Monday, December 31, 2012

My Five Favourite Films of 2012

I daresay I’m a bit late for the usual end-of-year lists period, but I’m a busy man (sort of) and I don’t have time to see every film that’s out. Nevertheless, I saw lots of films in 2012 more than ever before (I’m sad, I keep track of that sort of thing). Some of them I liked and some of them I hated (The Hobbit – just awful, like expensive fan fiction).

Just a few, I really, really, liked, and out of the really-liked category, here are my favourite five. In no particular order this year, because I couldn’t think of one.
The Hunt
Considering the revelations, mis-accusations and arrests of the past four months, its unsurprising that The Hunt’s distributors wanted to get it out in the UK quick, faster even than  its native Denmark when it comes out next year. This all-too-true tale of a man whose life is destroyed after an accusation of paedophilia couldn’t be more prescient.
Mads Mikkelsen is a nursery school teacher, a lonely divorcee who is accused of the unspeakable. We know from the start the story is fiction, told by a girl with confused feelings for him, due to an attachment borne, ironically, from her own father’s neglect, as well as exposure to her brother’s pornography. When a colleague hears the girl describe acts that never took place, things quickly spiral out of control. The parents not only refuse to believe their children could be lying, but are quick to putting words into their mouths that exacerbate.
The scenario, in which a lack of proper procedures and escalating hysteria condemn a man without trial, is all too plausible. If anything, in real life, the situation might well be worse and even more hysterical. Mikkelsen might be a little too-good –to-be-true in his mostly quiet martyrdom. But besides it’s timely believability, it’s also superbly made, beautifully shot in appropriate cold, foggy surroundings with suspense sequences that are heart-poundingly unsettling.
One of the rarer pleasures of 2012, and amongst its most original, Berberian Sound Studio sees the unfailingly perfect Toby Jones take a job as a sound engineer. His job is the dubbing of a 70s Italian giallo horror, The Equestrian Vortex. Shy and awkward, he’s easily intimidated by the film’s seedy and ruthless producer and director team. And as he creates his grizzly sound effects - breaking celery, assaulting cabbages - he begins to lose his mind and get consumed by his work.
Movie fans love films about films and Berberian Sound Studio offers a double treat; a nostalgic trip to the golden dirty-days of Italian giallo moviemaking, as well as an exploration of how films work, horror specifically. We never see a single frame of the Equestrian Vortex (besides a spot-on title sequence pastiche) but as Jones beats cabbages with a hammer we can’t help envision acts of brutality and interpret his actions as an expression of his repressed anger.
Sound, editing, perspective, POV are all utilised to transfer a rather bland studio (where almost all action takes place) into a place where anything can be possible. Through the power of suggestion any image can be created, with the worst left purely to our imagination. Berberian Sound Studio might not cut it for horror fans looking for something bloody, but it’s an incredibly smart, funny, dissection of movie-making with a clear love for all its cogs and frames (the camera positively drools over film reels and mix tables).
In the end, like its giallo inspiration, style and effect takes precedent over logic, culminating in an entirely ambiguous conclusion where Gilderoy seems lost within his own movie. Suitably, we are left to make of it what we will…
It’s been a good year for Mikkelson, putting in another impressive performance in this multi-layered historical drama. Mikkelson is a provincial Danish doctor, Struensee, who becomes court physician to mad King Christian with whom he appears to be a positive influence. While trying to balance out the King’s behaviour, he becomes close to his Queen. Much too close. And when he becomes frustrated with the court’s inability to deal effectively with plague, he begins to abuse his position to push through new health reforms.
Transcending the usual bodice-ripping tropes, it deals with politics and reform and rather more complicated emotional dynamics. Struensee, a basically morale man, gets in over-his-head and finds the pressure mount as he finds himself not just pushing further and further for reform, but becoming the de-facto ruler of the country. Something which puts him at odds with the orthodox religious court who are most certainly not in favour of modernisation.
Furthermore, the betrayal of his King comes to weigh down hard on his shouldesr. Christian is gradually revealed to be a vulnerable, lonely, emotionally-scarred man-child who has come to look at Struensee as his only friend and the only person he can trust. As he continues to manipulate him, Christian’s guilt mounts, but he is unable to relinquish power. He’s even willing to talk his Queen, the woman he loves, into returning to the King’s bed when the inconvenient matter of pregnancy rears its head.  A Royal Affair is absolutely riveting drama, and shines a light on a startling, little-known period in European history.

