7 films that one way or another delve into reality of the Northern Irish Troubles

Across the globe in nearly all major western cities people are gleefully wearing green and parading in a celebration of their Irishness. Drinking, dancing, dressing up, what’s not to love… Though, where I’m currently at, the 17th of March always brings a very contrived atmosphere with it. A quick look at the BBC News website will immediately give it away, as at the very top right next to a piece about the parade in Belfast, you’d find two articles about security alerts (read as bomb threats) in north and south parts of the city. That shows that despite our best wishes there are still people out there, who would like the past conflict to rear its ugly head again.

Well, it’s no surprise that the Irish Troubles and the IRA form a bottomless pit of film material, though it’s all too easy to warp it into a laughable cliché you’d see in films like “Patriot Games”, “The Devil’s Own”, “The Jackal”, or even recently in “Non-Stop”, where it didn’t take too long to draw a parallel between Neeson’s Belfast-born character and the IRA. I know there are countless documentaries out there that are worth checking out and I might at some point compile a list of them, but if you’d like to have a look at the Northern Irish conflict through the lens of a feature film, here is a list of seven titles I believe you should start with: Continue reading

6 films to (re)watch and keep the “Non-Stop” genre fever nice and high

If, like me, you had a fun time watching Liam Neeson scratch his head, beat the poop out of random strangers and in the end save the day, then why not stay in the genre bubble for a little while longer?

Here are the six titles my mind immediately raced to when I was walking back home after watching “Non-Stop”: Continue reading

Wrapping Up 2013

Now that we are fully committed to the New Year, I think I owe the 2013 a proper farewell kiss. Ironically, not too long from now, this very blog will be turning one, but I decided to separate those two occasions and simply devote this entry to looking back through time in ‘calendar’ terms. To me, personally, this year was full of fantastic developments and major changes, but film-wise, some would say, the 2013 was a bit underwhelming.

Looking at the box office revenues and the onslaught of sequels, it’s hard to disagree with the notion that (globally) cinema has seen better days. Still, the indie scene is flourishing and has been supplying us with food for thought, as if to counter the sensory overload brought about by the Hollywood money-making machine. However, I think highly of some of this year’s big budget productions and can’t help but admit I had a lot of fun watching them. I have had, unfortunately, my fair share of disappointment, but nevertheless the year 2013 shall not go down in my memory as one of the worst on record, at least that’s certain. I just have to come to terms with the idea that comic book movies are here to stay as replacement for the good ol’ actioners I grew up with, and that rehashing old ideas is the thing of the future.

In order to complete the ritual burial of 2013 (Viking style, of course), I decided – just like everybody else – to come up with my Top 10 Films I enjoyed the most in 2013, similar in vein to what I’ve done to summarize the first six months of the year. Bear in mind, that the artistic quality is only one of the factors that I consider. I make a point of not rating the films in my reviews (with the exception of Letterboxd that I joined recently), because for me a film can speak to me intellectually, artistically, or in terms of pure entertainment. And let’s not forget about those films that strike a special note in my heart, even when they are otherwise disappointing (“Elysium”, I’m looking at you).

Here we go:

10. “Evil Dead” / “Star Trek Into Darkness”

evil-dead-pics

I couldn’t decide which one I liked more and I couldn’t imagine my list of this year’s favourites without either of them. “Evil Dead”, directed by a débutante Fedé Alvarez, was just a pure adrenaline rush that, whilst being a remake, elbowed its way into my heart.  I am normally very sceptical when it comes to redoing classics, but this one certainly delivered on all levels, with strong emphasis on the gory, visceral entertainment that made my legs shake on my way home from the screening.

hr_star_trek_into_darkness_32__span

“Star Trek Into Darkness”, directed by J.J. Abrams (a.k.a. The Lens Flare Guy) also spoke to me on a visceral level, but stroke completely different notes. Forgetting it’s a sequel to a reboot to an established franchise, this Sci-Fi epic was filled with action and adrenaline in its entirety. Surely, this film had its flaws and part of my enjoyment must have had something to do with the usual mystery J.J. Abrams veils his films with, but “Star Trek Into Darkness” was still pretty awesome.

