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Saturday, 18 January 2020


(MA15+) ★★★★★

Director: Sam Mendes.

Cast: George MacKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Mark Strong, Andrew Scott, Richard Madden, Claire Duburcq, Colin Firth, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Hell of a place to go for a jog.
If nothing else, 1917 is the Mona Lisa of planning.

Thankfully it's more than just a masterfully conceived war film executed with clockwork-like precision. Its "gimmick" of looking like it was predominantly filmed in a single take moves the story to the next level, providing a nail-biting cinema experience that will be hard to replicate.

On a day like any other on the French battlefields of World War I, two young British soldiers Tom Blake (Chapman) and Will Schofield (MacKay) are tasked with delivering a message across No Man's Land to the British forces pursuing the surprise retreat of the German army. The Germans' move is a ruse, and the Brits are walking into a trap, but Blake and Schofield have less than a day to cover the ground and potentially save the lives of 1600 men.

After watching this, the first thing you'll want to know is "how the hell did they do it?". The answers can be found in this excellent video:

1917 is a miraculous and meticulous film-making exercise, but effort only gets you so far - you can expel a huge amount of effort and still make something totally shit. Just look at The Last Airbender. But 1917 is incredible. It's edge-of-your-seat stuff, packed with surprises and great performances, while also being beautifully shot.

While Mendes has overseen the whole crazy thing and pulled it off, the real MVP is Roger Deakins, the legendary cinematographer who was famously nominated for 13 Oscars before he finally won one on his 14th attempt. Deakins and his team not only keep the camera moving (without falling over or crashing into things), but manage to capture some beautiful shots in the process. A glide over a water-filled crater in No Man's Land, a bombed city by flare-light, a chance encounter by candlelight - they all look painterly, and are all the more impressive for the tough conditions.

Mackay and Chapman also excel in trying times. There's been a lot of focus on the fact most of their job was about hitting marks, covering distance and not fucking up ridiculously long takes. But they deserve recognition for their excellent performances in the face of technical adversity. They make Schofield and Blake real and rounded, bestowing these lads with humour and heart. Firth, Cumberbatch and Strong show up with gravitas-laden cameos, but 1917 supersedes its one-take conceit thanks in large part to the efforts of Mackay and Chapman.

All war films, even before Saving Private Ryan's pants-shittingly intense opening sequence, have tried to put the audience in the trenches with the troops, often through bombastic sound design and onscreen chaos. 1917 uses the typical tricks, but its one-take technique adds a new flavour. In parts it feels like a video game, and I mean that in a good way. It puts you alongside or directly behind the protagonist, like you're controlling him or following him through a level, whichever way you want to look at it. Either way, it makes you invested in what's happening in a way most video game-inspired movies have been unable to do.

1917 is like Saving Private Ryan meets Gravity - it's the immersive veracity and honesty of the former, mixed with the relentless intensity of the latter. You just have to hold on and grit your teeth, and wonder how the hell anyone survived such a godforsaken war.

Monday, 13 January 2020

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon

(G) ★★★

Director: Will Becher & Richard Phelan.

Cast: (voices of) Justin Fletcher, John Sparkes, Amalia Vitale, Kate Harbour, David Holt, Richard Webber.

Never sneak up on a sheep in a wheatfield.

The first Shaun The Sheep film is an under-rated gem. It took the snappy humour of the TV series but added a level of heart only hinted at in the show. It also pushed its stop-motion animation to new heights, making for an enchanting all-ages treat.

This second outing from Shaun and friends has the humour and takes its stop-motion to even greater heights, but it lacks the extra facets that made the first one so well-rounded. Aardman Animation have still made an enjoyable sci-fi-tinged adventure, but it's more about the commotion than the emotion this time around.

This time around, the farm animals of Mossy Bottom are visited by an alien, whose arrival creates a stir in the wider community; the government is hunting for the creature and its craft, the nearby town becomes a magnet for UFO enthusiasts, and The Farmer decides to cash-in on the craze. But all Shaun the Sheep wants to do is is help the alien get home.

Farmageddon's plot is basically E.T: The Extra Terrestrial, which is fine - the far superior Abominable also used a similar "help the creature get home" story. But Abominable invested its story with themes about family, nature, and adventure, while giving it some novel twists via its characters and setting. Both Abominable and Farmageddon are entertaining, but the former is a richer experience that has more to say and share with its multi-generational audience.

