Keeping a Film Diary

film-diary

A lot of people would believe this to be a mad waste of time. Think again. I like to think of my film diary as a personal journey, and here’s why. Films are full of life – be it life re-imagined and projected onto a screen. People have been writing heartfelt criticism on the subject for over a century, good and bad. For some people, films can change their life, for others it can be something to chortle at. Either way you look at it, film provokes a response, a very human being response. But, why should we bother write about these responses?

They can instigate thoughts that may have a deep and desirable effect on our day-to-day lives. I am not just speaking for cinephiles when I say this, take a look in the news and you’ll see all sorts of arguments over the power of visual content – movies and games in particular. I notoriously remember the case with Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy being blamed for the Virginia Tech massacre.[1] There is also the argument that movies desensitize us: “Now the act of violence with a gun or a knife is the norm and we in the entertainment industry are partly responsible in making the presence of weapons such as knives almost an acceptable commonplace”, Sir Richard Attenborough.[2] On the contrary, I believe that seeing violence and other matters in the movies can kindle us and make us more aware and susceptible to these themes. Though, you can see the argument overlapping. It befalls on the individual at the end of the day.

I clearly digress. Film can be a very personal journey, and regardless of how many movies you watch, writing about them can reflect your current demeanor and outlook on life. This outlook will inevitably change over time and that is an interesting arc to discover. Use film as a means to reflect on your current state of mind. Writing your thoughts about a character in a movie is equivalent to writing about your thoughts on the man opposite the street or the girl living next door. The medium of film is irrelevant if you reflect on the characters – humans with various obstacles, behaviors and emotions. Of course, some people may only write notes on the aesthetic/artistic aspects of a film, but by digging into the characters minds we can locate a magical reflection on our world. This is the filmmaker’s greatest task, to give a character that magical human touch. Next time you watch a film, try watching it with this task in mind, and the characters will become an extension of yourself.

This may be biased toward my love for dramas, but even movies with aliens and monsters should give off a similar aura. This then becomes dependent on how we perceive various genres of film. I am beginning to think that film is just a cycle of contradicting gestures – much like life.

But, lets not forget how important and powerful film aesthetics can be. You may discover a hidden desire for a certain look and feel that a film gives you – it could be the aura of a period drama, or more specifically, the unnerving sensation that stark lighting in film noir gives you.

Besides film analysis, the reflective experience of writing a diary can be liberating and great for your film knowledge. If you keep track of the films you watch you will be able to tell your friend when he or she asks what you want to watch: “Yes, I have seen that”, rather than “Not sure, lets try it” and then half way through you release you have seen it and know how it will end! When you write down a film noting its title, crew and cast details etc. you will not easily forget it, unless it is terrible. Though unfortunately, in many cases, it is the terrible films that are the most memorable! Much like, “why is it the negative reviews that stick?” Mark Kermode.[3]

Writing about film can also give you a better understanding of what genre or style of film you like best and why. As you begin to note differences in characters, story arcs, designs, locations, cinematography etc. it will become apparent. This post is becoming too much like a film school lesson (and I don’t like school), so let me wrap things up.

What I am trying to get at is that if you are not consciously aware of how you are being affected when you watch a film and wish to reflect and understand it a bit more, then write a diary! You will be surprised about your unique insight – everyone has one when it comes to rummaging through film criticism. For those who are already film lovers, then you probably already have a film diary, so keep filling it!

Films of the Year 2013

After a slow start to the year with plenty of Hollywood drool, it’s turned out to be a truly impressive and diverse year for cinema. The summer had a couple of surprisingly good blockbusters (The Great Gatsby, Fast & Furious 6) alongside some nail-bitingly awful comedies (The Big Wedding, Movie 43, Identity Thief). Though, the fall has certainly been packed full of brilliant dramas (Prisoners, Captain Phillips, Blue Jasmine). There has also been plenty of indie flicks giving the industry a shove (always good news) – Fruitvale Station, The Selfish Giant. But, without further ado, here are my top 5 film picks from 2013 (bearing in mind there are still some eagerly awaiting titles on my watch-list):

Top 5 (in ranked order):

5. Blue Jasmine

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My number 5 spot goes to Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. It is a beautiful and entertaining film with a sterling performance from Cate Blanchet. It left me with earnest emotions for Blanchet’s character and wanting to revisit the remarkably well-told story. Woody Allen is showcasing his impeccable ability to tell relationship driven stories with true heartfelt prosperity. Read a full review here.

4. Big Bad Wolves

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This film from Israel has wowed the festival audiences this year with its reckless ability to tell a black comedy and leave your head hanging upside-down. There are scenes of sheer horror blended with whimsical and innovative storytelling. The film is beautifully crafted and an absolute bag of fun for all genre fans. Read a full review here.

3. Rush

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Rush was the biggest surprise of the year for me. I was dragged along to see it and was left dazzled by the cinematic virtuosity and desperate to discover more about this great rivalry between two formula one legends. Admitted, I still care little for formula one, but I do love a great story, which this is. Whether this film is entirely accurate or not is besides the point, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Read a full review here.

