What is wrong with films this year? Best and worst of 2013? Tough on both counts.

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Had a little rummage through Empire, The Guardian and Time’s best and worst of 2013. Now interestingly, I shared with my friends that I had seen 120 films so far on my Unlimited card. They asked me what was my top 10? And you know what, I actually struggled, not to say I couldn’t do it. But the ones I did finally put in there were not perfect by any means, personally there were only a few I would consider a very good film. Many were good but . . . or watchable if you’re in the mood, I couldn’t give a solid recommendation. Too picky? Don’t be silly.

 

I can’t help but feel that critics these days are falling for the overindulgent hype that surrounds many films these days. Most irritatingly, however is that this year is not over yet, with the Christmas period being one of the biggest targets to draw audiences with their bigger films. Guessing that The Hobbit, Anchorman 2 and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty will be in there somewhere is not good enough.

 

In all fairness, despite being heavily plugged and advertised the last few months at our local Cineworld, as an Unlimited member I was invited to a secret screening of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. A truly beautiful, easygoing film with a lot of heart, not without its flaws but a surprise, nonetheless and one of Stiller’s most ambitious efforts.

 

 

All this buzz about Gravity. Best film of the year? Certainly not, might just scrape my top 20. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of everyone involved. A stunning visual masterpiece but at its core, a slow-burning drawn out survival story that has been done a hundred times before and much, much better. At first harrowing with Bullock spinning frantically with limited oxygen, it soon got old very quick. Much like Open Water. You could argue I don’t like those sort of films but yet I loved Alive and Buried. Gravity just seemed to be the same rubbish in a beautiful decorated visual wrapper.  It may have taken seven years for Cuaron to make but it took Kubrick twelve years to do Eyes Wide Shut, one of his weaker entries, but it was still more riveting than this.

 

Certainly not, might just scrape my top 20. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of everyone involved. A stunning visual masterpiece but at its core, a slow-burning drawn out survival story that has been done a hundred times before and much, much better. At first harrowing with Bullock spinning frantically with limited oxygen, it soon got old very quick. Much like Open Water. You could argue I don’t like those sort of films but yet I loved Alive and Buried. Gravity just seemed to be the same rubbish in a beautiful decorated visual wrapper.  It may have taken seven years for Cuaron to make but it took Kubrick twelve years to do

 

My markers are based on story, performance, pace, interest, and most importantly, would I buy that and would I watch that again? For most of the 120 films, I would find it a chore to endure them again if they appeared on my TV. Granted people have different tastes, but this constant focus on big pictures that fail to impress or surprise is a joke, regurgitating a checklist of sorts. Romance? Sex? Special effects? Needs to be an epic so make it three hours? Wait, guys, what about plot, story and acting? Shut up!

 

Nothing is original. That is true. But what is important is seeing the same story in a different way, which most of these films haven’t even tried to do. Irritatingly, The Guardian selects films that are of a particular niche or arthouse field. I am unlucky to be in an area where mainstream Hollywood films dominate. We don’t have an independent cinema, as such and if we do, then the choices are sparse and even more expensive to see than the usual 3D turd offering.

 

It doesn’t help with this current economic climate that Blockbusters have collapsed. It’s now only online rental, which I couldn’t stand in the first place, sending everything I asked for months ago. Or I have to travel 30 to 45 minutes to Milton Keynes or Leicester just to see these “Oscar tipped movies”. Either that or I have to find that them on demand and pay silly amount. There is even another alternative, but I don’t want to go down that path. I want to support this industry.

 

Conflicting on the three sites about one film, Only God Forgives. Personally, only God will forgive the people that made that movie. Now Refn delivered a sensationally visual feast but couldn’t hide the surprisingly unwatchable Ryan Gosling in a bizarre, stupidly violent, boring, ridiculous affair. Problem, I can see a cult following emerging. You could decipher the religious imagery and connotations but believe me, there are films that have deeper meanings that aren’t as strenuous. In one scene, a bloke is being brutally tortured, I felt his pain by just watching this film despite only being 90 minutes if that. You want deeper readings, watch Blade Runner and Donnie Darko, much better!

