Happy Birthday Screen Goblin!

So this week marks the first birthday of Screen Goblin. Over the last year we’ve brought you reviews of a huge range of films; from X-Men to X-Men 2, from Oldboy to the Oldboy remake, at Screen Goblin we have left no stone unturned, no film unwatched, and we’ve loved every minute of it. Except The Girl with the Pearl Earring. That almost made us give up. So to mark our first year, here’s a look back at some of our best reviews. A review of reviews, if you will. Join us as we look at the best of the best and the worst of the worst of our 360-odd posts from the last 12 months. Enjoy.

New releases

Dan’s Picks

We’ve visited cinemas everywhere from the green leafy parks of Cambridge to the grey industrial parks of Stevenage, to bring you reviews of all the exciting new releases, usually just before they disappear from cinemas as if by magic. And talking of magic, let’s take a look back at James Wan’s The Conjuring, just like future generations won’t.

rs_560x415-131016133110-560.liam.cm.101613It’s not all been bad though, and the past year has given us some pleasant surprises at the cinema, and I’m not talking about finding half a bag of popcorn under the seat. Liam Neeson took to the skies in the non-stop madness of Non-Stop, which was just plane fun. Just to contextualise one of the jokes, this was the same week that Lupita Nyong’o won her Oscar for 12 Years a Slave. The rest are about planes.

From Liam Neeson-on-a-plane to Tom Hardy-in-a-car; Steven Knight’s profoundly self-contained Locke was an impressive feat of writing, grounded by a beardy Hardy speaking very softly on the phone, with a Welsh accent, about concrete. Or in Welsh, “conk-reet”.

Alex’s Picks

You might not have heard of John Otway, “rock and roll’s greatest failure”, but luckily this documentary is on hand to tell you all about it. I was lucky enough to go to a screening introduced by Otway himself, who is basically the Frank Spencer of the musical world. You may remember me reviewing a film about the worst movie ever made, Troll 2. But while The Best Worst Movie was enjoyable enough, it can’t beat Otway for sheer likeability. Check out my review of  Rock and Roll’s Greatest Failure: Otway the Movie.

From one failure to another, this time instead of a hapless man trying to make a success of his life, we see two hugely successful men stripping down to their shorts for a geriatric boxing match. That’s right, it’s Stallone vs. De Niro in Grudge Match, which was far more fun to review than to watch. Check it out.

In case you’re scared of ever going to the cinema ever again after reading that, check out Her, one of the best films this year, and also one of my favourite positive reviews.

Retro reviews

Dan’s Picks

We like to delve into the Screen Goblin archives and dig out an old classic or some forgotten film that’s been forgotten for good reason. Disturbia, for instance, stars Shia LaBeouf, a man whose recent attempts to quit public life have had the adverse effect. It’s almost as if he’s doing it deliberately…

Veronica-Sawyer-Croquet-Heathers-Winona-RyderFrom LaBeouf to Le Carré, whose novel The Constant Gardener was presumably made into a film in order to compete for the title of worst named movie of all time. Actually, since writing this review I’ve learnt that “constant” can mean steadfast or resolute, as well as continuous. But I still think it’s a terrible title. You could say I’m constant in that opinion.

But we don’t hate everything we watch. Sometimes, very rarely, we’ll be nice about a film and be filled with an enthusiasm which is quickly demolished by our next trip to the cinema. Since 1988, Heathers has only grown in cult appeal, thanks to its scathing satire, cool cruelty and endless quotability. Lick it up baby, lick it up.

Alex’s Picks

My favourite reviews from the last year have to be the ones where I got to be rude about films. Personally I think there’s nothing more enjoyable than spending half an hour writing a typo-ridden reveiw slamming hundreds of people’s hard work, time, passion and enthusiasm.

One film I definitely had to qualms about tearing to pieces was Hannibal Rising, a film about as interesting as yeast rising. A cynical and artistically void cash-in, it was worthy of every mean word I used about it. In fact, I’m going to make up a new word to describe it: blengrew. It means fucking awful.

