Film, List, Opinion

2015 IN FILM

Looking back on an amazing year in cinema. 

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The end of the year is almost upon us – and what a year it has been for cinema. My Cineworld Unlimited card was put to good use over the past twelve months and I managed to cram in an impressive number of viewings. Whilst there have been a few disappointments along the way, there were also plenty of high points, and even a couple of masterpieces. I have compiled here my top five films of the year – no easy task – with a few honourable mentions for good measure. Let me know what your cinematic highlights were in the comments section!

TOP 5:

BROOKLYN

Director: John Crowley

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domnhall Gleeson

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Chud

It feels like every year cinema is getting bigger and as the MCU and other superhero worlds dominate the box office the human element can be left behind. Richard Linklater reminded us of the extraordinary power of the ordinary with Boyhood last year, and John Crowley has followed suit with Brooklyn – based on the novel of the same name by Colm Toíbín – adding a period setting for good measure. Brooklyn is an understated masterpiece, blending gorgeous visuals with a simple and powerful story, alleviated to near perfect status by the incredibly apt casting  – Ronan has been scooping awards for her central role, and oscar glory is well within reach come February.

On a more personal level, Brooklyn resonated with me much more than I expected it to. The film is about a girl close to my age being torn between her desire to be home with her family and to forge a new life in America, a common struggle that transcends time. Brooklyn is a welcome reminder that a film doesn’t have to have superheroes or CGI to impress.

Read my review of Brooklyn here.

ME, EARL AND THE DYING GIRL

Director: Alfronso Gomez-Rejon

Starring: Thomas Mann, Olivia Cooke, RJ Cyler, Nick Offerman

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Anticool

After the smash hit success of The Fault in our Stars last year, another John Green adaption was a safe bet, and sure enough Paper Towns came along this summer. The film was marketed on Cara Delevingne, who was mostly absent from the largely forgettable flick. However, the genre had some life breathed back into it by Alfronso Gomez-Rejon, who took a script from Jess Andrews (author of the book of the same name) and came up with Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, a film that avoided cliche whilst still packing an emotional punch.

I was not initially hopeful  – the marketing made the film look like a quirky Fault in our Stars rip-off – but it stood out due to its rarely static camera work and the incredibly funny script – it reminded me of 50/50 (2011) in that it manages to be a film about cancer that is funny without being crude. Add this to strong leads, a brilliant supporting turn from Nick Offerman and an incredible soundtrack (which I discussed here), and you have one of the most memorable films of the year.

LEGEND

Director: Brian Helgeland

Starring: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Taron Egerton, Christopher Eccleston

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Trailer Addict

Based on The Profession of Violence by John Pearson, Brian Helgeland takes on the Krays in his biopic, which sees Tom Hardy in the dual role of Reggie and Ronnie. The gangster genre is overcrowded, so its hard to nail the genre in a way that stands out, but the Krays are hugely interesting source material and this film is worth seeing, if only for the technical wizardry of seeing Tom Hardy fight himself.

Legend is not without faults – Emily Browning’s character Frances is used as a narrative device to get to the story of the twins and is criminally underwritten as a result – but it still stands out as one of my favourite films of the year. Mixing the funny with the violent, Legend brings a distinct sense of Britishness to the gangster genre, and is all the better for it.

STEVE JOBS

Director: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

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There is a good chance that audiences – particularly those in the US – are getting Steve Jobs fatigue. Since the Apple founder and CEO passed away in 2011 there has been a slew of material on the man, but it would be foolish to pass on this latest effort from Danny Boyle, with a script by Aaron Sorkin.

With a theatre-like three act structure, Steve Jobs is a far cry from the done -to-death biopic structure, and Sorkin’s razor sharp script blends perfectly with Boyle’s unique eye for visuals, and Fassbender manages to inhibit the character despite not physically resembling him. It’s Fassbender’s film through and through – as the title would suggest, he is the focal point of the entire film – but he is surrounded by a stellar supporting cast with Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels and Kate Winslet all providing fantastic turns in their own right.

Read my review of Steve Jobs here.

KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK 

Directed: Brett Morgen

Starring: Kurt Cobain

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Since his suicide in 1994 Kurt Cobain has been somewhat of an enigma, the voice of dissatisfied youth, and the wealth of unauthorised material produced on the man did little to dispel any of the myths that arose. However, Brett Morgen’s documentary – the first to be done with the agreement and co-operation of Cobain’s family – cuts through the cultural obsession to look at the man. Morgen stated in an interview that the film aimed to:

“….present an American icon – a revered American icon – in a completely naked and honest manner. Without tearing him down and without building him up, but where we can look him in the eye.”

