My Hero Academia and the Horrifying Nature of Quirks

My Hero Academia is one of the most bizarre anime series I have ever seen. Not because it’s challenging, or intricate, or even that high concept, but because it lacks any semblance of logic. Now, that’s not to say I don’t like My Hero Academia. On the contrary, I watched both seasons with great enthusiasm, and enjoy much of the comedy, action and characters. However, when you really think about the setting, and the concept and apparent boundless nature of quirks, it is really quite strange and even horrifying.

I started thinking about this when the character of the Principal was introduced, who is essentially a very small polar bear. He is, according to the Wikipedia entry, a rare case of an animal manifesting a quirk, which is the show’s name for a super power. His power is that he has super intelligence, and thus he is treated just like a human, and is even in charge of Japan’s most prodigious school. Imagine the logistics of that — one day a polar bear is placed in charge of your education. You could devise a court room drama about him fighting to be recognised in society.

But if that seems outlandish, know that a dog is in charge of the police force. Unlike the Principal, the Police Chief appears to have been born human — only his head is that of a nonchalant beagle.

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In the show, people are either born with their quirks, or they manifest by age four. That means one of two things: either his mother gave birth to a baby with a dog’s head, or one day as a child, he woke up in the morning to find his human face had warped quite spectacularly into a canine’s face. I wonder what would be more horrifying. Imagine the struggles this man has known and all he has overcome to reach the respectable heights of Chief of Police.

He isn’t the rarest specimen, though. During one of the early story arcs, the protagonists are attacked by a league of villains, many of whom sport terrifying features. There’s somebody with a Venus flytrap for a head, one is literally a black hole, and some are just beyond description. Just look at that cyan-coloured dinosaur thing and that paper man plastered in eyes. No wonder these people are villains, what do they have to live for!

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Being born a monster is difficult enough, but imagine you’re born a regular person, only to lose your humanity one day when you transform into an abomination. Forget Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and the chilling imagery of Cronenberg’s The Fly, the real horror stories are in My Hero Academia.

Early on in the story, the protagonist is terribly upset that he does not have a quirk of his own, but in a world where you could end up a monstrosity, I would count my blessings. The characters themselves are never fazed, though. Nobody bats an eye when some nightmare fuel walks past, and even the weird looking ones are strangely content. At one point, Mina — who is a pink skinned girl, with black scleras and wonky horns — proudly declares herself the alien queen. That’s some quality self-assurance, right there. What a world it would be, where humanity more closely resembled an unearthly population of creatures. I would probably die of trauma if I awoke one day to find I had turned into a boulder, but these people rejoice.

Now, I know this is an action shounen series, and you could rightly deride me for taking it all so seriously, but it isn’t a straight-forward parody like One Punch Man. It takes itself seriously enough for me to take it seriously, and when you create a functioning, fictional world, you generally expect some semblance of sense. My Hero Academia is a special kind of ridiculous, but I kind of love it for that reason. Half the time I’m watching with a befuddled expression, but it’s so outlandish that it’s fascinating. It’s unproductive, but I love to ponder at the would-be traumatic pasts of all these surreal looking characters.

Watched This Month: April 2016

Hello, Captain! Welcome to another edition of Watched This Month. After pretty much two solid months of television, I’m finally catching up on some movies! I also recently joined letterboxd, which is essentially a film-focused social network that enables you to track and rate everything you watch. Give me a follow if you’re also set up over there and I’ll stalk you back. Also, I’ll make note that some of my ratings over on letterboxd may differ slightly to those I’ve given here because of the ability to award half stars. I wish I could hand out half stars on my blog, but there doesn’t appear to be a code or symbol for them and I’m not too fond on using an image as they look different depending on the browser and/or device and I’m all about order and consistency. Anyway, on with it!

Film Rating
Hail, Caesar! (Dir. Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

The Coen brothers’ latest film follows Eddie Mannix, a Hollywood ‘fixer’ who is employed to protect and disguise the private lives of film stars. In the film, ‘Hail, Caesar!’ is a huge production that is halted by the kidnapping of its lead actor. Eddie Mannix begins proceedings to have the actor returned, all the while juggling with his usual daily duties such as dealing with the ever-persistent press and tending to an assortment of film stars embroiled in personal affairs.

The film is roughly shot in segments as Eddie Mannix travels from production to production for his work. Each set is beautifully and attentively crafted and all are brought to life by the wonderfully illustrious cast.

Come the end, it wasn’t as gripping as I anticipated it to be, but Hail, Caesar! was nevertheless charming, frequently funny and terrifically written with an assortment of masterful dialogue. In many ways, I saw it as the Coen brothers’ love letter to cinema and a fine piece of endearing and pleasurable light viewing.

★★★☆☆
Kung Fu Panda 3 (Dir. Alessandro Carloni and Jennifer Yuh)

The third film in the Kung Fu Panda series is more of the same, as we follow Po’s everlasting journey of self-discovery with more kung-fu to learn and a new villain in tow. I absolutely loved it, though. Just like the first two films, Kung Fu Panda continues to sound like a silly idea on paper, but is – in actuality – a highly stylistic film with a lot of heart and some expert comedy.

My only gripe with the third installment is that the film struggles to have a serious moment. Oftentimes the drama is lightened by a moment of silliness or some comical dialogue. The comedy itself is great – with even some of the less pronounced jokes worthy of an audible chuckle – but it’s a step back from Kung Fu Panda 2, which blended action, drama and humour so well.

Nevertheless, the film is an absolute blast with barely a dull moment. As ever, Jack Black is perfect as Po and I was glad to see Jackie Chan had a couple more lines this time around. Furthermore, J.K. Simmons and Bryan Cranston were wonderful additions who really brought their characters to life (though it is a shame Simmons’ villain Kai wasn’t was well developed as previous antagonists) and the film itself is so gorgeously animated and designed that – should the story fail you – at least it’s glorious to look at. The action sequences are also stunning and live up to everything precedent.

Kung Fu Panda 3 completes one of the finest animated trilogies around, but apparently there are no less than three more films planned. DreamWorks have done exceedingly well so far, but I wonder if the franchise will fatigue going into a hexology.

★★★★☆
New York, I Love You (Dir. Natalie Portman, Shunji Iwai, et al)

A collection of eleven short films by a variety of directors all set in New York City and revolving around themes of love or sex. Some are great, others not so much.

I watched the anthology due to Shunji Iwai’s involvement and (unsurprisingly) I found his short film – which stars Orlando Bloom as a composer stuck reading Russian literature – to be one of the most interesting. The plot was more satisfying and complete than most, though it wasn’t my favourite.

I really loved Shekhar Kapur and Natalie Portman’s segments. Kapur’s follows a suicidal opera singer (Julie Christie) who checks into a hotel and is befriended by a doleful bellboy (Shia LaBeouf). It’s delicately shot and very melancholic in tone. Almost everything I see of LaBeouf outside of Transformers I find entirely affecting; he’s a wonderful enigma of an actor.

