Tag Archives: movies

The 10 best movies of 2015, as voted by my friends and colleagues

There are always far too many films out every year to make any kind of sweeping judgement on the perceived quality of the work released in that arbitrary period.

Yet as winter rolls around, out come the end-of-year lists to fit 2015 into a neatly-cut box and let everyone know just how great our tastes are. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but this year I thought it might be fun to try something different.

Instead of listing my 10 favourite movies from 2015, I polled a number of friends, colleagues, filmmakers and critics for their top ten lists and compiled a Sight & Sound-esque “definitive” ranking from the results. You’ll see these after the jump, along with comments from some of the contributors and myself.

[A note for pedants: “films from 2015” in this instance means films that were released theatrically in the United Kingdom between 1 January and 31 December this year.]

This is a people’s vote, not a cinephile senate, which means that blockbuster fare ended up occupying more of the top spots than I anticipated. While there is some overlap with S&S‘s end-of-year list, it’s interesting to note that many of the films missing from ours will likely never be seen by some of the pollsters.

Myself? I want to see everything from the arthouse to Roadhouse – and I don’t believe that the final goal of a film should always be to entertain – but I can totally appreciate the populist escapism for which most audiences go to the movies, and I think the following list reflects that…

…While also managing to slip a couple of modern masterpieces in there. Continue reading

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Letterboxing: 22 Jump Street

[This review originally appeared on my Letterboxd page as part of my ongoing efforts to watch 365 new movies in 2015. Yeah, I know.]

As a dramatic device, The Bromance is fairly limited. There’ isn’t a whole lot you can do with a platonic relationship between two heterosexual men once you’ve established them as BFFs.

Unless, of course, your name is Phil Lord (or, um, Christopher Miller. Or both? Wow, this went sideways real fast). In which case you can have Cate Blanchett to do whatever comes to your hyperactive, joyfully imaginative mind(s) and push the concept of the bromance to – and beyond – its logical limits. The relationship between Shcmidt and Jenko is pitch perfect, not least because of the a-game performances from Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill. This is a big-budget, balls-out and downright hilarious Hollywood romance between two guys that cherishes the value of characters you understand and care about. And for a movie about undercover cops at college who shoot people and blow things up for a living, I’m as surprised as anyone that it works as well as it does.

But that’s the magic of Lord & Miller: they can take the goofiest, most soulless concepts and fill them with heart and humour because they so clearly love telling entertaining stories. Shout-outs are clearly due to the 5+ screenwriters who worked on the script, but you can bet your sweet ass that the directors were all up in that thing too.

What about specifics? Well, for a a sequel that spends so much of its first act thinly veiling jibes about how rubbish and full of unnecessary spectacle most sequels are, 22 Jump Street pulls off both making things bigger for the sake of an inflated budget and telling a story with the same characters that isn’t just a greatest hits of the first movie. That’s a tough job, but they pull it off with aplomb.

But the real question you, unknown but probably attractive reader, really want answered: is it better than the first movie? Well…no. 22 couldn’t beat 21 largely because it didn’t have the surprise factor a Jump Street reboot actually working the original had. That said? In my book, 22 Jump Street is exactly as good as the first movie. My life won’t ever be changed by either of them and I’ll never experience any profound revelations regarding friendship (or, for that matter, police work) from watching these movies, but they’re such good company that I love them all the same.

[Actually, I might have regained some respect for Ice Cube as an artist purely because of that facial expression he delivers to Jonah Hill’s character in one delicious scene.]

Oh, and it should go without saying that this film contains about 18 of the best credits gags in movie history. (But I said it anyway.)

Can’t wait for 2121 Jump Street.

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Whitewashed Films & White Guilt


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


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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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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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


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


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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Review: Billy Club

[This review originally appeared on Nerdly]

Stars: Marshall Caswell, Erin Hammond, Nick Sommer, Max Williamson, Mark Metcalf, Mathew Dunlop | Written and Directed by Drew Rosas, Nick Sommer


I’ve always had a soft spot for slashers with a decent gimmick, so I was delighted when Billy Club‘s penchant for baseball-related violence was revealed. Too many horror movies are content to stick to the humdrum formula of having a nondescript masked killer stalk the nubile teens of Camp Lake Name with no more of a unifying theme than having surfboard impalements be the chief cause of death; not so this film. Here bats, balls, diamonds and even – especially – pitching machines all have a central role to play in the slaughter of Billy Club’s innocent-but-not-quite-so-innocent victims, and the movie is all the more enjoyable for it, despite some ultimately negligible production flaws.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. The film’s story chiefly takes place fifteen years after a set of grisly murders on a Little League baseball field (which we see in juddering but effective flashback) where we meet Bobby Spooner, a softly-spoken James Dean wannabe who’s reunited with his old baseball buddies Danny and Kyle in self-proclaimed former tomboy Alison’s bar. After catching up and establishing an appropriate level of sexual tension between Alison and Bobby, the gang decide to play some ball and reflect on their dearly departed teammates before inexplicably deciding that heading to their dead coach’s forest cabin and getting loaded is the perfect way to memorialise them.

