Blunt Reviews Presents: Nebraska (2013)

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A perfect example of why the Oscars do not matter. With six nominations and no wins this film shows that it is utterly brilliant and triumphs above many others from this year. This simple black and white film about family and reflectiveness is both funny and touching; a perfect balance of comedy and pathos. Bruce Dern is fantastic in the lead role as an older man who is confused generally but wants to go on one last adventure and stick it to life. With a lot of heart and substance this screenplay heavy film is very impressive.

Blunt Reviews Presents: Gravity (2013)

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To borrow the words of Foo Fighters “I love it but I hate the taste”. I wouldn’t say it is perfect but it’s not particularly bad. As a piece of cinema it works and visually it is stunning, but in terms of screenplay, story and substance it is extremely hollow. I just felt the film, in particular the screenplay need a bit of a kick to make it that bit more interesting. It is an incredibly impressive piece of cinema and one that should be admired for its beauty, however I would be lying if I said I fully enjoyed it.

Thoughts and Analysis of ‘Blue Jasmine’ by Woody Allen

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Woody Allen returns to film with a poignant piece of thought provoking cinema. 

When people who have a passion for cinema, such as myself, hear that an auteur who has made films for decades is returning with another motion picture one of two thoughts will occur to them. Either “that should be interesting to see what they’ve got in store for us” or “what does that old bastard want? Doesn’t he realises the eighties ended?”. Hence when new films by people such as Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese are released the audience is always split in to schisms of those appreciating a new cinematic approach or complaining that the glory days are over, and both sides are understandable. But when a film maker truly stands the test of time and continues to create new and exciting pieces at a consistent rate, now that’s special.

Just recently Wood Allen made the latest installment to his catalogue of cinema with his new romantic comedy Blue Jasmine, starring Cate Blanchett. It’s a film that has roots in older Allen work but doesn’t necessarily linger in the past. I think the film completely disproves the cyniques who say that Allen has lost his touch and is playing on past successes, because this isn’t the case at all. What he has done with Blue Jasmine is shown us that he has deserved all of the praise in the past and then supplied us with a new reason to praise him. It is a fantastic but delicate piece of film that is not for everyone, but for me it was very good. I usually don’t think much of comedies because they’re not made to be good films in todays world; modern comedies are just made to make people laugh in any way possible whilst taking their money in the process. Woody Allen is still fighting against that wave of idiocy and is writing intelligent comedic pieces that work perfectly as films.

To summarise for those who haven’t seen the film, and speaking spoilerese as a means of not spoiling it for anyone, the story centres around Jasmine, a woman moving in with her adopted and considerably poorer sister after having lived a life of luxury. We are made aware that there were complications with her ex husband and his activities both in and outside of work and so she has basically found herself at the bottom of the pile facing up to others for help. From there the film follows Jasmine as we look back in to her troubled past whilst moving to the present to see her trying to place her life back together piece by piece. As simple as that sounds the way the film explores certain topics, such as the class system, what love really means, and various mental health issues really adds layers to it and forms a complex film in the usual Woody Allen style of being wrapped in this brutal sense of humour that makes you question if you should really be laughing.

And it’s rather upsetting to think about how small the film could have been. It was originally only released in about six theatres in America before being treated to a wider release, so really we are lucky. We are lucky that people pushed this film and supported it because it could very well have ended up as a film that never happened. Sony Classics have my upmost respect for supporting the film and distributing it so that wider audiences can see it, one of the most intelligent decisions to have been made in recent years regarding cinema. And I have masses of respect for Cate Blanchett who really pushed the film forwards and shows everyone that films with a female lead are wanted and are successful. For a better summary I advise watching her Oscar speech which, although I can’t stand the awards, was exceptional.

In my usual style I have decided to not only comment on the film but to analyse it because it was a special film for me, a comedy that was worth thinking about, much like with Spike Jonze’s Her recently which equally I liked rather a lot. So I suppose you could say I’ve dissected the film because there is a lot to pick up on and it was such an exciting experience being able to write about it. It is without further ado I present to you my thoughts and analysis of Blue Jasmine by Woody Allen.

The character of Jasmine initially feels like a character from Sex & The City – the first part of the film sees Jasmine as something of a consumerist arsehole; she is constantly talking of clothing she has or how much it is worth and it is rather annoying to listen to her bathing in her own wealth. One of the examples that stands out is when Jasmine is talking to her adopted sister about how little money she has, but then proceeds to moan about the poor standards of her first class flight that day and how her customised designer luggage looks used, and by implication, outdated. It is cringe worthy to observe such a pompous and rude person interact with others who have a greater grasp on reality. The obsession with money and success and what her partner does made her seem like one of the consumerist caricatures from Sex & The City but with at least a little bit of human hidden somewhere.