 

Worst films for Time, a few surprises in there. The Hangover Part 3 and Oz: The Great and Powerful? Now, granted. The Hangover 3 was not perfect and I was slightly disappointed and quite a lot of the laughs were revealed in the trailers but I saw a lot worse and liked the darker action-y route that it took and it wrapped up quite well, considering how mental the films were. Oz, on the other hand, very surprised. Franco played the part well, unlike Spring Breakers (Gangsterrrrr!) and Raimi brought a stunning, visual world that was worth seeing in 3D. Granted it was never going to top the original classic. The Counsellor, definitely a poor show. Needed counselling after watching that. (I know, lame, but come on, the chance was there and I took it!).

 

Grown Ups 2 hardly a surprise. Sandler’s recent endeavours have been a guilty pleasure for my brother and me. Overly panned, these silly films have always managed to make us giggle like a pair of numpties but after a funny hour, the film went downhill badly. Even we wanted to walk out at one point.

 

What annoyed me with Empire was many of the films I would have considered in my top 10 are ranked in their 30s section of the top 50. Django? Star Trek? Really? Captain Phillips at Number 2? It was a number 2, more like. A gripping opening hour fizzled out in a drawn out two and a half hour affair, felt like I was kidnapped by the pirates myself. Would have preferred it. (No, I wouldn’t). The complaints go on.

 

It seems film production companies are aware of this decline and instead of investing in new material, they’re going back to the old stuff and rehashing, sorry, remaking it. Oldboy, Total Recall, Robocop, Spiderman, rumours of Lethal Weapon? Why, why, why? Now because of the success of the brilliant Breaking Bad, they are flogging more money at TV shows. Are they going to kill that too? 2014 needs a serious reboot. Provide stories, humour, interest, not the same old crap, at least put a different spin on it. My best and worst will follow once I got rid of the cramp in my hands (Steady now).

 

http://www.empireonline.com/features/films-of-the-year-2013

 

http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/dec/06/top-10-worst-films-2013-time-magazine

 

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SAVING MR BANKS REVIEW

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Thank you for saving me from burning my Unlimited card!

A pleasant surprise to come out of the cinema after a film with a smile. An easygoing, heartwarming, brilliantly written and superbly acted drama.

Be warned, there will be no rant or comical anecdote. The critic in me is in action. Apologies.

Now for those who aren’t familiar, I have an Unlimited card which entitles me to see whatever I want at the cinema. A challenge that has drained me.

I have found it incredibly difficult to answer people when they ask, “What’s your top 10 this year?”. I feel that films this year have either failed to hit the mark, contained brilliant BUT poorly executed concepts or were merely poor rehashes of classics that didn’t need to be touched in the first place. However, I may finally have a contender to add to my 10.

Now, I’m a fan of Disney. And I’ll admit I loved the film Mary Poppins (Yeah, losing serious man points here but hey ho). When I first heard that a film had been made about the story behind the story of Mary Poppins, I was intrigued.

As soon as the film begun, I was hooked by the sheer acting grace of one of my favourite actresses Emma Thompson. We join the uptight snobby PL Travers as she is invited to LA by Walt Disney himself to discuss signing over the movie rights to Mary Poppins.

Strapped for cash and afraid to lose her home, Travers is reluctantly forced to consider his proposal BUT finds his charm offensive offensive. And as flashbacks reveal, her connection to the character is a lot more personal than anyone could have imagined.

As soon as Travers breached the loud, bright, OTT enthusiastic Californian bliss of Disney Studios, you knew you were in for a treat. From the flight complaints regarding a baby’s noise levels to the stray suitcase invading her designated space. Even the crazy terms that she demanded; NO animation, NO music and absolutely NO Dick Van Dyke?! Hilarious BUT true. This did actually happen.

The supporting cast were brilliant. Paul Giamatti was charming as the nauseatingly enthusiastic chauffeur. BB Novak and Jason Schwartzman were very funny as the mad song writers. However, cudos must be awarded to the legend that is Tom Hanks, who truly captivated Disney and stole the show at every chance.

Watching Thompson and Hanks banter and compete with one another was fantastic. Disney truly has his work cut out for him. I was disappointed that Thompson didn’t get an Oscar nod after all the consideration.

What sets this film apart was the flashback sequences. They slowly unearthed Traver’s past from her childhood in Australia with her father (Brilliantly portrayed by Colin Farrell). As we delve further into Travers’ past, we get to see why she’s so reluctant to let Mary Poppins go and why she has become the woman that she is today.

