Whitewashed Films & White Guilt

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I’ve been terrible at blogging lately. I aim to rectify this, starting now. A good number of people have followed this blog after viewing the [THOUGHT BUBBLES] site, and I feel a mounting sense of guilt with each new cheery notification.

So as both catch-up and potted introduction to how things work around here, I present you with some reviews I’ve written for Nerdly in July:

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation

If there’s anything that connects the Mission: Impossible films in my head, it’s that I consistently come out of each new installment wondering what the hell happened.

The Gallows

Despite his main function being to pretend to carry a camera around, Ryan voices his unwanted and abrasive opinions at every possible opportunity, from telling the lead actress Pfeifer that his best bud Reese (her opposite number and, incidentally, terrible) has the hots for her to talking to himself about how much he hates acting. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to want Ryan to eat it immediately, but a scene in which he prangs a stereotypical drama nerd with a football cemented my desire to see him strung up IF ONLY JUST TO MAKE HIM STOP TALKING PLEASE JUST STOP

Ant-Man

Another Marvel movie, another bad – and bald – industrialist trying to weaponize something cool. They have their formula and they’re sticking with it, but that doesn’t mean they can’t play with their  own tropes. After the first forty-five minutes of exposition Lang is finally given the Ant-Man suit and discovers (along with the film) a whole new world of possibilities. Instead of being seen as an unreliable crook with a lot of potential but no options, Scott chooses to disappear altogether, becoming a catalyst for Hank and Hope’s damaged relationship to repair itself and learning how to be a hero – through a series of training montages, natch. Rudd’s character arc is nicely underplayed if somewhat baffling; he goes from being unable to make a fellow prisoner flinch to taking down an Avenger in a scant hour, but the lead is so much damn fun to be with it’s easy to forgive most of the film’s minor flaws.

There are a couple of other reviews in the pipeline – I saw Pixels the other day and British council-flat horror Containment last night – and I’m literally just now seeing that the summer of 2015 promises to be the blandest yet in terms of blockbuster fare. Though if those are the only kinds of movie you’re seeing I don’t have a whole load of sympathy. That’s like having McDonald’s three meals a day.

Ah well. At least Dear White People finally got released in the UK:

If you’re in London or near a Picturehouse that’s showing DWP, I would urge you to see it. The film’s not as incisive as I would have hoped, and there’s a real lack of punch to its ending, but it’s a gorgeous, mostly-honest piece of entertainment that’s actually about something. And, if you’re white, makes you realise just how racist you might be.

And you know how much I like punishing myself, right?

More soon. You’re the best.

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A Few Words On The Act Of Killing

From my Letterboxd review, which contains spoilers galore. If you haven’t seen The Act of Killing yet, I suggest you stop what you’re doing and watch it. Right now. Here’s why I want to force it upon you:

“The final scene of this documentary involves its lead subject standing in the place where he used to torture and kill people, retching over and over, having just come to emotional terms with the horrific acts he perpetrated almost 50 years ago. As he bent over a low wall, guttural noises escaping from his throat, all I could think was that I wanted him to just throw up already. But he didn’t. He was never going to satisfy me by blowing chunks on screen.

And that says it all; in The Act of Killing, nobody gets what they want. We never get to see these monsters – who, horrifyingly, turn out to be real people – brought to justice for the genocide they committed in 1965. We see them acknowledge what they did, sometimes only partially, sometimes with mixed feelings, but never an admission of guilt, which a lesser documentary would likely demand of them.

But just as we are unsatisfied, so too are the subjects of Joshua Oppenheimer’s film. They’re the ones in power, yes, but they’re haunted by nightmares of the atrocities they were part of, and even if they project themselves as hard-as-nails bastards, it’s evident the whole thing is an act. They set the stage for themselves half a century ago, and now they have to perform it for the rest of their lives, whether they can handle it or not. They may not confess it, but they’ll never escape it. And that’s the best sentence anyone’s going to get.

A film of tremendous bravery, beauty and genuine importance, The Act Of Killing ought to be essential viewing for every human.”

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What’s in a Thought Bubble?

