Facetious Movie Awards, 2016 Edition

…Well, since I’m here, I may well contribute some facetious movie awards that will be replicated nowhere else in this season. Behold!

Best Comedy: Assassin’s Creed. It’s a non-stop laugh riot, filled with cliché that goes on forever, Marion Cotillard monologuing,  a ponderous tone that feels more like Top Secret! or Airplane! than anything actually serious, completely unbelievable tech, artificially dumb villains, and suddenly convenient plot twists. Unfortunately, everyone involved in making it appears to have taken it completely seriously. Whoops.

It is thus the most entertaining video game movie since Street Fighter, for which we should be thankful. It’s not good, but it was never going to be – and at least, if you take it the right way, it’s not dull.

Actual Best Comedy: Sing Street, which is utterly delightful and everyone should go see. It wasn’t even ruined when I saw it on BA.

Best Superhero Movie: Captain America: Civil War. Just because of that airport fight and Daniel Brühl’s understated and chilling villain. And there is hope for Spider-Man yet.

Most Entertaining Superhero Movie For Certain Values Of Superhero: Deadpool, of course. Tight, doesn’t stay beyond its welcome and properly funny. Honourable mention for Doctor Strange, which has continued a recent Marvel tradition of actually having a better ending than it has a beginning (which was also the case with 2015’s delightful Ant-Man.)

Stupidest Superhero-Related Decision: Warner cramming ten minutes of trailers for potential future DCCU movies into Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, wrecking the film’s flow and any attempt to explain Lex’s motivations (and indeed that Lex is why they’re fighting in the first place). The title is almost up there too, and the question of who on earth is going to watch a Cyborg movie is as yet unanswered.

Best Lift Scene: High-Rise. Which also contains the best use of both Portishead and ABBA of any movie this year.

Best Sequel: Creed, a.k.a. Rocky VII (released in the UK 16th January 2016). And yet it’s vital, brilliant and touching quality film-making, the best Rocky sequel ever and standing up to the original. It is on Netflix; go see.

Honourable runner up goes to Star Trek Beyond. It’s not that well directed, but it’s far better written than Into Darkness (it actually has structure and character) and is a lot of fun.

Least Necessary Sequel: Independence Day: Resurgence. If you weren’t getting Will Smith, then seriously – why bother? Why?

Joint top with Bad Santa 2, which did get Billy Bob Thornton but forgot to actually be funny.

Most Disappointing Sequel: Jason Bourne. It’s the writing that lets it down, nowhere near as good as the three proper Bourne movies. I wasn’t expecting that it would actually be a debate on whether this or Legacy was better, and the title is just lazy…

Most Idiotic Fan Strop: Ghostbusters. It’s not great, but it is better than Ghostbusters 2. If remakes with ladies in are really going to get fandom to that level of enraged and entitled tantrum, we might as well declare it over.

Best Of Last Year’s Oscar Contenders Released In The UK In 2016: Room. If you haven’t seen this, do. You are not going to see that sort of material handled as sensitively and well for a very long time.

Ricky Gervais Award For Being Ricky Gervais: David Brent: Life on the Road. He’s definitely missing Merchant.

It’s Better Than The Prequels: Rogue One.

Wish for 2017: Good films, please. Especially the Oscar contenders, but just in general.

And in honour of one of our bigger losses last year, this Youtube quotes video to finish off:

A happy new year to you all.

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Media Break: 28/02/2016

I was meaning to do one of these every two weeks. That hasn’t really worked out, has it…