Portman’s film is possibly the shortest, but I found it nonetheless emotional and also quite solemn and bittersweet. It follows a ballet dancer (Carlos Acosta) as he spends a day with his daughter, before handing her back to his ex-wife and her new partner. The daughter is played magnificently by Taylor Geare and though Acosta is actually a real life ballet dancer rather than an actor, I found his performance very nuanced and touching. It’s a very wistful and stirring few minutes that the format of a short film is able to portray immensely.

I also enjoyed Faith Akin’s short, which follows a painter (Uğur Yücel) obsessed with a local shopgirl (Shu Qi). Eventually he asks her if she’ll sit for him, but she declines. It’s another melancholic tale (I seem fond of those) tackled beautifully.

Sadly, I didn’t care for much else, which is why the rating isn’t so great. But if you have a couple of minutes to spare, a short film can be a great use your time. Sometimes I would much rather watch a collection of shorts over a feature, as there are often a couple of hidden gems and the format and low budget nature of shorts allow for a lot of artistry and creativity.

★★☆☆☆
Picnic (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

Picnic is a Japanese short-film helmed by one of my all-time favourite writer-directors; Shunji Iwai. There are two slightly different versions: a 67-minute cut and another at 72-minutes. The one I have is the 67-minute version.

The film follows a trio of mentally unwell 20-somethings – Coco, Tsumuji and Satoru – who are all patients at a psychiatric hospital. They long for the outside world but are forbidden to leave the walls of the asylum. However, they believe as long as they don’t go beyond the wall, they aren’t violating any rules, and so they climb up onto the wall of the institution and explore the surrounding city by walking along the walls and never touching the ground. Before long, they have a chance encounter with a priest who introduces them to the Bible. Tsumuji misinterprets a portion of the text and believes the world is ending soon. Thereafter, they hunt for the perfect spot to picnic and witness the end of the world.

First and foremost, the film has a very intelligible portrayal of the mentally ill; displaying to great degree how the simplest of phrases can have multiple interpretations. Furthermore, in such a short space of time, the audience grow to have such a tremendous understanding of Tsumuji and – to a lesser degree – Coco. The characterisation is magnificent, with Tadanobu Asano and Chara (who play Tsumuji and Coco respectively) truly excelling (fun fact: the two met on the set of Picnic and married a year later).

The cinematography is typically Iwai – very dreamy and quietly alluring – and the music is well implemented and accentuates well the enchanting tone of the film. Despite the almost fantastical quality of Picnic, however, some sequences were rather haunting (well one, especially). Tsumuji has hallucinations of his old homeroom teacher, who is portrayed to a very effective and disconcerting degree by a puppet. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s one of the most visually unsettling sequences I have seen in a while.

Picnic is one of the strongest and most comprehensive shorts I have seen from Iwai thus far; as emotionally engaging as April Story come the end, with excellent development for a short work. Iwai often ends on bittersweet tones and I have a feeling some of the imagery from Picnic will stay with me for a very long time.

★★★★☆
Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1974 (Dir. Julian Jarrold)

On my quest to watch Andrew Garfield’s entire filmography, I have come to the Red Riding trilogy, which chronicles almost a decade of police corruption, organised crime and serial murders in Yorkshire.

The first film – set in 1974 – follows Yorkshire Post journalist Eddie Dunford (Garfield) as he investigates a series of child murders he believes to be connected. His investigation uncovers massive corruption in the West Yorkshire Constabulary and Dunford finds himself embroiled in a dangerous world with no one to turn to for help.

Garfield is on-point as cocky Northern reporter Eddie Dunford; his accent is convincing and the character is very layered and compelling. Sean Bean also stars as a rather vicious and shady real estate developer. As vile as his character was, I found his performance utterly captivating.

The film starts off as a bit of a slow burner, but picks up during the second half. The climax was thoroughly gripping and though it’s the first in a trilogy, I felt the movie also worked well as a stand-alone story.

The opening Red Riding installment is an absorbing work of neo-noir and I can’t wait to see where the sequels go given the ending. Furthermore, Andrew Garfield’s earlier work continues to impress. The Red Riding trilogy was released two years after his film debut in Boy A; it’s amazing to see what powerful and impassioned characters he debuted with.

★★★★☆
The Jungle Book (Dir. Jon Favreau)

I’m not the biggest fan of Disney’s animated collection (with my favourite being the seldom mentioned Hercules), but like many, I have fond memories watching Disney’s The Jungle Book in my childhood and was curious to see this fused digitised, live-action rendering.

Faverau’s version is an enjoyable romp and a blockbuster with a little more soul than most, but to me it never became great. As per the original, Mowgli’s journey remains a satisfying and delightful tale and many of the characters retain their lovable characteristics and/or memorability, but I never felt particularly engaged. The film could have done with some more development for a couple of its characters (especially the wolves) and the death of a significant character – a prime opportunity to garner some strong emotional investment – was all but glossed over.

I wasn’t too keen on some of the singing, either. The nod to the Bare Necessities was great, but King Louie’s song seemed a little stilted and out of place and served as a reminder of the original more than anything.

Furthermore, it seems as if the ending was altered to allow for the opportunity of sequels. I’m not too sure how I feel about that, but who knows – they could be good. The whole environment and setting of the film was brilliant (although it was at times geographically skewed) and if they continue to perfect that then – if nothing else – they can crank out some visual marvels. The effects were a real stand-out aspect and display absolutely how convincing artificial, computer-generated environments can be.

I also loved the voice cast. Bill Murray and Ben Kingsley were near perfect as Baloo and Bagheera respectively and Idris Elba is stunning as the domineering Shere Khan. His voice is suitably commanding and sinister.

Neel Sethi did a good job as Mowgli considering he was likely acting alone against a green screen, though I did feel his expressions were somewhat wooden a couple of times throughout and some dialogue was unconvincing, but it’s nothing that distracted me from the character or the film.

The Jungle Book is by no means a bad film, but I was never able to lose myself in it like you should in a great adventure. It’s a film with a lot of spectacle and one I can certainly enjoy, but not one I truly believe in or can get behind.

★★★☆☆
The Witch (Dir. Robert Eggers)

I’m not the biggest fan of the horror genre, but there are a couple of horror movies that I do believe are rather tremendous. The Witch is one of them.

Set during the 17th century in New England, The Witch follows a family excommunicated from the Christian plantation on which they live. They set up a farm on the edge of a forest and settle in to a new way of life, but when new-born baby Samuel vanishes, their lives begin to go awry and eldest daughter Thomasin carries the brunt of the blame.

The Witch isn’t an in-your-face kind of horror. It doesn’t rely on jump scares (though there are a couple) or excessive gore. Instead, it builds an eerie sense of discomfort and a strong unnerving atmosphere. Like the aliens in Dark Skies and the creatures in The Descent, there are small glimpses of the eponymous witch very early on, and much of what’s frightening is the very knowledge of this crone and the families confusion and denial to accept their situation.

The dialogue is mostly based on writings from the time the film is set and is thoroughly unique and immersive. The cast, too, inhabit their characters terrifyingly well and in many ways, the film is more about the Thomasin character than the witch or anybody else. She is portrayed near flawlessly by Anya Taylor-Joy (whom I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more of from now on) and the characters’ journey and progression is enveloping and very well developed.