But sometimes you watch a film with an awful reputation, which turns out to have more redeeming qualities than you expected. This was true of King Kong (1976) and Judge Dredd. While you couldn’t say I flattered either of them, I do give them the benefit of the doubt on several issues.

But what’s worse than a tacky, badly made popcorn film? A pretentious arthouse film with misjudged ideas and poor execution, that’s what. And those are the crimes of bizarro Bob Dylan sort-of biopic I’m Not There.

But there’s one review I enjoyed writing more than any other. It’s a film that has something for everyone. It makes you laugh, it makes you cry. It has great music, and is as educational as it is inspirational. I am, of course, talking about Reincarnated, the documentary charting Snoop Dogg’s discovery of reggae music and transition to Snoop Lion.

Top 5 Lists

Just to be extra confusing, we thought we’d give you a top 5 list of our favourite lists. Cue the riff from Whole Lotta Love!

5.Cinematic cresendos, that is, films which build and build to their finales. This would have been a top 5, but there were 6 films I wanted to talk about, and I didn’t want to put them in any order.

4. Unable to contain his excitement for the all-women Expendables, Alex took us through the 10 actors we’d love to see in the Expendabelles. Probably while listening to Sisters are Doin’ it for Themselves. Check out Expendabelle Watch.

3. Journo-lists! Great pun, and an equally great list of cinematic journalists.

2. Apocalypto is a great film, but it does feature one of the most preposterously outlandish lucky savings of a character in any film, inspiring a blog post on the topic. It’s our Top 5 Lucky Saves.

1. The list that everyone wanted, and also by far our most-read article, the number one list is, of course, 5 Best Sci Fi Sex Scenes.

Blogs

Dan’s Picks

Here at Screen Goblin we love a good rant, particularly when aimed at James Wan. After the infuriating experience of watching Insidious: Chapter 2, I wanted to codify all that was wrong with modern horror films. Here’s my attempt.

James Wan was also responsible for The Conjuring, which utterly failed to live up to the hyperbolic reviews on the poster. This trend for headline-grabbing poster quotes drove me to another rant, which led me to a review that called I Am Legend “One of the greatest movies ever made.” Go figure.

Speaking of horror films, I became fascinated by the video nasties scandal of the 1980s, thanks in part to Jake West’s brilliant documentary Video Nasties: Moral Panic, Censorship & Videotape, which is worth returning to as he’s releasing the also brilliant follow up Video Nasties: Draconian Days. It’s an important period of cinematic and cultural history, so I basically plagiarised the first documentary in the form of a blog.

Alex’s Picks

How come there are so many action movie tough guys called John? That was the topic of one blog post from last August. It was inconclusive.

Finding something that lots of films have and writing a blog about it is a good way to revisit some of your favourite films, which is how I ended up writing about shouting scenes and bar fights. Both of these things feature in too many films to count, which makes them a great pretext to talk about whichever films I happen to want to talk about.

We also looked at actors we, as children of the 90s, knew from some of their…ahem…lesser works, in a rare joint blog post.

Series

Sometimes we accidentally watch lots of similar films, or films with a particular actor, in close succession. When we do this, we pretend we did it on purpose, and publish the reviews as a series. Here’s a series of the series we’ve done:

Rash of Bacon – Inspired by those EE adverts they put on at the cinema, we took a look back at some of Kevin Bacon’s greatest hits, and concluded he’s actually a lot less annoying than in those awful ads.

Strictly Classified – With Chelsea Manning’s revelations about NSA surveillance, we took the opportunity to watch some of the great films about being watched, examining how far government can go in the name of protecting its citizens.

LGBT History Month – In an insensitive bid to make our reviews seem relevant, we used February to explore LGBT issues in cinema. We may not have eradicated homophobia, but we reviewed the hell out of some movies.

Under the Sea – Basically we happened to watch a lot of films about submarines and reviewed them. That’s it really.

A Spike Lee Joint – With Spike Lee’s Oldboy remake out last year, Alex took a look at more than a dozen of his past films. This conveniently coincided with him getting a Spike Lee box set at bargain price.