  • Out the serious Oscar contenders, I will be more than happy if Room wins. Really subtle and well done. Mad Max: Fury Road is of course the best film there, but it’s never going to get Best Picture or Best Director in a million years (even though it had as arduous a shoot as The Revenant did, only less talked about).
  • Idris Elba was robbed. So were Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan: Creed is just a Rocky movie really, but it somehow manages to breathe life back into the old carthorse through the traditional means of quality direction, a mastery of screenplay structure, and beautifully realistic, low-key performance.
  • Deadpool is far more fun than it had any right to be and absolutely is the best X-Men spinoff by far (it does help that it’s the only one that’s been written with any form of a sense of humour involved). Suicide Squad will have a lot to live up to.
  • I liked The Hateful Eight a lot, probably more than a lot of critics did: only Tarantino and Robert Richardson can get away with filming a cramped single-location film in Ultra Panavision 70 and not have it feel entirely like a gimmick. Like always, it improved a lot in his redrafting and, looking at the final draft screenplay the Weinstein Company have published for Oscars season, in the edit too. Wish Entertainment hadn’t fallen out with Cineworld though; but I don’t regret having to pay extra for once. (Note: I saw it on digital, with an intermission, at a Vue.)
  • What on earth is going on with Batman v. Superman? The only way they seem to be promoting it in Britain at the moment is with some appalling Turkish Airlines commercials that are on every ad break on Food Network and most ad breaks on every other Freeview channel. I will probably see it, but still…
  • Rise of the Tomb Raider can be recommended to anyone who enjoyed 2013 Tomb Raider: it plays the same, but adds better tombs, better side missions, optional NPC quests and fewer quick-time events of doom. A better rounded game.
  • Musically, I am enjoying Not to Disappear by Daughter, SVIIB by School of Seven Bells, Adore Life by Savages, and absolutely loving Synthia by the Jezabels. Check all of these out on your streaming service of choice. New Underworld, Pet Shop Boys and PJ Harvey coming imminently too.
  • Blackstar is also brilliant, but what did we expect really? David Bowie is the biggest, most devastating loss of the year.

It’s the list-makingest time of the year

It’s that time of the year where everyone comes together on the Internet to argue about what everyone liked over the year and why they’re wrong. So it’s time for my contribution…

Music

Here is a Spotify playlist I’ve made of some of my favourite stuff this year:

This playlist is actually incomplete: for the sake of track-to-track flow it’s missing anything from Floating Points’ Elaenia, Laura Marling’s Short Movie, Errors’ Lease of Life, Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? and Purity Ring’s Another Eternity, all of which are very much worth your time. Purity Ring provided the best live show I’ve seen this year (at Metropolis in Montréal).

Best comeback of the year is of course New Order (but then I’m biased), and best collaboration of the year is F.F.S. (managing to be better than both the last Franz Ferdinand and Sparks records – there has to be a future for it.)

Addendum 22.12.2015: Forgot to mention or include in the playlist The Race for Space by Public Service Broadcasting, which is a pretty big omission; or No Cities to Love by Sleater-Kinney.

Movies

Best biopic so far this year is the exceptional Love & Mercy. Only just behind that is Straight Outta Compton, which did well to try to get a consistent narrative line into the complicated and multifaceted N.W.A. story with nicely kinetic direction from F. Gary Gray and the year’s best producer credit (Ice Cube p.g.a., because of course he’s in the union.)

It’s actually been quite a good year for spy and spy related stuff. Kingsman is by turns nasty, compelling, outrageous and very, very funny (even if Vaughan and Goldman didn’t quite manage to downplay the bad bits of Millar’s writing as much as they did with Kick-Ass.) The Man from U.N.C.L.E. is massively uneven but its 60s atmosphere is spot on and when it sparks, it really works (the scene where Napoleon Solo finds safety while a massive action scene goes on in the background is utterly unique).

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the most consistent narratively since the first one and is brilliantly directed and constructed, even if there’s not a single overall sequence as good as the Dubai sequence in Ghost Protocol. Spectre is the third best Daniel Craig Bond film, but  I’d still be happy if Mendes came back on the condition that he brings back Roger Deakins and Stuart Baird and finds some better writers.

Out of the two Marvel films this year, Ant-Man is better (completely in inverse to my expectations): off the wall and willing to try new things, it is also the rare Marvel film that gets better and better as it goes on, although it’s a shame we didn’t get to see Edgar Wright’s version. It’s effectively a low-stakes version of Iron Man and all the better for it. Age of Ultron drags a bit and feels overly breezy and fluffy, although it’s still pretty and Elizabeth Olsen is great in it.

Since I haven’t seen Star Wars yet I can’t quite classify that. The Revenant should be interesting too: the trailers give an utterly unique feel.

Addendum 22.12.2015: The Force Awakens is very much worth watching. I missed The Martian, which was a lot of fun and Ridley Scott’s best film in years. And of course, how could I forget Fury Road, by far the best sequel of the year? (That piece is unblocked and I’m working on it again, by the way.)

