Monday, 31 December 2012

My Top Five Films of 2012

2012 was destined to be the best year of cinema since 1999. And we needed a good year, especially after the trainwreck that was 2011.

In many ways, 2012 was the Year of the Franchise. Franchises ended (Twilight, The Dark Knight), franchises were launched (Hunger Games, Jack Reacher), franchises were re-launched (The Amazing Spider-Man, Dredd), franchises continued (The Hobbit, Skyfall) and Marvel's five-film uber-franchise finally culminated in Marvel Avengers Assemble. Plus, no franchise news was bigger than the announcement of a new Star Wars trilogy. Thank you Lucasfilm and Disney!

So did 2012 live up to expectations? Well... mostly.

We had a solid Oscar season with The ArtistThe DescendantsWar HorseShameThe Iron Lady and the rest dividing the judges.

There were plenty of unexpected hits, with the indie circuit offering us Silver Linings PlaybookThe Perks of Being a Wallflower and Chronicle.

And even the expected hits managed to win the crowds over despite the burden of incredibly high-anticipation. The HobbitThe Dark Knight Rises and Marvel Avengers Assemble all deserve a round of applause.

Spider-Man and Dredd were given stylish reboots, Channing Tatum reinvented himself as a comedy genius in 21 Jump Street and The Muppets won an Oscar for Best Song. Best of all, the Twilight saga has finally come to an end!

Sadly, 2012 was not without its share of disappointments, none more devastating than Prometheusand John CarterYoung Adult marked the first misfire for director Jason Reitman and Aardman's Pirate Adventure lacked their usual spark.

Even some of the better films fell slightly short of classic status. Skyfall slowly edged back towards the camp days of Bond, Brave was far from Pixar's best and the much-hyped The Raid grew tiresome after the first hour of ass-kicking.

But this is being picky. 2012 will be remembered fondly.

So, like many cinephiles, I write a Top Five every year. I have only included films that were released in 2012. There are also plenty of big films that I have not seen. For instance, I cannot give an opinion onBeasts of the Southern WildL'AmoreMoonrise Kingdom and Bourne Legacy.

There are lots of great five-star films and guilty pleasures that didn't make the top five. The two closest reserves were The Artist and the brilliantly-clever, meta-horror Cabin in the Woods.

Anyway, here are my Top Five Films of 2012:


Alexander Payne returns to the director's chair with another Oscar-standard indie, although it was criminally overlooked by the Academy. George Clooney delivers another world-class performance (dramatic, heart-breaking, hilarious), whilst newcomer Shailene Woodley steals several scenes as his daughter. The Descendants tackles big issues with a light-hearted approach and offers great acting, original writing and a life-affirming sense of humour.


This sleeper hit of 2012 was a mash-up between Cloverfield and X-Men... or possibly Carrie for the YouTube generation. Debut director Josh Trank gives superheroes the found-footage treatment, casting a talented group of unknown actors and capturing the super-powered antics through home videos, CCTV footage and any available Smartphone. Chronicle is refreshing, captivating, edge-of-your-seat film-making.


A welcome return to Middle-Earth packed with the humour, horror and heart that we now expect from Jackson's Oscar-winning team. The Hobbit seamlessly embodies everything that was great aboutLOTR, whether it be grotesque monsters, over-the-top action or stunning scenery. And Martin Freeman is perfect as Bilbo. Bring on the dragon.


a beautifully-presented coming-of-age drama based on director Stephen Chbosky's own critically-acclaimed novel and driven by a talented trio of young actors. Logan Lerman, Emma Watson and Ezra Miller each reinvent themselves, crafting unforgettable characters and deserving of award recognition. This is Lost in Translation for teenagers. Feel-good, magical cinema.


After years of franchise-building, Avengers finally happened. Josh Whedon assembled the greatest superhero film to date and certainly the most fun. This is perfectly-balanced, laugh-out-loud, dream-come-true Friday night entertainment and proof that crossover comic book franchises can work on the big-screen. Marvel's faith in both the Avengers and in Whedon has paid off. Anyone for shawarma?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Looking Back... October 2012

October in a Tweet: the festival hits arrive in cinemas alongside numerous Halloween animations and Bond proves he is still nifty at fifty. Happy Birthday 007!