Blending animated segments with interviews, Montage of Heck is a welcome departure from the typical over reliance on talking heads in documentaries, and is without a doubt the definitive account of who Cobain was. The only thing missing is an interview with Dave Grohl, as a member of Nirvana he seems like a crucial person to talk to about that period in Cobain’s life, and his presence is missed.

Whilst it is at times unsettling to see how deep-set his issues were, and knowing what happened to him makes it all the more upsetting,  Montage of Heck is essential viewing for Nirvana fans, and an enjoyable watch regardless.

RUNNER UPS:

DOPE 

Dope manages to be a crime caper, a comedy, a drama and a coming of age story all rolled into one excellent script. Rick Famuyiwa’s film tells the story of Malcom, Jib and Diggy, three geeks obsessed with 1990s culture who accidentally end up with a rucksack full of MDMA. The lead performances are fantastic and A$AP Rocky even shows up for a supporting role. The film is one that is designed to make you think about the role stereotypes continue to play in society, and it will stay with you long after the credits roll.

MISTRESS AMERICA

Director Noah Baumbach and star Greta Gerwig, who penned the script together, are at their best in Mistress America, a screwball comedy that allows Gerwig to shine. Their collaboration, which worked so well in Frances Ha (2012) has been honed to perfection here, and the film is full to  the brim with laughs, as well as raising some interesting questions about the self obsession in the age of technology.

SUFFRAGETTE 

Undoubtedly one of the most important films of the year, it’s hard to believe UK women’s  fight for the vote had not already been committed to the screen. Starring Carey Mulligan and Helena Bohem Carter, with an appearance from the ever-fantastic Meryl Streep, Suffragette is a fantastic period drama made all the more emotive by the fact that it is based on true events.

MOST PROGRESSIVE: 

SPY/MAD MAX:FURY ROAD

It would be madness not to include Mad Max: Fury Road in talks about progressive depictions in cinema, but I have not yet seen it, so alas my comments cannot extend much further than acknowledgement of what is by all accounts an incredible film.

However, I genuinely believe in years to come Paul Feig’s Spy could be looked back upon as a landmark in comedy. Spy is a sign of progress – perhaps the most notable since Bridesmaids (2011) – with women who are capable, independent and not used as the butt of jokes. The film turns everything that is so awful about James Bond on its head – here we have men that are inept, being helped along by badass women (not a damsel in distress in sight) – and it’s about time.

It seems real change is finally on the horizon, and as ridiculous as it is that it is only the case in 2015, that can only be a good thing. Misogynists need not worry too much – Spectre brought the already questionable James Bond back a few steps in the progressive stakes (read more on that here). You win some, you lose some I guess.

BIGGEST LETDOWN:

KILL YOUR FRIENDS 

Based on John Niven’s (who also penned the script) novel of the same name, Kill Your Friends had the potential to be the British American Psycho (2000), but turned out to be a hollow disappointment. Despite the best efforts of the cast, led by an appropriately stoney Nicholas Hoult, the script feels empty and you’ll be hard pressed to remember the film long after viewing.

Read my review of Kill Your Friends here.

BEST ANIMATION:

INSIDE OUT 

A true return to form for Pixar, Inside Out shows the studio do what they do best – blending beautiful animation with innovative storytelling that tackles big themes in a way that is accessible to all ages. The casting is incredibly well sourced – Phyllis Smith was born to voice sadness – and the timeless concept is one that has already solidified Inside Out as a modern animated classic.

WEIRDEST:

THE LOBSTER 

The english language debut of Greek director Yorgos Lanthinmos, The Lobster is without a doubt the most unique film of the year. A hilariously deadpan story about a hotel where single people go and if they fail to find a partner in 45 days, they a turned into an animal. The film satirises social constructs in a hilarious manner, and whilst there is no doubt that it won’t appeal to everyone, I found the film to be one of the funniest I saw all year.

OTHER HIGHLIGHTS:

Not forgetting Macbeth, Ant Man, Trainwreck, Ex Machina, The Martian, Man Up, Mr Holmes, Danny Collins, Jurassic World, Irrational Man and so many more…


 

I’ve shared this video before, but it’s so good that I’m going to share it again. Ben Zuk created a 2015 Salute to Cinema on Vimeo, incorporating 164 movies into a wonderful montage that reminds us just how great movies can be. Enjoy!