I helped launch an art project on Tuesday. Well, I don’t know if you’d call it art, exactly, but it does have a manifesto; that’s got to count for something, right? Anyway, this venture of dubious worth is called [THOUGHT BUBBLES], and it’s all about impulsive creative expression.  You might want to go check out our first post before reading any further. I promise you it won’t take more than two minutes of your time. Go on. I’ll wait. Welcome back! See? That didn’t take so long. As you can see, [THOUGHT BUBBLES] is all about brevity: we’ll be putting out videos of one minute (or shorter) in length once a week for as long as we can keep it up. There are certain other rules that apply – as seen in the aforementioned manifesto – but we can go into those another time, particularly as we’ll start breaking them pretty early on. But who is this “we”, you ask? Am I not the sole architect of the project, filming, composing and creating every atom of beauty that makes up the very being of [THOUGHT BUBBLES]? Of course not; don’t be ridiculous. I make up one third of a creative trio I am perpetually humbled to be a welcome part of. My fellow bubblenauts are none other than musician Alice Rowan and filmmaker Dave Beveridge. They’re both much more than that, obviously, being dear friends of mine, but for the purposes of this introduction that’s your key to understanding the basis of a Bubble’s creation. Here are a couple of brilliant things they made:

Dave

Alice

I know, right? I’m sure you now want to see and hear a lot more from them. Rest assured – you will. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

  • Dave films something that speaks to him. He shoots a single shot for however long he feels is necessary, then cuts the resulting video to a minute or under.
  • He then shares the video with Alice and myself. Crucially, this is the first time we’ll have ever been aware of this footage or the context in which it was created so that we can proceed unbiased.
  • Alice composes a piece of frustratingly marvellous music, records live as quickly as possible and adds it to the video.
  • Then your humble narrator takes one look at the piece and declares it finished, stating that any contribution he made would only lessen its stupendous value.

…Just kidding.

  • I look at the video and add one final layer of interpretation – a spoken word recording. It could be overwrought narration, a clutch of whispered dialogue or even field recordings of overheard conversations in retirement home cafeterias.
  • All of this is put together, mixed ever so slightly so that one element does not drown out another (any more than intended, at least) and put into a digital box to await its release.

And really, that’s about it. Oh, except that it almost never occurs in that order. Everyone takes turns beginning new bubbles and contributing at different stages to make for ever more interesting interpretations; there’s no single authorial presence pulling the strings, which is exactly how we like it. I have no idea how a bubble I initiated is going to end up, how it’ll be interpreted, if a joke I wrote will be turned into a tragic note or a heartfelt declaration turned into a punchline. That’s really scratching the surface of what happens with the finished products, but I’m sure you get the picture. And this isn’t a project that benefits from over-explanation, anyhow. Which is mainly why I’ve chosen to write this here and not on our shiny new official site – [THOUGHT BUBBLES] is about short, spontaneous creative expression and, above all, not overthinking things. If you’re a long time (or an anytime) reader of this blog, you’ll know how hilarious it is that I’m a part of something like that and how crucial that these two outlets never collide. [Of course, there’s nothing to say I can’t dot a few links here and there.]

I think that’s all I have to say for the moment. Part of the reason I wrote this was to have something to direct people toward when they ask what the project’s about, at least in the early days before the (fingers crossed) vast library of content speaks for itself. The site’s a little austere at the moment, and I get itchy when I think people might be confused about something I’ve done. Another part is that I like to ramble about myself and my talented friends, but you already knew that. Oh, one other thing – we launched the site and the first video on 21st April 2015, which is exactly a year after Dave, Alice and I conceived the project. A lot of things happened in the interim – some good, others not so good – and the effects of those will likely (in some cases, will most definitely) be shown in future bubbles. It’s personal and epic and tiny and heartbreaking and life-affirming and ultra-camp. Mostly, though, [THOUGHT BUBBLES] is indefinable. Stay tuned to find out what the hell that means.

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Awkward Human Interaction #8472

Earlier tonight I was cycling home and had just pulled off the road to check my route when a woman came up to me. She put her hands up and told me she wasn’t going to attack me, I was a man and she was a woman, and that I “could kill” her. So this was already something of an odd conversation.