Farmageddon is content to offer up the goofy spectacle of its lengthy set-pieces, which hold up some admittedly hilarious sight gags but do tend to feel padded out in places. A plot diversion via a supermarket finishes with some good jokes but adds nothing to the story, and is just one example of how this tale feels overlong and reaching for its run time.

Having said all that, Farmageddon maintains the down-home charm of the TV show that spawned it. It reaches for the stars with its CG-enhanced animation (which is impressive) and its intergalactic story, but works best when it's back on the farm with the whole flock of Shaun and friends, doing their thing.

Grown-ups will be able to play 'spot the reference' - Alien, Doctor Who, E.T., Jaws, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and The X-Files all get a run - and some sequences are great. But Farmageddon is at most a collection of entertaining skits, with no real heart or theme to hold it all together.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Little Women

(G) ★★★★½

Director: Greta Gerwig.

Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, Eliza Scanlen, Laura Dern, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, Tracy Letts, Bob Odenkirk, James Norton, Louis Garrel, Chris Cooper.

Surfs up, dudes.
Next time someone complains about the endless remakes, reboots and do-overs coming out of Hollywood, point them towards this adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's semi-autobiographical 1860s classic. It's the seventh version of this story, and the second one in two years, but it finds fresh and vital ways to tell its old tale, making it relevant for a new audience.

It's the vitality and life that makes Gerwig's version so enjoyable, but it's her ability to re-frame Alcott's words and themes with a contemporary eye that make it so unmissable. For all its changes, which might annoy purists, Gerwig has remained faithful to the essence of the text and the heart of the March girls. It makes for a vibrant and modern take on this story of girls becoming women and finding their place in a world that has very set ideas about where that place should be.

Little Women follows the four March sisters - Meg (Watson), Jo (Ronan), Amy (Pugh) and Beth (Scanlen). As the story jumps backwards and forwards in time, we see how their dreams of following their artistic passions are challenged, and how their various relationships impact their lives and family.

Gerwig's non-linear approach to the plot takes some getting used to but it serves the material well, giving us great juxtapositions to show how the characters have changed, as well as helping to condense Alcott's hefty tome. These time shifts are done with simple yet beautiful cinematic elegance - a warm sunlit nostalgia bathes most of the "past" scenes while a sombre grey tints the "present" ones. As the film's mood changes and the cuts back and forth escalate, it becomes more testing for the viewer, but for the most part it works wonderfully.

It's part of the genius of Gerwig's adapted screenplay (which is surely an Oscar shoe-in in that category). Like a good cover version of a song, she gets what is essential to the artwork and is happy to drop parts and change others, all the while never losing sight of what made it work in the first place, such as the relationship between the sisters and their varying views on love and a woman's role in a patriarchal society.

All of these aspects roar off the screen, driven not only by Gerwig and Alcott's combined dialogue, but by Ronan's fierce performance as the fiery Jo. Similarly, Pugh's turn as the confident Amy is equally spirited. These are but two great acting displays amid a wonderful cast - Streep steals scenes, Dern is light but powerful touch, Cooper is touching in a small role, Watson and Scanlen are excellent despite being overshadowed, while Chalamet is outstanding as the dashingly louche Laurie.

Along with an out-and-proud update of the book's feminist ideas, Gerwig's brings modern indie filmmaking flourishes to her direction. There are piles of overlapping dialogue, a couple of straight-to-camera moments, and a wonderfully meta ending that would hopefully have done Alcott proud. It all adds to the vibrancy of the film.

There is so much to love about this energetic retelling of an American classic, which deserves every award it can get this awards season.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

The best albums of 2019

As selected by an ensemble of some of my favourite musicians and music aficionados!

In my previous life as a journalist at a particular newspaper, I would compile an end-of-year list in which I got a bunch of the top musos and musically-connected people from my region to share their favourite albums of the year. Rather than let that tradition die, I've migrated it to my blog and upped the ante by inviting even more of my super-talented friends to take part.

Hopefully you can find some great music to listen to here, including some of the great music created by some of the selectors (links are everywhere, people!).

So behold - talented people sharing their favourite music of 2019.