Everyone was talking about... Disney purchasing Lucasfilm and announcing Episode VII for 2015! A game-changing bombshell dropped at the end of the month.

Best Film: The Perks of Being a Wallflower - a sweet, perfectly-acted, feel-good, coming-of-age drama. Lost in Translation for teenagers.

Best Actor: Javier Bardem as the literally jaw-dropping villain, Raoul Silva, in Skyfall.

Best Director: novelist Stephen Chbosky makes a strong directorial debut with Wallflower, adapting his own novel and crafting a beautiful-looking film.

Best Twist: M (Judi Dench) dying in Bond's arms in Skyfall. A bold move but understandable and a necessary kick for the fifty-year old franchise.

Best Scene: the tunnel scene from Wallflower to the tune of David Bowie's Heroes. Wonderful.

Other Best Scene: Silva's rat monologue as he strolls towards the camera. A spectacular entrance.

Worst Scene: CGI komodo dragons dragging off henchmen in Skyfall. There goes the gritty, realistic Bond era.

Best Line: "I'll hazard I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pyjamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field." - Q (Ben Whishaw) arrives with some snappy dialogue.

Missed Opportunity: killing Javier Bardem's Raoul Silva was a waste. Bond needs a new Blofeld and Silva was the best Bond villain in years. A shame he won't be returning.

RIP: Harris Savides, the award-winning cinematographer, died of brain cancer. Savides had worked with Gus Van Sant, David Fincher, Sofia Coppola, Woody Allen and Ridley Scott during his long career. Notable films include Elephant, Milk, Zodiac and American Gangster.

Films Seen: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Skyfall.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 4.5

Thursday, 1 November 2012

The Disney Star Wars Merger

This week, Walt Disney bought the rights to Lucasfilm for a cool $4 billion.

So, yes: Disney now own Star Wars.

The decision is understandable. George Lucas, CEO of Lucasfilm and creator of Star Wars, explained: “It’s now time for me to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers. I’ve always believed that Star Wars could live beyond me, and I thought it was important to set up the transition during my lifetime.”

This is a big deal. Lucas has handed over his legacy.

Naturally, this has caused some outrage amongst Star Wars fans but most of these complaints are unfounded. A common fear is that Disney will tarnish the franchise, delivering films aimed at Disney’s trademark younger audience. But Lucas himself did that with Episode I and if the franchise can survive Jar Jar Binks then it can survive anything.

Some Star Wars fans have voiced their concern that Disney will milk the franchise for every last penny with huge amounts of spin-offs and cash-ins. But those people should be asked: where have you been living for the past 45 years? This is Star Wars. It practically invented movie merchandise. Lucas himself has happily expanded his universe into a TV series, re-releases, novels, comics, toys, computer games, fancy dress, Lego, Pez dispensers and everything in between. And why not? Star Wars would not have achieved such immortality on the basis of six movies alone. There is not much left for Disney to add, except possibly a theme park, and which self-respecting Star Wars fan could resist riding a Millennium Falcon rollercoaster?

The truth is there is no-one better suited than Disney to inherit Star Wars. Arguably, there is no-one other than Disney to inherit Star Wars. The House of Mouse has the far-reaching infrastructure to handle the acquisition, both logistically and creatively. Other studios would crumble with the magnitude of the task.

So where do we go from here?

Well, without wasting any time, Disney has announced that Star Wars Episode VII is due out in 2015.

And so we arrive at the truly controversial point of the handover. Presumably, Episode VII will be a sequel but what else is left to explore? Following Return of the Jedi, the Empire had crumbled, Palpatine had been chucked into the heart of the second Death Star and Vader found redemption. Plus, any sequel is likely to override the Expanded Universe, laid out in the novels. After all, the novels have chronicled the Star Wars universe for thousands of years after Return of the Jedi (Han and Leia have grandchildren, Chewbacca has died and so on) and this history is now accepted as canon. To suddenly dismiss this Universe will upset a lot of fans (and novelists).

But Star Wars began with films and that is where it must return in order to guarantee another 45 years of lightsabres and droids.

And think of the possibilities. Disney also own Pixar and Marvel. Obviously, don’t expect to see the Avengers flying around in X-Wings any time soon or WALL.E making a cameo alongside R2, as fan-pleasing as those big-screen mash-ups would be. 