I don’t recall managing to get a single word out before she gave me the short version of her life story: she had several kids, one of whom was presumably an infant as she urgently needed to buy milk; she had some serious money problems, which was why she had approached me; and one of her children died two weeks ago, which had her feeling “pretty suicidal”. Put simply, she needed someone to cut her a break. So I took out my wallet and gave her all my change – something in the neighbourhood of £3.22.

Instead of offering thanks, she asked if I could buy her anything on card. I don’t necessarily need gratitude for being a decent human, but, well…she was asking two favours in a row from a complete stranger and putting me in a hugely uncomfortable position, so I declined apologetically. I told her I had to get home, which was both true and false; I needed to get home eventually, and I wanted to be home pretty soon (which in London is never as soon as you hope), but was there anything urgent I had to attend to? Nope.

Why was I okay lying to her, after she had poured her life and struggles into my mind? Was it because I automatically suspected her of lying even before she was finished speaking? Probably. I’m not sure at what point I decided that strangers requesting money on the street were automatically untrustworthy, but I know it’s not just me. I’m uncomfortable with that fact, just as I feel guilty when I ignore the existence of homeless people so I don’t have to pretend I don’t have any change to give them.

In the end (the whole interaction lasted about 30 seconds, I reckon), the woman left in a flash, resigned to the knowledge I wasn’t going to help her any more than I already had. When I looked back to see where she was heading, she had already crossed the road and was closing in on another potential Samaritan.

I don’t know if she was lying. I’d like to think she really did need the money, but if all of what she said was true then some loose change likely isn’t going to help her all that much. And I guess I don’t really know how to help people in those situations beyond giving them the contents of my wallet.

If I had just done as the Google Maps lady had said and made that right turn when I was supposed to, I might never have seen that woman in my whole life. Maybe interactions like that – or just the possibility of them – are why I choose to bike to work instead of getting the train most days. Why I wear headphones when walking alone in the street. Why I’m reluctant to answer the phone when I don’t recognise the number.

“Maybe”.

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Miscalculations In Shipping Costs

Around this time last year, I was part of a comic writers’ group in York. Its members would critique one another’s scripts and submit communally to pitch submissions at independent publishers when the opportunity arose. I hadn’t produced a single page of comics back then, despite several foolhardy attempts at creating a post-apocalyptic epic the depths and ambition of which the world has never seen AND I WILL GET ROUND TO THAT ONE DAY DAMMIT.

But a lot can change in a year (or a decade, or a month or a day or a second or okay things are changing all the time all right). Now I’m living in London after having moved town twice, switched jobs five times and lived in no fewer than seven different homes (I’m working on my eighth). I was about to list my romantic exploits but then I remembered this is kind of supposed to be about my creative and professional development.

I now physically own copies of the first comic I’ve ever had published. It’s called Miscalculations in Time Travel, and it’s a three-page story that I wrote for an anthology book published by GrayHaven Comics. You can look at the cover and add it to an invisible basket here if you like.

Technically the comic was released in December but I only received my first copies in the last week of March, due to reasons I won’t go into to save certain parties from embarrassment or blame. While I would have liked to hold the thing in my hands a lot sooner I’m frankly still surprised I got to make anything at all – and I’d already seen the proofs months ago, so that anticipation was somewhat lessened.

Still, it’s a lovely caress of the ego to see your name printed on a blackboard behind a character you thought up in a glossy, staple-bound sheaf of paper. Lovelier still is the art, drawn by the terrific Donal Delay who you can and should follow on Twitter. I was very lucky to have Donal assigned to my script – I love his cartoonish, exaggerated but still detailed style and it fit the comedic tone I was going for perfectly. You can check out his Flash Gordon-influenced webcomic Daring Adventures to see what I mean.

I’d love to be able to post Miscalculations on here some time – I think I co-own it now, so there probably wouldn’t be a problem – but I should really check with Donal and GrayHaven first. It’d be great to show it to as many people as possible, though, so I’ll get right on that. Or you could just buy the comic, but I’m not going to force you (particularly as you’d have to pay shipping from the U.S. and I don’t want anyone to have to pay close to a tenner just to read a funny little story of mine).