It took me a little while to digest The Witch, but the more I think about it the more it grows on me. Definitely a film to add to my ‘must watch horrors’ list.

★★★★☆
Tokyo Fist (Dir. Shinya Tsukamoto)

Tokyo Fist is my first film from Shinya Tsukamoto. I’m aware of the directors massive cult status and had often wanted to explore some of his work. I’m not sure Tokyo Fist was a good starting point, but it certainly had a very distinctive and ferocious style, which I’ve read is Tsukamoto’s signature.

The film follows a business man who takes up boxing in an effort to seek revenge against an old school friend (who is now a semi-professional boxer) he suspects is having an affair with his fiancée.

I believe I went into Tokyo Fist with the wrong expectations. I started watching it thinking it was a boxing film, but in many ways it’s more akin to a horror than a sports drama. This – combined with Tsukamoto’s very explosive style of filmmaking – threw me off a little. I came away from it slightly haggard; it’s been a long time since I watched anything so intense and strangely unnerving.

The film depicts a lot of rage, both in the characters and in the way the film is constructed. The way it’s cut, the sound effects, the choreography in the action sequences – it’s fierce, powerful and violent. The films depiction of boxing and vehement fury are unlike anything I have viewed before. Tsukamoto’s directorial style certainly seems very unique and I’m interested in exploring it further, but I feel I need to give Tokyo Fist another go to really appreciate its artistry. It’s very chaotic and tumultuous and at times oddly distressing. It’s difficult for me to work out how I feel about it, which is something I haven’t felt about a film in a long while.

★★☆☆☆
Undo (Dir. Shunji Iwai)

I believe Shunji Iwai is one of the most interesting contemporary directors around and I always go into his films with a sense of excitement and wonder. Iwai has a very distinctive style; often utulising muted colours and a somewhat dreamy quality, with a large focus on observation and tone with less a reliance on dialogue. Undo is very much an Iwai movie, but I wasn’t as drawn in as I have been with his other work thus far.

The 47-minute film follows a couple whose relationship has become somewhat stale. Things begin to unravel after the girlfriend develops ‘Obsessive Knot-Binding Syndrome’ and begins tying up everything in sight.

As with most of Iwai’s work, there’s no clear-cut way to explain Undo. It’s a pensive piece and one I won’t hesitate to admit I don’t fully understand, but that’s what I love about Iwai. His films require working out, but even then, there’s no explicit interpretation. From Undo, I took the girlfriend’s knot-tying syndrome as a cry for help to her boyfriend, who fails to satisfy her or their relationship. In the end, she repeatedly requests he “really” tie her up but the boyfriend can’t adequately fulfill her desires, thus she relents he doesn’t understand or gratify her and disappears.

I appreciate the artistry of Undo and it is beautifully shot, but I wasn’t absorbed by the film as I often am by Iwai. Needless to say, I didn’t particularly connect with the characters and the film didn’t seem to have as much substance or heart as some of the directors other short work, namely April Story and Picnic. I’ll probably revisit Undo at a later date in an effort to take something more from it, but thus far it’s one of my least favourites from Iwai.

★★☆☆☆

As usual, onto television next. I finished the second season of Better Call Saul this month and as you’re all probably aware, the hotly anticipated sixth season of Game of Thrones premiered on April 24th. I also returned to anime after a lengthy break. Next month it’ll be more Game of Thrones and the third season of Peaky Blinders will be hitting our screens. May 5th, mark your diaries!

TV Show Rating
Better Call Saul, Season 2 (Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould)

A largely satisfying albeit very moreish climax to a superbly written series edging ever closer to the creation of Saul Goodman.

Gilligan and Gould continue to show they can barely put a foot wrong as Season 2 perfects upon everything that was great about Season 1. Jimmy’s characterisation remains impressive as his relationship with his brother Chuck continues to sour. We’ve already had some explosive drama surrounding the two and I can’t wait to see the final tipping point.

On Mike’s end, looks like a major player from Breaking Bad will enter the fray come Season 3. Now we wait!

★★★★☆
ERASED a.k.a. Boku dake ga Inai Machi (Dir. Tomohiko Itō)

I returned to the world of anime this month following a recommendation by 1 Nothing Please. If a series has both a manga and an anime adaptation, I would usually always go for the manga, but as I am backed up with a lot of manga at the moment and don’t like to be reading an awful lot at the same time (and given how well received the anime adaptation of ERASED was), I opted for the anime this time around.

ERASED is a twelve episode series that follows Satoru Fujinuma, a 29-year old dejected mangaka. Satoru has an extraordinary ability he labels ‘Revival’, which sees him whisked back in time a couple of minutes without warning in order to avert some sort of accident or tragedy. Satoru has to figure out what’s wrong in any given scenario and amend the situation, so that he can prevent any wrongful doing from ever happening.

However, after the murder of somebody close to him, Satoru is sent back 18 years to when he was a child. He realises the murder may be connected to a series of abductions that involved several of his classmate and that this might be his chance to uncover the mystery, save his friends and make everything right.

I love a good mystery and it’s a genre that has been portrayed tremendously in both anime and manga. I watched ERASED over the course of two days and found it to be an incredibly absorbing story, though not without its flaws.

The series does have some predictable elements (it isn’t very difficult to work out who the antagonist is) and one or two odd red herring-like moments that are very misleading for seemingly no reason.

Besides that, though, it’s an enthralling tale of mystery, friendship and love that is tackled with just the right amount of finesse. I felt the first half was stronger than the second, but everything came together wonderfully come the end, so much so, it deserves its spot as one of the more stirring and well produced anime series of recent times.

★★★★☆
Game of Thrones, Season 6 (Created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss)

From Better Call Saul onto Game of Thrones. It’s been wonderful having a constant stream of quality television to watch recently. Thus far, only the first episode of Season 6 has been broadcast, but so far so good. I enjoyed the premiere a lot more than Season 5’s, though the Sand Snakes and the Dorne plotline continue to tire.

The writing for Dorne and its characters has been rather lackluster; going in bizarre directions, not sufficiently developed and with a lot of cringe-inducing dialogue. I’m hoping we spend much of the screen-time elsewhere this season, because everything else is far more absorbing.

Melisandre has always been very enigmatic, but more than ever I’m intrigued to see which direction her characters goes and Lena Headey continues to display such raw emotion that I almost feel sorry for Cersei.

Bran is back next week! Remember him?

★★★★☆

That’s all, Captain. This is the most mammoth Watched This Month thus far! I always go on longer than I intend to, but you don’t mind, right? Watch anything exciting this month? Let me know! I’m always looking for recommendations. Thanks for stopping by and see you again.

Watched This Month: March 2016

Hello again, wayfarer! Welcome to another addition of Watched This Month. We’re in March now and on time this month. I’m actually away for a couple of days come tomorrow, so I’m glad I could finish this first. I’ve gone and binged on a lot of television again, though I managed to fit a film in this time, too. Let’s get into it!