Andy Kirkland (Lynchpin)

1. Beck - Hyperspace

The new Beck album is beautifully wedged somewhere between his previous two albums, Morning Phase and Colors. Incredible performances, writing and melodies, many harking back to '80s synth without complete plagiarism: "I’ve heard this before, but I can’t put my finger on it!". Pharrell Williams co-writes and performs on many tracks and the addition of Jason Faulkner (Jellyfish, Greys, etc) is a great addition to the guitar sounds and moods. My "can't do without" release of 2019.

The Divine Comedy - Office Politics
Elbow - Giants Of All Sizes
Richard Pleasance - Wentworth (Original Score), Volume 2
Weezer - The Teal Album
Trevor Horn - Reimagines The Eighties
Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing
The National - I Am Easy To Find
Thom Yorke - Anima
Morrissey - California Sun

Nigel Wearne (Above The Bit)

1. Anna Tivel - The Question

The Question is a concept album of sorts, one that spans the beautiful space between folk, country and rock. The overarching theme of the record is beautifully ambiguous and what sets it apart is some of the best damn songwriting I've ever heard - narrative-fuelled poetry that reels you in revealing something new every time, sad tales, philosophical encounters, personal tragedy, romance and retrospect. The Question covers vast territory lyrically and sonically. To augment the occasion, the production is lush, rhythmic, groovy, beautiful and challenging. A fascinating record. Highly commended, highly recommended. Anna herself sums it up best; "the glory of the question and the answer is the same".

Kittel & Co - Whorls
Ordinary Elephant - Honest
Jenny Mitchell - Wildfires
John Smith - Hummingbird
The Fretless - Live From The Art Farm
Courtney Marie Andrews - May Your Kindness Remain
Michael Waugh - The Weir
Joe Pug - The Flood In Colour
William Alexander - The Kid From Bourke

Brady James

1. Sum 41 – Order in Decline

Batshit insane return to form and sound for Sum 41. Spices of Hybrid Theory-era Linkin Park thrown in the pot with their original balls-to-the-wall, 4/4 punk/hard-rock-driven madness. Perfect time for them to step back into the limelight with their angsty anti-establishment flavour. 10/10 seal of approval. Highlight Tracks - Out For Blood, Heads Will Roll

2. Bring Me The Horizon - amo
3. Jacob Collier - Djesse Vol. 2
4. Lewis Capaldi - Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent
5. I Prevail - Trauma
6. Denzel Curry - Zuu
7. City and Colour - A Pill For Loneliness
8. Kanye West - Jesus Is King
9. Gary Clark Jr. - This Land
10. Rapsody - Eve

Liam Barling (Aika, Late Night TV)

1. Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising

Natalie Mering AKA Weyes Blood perfectly marries classic Laurel Canyon melodies with behemoth pop arrangements that could sit comfortably in the soundtrack for Titanic or an '80s slasher flick.

2. Angel Olsen - All Mirrors
3. DIIV - Deceiver
4. Nivhek - After Its Own Death/Walking In A Spiral Towards The House
5. Cate Le Bon - Reward
6. Nils Frahm - All Encores
7. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen
8. Bon Iver - i,i
9. Third Coast Percussion - Fields
10. Better Oblivion Community Centre - Better Oblivion Community Centre

Album of the decade: Frank Ocean - Blond

Joe Gardner (Red Eagle, Mr John McKensie)

1. Better Oblivion Community Centre - Better Oblivion Community Centre

The best '90s album in the year. The right amount of folk, grunge and sadness any '90s album needs. Both voices sit together perfectly and make a match made in heaven.

Julia Jacklin - Crushing
Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen
Bon Iver - i,i
Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
Black Pumas - Black Pumas
Damien Jurado - In The Shape Of A Storm
Angel Olsen - All Mirrors
Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka

And 5 for the decade
Arcade Fire - The Suburbs
The Black Keys - ‘Brothers’
Israel Nash - Barn Doors & Concrete Floors
Bon Iver - Bon Iver
Alabama Shakes - Sound & Colour

Jeremy Lee 

1. The Divine Comedy - Office Politics

More genius songwriting from Neil Hannon covering multiple bases. No one else could pull off an album that goes from jaunty opener Queuejumper to the beautiful observation of After the Lord Mayor’s Show while stopping off at a potential theme tune for a sitcom based around minimalist composers Phillip Glass and Steve Reich running a furniture removal company. My wife can’t stand it but I love it.