2. Django Unchained

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Though it came out before the awards season, I still count this film as a 2013 release (because it is).

As a die-hard Tarantino fan I’d never been more excited upon entering the cinema, but at the same time I was terrified of being let down. Django Unchained excelled. I’ve never been a great fan of Westerns, but boy do I love a Tarantino Western! One can blabber on about how he rips of all the great stylistic filmmakers (Woo, Leone, Melville etc), but Tarantino’s work is fresher than ever. All filmmakers blend film history, Tarantino just does so well that people are more perceptible to it. It is the stories that count though, and they are absolutely unique – Django is no exception. The Tarantino style, which we expect, is there in true spirit, but it doesn’t get in the way of telling a great story.

During the film I was grinning with delight at its splendour whilst my eyes were constantly bulging with excitement. I can’t wait for the next treat Tarantino puts on our plate! A close shave from my number one spot.

1. Blue is the Warmest Colour

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My controversial number one! We film folk have always had a sweet spot for controversial films. It’s affirmative, this years Cannes Palme D’or winner left me starstruck. Abdellatif Kechiche’s direction is unadulterated yet striking, the performances from Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulosare are simply astonishing, their relationship is beautiful and genuine and the film comes together as this year’s masterpiece. Voila! Read a full review here.

Films that nearly made a mark in my top 5:

Captain Phillips trailer launch - video

Captain Phillips – a championing true story of a captain’s cargo ship being hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. It’s a thrilling ride. Review.

Prisoners – this years chilling thriller of two girls who mysteriously go missing. Review.

About Time – my soft spot of the year. Richard Curtis sheds more screen delight. Review.

Saving Mr. Banks – a brilliantly told story of Miss Travis’s relationship with Walt Disney over the rights to producing Marry Poppins.

The Great Gatsby – a remarkable adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s novel that lives up to and adheres all previous attempts.

Stoker – despite criticism, it was chilling and full of the Park Chan-Wook aesthetic that we have come to love so dearly.

Les Miserables – it was just fantastic.

Lincoln – Spielberg’s ability to tell epic stories is just beside me.

Top 5 films to catch-up on (from preconception, they may well find a space in my top 5):

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The act of Killing – I’ve heard remarkably ruthless things about this documentary. I can’t wait.

Short Term 12 – I’m hoping for a little gem.

Nebraska – Alexander Payne is exceptional and his road movies are no exception. This should be a wonderful journey.

Inside Llewyn Davis – Lovingly prepared for another great Coen Brothers film.

Behind the Candelabra – Matt Damon falling in love with Michael Douglas simply cannot be missed.

Top 5 let downs:

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Oldboy – oh so sour…

Diana – rubbish, pointless, disgraceful…

Mama – it’s not been a good year for Guillermo del Toro…

After Earth – M. Night Shyamalan simply makes me want to cry…

Side Effects – I was pumped up for something far better from the Soderbergh…

There you have it. These lists may get updated over the next few months, but I can assure you, no matter how great people say it is, Gravity will not see the light of my top 5.

Now, for good measure, I wish to leave you with some wise words from the man of wonderfully cynical criticism; Mark Kermode reveals his worst 10 movies of 2013:

Insidious: Chapter 2 – Don’t go and see this with your Dad!

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4 hours later… we arrive in Leeds.

3 hours later… we arrive at the cinema.

This weekend, my Dad kindly drove me all the way to Leeds from my girlfriend’s house in London. It was a long drive, and one that we celebrated by going to relax in front of a big screen. However it was not so relaxing for my Dad, who was up in his chair and sweating the whole way through. My Dad just doesn’t go to the movies, in fact, he told me he couldn’t remember the last time he saw a movie (we concluded perhaps it was The Lion King). It was literally like going to the movies with a Viking, he wore a baggy, shaggy coat, torn jeans and flip-flops – classy, right?

Once we’d purchased the tickets, Dad dumbfounded by the price, we headed to the ice cream counter. I imagine it was like your 6-year-old son spotting an ice cream van along the beach. He ordered a large, entirely mint choc chip flavored ice cream – let’s just say we were helping him out by the time the ads started.

Dad seemed a little on edge about watching a horror film. Especially once he had gasped at the size of the screen and heard the “incredible” quality speakers, which he was quick to discover, trigger his ludicrous reaction to fright. I asked him what the last horror movie he saw was; he replied, “I think it was Motel Horror.” A slasher parody evolving around cannibalism, that is definitely not exposure to the contemporary exhaustion of paranormal horror. ‘Video nasties’ (as they were coined) weren’t exactly scary cinema, just gruesome. I said to Dad, “This will probably make you jump but have a rubbish storyline.” He said nothing, his eyes simply transfixed on the screen as ads ran. In fact, I don’t even think he heard me the sound was so pleasant on his ears.