However, the real opportunity here lies in the creative mash-up.

Disney now has an arsenal of top creative talent amassed through their collaborations with Pixar and Marvel. Imagine an Episode VII directed by John Lasseter and written by Joss Whedon with a story provided by Lucas. It is an exciting possibility.

But regardless of your feelings, there is one important thing to focus on: Star Wars will live on.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Looking Back... September 2012

September in a Tweet: the mainstream goes up against the festival circuit, as the likes of Dredd and Looper take on Holy Motors and The Intouchables.

Everyone was talking about... the Paralympics! But also the highly-anticipated Skyfall song, leaked one week early.

Best Film: Looper - Rian Johnson delivers his third film and confidently blends the action, science-fiction and indie genres.

Best Newcomer: young Pierce Gagnon managing to be both cute and terrifying in Looper.

Biggest Surprise: Dredd - it won over the 2000 AD fans and left audiences wanting more.

Best Scene: the various drug sequences in Dredd - beautifully-rendered and a great use of 3-D.

Other Best Scene: a future looper rapidly loses his limbs as his past self is chopped up by henchmen. Utterly horrific.

Best Cameo: Jeff Daniels acting against type as a time-travelling mobster in Looper.

Best Line: 'Ma-Ma is not the law... I am the law!' - Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) in Dredd. We knew it was coming but it sounded good coming from under that helmet.

RIP: Michael Clarke Duncan - suffered a heart attack at the age of 54. Duncan will be immortalised by his Oscar-nominated performance as John Coffey in The Green Mile.

Films Seen: Dredd, Looper.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 4.5

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Looking Back... August 2012

August in a Tweet: Hollywood loses Tony Scott, whilst cinema gains plenty of unlikely heroes: talking bears, Scottish princesses and gun-toting OAPs.

Everyone was talking about... the Olympics! But also the apparent suicide of British director Tony Scott, who died after jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge in Los Angeles.

Best Scene: Flash Gordon actor Sam Jones hilariously riffing himself at a house party in Ted.

Best Cameo: Chuck Norris tells a Chuck Norris joke in Expendables 2.

Best Line: 'Chris Brown can do no wrong!' John (Mark Wahlberg) in Ted, during a flashback to 2008.

Other Best Line: 'I'm back!' Trench (Arnold Schwarzenegger) saves the day in The Expendables.

Missed Opportunity: instead of casting Jean-Claude van Damme as the villain, they should have recruited some young action heroes like Taylor Lautner to play the bad guys. That way, we would cheer even louder when the crusty old veterans win.

RIP: Tony Scott - the world paid their respects to the director of Top Gun and True Romance.

Films Seen: Ted, Brave, Expendables 2

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 3.33 stars

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Looking Back... July 2012

July in a Tweet: summer blockbusters reign supreme as Scrat breaks the continents, Bane breaks Batman and Spider-Man breaks in his web-slingers once more.

Everyone was talking about... Bane's voice! I can't understand him! He sounds like Ian McKellen! And so on.

Best Film: The Dark Knight Rises - a darker, superbly-cast, masterfully-executed swansong to Nolan's Bat trilogy.

Best Actor: Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man - Garfield's Peter Parker is much more charismatic, engaging and believable than Tobey Maguire's interpretation. Finally, we have a Peter Parker every bit as watchable as his web-slinging alter-ego.

Best Actress: Anne Hathaway, The Dark Knight Rises - those hoping Bane would be another Joker-esque villain were disappointed but Hathaway's Catwoman is the next best thing: crowd-pleasing, wise-cracking, ass-kicking and she looks stunning in a catsuit.

Best Director: Marc Webb did a terrific job reinventing Spider-Man but this accolade could only go to Christopher Nolan who has crafted a satisfying conclusion his Bat trilogy against insurmountable expectation.

Best Scene: Bane versus Batman in Gotham's sewers. Brutal.

Other Best Scene: the revelation regarding Ras Al Ghul's child. A brilliant twist, well-delivered.

Best Line: "So that's what that feels like." - Batman turns around to find Catwoman has vanished without saying goodbye.

Missed Opportunity: Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben and Denis Leary's Captain Stacy were the best supporting cast members in The Amazing Spider-Man. And both were killed off. We knew their deaths were coming but why not save them for a sequel?

