BTS GUTS + NEWS

Dear followers,

This video is just a wee update on how my filmmaking is going, the main reason I took this blog on a break in the first place. Reviews will restart imminently on this blog at least for a period until I go back to working in earnest on this film.

This is my YouTube channel where content that wouldn’t otherwise go on this blog will go, videos will be shared here but if you want immediate content subscribe to the channel.

I may be swapping platforms soon. I’d really like to get paid for the work I do on this blog because when the blog’s running I put a fucktonne of work into it so I’d like to move to a platform where I can make money without paying for a special layout or format. There are a few I’m looking at at the moment but hit me up if you have any suggestions.

Much love and thanks, James.

Night in the Woods- The brightest hidden gem of 2017.

The Game Hack

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We are only four months into 2017 and it’s already set to be a memorable year for gaming. Breath of the Wild has reinvigorated Nintendo and launched the Switch with one of the highest rated games of all time (much to my shame I have yet to play it). Guerrilla Games exceeded expectations with Horizon Zero Dawn’s rich world and engaging narrative that actually managed to treat women like people (how revolutionary!). Ubisoft has provided solid offerings with For Honor and Ghost Recon Wildlands while Nioh, Nier: Automata and more recently Persona 5 have impressed. Even this year’s first major disappointment Mass Effect Andromeda is, at least to this Bioware fan, a fun, addictive and pulpy adventure despite the wonky animations and some weak writing.

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However, in the midst of these heavy hitters, a Kickstarter-funded indie game from a tiny studio burrowed its way deep into my heart and has been…

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Movie Review: Rumble Fish

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Director: Francis Ford Coppola

Writers: Francis Ford CoppolaS.E. Hinton

Stars: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Diane Lane

Verdict: Allright… I guess..?

Well Francis Ford Coppola has had an eclectic career. The gangster epic of The Godfather, to the slightly less racist adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Apocalypse Now, to The Lives of Others and Blow Out preambler The Conversation, horror film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the trash he started off with like The Bellboy and the Playgirls, to, um, Jack, and Twixt. To, um, whatever this is..?

Based on a novel by S.E. Hilton, (The Outsiders), of the same name, Rumble Fish takes place in an era sort of post gangster, (even though there still seems to be gangs but whatever), there’s a kid called Rusty James, (I’m serious everyone calls him this), who’s brother, who’s earned the moniker The Motorcycle Kid, left for California when things at home got too bad, but to quote him, ‘California got in the way’. He then returns like the prodigal son. We then just kind of, hang around with these two kids for a bit.

I really, really wanted to like Rumble Fish. I remember seeing The Godfather and thinking that there’s great stuff in here but my god is it wayyyyy too long, I remember seeing Apocalypse Now and thinking, again, this is great but much, much, much too long, especially seeing as the novella it’s based on, Heart of Darkness could well be a short fucking story. So Rumble Fish, it starts off absolutely explosively. There is a fight scene that pretty much counts for half of the first act that is just absolutely mad, cut really unconventionally and just keeps up this mad pace that is clearly intentional. Then Mickey Rourke, (The Wrestler, Angel Heart), shows up and the film just flumps. It just suddenly stops and we just follow Mickey Rourke around for a bit. Now Rumble Fish is only just over 90 minutes, (94 exactly), and it already feels just way too long. Now, I never got bored, mainly because there’s a lot of very fine performances in there, and also some stuff that is interesting if not brilliant. There’s a great small performance from Dennis Hopper, (Easy Rider, SpeedBlue Velvet), essentially playing the same character as he did in Apocalypse Now. There’s a walk on performance by Diana Scarwid, (What Lies Beneath, Mommie Dearest), essentially playing Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire, which y’know is a potentially problematic character anyway and is done no favours in this film. There is an uncharacteristically low key turn from Nicolas Cage, (Leaving Las VegasNational Treasure), and actually I think that’s in a way representative for the whole film.