Continuing the previous point, did Allen deliberately write such a detestable character? – I know it has been a Woody Allen trait in the past to have a main character that is a little bit irritating and who makes you cringe, but this is a whole new level. With Blue Jasmine you have a main character who is utterly repugnant and who actually makes the first part of the film quite uncomfortable because you can appreciate that her situation is difficult but you don’t necessarily feel sympathy towards her. Now I don’t know if this is because Allen wanted to make a contrast to how Jasmine is towards the end of the film of whether he is using the class system as a way of mocking certain types of people but either way Allen did it on purpose. He wrote Jasmine to be a complex character who is by no means one dimensional and so we feel more than one emotion towards them throughout the film.

Jasmine’s sister seems to be happy in her relationships because she doesn’t have a checklist when looking for a partner – I admit this sounds weird but what I mean is that Jasmine has a set idea of what her ideal partner is like, such as their income, success, attractiveness, but then her sister is unsure as to who she is looking for. This leads her to have more success because she falls for whoever it is that she connects with. It’s a rather interesting contrast because Allen makes it clear that Jasmine’s sister is looking for a man because of who he is whereas Jasmine is after a man because of what he is; she is fixated upon the idea of a man. For the sister her man is a partner, someone she can fool around with and fuck without worrying about his social standing, but for Jasmine he is part of her image. The man she is with is part of her identity and so she is very selective over who she is with. Granted Jasmine does not completely use the men in the film because she is clearly devastated when things goes wrong but there is still something ugly about how she approaches men and has a checklist, to the point of shouting at her sister that she will never have a better life because he chooses and deserves “losers”.

The scene with the dentist may have been a step too far – I’m aware this is vague for someone who has not seen the film but for those who have it’s quite obvious what I’m referring to. I know the scene is written for comical effect and it is a continuation of the downward spiral of events for Jasmine, but I would be lying if I said the scene didn’t leave me feeling uncomfortable. It’s difficult for me to find it funny because I’m aware that it’s an issue real people face in the workplace, but then part of me doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be funny. Part of me wants to believe that Allen was approaching quite a serious topic with at least the basic level of sincerity it deserves.

Class is often used as a topic for comedy but is mental health a suitable subject to derive comedy from? – Allen’s writing has always been at the dark end of the spectrum. I wouldn’t say it’s quite up there with the likes of In Bruges but he is clearly a definitive black comedy writer of our time. So when he is using Jasmine’s class as a subject for comedy it’s not really a problem because it is very observant writing. Some of the funniest moments of the film coincidentally are the times in which class is the subject of comedy, such as when Jasmine is forced to spend time with people she sees as beneath her and clearly they are enjoying life more than her. It is however when Jasmine’s mental health is called upon to produce jokes I start to get a little bit edgy. It’s a topic that has been used before for comedy, such as in Silver Linings Playbook in which we see Pat’s bipolar used seldom as a topic for comedy, but using a mental breakdown as a source of comedy seems a little bit too risky. I wouldn’t say Allen is necessarily being as juvenile as that, it’s not as if he’s a child who just killed a fly and then proceeds to poke it with a stick and laugh at it, but it’s not to say he doesn’t make some scenes featuring Jasmine’s mental health as a main topic comedic. And again this would link back to my previous point about whether we are meant to like Jasmine or not, and so that really dictates how funny you find it.

The use of language, particularly adjectives to describe men, is very intriguing – there are a lot of words thrown around in Blue Jasmine that are used to describe men. Obviously love and partners are a big element in the film and so there’s a high usage of the word “useless” by Jasmine when referring to the partner of her sister. It’s interesting that this is even considered by Jasmine because not only is she just comparing him to her ex husband but also it seems like she is over compensating. Jasmine is constantly trying to look for ways to be above others and shared this sense of entitlement above everyone else. So even now when she is at the bottom of the scrap heap and taking on a job she considers beneath her she still had the audacity to call those with a steady career “useless” in one last attempt to cling on to the identity she once had and held in high esteem. It’s also a slight attempt to maintain this position she feels she has over her sister when clearly she is jealous that her sister is happier than she is.

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The ending is not necessarily happy but that makes it more realistic – even going back to films like Annie Hall it’s clear Allen’s brutality is in his endings. The harsh abruptness just reflects the cold reality we live in where not all relationships are successful but also where people have to face the fate they have constructed for themselves through their own actions. It’s not because I’m a cynic; I actually admire Allen for being a writer who has a grasp on reality. I find that too many American writers use the happy ending when it’s not justified. If you look at British comedy as opposed to American comedy you’ll see that British people accept failure more. Our favourite characters are the ones who don’t succeed, that aren’t happy, that life consistently craps on. In contrast, American comedies like Friends are written so that the idiotic characters get in to all sorts of mishaps but then always land on their feet, they always reach their happy ending regardless of how much of an arsehole they have been in the process. That is exactly what Allen is avoiding here, he shows how the lead character gets in to all sorts of trouble but then gets served a hard dose of reality, and that is why it feels somewhat British. It’s like Richard Ayoade’s Submarine in which we see Oliver Tate’s persistent romantic struggles that show what a disturbed individual he can be and it does inevitably lead to his own unhappiness. He isn’t happy by the end of it, he doesn’t feel content with his home life, he doesn’t necessarily get the girl but we accept that because it is the road he has paved for himself. That’s what Blue Jasmine feels like, it’s harsh but realistic, and I still believe it’s admirable of Allen to move away from the glossy Hollywood ending that frequently plagues our screens.