RIP: Oscar-winning Hollywood veteran Ernest Borgnine passed away at the age of 95.

Films Seen: Ice Age 4, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 4.33

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Looking Back... June 2012

June in a Tweet: Tom Cruise rocked out and Ridley Scott sold out (Prometheus is the new marmite) against a backdrop of forgettable horrors and comedies.

Everyone was talking about... Prometheus. The Facebook newsfeed was divided into lovers and haters.

Best Film: The Raid - rightfully-dubbed the Indonesian Die Hard. Thankfully I saw this in June or I would have little to choose from.

Biggest Disappointment: Prometheus - barely recognisable as a relation to Scott's superior 1979 Alien.

Best Actor: Michael Fassbender, Prometheus - Fassbender's android David was the saving grace in a film loaded with two-dimensional, uninteresting characters.

Best Director: Gareth Evans, The Raid - Evan's stylish direction of Iko Uwais' hectic Pencak Silat deservedly earns him the reputation as a rising maestro of action scenes.

Best Scene: David killing time whilst Prometheus' crew are in hyper-sleep: basketball, cycling and impersonating Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia.

Other Best Scene: Rama and Andi take on Mad Dog in The Raid.

Missed Opportunity: Prometheus needed some twists: Vickers should have been an android, David should have been human and the classic alien should have appeared much sooner or not at all.

Cinema Anecdote: upon walking out of the cinema after watching Prometheus, I overheard a guy saying: "I bet they make a sequel." Mate, they made the sequel thirty years ago. It's called Alien and it is way better.

Films Seen: The Raid, Prometheus.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 2.5

Best Excuse for not going to the Cinema: my honeymoon.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Looking Back... May 2012

May in a Tweet: Cinemas are full of franchise revivals (American Pie Reunion, MiB 3) and other non-essential films. I stayed away and got married instead.

Best Excuse for Not Going to the Cinema: getting married.

Best Thing About Getting Married: our WALL.E and EVE wedding toppers!

Everyone was Talking About: Avengers becoming the fastest film to reach $1 billion worldwide box office.

My One Film Trip: technically I did go to the cinema but it was to see Avengers again. Still awesome.

Biggest Regret: missing out on Moonrise Kingdom. Wes Anderson films are always a treat.

Films That Can Wait Until DVD: The Dictator, 2 Days in New York, Snow White & The Huntsman.

Films That Can Wait Until TV: Men in Black III, American Pie Reunion, Get The Gringo, Dark Shadows.

Films That Can Wait Until Hell Freezes Over: What to Expect When You're Expecting, Safe.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Looking Back... April 2012

April in a Tweet: Joss Whedon month! Cabin in the Woods and Avengers both assembled icons from their respective genres. Plus, we got our first Jo Nesbo film.

Everyone was talking about... the Joss Whedon double-bill! Cabin in the Woods and Avengers prove that Whedon can deliver big screen scripts every bit as sharp as his TV work. And his triumphant turn as director of Avengers has just elevated Whedon to a serious contender in Hollywood.

Best Film: Marvel Avengers Assemble - crowd-pleasing, fan-pleasing and well worth the wait. Marvel Studio's long-running commitment to this franchise really paid off.

Best Actor: it's hard to pick a winner from a month of ensemble films but Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson in Avengers almost stole the show with his straight-talking, nonchalant reactions to the superhero antics.

Best Actress: Scarlett Johanssen was a sure-fire hit as Black Widow and made the character far more interesting than her Iron Man 2 appearance, utilising her dark back story to hit the emotional notes but equally happy kicking-ass. Bring on a Black Widow spin-off prequel.

Best Line: with two Whedon scripts to choose from, this is a hard call. But let's go with one of Tony Stark's zingers. "Dr. Banner, your work is unparalleled. And I'm a huge fan of the way you lose control and turn into an enormous green rage monster."

Other Best Line: "I'm sorry I let you get attacked by a werewolf and then ended the world." Marty (Fran Kranz) in Cabin in the Woods.

Best Scene: the Cabin in the Woods system purge. Bad luck for the SWAT team.

Other Best Scene: Loki meets the Hulk in Avengers. It doesn't go too well for one of them.

Best Newcomer: TV screenwriter Drew Goddard makes his directorial debut with meta-horror Cabin in the Woods.