Previous: Watched This Month: February 2016

Film Rating
Deadpool (Dir. Tim Miller)

Deadpool is the first Marvel film I have truly enjoyed in quite some time. Many of the superhero blockbusters that have been gracing our screens for the past couple of years just don’t do it for me. I enjoyed almost all of the first installments, but from then on every sequel seemed like more of the same and the stories and characters became very tiresome.

Eventually I stopped watching them altogether, but I wanted to check Deadpool out as it seemed like a genuinely fun movie and I loved the humour and charisma of the character from what I had seen in the comics and from playing as Deadpool way back when in the Marvel: Ultimate Alliance game on Wii.

The tone is set right from the opening credits: this movie is self-aware and will not take itself too seriously. The latest Marvel films have always been chock-full with quips and comedy, but attempt to balance it with the drama. Audiences seem to enjoy it, but I think it makes for a slightly odd tone where you can’t really take anything seriously and there’s barely any genuine tension.

Deadpool is a lot more straight-forward; it sets out to be nothing more than a thoroughly exciting and humorous romp, which it succeeds at entirely. It’s a comedy-action film with a lot of soul that never loses it way. It’s the breath of fresh air that the Marvel cinematic franchise needed and, for me, shows so much how the X-Men universe is far more enticing than the Avengers.

★★★☆☆

And now – television! I finished Breaking Bad and moved onto Better Call Saul. The 4th season of House of Cards was released this month, too. Besides these, I also watched the latest series of Britain’s Next Top Model and Australia’s Next Top Model. You probably wouldn’t guess it, but I love the Next Top Model franchise. The British version returned from a two-year break and the 9th series of the Australian version was just all-around great, but I won’t bore you by going on about my favourites (Alex, Izi and Bethan) and discussing how I kind of like reality shows! On with the proper discussion…

TV Show Rating
Better Call Saul (Created by Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould)

I moved onto Better Call Saul shortly after finishing Breaking Bad. At the time of writing this, a total of 16 episodes have been broadcast. Ten in the first season and so far, six from the second.

Saul was one of my favourite supporting characters from Breaking Bad, so I was ecstatic there was a spin-off based on him. Though – before I had seen Breaking Bad – I remember wondering how good a spin-off based on a supporting lawyer character could be, but it turns out its popularity is well-warranted.

Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould continue to work their magic and craft Saul’s – or rather, James “Jimmy” McGill’s – backstory into something genuinely enticing, heartfelt and believable. It’s not just about Saul, however, as thus far many other supporting characters have featured. Mike – another fan favourite – is given masses of depth with his own backstory that at times has a stronger focus than Saul’s. Though audiences know where these characters end up, the storylines are extremely gripping and much of the tension and excitement is finding out how these characters become who they are in the Breaking Bad timeline.

Gilligan has spoken of the series’ potential longevity and a third season has already been green-lit, so here’s hoping we have a lot more Better Call Saul to come. Furthermore, Gilligan has hinted that many more Breaking Bad characters will feature in Better Call Saul and – if the situation is right – even Jesse and Walter could appear. There have already been two sequences with Saul post-BrBa, so perhaps there will even be a season or episode(s) set during the initial Breaking Bad timeline. It seems as though the series is still in its infancy, which is a wonderful feeling, as I’m looking forward to following these characters for many more years to come.

★★★★☆
Breaking Bad (Created by Vince Gilligan)

So, here we are. I’m part of the club, outdated as it may be. I’ll try not to repeat what everyone has already said ad nausea, but I must applaud this show. Breaking Bad fully deserves its enormous praise; it lives up to all the hype and thensome. I went into the series knowing how it ends, yet I devoured all sixty-two episodes in just over two weeks and not once did I feel the show was tedious or that the tension had been diminished by my knowledge of the ending. It was thoroughly enticing from beginning to end, with more stand-out moments than there are episodes.

I’ve always loved Bryan Cranston and he gives such a convincing, phenomenal performance in Breaking Bad it’s as though he was born to play Walter White. Aaron Paul’s Jesse Pinkman, too, was just amazing; so incredibly layered and entirely engrossing. Two such absorbing characters could completely outshine the supporting cast, but surprisingly that’s never the case. The entire Breaking Bad universe and every single episode comes together on such a tremendous level, that I am so glad I didn’t have to wait a week between episodes let alone months between seasons.

Come the end, I was surprised by how tragic a character Walter White is. The scene in the final episode where he essentially says goodbye to his family really got to me. Until then, everything had been for the sake of his family – or at least, that’s what he told himself – but now there’s nothing and what’s more, they despise him. The scene where Walter watches his son return home was absolutely hard-wrenching; throughout every season their relationship had been so strong, but now his son has denounced his name and will never recognise his fathers legacy. Walt watches on, though – one final time – and walks calmly to his demise. He fulfills Gus’ words: “A man provides… and he does it even when he’s not appreciated, or respected, or even loved. He simply bears up and he does it. Because he’s a man.”

If I am disappointed by anything, it’s that I can’t rewatch the series as though it were fresh, but hey… we have Better Call Saul, now! The Breaking Bad universe lives on.

★★★★★
House of Cards, Season 4 (Created by Beau Willimon)

I hate to use the term back on form; it’s such a cliche phrase, but it describes Season 4 of House of Cards completely. I never got fully behind Season 3; it certainly had its moments, but the plot wasn’t as gripping as the prior seasons and Claire’s character went in a peculiar direction. Season 4, though, is one of the strongest yet.

Frank’s political maneuverings are ever-captivating and the Underwood dream-team makes for completely engrossing viewing. Furthermore, a number of supporting characters have returned and shake up the story in new and exciting ways. Frank faces some truly turbulent times this season and at times, the drama is phenomenally tense. The dialogue is on-point, as are Frank’s asides and the ending scene – without giving anything away – rivals the spine-chilling knock from Season 2.

Truly, an absolutely exceptional season. I finished Season 3 a little haggard – certain parts really did feel as though they dragged – but I finished Season 4 completely ecstatic and eager for more. I can’t wait to see what direction House of Cards goes next; it appears as though it has diverted entirely from the source material at this point.

★★★★★

That’s it for this month. I still have a huge back catalogue of films I really want to get around to, so I’ll try and give some of those a watch in April, but Game of Thrones returns, also. It looks amazing, if they trailers are anything to go by. Until next time!

Watched This Month: February 2016

Greetings, everybody! We’ve just snuck into March, which means we’re slightly overdue another addition of Watched This Month. February looked to be a slow month at first (after I devoured more than 35 hours of film and television in January), but then I got into a certain TV series, which has been eating away at my time ever since.

Previous: Watched This Month: January 2016

Film Rating
I Saw the Devil (Dir. Kim Jee-woon)

My first foreign language film of the year (long overdue). I Saw the Devil solidifies my belief that South Korea is home to some real pioneers of gritty, revenge thrillers. Byung-hun Lee stars as a special agent plotting revenge for the murder of his fiancée through a series of captures and releases. Min-sik Choi of Oldboy fame plays the big bad and – as expected – he’s terrifyingly good.