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/147217969″>2015 Salute to Cinema</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/benzuk”>Ben Zuk</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

What was your favourite film of 2015? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Film, List

5 GREAT FILMS THAT WERE BOX OFFICE FLOPS

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When it comes to mainstream cinema it’s all about the numbers, and the box office performance of a film is often what dictates whether it was successful or not. This can lead to sequels of bad films – Terminator Genysis, for example, is pretty sure to have a sequel in spite of appalling reviews and poor box office turnout in the USA due to the fact that it proved itself to be a money making machine in the gargantuan cinema-going demographic that is China. It can also lead to films that are actually pretty excellent only getting recognition years later due to a poor financial performance. Here are five films which performed poorly at the box office in spite of being great films…

Honourable mention…

Steve Jobs (2015)


Director:
Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Jeff Daniels

maxresdefault (2)An honourable mention due to the fact that it is still out in cinemas, Steve Jobs significantly underperformed upon it’s initial US release earlier this year. The film, structured like a three act play, stars Michael Fassbender as Steve Jobs and goes behind the scenes in the time leading up to three significant product launches. Penned by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network) the film has garnered $18 million since its release. On a budget of $30 million, the film still has a way to go before even making its money back.

There are a few contributing factors which may explain why the film has been a financial flop in spite of excellent critical praise. Director Danny Boyle blamed the marketing strategy, believing that the film had to wide of an initial release and did not generate enough word of mouth. There is also the issue of Steve Jobs fatigue – the Apple founder has been the subject of dozens on films and documentaries, and the critical and commercial failure of the Ashton Kutcher starring Jobs (2013) is still fresh in the minds of US audiences. The film was released by Universal, who reportedly still have faith that the film can recover if it stays in cinemas until closer to awards season.

Amy Pascal of Sony passed on the film, seeing it as too big of a risk after the likes of Christian Bale did not agree to star, and rumours suggest that Jobs’ widow Laurene Powell actively tried to stop the films warts and all portrayal. Both Sorkin and Boyle have been very vocal about their belief that the film is not a biopic, but Powell’s sway in the tech community may be another factor as to why the film didn’t perform well.

5 – The Iron Giant (1999)

Director: Brad Bird

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jennifer Aniston, John Mahoney, Eli Marienthal

iron-giant-hogarthBased on the Ted Hughes novel The Iron Man (1968), this Warner Brothers Animation changes Hugh’s English setting for Cold War America. Set in 1950’s Maine, the film charts nine year old Hogarth Hughs (Eli Marienthal), a young boy who discovers a fifty-foot tall metal eating iron giant. The film was the directorial debut of Brad Bird, who is now best known for his work with Pixar, which includes The Incredibles (2004) and Ratatouille (2007), and incorporated a mixture of traditional animation and elements of CGI.

The film made around $23 million on a $70 million budget, making it a financial failure in spite of critical adoration. The film had a pre Fast and Furious Vin Diesel in the titular role, as well as roles for America’s sweetheart Jennifer Aniston and Fraiser’s John Mahoney, but selling animations on their star power are more difficult than live action films. The film also used a washed out colour palette and held some pretty strong anti-government themes. Take into account that the film is a non Disney animation and that Bird was yet to make his name, as well as the fact that it came out the same year as Toy Story 2 (1999) and that Pixar were making CGI films popular and it becomes clearer why the film made a loss.

The film received a limited rerelease in cinemas this year ahead of the release of the Blu-Ray edition, which contained two minutes of new footage, and the film is considered one of the best non-Disney animations. Bird’s work at Pixar also went on to be some of the most financially successful for the studio, so it’s not all bad.

4 – Heathers (1988)

Director: Michael Lehmann

Starring: Winona Ryder, Christian Slater, Shannon Doherty

Heathers2Heathers is an excellent black comedy/satire from Michael Lehmann. The film stars a young Winona Ryder, Christian Slater and Shannon Doherty, and is pretty fearless in its approach to tackling issues such as bullying and teen suicide. The film was made on a very low budget of $2 million but still only managed to make back around half, meaning it was still a financial flop.

The film was very well received by critics, but a couple of noted individuals such as Roger Ebert took issue with the films extremities. The film came out in the late 80’s – making it a great showcase of the fashion of the era – which means it came out in the midst of the John Hughes era. Seeing as the film was a total subversion of everything a Hughes teen film stood for, this is probably a significant reason as to why the film did not fare well commercially.

The films stars Ryder and Slater were also yet to make their names – Ryder was only 16 upon filming and had appeared in Beetlejuice (1988) the same year, but only really became better known in the 1990’s with roles in the likes of Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Mermaids (1990). Similarly, Slater was 19 when the film came out with only a few credits to his name. Notoriously difficult Shannon Doherty also hadn’t had a chance to prove how notoriously difficult she was, with her roles in Beverly Hills 90210 and Charmed coming in 1990 and 1998 respectively. This lack of percieved star power is another reason the film failed to gain any financial traction.