That said, I’m considering buying a few more copies to give to friends and family so if you’d like to get your grubby mitts on my thing before it hits the internet like a (slow-moving, abandoned) freight train, hit me up and we can share the burden of trans-continental shipping.

Man. I’d really like to do more comics now. I’m supposed to have another story coming out through the same publisher some time this year, but I haven’t been given a date (or even an artist) yet so don’t hold your breath. It’s a page longer and a much more personal story, so I’ll do that for you.

Well, that’s my self-congratulation over. I need to sleep so I can wake up and feel bad that I wrote this instead of the review I was supposed to finish tonight. See you around. And thanks.

 

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The Sweet Pain of Power Pop

Sometimes I don’t think I’ll get over my romantic obsession with wry, melodramatic but utterly sincere power pop that threatens to destroy me with THE POWER OF EMOTION whenever I listen to it too much.

But then I discover a band like Trust Fund and realise there’s no need to get over it.

You can listen to their debut album at that link up there. Or here if that’s too far. I’ll let the music speak for itself, as I’m usually really bad at selling bands I like to other people.

That said, I have been seriously toying with the idea of writing an account of my relationship history in parallel with Los Campesinos!’s album releases.

Because that’s the kind of thing I consider fun, obviously.

In other news, I wrote some more reviews for Nerdly. Blackhat and Jack Strong, which it looks like very few people will actually see, were kind of a mixed bag. Similarly with the FrightFest Glasgow screeners I got for [REC]488 and The Atticus Institute, although they were at least consistently entertaining. And one of them has Ethan from Lost in it!

Even if I wasn’t blown away by the fare I saw, the lineup for FFG still got me psyched for the main event in London later this year. I’ve been doing a lot of solo cinemagoing over the past few weeks (yet I’m still way behind on my Letterboxd challenge) so it’ll be nice to attend a huge community film event for a couple of days before returning to the hermitage of the multiplex.

I’ve seen a lot of bad thrillers and horror movies recently, but one of them may actually end up making the list of my favourite films of the year. That film? The Boy Next Door. My review should be out soon, but don’t bother reading it if you have the opportunity to go and see it; just do it. You will not regret a second or penny spent, I assure you. Thank me later.

And thanks for reading. You’re my favourite.

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The Room/Kissing The Sky

I’m sat in an ostensibly Hendrix-themed bar in Crouch End that is far more about soft candlelight and even softer pop-rock than it is about beads and wicked Napoleonic jackets, but that’s cool because the wi-fi is free and they have wasabi peas. I just picked up a set of fish-eye lens camera prints that I took last September and dropped off in January, so I’m experiencing some weird time-warping right now. Most of the photos I have distinct recollections of, except for one shirtless picture of myself in a bed I don’t know if I ought to recognise or not. Probably best not to worry (or post that picture online), right? Right.

So yeah, this is the kind of thing I do on a Saturday in the big city. I don’t have a routine of sorts and I’m still behind on my daily film viewings so I’ve just been flitting around Soho trying to soak up as much culture as I can while fitting in downloaded movies on the long bus journeys between. (Getting from my place to central London takes about five minutes longer than the train between Scarborough and York, which I find strangely comforting.)

I squeezed in Broken, a BFI-funded kitchen sink drama about modern suburbia and how everyone comes of age in different ways, over two such journeys courtesy of BBC’s iplayer app. Don’t tell me I’m a bad person because I watch movies on my phone, please. I wrote a little bit about it on Letterboxd.

Last Saturday I saw this mythical figure (let’s not lessen his mystique by referring to him as a man) live on stage at the Prince Charles Cinema:

In case you're wondering: yes, he is wearing branded underwear with his name on.

In case you’re wondering: yes, he is wearing branded underwear with his name on.

Tommy Wiseau hosted a midnight screening of his masterwork (and only feature film to date), The Room, and just barely answered some questions the audience had. He claimed to be 200 years old, was proud to announce that he was wearing five belts and if you don’t know anything more about the enigmatic Mr. Wiseau then I suggest you watch The Room immediately. Like right now.

It was a magical experience, but not one I’m entirely certain I have the gumption to sit through ever again. Spoons were thrown, catchphrases were bellowed and brains were accordingly fried.