It’s approximately 15 minutes into the film, the first big fright. Dad is perched forward, leaning upon his knee; he is totally transfixed by the cinema. Suddenly, he launches backward into the seat in fright, afterwards he laughs and turns to me panting. “Wow that was a good one!”

“Ha-ha yeah,” I reply, trying to focus my attention back to the movie.

“I’m not sure what’s happening, is that lady the same as the one in the house?”

“Eh? Dad shut up, you can’t talk in the cinema.”

“It’s just a bit confusing that’s all.”

I ignored whatever else he said. Though, I felt like shouting: “It will make sense, we’re only 20 minutes in for Christ sake!”

However, to be fair, the movie was a bit all over the place, but did manage to pick up the pieces by the end.

The chatter didn’t stop. You know those annoying people who continually ask questions throughout (as the director has placed them their)? Dad is the groundbreaker of this group. At one point he commented, “Just take the batteries out!” This comment refers to when the baby’s toy kept going off by itself in a ghostlike fashion. Dad clearly doesn’t understand genre conventions; it was evident throughout that he simply couldn’t accept how horror movies are made. The typical “Why would you go in there?” was uttered a fair few times. Although I ultimately agree with my Dad, you just have to accept that a paranormal horror film wouldn’t really work without arrogant individuals upholding abundant idiocy.

At the end of the day Dad enjoyed the experience, but on the way out he alleged “well that’s me sorted for another 10 years.” I now make it my duty to drag him to the cinema whenever I see him. Insidious: Chapter 3 – where are you?

Now, on with the actual movie review for this extended blog post. I did enjoy Insidious: Chapter 2, which is saying something considering the constant pestering from my Dad! However, I went in with negligible expectations, Insidious was okay, but just as Paranormal Activity 2, The Grudge 2 and The Ring 2 affronted the first, I struggled to see how this one could differ. Frankly, horror sequels just stink from as far back as Exorcist II: The Heretic and Jaws: The Revenge. However, at least James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (screenwriter) stayed on together with the project, and it shows. I feel the script was actually significantly better than Insidious and, what’s more, it actually had some principal relativity to it – perhaps this is why my Dad was asking questions the whole way through? This is not the case however; the story is perfectly understandable for a fresh pair of eyes, or brain rather – a viewer just needs patience. Apart from a few minor disjoints in the narrative, and maybe a few belated plot revelations, the script isn’t going to get a whole lot better for the movie it is trying to be: a fabricated invasion of evil and elucidation on the course between life and death.

It’s worth noting that with Insidious: Chapter 2, Wan and Whannell have moments of variability submerged into a sub-genre of comedy. Here, comedy is not created through fear, to make us laugh (as would be apparent in Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead) but rather through character. These comedic characters are the two young male ‘spirit hunters’ whose humor occurs through sheer foolishness, and what could almost be considered slapstick. It doesn’t work. The whole movie almost becomes one big joke through these characters. They are meant to be the experts proving spirits are real, but who would believe anything these two idiots say?

The argument put forward by Mark Kermode is that these horror movies are made for people who don’t like real horror. They can’t be horror fans as they are content with watching something that goes “Quiet, quiet, quiet… BANG!” (Quoted from Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo’s Film Reviews podcast). This is exactly what the movie does, throughout. It is insufferable cinema, ‘cattleprod’ cinema, as the term coined by Nigel Floyd goes. This refers to the audience’s reaction being comparable to getting prodded every so often. It’s the generic horror tropes that stir this reaction: creepy children, rocking horses, hospital corridors etc. These rip off aesthetics are what keeps the cycle of ‘cattleprod’ rotating. It seems the phrase ‘less is more’ could be used to advantageous affect on the current state of contemporary horror.

Ultimately, the movie was forbidding enough to make you tense and jolt in your seat (even when the ridiculous title animation slams boldly onto the screen to ghastly screaming sound effects), but not engaging enough to keep my mind from drifting off to wondering when these preposterous films will stop getting made and why our society is so blindly infatuated over them. It’s simply a film to ‘prod’, enclosed by a genial theme with illusory characters. It unquestionably isn’t a human movie to care about.

My Rating:

Entertainment – 3/5

Intellect – 1/5

Craft – 3/5

Originality – 1/5

Score – 8/20

2 stars for Insidious: Chapter 2

Mark Kermode is FURIOUS

Mark Kermode

Highly opinionated and strung on antics, Mark Kermode is my favourite UK film critic.

His arguments on cinema are embracing and highly insightful for any film fan. I am saying this now to share with you his latest blog post: Kermode’s worst five films of the year so far. It is a prime example of how passionate this man is about what gets put on our screens.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/markkermode/posts/The-Worst-Five-Films-Of-The-Year-So-Far

Also worth checking out by Mark Kermode are his great books on cinema (“essential reading for movie fanatics”):

– It’s Only a Movie

– The Good the Bad and the Multiplex

– Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics (released October 2013)

And of course be sure to check out his energetic BBC Radio 5 live podcasts with Simon Mayo each week.

Who else is a Mark Kermode fan?