The problem is it never really kicks into gear. It has a tone that it’s going for, and it’s definitely got style but even when stuff was happening, aside from that fight scene at the beginning, I never really felt like anything was happening. I was having the experience I had with Near Dark of following it on a narrative level, but not on the experiential that the film would like me to. Francis Ford Coppola’s previous film had also been a S.E. Hilton adaptation being The Outsiders, and it had similar characters, and the story goes that Coppola made it for the studio, to make up for fucking up One from the Heart, and he was never really satisfied with it, and you can see that in Rumble Fish. I mean, it is clearly a very personal film, but you can also see that maybe it was a film made less out of a love for the story of the characters but more out of a place of wanting to go off and make something very styalistically his own. Now you could say Refn did that with Only God Forgives, but no one would say that was his best film. Now a phrase that a lot of people throw at Refn is style over substance and it’s a phrase I really dislike when overused, which it is, but it’s also a phrase that I think really aptly applies to Rumble Fish. It also has really ear scraping dialogue at times in how cliche it is. I mean West Side Story was a pastiche and still managed have better dialogue. It also seems conflicted on it’s idiology, what it’s trying to say. I won’t say it’s a bad movie, but it’s not nearly as good as I wanted it to be. 

Movie Review: Prevenge

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Director: Alice Lowe

Writer: Alice Lowe

Stars: Alice LoweGemma Whelan, Jo Hartley, Kate DickieKayvan Novak

Verdict: A whole lot of fucking fun

I promise, I PROMISE, I don’t just like this film because it has Alice Lowe in it. I PROMISE.

In Prevenge, (Pre-venge..? P-revenge..? This is Dennis Villeneve, (Arrival), all over again), a riff on post and antenatal depression from Alice Lowe, writer and star of Sightseers and star or Black Mountain Poets, both of which I just love to bits, Ruth, played by Lowe, is convinced her baby, also played by Lowe, is telling her to kill a whole bunch of people. 

I’ll level with you I wasn’t sold for like the first act or so of Prevenge. I mean I liked it enough, but it just seemed like the two forces of horror and comedy that lie in the film were completely at odds with eachother and I couldn’t quite settle in to the film’s surreal, dream like, almost hormonal tone. Which is a weird criticism coming from someone who likes the films I like and it’s clear that Prevenge and Alice Lowe herself also likes those films. I mean Sightseers had exactly that kind of thing going on. The film also has a very episodic nature that in lesser hands could make the film repetative. However, these two threads very quickly meshed together very well in some sequences that really walked the line between being both really funny and quite scary, which was then maintained throughout the rest of the film.

What’s really impressive though is that’s the only uneven patch in a film that was written in two weeks and shot in eleven days, (especially seeing as Sightseers took 7 years to get made), which it kind of had to be to fit the limited timeline of Alice Lowe’s actual seven and a half month pregnancy. The film despite this is, for the most part, extraordinarily accomplished.

It also has an incredibly soundtrack that recals the scores of John Carpenter, (Halloween, Escape from New York, The Fog), and Dario Argento, (Suspiria, Dawn of the Dead), as well as bit of Tangerine Dream, (Risky Business, Near Dark, Legend), and scores for more recent throwback horrors like Stranger Things and It Follows. It’s sparse and it’s motiffs are recycled endlessly but that’s not a criticism and if anything that minimalist approach pays huge dividends. It also has some wonderful cinematography that gives the whole film this alien, sci-fi aestetic that makes Ruth feel like a character in The Man Who Fell to Earth, or like her child is one of the villains of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Village of the Damned, or as some have said in the wake of John Hurt, Alien.

As a fan of cult cinema and surrealist body horror like Eraserhead and Videodrome, it’s so great to see that the tradition hasn’t died. The indie horror scene is one of the most intersting, and creatively free scenes going at the moment, and it’s about time the British got a slice of that pie. I’ve also been reliably informed that this film really acurately depicts what it’s like to be pregant and the anxieties therin, so you now have my permission if you’ve never been pregant to sympathise with your pragnant friends and say, ‘it’s OK, I’ve seen Prevenge, I understand’, because of course.

Thoughts on Trailer for The Beguiled

Sofia Coppola has always seemed terribly detatched, seemed like someone who likes to investigate cultures but never really explore it beyond aestetics. Whether it’s two Americans lost in Japan or people living in pre-revolutionary France but they still have contemporary vernacular and they dance around to the Sex Pistols. This looking to be the first thing Coppola’s done since the critically, ‘mehed’, A Very Murray Christmas, it looks like something new, much more genuine, much more exciting, and much nasty than anything Coppola’s done before which has always been a lot more lacidasical and insubstantial with works like The Bling Ring and Somewhere. It also looks a lot more stylishly made than any film previously that she’d done. It also looks like it might be that rare thing, a good remake, by someone who actually wants to make it, and frankly with the sparsity of good female directors being given chances in Hollywood, more power to her.