Woody Allen: A Double Bill – Meanwhile, Dan bought a Woody Allen box set, much to Alex’s amusement, and used the opportunity to write a series of Woody Allen reviews. And for some reason named them after the Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil

In the early ’80s, Canadian metal band Anvil were headlining rock festivals, releasing acclaimed albums and influencing the likes of Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica. 25 years later, the band have faded into obscurity, struggling to make ends meet but still trying to make it big.

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Sacha Gervasi’s 2008 rockumentary follows vocalist and guitarist Steve “Lips” Kudlow and drummer Robb Reiner, whose name isn’t the only thing this movie has in common with This Is Spinal Tap. Footage of Lips playing his Flying V with a dildo reminds us just how accurate Spinal Tap is in its affectionate satire of rock music. Elements of Anvil! The Story of Anvil are so absurd that it could easily be a mockumentary, as the erstwhile “demi-gods of Canadian metal”, now in their 50s, lose their slot at a gig because they missed their train.

DSC_0407The level of pathos is turned up to 11; it’s sad to see such deluded middle-aged men trying to justify their ludicrous lifestyle with vague mantras about life, especially given the mediocrity of their music. One can’t help but feel sorry for their wives who thought the band were going to be a success, who now have to put up with all this nonsense. The fleeting and fickle nature of fame is hammered home by early images of Lips clad in S&M leather playing to a massive crowd, juxtaposed with his driving to some crappy day job or breaking down into tears. Anvil has much to say about the music industry, in which commitment, integrity and dedication simply aren’t enough.

anvil-the-story-of-anvil-20091023033724627_640wThanks to this documentary, Anvil have had something of a resurgence; according to Wikipedia, they’ve since made appearances at Download Festival, on The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and supporting AC/DC. But what about all those bands struggling to get anywhere who aren’t lucky enough to be the subject of a highly praised rock-doc? It still seems misguided to encourage such blind pursuit of such impossible dreams; if Anvil teaches us anything it’s surely that sometimes we need to let these things go.

Either way, it’s a great rockumentary, which manages to be constantly funny without laughing at its hugely likeable subjects. An entertaining commentary on the music industry that never loses sight of the people at the film’s centre, this is an appealing music documentary with the insight of The Great Hip Hop Hoax, the humanity of Searching for Sugar Man and the absurdity of This Is Spinal Tap.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

In Wallace and Gromit’s 2005 cinematic debut, our plasticine heroes run a humane pest-control service called Anti-Pesto, there’s a were-rabbit on the loose, and the Giant Vegetable Competition is fast approaching. Typical.

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This satire of middle-England makes The Curse of the Were-Rabbit feel like a clay version of Hot Fuzz, with a similar vein of cineliteracy; there are references to The Curse of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man and King Kong, with a title seeped in Hammer horror history. Claymation is used as a fun vessel for horror just as in ParaNorman, which is wonderfully kid-friendly, and the films of Lee Hardcastle, which definitely aren’t.

dogwartsThe painstaking process of stop-motion animation, even digitally assisted as it is here, ought to drive anyone crazy, or at least force them to keep things as simple as possible. But in the case of Aardman the opposite seems to apply. Ingeniously intricate contraptions, impossibly detailed sets and endless background gags are beautifully rendered in clay; it’s simply mind-blowing to anyone with the kind of attention span oh look over there it’s a tree.

Screen shot 2014-07-26 at 01.32.53Nick Park and Steve Box direct with care and joy, giving Wallace and Gromit their enduring appeal. It’s a sweet friendship between the silly but enthusiastic inventor and his silent but expressive dog; they’re like the Alex and Dan of plasticine. The superb Peter Sallis is joined by an all-star voice cast that includes Helena Bonham Carter, Liz Smith and Ralph Fiennes, whose talent as a comic actor can not be overstated.

Most importantly, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is funny from start to finish, just like Chicken Run before it. Aardman never miss a chance for a smart pun, a humorous reference or a sight gag. As in other great animations such as The Simpsons, the film is so packed with clever details that it’s impossible to get them all in one or ten viewings. Lovingly animated, horror-literate and gleefully funny, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit is a joyous celebration of cinema, plasticine and cheese.