I should have comic news but I don’t; maybe next time. Thanks for reading.

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Stuff You May Have Missed…

…or, to put it more fairly, things I just haven’t told you about. If you follow me on social media or actually know me in real life you’ll probably be aware that I started a job in London (not in Ontario – sorry, Canadians) and moved here in December. Which was all very exciting, but as I was hopping from couch to couch & looking for my own place while trying to figure out how this whole 9-5 job thing worked I didn’t have a whole lot of time for writing.

Well, not on this blog anyway. I’ve started contributing regularly to Nerdly once again, and to my delight I’m much better located to attend preview screenings for upcoming movies than I was Up North™. Since 2015 began I’ve reviewed the following:

And there are plenty more in the pipeline, including my thoughts on Michael Mann’s Blackhat, which I saw before most of the above but am still kind of processing.

At any rate, I’m being more productive in some form or another online than I have been in a year or so. This would be great if it didn’t make me feel like I’ve been incredibly lazy over the past twelve months. But I’m not going to dwell on such thoughts, no!

Another thing that’s been eating up my time has been my aggressive consumption of cinema as part of an attempt to watch at least one new (to me, anyway) film every day, as documented on my Letterboxd. Sidenote: you should sign up to Letterboxd if you like film discussion, ranking and list-making. It’s got a lovely sense of community, which is a surprising and welcome thing to find on a social networking site.

(Earlier tonight a friend asserted that I’m basically living in the cinema much like Francois Truffaut and his cohort back in their early days. It was awfully generous of him to mention me in the same breath.)

Yes, I know I’m behind, but being homeless for the first three weeks of the year doesn’t leave you with a lot of independent free time. I’m catching up with myself, though, and once I’m on track – I’m currently clocking about 1.5 flicks a day, so I should be right in a week or so – things will ease off and I intend to start blogging here again more regularly.

I know, I know. You’ve heard it all before. But this time I mean it, not least because now I actually have something to write about again. Yes, that something will mostly be movies, but there are other, more creative endeavours in the works that I’ll hopefully be able to share with you soon.

If those things end up being delayed for whatever reason (and I usually find one) then at least you’ll get some dispatches from my new home in the aisles. Watch this space, but maybe bring a magazine or something so you don’t get bored.

Happy new year (yes I know it’s February shut up) and thanks so much for reading this far. You’re the best.

Mark’s 10 Favourite Things From 2014

This year has probably been my worst so far for keeping a consistent blogging presence, so it seems both efficient and incredibly cheap for me to make a summary post of a year in which I didn’t share all that much you, dear reader.

I’m not doing Top 10 lists for all the forms of media I consumed (that seems a little indulgent, though I’ll likely at least do one for my favourite movies on Letterboxd, which you’ll find somewhere around here), but I have compiled a year-end list that encompasses all of the things I enjoyed, raved about or cried most at during 2014.

[Some of them may not have strictly been released in 2014, but just assume I didn’t know about them until this year, okay?]

Without further ado, and in the hopes that the following will entertain or illuminate in some measure, I end as I always do: wondering whether or not I crammed enough good stuff into the past twelve months (and whether or not it was worth avoiding all the work I ought to have been doing).

In no particular order, these are my highlights of 2014:

10. The Wolf of Wall Street

Yes, it counts because I’m British, dammit: Martin Scorsese’s depraved and joyous ode to New York’s degenerate stockbrokers was released on the 17th January in the UK. In the spirit of the rule-bending nature of Scorsese’s most refreshingly vulgar and energetic movie in at least a decade, I’ve never paid to see The Wolf of Wall Street.

9. Trees

Trees by Warren Ellis

Trees by Warren Ellis & Jason Howard

My favourite new comic of 2014 comes, somewhat predictably, from my favourite comics writer (Warren Ellis) in a year when he came back to the graphic medium – after a sojourn in literary and audio/visual realms – with a trio of equally acclaimed but incredibly different books: Moon KnightSupreme: Blue Rose and Trees.

