New Year’s Resolutions – Music & Film

Happy new year!

Throughout 2016 I set myself a number of tasks and resolutions relating to both music and film.

Music wise, I set my self the goal of averaging a minumum of two albums per month that I’d not listened to before (one from 2016 and one pre-dating 2016). Additionally, I would listen to the entire discography of an individual band each month.

Film wise, I started my Year of Film series. I started it in March sometime to help me keep track of everything I’ve seen (regardless of whether it was from this year or not) and to write a little about it.

In the music front, I managed to pretty much stick to the plan, even squeezing in some extra albums at the back end of the year. It was also great to check out the discographies of (most) of the bands I went for. So, for 2017, I’ll be doing the same.

On the film front, while I managed to mostly keep a track of things, I did slack off in the back half of the year (hence the fewer updates with an increasing number of entires per update). I’ve decided to abandon my initial YOF list and start afresh with a YOF2017 list, running it from 1st Jan – 31st Dec to bring it in line with my musical resolutions too.

With all that in mind, I am open to suggestions for which band to cover for the January disography. Any and all suggetions are welcome, though my loose ground rules still apply – no more than 6 albums, and all have to be on Spotify.

P.s. For those interested, the albums I rated the highest from this year were:

2016 Releases
Kvelertak – “Nattesferd”
Opeth – “Sorceress”
SubRosa – “For This We Fought The Battle of Ages.”

Pre-2016 Releases
Mastodon – “The Hunter”
The Darkness – “Permission to Land”
Rise Against – “Appeal to Reason”
*Shels – “Sea of the Dying Dhow”

I would give all of the above 4.5 / 5 (except The Hunter, which gets the perfect 5).

YOF#10-16 | Cape Fear, Cape Fear, The VVitch, High-Rise, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, 10 Cloverfield Lane, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

Let’s bring this thing up to date with some quick takes.

Cape Fear 62#10
Cape Fear (1962)
DVD

An absolute belter of a film. Robert Mitchum is great as Max Cady, and everyone else is at least ‘good’. The pacing is near spot on, and the story is mostly believable. Of the two versions, this is my favourite. [4.5]

Cape Fear 91#11
Cape Fear (1991)
DVD

A solid remake that gets better in its final third. The only things I think Scorsese’s remake does better is the second half of the final act on the boat, and Robert DeNiro is marginally better in the antagonist role (though, that’s like comparing something that’s excellent to something that’s better good).

Unfortunately, the film feels quite bloated. It’s 20 minutes longer for seemingly no reason, and the first half of the films has all sorts of pacing issues. Also, while Nick Nolte tries, he not in the Gregory Peck’s league.

There were a couple of needless changes too including having Nolte’s Bowden having a strained relationship with his wife. Also, while Juliette Lewis is good as daughter Danielle, her character makes some frankly bizarre choices. [3.5]

the vvitch#12
The VVitch
Cinema

The debut film from Robert Eggers shows a lot of potential, even if it doesn’t live up to the lofty standards some published reviews have it at.

The first third is almost crushingly slow. It’s only a 93 minute film, but it feels two hours plus simply because of how sedate everything moves.

It’s nice that something that (partially) falls into the horror genre doesn’t rely on jump scares (there is a grand total of one, and it is quite well done/almost humorous). Tension is built slowly over the course of the film.

The cast are fine, the script is not bad (some will struggle with the 17th century northern English accent, though I found it mostly okay – the odd mumble aside).

It’s absolutely beautifully shot. Seriously, the framing is brilliant at times.

I don’t really need to see it again, but I can appreciate it for what it is. Eggers will be a film maker to watch down the line. [3]

high rise#13
High-Rise
Cinema

My friend Mike summarised it well by calling it ‘an admirable failure’. The ideas behind it all are nice (the floors of the high-rise represent tiers of society, the plot loosely/simply translates to the top floor keeping the lower under foot by pitching them against each other).

The execution isn’t great, despite Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and James Purefoy being particularly good/entertaining. [3]

Mr._Magorium#14
Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium
Blu-Ray

A wonderful family film; the spiritual successor to Willy Wonka. [4]

10_Cloverfield_Lane#15
10 Cloverfield Lane
Cinema

A really good, claustrophobic thriller with a silly last ten minutes that stop this from being great. John Goodman is particularly excellent. I’m giving this a [4], but its more like a [4.5] with a [2.5] ending.

Batman v superman#16
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice
Cinema

Oh boy. Here’s what I posted on Facebook about it:

  • It looked pretty (especially in IMAX 3D)
  • Affleck, Gadot and Irons are good
  • Eisenberg is fine, but the character really should have been called something different (it was also nonsensically written – for a genius he’s pretty stupid)
  • Cavill is average, though it’s not like he’s given any character development
  • Amy Adams is surprisingly *really* bland
  • Everyone else is forgettable.
  • Snyder has tried to cram in too much and, in doing so, leaves the plot feeling very underdeveloped
  • Doomsday is naff – like the Abomination from the Hulk franchise, with the face of an Uruk-hai. Except more rubbish.
  • The Bat/Supe face off is fine, and looks nice.
  • There are creative decisions that are stupid too, but I won’t go into detail as it would be too spoilery.