Oh, and some homeless guy gets brutally murdered by a psychopath in a fetish catcher’s outfit with a spike-ridden baseball bat in the first scene. But that probably won’t have anything to do with the rest of the movie, right?

Wrong!  No sooner do our lovable bunch of goofy hicks and the central couple arrive at the aforementioned cabin than the batter arrives to take them all out one by one. There are some grisly moments, certainly, and the villain himself serves exactly the right purpose in looking like someone I’d run a million miles from if we ever crossed paths, but much of Billy Club is firmly entrenched in horror-comedy territory, with one of the death scenes in particular being an abject lesson in farce. I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say that psychedelics are involved.

All told, there actually isn’t a whole lot of murder to be found in the movie, as Billy Club‘s latter half mainly develops the relationships between the three leads (there’s a somewhat unconventional love triangle between Bobby, Alison and Kyle, of whom the latter two used to date) and, crucially, sheds light on the bullying incident fifteen years ago that connects the past and present murders. The revelations of the story are convincingly put across, with some younger performers in flashback sequences giving even some of the adult actors a run for their money. And while it’s no surprise to discover who’s really behind that catcher’s mask, the climax – ending up at the same diamond where it all began – nicely ties the film together with the ribbon that is an on-the-nose but extremely satisfying victory for the forces of non-psychopathy.

That all sounds simple enough, and I’d be perfectly happy with the movie I’ve just described. However, there were some minor elements that I could have done without, like an almost completely unnecessary subplot involving a police detective and a couple of other red herrings that threatened to lead into interesting territory but ended up adding nothing but running time. But that’s not to say I ever stopped enjoying Billy Club or got bored; I was on board for the whole ride (all 90-ish minutes, the perfect length for a throwaway flick), which is really the best thing you can say about any film, right?

While there were some technical tics that would give me pause in a studio-produced film – on the whole, the cinematography is clear and consistent, but it occasionally tries to be artier than it can pull off; some of the acting comes off as hammy and insincere, but that might just be down to the occasionally tin-eared and expository dialogue – the confidence with which the filmmakers tell 90% of their story on what was clearly not the highest budget shines through and ends up making Billy Club  far more than the sum of its parts.

And for a film like this – for any film – that’s a goddamn home run.

[Sorry. I couldn’t resist!]

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Review: Blood Soaked

[This post originally appeared on Nerdly]

Stars: Rachel Corona, Laina Grendle, Lauren Myers, Heather Wilder | Written and Directed by Peter Grendle


I’m not sure where exactly to start when talking about Blood Soaked. I considered including a brief plot synopsis so that I could more freely associate with whatever other elements of the film I felt required more discussion. I thought about opening with my surprise that there was archive footage of Adolf Hitler in the opening credits. I even wondered if I’d be called out for bad criticism form for considering just second-screening the rest of the movie ten minutes in.

But really, I can’t talk about anything in Blood Soaked before I talk about its technical limitations. And, really, “technical limitations” is a generous euphemism. The quality of filmmaking on show in much of the film is on par with the worst of what some of my classmates were doing in film school (and I didn’t even go to a good film school). The entire first scene, in which two young girls attempt to resuscitate their dying father using a syringe of a formula that we’ll later learn turns folks into zombies, is barely comprehensible due to a combination of epileptic camera movements and the monotonous screams of the two girls. Fortunately, the first issue is resolved fairly quickly. Unfortunately, sound problems plague the entirety of the film that follows.

Now, the screener I was given to review may not be the same version of the film that everyone else who’s seen it was subject to, but the fact that it was packaged and endorsed by the film’s distributor, Wild Eye Releasing, doesn’t give me much hope. The sound kept going slightly out of sync in the first ten minutes, with characters’ dialogue barely matching up with their mouths. I thought it was a problem with my browser, paused and unpaused the video repeatedly to try and fix the issue. But halfway through, I knew it definitely wasn’t me, as there was a chasm between onscreen actions and their accompanying sounds. Not only that, but the audio clearly wasn’t mixed to a standard level as I needed to keep changing the volume in order to hear the dialogue comfortably. These kind of problem makes for a pretty unwatchable film, in my opinion. It’s hard to know whether the movie I watched was the one its creators intended to make or simply the result of a series of cock-ups at every stage. From what I could gather from this muddled vantage point, Blood Soaked is full of thinly-drawn characters, near-comedy violence perpetrated for the sake of the most basic social commentary imaginable and a fatal lack of tension.

It may seem like I’m picking at relatively unimportant threads, but let’s be serious here: when we’re being entertained, there’s a baseline of quality we expect, even with low-budget grindhouse fare such as this. The fact that Blood Soaked couldn’t live up to even my lowest expectations of a no-budget slasher should set off alarm bells to anyone. And are we really okay with being presented with frankly amateurish fare like this and being told it’s good enough to be on our shelves? I don’t mean to come off as elitist – I’ve worked on my fair share of micro-budget productions, and I have no delusions about their quality – but I’m afraid that with the current wave of independent films, self-distribution and a move away from studio-controlled properties that there’s no clear indicator of the watermark for movies like this any more. I want films to be good, and I’m not inclined to let one get away with being far less than that just because it was independently produced, because indie filmmakers have more to prove, not less.