Weyes Blood - Titanic Rising
Hot Chip - A Bath Full Of Ecstasy
Danny Widdicombe & Trichotomy - Between The Lines
Solange - When I Get Home
Crumb - Jinx
Metronomy - Metronomy Forever
Orville Peck - Pony
Drugdealer - Raw Honey
Methyl Ethel - Triage

Bill O'Connell (Billy Barker, Gums)

1. Oscar Lush - Black Dog

Only listened to the one album this year. Had a bit on

Jono Colliver (Dr. Colossus, Money On Verema, Gums)

1. Vampire Weekend - Father of The Bride

Fourth albums don't usually taste this sweet. Ezra Koenig expands his songwriting further into realms of Americana, gentle politics and societal dissonance, and with his myriad producers crafts a tapestry of scenes using a common gold thread of great songs, lapsteel and Danielle Haim backing vocals.

2. The National - I Am Easy To Find
3. Slipknot - We Are Not Your Kind
4. Earth Tongue - Floating Being
5. Tool - Fear Inoculum
6. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow
7. Private Function - St Anger
8. Pond - Tasmania
9. Gatecreeper - Deserted
10. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Fishing for Fishies

Daniel Miles (True North)

1. Andrew Bird - My Finest Work Yet

You know Andrew Bird rates this album from the title alone. While I'll always hold a soft spot for The Mysterious Production Of Eggs and Are You Serious, this is a seriously cool record. There's a sense of directness and clarity in his latest offering that's weirdly refreshing from a lyricist who has always challenged you to think deeper. It kept me coming back and kept me thinking.

Beck - Hyperspace
Glen Hansard - This Wild Willing
Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
Tool - Fear Inoculum
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen
Vampire Weekend - Father Of The Bride
Bon Iver - i,i
The Tallest Man On Earth - I Love You. It's a Fever Dream.
Thom Yorke - Anima

Jordan Lockett (Gramps, Southern Ocean Sea Band)

1. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Ghosteen

Ghosteen is a deep journey into the difficult human experience of grief and sorrow. It’s an existential punch in the heart, but the album is a masterpiece. When grief hits us, nothing seems to help and nothing ever brings people back. We learn to live with loss. Cave navigates the stages of grief with the caring sparseness it deserves and it’s a privilege to bear witness. Electronic pulses, haunting guitars and synths paint a raw canvas for Cave to lament over. A painful but worthwhile journey.

2. Steady Garden - Steady Garden
3. Justin Townes Earle - The Saint Of Lost Causes
4. William Tyler - Goes West
5. Taylor Swift - Lover
6. Rodney Crowell - Texas
7. Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
8. Dan Sultan - Nali & Friends
9. Traffik Island - Nature Strip
10. Ariana Grande - Thank U, Next

Andre Pangrazio

1. Georgia Spain -Trouble Isn’t Something You Can Hold

Its darkness and subtle spells lure you in. And banjos. I love banjos.

2. Charles Rumback & Ryley Walker - Little Common Twist
3. Jose Gonzalez & String Theory - Live In Europe
4. Jessica Pratt - Quiet Signs
5. Nils Frahm - All Encores
6. Oscar Lush - Black Dog
7. The Cactus Blossoms - Easy Way
8. Bedouine - Bird Songs Of A Kill Joy
9. Devendra Banhart - Ma
10. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow

Jack & Michael Fitzgerald (Capricorn Records)

(in no particular order)
Allah-las - Lahs
The National - I Am Easy To Find
Kevin Morby - Oh My God
Moon Duo - Stars Are The Light
Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
Justin Townes Earle - The Saint Of Lost Causes
John Prine - The Tree Of Forgiveness
Bruce Springsteen - Western Stars
Teskey Brothers - Run Home Slow
Bob Dylan - The Bootleg Series Vol. 15: Travelin' Thru, 1967–1969

Brady Jones (Red Eagle)

1. Sturgill Simpson - Sound And Fury

A southern blues rock album from the dystopian wasteland. There is a video version on Netflix at the moment, which is everything that I never thought that I wanted from a screaming synth trip to 30+ years from now. What a time to be alive.

