlem and fought against Voodoo gangsters. After Star Wars became one of the most popular movies of all time, Bond went to space. As Hollywood became obsessed with hard-nosed crime dramas focused on the drug trade, Bond dismantled a cartel and fed Benicio del Toro through a shredder.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot: 117 - Spies

For this episode, Matt and I thought it would be fun to watch the new James Bond movie, Spectre, and use it as a jumping off point to discuss Bond and cinematic spies more generally. In the end, neither of us managed to see the film due to other things getting in the way (like our lack of enthusiasm for it), but we were still able to have a fairly involved conversation about the history of the spy genre, the ways in which it served to reflect and distract from audiences' concerns about World War I/World War II/The Cold War/insert conflict here, as well as why it's in such rude health considering that 2015 has seen the release of half a dozen spy films from major Hollywood studios.

We also find time to talk about our cautiously optimistic response to the Preacher trailer, our somewhat less optimistic feelings about Warcraft, and the odd circumstances of Star Trek's latest televised incarnation.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Film Review: Mistress America (2015)

You don't see many screwball comedies these days, and by "these days", I mean the last six of seven decades. Like the Western or the detective drama, it's a once prominent cinematic genre that has fallen out of favour because it feels antiquated, and because its style has been co-opted by television. If you want to watch rapid-fire banter in farcical situations, there are dozens upon dozens of sitcoms that provide it, with the added bonus that the same characters will be back at the same time next week. Even when new additions to the genre do come around, they tend to be pastiches or homages like What's Up, Doc? or The Hudsucker Proxy. Films which are themselves now decades old, but even when they were new looked to the past, reaffirming the idea that this is a genre belonging to a bygone age.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot: 116 - Halloween Special 2015

'Tis the season for goblins and ghouls, so this episode finds Matt and myself discussing all things horror. Well, like, five things horror. After dealing with the week's news, we delve into the topic of horror by reviewing Charlie Lyne's new documentary/video essay Fear Itself (currently available on the BBC iPlayer), talking about the most terrifying moments in non-horror movies (which involves a lot of David Lynch talk), and our favourite horror movies ever.

I also introduce the world to that most elegant of reptiles, the Kimono Dragon.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Movie Journal: October 2015

Red Rock West
This was a pretty full month for me, as I watched 31 films in total, all of which were new to me. I had hoped to watch more horror films since it's the season for it, but considering what a horrifying place the world is on a daily basis, I think it's fine for me to let that ambition spread out into months other than Shocktober, even if November doesn't lend itself to any particularly fun puns.

The worst film I watched for the first time this month was Jean-Luc Godard's Sympathy for the Devil, which did a thorough job of making me sick of the Rolling Stones song of the same name. While the footage of the Stones at work on the song is interesting, showing a band at the height of its powers stumbling towards greatness as they record different parts, try things out, and gradually hammer it into the rock classic that we all know, the other half of the film, which consists of interminable vignettes focused on Godard's interest in Marxism, revolution, and radicalism, is the worst kind of masturbatory self-indulgence from a director who isn't exactly a stranger to masturbatory self-indulgence. There's some lovely tracking shots in there, though, if you're into that sort of thing.

Right, let's get to the top ten for October.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Film Review: The Nightmare (2015)

I'm a fairly solid sleeper. I rarely have nightmares, I don't suffer from insomnia, and it takes the sudden dislocation of jet lag or extremely unpleasant weather to mess up my sleep patterns. I don't say all of this to brag, but to establish that there is a direct causal link between watching Rodney Ascher's The Nightmare, and one of the worst night's sleep I can remember.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot: 115 - Cinemagoing

This episode is packed to the gills. In addition to the normal business of commenting on the week's news, which is unsurprisingly dominated by Star Wars and Back to the Future, because apparently we live in the '80s, Matt and I answer some viewer mail and pay tribute to Dr. Clifford Shaw, a legendary figure in Sheffield's film culture who passed away this week.

Then, we play an interview with Professor Melvyn Stokes of UCL, which was conducted by my friend Dr. Patrick Glen, who talks about a project he is spearheading to collect memories of people who went to the cinema in Britain during the 1960's. That in turn sets us on a discussion of our own cinemagoing habits, and ultimately the question of what the future holds for cinema as a communal experience.

If you think that you or someone you know would be interested in the UCL study, then please visit and complete the questionnaire. It'll take about 30-45 minutes to complete, and you can help contribute to a fascinating sociological study.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Shot/Reverse Shot: 114 - Obsession

In this episode, Matt and I talk about the idea of Obsession, how it is depicted on screen, and how the fascinations of individual artists can manifest in their work. We also talk about the colossal failure of Warner Bros. Pan and wonder why people keep trying to make Peter Pan movies when almost all of them have been complete duds, and try to come up with a non-awful story for the proposed Die Hard prequel. We do not succeed, but I'm willing to be bet that we came up with a better alternative to whatever version actually gets made.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Film Review: Crimson Peak (2015)

When aspiring author Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska) goes to see an editor about a story she has written, she responds to his describing it as a ghost story by saying that it's actually "a story with a ghost in it." A similar sentiment could be applied to the film in which she finds herself, since Crimson Peak is not a horror film, but a film with horror in it. While it does feature spurting arteries, decaying corpses and a haunted house, most of those elements are employed sporadically, or are restricted to the film's exuberant finale. For most of its running time, it's a Gothic romance with a dash of sinister mystery thrown in for flavour.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Film Review: The Martian (2015)

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is a very smart man in a very bad situation. A member of a manned mission to Mars, he was struck by a piece of debris during a storm which separated him from the rest of his crew. Believing that Watney had been killed, and faced with the agonising choice between leaving him or being stranded themselves, his crew left and started their long, mournful journey back to Earth. Fortunately, Watney survived. Unfortunately, he's alone on Mars with limited supplies, no way of contacting his crew or NASA, and no means of escape. Faced with the prospect of a long stay on a dead planet, with eventual starvation the most likely outcome, Watney would be forgiven for giving in to despair. Instead, he becomes a regular Robinson Crusoe on Mars (though not the actual Robinson Crusoe on Mars) and uses the tools at hand and his scientific know-how to try and survive, no matter how much the odds are stacked against him.