3 – It’s A Wonderful Life (1946)

Director: Frank Capra

Starring: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Henry Travers

tumblr_inline_nmh0a4Ufom1r4j8j1_500Frank Capra’s holiday classic, based on 1939 short story The Greatest Gift by Philip Van Doren Stern, is one of those rare films that it is very difficult to find anyone who dislikes it. However, whilst it may be hard to believe, the film was a letdown at the Box Office, debuting in 26th place. Made on a $3 million budget, the film only made $3.3 million in its initial run despite starring the hugely popular Jimmy Stewart in the central role of George Bailey, a man who is contemplating suicide and is visited by an angel, Clarence (Henry Travers) who shows him what life would have been like had he never been born.

The story doesn’t end there however – it was due to a copyright issue that the film went on to become a festive favourite. The film originally had a 28 year copyright claim, and when it expired the rights were not put up for renewal. This meant that in 1975 the film entered the public domain, leading to it having heavy circulation on television during the holiday season. This led to the film being reevaluated as a classic, and it has since garnered over $60 million in DVD and home video sales. NBC now own the rights and there is a good chance they won’t be giving them up anytime soon.

An interesting side note is that the FBI actually pinpointed the film as communist propaganda. A 1947 memo entitled ‘Communist Infiltration of the Motion Picture Industry’ argued it was propaganda due to its populist theme and negative portrayal of rich bankers. The film was not blacklisted in the infamous McCarthy era, but it is interesting to think that the FBI were concerned about the feel-good classic.

2 – The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Director: Frank Darabont

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman

shawshank-musicThe seven times Oscar nominated film written and directed by Frank Darabont and based on the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption is one of the more surprising entries on this list. The film is currently at the top of the IMDb Top 250 Films list. The film was made on a $25 million budget, but debuted in ninth place on its opening weekend with only $2.5 million.

The film is regularly quoted amongst favourite films/top films of all time lists, so why did it fail to gain any traction? Producer Liz Glotzer has argued that the film didn’t achieve any word of mouth promotion due to people being unsure how to pronounce the title. It could also be argued that the title gives too much away, though it’s not as though it gives away the main details of the plot (we are looking at you The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007), the winner of the most spoilerific title of all time).

Things become even more confusing when we see what The Shawshank Redemption was up against at the Box Office. Opening on 23rd September 1994, other films that opened that day included It Runs in the Family, Shadows of Desire and Terminal Velocity. Not exactly bonafide classics. However, it is also worth noting that NBC’s beloved sitcom Friends debuted on the same date, drawing in some 22 million viewers for its pilot episode. Did this stop people going out to see the film on its opening night?

The film is similar to It’s A Wonderful Life in that it became more popular after its original cinematic run, and TV circulation and word of mouth in recent years has seen the film become the classic we know it as today, but exactly why The Shawshank Redemption underperformed on its initial run will always be a point of cinematic speculation.

1 – Fight Club (1999)

Director: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, Helena Bohem Carter

the_coolest_inside_facts_about_22David Fincher’s cult classic Fight Club, based on the Chuck Palahniuk novel of the same name, made only $37 million on a $63 million budget. The film came out four years after his critically acclaimed and financially successful Se7en (1994), which also starred Brad Pitt in a main role. However, Fincher followed up the film with The Game (1997) starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn, which was again critically successful but saw significantly less box office returns compared to Se7en.

Fight Club has gone on to achieve cult status due to the fact that it was hugely successful when released on DVD, selling over 6 million copies and making its money back in that way. Whilst the film is now regarded as a modern classic, it was extremely divisive amongst critics upon its initial release. The films depiction of violence and counterculture led to criticisms from some critics, including Roger Ebert who said years later that it was “beloved by many, not by me.”

Another issue came in the marketing. Fincher reportedly had very specific ideas about how he wanted to market the film, but executives at 20th Century Fox didn’t like the film when they viewed it. The company were unsure of how to sell a film that is so openly critical of consumerism. The films release was delayed several times, and the film eventually came out after the Columbine High School Massacre, meaning that audiences were arguably much less open to a film with such graphic violence at its core. Brad Pitt was undoubtedly the most bankable star in the film, but Fincher refused to have him as the focus of the marketing campaign for fear of misrepresentation, and the lacklustre campaign is arguably the biggest factor in Fight Club’s poor box office performance.

The film was without a doubt one of the most talked about the of the year, and the controversy that surrounded its violent nature is arguably what made it successful in DVD sales, meaning it was not a total failure.