2. White Denim - Side Effects
3. Michael Kiwanuka - Kiwanuka
4. The Saboteurs - Help Us Stranger
5. Tropical Fuck Storm - Braindrops
6. Julia Jacklin - Crushing
7. Brittany Howard - Jaime
8. Stiff Richards - Dig
9. Purple Mountains - Purple Mountains
10. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - And Now For The Whatchamacallit

Gus Franklin (Southern Ocean Sea Band, Sheahan Drive, Gramps, Architecture In Helsinki)

1. Kali Malone - The Sacrificial Code

Beautifully textured drones and harmonic chord clusters wrought from three distinct-sounding pipe organs recorded in rural Swedish churches gather and morph over vast track lengths on this trance-inducing record. The compositional framework established by Malone (a US composer based in Sweden) creates expansions and contractions of time in the listener’s headspace and allows for the contemplation of emotionally heart-wrenching landscapes that seem to perfectly evoke the combined feelings of early-human pagan existence, cosmological constants, and a summation of our current situation in a human world on the edge of self-generated existential collapse. Maybe it’s the feeling (given to a universal fatalist/atheists’ heart) of an overseeing/hearing set of hands (Kali has performed this record with a second organist to recreate the compositions live) slowly shaping and resolving these unwieldy emotional blocks of clustered harmony into something with an overarching meta-narrative order which feels somehow reassuring and utterly crushing all at the same time.

2. Hannah Diamond - Reflections
3. Lankum - The Livelong Day
4. Steady Garden - Steady Garden
5. Traffik Island - Nature Strip
6. William Tyler - Goes West
7. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Fishing For Fishes
8. Lucy Roleff - Left Open In A Room
9. Possible Humans - Everybody Split
10. Kornél Kovács - Stockholm Marathon

Matt Neal (Doctor & The Apologies, The 80 Aces)

1. Sharon Van Etten - Remind Me Tomorrow

Those melodies, those harmonies. Van Etten fifth album is emotionally rich, her haunted world-weary voice sailing over reverb-drenched pianos and organs, pulsing and transcendent synths, otherworldly sounds, and beats that skitter, thump and wander. It's a wealth of feelings, all of which hit home, whether she be harkening back to first album MGMT on Comeback Kid or letting her voice catch on No One's Easy To Love or soaring across New York's skyline on Seventeen. It's all so achingly beautiful.

2. Pup - Morbid Stuff
3. Bring Me The Horizon - amo
4. Waax - Big Grief
5. The Claypool Lennon Delirium - South Of Reality
6. The Chemical Brothers - No Geography
7. Sleater-Kinney - The Centre Won’t Hold
8. Psychedelic Porn Crumpets - And Now For The Watchamacallit
9. Pile - Green & Gray
10. Brightness - Brightness
11. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Infest The Rats Nest

The best and worst films of 2019

It's that time of the year again - a time when critics dig through their pile of reviews and compile a best 'of' list. So let's do it.

Firstly though I just want to point out I've been somewhat limited in what I've been able to watch this year, so forgive me if I haven't seen your fave. And release dates are based on Australian release dates.

Dig in.

1. Joker

The Taxi Driver of comic book movies. It's political, provocative, extremely violent, defiantly adult, and dares to make us empathise with a one of literature's greatest psychopaths. Its antecedents are not the latest slick blockbusters from DC or Marvel, but rather the work of Martin Scorsese. Joker poses the question of how society makes villains, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.

2. Avengers: Endgame

The Return Of The King of comic book movies. It's the epic finale that closes a mighty legacy in the best way possible. With all the anticipation, promise, and baggage, it's actually remarkable how fulfilling and enjoyable it is. Endgame lives up to the lofty heights of expectation, and does justice to the great film-making that has gone before in the MCU's past 11 years.

3. Toy Story 4

As much as this feels like an unnecessary sequel, Pixar has done the impossible. They've turned the perfect trilogy into the perfect quadrilogy. The storytelling and directorial powers behind the first three films are again brought to bear here. The main characters are given strong arcs, key among them being Woody, who has always been a wonderfully written and often beautifully flawed protagonist.

4. Rocketman

Forget Bohemian Rhapsody - this is how it's done. Rocketman doesn't hold back in its quest to tell an inventive, garish and decadent story about a man who was inventive, garish and decadent himself. There couldn't possibly be a more fitting way to sum up the career of Elton John.

5. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Tarantino's weirdest film yet, his most mystifying work since Pulp Fiction, his least accessible piece to date, and the most self-indulgent movie of his career. It's long - too long - but it's surprising, hilarious, and unlike anything else in his catalogue. But it's also definitely, distinctively, decidedly Tarantino, and will give his fans something to savour for days.