–> following from previous points, the ending makes the film feel like it’s a more realistic conclusion to Sex & The City – I talked briefly earlier about how the film mirrors the annoying nature of Sex & The City, so now while I’m on the topic of Blue Jasmine’s conclusion I feel I should mention that I think the ending of Blue Jasmine is the ending Sex & The City would have if it was set in the real world. If the characters in it were real women who genuinely behaved the way they do then they would find an almighty amount of shit raining down upon their heads, much like Jasmine experiences to an extent. It’s an ending that shows what can happen to people if they are selfish and constantly try to assert their position above everybody else. There is no way the characters in S&C would be as happy as they are because things wouldn’t always work in their favour. Blue Jasmine delivers the clear message that actions have consequences, something the characters in S&C never experience and never will. If the writers and the actors managed to grow up and act as old as we all know they are (sorry SJP but we know how old you are, quit the facial work) then they would present a realistic story with less juvenile characters, in a world that is not childish.

The idea of one song being be able to trigger an all manner of emotions is explored quite nicely – I can’t explain it in comprehensible English or even a coherent manner but I really like it when a song is part of a character. I think it really develops a character and adds depth to see how one song is so deeply rooted and sparks off an emotional cocktail that ultimately brings them to their knees. This is what you find with Blue Jasmine when Jasmine hears Blue Moon by Conal Fowkes. This was played at her wedding and so used to be a happy song for her. However after everything that happens with said man the song becomes one that makes her saddened but also creates another reaction: a smile. Now it’s an interesting smile to see, and Blanchett acts superbly to create this, because it’s one that has different reasons behind it. Part of the smile feels like Jasmine is thinking back to how things used to be and the tears that accompany the smile are formed because she realises how her happy relationship crumbled beneath her. But then another side to the smile could be to create the illusion that Jasmine is fine. It’s like when a parent receives bad news but doesn’t want to be seen crying by their children, so they adopt a hollow smile. In this case it is as if Jasmine doesn’t want to let the song get the better of her and so she smiles it off until the smile doesn’t work anymore.

It’s commendable that a screenplay writer uses the ‘f’ word in a film with a 12 certificate – this is a topic I feel quite strongly about because I am heavily interested in screenplay writing and I am fascinated with different writing styles. I think it’s a brave choice when a writer puts the word “fuck” in to a film that is rated 12, but it has to be done appropriately. It’s a word that obviously carries a lot of meanings behind it and is usually used in cases of extreme emotional turmoil and so it is not a word that can be used lightly. It’s all well and good having Tarantino and Terence Winter rattle off as many fucks as they can in an 18 certificate, in those instances it’s boring because it’s what you expect. Obviously with a 12 certificate you’re restricted so you really have to make it count. You could be a monumental cretin like James Cameron and just blow it like he did with Titanic or you could do what Steve Coogan did with Philomena recently where it is utilised to create comic effect and convey various feelings. I believe Allen has done the right thing here because the use of the word added shock value and tension to a rather heated argument and wasn’t just wasted liked a adolescent loud mouth in the playground at school. It was a brave choice, much like with other films before it, and it shows other writers how to do it properly. James Cameron please step out of your swimming pool of money and get some tips on effective screenplay writing, you child.

So there you have it, a fantastically written film that is truly though provoking and a gentle return for Woody Allen. In recent years he has had a bit of a rough time with this resume. Films like Midnight in Paris were good but then others like Match Point completely missed the mark in my opinion so it is nice to see him back on top form. I know he is a controversial figure due to allegations and rumours recently but I’m chosing to ignore those. I don’t condone any behaviour he has been accused of but I do care about his films so I shall focus on those for the time being. I heavily recommend watching this film to anybody of any age because I think it will give different things to different audiences depending on their age.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, I am grateful for any views this blog gets so thank you for taking a few minutes out of your day to read it. If you have any comments or thoughts on the film then please feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.

Until the next time I shall leave you with a quote from Blue Jasmine that I rather liked:

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“There’s only so many traumas that a person can withstand until they take to the streets and start screaming”

 

Could ‘Interstellar’ by Christopher Nolan Be the New ‘2001’?

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Regular readers of this blog will have no doubt seen one of my latest entries in which I listed the films that are yet to be released this year that I am most excited about. Among the list of many I managed to narrow down three that I am most excited for in the form of the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest piece Inherent Vice, and of course the latest motion picture of genius and personal favourite Christopher Nolan, Interstellar. I am nervous but intrigued by all three of those titles but none more so than the last one, Interstellar, because I think it means the most to me. To see the man that is essentially my favourite film maker of the modern age presenting the mainstream audience with a unashamedly bold science fiction film fills me with nothing less than excitement.