Boyhood

12 years ago, Richard Linklater picked 6-year-old Ellar Coltrane to play a kid called Mason in his new family drama, which he filmed for a few days each year until 2014.

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The question is whether Boyhood works as a film or just as an impressive feat, and the wistful opening shot of Mason’s face accompanied by Coldplay’s Yellow is unlikely to make anyone particularly optimistic. But that’s the worst bit, and the film cleverly unfolds over the next 3 hours. It is much too long, but that was inevitable given its 12-year production. According to Variety, the original title 12 Years was abandoned due to its similarity to 12 Years A Slave, which Coltrane ought to appropriate when it comes to writing his autobiography.

0As in the case of A Scanner Darkly, still Linklater’s greatest work, the innovative production style is not a gimmick but is integral to the story. Seeing characters actually age as they would in real life is unsurprisingly effective, while the actors’ protracted performances give them a unique authenticity. Patricia Arquette stands out as Mason’s mother, while his sister and father are brilliantly played by Linklater’s daughter Lorelei Linklater and friend Ethan Hawke. Coltrane himself is perfectly cast, begging the question of how Linklater knew he’d grow up to look exactly like Ethan Hawke.

ellarcoltraneAt times this all feels too much like watching a random family’s home movies, but affection towards the tangible characters keeps the film engaging. It’s profound in its normality, and the drama is at its best when firmly naturalistic. At times it strays from this essential realism, as characters have the sort of pseudo-profound conversations that people only have in Hollywood movies, not to mention one particularly baffling coincidence that would be the worst part of the film were it not for Coldplay’s Yellow.

But Linklater succeeds in bringing the warm and human naturalism of his Before trilogy to this coming-of-age tale, which they should have called Before Before Sunrise. The broad strokes and severe sentimentality are forgivable given the universality of the film’s themes, which seem likely to give Boyhood an enduring appeal. A deeply personal epic, it’s a story of growing up, from clueless child to annoying teenager to clueless adult. Linklater warmly assures us that we’re all just winging it, Star Wars is some sort of universal constant and the last 12 years have given us some really bad music.

Mission: Impossible

Tom Cruise is here doing what he does best: running around beating up bad guys. The troubled megastar plays a troubled secret ops bloke, Ethan Hunt, whose team gets wiped out by a job which turned out to be a trap. He has to get to the bottom of things, but who can he trust, and who is trying to frame him?

Mission: Impossible is riddled with spy movie clichés from start to finish, from self destructing tapes to entering a room on wires through the roof, via lasers and an on top of a train action sequence. But with the iconic music, anything less would feel inadequate.

Like most big budget 90s action films, this looks incredible. At the peak of pre-CGI special effects, nearly everything had to be done camera which, as good as CGI has become, is still hard to beat. The supporting cast is good, with Jon Voight of Anaconda and Ving Rhames of Piranha 3D, meaning this is neither of their careers’ low points.

The twisty, turny spy plot is often baffling, which is unusual for an action film. It doesn’t skimp at all on the plot side. Does this mean it’s uneven, making it hard to find your feet, or just that it delivers on both the action and the story? Personally I’m closer to the former. I want my popcorn entertainment with a little less crossing and double crossing. The silly action and gadgets, which border on the camp, feel at odds with the plot which is more like something from a John Le Carré novel.

It loses its way in the final act when both plot and action go beyond absurd. The final action sequence is nauseatingly dumb and the only time what we’re watching fails to look believable, as dodgy bluescreen work is employed. Ironically it’s far less tense than a scene earlier in the film where Tom Cruise has to get a disc from an ultra high security vault. This scene combines numerous elements to create a sequence which is edge-of-your-seat in its tension levels, and also fantastically well made. A finale which went for a similar tension would have been better than one that involved a helicopter flying through a tunnel.

Altogether this is a passable action film, and reminds us why Tom Cruise is so successful, in spite of being so thoroughly unhinged. Is it clichéd? Sure. But it turns the volume up to the full and delivers what it promises.