The cinematography is gorgeous and – though I felt the film was perhaps a little too long – I can’t commend the writing enough. Both the plot and the main cast are absolutely absorbing. I went in looking forward to Min-sik Choi, but it was Byung-hun Lee that stole the show. To see his character decline from a seemingly lovable fiancé who sings to his wife-to-be over the phone, into this morally ambiguous beast of a man – almost akin to those he’s hunting – was fascinating. Lee felt very authentic and I can’t wait to work my way through his filmography.

It’s gritty and gruesome, but also beautiful and fascinating, albeit in very dark ways. If you’re in the mood for a superbly grisly and utmost rousing film, look no further.

★★★★☆

Just one movie this month, but I haven’t been slacking (honest). My time has been devoted to some long overdue television.

TV Show
Rating
Breaking Bad (Created by Vince Gilligan)

Yes, I know. I’m way behind. Never mind jumping on the bandwagon; the bandwagon has long since come and gone.

I remember back during my first year of university, my classmates and I had to record an interview one day (nothing serious — we just needed to get used to the recording equipment as part of our journalism class) and my group wound up with me asking everybody questions about Breaking Bad, because I was the only one who hadn’t seen the show. It makes me laugh, thinking about it now. How naive I was. Despite the gushing praise given by my classmates, I continued to avoid this clear marvel of television for whatever reason. But now I’ve arrived and I’ll tell you, being able to marathon it is wonderful.

At this moment in time, I am three episodes into the final season. Since starting Breaking Bad almost two weeks ago, I have watched perhaps four or five episodes a day, so it’s difficult to comment on individual seasons since it’s all blurred into one. Commenting on anything at all seems a bit inane, though. Everyone has heard it all before by this point, but I can’t sing its praises enough. You know a show is special when it causes you to recall every series you’ve ever loved and consider whether they compare at all. I’ll offer some proper thoughts when I have watched the final thirteen episodes, but if you are like I was and haven’t seen Breaking Bad… wait no longer. Watch it, please.

★★★★★

Not a lot of individual things to comment on this month, apologies about that. By the end of next month, I will have finished Breaking Bad and also the fourth season of House of Cards, which is due for release in only four days. I’ll probably also want to devour Better Call Saul coming from the inevitable Breaking Bad high, so a lot more television next time!

Watch anything exciting this February? Let me know in the comments!

Watched This Month: January 2016

Greetings, ronin and welcome to the first edition of ‘Watched This Month’. We’re starting off – sensibly so – with January. Just in case you have no idea what’s going on; this is a monthly blog post detailing every film and television show I have watched in the past four weeks, regardless of when they were first released or whether I have seen them before. Last year, I only saw about fifty movies, but we’re at eight this month already! Any film or TV show that I have previously discussed in detail will be hyperlinked. I try to keep organised; I hope the table layout is easy to navigate and pleasant on the eyes!

Previous: Watched This Year: 2015

Film Rating
Anomalisa (Dir. Charlie Kaufman)

Anomalisa is one of those films where – after viewing – you need to have a little think to decide how you feel about it. It’s certainly well crafted, but I can’t help but feel slightly indifferent towards it.

It’s a stunningly bleak film and one of the most reflective pieces I have seen in a long time, with multiple avenues of interpretation; perhaps it’s a commentary on the monotony of life; or possibly a story of a man so warped by the falseness of the service industry, he has become disassociated with a faux society; or perhaps it’s a tragedy with deep psychological roots.

There are many layers to Anomalisa and I’m sure it will grow ever-more profound and poignant to those who enjoyed it, but come the end it felt rather insipid to me. I absolutely appreciate the themes, the writing and the animation, but it failed to rouse my emotions. I didn’t find it at all gripping and though I feel it has reasonable substance, I have no desire to watch it again. It left me thoroughly conflicted.

★★☆☆☆
Don Jon (Dir. Joseph Gordon-Levitt)

A mildly entertaining yet fairy unexceptional film. Don Jon is coherently put together and features some incredible talent, but never quite piqued my interest enough. Feels like it contained some important messages about vanity and the age we live in, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care. Scarlett’s character had a very nice watch, though.

★★☆☆☆
The Grand Budapest Hotel (Dir. Wes Anderson)

In my ‘Watched This Year’ blog post at the end of 2015, I wrote about how I finally wanted to get around to The Grand Budapest Hotel. Well, I watched it a day later and I loved it. Ralph Fiennes and Tony Revolori were absolutely riveting together and then there’s the phenomenal supporting cast – phew!

An absolutely marvellous film full of character. I enjoyed The Life Aquatic and loved Moonrise Kingdom, but The Grand Budapest Hotel trumps them both. It’s high time I delved into the rest of Wes Anderson’s catalogue.

★★★★☆
The Little Prince (Dir. Mark Osborne)

My favourite animated film of the year thus far and it’s going to take an awful lot to dethrone it. The Little Prince is utterly beautiful and completely solidifies my belief that Mark Osborne is an extraordinary filmmaker who has yet to put a foot wrong.

★★★★☆
The Peanuts Movie (Dir. Steve Martino)

Or ‘Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie’ as it’s melodically called in the UK. An adorable film, lovingly written and pays homage to the original comic strip and television series while also appearing modern and fresh. Gutted it was overlooked at the Oscars. What a bunch of blockheads.

★★★☆☆
The Prestige (Dir. Christopher Nolan)

Slowly working my way through Christopher Nolan’s filmography. The Prestige is a fantastic film; exquisitely performed and well written, with many unforeseen twists. It hasn’t stuck with me as much as I anticipated, though. Insomnia remains my favourite thus far, with only Memento left to view.

★★★☆☆
The Royal Tenenbaums (Dir. Wes Anderson)

The day after seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel, I watched The Royal Tenenbaums and my admiration for Mr. Anderson grows evermore. A superbly charming film with such absorbing characters brought wonderfully to life.

★★★★☆
The Woodsman (Dir. Nicole Kassell)

A tremendous film on an incredibly sensitive subject. Kevin Bacon plays a convicted child molester recently released on parole. It’s an extremely thought provoking film, understandably so.

Bacon’s character is neither light nor dark – at times you feel disgust towards him, but at others you want to feel sympathetic and sometimes you feel as though you need to second-guess his actions – which produced very conflicted and nervous feelings from me as the audience.

Kevin Bacon delivers an Oscar-worthy performance and the writing and subject matter are both handled sensibly. The Woodsman is certainly a film for a rational audience and one of the more powerful and pensive movies I have seen in recent times.

★★★★☆

And now onto television! Just three different series so far; one rewatch, one disappointment and one masterpiece. I’m not sure what TV I’ll be watching in February, but House of Cards returns in March and Game of Thrones will be back in April!

TV Show
Rating
Crashing (Created by Phoebe Waller-Bridge)

A cliche-ridden mess, with dialogue that made me wince and characters so banal there’s more originality in a re-run. The humour is tasteless and repetitive and while the setting has traces of intrigue, everything else is so drab and tiresome that it never amounts to anything.