Movie Review: Moonlight

moonlight1Director: Barry Jenkins

Writers: Barry JenkinsTarell Alvin McCraney

Stars: Mahershala AliNaomie HarrisAlex R. HibbertAshton SandersTrevante Rhodes

Verdict: Nearlly a masterpeice

Can A24, (Green Room, Swiss Army ManRoom, The Lobster, The Witch) just like stop with the amazing films please? You’re making everyone else look bad. Like I wanna own a studio/distributor one day and it’s just like why bother? I’ll never do as well as A24. It’s like now I see them at the beginning of the trailer for, for example, 20th Century Women, and I already trust that I’m going to love it. (Incedentally, that will be my next The Gryphon review so you’ll have to wait a bit for your version xx).

Moonlight is less a movie about a gay black kid, more about an inner city kid who just happens to be black and gay, which makes his life harder, in fact I can’t think of one white face I saw on screen, not like that’s a bad thing, it’s actually a refreshing change. The film is trifurcated into three distinct acts as this kid grows up and learns, really how to accept within himself that he’s gay.

There are a lot of things to praise about Moonlight. The first being simply that the decision to make the film just about one man learning to accept himself is incredibly brave. Although there are moments of proper acting, and extraordinary, evocative high drama, the movie as a whole is extraordiarily underrated. Emblematic of this is it’s approach to it’s same-sex sex scenes. I remember the fuss I kicked up over the approach that Blue Is the Warmest Colour took, (review here), how gratuitous it was, and I was so impressed at how tasteful, yet beautifully emotional those scenes are in Moonlight

It’s very well acted, however where as in a film like this it can sometimes become very much about the acting and the directing takes a back seat, in this case the film is really aided by the fact that the camera work, score, and editing does a lot of the heavy lifting. That’s not to say that’s all the heavy lifting done, Naomie Harris, (Skyfall, 28 Days Later…), is really great as the central Chiron’s mother, Janelle Monáe, (Hidden Figures) is really good, as are Ashton Sanders, (Straight Outta Compton) and Trevante Rhodes, (Westworld). Mahershala Ali, (House of Cards), is also really good as this drug dealer figure who through meeting Chiron and his mother, begins to realise the damage he reeks and they begin to break through his detatchment from his job that allows him to sleep at night.

That’s not to say the film is perfect, after the first two acts which are explosive and full on and great, the more laid back third act, impressive as it is, feels like someone put the breaks on the film, and the child actors really could be better. That doesn’t mean though that Moonlight isn’t an impressive, tender, brilliantly directed, strongly acted portrait of a character and a culture, and it marks director Barry Jenkins out as one to watch.

Movie Review: T2 Trainspotting

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Director: Danny Boyle

Writers: Irvine Welsh, John Hodge

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee MillerRobert Carlyle

Verdict: Really great

Someone walked out of T2 Trainspotting during the opening titles. Before we even see Renton. Like less than 10 seconds. That has to be a bloody record. He was wearing a suit maybe he was high on coke and thought it was a board room I don’t know. I really liked it.

After 20 years Renton is forced back to Edinurgh for reasons that start off murky at best, and due to his betrayal at the end of Trainspotting; trouble, and regret, and past lives descend on both him and his friends.