Which films do you think are great in spite of a less than stellar box office performance? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Television

5 TV SHOWS CANCELLED TOO EARLY:

*NOTE* – Contains spoilers for some of these TV shows, continue at your own peril.

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The American system of making television is one that is very different to over here in the UK. It is a much more commercial system which, for better or worse, is mainly interested in making money through selling advertising slots. This can mean that successful TV shows are dragged out long by their natural sell by date – just look at CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its numerous spin offs as a prime example. However, it can also mean that shows which are perhaps more of a slow burner are for one reason or another cut down in their prime. Ratings are the dictating force on US networks, and if a show is failing to hit high levels of viewership it will be axed – a fate that has befallen many a good show. Here are five examples of American shows that were cancelled too soon…

5 – CLONE HIGH

Clone-HighWhat do the guys behind The Lego Movie (2014) and the creator of Scrubs have in common? The answer is Clone High – an animated MTV series that lasted for one season back in 2001-02. Phil Miller, Christopher Lord and Bill Lawrence all worked on the highly inventive series, which focused on a high school populated by clones of famous historical figures including Cleopatra, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc and John F Kennedy.

It was an interesting premise, and the show was since gained a cult following, but upon its original airing it was dogged by a controversy over its depiction of Gandhi, which saw groups of people in India go on hunger strike in protest. The show never fully recovered and was hit with low ratings, leading to MTV cancelling the series in the face of mounting pressures.

4 – FREAKS & GEEKS

freaksandgeeksFreaks and Geeks is one of those shows that is hysterical to watch now because it features such a range of some of the biggest stars in comedy before they made their names. James Franco, Jason Segal and Seth Rogen all started out in Judd Apatow and Paul Feig’s (two of the biggest comedy directors in Hollywood today) sitcom set in the an early 1980’s American high school. It is also really worth watching because Biff from Back to the Future is in it (Thomas F Wilson plays Coach Ben Fredricks).

The show followed the lives of ‘freaks’ Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and co. and her brother Sam (John Frances Daley) and his friends, the ‘geeks’. Whilst it might seem crazy now that the show was cancelled after only one season consisting of 18 episodes, back in 1999-2000 these comedy giants were still small-time, though it is arguably Freaks and Geeks that set most of them on the path to success. The entire first season is available on Netflix and is well worth your time (I repeat, Biff from Back to the Future is in it).

3 – PUSHING DAISIES

pushing-daisies_1280x1024The 2007-08 Writers Guild of America Strike has a lot to answer for – it played havoc with a whole host of shows – but perhaps one of the worst outcomes us the fate of Pushing Daisies, ABC’s ‘forensic fairy-tale’ that aired right in the midst of the strike. The show followed the life of pie-maker Ned (Lee Pace), who has the ability to bring people back to life by touching them. The downside is that if he touches them a second time, they will return to being dead permanently. This causes chaos when he brings back to life childhood crush Charlotte ‘Chuck’ (Anna Friel) and then enters into a romance with her.

The show was met with huge critical acclaim and was nominated for a total of 12 Emmys in its first season. However the first season was cut short by the strike, and attention had waned by the time it returned, with ratings dropping. The show was cancelled at the end of the second season, breaking the hearts of the shows cult following as they never got to find out if Ned and Chuck were able to make things work.

2 – TWIN PEAKS

TWIN PEAKSTwin Peaks is never far from anybodies lips when the subject of TV shows cancelled too soon comes up. The CBS show came from the king of the surreal, David Lynch, along with Mark Frost, and was based around the mystery of who killed Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Airing from 1990 to 1991, the show – like much of Lynch’s work – looked at what lurks beneath the veneer of idyllic small town life and saw Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) become further entrenched in the fictional Washington town as he investigates Palmer’s murder.

The show was met with huge success in its first season, but things took a nosedive as the second season began in 1991. CBS worried about the fact that Laura Palmer’s killer had not yet been disclosed, and placed pressure on making the reveal. This led to the mystery being solved in the middle of the second season, which along with various timeslot changes led to a sharp decline in ratings. The show was cancelled at the end of the season, leaving the plot on a frustrating cliffhanger.

Lynch returned to Twin Peaks in 1992 with the prequel Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, but he has since expressed huge regret at the Laura Palmer reveal. He claims that they never originally intended to tie up the mystery, and that in doing so they “killed the goose that laid the golden eggs.”

The show is set to be revived in 2017 with many members of the original cast returning and Frost and Lynch once again at the helm, so here’s hoping they can tie up those loose threads and return Twin Peaks to it’s former glory.