Lift-affirming is usually a label that suggests over-earnest, over-done and over-desperate for an Oscar. Nostalgia for the Light isn’t just a philosophical film that can actually make a decent, honest claim to the label, but it’s a solid argument that science and belief needn’t be mutually exclusive.
The launch point for director Patricio Guzmán is the Chilean Atacama Desert, the driest place on earth. This makes it the perfect location for astronomers, and at a huge new observatory scientists research and probe the mysteries of the universe. But while they look at the skies, others visit the desert for darker purposes. Thousands of people, disappeared by General Pinochet’s regime, were buried there, and now their relatives search through the well-preserved bones to find traces of their loved ones.
At first the film presents the gulf between the scientists and the widows as representative of a country that can’t come to terms with its own past. The widows are treated dismissively by many Chileans as chasing the past, but the past is everywhere. The ruins of prison camps remain amongst the desert sands, abandoned but very much part of the landscape.
Yet the film’s message is ultimately positive. Within the observatory, the scientists discuss the big bang and the coming together of life. They hypothesise that every element, from the hairs on our head to the grains of sand beneath their feet have all come from this event, inextricably linking everyone and everything together. Some involved in the observatory’s work lost relatives to Pinochet’s regime, but they take comfort in that sense of being part of something greater, and that this life is only part of a much larger journey. You can keep your Brian Cox, explorations of life, the universe and everything are rarely this beautiful and uplifting.

The Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan has a habit of stuffing his films with so much plot they’re almost bursting at the seams, and admittedly, Dark Knight Rises is the one that finally pops the seam once and for all. There’s a lack of discipline definitely – did we really need the story of the not-so-brave Police captain, or to follow the fate of the henchman of a minor villain from the first act?

Nolan’s third Batman is BIG, so big it could’ve completely fallen apart. But ultimately it hits all the right notes and leaves you exhausted not by the action, the effects or the plot lines, but by sheer investment in the characters and their story. Frankly, the flaws don’t matter: did you feel the rush when Batman reappears for the first time? Or get genuinely choked up when Alfred leaves Wayne Manor?

Dark Knight Rises is big, but never dumb, and the stakes have never been higher. It might be over-stuffed, but the plot is more even and satifsying than the tiring rug-being-pulled-from-under-you back-and-forth of The Dark Knight, even if Bane isn’t quite as charismatic as the Joker. Hardy still does good work as the muscular mastermind, and indeed, not a single member of the cast doesn’t impress. And unlike Dark Knight, it deals with more contemporary material in its attack on Wall Street and its referencing of the 99.9% movement (if not exactly adding to the debate)
And if you compare it to the other the Hollywood effects-laden bohemoths, its achievements seem positively stellar. It’s intelligent and exciting, directed with vigour and the rich cinematography is not harmed at all by the move of most of the action to daylight. It’s got pretty everything you could ask for in a blockbuster movie, with a leather-clad Anne Hathaway the gorgeous icing on the cake.

Honorable mentions go to Sightseers, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, Headhunters and Ted.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Comic Book Villain of the Week


Eye-Scream was a mutant who had the ability to transform in to any flavour of ice cream. On the upside, this allowed him to melt and slide under door and through bars.

Eye-Scream appeared in the one-shot comic Obnoxio the Clown Vs. The X-Men, an unusual crossover where the famous mutants teamed up with the lead character from the comedy comic, Crazy, a competitor to the more famous Mad magazine. Presumably this was designed to raise the magazine’s profile.

Eye-Scream wished to get revenge on the X-Men for ridiculing his powers. This places him within the pantheon of self-reflective characters; presumably he was intended to be ‘hilarious’.

The fact that Crazy ceased publication during the same year is perhaps indicative of this one-off comic’s success.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

November Film Highlights

Read das 50 word blog.

Argo (2012) Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Victor Garber. Dir: Ben Affleck.

Argo 50 Word Film Review
To rescue diplomats trapped in Iran, a CIA man pretends to be Hollywood film maker. Strikes a not entirely easy balance between serious factual drama and the tropes of Hollywood heist capers. Fortunately, Affleck pulls it off with great suspense. If the comedy seems misplaced, it grips when it counts.


Berberian Sound Studio (2012) Toby Jones, Cosimo Fusco, Antonio Mancino, Fatma Mohamed. Dir: Peter Strickland.

Berberian Sound Studio 50 Word Film Review

A meek Englishman’s tasked with creating a soundtrack for a blood-drenched giallo horror. One of 2012’s best-kept secrets; a film about how cinema works. Through the power of suggestion a hacked cabbage or twisted root becomes an act of violence, which the brilliant Jones becomes complicit in committing. Ingeniously good.


Bedazzled (1967) Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Eleanor Bron, Raquel Welch. Dir: Stanley Donen.

Bedazzled 50 Word Film Review

A love-sick burger chef sells his soul to the devil in exchange for seven wishes. Pete and Dud’s improvised drawn-out style isn’t ideally matched to movies, and this could’ve benefited from some trimming. That said, there are many dazzling sequences, it’s funny throughout, and Donen makes a worth contribution.


Rope (1948) James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger, Joan Chandler, Sir Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Collier. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock.