6. Little Women

Greta Gerwig pours heart and energy into Louisa May Alcott's American classic, honing in on the relationship between the March sisters, but also pulling out the strands of feminism and gender inequality that simmered amid the musings of love and loss in the novel. It makes for vital viewing, aided by immaculate performances from a top notch cast.

7. Spider-Man: Far From Home

Even here in Far From Home, where the webslinger faces a threat well above his pay-grade, the fact that Peter Parker is just "a kid from Queens" stands out more than ever. This pimples-and-all humanity is part of what made Homecoming great, and it's a key factor in Far From Home's brilliance: it's Peter's human flaws that drive yet another great entry into the near-impeccable MCU catalogue. PS. Tom Holland is the greatest Spider-man ever.

8. Dolemite Is My Name

To say this is Eddie Murphy's best live-action turn in 20 years is meaningless - outside of his Oscar nom for Dreamgirls, his post-1999 career is a wasteland that includes five Razzie nominations for worst actor (including one win). But his headlining turn here as Rudy Ray Moore in this funky Netflix biopic is quality stuff from someone whose acting talents are too often in inverse proportion to his ability to pick good roles. As Moore, Murphy gets to flex a lot of different muscles, including his rarely used dramatic chops and his natural showmanship, as well as his ability to swear like a motherfucker and make it funny as fuck.

9. Ford V Ferrari

I have zero fucks to give about motorsport, but I'll be damned if Ford V Ferrari isn't a great watch. This is because it has strong characters and solid drama; simple as that. Oh, and Christian Bale and Matt Damon.

10. The Irishman

There are a lot of reasons to recommend this film, but the main ones can be summarised in surnames - Scorsese. De Niro. Pacino. Pesci. This uber-talented quadruple-threat works wonders, wringing every ounce of drama and quiet menace from the material.

11. Abominable

If you took Steven Spielberg's E.T. - The Extra Terrestrial, mixed it with some healthy dollops of Hayao Miyazaki, ran it through some impressive CG animation, and set it in China, you might end up with something close to Abominable. This "help the creature get home" family adventure is filled with so much fun and wonder that you just want to give the whole damned movie a big hug.

And the worst...

1. Cats

To paraphrase Jurassic Park's Ian Malcolm, the filmmakers behind Cats were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a heavily CG adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, they didn’t stop to think if they should. I'm glad to have seen Cats only because it made choosing a worst film of the year all the easier.

2. The Hustle

While flicking through my Rotten Tomato scores for the year, I saw I had given The Hustle one and a half stars and I stopped and thought, "The Hustle? What the fuck was The Hustle?". I then had to click through to my own review to see what the hell The Hustle was. Apparently I had blocked everything about this unfunny film from my mind.

3. X-Men: Dark Phoenix


A bland and emotionless farewell to the XCU, which takes one of comicdom's most fascinating storylines and manages to fuck it up for a second time. I felt nothing but annoyance.

And for no real reason here are my most read blogs of 2019:

1. Avengers: Endgame
2. Ad Astra
3. The story of XTC, as told in 50 songs
4. Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker
5. Did Green Book deserve the best film Oscar?
6. Joker
7. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
8. Captain Marvel Easter eggs
9. Doctor Sleep
10. Roma

Tuesday, 31 December 2019


(G) ★

Director: Tom Hooper.

Cast: Francesca Hayward, Robbie Fairchild, Laurie Davidson, Judi Dench, Idris Elba, Jennifer Hudson, James Corden, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen, Jason Derulo, Taylor Swift, Mette Towley, Steven McRae, Ray Winstone.

Furrycon 2020 was as weird as you'd expect.
To paraphrase Jurassic Park's Ian Malcolm, the filmmakers behind Cats were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a heavily CG adaptation of the popular Broadway musical, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

Maybe it works as a stage production - I haven't seen it but its lengthy runs on Broadway and the West End suggest someone loves it. But as a film it is plotless, repetitive, and soul-sappingly boring. And then there's the occasionally bad effects, annoying camerawork, bizarre tone, and overall horrid look of the whole thing. This is the last film I saw for review in 2019, and it was easily the worst.

The plot, such as it is, involves a group of anthropomorphic cats gathering at a singing contest, with the cat that can sing the best song about themselves getting to be reincarnated. 