1 – HAPPY ENDINGS

happy-endings-food-w724Happy Endings was a fantastic ensemble sitcom that aired on ABC from 2011 to 2013. Lasting for a total of three seasons, the show charted the lives of a group of friends living in Chicago. The gang consisted of married couple Brad (Daymon Waynes Jnr) and Jane (Eliza Coupe), Jane’s sister Alex (Elisha Cuthbert), Dave (Zachary Knighton), Max (Adam Pally) and Penny (Casey Wilson). The show quickly became popular with critics for its quickfire wit and outrageous antics.

Originally airing on Wednesday nights following ABC’s sitcom juggernaut Modern Family, the first signs of trouble for the show came when ABC decided to change their timeslot to Tuesday nights in season three. Ratings immediately deteriorated and attempted damage control saw the timeslot make another change to Friday nights, which acted as the final nail in the coffin. Further drops in ratings led to the shows cancellation at the end of season three.

Happy Endings felt like it still had a lot of steam left, and this wasn’t helped by the fact that the show was cancelled quite suddenly, robbing fans of any real sense of closure as the series ended on a cliff-hanger of sorts, with viewers finding out that Alex and Dave had broken up for the second time. A huge part of the shows success was down to it’s excellent cast, something other networks obviously picked up on – as soon as the show was cancelled Fox brought Waynes Jnr back to New Girl, as well as enlisting Pally for their other sitcom The Mindy Project.

Which shows do you think were cancelled too soon? Let me know in the comments section!

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DECEMBER IN FILM:

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2015 is drawing to a close, and it has undoubtedly been a huge year for film – The Avengers assembled for the second time, Bond returned, Fantastic Four flopped, Mad Max: Fury Road brought action movies to the fore and Inside Out reminded us why we all fell in love with Pixar. It has been a year of heady highs and lacklustre lows, but it’s not over yet. There is still one month left of the year and plenty of exciting films to look forward to as the Oscar race heats up. The biggest cinematic event of the month is without a doubt the release of the hotly anticipated seventh instalment in the Star Wars franchise – whilst I am not myself a fan of the franchise (I’m sorry, I haven’t seen any of the films), I will probably not be able to resist joining the hype and checking out the new movie. As is always the case in December, there are a few seasonal films being released in the lead up to Christmas, and I have looked at them before moving onto the other films being released this month…

CHRISTMAS FILMS:

 

THE NIGHT BEFORE: 

download (5)Out: December 4th

Director: Jonathan Levine

Starring: Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Anthony Mackie

What’s it about?: The film follows three best friends – Ethan (Joseph Gordon Levitt, Isaac (Seth Rogen) and Chris (Anthony Mackie), who embark on one last Christmas Eve night out together in New York City, a tradition they have upheld for the previous 14 years.

Will it be good? Director Levine’s credits include subversive slasher All The Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) and dramedy 50/50 (2011) (which also starred Gordon-Levitt and Rogen), as well as horror/rom-com Warm Bodies (2013), so there is no doubt that he has both range and comedic credentials. The cast is also strong – the leading trio are all promising and the trailer suggests a few big laughs. Comedy is always a hard one to read – the trailer will always contain the best moments, but these can easily turn out to be the only laughs in the film. Early reviews suggest that the film is a solid effort, though the likelihood that it will become a festive staple is pretty low.

KRAMPUS:

download (1)Out: December 4th 

Director: Michael Dougherty

Starring: Adam Scott, Toni Colette

What’s it about? A black comedy/horror, the film depicts a family who are stalked by Krampus, the legendary figure known for punishing children who have been bad at Christmas – “the shadow of Saint Nicholas”.

Will it be good? The film is bolstered by a strong cast – Adam Scott of Parks and Recreation fame and Toni Colette head the family – and director Michael Dougherty is known for cult hit Trick’r’Treat (2007), so the chances of this being a Christmas treat for horror fans is quite high. The marketing thus far has kept the tone relatively dark, so the jury is still out on how much of a role the comedy element will play – expect something between Black Christmas (1974) and Gremlins (1984) on the horror/comedy scale.

CHRISTMAS WITH THE COOPERS:

download (2)Out: December 1st

Director: Jessie Nelson

Starring: Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Olivia Wilde, Ed Helms

What’s it about? Titled Love the Coopers in the US, the film follows the four generations of the Cooper clan coming together to celebrate Christmas. Charlotte Cooper (Diane Keaton) is desperate to have the perfect Christmas, but the coming together of the family leads to a variety of misadventures and incidents.

Will it be good? It has a pretty decent cast, but it doesn’t look like anything particularly groundbreaking. The ensemble looks promising, and there are sure to be the typical dysfunctional family laughs throughout and the heartwarming ending, but I’m willing to bet you won’t remember it next Christmas.