Rope 50 Word Film Review

Two men murder a friend for the thrill, then hold a party with his body in the room. Hitchcock’s real-time thriller doesn’t quite convince; it’s hard to believe straight-arrow Steward – who has his moments - could’ve inspired the Nietzschen philosophy the killers follow. Involving nevertheless; script’s witty and cast strong.


Mighty Joe Young (1949) Terry Moore, Ben Johnson, Robert Armstrong, Frank McHugh, Douglas Fowley. Dir: Ernest B. Schoedsack.

Mighty Joe Young 50 Word Film Review

A girl and her pet gorilla are discovered by a showman and brought to Hollywood. Team behind Kong reunite in this retelling (part send-up) where ape becomes the hero and decadent city-folk get chance to redeem themselves. Animated effects and trick shots are remarkably good, though climax is crazily left-field.


Godzilla (1954) Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura. Dir: Ishiro Honda.
Godzilla 50 Word Film Review

Nuclear tests awaken a prehistoric monster that causes carnage across Japan. The original monster movie is surprisingly grim, focusing as much on resulting suffering and death that result from the explosive chaos. Characters a bit rubbish, but otherwise carried off with charisma and skill, surprisingly moody in its look.


Friday, November 23, 2012

Comic Book Villain of the Week

Mr Banjo

A dangerous spy agent for the axis powers during World War 2, Mr Banjo would transmit massages coded into the tunes he played on his Banjo while pretending to be a busker.

He was described as a "...a master criminal, an ingenious plotter of crimes — a fiend who would snuff out life as easily as he would blow out a candle." After his first scheme was foiled by Captain Marvel, Mr Banjo returned to kidnap President Roosevelt and replaced him with an imposter.

His scheme was foiled again, and after being tried for war crimes, he later joined the Monster Society of Evil, despite not being a monster and being armed only with a banjo. His time with the society was short lived, after one skirmish he was not seen again.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

October Film Highlights

The blog's still there if you want to visit it.

Skyfall(2012) Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney, Bérénice Marlohe, Ben Whishaw, Rory Kinnear. Dir: Sam Mendes.

Skyfall 50 Word Film Review
Bond must save M and MI6 when they’re targeted by a cyber terrorist. Less glamorous, more serious spy return-to-form, with well-timed humour, but lots of angst in-between actioneering, and only a couple of silly moments. Craig, Bardem and Dench are a wonderfully dysfunctional family and Mendes adds tremendous visual flair.


A Cottage on Dartmoor (1929) Norah Baring, Uno Henning, Hans Adalbert Schlettow. Dir: Anthony Asquith.

A Cottage on Dartmoor 50 Word Film Review
A barber’s driven wild with jealousy when the girls he loves gets engaged, leading to a tragic accident. The story’s scant, but this is about the visual expression of emotion – jealousy, anger, desire, despair – and it’s electrifying. There aren’t many films that express the visual language of cinema so powerfully.


Sinister (2012) Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, Fred Thompson, James Ransome, Vincent D'Onofrio. Dir: Scott Derrickson.

Sinister 50 Word Film Review

A writer moves his family into a former crime scene and discovers a box of disturbing films. Concept's strong and takes time developing atmosphere instead of predictable shocks moments, paying attention to character development and disintegration. But doesn't fulfil its potential; script's so-so and slips into clichés. Soundtrack used well.


A Shadow of a Doubt (1943) Joseph Cotten, Teresa Wright, Macdonald Carey, Patricia Collinge, Henry Travers, Hume Cronyn. Dir: Alfred Hitchcock.

Shadow of a Doubt 50 Word Film Review
Charlie wants her Uncle to shake up her family’s dull life, but he has a dark secret. Arguably Hitch’s darkest, where a girl desires escape from small-town madness, but is faced with a horrifying perspective of what exists beyond. Cotten's a revelation as a uniquely disarming psychopath. My favourite Hitchcock.


Lawless (2012) Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Jessica Chastain, Mia Wasikowska, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman. Dir: John Hillcoat.

Lawless 50 Word Film Review
Three brothers in the bootlegging business are targeted by a ruthless, corrupt deputy. A high-quality production, but unfocused - dedicating time to unimportant sub-plots rather than developing more important characters and an arc. There’s also hints of cliché; Pearce’s character in particular being a familiar psycho archetype. Hardy superb again.


The Orphanage (2007) Belén Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Príncep, Geraldine Chaplin, Mabel Rivera. Dir: J.A. Bayona.

The Orphange 50 Word Film Review
An orphan tries to re-open her old orphanage, but a dark secret threatens her new family. A traditional ghost story with an emphasis on developing atmosphere and character; holding back scares, but making them worth the wait. Elegantly shot, what could’ve been a creaky melodramatic ending is rendered absolutely heart-wrenching.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

David Goes to Barcelona: Day Two

The second day, me and Chris hoped to visit the Montserrat Hill Monastery. An ancient high monastery commanding beautiful views of the city and reachable via a quaint old hillside train. After much uphill walking, we found we couldn’t take the train because the queue was massive.