The most admirable characteristic of any Christopher Nolan film is that they are intelligent; they are films written by a man who assumes that cinema audiences are as clever as he is. Too many film makers today follow the rather ugly rule that the way to make a successful film is to treat the audience as if they are stupid, hence we see films such as Transformers charging through with awful sequels that all achieve box office success. Nolan battles against that. He makes films that are sharper than a Japanese blade and more tasking that making a key stage three pupil watch University Challenge for an afternoon, and that is nothing short of heroic. He takes what the mainstream audience expects from a film and turns it completely on its head, to present us with films like The Prestige that not only entertain viewers but also engage them in thought. His films are those that could best be described as equivocal, what you receive from the films is equal to what you put in to them. This is why a lot of people I know do not understand Inception because they went in to wanting to see an action film but what they got was an intelligent blockbuster that may have featured action sequences, but they were by no means the focus. So they went in with expectations that weren’t met and so they didn’t understand the film, which is a shame because they missed out on one of the most impressive pieces of film from our lifetime.

Even from the start of his career with the genius of Memento Nolan entered film history with a strong first blow and continued to deliver hits that were executed perfectly. Memento came out of nowhere and impressed film critics and movie fanatics worldwide and he has continued this success to make a legacy, which is why it is thrilling to see that he is making another film. With Inception Nolan showed us that he is more than capable of handling a film with a slight science fiction-esque spin on it, so to see him attempt a film that looks like an old fashioned science fiction epic is intriguing.

If you have not seen any of the trailers already then I would say do one of two things. One choice would be to watch all of them rigorously; watch the trailers over and over again so that you pick up on every little detail and become more and more engaged by them. Or two, don’t watch any of the trailers. I understand that sometimes watching trailers can ruin a film when it is eventually seen, I know for example it happened to a lot of people with Prometheus back in 2012, so I think it would be a wise move to suggest avoiding the trailers altogether and letting the film approach you as a complete surprise.

For those who have seen the trailers or do indeed plan to watch them you will know that the film is big. And what I mean by this is that it’s not the usual science fiction flick in which there are aliens or flashy pieces of futuristic technology, this film is about humans and our interaction with other worlds. It’s not just about men and women in outfits that are figure-hugging while they run around shooting green men, it’s about the future of our planet and what we as humans can do to help it. It once again is a convention changing film; science fiction films always assume the earth is something to be invaded by outsides as opposed to being something worth protecting by its inhabitants.

Now I realise that the title of this post is a bold statement and it probably made the older science fiction fans reading this gasp or choke on a drink or even laugh when they read it, but I stick by it. I think Interstellar has the potential to be a film that is close to the 1968 Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’m not trying to say I think it will be better because in our lifetime I refuse to believe that is even possible, what I’m saying is that I think it will be on the same scale of film mastery. From initial footage that has been released it looks as though it is at least at the same end of the science fiction spectrum, moving away from the ‘bog standard’ side to being more of an epic scale piece of film.

The thing that made 2001 as incredible as it is was the idea of it, a science fiction film that focused on humans. It sounds silly, much like having an action film that focuses on a pacifist, but it not only made perfect sense; it made film history. The film essentially goes from the birth of mankind right up to our adventures in space and attempting to communicate with alien species, so the film is very much based around humans and the human spirit. It is a film about curiosity and the hunger for knowledge, from the humans venturing in to deep space to find more life, right the way back even to the apes at the beginning of the film who are confused by the monolith, they still wanted some form of answer. That’s what Interstellar is about, albeit in a rather tangential manner.

From the looks of it Interstellar is still going to be a film about answers, just different answers. Where 2001 was looking for where humans were from, Interstellar appears to be looking more at where humans are going. It’s addressing issues such as our over-consumption of the world’s resources and our ever growing population, using fossil fuels, our treatment of the earth and such but it’s not approaching it in a childish 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow sort of approach, nothing quite as juvenile, it instead appears to be looking at those issues in more of a Gandhi approach. What I mean by this is the idea of an eye for an eye; as humans we are the ones who have damaged the earth so we should be the ones to deal with the problems of such actions.

Also with 2001 there was a very big focus on humans and on character. The frightening element of the film for audiences at the time was the computer, HAL, because it was simple and human-like. For a film with a U certificate it’s odd to see a character that is so sinister as a talking computer, but this accompanied the humans very nicely because it showed how they still had fear, and they had layers to them to show how complex the human condition is. With Interstellar it clearly has the Christopher Nolan approach. Nolan has always been very good with family relationships, as we’ve seen in Inception, The Prestige and even with the Dark Knight trilogy the strong family bonds do seep through the screenplay, but that is where the strength is: in the screenplay. The trailer already shows us footage of the family talking, with conversations such as why the child is named Murphy and how this links to the theory of Murphy’s law etcetera so it is clear that humans are a huge focus for the film and the screenplay is going to be one of the best weapons in Nolan’s arsenal.