OTHER RELEASES:

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS:

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens_Theatrical_PosterOut: 17th December

Director: J J Abrahams

Starring: Harrison Ford, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley

What’s it about? Set approximately 30 years after The Return of the Jedi, the seventh film in the Star Wars franchise features new leads alongside returning characters. Plot details have been closely guarded, so we will all have to wait until December 17th to have any real idea what it’s about.

Will it be good? I honestly feel like it isn’t really my place to say, seeing as I haven’t seen any of the other six films. Popular opinion appears to suggest that the original trilogy was cinematic gold, whilst the more recent trilogy appears to get a bit of stick. However, J J Abrahams managed to bring Star Trek to a new generation, so there is no reason why he can’t work his magic on Star Wars too.

VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN:

Victor_Frankenstein_2015Out: December 3rd

Director: Paul McGuigan

Starring: James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe

What’s it about? Based on Mary Shelly’s 1819 novel Frankenstein, the film is told from the perspective of Victor Frankenstein’s (James McAvoy) assistant Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) as he witnesses the experiments on his quest to create the famous monster.

Will it be good? The problem with any adaption of this sort is that it immediately has a lot of live up to and will draw comparisons to the wealth of other existing adaptions. The film has been met with generally negative reviews thus far, probably due to the aforementioned fact, but the fact that it has two great actors leading the film in the form of McAvoy and Radcliffe means that there is a chance for some entertainment factor.

BY THE SEA:

By_The_Sea_TeaserOut: 11th December

Director: Angelina Jolie Pitt

Starring: Angelina Jolie Pitt, Brad Pitt

What’s it about? Written, directed and starring Angelina Jolie Pitt, the film is a romantic drama set in 1970s France. Brad Pitt stars alongside his wife, and the film depicts a couple who travel the country together and stop in a seaside town.

Will it be good? This is the first film that Brangelina will star in together since Mr and Mrs Smith (2005), the film on which they met. Jolie Pitt has shown that she can be a strong director with Unbroken earlier this year, and the fact that the lead pair are together in real life suggests that they will have the chemistry necessary to pull of a romantic plot. Chances are this will be a good, if somewhat understated, piece.

SISTERS:

Sisters_movie_poster (1)Out: 18th December

Director: Jason Moore

Starring: Amy Poehler, Tina Fey

What’s it about? Two sisters – one carefree and spontaneous (Tina Fey) and the other cautious and uptight (Amy Poehler) – decide to throw one last party when their parents announce they are selling their childhood home.

Will it be good? Here’s hoping. Poehler and Fay are a double act to be reckoned with, and there is no doubt that these two can make pretty much anything hilarious. The trailer looks promising and director Moore was behind 2012 smash-hit Pitch Perfect, so this one is looking pretty promising.

IN THE HEART OF THE SEA:

In_the_Heart_of_the_Sea_posterOut: 26th December 

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy, Ben Wishaw, Charlotte Riley

What’s it about? Based on Nathanial Philbrick’s 2000 book of the same name, which itself is an account of the sinking of the whaling ship Essex in 1820, an incident which inspired Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick (are you keeping up?), the film tells the story of the crew of the ship Essex as it is attacked by a gigantic sperm whale.

Will it be good? Directed by Ron Howard, the man behind the likes of Apollo 13 (1995), Cocoon (1985) and A Beautiful Mind (2001), hopes are high for this big sea adaption. Apollo 13 in particular showed that Howard knows how to handle a big concept, and the deep sea setting is sure to provide some stunning visuals. A lot is riding on the whale in selling the films visual appeal, and the trailer footage suggests that it won’t disappoint.

DADDY’S HOME:

Daddy's_Home_posterOut: 25th December

Director: Sean Anders

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Will Ferrel

What’s it about? Brad (Ferrel) is the model step-father to his wife’s children, but finds himself battling for their affections when their infinitely cooler father Dusty (Wahlberg) returns to town.

Will it be good? It’s 50/50. Ferrel is hilarious, as is Wahlberg given the right material, so the pairing has the potential to be something pretty funny. That said, they appeared together in The Other Guys (2010), which was met with a positive reception but has since been forgotten. The two actors have appeared in what adds up to a huge number of forgettable comedies, so the odds suggest that this is the category that Daddy’s Home will fall into come the new year.

SNOOPY AND CHARLIE BROWN: THE PEANUTS MOVIE:

Peanuts_2015Out: 21st December

Director: Steve Martino

Starring: Noah Schnapp, Mariel Sheets

What’s it about? The film follows Charlie Brown try to win the affections of the Little Red-Haired Girl, whilst his pooch pal Snoopy pens the story of his WW1 alter ego Flying Ace, who is on a quest to rescue his love Fifi from the Red Baron.