9. “Man Of Steel”

19-beautiful-photos-from-man-of-steel

Some say that “Iron Man 3” was the best comic book film of the year, to which I say ‘Hell, no!’. I really loved Zack Snyder’s approach at resurrecting the Superman franchise, and that’s no small feat considering the level of disrepute it was brought down to over the years with abysmal sequelitis. “Man of Steel” has definitely been airbrushed by Chris Nolan, and partly because of this attempted grounding Superman’s mythos in reality, the film delivers astounding entertainment filled with high octane action. I loved the performances, I loved the villain, and for once, oddly, I am somewhat excited for the sequel.

8. “You’re Next”

file_172839_0_pictures_youre_next_1_20130307_1024062482

Even though I didn’t get to write up this film properly, I think it deserves its spot up there with the best. Rarely do I get to have as much fun watching horror films, as I had with ”You’re next”. It’s brutal, witty, comically self-aware (unlike “Cabin in the Woods”, which is allegedly comical, but I failed to see that) and playfully twists the genre on its head.

7. “The Conjuring”

Conjuring-large

Widely touted as the scariest film of the year, James Wan’s “The Conjuring” truly lived up to the hype. I am a sucker for a good scare, which this film has sported a good deal of. The combination of a clever use of old-school practical effects, relatable characters, and the ‘based on a true story’ slant truly resulted in a memorable and terrifying experience.

6. “The Kings of Summer”

kings-of-summer-malicky

I find it sad I didn’t get to see this film over the summer, because its impact would have been all the more powerful. “The Kings of Summer” is a brilliant coming-of-age comedy filled with witty humour, snappy dialogue, and beautiful cinematography, that makes you wish you were  fifteen again so that you could run away from home and build a house in the woods.

5. “Pacific Rim”

pacific-rim-from-the-sky

As someone cleverly summed it up, “Pacific Rim” is the best early 90’s film made today. God, I wish I had come up with that myself. Guillermo Del Toro’s return to the big screen sporting monsters and big robots was just phenomenal and I couldn’t have wished for better quality entertainment. Brilliant special effects, awesome models, and outstanding attention to detail, stapled with a metric tonne of action was responsible for my biggest nerdgasm in recent memory.

4. “Behind the Candelabra”

BehindTheCandelabra

Steven Soderbergh’s swan song (following “Side Effects”, also released in 2013) about the life of Liberace was a phenomenal treat with unforgettable performances by Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. Watching this gripping story of love, abuse, betrayal and manipulation was not only entertaining, but most importantly engaging from the point of view of the artistry of film-making. Soderbergh, regardless of what he tackles, has a fine grip on the subject that will highlight the smallest nuances and turn a seemingly shallow love story to a whole different level. Sadly – and I hope he changes his mind – “Behind the Candelabra” is probably going to be the final entry in his filmography.

3. “The Place Beyond The Pines”

ryan-gosling-stars-in-first-trailer-for-the-place-beyond-the-pines-watch-now-124452-470-75

Derek Cianfrance’s follow-up to the stunning “Blue Valentine” kept me glued to my chair. It’s the perfect indie drama with visceral performances by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper that through the maze-like plot gets you to think about causality in life. Gripping, naturalistic, and dark in the subject matter, as well as the tone, “The Place Beyond The Pines” has been a front-runner for the best film of the year and only recently was it dethroned.

2. “Captain Phillips”

Captain Phillips Tom Hanks

Paul Greengrass’ newest piece was nothing short of great. This gritty film stylized as a documentary was striking in its naturalistic portrayal of the ordeal those few guys must have gone through when taken hostage by Somali pirates. Interestingly, “Captain Phillips” tries to stay impartial and somehow validates the motives of both sides, but the film’s true greatness comes from the meticulous procedural approach to every single thing on the screen. Plus, in my opinion, Tom Hanks has given the performance of a lifetime in “Captain Phillips”, which crescendoed amazingly in the final act. If that doesn’t score him an Oscar, I don’t know what will.