Just like with the majority of Nolan’s past work we are seeing him pair up with cinematographer Wally Pfister to make the film, and already we are seeing some shots in the trailers that are very impressive. The film is going to be a visual treat for any science fiction fan, much like 2001 still is today. There’s something very daunting about seeing a small space ship floating off in the vast and unknown territory of space, and that is why the film looks big to me. When I say it looks big I mean it is of epic proportions, it is about a journey, it is about discovery and will be a challenging watch. I remember sitting down to watch 2001 at the age of sixteen and people such as my father had said one thing to me before it started: good luck. They wished me luck because they knew it was a difficult film to get through and I might not have understood it all after one viewing. I thoroughly enjoyed it first time and have enjoyed it again since but from what we have seen of the film and our preexisting knowledge of Nolan as a film maker it is clear to see that Interstellar will be much the same, a film that has to have your undivided attention.

I guess what I was really trying to say with the title of this post was more that I hope Interstellar will be a film that can walk in the footsteps of 2001 because it will no doubt be another stroke from the paintbrush of a genius. Nolan is an extremely talented man who has a great eye for film as both a director and a screenplay writer, and I hope that this will be another chance for him to make his mark on cinema history but in a bigger way. Inception was the perfect way for him to show us his capability of making an intelligent mainstream blockbuster, but it will take something bigger than that to really put his footprint on the moon so to speak. I think Interstellar could be that film, and I hope it is.

I will of course be posting a review and analysis of the film once I have seen it, with just about two months to go it’s safe to say I am counting down the days. Until that time I intend to watch 2001 again with a completely open mind to see if I get anything new from it like the previous times watching it. If anyone is reading this not knowing what I’m talking about because they haven’t seen 2001 then I would thoroughly recommend watching it at least once. Much like when film critic Mark Kermode suggested going to see There Will Be Blood in cinemas after booking all of the seats around yours to ensure there are no distractions in the perimeter, I suggest watching 2001 in the dark with the sound turned up and nothing around you to distract you. I know it sounds like advice for listening to a Pink Floyd album for the first time but trust me it will work.

So the only thing left to say really is hope you have enjoyed this post, if you even managed to make it this far, thank you. And if you have any thoughts on the matter then please do not hesitate to leave a comment, I welcome whatever you have to say be it bad or good, and I promise to respond to any comments left in due course.

Until the next time I shall simply leave you with my favourite quote from Interstellar (so far) taken from one of the trailer released recently:

“do not go gentle in to that good night…old age should burn and rage at close of day”

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The Closing Months of Cinema for 2014

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It seems as though everyone’s eyes at the moment are turned to the big summer films that are to be released. We’ve just had Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as the latest installment to the Transformers franchise, and obviously just recently we’ve had Guardians of the Galaxy from Marvel, so it’s clear we’ve got quite a full on summer ahead of us. Personally, I’m looking past all of these films and looking ahead to the second half of 2014 to see what’s heading our way.

I’m not saying all of the action films of the summer aren’t important, I’m still a bit of a geek at heart so I’m always excited by the prospect of whatever DC or Marvel Comics release. Just recently in fact I rather enjoyed the new X-Men flick; it wasn’t brilliant but my inner film nerd was pretty darn excited to see James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender on screen with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. So it’s not that I’m a film snob who turns their nose up at every blockbuster the summer has in store, it’s just from looking ahead to the end of the year it’s clear that Bradley Cooper voicing a Raccoon that jumps through space and shoots everything has nothing on what’s heading our way.

There’s an interesting collection heading towards our screens, with quite a few films that have caught my eye. I remember this time last year incidentally in which I was writing about films I was excited about. There was quite a range last year as well, from The Fifth Estate which managed to disappoint, right up to Saving Mr Banks which as my blog post from a couple of weeks ago showed, I absolutely loved. So if anything that just shows how there is everything still to play for at this point in the year.

As it stands my film of the year so far is still The Grand Budapest Hotel from back in march, with Richard Ayoade’s The Double still a close second. Nothing has beaten it so far, Wes Anderson has made an artistic masterpiece that is superbly written and directed in a way that maintains the complexity and keeps the film running like a clockwork mechanism. Much like other Wes Anderson films there’s a knock out cast, outstanding wit, beautiful cinematography, and of course the use of colour schemes, making it a really outstanding cinematic experience. At the moment for me it is the unchallenged champion of 2014’s cinema, but there is of course still time, and with some of the films that are yet to be released it could all change.

So what I’ve done is I’ve gone through various lists online of the films that are coming out in the next couple of months and I’ve selected the ones I’m looking forward to. I’ve tried to find as much information as I can on each of the films that are listed below. The dates that are attached to them are their release dates in the UK so it may vary depending on where you are reading this from. I am aware that I have broken this rule at times and spilled over the edges in to 2015, but with early releases at film festivals for some titles it is arguable that they can still be considered films of 2014. Regardless of the technicalities, my list is as follows:

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For – directed by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller (August 22nd) – now this one I may live to regret because I’m not overly fond of sequels being made of good films, but I still found myself intrigued by the trailers. I like the first film a lot and I think it was really well made to suit an impressive visual style. So with the addition of new actors and storylines I can only hope this second installment proves me wrong about sequels being bad.