I felt that Ruth Wilson (who played Alice in the brilliant TV drama Luther) was wasted in her role. Understandably, the film’s focus was always going to be on Travers’ relationship with her father. A pivotal point in Poppin’s development BUT it was a shame. However, she was given a moment to shine in an emotionally tense scene. I don’t want to say too much now because I want people to see this.

An endearing little affair. If a little long at the tooth BUT I didn’t need a spoonful of sugar to make this go down (Come on, I had to get one in).

I initially thought that Travers’ character was exaggerated for the feature BUT during the closing credits (Hardly a spoiler), an old recording of a conversation with the real Travers and some Disney execs was played. Thompson really did do her justice.

Great acting, great writing, good film.

4/5

A Day in the Life of a ‘Dog’s Body’: Holiday Edition

Chapter Two – A Gateway to Hell, or what I call, the Airport

Walking across the tarmac to the airport entrance is such a depressing site. Hardly a haven to prepare yourself for a fantastic holiday. Just a bunch of miserable looking people awaiting their doom. Well, what do you expect? Delays, technical faults, hidden fees, being shoved in a tin tube for so many hours and queuing.

Queuing. I love it. (I don’t). It has got to be one of the most quintessentially British, uh, things? Yeah, things that define us as a nation. It is just programmed in our nature, even altered in our DNA (Too far? Thought so?). You can play, “Spot the Brit” when you’re abroad. What are the signs? Just one. We’re the only plonkers standing in an organised fashion, while being barged out of the way by the locals. A tut and a dirty look will do nothing here, old sport.

If Ross, my mum and I were to stand in a line right now, people would stand behind us. The funniest thing is that no one would dare to ask. They would just stand and assume it’s for something. I know this because the first thing that happened as we entered, apart from my brother wondering why there were tramps on the floor, was no one knew where to queue so instead of asking someone, they started forming a line.

Oh the tramp thing. People were laying all over the floor. Probably delayed flights. I assured my brother that tramps don’t have suitcases. If they did, I don’t think they would be tramps. Plus tramps don’t have flight tickets . . . or Armani suits. The line thing. Back on track. We had a guide speaking through a broken speaker, telling us where to go. He took his mouth away from the mouthpiece, still couldn’t understand him. Turns out the speaker wasn’t broken, just a strange man speaking in an inaudible tongue. Parseltongue?

Passport control, such fun! Why is it when security guards at passport control look at your passport picture, you automatically try to look like it? Or you smile, hoping that will help. As if a smile will get you anywhere. Well, actually, I have a funny story about a brothel where . . . Another time. But the smiling thing. We have to fear identity fraud. Imagine that.

HYPOTHETICAL SCENARIO

Guard: “This bloke got through with your passport because you had the same smile”.

Me: “What? He’s fat, bald and . . . Nigerian”.

And that little camera, web camera thing. Can’t help but strike a pose. Vogue! Nope, felt wrong typing it but also so right.

While we were waiting in another bloody queue, I noticed one of those virtual assistants. You know, those glass figures with virtual people on them. I stood next to one and busted out my best C-3PO impression. Turns out it wasn’t virtual. That was on the other side of the control desk. I was doing the robot with a rather narked off security guard. Someone’s getting frisked. Guilty! He was just jealous of my moves. Well, that’s what I keep telling myself.

They say (Who are they? The writer folk) the trick to writing is keep writing. Watch people, experience life, blah, blah, blah. Keep a pad. Write things down as they happen. So if you see me writing, be honoured. I might be putting something good. You could be my muse. You should only be freaked out if it’s night and I’m in a bush or outside your house, or both. That would be weird. Not that I’ve done that or considered it. I haven’t. Maybe once. Nope, kidding. Or am I?

Anyway, the airport departure lounge. Great to watch and write about people. In fact, my brother nods over to an attractive lady. Shallow, I know. Well, might as well have a gander. I nod in approval. His face drops. He bursts out laughing. What? Apparently that lovely looking lady is actually a lovely looking lady boy. Oooookkkkaaaayyyy.