★☆☆☆☆
Fargo, Season 1 (Created by Noah Hawley)

There was some clunky dialogue, a little forced exposition and a couple of far-fetched coincidences, but I absolutely see what makes Fargo so popular. On the whole, it is an all-around fantastic show. For the few lapses in the writing, there are so many highs; some truly shocking moments of tension, utterly wonderful flows of dialogue – effortlessly delivered – and remarkable characterisation. Martin Freeman is perfect as Lester Nygaard – so absorbing that I actually missed him whenever he was off-screen – and Billy Bob Thornton is incredibly villainous yet so charismatic and fascinating, that you almost want him to get away with everything so his devious antics never end. A thoroughly tremendous first season.

★★★★
Fargo, Season 2 (Created by Noah Hawley)

Took everything that made the first season so fantastic and elevated it to even greater heights. The story has an arguably larger scope than the first season and I was slightly hesitant that could possibly detract from the shows quirky, small town tone, but despite all the differences, it never lost that Fargo ambiance. The cinematography and editing were always on-point, with the split-screen effect an unconventional but entirely fascinating way to present a number of sequences. The ending seems like it would perhaps split audiences, but I adored it. I also appreciate that the audience are never spoon-fed any details; a lot of it is in the subtext and I loved that some of the more unusual moments go without explanation.

This season is – in ways – a prequel to the first, as there are a couple of recurring characters. Due to this, I thought much of the tension could be potentially lessened given that the audience already has a good idea of who will come out alive, but I was shocked to find this wasn’t the case. The writing never falters and when Fargo gets tense, your heart will need some recuperation time afterwards. Rarely have my eyes been so glued to the screen during a TV show. Furthermore, the cast absolutely shine. In the first season, Martin Freeman was my captivation; it was never dull and the other characters were compelling in their own ways, but I was always very glad whenever it returned to Freeman. In season two, however, every single character had a compelling persona and a comprehensive back-story or part to play. Had I actually watched the second season of Fargo when it was broadcast last year, I would have undoubtedly placed it as my favourite series of the year (which I eventually gave to This is England ’90).

★★★★★
Game of Thrones, Season 5 (Created by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss)

Watched season five for the second time as my girlfriend wanted to catch up with the series before season six. My thoughts remain generally the same; it’s a strong season with some tremendous moments (especially in the last three episodes), just not as great as it has been. It’s always more satisfying being able to marathon it, though. The earlier episodes didn’t feel as though they dragged like I seem to remember.

★★★

That’s it for January. I hope you’ve enjoyed the first edition of ‘Watched This Month’ and stick around for the follow-ups. I’m very open to recommendations, so let me know if there’s anything in particular that you would like me to check out.

See you again.

Movie Review: The Revenant

Title: The Revenant
Director: Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Screenplay: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro G. Iñárritu
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson
Released: Dec 2015 (US Limited), Jan 2016 (US & UK)


Inspired by true events, The Revenant is a survival epic set during the 1820s in the American West. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Hugh Glass – a frontiersman and fur trapper – who is mauled to the brink of death by a grizzly bear and ultimately abandoned by his companions. Glass endures unimaginable pain and grief, but refuses to succumb to his injuries, with a desire for vengeance driving him from death.

The Revenant is a story of the unrelenting human spirit and – in the directors own words – the hollowness of vengeance. It’s a brooding piece, with DiCaprio giving a stunningly psychical and quietly emotional performance. Glass is a reserved character – with his past revealed in dream-like sequences interspersed throughout the film – but is driven by absolute love for his family. The character doesn’t have many lines – partly due to his throat being torn by a bear – but his expressions and the absence of dialogue are just as powerful as any monologue.

The cinematography is nothing short of stunning, with the Canadian and Argentinian locations starkly beautiful, but also haunting and at times hypnotic. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki wanted to shoot only in natural light to maximize the realism and has wholly succeed; creating a gritty and honest visual flare. The film is at times very gruesome, but rather than contrast with the beauty of the locations, it lends to the films physicality.

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One of many things I loved about The Revenant was its refusal to cut away. Emmanuel Lubezki and director Alejandro González Iñárritu have put together some absolutely engrossing and visually impressive imagery, with the bear mauling of particular note. Throughout the film, there are many tracking shots and a number of lengthy single-shot scenes, which further add to the films authentic aesthetic. It’s no holds barred – no frustrating cuts and some wonderful scene composition, depicting not only the grandeur, but also the ugliness of nature.

The plot in The Revenant isn’t particularly complex in the same way that the plot in Brooklyn isn’t particularly complex, but both succeed through the performances of the cast, which add real weight and emotion to an otherwise straightforward story. Furthermore, The Revenant is shot in such a meditative way that the story becomes something more; the film and its brooding, honest quality sticks with you post-viewing. Arguably, the films style outweighs its substance, but it is nevertheless an engrossing and epic tale, and in the almost three hour runtime, I didn’t think of it as overly long nor tiresome.

When DiCaprio isn’t on screen, Tom Hardy steals the show as fellow trapper John Fitzgerald. Hardy’s character is gritty, blunt and compellingly cunning; opposite to DiCaprio’s character, he’s outspoken and deceptive. The character is behind a number of the films edge-of-your-seat moments, during which I found myself eyes wide and mouth agape.

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Between these two trappers are a number of other mountain men, varying indigenous tribes and a group of French traders, but they are mere sub-plots and at many times simply an avenue to hammer home some gritty messages. The Revenant is set during a troubled time and the setting and much of the imagery is haunting, but the film is very much focused on DiCaprio’s character; it is ultimately his story, but I do wish many of the other characters weren’t as one-note, which may have lent to a more multi-layered plot.

The music is outstanding. Ryuichi Sakamoto is a masterful musician and his score – in collaboration with Bryce Dessner and Alva Noto – is atmospheric and evocative. The film lacks any sort of memorable melody or theme, but includes a number of multi-layered pieces that evoke the beauty and the harshness of both mother nature and human nature. The score is cold – like the setting – and has a very unique, distinct tone.

The Revenant is an extremely impressive film – one of those ones which becomes more of an experience. It’s visually stunning and powerfully performed; it’s a film of magnificent scope and grandeur, but at the same time feels very personal. It’s beautifully poignant and one of my favourites of recent times.

Movie Review: The Hateful Eight

Title: The Hateful Eight
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth
Released: Dec 2015 (US), Jan 2016 (UK)


I must confess, I am not the biggest fan of Quentin Tarantino. I enjoyed Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, but I could never get into Kill Bill and the other half of his filmography has never mustered much enthusiasm from me. Though, with that said, I found The Hateful Eight quite interesting.

Essentially, it’s a story of a bounty hunter on his way to deliver a prisoner and collect his bounty, but – you guessed it – something gets in his way and drama ensues. What I found intriguing, though, is that along the way it develops into a whodunnit and becomes almost theatrical.

Half way through, Tarantino starts talking…

“About fifteen minutes has passed since we last left our characters”, he says.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this off-beat narration at first, other than to think it totally broke the immersion, but then I got it. The film is essentially a cinematic version of a stage play.