The latter trumps the other two, for me, because of the ambitious scope of its fascinating sci-fi story: One day, alien structures landed all over the world. Ten years later they haven’t budged, and humanity has to deal with that. The plots of the first arc span many continents, races and attitudes towards the trees and other humans, and as the final issue of the year lands on New Year’s Eve I can’t wait to see how Ellis (and his partner in crime, Jason Howard, who can flit from bustling Chinese street scenes to desolate wintry landscapes in the turn of a page without ever seeming like he’s struggling) sets the stage for next year’s stories. Read it if you aren’t already.

8. Serial

Serial

If you know me personally and we’ve ever had a conversation about podcasts then I’ve probably raved to you about how great This American Life is. If you don’t know me personally (or you do and I just haven’t mentioned it to you) then imagine that we’ve had that conversation. And start listening to the silky tones of Ira Glass immediately.

Anyway, Serial took the world – or Twitter, at least – by storm when it started its first season three months ago, and having the backing of This American Life surely contributed in no small part to that popularity. The story host/producer Sarah Koenig tells is, as you might have gathered from the title, episodic in nature and entirely gripping from start to finish. It’s a real-life mystery that’s 15 years old and full of humanity and emotion and tragedy and I pretty much started crying on a bus like a crazy person when I finished the last episode. I don’t really want to ruin it for you so I think you should just go and check it out now. It’s truly an immersive story and endlessly fascinating, and I consider both of those things to be of enormous value.

Listen to it here.

7. HhhH

HhhH by Laurent Binet

HhhH by Laurent Binet

 

This is the first of several items on this list which were actually released way before 2014. I read HhhH this year, however, so my conscience is clear.

Put simply, HhhH is the best piece of historical fiction I’ve ever read. (That means so very little when you know how little historical fiction I’ve actually read.)

Put less simply, Laurent Binet’s first book doesn’t contain a trace of fiction in it (except the fabrications and embellishment that he willingly admits to committing) and is one of the most honest and compelling explorations of someone’s fascination with an unbelievably true story since…well, I would say Serial but I guess that would be kind of anachronistic.

HhhH is about the assassination of The Butcher of Prague, Reinhard Heydrich, by two Czechoslovakian parachutists in 1942. It’s also about the author’s struggle to tell the story with all of the facts intact, even when his writerly instincts pull the story in other directions. The part I always sell the book with to other people is the passage in which Binet compares his collapsing relationship with his girlfriend to the devastation he imagines a Russian general must have felt upon losing a crucial battle with Poland in 1919.

Which I suppose might say a lot about me. Anyway, it was probably the best book I read this year, and I read a lot of great books in 2014.

6. Europe

Okay, that’s kind of a big thing to have as one point, I guess, but it’s my list and I’ll do what I like with it.

I did some travelling on the mainland over 10 days in the summer – Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Holland, not necessarily in that order – and it was illuminating in a great many ways, not least of which being the fact that I’d never actually travelled east of the English Channel before. The details of HhhH were in my head as I walked through war museums in Berlin and Amsterdam and coloured in the cold statistics and stark photographs I saw. I revelled in the anonymity being in a foreign land with a million other tourists gave me, although I wasn’t alone in my travels.

As with any worthwhile trip, not everything that happened in my time abroad was positive. I left the U.K. in a relationship with the person I was sat next to on the plane and returned as a single man – but still sat next to that same person. Now isn’t the time to go into such matters, but let’s just say that what happened in Luxembourg was for the best. And that thing I said about illumination still applies here.

5. The Leftovers

The most depressing, emotionally devastating TV show of the year came courtesy of HBO and the man who many blamed for the follies of some of the most questionable blockbusters in recent years: Damon Lindelof. The screenwriter of Star Trek: Into DarknessPrometheus and the co-creator of Lost, Lindelof looked to be struggling to achieve anything approaching a coherent creative goal until The Leftovers hit my screen with a gut-punch I won’t soon forget.

Taking the current zeigeist of rapture/end-of-the-world scenarios and twisting the premise to focus not on where the ‘saved’ people have gone but where those left behind can possibly go now, the series based on Tom Perotta’s book of the same name got its hooks into me early with its mix of stomach-wrenching character drama, beautiful camerawork and stellar soundtrack and left me howling with despair at season’s end. Not just for the series’ cast and their respective parades of misery (Christopher Ecclestone’s embattled preacher and Carrie Coon’s truly tragic Nora Durst are particular standouts), but also because I was going to have to wait nearly a year to find out what happens next.