Gone Girl – directed by David Fincher (October 3rd) – much like many other film fanatics I am a very big fan of David Fincher for obvious reasons (Fight Club, Seven, The Social Network) so to see him return to film after three years brings nothing but excitement. The film focuses on the disappearance of a woman and the impacts this has on her husband, and so it sounds like quite a delicate turn for Fincher. But with an impressive cast and Fincher himself at the helm I can only hope this will be another fantastic piece of film from a director who has proven himself to be a genius on a number of occasions. After his last film, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, this new film may see Fincher staying in a dark place but being more delicate, much like he did with Seven. 

The Judge – directed by David Dobkin (October 17th) – this is another one I’m hoping I won’t regret because looking at Dobkin’s history of bad comedy films I can only hope that this venture in to more serious territory is a step in the right direction. Based around lawyers and family connections I have to admit the premise of the film intrigues me. When films centred around court cases are done well then I absolutely love them; you cannot beat the tension created by fantastic screenplay. As I said before I can only hope this is a step in the right direction that is executed well. I’m also excited to see Robert Downey Jr stepping back in to more serious roles; he is a talented actor who is capable of doing more than just Tony Stark so I’m hoping he gets the chance to prove it here.

Fury – directed by David Ayer (October 19th) – there’s been a lot of talk about this film recently for obvious reasons, it has Brad Pitt leading the cast and it is going to be quite a heavy film so people are right to be excited about it. But the reason I’m excited about it is because it is set towards the end of the war. It’s all well and good making an action film based during World War II but I think by this point we’ve seen too many that focus just on all out war. I’m excited to see how Ayer manages to capture the struggle in the soldiers as they are working towards their final stand. I hope the film has that emotional connection that other films before it have failed to create. I really want this to be more than just an action film.

Birdman – directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu – now I have broken my own rule here because the UK release for this film is in January, but it has release dates in other countries that date back to October, so in a sneaky manner I will count that as a film from 2014. The only reason I’m going to break that rule is because I am really excited about this film. A film that is based around someone attempting to recapture former glory is an idea that interests me as it is, but when it’s coming from a talented director who brought us films such as Babel and Biutiful I can only get even more excited. Almost a year ago in fact I wrote a script for a drama competition that was based around a screenplay writer trying to recapture his former glory whilst dealing with issues with his family, so seeing a film that is based around the same idea is an exciting experience. I feel bad for breaking my own rule with this film but I honestly think it is going to be good.

St. Vincent – directed by Theodore Melfi (presumed release date in October) – I couldn’t find a UK release date for this film but in other countries it is released in October so I’m guessing we’ll receive it around the same time. Now the director/ writer of this one is an unknown to me but I’m going to take a risk because they’re bringing Bill Murray back to making comedy films, with this one being based around a young boy being helped by his old neighbour who is a lazy war veteran. It looks funny and the trailer did manage to make me laugh but it also looks as though the film has a heart. I really like comedies that manage to be engaging and thought provoking at the same time so I’m anxious but excited to see how this film turns out.

Wild – directed by Jean-Marc Vallée – again I have broken my own rule here because this film is released in the UK early next year but in other countries it is this year, so I’m going to break that rule again but it is again with good intentions. This is another film I am excited about, from the director of Dallas Buyers Club and with the leading role filled by Reese Witherspoon I have very high hopes for this one. I really like Reese Witherspoon as an actress already and to see her take the lead role in a film based around someone embarking on a solo hike to recover from past events I get the feeling this could another films that exceeds expectations. I think Dallas Buyers Club was a fantastic piece of film so I can’t wait to see more work from the same director.

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies – directed by Peter Jackson (December 12th) – I know up until this point I haven’t been the biggest fan of The Hobbit as a series of films but I have to see it through to the end. I love the book and so I am excited to see how Jackson approaches the conclusion of a literary treasure. He cares about the source material as much as the fans do so I can only hope he does the right thing and delivers a film that is satisfying.

Exodus: Gods and Kings – directed by Ridley Scott (December 26th) – I am a big fan of Ridley Scott and I have admired his work in the past, so I can only hope his venture back in to more of an epic styled film is one worth watching. He is obviously known as being a pioneer of science fiction with great works such as Alien and Blade Runner among his previous works, but when Scott makes historical films they can go one of two ways. In the case of Robin Hood we’re presented with a film we would rather forget, but then with Gladiator we’re given a film that is a fantastic piece of art that we hold close to us and recognise as a masterpiece. I am excited about this new film that has obvious biblical overtones and I can only hope that with a strong cast and a heavy premise that Scott has not made a mistake with this one.

So those are the films I am looking forward to that are yet to grace our screens. I’m hoping my choices will not leave me disappointed but of course only time will tell. All that is left to do is present the three films that I am most excited about this year. There are three that have not been mentioned yet that I believe will be the three to potentially challenge The Grand Budapest Hotel and the title it currently holds. So in no particular order, the three films I am most looking forward to at the end of this year:

1. The Imitation Game – directed by Morten Tyldum (November 14th) – now this is one that I really want to be good because it has such a powerful story behind it. It focuses on the life of Alan Turing who helped to break the enigma code during World War II. I don’t know if it will delve in to what happened to him afterwards but I am hoping that it does so with the utmost sincerity because as shocking as the aftermath to the war for Turing was it is a story that people need to hear. The story still makes me feel angry because of how badly he was treated, but it is a story that should be told because it shows how times have changed and how ugly our country can be at times. I think Benedict Cumberbatch will do a fantastic job playing Turing, and I can only hope the film approaches events from the right angle to deliver the story in an honest manner.