Or, to put it another way – at least it’s not as bad as Terminator: Genysis. As the former lurks around a [1.5] to [2] mark, a fair score for this seems like [2.5].

YOF#7-9 | Spartan, We Are Marshall, Sabotage

Year of Film # | 7
Title | Spartan
Release| March 2004 (USA), August 2004 (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD 

Spartan is a neat little thriller that flopped at the box office. It stars Val Kilmer as a cold-hearted, but loyal, special forces operative who is drafted in when a prominent politician’s daughter is kidnapped. After a little digging, he believes she has been taken by a white slavery ring, who don’t realise who they have. Knowing they’ll likely kill her when they find out, they have a race against time to track her down and rescue her.

Kilmer is pretty good in the lead role, and he is ably supported – mainly by Derek Luke. There are some nice lesser supporting roles/cameos too, from the likes of William H. Macy, Kristen Bell,  Clark Gregg (Agents of Shield), Ed O’Neill (Married with ChildrenModern Family), Geoff Pierson (24DexterCastle), and a memorable walk-on for Mark Pellegrino (LostSupernatural).

One nice touch – the film is showing almost exclusively from Kilmer’s POV. There’s no cutting to the antagonists to give away plot points. It works quite well.

The story itself is pretty simple, but it flows nicely for the most part. The pacing is a little off towards the back end of the film, and it does feel like a potentially rejected script for a series of 24. However, Kilmer et al help make this a very enjoyable film, worth watching at least once. [3.5]

Year of Film # | 8
Title | We Are Marshall
Release| December 2006 (USA), Unknown(UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

We Are Marshall is based on the true story of a University that experienced a terrible tragedy in 1970 – a plane carrying the majority of the football team, staff, friends and family members crashes,  killing all on board.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Jack Lengyel, the man tasked with putting together the new team, to try and honour the memory of the team.

I found We Are Marshall to be a little saccharine in its delivery, though it is understandable given the background events. The all star cast (McConaughey is joined by Matthew Fox, Anthony Mackie, David Strathairn, Ian McShane, Kate Mara and January Jones) helps to elevate this above its otherwise passable level.

Probably not worth going out of your way to see, but you could certainly do worse. It’s fine.  [3]

Year of Film # | 9
Title | Sabotage
Release| March 2014 (USA), May 2014 (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

Sabotage is heist thriller turned murder mystery that could have been so much better than it ended up.

The cast is pretty impressive. In addition to Arnie, we have Sam Worthington, Joe Manganiello, Terrence Howard, Max Martini, Olivia Williams, Harold Perrineau and Mireille Enos.

Worthington, Manganiello, Howard, Martini, Enos and Kevin Vance are part of Arnie’s crack drug busting hard guys. In the opening act, they attempt to rip of a drug cartel that they are carrying out a bust on. However, when they return to the hiding spot for the money, they discover it has been stolen. Given the unique situation, they know that one of their close knit group has likely stolen from the rest of the group.

The majority of the film takes place some months later. Internal Affairs drop the case they have open on the team, due to lack of evidence. However, shortly after getting back in the field, a member of the team is murdered. It quickly becomes apparent that someone is slowly picking them all off. Is it the cartel they ripped off? Or is it one of their own?

Sabotage‘s strongest period is it’s middle third, at full throttle in ‘whodunnit’ mode. In fact, it threatens to become a pretty darn good film. However, the final third (particularly the limp reveal) is almost an entire let down. There’s also a sort of epilogue that the audience will struggle to care about, considering what has been revealed moments before.

Predictably, Olivia Williams is the strong point of the film. Along with Perrineau, she is tasked with investigating the murders that punctuate the middle third. A pointless romance angle threatens to derail her character, but some genuine camaraderie with her partner helps make the whole thing feel more realistic.

It’s difficult to say more without spoiling major plot points. In short, a poorly executed final third and reveal pretty much ruin an otherwise decent whodunit thriller [2.5].

YOF#4-6 | Pride and Glory, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View

Some quick takes for the next few… 

Year of Film # | 4
Title | Pride and Glory
Release| October 2008 (USA), November 2008 (UK)
Format Viewed | Blu-Ray 

A surprisingly great crime drama that went relatively unloved by the critics. Jon Voight heads a police family that includes his sons (played by Ed Norton and Noah Emmerich) and a son-in-law (Colin Farrell). Noah’s character is the head of a unit, four of whom are killed during a call out gone bad. Ed’s character has to investigate, and the deeper he gets, the murkier the waters become. 

All of the principle cast are on top form, the story is decent and well played out. If you like gritty cop stories, then definitely check it out. [4]

 

The next pair are older films that I turned up as the result of search into quality conspiracy films. 