In reality, the "plot" of the film goes something like this:

"Who's that cat?"
*a five-minute song about that cat*
"Who's that cat?"
*another lengthy song about that cat*
*some dancing*
*Idris Elba turns up, leaves*
"Who's that cat?"
*another interminably long song about that cat*
"Who's that cat?"
*another song about a bloody cat*
*some more dancing*
*Jennifer Hudson sings a bit of Memories*
*Hey look, it's Idris Elba again... and he's gone*
*Enter Judi Dench dressed as the Cowardly Lion
"Who's that cat?"
*another five-minute long song about that cat*
*Hudson sings a bit more of Memories*
*more dancing*
*competition begins involving cats singing songs about themselves*
*Oh look, here's Taylor Swift*
*Idris is back*
*another bloody song about another bloody cat*
*Hudson sings more of Memories*
*the end?*
*oh no, now Judi Dench is singing down the camera about how cats are different to dogs ffs*

... and so it goes. There's nothing in the way of character development, excepting perhaps meek magician Mr Mistoffelees (Davidson), who has to overcome his meekness and do "real" magic to overcome the dastardly deeds of Elba's evil Macavity. Our nominal heroine Victoria (Hayward) is little more than an audience surrogate and there are no key themes to take away, and those that do exist are murky or ill-defined. 

Given the G-rating, one would have thought there might have been some kind of message, but that's lacking. The tone is also weird and strangely sexual in places (particularly when Swift's Bombalurina turns up) for a family film.

There is so much to dislike about Cats - the jittery handicam work early on, the horrible CG in places, the plotlessness - that it overpowers the good bits, kind of like how off food in the fridge can make the non-off stuff taste bad. Corden and Wilson get a couple of funny lines, the dancing and singing is generally solid, Swift's one scene is a show-stopper, and when Hudson finally lets rip in Memories (the musical's only genuinely good song) it's genuinely impressive.

But these highlights can't overcome the annoyingness of everything around it. It feels like nothing happens in the film, and what little plot there is happens in the space of five minutes. 

I'm glad to have seen Cats only because it made choosing a worst film of the year all the easier.

Saturday, 28 December 2019

The 100 best films of the 2010s

Here are my picks for the best movies of the 2010s. The list skews heavily toward the Hollywood big-hitters because that's what you predominantly get to see being an increasingly time-poor film reviewer in a country town. So if your favourite film isn't on the list, I probably haven't seen it.

Unless it's Interstellar. In which case, fuck that movie.

One more caveat: I gave up putting these films in order at some point, so if you come at me saying such-and-such a film is better than higher-placed such-and-such a film, you're probably right. Also, I lazily grouped a bunch of films together. Whatever - this was really fucking hard.

And I'm not going to make you dig to the bottom to find out what #1 is. You're welcome.

PS. Click the pics or movie titles to read full reviews where available.

1. Inception

Christopher Nolan's voyage into a dream within a dream within a dream had endlessly inventive visuals, a clever heist plot, a surprisingly heartfelt arc about love and loss, and one of the great endings of all time. It took some old pieces, mixed in some new ideas, and did things we had never seen before. At a time when intelligent blockbusters were hard to come by, Inception had brains to match its bending buildings.

2. La La Land

Every department in this film is working at its peak - cinematography, costume, choreography, script, direction, music, editing, and acting. Damien Chazelle emerged as one of the great directors of the decade, and in the willing triple-threats of Gosling and Stone he found the perfect cyphers to explore the true costs of achieving your dreams.

3. Arrival

One of the other great directors to emerge in the Teens was Denis Villeneuve, who told a sci-fi tale unlike any other in Arrival. Led by a top-of-her-game Amy Adams, it's an engrossing exploration of the power of language and communication that feels like a spiritual successor to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

Marvel dominated the 2010s, and this superhero-sized team-up was the moment it showed everyone how omnipotent and unstoppable it was. Joss Whedon brought the ill-fitting Avengers together into a wise-cracking unit that was the first of nine Marvel films to make a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, while still being a critical darling (91% on Rotten Tomatoes). Its mix of character and action is a template (or should be) for all superhero squad films that follow.

The thought of doing a film largely set within the head of an 11-year-old girl and where the principle characters are her emotions would send other animation studios reaching for the metaphorical paracetamol. Not Pixar, which makes pushing boundaries look effortless. The fact Pixar pulled off this hair-brained coming-of-age tale so brilliantly and beautifully is enough to make you want to stand up and applaud.