Gone With the Wind

The US Civil War era epic follows a young girl called Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), the daughter of wealthy plantation owners in the Old South. It opens with her and her companions pining after the local men in scenes which bear some resemblance to a Much Ado About Nothing style romantic drama, but when the war breaks out the men are sent away, forcing the women to face the end of their way of life. As defeat looms for the South, the war threatens to defeat the survivors in every possible way.

During the film’s opening minutes I was filled with dread. Posh people fussing over who fancies whom reminded me of what I assume Downton Abbey is like, which is why I’ve never watched it. “Four hours of this”, I thought, “damn”. But like all great epics it encompasses a huge range of genres and moods over a very long time period. Most of the film is pure Hollywood melodrama, of a sort that you’d never get away with these days. But it takes place against the backdrop of the civil war, so contains the horror of armed conflict, as well as a tale of survival in brutal circumstances, like Les Miserables, except they talk properly. With a strong female lead, this is in many respects a coming of age story, and in spite of its very old fashioned view of gender roles, manages to present an inspirational woman overcoming the odds in a difficult time.

That’s not to say the high school “who fancies who” stuff ever completely goes away, and the women’s obsession with pursuing particular men, with all the aplomb typical of this archaic view of sex and gender rolls, never completely stops being grating, but as the drama increases through the film and the rousing score comes in, it’s impossible not to get swept along, and ultimately blown away by it.

One slight problem I had was with the film’s taking the side of rich, white slave owners in the South. Again this is something that bothered me more towards the beginning, but it certainly shows the Southerners as the victims throughout. At one point Scarlett shouts at, threatens to whip and then hits a young slave girl in a very uncomfortable scene, and while she is supposed to be a flawed character, her attitude to slaves is never presented as one of her flaws. It can’t even use the Zulu excuse of just wanting to depict historical events without judgement, as this film is an open love letter to the Old South. Here are the words onscreen at its opening:

There was a land of Cavaliers and
Cotton Fields called the Old South. . . .

Here in this patrician world the
Age of Chivalry took its last bow. . . .

Here was the last ever to be seen
of Knights and their Ladies Fair,
of Master and of Slave. . . .

Look for it only in books, for it
is no more than a dream remembered,
a Civilization gone with the wind. . . .

Ahh yes. Remember the good old days of slavery?

It’s testament to how good this film is that it’s brilliant in spite of its insanely rose-tinted view of a brutal and unpleasant time in history. Compare it to Civil War era Westerns like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, which are far from yearning for the good old days, and you see just how committed it is to glorifying the time period.

But it’s from this love of the setting that such a rich and fully realised world is put to screen. The costumes, for example, are outstanding, and it enjoys one of the best scores in movie history. There’s also some stunning, and often brilliantly innovative cinematography to match the drama.

At four hours long, Gone With the Wind certainly isn’t a breeze, but it’s so epic, so dramatic and so vast in its reach that it will take your breath away.

In the Line of Fire

In The Line of Fire was made in 1993 but for some reason looks like it was made in the 70s. It’s about a secret service agent called Frank (Clint Eastwood) who’s singled out by a psychopath who plans to kill the new president. The killer taunts Frank with memories of his past, when he failed to prevent Kennedy’s assassination.

It’s akin in many ways to other cat and mouse films which involve a personal relationship developing between cop and killer, such as Catch Me If You Can, Hannibal, and Heat. It’s also quite similar to Vertigo, with an ageing cop facing his demons, and a rooftop chase sequence very similar to that film.

It’s a good cop drama/thriller with surly Eastwood mumbling his way through his lines like Patty and Selma, and pursuing a woman half his age. John Malkovich is great as the pyshco, resembling both Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs and Robert Webb, with shades of Kevin Spacey’s sinister John Doe of Se7en.

In The Line of Fire is an interesting if unexceptional thriller which is enjoyable even if it feels more dated than other films from the era. Eastwood is a throwback, which is kind of the point, but did they really need casual sexism that would look out of place in the 1960s?