Now people go into these belated sequels either with a sense of dread or cynicism depending on how much you liked the original. So in recent years we’ve had Jurassic World, Independence Day: Resurgence, Mad Max: Fury Road, Creed, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, The Thing, and now we have Blade Runner 2049 coming out soon, all of which reached varying degrees of sucess. That’s not even counting the remakes like Ghostbusters, The Magnificent Seven, Cinderella, Total Recall, RoboCop, (seriously, leave Paul Verhoeven alone ok), and Point Break. So I guess if we’re getting them then at least make them good. The interesting thing is that this film doesn’t just look like a group of studio executives looked through a group of properties trying to decide what they can reboot; the story goes that when Irvine Welsh wrote the literary sequel to the book Trainspotting, Porno, the original screenwriter John Hodge, (Shallow GraveThe Program) had a crack at adapting it and everyone, Hodge included, thought it wasn’t quite up to snuff. Then the 20th aniversary of the original rolls around and Hodge has another crack, to catch up with the characters 20 years later, and it’s raw, and it’s personal, and it’s really good, and Danny Boyle, (Trainspotting), imediately sends it to all the actors. In terms of these reboots, T2 Trainspotting is no Mad Max: Fury Road, it’s no Trainspotting, but it is really, really good. 

One of the things I really liked about it was how much of what made the first film so incendiary and exciting and refreshing and different that it retains. In terms of the flights of visual fancy and surrealism, there’s nothing that quite hits the hights of the Worst Toilet In Scotland Scene or the Perfect Day overdose sequence from the original, but one early sequence involving Spud and Renton gets damn near close and had be doing that thing that Trainspotting has always done of putting me in simultaneously a melancholy, funny, and disgusted place all at once. It had me crying in like the first ten minutes and I was laughing too. I actually cried a lot in T2 Trainspotting in a way I didn’t in the original because it is a bit more melancholy. Whereas the first feels like a rebellious, drug fuelled descent into disaster from a group of young people who find themselves at odds with society paced at a breakneck speed, the sequel is much more in the minor key. It’s about being old and still being at odds with the world. It’s about wasted opportunities, it’s about getting old and hating it. As a 19 year old it suggests to me that feeling you have in your gut that you hate when your young that somehow the world isn’t right for you, that your just somehow an alien landed on some foreign world and not understanding the culture of the new people, that it never really goes away. 

It’s also different than most revival sequels in that it is in constant dialogue, not just with the original, but also with the novel it’s based on. The original novel being a collection of disperate short stories about all the characters and the movie focussing very much just on Renton, the sequel actually recounts one of the more key stories that ended up left on the cutting room floor from the novel. Spud at one point actually walks out and finds himself in the past. As Renton, this spirit from the past reenters the lives of his friends, they regress back to childhood. There’s actually a suggestion at the end that Spud is a bit Irvine Welsh which I’m not sure completely works but it makes emotional sense for Spud’s arc, which is lush by the way. 

I really liked T2 Trainspotting, it’s not just a rehash of past ideas and riffs, it’s something new and a real genuine extention of the first. I have to watch both again as soon as possible, mainly because it took me so long to relax into T2 Trainspotting because I was so nervous it’d live up to the first one, but also because of that dialogue between the two films. 

Top 5 Titles Seen in January

TOP 5 TITLES SEEN AND REIEWED IN JANUARY 2017

Honourable Mentions

Quick shout to Jonathan Glazer’s singular vision with Under The Skin

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With all that weirdness

5. Your Name

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Makoto Shinkai’s gender swaping gender swapping teen fantasty goes in so many surprising directions that you won’t see coming that along warrants a viewing. That’s not even counting the great animation, beautiful imigary, rocking soundtrack and the buckets and buckets of heart.

4. A Monster Calls

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Surely a classic family film for years to come, A Monster Calls continues J A Bayona’s winning streak of compelling genre material and will  bring tears to even the hardiest of viewers.

3. La La Land

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Shh. I don’t care. I love it. Shh.

2. Short Term 12

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This beautifully acted, perfectly filmed, impecably structured, touching, funny dramady is must see viewing for all lovers of great stories and stoery telling.

1. Trainspotting

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Just, y’know, it’s Trainspotting innit? Like ofc it’s top. It’s Trainspotting.

Original reviews

Under The Skin

Your Name

A Monster Calls

La La Land

Short Term 12

Trainspotting

 

 

 

Movie Review: Jackie

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Director: Pablo Larraín

Writer: Noah Oppenheim

Stars: Natalie Portman, Peter Sarsgaard, Greta Gerwig

Verdict: Really, really good

I miss John Hurt…

Jackie follows the story of Jaqueline Kennedy in the days after her husband’s death, how she copes with his death, how she seeks to honour him, and how she, in a way, begins to fill his shoes and come out of her shell and the performance she’d gradually learnt as the first lady.