One of the greatest horror films of all time. They will be talking about this movie and what it represents for decades to come. Jordan Peele gave us a fresh perspective on what's scary and showed he is a directorial talent to be reckoned with. 

7. Spotlight

Everyone needs an occasional reminder of the good the media can do, especially those of us who work in the industry. This exceptional "journos do their job" movie is more than that though - it's a riveting look at truth and power that rivals All The President's Men. Subtly directed, adroitly edited, and starring an ensemble in fine form, this is the best of the decade's Best Picture Oscar-winners ...

8. Birdman

... with this a close second. Alejandro Iñárritu's bold faux-single take captures comeback kid Michael Keaton in career-best form as an actor in a downward spiral. Everything about this movie – the performances, the direction, the score, the themes – is stellar (except the last five seconds, but I can overlook that).

This was the perfect ending to a perfect trilogy until they made the unexpectedly perfect Toy Story 4. Its richness of ideas and themes, the strength of its characters, its inventive humour and plotting - all of these things are of the highest calibre. And no matter how many times I watch this with my three-year-old, I still bawl in the same two places every time. 

10. Scott Pilgrim Vs The World

Edgar Wright wrote his own rule book for this hyperactive piece of genius. It owes more to comic books and video games than cinema most of the time, and is one of the most enjoyable and inventive rom-coms ever made. There has been nothing like this film before or since.

11-13. The Planet Of The Apes trilogy

A reboot trilogy no one was asking for proved to be the best three-parter of the decade. Andy Serkis and the CG team behind the apes deserve truckloads of accolades for making Caesar one of the most well-rounded and fascinating characters of the past 10 years. Each film has been excellent, with its own themes and feel, combining to make an essential trilogy.

14. Joker

2019's best film was a super villain origin story that explored one of comicbookdom's best known figures in a bold new way. Joaquin Phoenix's gargantuan performance leads a creepy, propulsive story that explores the forgotten underbelly of society and what happens when someone falls through the cracks and strikes back.

15. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This masterful script from director Martin McDonagh gives three all-time great actors - Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell - some of the best roles of their careers. At its heart it's about what death leaves behind, and the lasting impacts of violence, with every violent act in the film having interesting and unexpected repercussions. McDonagh's skill for black comedy is at the fore, softening the harshness of some of the content and packing a punch in other places.

16. Super 8

JJ Abrams' ode to Steven Spielberg is a perfect piece of escapism that updates the kids-own adventures of the '80s. Wrapped in warm nostalgia, it builds on the technical feats of the Abrams-produced Cloverfield, but throws a team of uber-talented teens into the mix, making it a coming-of-age sci-fi with heart and spectacle.

17 & 18. Avengers: Infinity War/Avengers: Endgame

The scope and scale of Marvel's decade-ending one-two punch is unrivalled. Thanos proved to be a multi-faceted villain worthy of concluding 12 years of wonderfully interwoven superhero fare, while the script juggles its 20+ characters with ease. It's the Ben Hur of our age. 

19. The Wolf Of Wall Street

Martin Scorsese is still going strong. In fact, you could argue the 2010s saw him at the top of his game, with this tale of stock market arseholes among his best work. DiCaprio's cocaine-fuelled performance was one of eight (!) remarkable turns he gave us in the decade.

20 & 21. Paddington & Paddington 2

Pure joy - that's the best way to sum up these two flawless family films based on the adventures of Michael Bond's beloved bear. Paul King's visual flair adds a spark to match his heartfelt stories, which are taken to another level by a willing cast led by the villains of the two films - Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, giving the funniest turns of their careers.

27. Boy

30. Ex Machina

31. Her

32. Django Unchained

35. Life Of Pi

39. Frozen

46. The Muppets

47. Gravity

48. Four Lions

49. Hugo

51. True Grit

52. Whiplash

53. The Social Network

55. The Cabin In The Woods

57. Captain Fantastic

59. Animal Kingdom

60. Searching For Sugarman

61. Prisoners

62. Chronicle

66. Midnight In Paris

67. The Babadook

71. Carol

Thanks for getting all the way to the end. I appreciate it. Apologies to The Lego Movie, which would have #101.

Tell me in the comments what 2010s movies I need to see.