Not that there’s all that much of a cliffhanger, mind; Lindelof seems to have gotten that bad habit out of his system, at least for now, and The Leftovers’ first season ends in a narratively satisfying manner. I just want to see all the characters again so I can hug them all…even though I know it wouldn’t make anything better.

4. Inside Llewyn Davis

The best-soundtracked movie of 2014, and in a year when Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross scored one.

Inside Llewyn Davis is probably my favourite movie of the year, for more reasons than just the music – though that’s a huge, inextricable part of it. The titular musician is a tragic, unsympathetic character who I still ended up rooting for, his journey an absurd and occasionally mythic one, his friends like ghosts he’s all but forgotten the moment he slips out of their lives once more. And the songs themselves? Like all good musicals, the numbers tell us everything that Llewyn won’t tell anyone in person, which makes his public engagements all the more heartbreaking when you really actually listen.

Oh, and it’s hilarious from beginning to end. But it’s a Coen Brothers movie, so you already knew that.

3. Young Avengers/The Wicked + The Divine

Young Avengers

Gillen and McKelvie went from strength to strength this year, and boy do they know it. For those out of the comics loop, writer Kieron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie ended a universally-praised run on Marvel’s Young Avengers at the beginning of the year, tying up what Gillen had referred to as his defining statement on teenagers. We laughed, we cried, we cooed at McKelvie’s uncanny ability to turn floorplan layouts into slick action scenes and we mourned the closure of one of Marvel’s freshest books in recent memory.

A couple of months down the line the duo returned with a brand new comic about a pantheon of gods reincarnating once every 90 years and the 17-year old girl who gets mixed up with them. So they’re not quite done with teenagers yet, although The Wicked + The Divine certainly tackles heavier themes than Young Avengers (which was itself by no means angst-free).

The Wicked + The Divine

Anyway, people went banana-balls crazy for WicDiv and it’s not hard to see why: not only are McKelvie’s fashions sharper and his subjects more beautiful and nuanced than ever, but the story itself digs into those most intertwined of subjects: fame and death. Though that’s perhaps putting it a bit glibly, those are the twin focuses of the comic – how people react to fame (both having it and wanting it) and what it costs them. Oh, and the gods are basically rock stars, including a Lucifer who’s basically a female David Bowie. That part’s fairly important.

And having it told from the perspective of another teenager is a great excuse for Kieron Gillen to be overly verbose and mess around with captions in the way that only Kieron Gillen can get away with. The talented bastard.

If any of that sounds interesting to you, I’d recommend picking up the first trade, The Faust Act, which collects the first five issues. It just came out so you’ve time to catch up before the second arc kicks into high gear.

[Sidenote: I was going to fill half of this item with spite directed at the above creators for not coming through on their long-awaited third volume of Phonogram this year, but they’ve given us so much brilliant new stuff that it seems ridiculous to punish them for not retreading the old. Still: the bastards.]

2. Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

Yeah, I don’t know how I’d never heard this before. I listened to the first couple of tracks on Spotify, then bought the album, then didn’t take it out of my CD player for three weeks.

Yes, I still have a CD player. I don’t know what to say about The Suburbs, really – I’ve never been good at writing about music, much like I’ve never been good at playing it – except that listening to the album feels like you’re inhabiting a world that Arcade Fire have created in its entirety, complete with broken swings, childish dares and 20th-century pipe dreams. It’s a record of adolescence in all its naive beauty and contradictions. And I think that’s kind of special.

Special enough, I guess, to include a 2010 album on a ‘best of 2014’ list. What can I say? I’m an iconoclast.

[And yes, I am aware that Reflektor came out last year. I’ve heard the title song, but it’s likely to be 2017 before I give the whole thing a whirl. I’ll probably still have to put it on my CD player.]

1. Boyhood

What better way to segue from The Suburbs, a collection of childhood stories and hopes than Boyhood, a coming-of-age story in which we get to see the lead character’s hopes shift and fade (or become a reality) that was being filmed over the entire length of Arcade Fire’s entire career so far? I’m sure you can come up with dozens of better ways, but I didn’t exactly plan this far so I’m happy with what I’ve got.