1. “Gravity”

gravity-trailer-3-635

Alfonso Cuarón’s science-fiction epic adventure “Gravity” has left me speechless. Not only was it a feast for the senses with the amazingly clever special effects, blunt or inexistent sound, and finally a proper use of the third dimension, but it spoke to me on all levels. “Gravity” was a bundle of enjoyment with a stunning performance by Sandra Bullock, whom I never suspected of such capabilities, and a tight and layered storyline that kept me riveted to my seat. Finally, tickling me on an intellectual level with subtle visual cues and strong adherence to the rules of science has propelled “Gravity” to the very top of my most favourite films of the year, possibly of all time. In space no-one can hear you scream… Am I right?

And just like that, I can close the books on 2013. I guess, I could give the honourable mention to “Good Vibrations”, “Only God Forgives”, “Stoker”, “The Way, Way Back” and “Prisoners” that didn’t make the cut, but still are fantastic films in my opinion. At some point, I had to make the tough decisions, but I’d still gladly come back and revisit them as well.

Point of note for those wondering: I somehow failed to see apparently awesome films like “Mud”, “Fruitvale Station”, “Frances Ha”, “The Bling Ring”, “Rush”, “Blue Jasmine”, “The Counsellor”, or “Before Midnight” which might explain their absence in my ranks. I am, however, planning on getting round to watching and reviewing them in the near future.

Also, in my neck of the woods, films like “The Wolf of Wall Street”, “Out of the Furnace”, “12 Years a Slave”, or “American Hustle” (opened today) are released in January 2014 and I will make it my mission to watch them.

Happy New Year!

See Also:

2013 so far…

2013 so far…

While working on something I had been wanting to write up for a long time now, it occurred to me that with June clocking out we are now halfway through the year 2013. And on this glorious evening, whilst over across the pond the Americans celebrate their stars and stripes, I figured I might have a look at the past six months and summarize it a little. I had the pleasure of seeing some really outstanding films, as well as a bunch of terrible ones – so you might say it has been… diverse. Probably at some point in time, I will try and summarize the summer as well (when it’s finished, duh, but over here where I live I think the summer is already gone for good…), but meanwhile I figured I could break down the ‘2013 so far’ in terms of cinema-related goodies.

I have seen and reviewed a good crowd of films, but if I had to choose the best 2013 releases so far (that I have seen), I have no other choice but to point out five:

 

5. “Trance” – Danny Boyle’s latest opus that I will sure go back to at some point in time.

4. “The Iceman” – Michael Shannon’s take on the mind of a murderer

3. “Behind The Candelabra” – Soderbergh’s fantastic swan song

2. “Good Vibrations” – the ultimate feel-great movie

1. “The Place Beyond The Pines” – The only film this year so far to have left me nearly speechless.

ryan-gosling-stars-in-first-trailer-for-the-place-beyond-the-pines-watch-now-124452-470-75

 

 

As much as I would have liked to include a couple more in the list (“Side Effects” or “Stoker”) I think keeping that little list short makes it a bit more meaningful. I normally don’t score films in any way, but it does provides a challenge to make up my mind about certain thing… finally. And it was a hard nut to crack, I have to admit.

On the other hand, if you asked me what the biggest duds this year so far were, I would immediately stand up and recite the following trio of shame:

 

3. “Oblivion”

2. “Iron Man 3”

1. “A Good Day To Die Hard”

 

All of them terrible films… two of them sequels… All of them made more money than they should have… Really… The fact I even mention them makes me feel uneasy, because I might just be giving them unnecessary attention once more, so there…

I could sure mention more titles that ended up mild-to-horrendous disappointments that I haven’t given any thought in writing before, like “Jack Reacher”, “The Last Stand”, “Jack The Giant Slayer” (that I refused to finish watching by the way), or “Bullet To The Head”, but I think I should try and end this little article on a good note instead.

To that end, I think I should admit that a couple of titles managed to slip through my sausage fingers, like “Mud” with a career-defining performance by Matthew McConaughey, or “No”, so I deem it appropriate to wrap up the first half of 2013 with a vow to catch up with these gems of cinema that have eluded my sight so far.

As it is usual every year, the remaining half of the year can only get more and more exciting with the awards season slowly making its way our direction and the summer popcorn-munchers gradually dissipating into nomen omen oblivion… Good luck to us all…

The Summer Blockbuster Challenge!

A couple of days ago while listening to a podcast on /Film I was alerted to a possibility of partaking in a challenge. And I love a good challenge. This particular one refers to the summer blockbusters and the participant’s accuracy in predicting the Top 10 highest grossing movies of the summer. Well, challenge accepted.