 

Year of Film # | 5
Title | Three Days of the Condor
Released | September 1975 (USA), Unknown (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

Robert Redford plays a CIA Analyst. He’s part of a team it is to ‘read every book ever published’ to look for secret communiques between clandestine groups. He goes out to lunch one day, only to return to find all his colleagues murdered. Alive only by a stroke of luck, he goes on the run while trying to work out who killed his friends and co-workers. 

Mid 1970’s Redford is about as safe as you are going to get for a leading man, and he puts in a solid turn here. Aspects of the story make little sense (Faye Dunaway’s character falling for his minimal charms despite having a boyfriend herself is a bit naff), but otherwise this is a well paced intrigue. Plus, it has Max von Sydow as a master assassin. [3.5]

 

Year of Film # | 6
Title | The Parallax View
Released | June 1974 (USA), October 1974 (UK)
Format Viewed | DVD

The opening scene sees a presidential candidate assassinated while at a public gathering. The gunman falls to his death when chased across the top of a building. Fast forward three years, and it appears that people who witnessed the murder are themselves being bumped off (except, they’ve all been made to look like accidents). 

Beatty plays a newspaper journalist that was present that day. He only believes the conspiracy theory when a friend dies in similar circumstances. This leads to him going undercover to find out who was behind the killings. He is really good in the lead role, and helps make it a better film than it is. 

Despite being shorter than 3 Days… by about 15 minutes, it feels longer. I think this is because so much stuff is crammed into its runtime it can almost feel overwhelming (only from volume though, this isn’t the most complex of films).

One thing bugs me about the whole thing. Beatty only gets involved because of the multiple murders. These only seem to happen to cover the fact that there was more than one gunman in building and the antagonists aren’t taking any chances with the witnesses. Except, nothing is actually coming of it – they are overreacting. There’s a brief mention of newspaper sensationalism, but nothing with any substance or evidence, nor anything involving those witnesses. 

Either way, Beatty’s performance helps make this a good-but-not-great flick. It would probably work better as a six or eight part drama with the amount that they cram in!  [3]

Gremlins (1984)

Gremlins poster

 

Gremlins (1984)

Somehow, I have made it through the best part of 29 years on Earth without seeing this Christmas classic in full. I’m glad it ended up being first on my list of films to watch/re-watch, as it is a bit of a doozy.

Where to begin? The whole thing feels like Stephen Spielberg and John Carpenter teamed up to create a satirical B-movie on the set of It’s A Wonderful Life. Whilst it didn’t take itself at all seriously, it just managed to stay out of the spoof territory. It was masterfully done, and I think it helps the films appeal.

Despite not being a spoof, it is so referential! Many films were nodded to and winked at, but none more so than E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. From the plush E.T. doll, to the use of the same circular saw blades, and even one of the Gremlins muttering ‘phone home’ – it was hilarious.

You know what also great? The mother (Frances Lee McCain) was pretty badass. In a world crying out for strong feminine characters, it turns out that we already had them thirty plus years ago. Don’t get me wrong, the tussle with the Christmas tree was daft (it is a silly film), but the kitchen scene where she takes out not one, or two, but three of the critters in quick succession is pretty darn cool – especially as we’ve literally just seen the school teacher get taken out by a solitary monster. Which was worse – the blender or the microwave?

I also really like that the main guy is actually pretty rubbish as a ‘hero’. He’s a bit of a wimp throughout. He gets his arse kicked (verbally and physically) in most confrontations and, in the end, it is his mogwai Gizmo that saves the day.

Unless you don’t get the humour of it all, there’s little to complain about. The pacing is a bit disjointed in places, and the severe cutting back of Judge Reinhold’s character is a little odd (I’ve read that he was meant to have a much larger part, but it was severely cut). The effects for the monsters are a little shaky/cheap looking, but given that is a cultish B-movie it only adds to the charm.

Thumbs up.

The DVD Marathon

I have an ever increasingly voluminous collection of DVDs and Blu-Rays that I have been intending to watch. You know how it is – you are in your local entertainment retailer and you see a pretty nifty deal involving a bunch of films that ‘you’d been meaning to check out’. You pick them up at a bargain rate… then let them gather dust on the shelf, never to be opened.

I’m now approaching the point where I will run out of space to store all of the films I own on DVD/Blu-Ray. Before I can commit to clearing them out though, I want to make sure I have seen them all at least once. That is where this feature comes in.

The DVD Marathon is something that I shall be updating (hopefully) with some regularity. I am going to use it the chronicle my visual journey through my entire collection. I’ll be watching all sorts of films – funny, dramatic, factual, fictional, good, bad. If I own it, it is fair game.

At first, I shall probably just stick to feature films (Besides my classic Doctor Who collection, I have a few TV box sets), but I may expand upon it once I’ve finished (if I ever finish!).

I’m not sure what’ll be up first, but I shall write about it soon.