The film is comprised of six different ‘chapters’ very reminiscent of acts in a stage play, we have an all-knowing narrator offering important exposition, almost all of the film is set in one location, comparable to a theater set and the story is extremely dialogue-driven.

It’s unconventional, certainly, but it really worked and I’ll be shocked if Tarantino isn’t up for Best Original Screenplay.

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I’ve studied theater and playwriting quite extensively at university and was very indifferent towards it at first, wishing I had more film classes instead, but before long I found my footing and was later surprised by how my knowledge of playwriting aided my screenwriting. With a play, you just don’t have the freedom a film has (particularly in editing). You can’t whisk in and out of scenes, the set may only change a dozen or so times and it’s difficult to show minute details, so you can’t rely on show-don’t-tell storytelling. As a result, you have to write some really great dialogue to keep the story rolling and your audience interested.

I feel that dialogue is one of Tarantino’s strengths and presenting the story in such a theatrical way with a limited set really allows his writing to excel. There is a lot of talking in The Hateful Eight, so don’t go in expecting an action romp, but the film doesn’t dull. It’s at times extremely tense, at others very emotional and surprisingly, also quite funny. Tarantino hasn’t missed a beat and I enjoyed the writing so much that I feel I should now go back and reassess some of his films I couldn’t get into on first viewing.

The cast are wonderful, fluently delivering the compelling dialogue. Samuel L. Jackson plays an intriguing bounty hunter named Marquis Warren and is – not surprisingly – a highlight, but I also really enjoyed Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Walton Goggins as John Ruth, Daisy Domergue and Chris Mannix respectively. Michael Madsen’s Joe Gage is the only character I feel was somewhat underutilised, but he nevertheless played a fine something’s-up-with-this-guy character. The exchanges between Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins were some of my favourite moments, along with the “Close the door!” gag.

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Despite being shot on 70mm, the film doesn’t boast copious amounts of scenery or panoramics, as it’s largely set inside a cabin named ‘Minnie’s Haberdashery’, which the audience get a wonderful feel for. The cinematography is generally great and the lighting superb, though there is some heavy-handed imagery. Of course, the Tarantino blood and violence is also present. I have seen some label it as his self-indulgence rather than self-expression at this point and while things do get a little crazy during the final act, given the nature of the characters and their professions, I feel the violence is well warranted.

Ennio Morricone once again collaborated with Tarantino on the score. Sometimes I find the music somewhat distracting in Tarantino’s films, but this wasn’t the case in The Hateful Eight. The score was predominantly on-point, though nothing stood out to me as particularly stunning. Morricone was apparently pressed for time whilst creating the score and even used some left-over tracks from when he worked on The Thing. Music is always so very subjective, but while I feel it was used well in The Hateful Eight, I also feel it could have been much more.

All in all, I enjoyed The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s writing is ever-impressive and I’m glad he’s tried something new with the theatrical presentation. The music hasn’t bowled me over, though die-hard Tarantino fans will probably love it and despite the film operating very much like a stage play, Tarantino’s style isn’t lost along the way and it certainly feels like a Tarantino film. I don’t think it will go down as his best film, but it is certainly one of the better ones and definitely worth your time.

Best Movies of 2015

It’s that time of the year again — list season! This post is going to be all about my favourite movies of 2015 and my have there been some fascinating contenders. Last year I did my top five, but this time I’m going a slightly different route with my top ten, because this year there are more than five films I have fallen in love with.


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Special Mention: The Danish Girl (Dir. Tom Hooper)

First off, we have a special mention, which goes to The Danish Girl. Initially, I was interested in this film due to the involvement of Eddie Redmayne, but it was Alicia Vikander who stole the show. I didn’t enjoy The Danish Girl as much as I thought I would—though it’s still a wonderful film charting the lives of two very enchanting individuals, through pleasure and pain—but Alicia Vikander was the film’s pillar and offered up much of its emotional weight. Her performance was incredibly nuanced and though Redmayne’s character was the one undergoing a transformation, Vikander was able to display a tremendous amount of inner conflict; portraying suffering and love from multiple angles. Her performance was absolutely one of my favourites of the year.


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#10. Carol (Dir. Todd Haynes)

At number ten is Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both of whom are delightful and riveting. Blanchett plays a motherly figure in an indefinite slump, after she has fallen out of love with her husband and is forced to fight for the custody of their daughter. Meanwhile, Mara is a lovable but lost young woman, who has her passions but quietly floats through life without leaving a footstep. The two meet by chance and gradually find their voids filled as romance ensues. It’s beautifully shot, with some tremendous and very subtle acting, where Blanchett and Mara communicate wonderfully with just their facial expressions. Plus the score is terrific, with a dreamy principal theme.


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#9. The Martian (Dir. Ridley Scott)

At number nine is Ridley Scott’s The Martian, based on the novel of the same name by Andy Weir, which was only released four years prior to the movie. I’m not the biggest fan of Matt Damon, but I’m beginning to ask myself why, because he’s completely absorbing in The Martian, in which he plays a wonderfully witty character. Much of the film is Damon talking to himself, but the dialogue was compelling and often funny, with Damon’s performance very emotive and powerful at times. Both the cinematography and set design are stunning and though a Martian dust storm would actually be more like a slight breeze, the planet’s surface was wholly convincing and provided some wonderful scenery.


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#8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (Dir. J.J. Abrams)

At number eight is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Star Wars has a very firmly established universe, so it was easy to worry about a return to the franchise. The prequels disappointed many and fans didn’t want anything that would dislodge the continuity or take the original cast in unwanted directions. However, people seemed to warm to the idea once J.J. Abrams jumped aboard, with The Force Awakens ultimately becoming a welcome addition to many. The returning cast were honored well and the new characters filled the youthful void wonderfully so. The effects were impressive and the plot was engrossing, despite parallels with A New Hope. I was tempted to place The Force Awakens higher, but know that’s nostalgia talking and do recognise the film is not without its flaws, so it remains at number eight, but is nevertheless a strong and exciting return to the franchise.


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#7. The Hateful Eight (Dir. Quentin Tarantino)

I’m not the most significant of Tarantino fans, but at number seven is The Hateful Eight. Tarantino’s writing is by far his biggest strength and his dialogue is completely on point here. The theatrical, stage play-like presentation took me pleasantly by surprise and the script is both funny and intelligent. Prior to The Hateful Eight, I can’t remember the last time I saw a decent ‘whodunnit’ on film. The characters were gripping and brilliantly brought to life by the actors and while I thought the music was lacking in areas, the movie ultimately came together as a tremendous piece of filmmaking.


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#6. Ex Machina (Dir. Alex Garland)

Just outside of the top five we have screenwriter-turned-director Alex Garland’s Ex Machina. This is a film that had an interesting marketing campaign—including an AI controlled Tinder profile—but went largely under my radar until just a few days before its release. It’s a film with dazzling intrigue, with Garland effortlessly keeping audiences on edge throughout. The tiny cast excel massively and are all terrifically memorable and convincing. Oscar Isaac in particularly was eerily compelling as tech genius Nathan. I’ve always enjoyed Garland’s screenplays and very much look forward to more of his directorial work, which will be Annihilation in 2017.