All of which is to say that Blood Soaked isn’t deserving enough for a proper critique as it’s not really a proper film. I couldn’t tell you who to blame – though the director, production company and distributor would probably all be good bets as they’re all responsible for letting such a shoddy product work its way into my eyes and ears – but whoever’s responsible needs to start trying a hell of a lot harder if they want people to start treating their movies like movies.

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Blue is the Warmest Colour

I saw Blue is the Warmest Colour in a packed Picturehouse cinema the other day. It was impossible to go into that film – as is the case with pretty much every movie at present – without being all too aware of the hype and pseudo-controversy that surrounds it, and as such it was pretty difficult not to be disappointed by much of it, though the combination of being sat on the second row from the front in a subtitled film and said film having a 180-minute running time may have contributed to a certain exhaustion I felt by the time the credits rolled.

A primer for those not in the know: Blue follows lead Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a French high-schooler and ravenous eater, over the course of several years as she experiments with her sexuality and falls in and out of a very intense love with Emma (Léa Seydoux), a slightly older woman.

That’s more or less it, and the trailer gives you a pretty good sense of the tone – if not the pace – of the thing:

I’m not going to go into any great detail, but I’ll just mention where I think Blue is the Warmest Colour works best and where I think it fails.

Good things first: the film is most alive, vibrant and emotionally engaging when there’s conflict on screen. Whether it’s Adele getting into a fight with a former friend over her closeted lesbianism outside the school gates or Emma forcing a tortured confession of adultery out of her soon to be ex-lover, never more than in these scenes does the movie feel like it’s got a full-blooded, racing pulse and makes me need to know what happens next. Of course, it makes sense – story is conflict, as the old maxim goes.

Which is why great swathes of the film don’t work quite as well, being given as they are to languorous passages where nothing of great import happens…very slowly. The heightened moments are too few and much too far between to work as effective punctuation in between the extended lulls. Adele might be eating spaghetti with her family while they watch TV, for example, or we might be treated to one of the many graphic, overlong sex scenes between her and Emma which, after the first minute of the first one – don’t further the story or tell us anything new about their relationship. These scenes actually end up being so long that the context of where they belong in the story and just become short, exquisitely shot sex movies.

I suppose that might be the point of them after all – the characters are so lost in each other, both emotionally and physically, that we fall into that world as well – but I really never felt like I knew either of the central characters well enough to get that intimate with them and was left feeling pretty cold by these sequences. Add to that my creeping concern that the director (Abdellatif Kechiche, who co-wrote the screenplay with Ghalya LaCroix from Julie Maroh’s comic) is much more interested in Adele’s body than her mind and Blue is the Warmest Colour takes on an unnervingly pervy perspective at certain points: Adele is constantly shown in close up, often eating insatiably (at one point she even tries to consume Emma’s hand); similarly, we’re subjected to several scenes that contain little but Adele dancing to music for minutes at a time; and opportunities for gratuitous nude shots are taken without hesitation, e.g. the leery vertical pan of the lead’s whole naked body as she showers.

There’s merit to the film, for sure: I admire the naturalism of the performances and the construction and deconstruction of a relationship are well-told, even beautiful at moments, but it all too often feels like being beautiful is the aim of the game instead of something with more substance.

At one point, a male character talks about the “mysticism” of a woman’s experience during sex, comparing it to a transcendental moment of bliss and something profound. The female characters present scoff at this, but I suspect that Kechiche aligns his beliefs much more with the former than the latter and can’t help but feel that another director – most likely a woman – could have created a much more accurate representation of female sexuality.

As a final thought, I’d like to offer up Frances Ha as a much shorter, richer and genuine exploration of female relationships, both with other women and men. Written by its star, Greta Gerwig, and director, Noah Baumbach, the story it tells feels much more on the same level as its characters, dealing in their mundanity, neurotic failures and minor triumphs with warm humour and pathos rather than – like Blue is the Warmest Colour – attempting to give epic weight to drab family dinners and keeping an oxymoronically scrutinising yet distant eye on its players.

The two certainly wouldn’t play together well as a double bill but are well worth comparing, especially given that there’s a much more complete story told in Frances Ha‘s 90 minutes, half the length of Blue is the Warmest Colour. It’s appropriate that the film’s original French title translates as The Life of Adele: Chapters 1 & 2* given that it’s got about as open an ending as you could ask for and really feels like it could do with a proper conclusion…not that I’m asking for (or even really interested in) a Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight-type continuation here.

Actually, here’s my final final thought: there’s a great movie hiding in Blue is the Warmest Colour, but a skilled editor – like Michaelangelo staring at a hunk of marble – would need to cut at least an hour out of the film to find it.

*Such a pretentious title. Why two chapters? Why does a life only warrant two instalments? Fun fact: Julie Maroh’s original comic (which is actually only credited as “freely inspiring” the film) translates to the movie’s English title, which to me stinks of Kechiche wanting to take even more ownership of the project than he already had. But that might just be me.

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