Games

I haven’t played that much this year – I have time constraints, I don’t play MMOs and I hate military FPS with the force of a thousand suns, so the only big budget games I’ve played through this year are the hilarious Saints Row IV (finally giving up any pretence of being a serious game and going for all out comedy) and the PC version of Arkham Knight. Because I have a 4790K, 16GB of RAM and a GTX970 I was just about able to run it acceptably, which continues to show that if the PC is not dead as a gaming platform, it’s at least in the resus room.

For the record, it played OK after the first patch and some of what it does is brilliant (and unfortunately its best element is a spoiler), but it is the least of Rocksteady’s Batman games. Still better than Arkham Origins and most other games though, and it still handles its No Man’s Land inspiration better than Dark Knight Rises. So I would recommend giving it a go if you have a machine that it it will work on, or one of the current-gen consoles.

I do not own any of the current consoles, so Rise of the Tomb Raider will be 2016 for me. Let’s hope Crystal don’t screw that port up.

The distinguished competition

At the point when I am writing this in 2015, the world is heading towards Peak Superhero. Both Marvel and DC, both owned by major media conglomerates, are developing movie universes to match the ones they have built on paper. Both plan to release many comic book films over the next few years; Marvel of course having had a considerable head start. But, considering history and the upcoming slate, is this going to work out for either of them?

(Warning: This piece is quite long, has a few minor spoilers which you probably know anyway, but does contains ranting about The Dark Knight Rises. So read it at your own risk…)

Continue reading “The distinguished competition”

Here’s what I’m watching, listening to, reading etc. at the moment, in an article which I plan on posting at least once every few weeks:

  • Health’s “Death Magic” is still brilliant after however many listens: a massive improvement over much of the rest of their career (as they have discovered tunes). Recommended.
  • Tangentially related: Alice Glass has released a solo single called “Stillbirth”, produced with the aid of Health’s Jupiter Keyes. It’s industrial, angry, wrenching, emotionally draining and yet compulsively listenable – a real shout along. It bodes well for more, especially when compared with the unmemorable post-Glass Crystal Castles material.
  • The John Grant single, “Disappointing”, isn’t. Has a lovely duet with Tracey Thorn too.
  • Looking forward to the New Order album, and the ability to still frame Fury Road. (Article about Fury Road is coming up, along with one contrasting the Nolan Batman films with the Arkham games.)
  • I have Netflix at the moment, and by far the best original show I’ve seen so far is Bojack Horseman. A brilliant study of celebrity ennui, as handled by anthropomorphic animals. Fans of Venture Bros and Archer should look in. (Also, the Comic Sans-O-Matic tie in web site is nothing short of genius.)
  • The Great British Bake Off. Because. Plus University Challenge and Only Connect.

A dilemma.

Am I wrong for wanting to see Star Trek as soon as possible? The trailers and the interviews have been encouraging, the new Enterprise is plain cool, I like the idea of Simon Pegg as Scotty and Sylar as Spock and then I think about it and realise that, from the information I know…

  • It’s time travel, again
  • The gimmick this time is that it’s destroying the entire Star Trek universe as we know it, except for Enterprise. I repeat: Enterprise is apparently valid continuity for the new Trek movie. If you’re going to retcon out a series, why couldn’t it be that one?
  • And this means that retcons Picard out of the universe as well.
  • And DS9 too, and even the first few series of Voyager.
  • It’s written by the people who ruined Transformers (excepting Michael Bay).
  • It’s at least partially a variant on the age-old ‘Starfleet Academy’ idea, which was repeatedly rejected during the Berman era as a lame idea.
  • And how can the tech difference…

…and so on, goes the reasoning side of my mind. But the geek side just goes “new Star Trek, cool spaceship, MUST SEE.” It feels wrong, somehow, but I’ll still go – eager in the hope it won’t suck as much as it sounds. And when I find out, I’ll get back to you…

Fitter, happier, more productive

Things I’ve enjoyed, or found interesting, recently:

  • The Wrestler is really, really good. Possibly more truth in it than in almost all documentaries about the actual wrestling scene, although Jon Ronson had a good go in his Guardian piece about the aftermath of Chris Benoit’s killing spree. Really a must see.
  • The Springsteen album (featuring the excellent and appropriate credits song from the above as a bonus track) is also pretty enjoyable. Excellent graphics for the DVD version, too; shame about getting the discs out.
  • I like the Franz Ferdinand album, and the end of Lucid Dreams is a gloriously unexpected moment that should not be spoiled by anyone. The dub album is also an interesting bonus.
  • Spotify is awesome, even after they took down a lot of the indie-label material; nothing much in my field of interest, thankfully. Nice that they gave us an OS X version too.
  • I have a Mac laptop running Leopard and a desktop dual-booting Windows 7 beta and various Linux distros-of-the-month. Soon I will also have a media centre box running 7 MCE and XBMC/Windows, when the parts come in. My email is shared over IMAP, so all I need is for my documents directory to be the same between the two. Unison is somewhat broken for synchronising between the two and pretty much isn’t developed any more… so what I find is Windows Live Sync, which has both Windows and OS X versions and quietly syncs my machines’ documents directories on the fly. Transparently. For a Microsoft product, it really does do the job it’s intended to really quite well…
  • My software development day job is developing back-end software (Linux, C++) to get data from format A to format B in the cleanest and least visible way possible, but occasionally I do get the opportunity to develop front-end utilities. Which I write in Python for command-line stuff whenever I can, tcsh when it’s extremely simple, C++ when I can’t and C++/Qt for GUI stuff. I’ve seen enough bad GTK code (not just in our codebase) to know what I like, and Qt is it. Python is even more it, but a lot of our code needs every bit of CPU it can get so heavily threaded C++ it is…
  • And since I’ve just put forward my position on GTK/Qt: vi over emacs, Python over perl, tcsh over bash, Firefox over any other web browser, fluxbox over KDE/GNOME, and painful death over PHP.

More soon.

Is it just me…

…or wasn’t Indiana Jones and the Belated Sequel (insert that crystal skull thing here) actually not that bad? Definitely not worth the fanboy outrage you can see on AICN, and most certainly not prequel awful; it’s actually quite endearingly old-school. And Shia LaBeouf isn’t nearly as bad as he was in Transformers, although he most certainly is unnecessary.

It does get a whole lot better once Karen Allen turns up, though. And John Hurt always does a good nutbag. And… oh, what the hell, it’s OK. You could definitely do worse right now.

Mel Gibson has a lot to answer for

Scotsman.com: Hero Wallace voted greatest Will in history (8th January 2008)

SCOTS legend William Wallace has been voted the “greatest Will of all time” in a new poll.

English poet William Shakespeare, often considered the best playwright in literary history, was pushed into second place in the Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) survey of 3000 people.

Nothing whatsoever in Braveheart is actually at all anything like what Wallace actually was and did; he was from a Borders noble line and would thus have been an English/French/Latin-speaking non-clansman, his family wasn’t massacred when he was a kid (which is a massive corruption made by the movie from even the hideously unreliable Blind Hary), he spent much of the period 1298-1303 in France lobbying the Pope rather than hanging out with a useless guerilla army as the movie implies (which he only did for a matter of months in 1304-05 before stupidly getting himself captured, and he wasn’t betrayed either), ordered a series of slash-and-burn raids on northern England’s villages and monasteries that would nowadays be seen as a war crime and he didn’t shag Isabella of France – and a good thing too, as she was ten at the time he died and hadn’t even met the future Edward II yet.

Worse than all the historical inaccuracies, the movie isn’t even any good; it’s clichéd rotten, has some awful acting (only Patrick McGoohan seems to be having any fun, hamming it up as Edward I, or “Longshanks” as the movie keeps on repeating) and is quite possibly the worst film in my lifetime to win the Oscar for Best Picture. At least the battle sequences work, and Hollywood hasn’t made a hagiography of Robert Bruce yet (although Braveheart does go some way in that direction).

Wallace is only #1 on this list because of the publicity around Braveheart making people believe that it was actually the True Story; what I’m bitter about is that this has pushed Shakespeare, a figure of infinite importance to English-speaking culture who happened also to write some bloody good plays, to #2 in favour of a minor historical figure blown up by romantic delusion, hagiography and Mel bloody Gibson.

And as for the Scotsman’s headline, one thing is definite: he was no hero. Hardly anyone actually is.

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