Films Seen: HeadhuntersThe Cabin in the WoodsMarvel Avengers Assemble.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 4.67

Monday, 9 April 2012

Niche Genres: Dystopian Death Games

In celebration of The Hunger Games' continuing box office success, it is time to look at another of cinema's niche genres: this time, Dystopian Death Games.

What is a Dystopian Death Game? a film set in a deteriorating society whereby random characters are enrolled as contestants in violent games with high stakes: you win or you die.

Not to be confused with... Sporting Movies, which share many of the same motifs (underdogs prevailing, training montages, Machiavellian sporting officials) but have a much lower body count. 

Trademarks of the Genre: a perverse and bleak alternative future; a corrupt government with bizarrely elaborate and expensive ways to keep society in check; an eclectic mix of character types thrown together against their will; ridiculous costumes; ridiculous rules; lots of weapons; underdogs beating the system and prevailing, thus bringing an end to their respective Death Game for good.

Examples: The Hunger Games, Battle Royale, The Running Man, Death Race 2000, Rollerball, Gamer, Death Sport, Tron, Game of Death, Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire (the Triwizard Tournament is mental).

Highlights of the Genre: cool and unusual concepts; the games provide an excellent excuse for highly original and gruesome death scenes; opportunity for great satire of competitive sport and reality TV if handled by the right screenwriter; random characters thrown together in a desperate situation always makes for interesting consequences.

Limitations of the Genre: film-makers often rush into the games and throw character development out of the window; the wardrobe department often feel the need to give their characters stupid costumes in an attempt to show that the film is set in an alternative time; the heroes usually beat the system and put an end to the game, which means ideas for sequels are forced and nonsensical.

Best Example: Battle Royale - directed by Kinji Fukasaku and based on the novel by Koushun Takami, this is the benchmark for Dystopian Death Games films. Gritty, violent and with a dark sense of humour, this is entirely believable, addictive viewing. Following the chilling opening classroom scene, the contestants are set loose across the island, which both provides a stunning backdrop for the violence and emphasises the isolation of its characters. The young and talented cast is superb, launching Shuya Nanahara's career, and Japanese veteran Takeshi Kitano (yes, from Takeshi's Castle) is ever-watchable as the villainous official overseeing the games. Crucially, the pace never slows and the audience's attention will never waver, as the film is told from multiple perspectives, allowing for a rich variety of characters and, of course, violent deaths. This is captivating film-making and in a different league to the usual Death Game film fodder.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Looking Back... March 2012

March in a Tweet: the studios reveal their unlikely blockbuster gambles with varying success and the Jameson Empire Awards right the wrongs of Oscar Season. 

Everyone was talking about: ...the long-awaited Empire Magazine podcast! Available from iTunes.

Best Film: 21 Jump Street - there's nothing quite so satisfying as a laugh-out-loud surprise comedy. You'll want to watch it again as soon as it ends.

Biggest Disappointment: John Carter - with Andrew Stanton at the helm, we all hoped he would work his WALL.E and Finding Nemo magic. Unfortunately, it bombed.

Best Actor: Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street - I never thought I'd name Channing Tatum as Best Actor of anything but his comedic turn as Jenko stole the show. Give the man more comedies.

Best Actress: Jennifer Lawrence, The Hunger Games - Lawrence brought Katniss Everdeen to life in the bigscreen adaptation of the popular teen book.

Best Line: "Fuck you, Glee!" - Jenko (Channing Tatum) in 21 Jump Street.

Best Scene: the Peter Pan fight in 21 Jump Street.

Other Best Scene: Katniss Everdeen's 'William Tell' moment in The Hunger Games. Bullseye!

Missed Opportunity: The Hunger Games should have ended when the game started. It would have provided an awesome cliffhanger and the game itself could have been explored in further detail in the sequel. Judging by the box office takings, the studio is probably kicking themselves that they missed this opportunity to milk the trilogy for extra films.

RIP: Ralph McQuarrie, concept designer on the original Star Wars trilogy, died at the age of 82 due to complications with Parkinson's disease. Lucas commented after McQuarrie's death: "His genial contribution, in the form of unequalled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original Star Wars trilogy." McQuarrie also worked on Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. and Cocoon, for which he won an Oscar.