Icona Pop comes out blaring on the intercom. I don’t care, I love it. (What? I’ll get my coat). I start tapping my foot. As you do. Then the bass drops, head starts rocking. Standard. I look across to see two unlikely gentlemen; saying it politely because they were two of the most overweight blokes I’ve seen in a while, giving it some serious toe tapping. Deliverance had the infamous banjo battle, I’ve got the toe tapping triple threat tap off. (Try and say that several times). A little bit concerning that one of the first film references I do and keep referring to is Deliverance. Squeal, piggy! These guys could lose serious weight with their toe tapping. New fitness programme. Copyrighting that shit right now. I am so tempted to stage a flash mob with these oldies.

Watching the stunning ladies and the not so stunning, or as my brother calls them, the Jabbas. It’s bad when you look at certain couples and think either the girl is tapped to be so good looking and hanging with that fat guy. Or that guy is either loaded (not the American drugged slang word, the British rich slang one) or he has a huge appendage. Appendage, what a word. I mean, heart. What? Just me? Come on . . . Well, I suppose they have great personalities and . . . . Yeah, moving on.

I complained about paying £3 for a coffee outside the airport. The crying woman who sold it to me (I joke!) said, “Wait until you get inside”. In the Costa Coffee near the Check-in, £4! And in the Duty Free, what a load of shit. £5! I better have a never-ending buzz.  Come into the Duty Free. No tax. BIG CON! They put everything flipping up so they don’t have to worry about tax. Must be a send-off gift from home. One last rip-off before you leave. If you leave us now, we’re take away the biggest part of you. Ooooohhh. Yeah my money. Should be cheaper on the plane. HAHAHA. Give the cabin crew your flight pass, your arm and go on, have a leg as well.

Anyhoo, my brother made a friend. Awww, travel companion. Friend. Flight friend. He ended up feeling guilty by an elderly gentlemen. He was put on some medication that we felt was not needed. More a cure for hypochondria after suffering an “anxiety” attack. Basically went overkill on a gym session, thought his chest was going to explode. That crappy diet. Beans and rice. Probably heartburn. He’s on the same pills as an octogenarian, who really needs them.

He’s like my Mum, not the hypochondriac thing. My mum is always able to strike up a conversation with anyone. Annoyingly, we always get an extra travel companion. In this case, it was an elderly Irish woman. A cross between Mrs Doutbfire and Mrs Brown. I’m not stereotyping, she does! Did you see her? Shut up. I felt sorry for the old dear. Travelling on her own. Meeting her Morris Dancing company abroad, apparently. Mental but good for her. Me, I don’t like people. They’re my family, so kind of have to put up with them. I joke. Don’t like them either. Oh God, they’re on our flight. They’re sitting with us. Super Duper! To the plane!

A Day in the Life of a ‘Dog’s Body’ – The Holiday Edition

Chapter One – I’m off on an Adventure!

And so it begins, the frantic packing, the constant worrying and double checking, “have I packed my dwarf costume?” and the more important stuff I suppose; condoms, gadgets, no, of course not, passports, money, etc. Mum running around like a headless chicken, Dad trying to organize everything with military precision. He was never in the military, just very efficient. Squinting over his glasses, like a school head teacher, trying to work out the scales to weigh the cases. My brother, the “helpful” son, in full fly catcher mode, mouth gaping open, dead to the world, but not the flies.

Honestly, Mum is never organized, if she packed her case as quickly as she did mine, we’d be well away. I kid. I do try to pack my own case (I do honest) but all I get is Mum monitoring every object in the case like I’m already passing through customs. “Why do you need that?”, “Going somewhere nice, sir” and “You’re only going for a week!” Et cetera et cetera in Yul Bryner voice. Oscar and Hammerstein? The King and I? No? Really? Ironic that Mum moans about me taking two pairs of shoes when she will have three different outfits for every flipping hour of the holiday, with her many bags and the shoes. Lord, the shoes. Hate to be a chauvinist but ladies, you love your bloody shoes.

I digress. I just help avoid the inevitable arguments and confrontations by allowing my mum to pack my case. Sounds bad but it’s all for the greater good. Then Mum looks at me, distressed. She’s forgotten something! She needs to clean the house. What? At two in the morning? Why this sudden urge to clean? No one is checking on the house. And there’s a very good reason for that because Dad is staying. Didn’t fancy a week in the sun. I know, right?