TLDR Note: If you can’t be bothered reading how I ended up with my list, scroll down to the end of the post. You’re welcome!

I also figured I could try and employ some logic into the way I’d pick up my favourites, because that’s just the way I roll. While my insider knowledge of the movie industry might not be my strongest suit, I always feel more comfortable when I look at data and draw conclusions. Therefore I thought I could do some number-crunching to come up with my list (it turned out that the process didn’t involve that much crunching after all… more of looking at things).

First things first: as I understood it the ground rules are as follows:

–        A participant gets to pick 10 movies that are released between the first weekend of May and the last weekend of August (inclusive)

–        A participant predicts the order of said films from highest grossing to lowest

–        The financial results taken into account refer only to the aforementioned timeframe and the American market (worldwide box office would be a tad more complicated a presume)

–        A participant gets to name 3 ‘dark horse’ entries that are not included in his original top 10, but might end up in it at the end

–        A participant gets awarded points on the basis of the accuracy of his prediction (the most points for the first and last position, and accordingly the most points for accurately pinpointing the film’s position in the chart)

Ok, so I had a quick look at this summer’s releases and managed to count 73 movies being released across 18 weekends. Some of them are released on a Wednesday, but I still glued those up with a weekend that followed. Having played around with Box Office Mojo (really cool website) I noticed that across the span of 12 years (2012-2000) there had never been a movie in the top 10 blockbusters released after August 14th. Another useful piece of information was that rarely there had been instances of movies released during the same weekend that made it into the Top 10. These two pieces of data pointed me to, quite logically, try and pick one film released every weekend from May 4th to August 9th. These are what I got:

May 3rd – “Iron Man 3”

May 10th – ”The Great Gatsby”

May 17th – ”Star Trek Into Darkness”

May 24th – ”Epic”, ”Fast And Furious 6”, ”The Hangover 3” (little crowded here, huh…)

May 31st – ”After Earth”

June 7th – ”The Internship”, ”The Purge” (slow weekend I presume)

June 14th – ”Man Of Steel”

June 21st – ”Monsters University”, ”World War Z”

June 28th – ”White House Down”

July 3rd – ”Despicable Me 2”, ”The Lone Ranger”

July 12th – ”Pacific Rim”

July 19th – ”Red 2” (”The conjuring” doesn’t stand a chance because it’s a horror)

July 26th – ”Wolverine”

August 2nd – ”300: Rise of an Empire”

August 9th – ”Elysium”, ”Planes”

Now, using only these two pointers I boiled down by list of suspects from 73 all the way down to 21, but I did leave a good couple of weekends with more than one entrant, because I think they all stand some chances in the contest. In order to set the records straight I had to tackle them individually. And so:

The May 24th weekend seems to be the toughest nut to crack, because there are three major releases hitting the screens at that time, two of which are sequels to popular franchises. The remaining one (”Epic”) is the Disney – not Pixar – animation, which is also a good pick. Looking at them separately I can say that ”Fast and Furious 6” is the weakest of them all, because it is a sixth instalment of the franchise and only the first two had made it to the Top Ten in their respective summers, whereas both previous ”Hangover” movies had made it very high. So ”Epic” and ”FF6” can be crossed off the list – 21 drops to 19.

June 7th – that was difficult to guess as well because I don’t know what to think about ”The internship” and an outside-the-box concept of ”The Purge” might be too high a risk for a solid box office revenue, but I don’t know. Just because that in the timeframe of 2000-2012 there usually is 1 or 2 comedies in the top 10, I think ”The Hangover 3” would satisfy the criteria and I can go forward with ”The Purge”. 19 down to 18.

June 21st – ”Monsters University” vs. ”World War Z”. As much as I’d like to say that I don’t know, I think the latter of the two is going to become the biggest bomb of this summer. It’s been years since this film was due and it was over-hyped whereas everyone wants to see the long-awaited sequel to ”Monsters Inc”.  Brad Pitt gets the boot. 17.