Films Seen: John Carter, 21 Jump Street, The Hunger Games, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! 3D.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 2.75

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Niche Genres: The Buddy Cop Comedy

Continuing with our tour of cinema's more niche genres, here is a look at the Buddy Cop Comedy in honour of 21 Jump Street released this week.

What is a Buddy Cop Comedy? A pair of hilariously-mismatched cops - or other law enforcement types - tackle crime and experience plenty of comedy escapades along the way.

Not to be confused with... Buddy Cop Action films which may contain moments of comedic banter (Lethal WeaponRush Houror Buddy Cop Animal Comedies which is a niche genre of the niche genre (Turner & Hooch, K-9).

Trademarks of the Genre: two cops with different appearances or personalities (or both) will be thrown together against their wishes; a flimsy criminal plot given no thought at all by the writer; token scenes with the criminals which are soon put aside so we can cut back to the comedy antics of the leads; a climatic chase scene; important clues or information arising from entirely random sub-plots; and a really hot female character who is always interested in the more unlikely of the two cops.

Examples: Starsky & HutchRush Hour, Hot FuzzBlue Streak, The Other Guys, Men in Black, Wild Wild West, Pineapple Express and multiple occurrences within The Police Academy series.

Highlights of the Genre: all the perks of a comedy but with added guns and explosions! Plus, opposite types being forced to work together is always a good recipe for comedy. 

Limitations of the Genre: Buddy Cop Comedies are primarily comedies rather than an equal mash-up of two genres. This means they are typically low on plot and any crime fans will be sorely disappointed. There is also an absence of female characters. Why are there no Buddy Female Cop Comedies? Get Kirsten Wiig on the case.

Best Example: Hot Fuzz - the only British example that springs to mind with a great double-act from the well-established duo of Pegg and Frost. Although, what makes this really stand-out, is the huge amount of referencing to Hollywood action films and so a lot of the comedy is generated from parodies and in-jokes, rather than the usual tired mix of slapstick and bickering. Repeat viewings are essential.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Angry Birds: The Movie

Just discovered this brilliant trailer for Angry Birds: The Movie.

Obviously, this is a spook trailer but an Angry Birds movie might not be as far-fetched as you think. Mikael Hed, creator of Angry Birds, purchased a Helsinki animation studio to create Angry Birds cartoons and the first of these aired on Nickelodeon over Christmas, titled 'Wreck the Halls'.

Meanwhile, David Maisel, executive producer of Thor and Iron Man, has been hired by Hed to get production started on a feature film. Therefore, Angry Birds may actually be hitting your screens a few years from now.

But for now, just enjoy the live-action silliness below.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Niche Genres: The British Dramedy

Continuing with our tour of cinema's more niche genres, here is a look at the British Dramedy in honour of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, released last week.

What is a British Dramedy film? A British film with both comedic and dramatic elements.

Not to be confused with... British comedies (Shaun of the Dead, Johnny English) or British romantic comedies (Love, Actually, Notting Hill) or British dramas (Harry Brown, This Is England).

Trademarks of the genre: British Dramedies are typically feel-good films with catchy soundtracks and big British names on the cast list. There will be family-friendly laughs, although the overall gag-rate will be low. The light-hearted moments will be punctuated with scenes that deal with Serious Issues (growing old, unemployment, suicide, death), which is usually how the aforementioned big British names were attracted to the film in the first place. Also, expect lots of stereotypical Britishness to amuse an international audience: mainly teabags, a Brit-pop soundtrack and use of the word 'bugger'.

Examples: The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (reviewed here), The Full Monty, Billy Elliott, Calendar Girls, Cemetery Junction, The Boat That Rocked.

Highlights of the Genre: if done right, a mixture of comedy and drama will guarantee you both laughs and tears: a rewarding experience for cinema-goers. The overall Britishness can be very refreshing, especially considering most films on the big screen are imported from America.

Limitations of the Genre: if done badly, rather than get the best of both worlds, you get an mediocre delivery of each genre. As such, the comedy isn't that funny and the drama isn't that moving. Also, the trailers for British dramadies usually market them as a comedy to attract a wider audience. This means that most - if not all - of the gags are crammed into the trailer.