2. Inherent Vice – directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (January 2015) – again I am going to count this film as being part of 2014 because it is unveiled this year at various film festivals. Regular readers of this blog will know I admire PTA and the work he has done for cinema, so I cannot even express how excited I am to see him writing and directing a film based around a drug-fueled detective in the seventies investigating the disappearance of his ex-partner. PTA is very good at writing scripts that have incredible weight to them, for example There Will Be Blood and The Master so I intrigued to see if he has continued his legacy in a similar fashion or if the film will be completely different from previous works. Not much has been released in terms of first looks, all we have to go on is a picture recently of Joaquin Phoenix mid scene, but this only makes the film more intriguing. The cast looks incredible with Joaquin Phoenix once again leading the way so I know the film is going to be good, if not better. PTA’s previous work has impressed me a lot, and in fact four of his films currently hold a place in my favourite films of all time, so he has a lot to live up to but I know he is more than capable of exceeding my expectations, every time.

3. Interstellar – directed by Christopher Nolan (November 7th) – Christopher Nolan writing and directing a science fiction film based around a team exploring interstellar travel because the Earth is slowly dying. Nothing more needs to be said about the film because it sounds phenomenal as it is, and yet I could easily talk about it all day. To describe how excited I am for the film all I would need to say is that I have watched the trailer countless times since it was released, including an entire afternoon in which I kept revisiting it because I was so excited. The cast looks incredible, much like with all of Nolan’s work, but I think it’s the idea of it that excites me the most. Just to see Nolan directing a science fiction film based on exploring different universes and planets, it just makes me think that although it is a bold statement I think this could be a film that is on the same scale as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a bold statement, but based on what we have seen so far of the film and how talented we already know Nolan is as a film maker, this could easily be his greatest film yet, and indeed his masterpiece.

So there it is, the completed list of the films I am most looking forward to in 2014(ish). I can only hope that they do not disappoint and that in the months to come I will not regret choosing them, however after last year’s results I think it would be safer to say it will be another mixed bag. Risks have indeed been taken but that’s what this process is all about. I would rather speak up and be proven as an idiot than not speak up and let people assume.

I am aware there will be some I have missed and that haven’t been addressed so if there is a film you would like to me to comment on then please leave a comment and I will get back to you. Equally if you would like to leave a comment on any of the films mentioned along with your thoughts then I welcome anything you have to say. This is a topic I am very open about so I’m interested to see what other people think. Any comments left will be responded to as soon as possible, and thank you for taking the time to read this post and possibly comment if you did so. I’ll hopefully follow up these choices with reviews in the future as they are released.

Thoughts and Analysis of ‘Shame’ by Steve McQueen

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It’s always a refreshing experience for a film fanatic to watch a film that they know very little about and find that it is a diamond in the rough. It is my pleasure to say that I experienced this just last week when I sat down to watch Steve McQueen’s 2011 masterpiece, Shame, starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. For those who don’t know the film is basically about a man who lives alone and enjoys a successful life at work, but then in his spare time he partakes in substance abuse and is sex addict. His world is changed when his sister comes to stay with him for the foreseeable future, causing his life to be altered to suit the new context. My mind was completely open and I didn’t know what to expect of the film, which allowed this hidden gem just enough time to creep in and take me completely by surprise. It is fantastic.

It’s odd because the film is one I could only describe as problematic. It deals with subject matter that is dark and it reveals a soul behind the film that is black, but it approaches different problems with the utmost sincerity, without ever idealising them. It reminded me to an extent of the period of film in the seventies and eighties in which cinema became problematic, with films like I Spit on Your Grave, Straw Dogs and even A Nightmare on Elm Street at the helm of this time period. They all dealt with complex issues based on the human mind and the human body. They focused heavily upon character and the way the human body is treated, and in some cases destroyed or defiled. That is what Shame feels like. It is a problematic piece of complex cinema that feels as though you are crawling through sewage, but you don’t necessarily mind.

The best thing about the film is that, like many other good films, it is extremely thought-provoking. The sign of a good film is that it makes you think; you become so engaged in this fictitious world that you are intrigued and filled with questions and thoughts. One of the original purposes of cinema, like literature before it, was to tell a story, so it is refreshing to still see films that can capture an audience like that without being real. In this case also the film is one that focuses heavily on the idea of language and how as humans we can use language for an all manner of different purposes. I really like films that focus on humans and language because it takes skill in writing and presents just how much delicate screenplay writing pays off.

The film was actually so thought-provoking I found myself doing something I hadn’t done in a very long time; I actually had a pad and pen in front of me so I could be making notes. It sounds like something a professional film critic would either hate or encourage, but it was honestly the only way for me to capture the various thoughts and feelings that spontaneously burst in to my head. It was a rather interesting experience for me, so what I have decided to do is to transfer all of my hand written notes I made whilst watching the film in to a blog post, just to see what people make of them. I have spoken spoilerese to the best of my ability to ensure the film isn’t ruined for those who haven’t seen it.