Will it be good? Probably not. It is really hard to adapt a feature length film out of short panel sketches, making the chances of The Peanuts Movie being appealing to anyone other than young children very unlikely. However, to give it the benefit of the doubt, The Lego Movie last year proved that even the flimsiest source material can work with enough imagination – who says the Peanuts crew can’t be the same? The film is already out the in the US and has received positive reviews, so it is probably worth a watch.

So there you have it, the lowdown on all the films that people will be talking about this December. I suggest you get yourself a Cineworld card and join me in watching, dissecting and discussing them all! Let me know what you think of these upcoming releases in the comments section. I am leaving you with an excellent 2015 salute to cinema by Ben Zuk, featuring a staggering 164 films. Enjoy!

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Film, Reviews

FILM REVIEW: STEVE JOBS

Dir: Danny Boyle

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Seth Rogen, Kate Winslet

Cert: 15

“How come ten times in a day I hear Steve Jobs is a genius? What do you do?”

20-fall-preview-movies-steve-jobs-michael-stuhlbarg-michael-fassbender-kate-winslet.w750.h560.2xSteve Wozniak (Seth Rogen) poses this question to the titular Jobs (Michael Fassbender) in the trailer of Danny Boyle’s latest film, written by Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network), making it immediately clear that this is not going to be anything like the celebratory Apple advertisement it could have been.

What Boyle and Sorkin have done is provide a deep character study of Jobs – who died in 2011 – without mentioning Pixar, cancer,the iPhone or his widow Laurene Powell. Sorkin has stated that the avoidance of the typical ‘greatest hits’ biopic structure was a conscious decision, and a good one it was too. The film instead takes on more of a theatrical structure, essentially consisting of three real-time acts with a few brief deviations, all taking place in the run up to a notable product launch. It is this that makes Steve Jobs stand out from the wealth of other material that has been produced on the Apple co-founder, particularly the 2013 film Jobs, which starred Ashton Kutcher in the central role. The structure also allows you to immediately do away with the notion of the film as a biopic and thus at the same time stepping away from all the normal expectations that would come with watching a biopic, one of which is the ‘facts’. I personally feel this is a film that should be taken very much as artistic interpretation, based of course on fact but not to be taken as concrete fact in itself.

steve_jobsThe film is an intense character study – it’s Fassbender’s film through and through, and whilst he doesn’t look particularly like Jobs, but also isn’t unlike him enough to be distracting – and there is no doubt that Jobs was an interesting character. The film explores many interesting themes through the character, notably ambition. The film is incredibly brave in tackling the mythological status that has descended upon Jobs, especially following his death. Jobs is shown to be stubborn, difficult and at times incredibly harsh. He is also shown to be relentless in his drive and ambition for success, and it is the different aspects of Jobs’ character as presented in the film that makes it so much more interesting than any biopic could ever be.

Whilst Jobs is without a doubt the main character, the supporting cast also do a stellar job. Kate Winslet is strong, in spite of a wobbly European accent, as marketing executive and Jobs’ longtime friend Joanna Hoffman. Jeff Daniels as Apple CEO John Scully is also worthy of mention – the dynamic between him and Fassbender provides one of the most electric portions of the film. One of the highlights however comes in the form of Rogen’s Wozniak, who acts as the voice of reason or moral compass in a sense, highlighting some of the main themes in his dialogue.

Screen-Shot-2015-07-01-at-11.45.08-AMThere is no doubt that the film is going to draw endless comparisons to The Social Network, but whilst both films are interesting studies of the men behind tech phenomenons, there aren’t many comparisons to be held. Whilst David Fincher’s film is a relatively dark study, Steve Jobs has an abundance of energy. Boyle puts his stamp all over this film, which is visually impressive in a way that has come to be an expectation of the director, who’s unique style has been showcased in every film since his debut Shallow Grave (1994). The grand venues for  each launch provide a perfect setting for these distinct visuals, and they do not disappoint.

Another staple of Boyle’s films has always been music, and this is another strong entry in that area. The pulsing beats are essential in creating and maintaining the mood of the film, and it also effectively communicates the time periods – 1984, 1988 and 1998 without sounding overtly ‘retro’.

Steve Jobs hasn’t performed particularly well in the US Box Office, though this may be because after Jobs (2013) proving relatively disastrous people feel like they have seen it all when it comes to the man. Yet here is a film with a wealth of talent behind it, that offers something entirely new. It’s not a biopic – its much more than that, and its strong critical reception has kept it well and truly in the awards race.

Steve Jobs is out in cinemas across the UK now.

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