Best Example: About A Boy - Hugh Grant delivers a career-best as proud lone-wolf Will, providing hilarious cathartic moments to counterbalance the dramatic story-lines: namely Nicholas Hoult's Marcus getting bullied and Toni Collette as his mother battling depression. Add to that an Oscar-nominated screenplay and a purpose-built soundtrack from Badly Drawn Boy and you have the perfect example of a British Dramedy.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Looking Back... February 2012

February in a Tweet: Award Season ends with The Artist sweeping both BAFTAs & Oscars whilst green frogs, black ghosts and golden marigolds hit the cinemas.

Everyone was talking about: ...Angelina Jolie flaunting most of her right leg at the Oscars. That's one way to steal the headlines from the winners.

Best Film: Chronicle - elements of Carrie, Cloverfield and X-Men in one big 'found footage' mash-up.

Biggest Disappointment: Young Adult - Ivan Reitman finally stumbles with his underwhelming fourth feature.

Best Actor: Dev Patel, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - perfect casting. Patel plays Sonny, the lovable, hilarious, glass-half-full hotel manager.

Best Actress: Charlize Theron, Young Adult - the film might have been disappointing but Theron was on top form as the mentally-unstable, ageing prom queen.

Best Line: whilst struggling with his identity in The Muppets, Walter sings: "Am I a Muppet, or am I a man? If I'm a man, I'm a Muppet of a man!" 

Best Scene: the three teenagers in Chronicle decide to test their powers by pulling pranks in a toy shop and scaring a poor girl with a floating teddy bear. Awesome!

Other Best Scene: the entire Oscar-winning 'Man or Muppet' song from The Muppets. Especially, the cameo from The Big Bang Theory's Sheldon.

Tearjerker Moment: Kermit the Frog looking upon portraits of his old friends. I swear I could see tears glistening in those ping pong ball eyes.

Best Newcomer: director Josh Trank for his debut, Chronicle. It is no surprise that he is already the hot favourite for the Fantastic Four reboot.

RIP: Whitney Houston (star of The Bodyguard) was found submerged in the bathtub of suite 434 of the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Also, David Kelly (Waking Ned, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory) died at the age of 82. The Irish Times referred to him as "the grand old man of Irish Acting."

Films Seen: Chronicle, Young Adult, The Muppets, The Woman in Black, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Average The Big Fairbanski Star Rating: 3.4

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Niche Genres: The Found Footage Film

This is a new Big Fairbanski feature which takes a look at some of the more obscure sub-genres hitting the screens today.

In celebration of Chronicle, we will start by taking a look at Found Footage films...

What is a Found Footage Film? A film consisting of amateur footage usually shot on home video camcorders supposedly left behind by missing or dead protagonists.

Not to be confused with... mockumentaries. These are fake documentaries supposedly put-together by a professional production company. Examples include Spinal Tap, Borat, Surf's Up and TV's The Office.

Trademarks of the genre: unknown cast, low-budget, hand-held cameras (obviously), realism, usually a supernatural element, ambiguous ending.

Examples: The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, REC, Troll Hunter, Chronicle.

Where did it all begin? although it dates back to the 1980 Italian film, Cannibal Holocaust, it was really The Blair Witch Project in 1999 that has popularised the genre in the past decade. As such, this is still a new and developing genre. 

Highlights of the genre: none of the cast must be recognisable so this is a good excuse to cast a talented bunch of unknowns. They are also relatively low-budget because they shoot on location, use handheld lightweight camcorders and don't concern themselves over fancy lighting or make-up. As such, they are a great vehicle for first-time directors to make a splash.

Limitations of the genre: often limited to the perspective of the person holding the camcorder. You therefore rarely see the face of the protagonist. Also, the scripts have to to wedge a camcorder into unlikely situations to maintain the continuity of the story, which can often compromise the realism which these films rely on. For instance, why would they keep filming the Blair Witch documentary when everything is going crazy in the woods? Surely it would be easier to run without a camcorder? The endings are usually quite rushed too.

Best Example: Chronicle - the recent and most effective use of the genre. It learns from its predecessors and manages to avoid the above limitations by cutting between multiple camcorders to show different perspectives and utilising CCTV/news footage so characters don't have to lug around camcorders during the epic showdown. It also brings in lots of home video YouTube-style larks which are great fun in the first half of the film. Also, Chronicle manages to deliver a proper ending and not another abrupt die-and-drop-the-camcorder moment.