My Dad is a fidget. He can’t stand still. Programmed like a robot. Up at the crack of dawn. Don’t be rude. I was thinking it while typing. Has to be doing something. I woke up to him stomping outside my room to check the floorboards weren’t raised. I had to help change the clocks on every appliance. It’s funny watching the Formula One racing. Sebastian Vettel is on the verge of winning his fourth title at the age of 26 and I can’t work out the clock on the blasted oven.

Anyway, my father would wake my brother and me (or is it and I? Screw it) at 7am on our holidays to reserve towels by the pool. You can sleep by the pool. I can sleep now if you let me. But if he did, we’d sleep most of the day and not get up until the evening. In a way, what would be the point? Might as well take the week off and stay in bed, save a shed load of money.

Back to the cleaning. Mum smiles and thanks me for my help. I passed some items. She gives me permission to go to bed. Yep, need permission. Could tell her to get out of my room. But she always replies, you could get out of my house. Touché ma mere. Touché. I finally drop off, only for loud stomping and the hoover blaring away like an agitated elephant. Just when I think the noise has stopped, the sleep fairy spreading that glittery mucus to seal my slumbering eyes, Mum decides to have a shower. The sound of a blistering storm above my ceiling.

Another moment of silence. Finally. Nope, the bloody hair dryer! For what seems like an eternity. The silence transcends. That beautiful silence. Peace. Knock, knock. My mum turns the light on and stomps into my room. “You asleep?” God damn it, woman! Well, your brother’s asleep. Don’t seem fair to wake both of you. You’ll have to sleep in the car. Whaaaaatttt?

Mum moans at me and my brother for being unorganized and not ready. My zombie brother hobbles into the car. Yeah, I don’t why he was hobbling. I don’t want to know either. I follow in suit. We looked like prisoners being escorted into a police van, not two lucky buggers going on a sunny holiday. Every time Mum goes to leave the house, what do you know she’s forgotten something!

Where’s my glasses? On your head, Mum. Where’s my glasses case? In your hand, Mum. Where’s my bag? On your arm. Do you want me to tell you who has your nose? SLAP. Worth it. Actually, that stung. Ow. Your TV needs polishing (No! That is not a euphemism. Stop it!) Dad is not going to be in my room. Nobody else is going into the house. Agnes and Kim will not be doing a surprise visit. If for some strange reason, they do then . . . shit. Not actually, shit. I mean, um, next paragraph.

Finally, in the car. Forever the social pariahs, my brother and I put on our iPods and went to sleep. Well my brother got to. I tried but got Mum’s bottomless bag (Stop it!) thrown at my face to make sure we had the tickets and passports. I don’t why she couldn’t – SLAP! Too busy worrying about my Dad’s driving. Remember Keeping up Appearances? Oh that you remember!

My Mum is Hyacinth Bucket. (It’s pronounced Bouquet). Tells my Dad to watch out for the people on the pavement. As if they are all suicidal morons who will play chicken in the road. Well wouldn’t put it past the school kids in the afternoon. Little shits. My Dad’s driving is okay. Okay in the sense that one journey, he may have slightly nodded off at the wheel and went slightly, kinda, over the other side of the road. My bro and I soon woke up then, I tell you. Shiiiiittt!

My Mum can’t watch my Dad driving. She has to look down, especially on motorways. Freaks out at the giant wheels of the lorries. She says, “I need knocking out to get in the car with you”. Silence confirms her statement. My Dad with that face. That face that says, “Too fucking right love”. SLAP!

Approaching the threshold of Northampton, or whatever village we’re passing through. Threshold is a quality word. Bon voyage, Northampton. Nothing says farewell better than a pissed up middle aged man crawling on all fours and vomiting into a bush from the local pub. Wait a minute . . . Uncle?

Dad, the gentleman, insisted he would drive back and check on him. Mum and Ross (yes, my brother does have a name) told my dad to drive on. Don’t need to worry that Dad is getting into trouble. Knowing Dad, he would have bought him a pint and get drunk with him. Mum was babbling on about woods, Deliverance and rape. Yeah, I know. Rape seed’s gone now. It’s winter.

Goodbye, Northampton. You stay . . . classy. Couldn’t even type that with a straight face, let alone read it. Nah, it’s alright. I’m (well we’re) off on an adventure!

PLEASE NOTE: Dad did drive back that route to say if the man was okay. I wonder where Dad is. Been a while. I joke! The man was gone. So, he got home safe or he passed out in a ditch. Nothing in the papers so it’s all good. At the moment.