I’ve seen Jackie a couple of times now. After the first time I was trepedatious to say the least about the second. Due to the nature of the screenplay which bounces around time and space like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse-Five, and the cold nature of Jackie herself, it was every now and then a cold experience and it did drag a fair amount. I was so worried I’d have a similar experience to The Revenant, which was; I see it once, get knocked out by it’s technical acomplishment, however my mind wonders in places because, let’s face it, that film is a fucking slog, then I see it again with other people and fall asleep – because Jackie is impecably made, but my mind did wonder at several points on my first viewing. Therefore, it is a joy to tell you then I really liked it, if anything I liked it more a second time round. The first time it seemed terribly long, and very detached, I interacted with it very much as an intellectual excercise. However, the second time round it went just like that, and it was so emotional. I felt on the verge of tears the virtually whole way through. It’s such a mournful, full depiction of grief. It’s one of the most experiential, sucessful, and accurate depictions of shock that I’ve seen actually since I actually read Slaughterhouse 5.

What’s even more surprising then is, not necessarily how funny, but how witty the script is – the central interview plays out like a thrilling chess game in parts, not least the clip that’s been circulated for all the publicity. It’s interesting that Jackie is a film about a woman, but almost all the key supporting performances bar Greta Gerwig, (Frances Ha, 20th Century Women), are men, given the themes of the film. The supporting performances are all universally pretty good. John Hurt, (V for Vendetta, AlienTinker Tailor Soldier Spy), miss him already, can’t hold his Irish accent, but the rest of his performance is superb as we’ve come to expect from such a master of cinema. Some of his dialogue takes on new meanings after his death, having watched the film either side of it. Peter Sarsgaard, (Jarhead, Orphan), puts in a fine turn as Bobby Kennedy. Richard E Grant, (Withnail & I, Bram Stoker’s Dracula), has essentially a walk on performance but it is always a joy to see Richard E Grant on screen really. That being said, they are supporting performances in the literal sense. This is really the Natalie Portman show and she really carries off this performance with some brio and gusto. It has that imposing quality of Daniel Day Lewis in There Will Be Blood but much more nuanced and sympathetic.

The film is made by an Argentinian filmmaker called Pablo Larraín, and a few days ago the trailer for his next film Neruda dropped. It’s also a biopic and once more it looks more daring, inventive, and unique than just a more by the numbers biopic. The film is very well directed; it looks like it was shot on the same degraded 35mm stock as the very fine Carol. It’s shot in the academy ratio which is much taller than what most people shoot, and like Carol this has the effect of putting a needle drop sound effect on a CD, it creates a vintage, recent period setting. It also means that when they splice in old footage with Natalie Portman digitally put in, it looks more real and organic.

Jackie is no ordinary biopic. It shares very little with much more Hollywood like stories like The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, or Lincoln. This film achieves what many of those don’t, which is to paint a textured portrait of a real life character without constantly slipping into caricature. It’s a film about a woman finding her own voice in the void of a man, it’s a film about the past, it’s a film about politics, it’s a film about a woman forced to take on several  facades and trying to maintain that in the face of terrible tragedy, it’s a film about death and religion, it’s also a film about the American people and media and with a Donald Trump presidency that’s more relavant than anyone would have wanted. It’s surprising then that Jackie isn’t a horribly dense mess, it’s really not, and it’s actually structured a lot more formally than it appears to, to make sure of that. Jackie is a touching, well-acted, well made, biopic with Portman’s best performance since Black Swan. If she doesn’t take home the Oscar I’ll be very surprised.

One quick note, no one’s been talking about two very key aspects to Jackie. Mica Levi is quickly becoming one of my favourite composers, what with her superb work on Under the Skin, and her score here which is superb. Her score actually adds an element of the horror film to procedings, partially inspired by Johnny Greenwood’s score on There Will Be Blood, another film with surprising horror influences, her score is really unsettling. Also wouldn’t it be great if she wins the Oscar with such a male dominated set of technical Oscar nominations this year. The other thing is the rest of the sound, the sound design has been really undermentioned in reviews. It is suberb, and really aids the lived in feel of the film, which is really necessary for something like a biopic.