So it is without further ado I present to you the original purpose of this post: my thoughts and analysis of Shame by Steve McQueen.

The screenplay takes time to become present – for the first eight minutes of the film we are only presented with a couple of words. Some people lose interest when a film does not have instant talking but if you think about it some of the best films take time to develop their screenplay. Wall-e famously had one character for the opening section of the film, and even There Will Be Blood took near enough nineteen minutes before introducing screenplay to the audience. Taking time is not a bad thing.

Fassbender’s character is made to be successful with women by not talking, whereas his friend talks too much and that is evidently his flaw – it’s almost a mockery of men who approach women in bars and try to smooth talk them, McQueen and Morgan clearly cared about the screenplay for this film and how is presents men and women. It suggests a connection between two people has to come naturally, it cannot possibly be forced to exist.

Fassbender is very happy with freedom and no one in particular, whereas his sister has someone she loves and yet she is unhappy – the film shows how the free spirit who is not tied down is happy with their life, but n the opposite side of the coin we see his sister who is fixated upon one person, which hurts her all too easily.

The cinematography is complex through fragmentation – it shows the mundane aspects of everyday life like train journeys, and then the physical nature of sexual activity without shying away from being too explicit. It only makes it more realistic by focusing on the details to make it more relatable for members of the audience.

Nudity – it is almost as if McQueen wants to show every single aspect of the characters. Not just the nurture side that has been socialised by external factors; the natural side is integral to his characters. The film is about the shaming of the body, so we have to see all of it in order for McQueen to put his ideas across. He is not afraid to show the human body in its entirety.

McQueen was previously an artist, which is shown through his films – it is as if McQueen cares about every single shot that is shown on screen, each one has to be a different piece of art. Even with 12 Years A Slave recently some shots of the natural environment were beautiful with an artistic feel to them. With Shame it’s shots of the city which shows how McQueen believes manmade environments can be equally beautiful. This in turn reflects how Fassbender’s character believes his manmade life is the ideal.

It’s a British film but it could be a critique of American lifestyles? – it’s a little farfetched but it almost feels as though McQueen is judging the lifestyle that the main character has by showing the inevitable destruction through his own actions and addictions, That’s what the film is about, he is slowly destroying himself because ultimately he is unhappy.

The themes presented are very different – it challenges the overused value of family by showing the opposite side that is unhappy. It’s not just childish sibling rivalry or just annoying each other, it is about recognising characteristics that are almost repellent to the other person. In the case of this film instead of showing how siblings have grown up together and are firm friends we are presented with siblings that have grown apart and never attempted to rebuild the bridge between them. Also there is a lack of poetic justice through showing just how dysfunctional the family is – it is fully dysfunctional, but does that make it more realistic? do other films idealise the happy family at the cost of neglecting how harsh life really is?

Isolation is a theme that’s presented, but the two sides of it are shown – Fassbender idealises isolation and is happy with it, whereas Mulligan’s character fears it. One of them is running away from isolation but the other one is running towards it. With Fassbender we are shown someone who is happy through isolation and not needing anybody else to be a constant presence, whereas Mulligan’s character could see destruction through isolation because she needs company.

The use of white in the colour scheme – this not only contrasts Fassbender’s darker personality (much like with Christian Bale in American Psycho) but it contrasts with the colour of blood just to show the true impact the sister has on his life.

Clinging to youth leads to the destruction of the mind and body, but also the soul – The film shows how Fassbender is clinging to his youth and engaging in all of the activities you would expect somebody young and off the rails to partake in, like the drugs and the sex addiction. This only increases and increases until inevitably it begins to destroy him. Because he is failing to move on from this young style of living and to move on to maturity it begins to break down his character in an all manner of different ways. We not only see his mind wither but also his body, he is broken down towards the end of the film, which adds real weight to it.

So there you have it, my notes that were made during the film. I have added to them and glossed them up a little bit just to make them more reader friendly for everyone, but if you make it to the end of this entry then you’ll see I’ve added pictures of the original notes for those interested.

In summary I would recommend the film, I really would, it was a challenging and moving experience for me but it is really well written and terrifically shot so it is both a visual feast and an emotional journey. It isn’t for the faint hearted, and there is in fact a sequence towards the end that did cause some controversy in terms of political correctness and the message it sends out, so I would say be cautious of it. I personally really liked the film and I think it is well worth a watch, but you will need to watch it with an open mind and a strong heart. McQueen, in my mind, is proving himself to be a legend among modern film makers, setting up a legacy that will echo on.

As always if anyone has any thoughts they would like to share then please do not hesitate to leave a comment. I am open minded and I welcome any criticism, but I am certainly curious to see what other people made of this film. I promise to respond to any comments posted in due course.

Until the next time I shall leave you with my favourite quote from the film, taken from an argument between Fassbender and Mulligan:

“You’re always sorry…try doing something. Actions count, not words”

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