July 3rd – ”Despicable Me 2” and ”The Lone Ranger”. Just because ”The Lone Ranger” looks too much like ”Pirates of the Carribean” meets ”Wild Wild West” knock-off, I think it’s the ”Despicable Me 2” that is going to win over here. Plus, almost always the top 10 sports 2 animations. 16.

August 9th – ”Elysium” and ”Planes” – another animation vs. Neill Blomkamp’s post-”District 9” sci-fi. While that one didn’t get into the top 10 in its year, it was probably partly due to the fact it was both a debut and an original concept, but now everybody knows what to expect and it looks to be promising. ”Planes” get the boot here just because it is a ”Cars” knock-off (by the same people, right?) and we like our top 10 lists full of sequels, not knock-offs. True story. 15.

Let me reiterate: ”Iron Man 3”, ”The Great Gatsby”, ”Star Trek Into Darkness”, ”The Hangover 3”, ”After Earth”, ”The Purge”, ”Man of Steel”, ”Monsters University”, ”White House Down”, ”Despicable Me 2”, ”Pacific Rim”, ”Red 2”, ”Wolverine”, ”300: Rise of an Empire”, ”Elysium”.

Out of those 15, 9 our based on already existing concepts. The remaining 6 are ”The Great Gatsby” (based on a book, but hey…), ”After Earth”, ”The Purge”, ”White House Down”, ”Pacific Rim” and ”Elysium”. Roughly 60-70% of the Top 10’s in the past decade were sequels, reboots or remakes, so it is safe to assume that 3 original concepts need to be crossed off and hence ”The Great Gatsby” (not very summery release, albeit flashy), ”After Earth” (I sense it’s going to bomb), and ”The Purge” (too high risk) have to go. Now we’re down to 12.

Out of the remaining 9: ”Red 2” and ”300: Rise of an Empire” will have to go as the least likely to succeed simply due to lack of buzz; a summer release needs buzz. Down to 10.

Looking at my corrected list (”Iron Man 3”, ”Star Trek 2”, ”The Hangover 3”, ”Man Of Steel”, ”Monsters University”, ”White House Down”, ”Despicable Me 2”, ”Pacific Rim”, ”Wolverine”, ” Elysium”) I see holes have formed in some weekends, therefore it is theoretically possible for some of the superfluous titles crossed off in the first instance to make additional money while nothing interesting is out. So, say hello to ”Fast and Furious 6” and ”The Lone Ranger”. On second note, ”After Earth” might not do all that badly just because there’s nothing around, and Shyamalan’s name missing from the trailers and posters can only help.

Since I have the number of entrants sitting at 13, I can proceed to put them in order. If the past is any indication, most of the top 3 films in the last decade had been released before mid-June, so that’s a hint number one. The other one is the distribution of animations with one usually making it close to the top and the second one hanging out around 6-7th place. Third hint – original concepts usually close the ranks so the sequels go first. Another one – Superhero movies top the chart. Last one – ”Hangover 3” looks to be a top 4 candidate, looking at how the previous ones ended up.

Here it is:

1)    ”Man Of Steel”

2)    ”Iron Man 3”

3)    ”Monsters University”

4)    ”The Hangover 3”

5)    ”Star Trek Into Darkness”

6)    ”Pacific Rim”

7)    ”Despicable Me 2”

8)    ”Fast And Furious 6”

9)    ”Wolverine”

10) ”Elysium”

Dark Horses: ”White House Down”, ”After Earth”, ”The Lone Ranger”

I was really hesitant with putting ”Man of Steel” first, but Chris Nolan’s seal of approval might be enough to elevate it past the horrible ”Iron Man 3”, even though the latter had the best opening ever. Other than that I think ”Monsters University” will break the top 3 and ”Star Trek Into Darkness” will do worse than I’d like it to do (My dream top 3 would involve ”Star Trek” right below ”Man of Steel” with ”Pacific Rim” or maybe ”Elysium” to close it). I think ”Pacific Rim” is going to do fine, because it’s Guillermo Del Toro and it is considered a substitute for the ”Transformers” – everybody loves robots… ”FF6” might break the top 10 thanks to ”After Earth” and ”Wolverine” underperforming, but I still think ”After Earth” can surprise me, so I included it as one of my Dark Horses together with ”White House Down” (because Roland Emmerich) and ”The Lone Ranger” (because Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp). Game on!