Instead, we decided to go to the nearby Science Museum. This turned out to be the best decision of the weekend. For some reason they have a submarine in the middle of the road on the way there.

The science museum, the CosmoCaixa, boasts stunning modernist design, both outside and in.

When you begin, you descend via a spiral walkway, journeying deep into the earth to explore where life first began.


While all the evolutionary exhibitions were interesting, the big attraction was the indoor rainforest. It was almost 30 degrees outisde, so naturally we wanted to go somewhere hotter.
There was a variety of tropical fish, of all shapes and sizes.


… A small number of tropical birds and animals…

And a number of creepy crawlies.

Then, to really enliven the holiday, we went to see an exhibit about infectious diseases. Apparently this is a glass representation of SARS.

After another fine meal, it was time to go on a tour of old Barcelona, or Catalonia as the locals like to call it.

They like cathedrals in Barcelona; you can’t go through more than a few streets without coming across another one.

Still, they do know how to give them a bit of variety. This one, Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, had a rather nice grove inside it.


But in another recurring motif, this Cathedral took over a hundred years to complete, because the money ran out. And like the Segrada, it ended up with several different styles. In this case some of the features had been taken from another nearby building when that had been refurbished, rather than let its features be wasted.

We were taken to what was once the Catalan palace. The yard here is where executions would take place. They were quite rigorous executions – one chap, an assassin no less, had his skin boiled loose, and was then skinned, dragged around town by horses and then disemboweled.

We then finished the tour with another Cathedral. Then we were shown the memorial for those who died defending the city in the years it was under seige and then conquered by the Spanish. It was a good tour, lots of history; I even remember some of it.

It was a very busy, extremely educational, cultural day. There was almost no time for silliness.


And sadly no time for shopping either.

After one more nice meal of tapas, the short break was over. I flew back the next day, with almost no mishaps. My ticket didn’t say which terminal I was going from; fortunately I guessed right. Then I couldn’t find my way to security, but I followed some disabled people and found my way and it was all ok from there.
And when I got back to Croydon it was a temperate 9 degrees – good old Britain.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Copy Fail: Vodafone

Read this copy and tell me what you think the answer is...

It's down isn't it? The first thing you think of is down. Even if they were trying to be contrary, trying to go somewhere unexpected, it's not unexpected. It's not clever, funny, or memorable, and you probably wouldn't even notice the 'unexpected' answer because the advertising front of a newspaper is an inconvenience that distracts you from the headlines. Once you turn the page, where do your eyes go? 


And being voted the best is quite a big deal too. What a way to crap on your own parade.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

David Goes to Barcelona: Day One

Recently I took my first ever trip to Barcelona, and Spain in fact, in celebration of my friends Droz's 30th birthday. It started characteristically well for me, I arrived to a torrential rain storm and was soaked just going from the plane to the shuttle bus.

Then I found that my mobile (not that most sophisticated grant you) wasn’t picking up a signal. I was supposed to phone ahead to say when I was on my way to Placa Catalunya. Managing to find the bus there, I ended up begging other people on the bus to use their mobile phones. Fortunately, my friend Chris had just happened to have gone to the bus stop at the same time to wait for me, so all was saved.

Our accommodation was not far from the town centre, a B&B that was essentially someone’s flat. It had one of those old fashioned wood panelled elevators, which we used frequently.

After a wet first evening waiting around and then trying to find a restaurant that didn’t exist, we got things going on the next day by visiting Park Guell, an elaborate hillside park designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, displaying his full frothy style.

From these scenes its clear that Gaudi has a thing for cake and sand castles.

And that all manufacturers of ornaments for gold fish bowls have taken their lead from him.
There is, uniquely, an escalator route upto Guell. Shame we didn’t find it until we started on the way back.

After a rather disgusting lunch at an appalling café (fortunately the only culinary disaster of the weekend) we went over to the Sagrada Família, Gaudi’s rather staggering cathedral. One side is quite abstract...

The other more gothic, if it does appear to be melting. The Cathedral has never been finished (and there’s much debate as to whether it should be finished). This is something or a recurring there for cathedrals in Barcelona, of which there are many. All the good ones have taken at least 100 hundred years to get completed.

We were sadly unable to go into the cathedral due to huge queues. We then decided to go to the Picasso museum. Following much walking around in circles, we found that we could get in because of large queues. We spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the sculptures and odd pieces of art along the harbour.

After much wandering about in the evening, we enjoyed a really good meal of tapas and the got badly ripped off at a Ramplas bar. More to follow…