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#5. Mad Max: Fury Road (Dir. George Miller)

At number five is Mad Max: Fury Road. I must confess, before George Miller’s latest, I had never seen a Mad Max movie. Unlike with Star Wars, I had no idea what Mad Max was all about and went in with a fresh mind. I’m glad to report that I loved it. It’s a no-holds-barred action romp, with a rather linear and uncomplicated plot that still manages to be tremendously engrossing, complimented by fascinating characters and superb cinematography and set pieces. Tom Hardy is captivating as he grunts his way through the film, but Charlize Theron is the driving force as Furiosa; a sublimely tough character tackled brilliantly. Fury Road is definitely the best action movie of the year.


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#4. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Dir. Alfonso Gomez-Rejon)

At number four we have Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which seemed to come completely out of nowhere to me. I hadn’t heard anything about it, never watched a trailer, but saw it on a whim one day and loved it. It felt largely unconventional and is—as the title would lead you to believe—less about a girl diagnosed with leukemia than it is about film fanatic Greg, who appears in every single scene. The first half was a little slow, but it really comes into its own during the second half and is the only film this year to have made me cry. I’m a sentimental little baby, but I’m sure the final act tugged at the heartstrings of many.


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#3. Whiplash (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

Moving into the top three, we have Whiplash, which is one of those awkward films that half of the world saw in 2014 and the other half saw in 2015. Since it wasn’t released in my location until January and I reviewed it at the beginning of the year as my first movie of 2015, I feel it’s warranted on this list. It’s a staggeringly intense film, with both J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller providing marvelously physical performances. The editing is reminiscent of jazz and the sepia-toned cinematography is beautiful. It’s one of those rare films that comes together on every level; a truly magnificent piece of filmmaking.


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#2. The Revenant (Dir. Alejandro González Iñárritu)

At number two is The Revenant, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy. Following the release of the first trailer, The Revenant became one of my most anticipated films of the year. It looked tense, emotional and raw — and that’s exactly what it was. Shot on location and only in natural light, the film has a genuine physicality to it that has been unmatched this year. The score is unconventional; no melodies, no central theme, but rather layered pieces which evoke the harshness of the film and its locations. It’s advertised as an action revenge piece, but touches upon so much more and DiCaprio commits himself so entirely to the role—even eating raw meat as a vegetarian—that I’ll be shocked if another Oscar nomination isn’t heading his way.


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#1. Brooklyn (Dir. John Crowley)

At number one is the delightful Brooklyn. It has an undemanding plot (in that audiences will be able to follow it with ease), but it’s so fluently constructed and beautifully written, with many universal themes and drama with real weight and authenticity to it that I feel so entirely in love. Saoirse Ronan is marvellous as Eilis, a young woman uprooted from her dreary Irish hometown to the dreamy streets of Brooklyn. Infatuating audiences worldwide, she delivers—without a doubt—my favourite performance of the year.

Complimenting Ronan’s performance is some incredible set design, with the film eloquently exhibiting 1950s Brooklyn despite being shot in Canada. It also features a gorgeous score and alluring cinematography which evolves with Eilis’ character. Brooklyn is a soul-stirring film that grabbed my emotions and gave them a darn good shake, much thanks to the wonderful work of Saoirse Ronan and the fluent directing of John Crowley.


There we have it. For the majority of the year, I didn’t rate 2015 anywhere near as highly as 2014, but things really began to pick up in the latter half and some tremendous films have now come and gone. Looking ahead, I’m eagerly anticipating Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Silence, as I’m a massive fan of both the novel and Andrew Garfield (who I enjoyed this year in 99 Homes). Kubo and the Two Strings and Hail, Caesar! both look brilliant, too. Then we’ve got a horde of comic book movies, new films in the Harry Potter and Star Wars universes, along with two huge video game adaptations in the form of Warcraft and Assassin’s Creed. If those are anything to go by, 2016 looks exciting!

What do you think of my picks? Do we share similar tastes? If not, what else should I be watching? Let me know and I’ll see you next year!

Movie Talk: Creed

Title: Creed
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Released: Nov 2015 (US), Jan 2016 (UK)


I saw Creed today and wanted to offer some quick thoughts. As a Rocky fan, I would place it somewhere in the middle. It certainly has the Rocky feel, but after seven films it’s a little by-the-numbers. Sadly, it didn’t challenge the genre and was often quite predictable, but it was wonderful to be back in the company of a Creed.

Jordan and Stallone both do a stellar job and I also loved Tessa Thompson. The cinematography was on point and I was very impressed by the long takes, especially during Creed’s first professional fight. I also loved the soundtrack and was pleased it nodded to some of the older pieces.

I probably enjoyed Creed more than Southpaw, but the Rocky universe is well established by now and despite the son of Creed route a good direction to take the series in, it felt that more could have been done. We have the stubborn central character with the troubled youth, the aging and reluctant trainer, the cocky bad-boy adversary — all the archetypes are there. Maybe they could have made Creed a bit of an asshole who really blamed Rocky for his fathers death; maybe Apollo could have had a daughter instead of a son; maybe it could have focused on the adversary character a little more to give the final fight some weight — after all, the Balboa-Creed relationship was one of the aspects that made the original Rocky and its sequel so compelling.

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Who knows? Perhaps those were ideas at one point, but just didn’t work as well as the final product. I just hoped for something a little different, is all. When I think of something like Hajime no Ippo—which has spanned over 100 episodes—every fight feels different. There’s always something new at stake; something fresh which gave it weight and emotion.

Then again, this is a Rocky film and I have to ask myself what I really expected. The films have always been uplifting, rags-to-riches tales that have built a legacy and spirit they’re obviously going to honor. I hope I’m not coming across as too harsh, as I did enjoy the film and found the performances and cinematography superb, but I guess I went in with the wrong mindset and maybe I’ll appreciate it more given another viewing.

Is there anyone else out there that found the plot of Creed a little lacking? The film has been critically acclaimed and seems to have resonated with audiences worldwide, so maybe I’m missing something.

I have returned

Howdy, stranger. As is often the case with me and blogs, it’s been eleven months since I popped by. This is, I’ve deduced, because I’m one of those impatient people who wants immediate results. Obviously, though, that’s just not how blogs work (unless you’re famous or established elsewhere). I write a couple of things, publish them and once they’ve sat there for a couple of weeks, I’m like “Did anybody even read this?” and then I give up.

It’s silly, really. Like learning to play an instrument, but giving up after the first week because you haven’t mastered it yet. So I’ve told myself to stop being a moron and write because it’s something I enjoy. If I’m any good at it, an audience will come later, right? That’s what I’m telling myself, anyway.

So, like the wonderful Tobey Maguire exclaimed in Spider-Man 2; “I’m back!” but here’s hoping, unlike Peter Parker, I won’t come crashing down (again) shortly after take-off.

See you soon.