Friday, December 19, 2014

Ed's Top Ten Albums of 2014

It's been several years since I last wrote a Best Of/Favourites album end of the year list. This is not a reflection on the quality of music in the intervening years - I've loved plenty of albums released during that time. Rather it's because as I started writing more about film, I started buying and listening to fewer new albums, instead choosing to catch up on artists that I've neglected or just missed out on the first time around. Over the past year, I've tried to correct that behaviour by listening to as much new music as possible, so I feel more comfortable putting together a list of the albums that delighted, beguiled and haunted me over the past 12 months.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot: The Alternate 100 - Part 10!

Yes, that's right, 2014 is nearly done, and so is the Alternate 100. After six months and ten episode, Shot/Reverse Shot's attempt to create a canon of the under-appreciated, under-discussed and just plain under-rated goes out with a bang, as we discuss time travel, space hippies and French animation.

This episode is especially good if you want to hear me completely fail to keep it together while talking about Black Dynamite.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Film Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

How do you even manage to make this boring?
What's the worst thing about Michael Bay?

It's a necessary question, since few filmmakers are as critically reviled as Michael Bay. Probably only Aaron Seltzer and Jason Freiberg, the crown princes of terrible, laugh-free parodies, and Uwe Boll, the king of joyless video game adaptations, come close. Yet Bay is in a whole other league since, unlike those three, his films actually make a lot of money and shape the cultural dialogue. He's also far more influential than they could ever hope to be since his chaotic visual style - nicknamed "Bayhem" - has helped (a word I use begrudgingly) shape blockbuster cinema for two decades. Why does a man whose commercial instincts are beyond a shadow of doubt make films which are almost universally hated?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Film Review: Unbroken (2014)

In theory, Unbroken should be a very good, if not great film. It has so much going for it. It has a fantastic real-life story, that of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic distance runner who joined the airforce in World War II, then spent several years in a series of Japanese prisoner of war camps. In bringing the story to life, the film has the benefit of a screenplay written in part by Joel and Ethan Coen, cinematography by perpetual Oscar bridesmaid Roger Deakins, and a lead performance by Jack O'Connell, the young British actor who gave one of the year's best, most incendiary performances in David Mackenzie's Starred Up. In execution, though, all that talent combines to make a film which only occasionally manages to be good, and for the most part is just bland and flavourless.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Shot/Reverse Shot: The Alternate 100 - Part 9

2014 is drawing to a close and so is the Shot/Reverse Shot Alternate 100. For the penultimate installment, we talk about a couple of classic horror movies, films that triumphed over incredibly low budgets, and the angriest footsteps in cinema history. I also make a comparison between the 1962 film Carnival of Souls and the music of Daniel Johnston, which is great if you fall in the centre of a very specific Venn diagram.

Note: On several occasions in this episode I mix up The Sweet Smell of Success and The Secret of My Success. I blame this on being tired and the fact that those two titles are sort of similar.

Monday, December 08, 2014

OFCS Awards Nominations

Earlier today, the nominations for the Online Film Critics Society's (OFCS), an organisation of which I am a member, 18th annual awards were announced. Reflecting a generally strong year with a great breadth of quality, the nominations run the gamut from expected and long-standing critical favourites like Richard Linklater's Boyhood, which landed six nominations and shares the lead for most nods with The Grand Budapest Hotel, to the lesser discussed but still brilliant likes of Under the Skin and The Babadook. I'm particularly delighted to see Essie Davis nominated for Best Actress for her performance in the latter film, which is far and away my favourite performance by any Actress (or Actor, for that matter) this year. It's an all-round solid slate, and while I'd have liked to see Tsai Ming-liang's Stray Dogs nominated for Best Film Not in the English Language, what are you going to do?

The winners will be announced next Monday, the 15th, and I will spend the next week trying to catch up on the films I've yet to see in time for the final vote. You can see the full list of nominees below.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Film Review: The Theory of Everything (2014)

There's a potentially interesting story in The Theory of Everything, James Marsh's film about the life of Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) and his relationship with his first wife Jane (Felicity Jones). Unfortunately, it was already told in 2004 and it starred Benedict Cumberbatch. Marsh's film and the BBC film Hawking cover a lot of the same ground; both focus on the physicist's time as a post-graduate at Cambridge, his first meeting with Jane and his initial diagnosis with ALS. The earlier film did what far too few films about real people do, though, and focused primarily on that short window of time. The Theory of Everything, by comparison, tries to encompass all of Hawking's life, and loses its centre of gravity very quickly.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Film Review: Wild (2014)

The Simon and Garfunkel song "El Cóndor Pasa" plays repeatedly throughout Wild. Within the story, it often serves as a Proustian trigger for Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon) to reflect on her past, particularly her relationship with her beloved mother (the dependably flawless Laura Dern). Since Cheryl is embarking on a 1100 mile hike from New Mexico to Portland, Oregon, she has plenty of time to reflect. In a more abstract sense, the song sums up the tone of the film. Much like "El Cóndor Pasa", Wild is full of yearning to be somewhere better, or to be someone better, to be a hammer instead of a nail. In Cheryl's case, her desire is to forget the pain of her recent past, which encapsulates divorce, sex and drug addiction, all of which were brought about by the sudden death of her mother.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

When Eames (Tom Hardy) said "You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling" in Christopher Nolan's Inception, it may have seemed like little more than a throwaway quip, but that no longer seems to be the case. Nolan seems to have adopted it as a personal credo, since that sentiment is all over his latest project, Interstellar. Nolan returns to science fiction with a story that leaves dreams, Gotham and the Earth itself behind for the far reaches of space. It sends a small group of scientists, and audiences, on a journey that involves intergalactic travel, wormholes and a crisis that threatens to destroy all of humanity. It's epic filmmaking on a galactic scale, full of wonder and ambition, but the bigger canvas brings Nolan's flaws into sharper relief.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Film Review: Get on Up (2014)

The problem with most music biopics is that they try to condense the lives of complex, often troubled people into easily digestible narratives. Some great films have been made using that approach, but for the most part they result in some of the most formulaic stories imaginable. In telling the story of James Brown, Get on Up runs as far and fast away from that style as it can. Much like Olivier Dahan's La Vie en Rose, director Tate Taylor cuts between all the different eras of Brown's life and career, seemingly at random, and tries to capture as many different facets of his persona as it possibly can. And, much like Dahan's film, Taylor's relies on a singular, galvanizing central performance to keep the whole thing from completely falling apart.