Richard Linklater is a master chronicler of changes in people over time, and that’s no more apparent (in very different ways) in his Before trilogy and Boyhood. The titular young man, Mason, is shown growing up over 12 years in real time, with some characters staying firmly rooted in his life and others drifting in and out of view, as happens in real life. I connected with the story, characters and emotion of the film in a profound way, and I grew up in decidedly different circumstances (well, if you ignore the fact that both Mason and myself are white, male millennials with artistic leanings), which I believe is a testament to the universality of Linklater’s masterwork. Again, I cried.

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Review: The Shoot

[Originally posted on Nerdly]

Stars: John Adams, Toby Poser, Sam Rodd, John DiMaggio, Claire Denis, Doug Spearman | Written and Directed by John Adams, Toby Poser

The-Shoot-cast

Put simply, this is a mess. And not the good kind of cinematic mess that’s so overflowing with ideas the filmmakers can’t fit them all onto the screen without throwing coherent storytelling out the window. No, this is the other kind of mess – the kind where the script runs out of gas halfway through and the film carries on anyway.

What story there is in The Shoot concerns Tommy and Dougie, a pair of middle-aged rockers in dodgy debt up to their ears who decide that robbing a fashion shoot in the desert is their express ticket to solvency. Tommy’s wife Maddy works as a costumer for the shoot so it’s pretty obvious things aren’t going to go well. Things take a turn for the violent when the hired security/slumming actor with a gun starts taking shots at the duo and the corpses begin to pile up. Dougie inexplicably executes one of the crew and decides that, in order for him and Tommy to get away clean, all the witnesses need to die. Seems reasonable enough.

What follows is not a series of tense stalking sequences punctuated by searing violence but forty-ish minutes of aimless wandering, mean-spirited gross-out comedy and cod philosophising about binary states of morality. Some of these elements could work if the script had a consistent tone or any of the actors seemed vaguely interested in anything happening onscreen, but as it happens everyone just looks like they’re waiting for the next bus.

It says a lot that the best performance in the movie is given by John DiMaggio (the voice of Bender and Jake!) as a politely menacing loan shark. This would be a good thing, except that he only ever appears in one scene early on. Frankly, the rest of the film is so contrived, aimless and frankly boring that I would have much rather the plot shifted focus to DiMaggio’s character and left the utterly charmless leads far behind. Unfortunately we’re left to Tommy and Dougie, who inevitably turn on one another after it’s clear the film’s about to end soon.

Things turn out well for some of the characters until you remember that nothing whatsoever was resolved, but that’s apparently okay because – according to a perfunctory enough final shot – Tommy’s relationship with Maddy was supposed to be the main thing the whole time. I guess that’s why there was that protracted, otherwise completely gratuitous shot of the two having sex at the beginning. Right?

Except Maddy doesn’t have anything to do in The Shoot except be threatened with rape by the loan shark and let the leads know that there are expensive jewels on her set. Her superfluity to the film’s story – other than as a plot device – is even highlighted in that first shot, in which her ceiling-stretched legs are the only part of her visible. She’s barely half a character, which is still more than the rest of the flattened showbiz stereotypes that populate the supporting cast can say.

All of this would be par for the no-budget pet project course if not for the fact that The Shoot was written and directed by John Adams and Toby Poser, who play Tommy and Maddy respectively. You’d think a male/female directing team – especially one that’s presumably also a couple – would push each other to do better when it came to fleshed-out characters, but evidently they got stumped at the earlier roadblock of making their damn film entertaining.

I find it hard to write about this film because it’s difficult to remember anything of importance or interest that happened in it. When even the cast look bored by the movie they’re being paid to be in, how can an audience be expected to put up with this shit? I appreciate the amount of work Adams and Poser put into The Shoot, because according to the credits they did most everything on set. But it seems that at some point they started spreading themselves far too thin to make anything worth seeing, and unfortunately hard work is but one of many ingredients required to make a good movie. If that was all it took anyone could be Stanley freakin’ Kubrick.

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