Editor’s Column #7

17 Mar

Going to the cinema is a great experience and  here in Newcastle we are lucky enough to have two wonderful cinemas right in the centre of town. To clarify, when I say going to the cinema is a great experience, I speak for the majority of cinema visits, which tend to pass without any notable incidences.

There is rarely a better place to watch a film then a packed auditorium; whether everyone is laughing at jokes, gasping in horror, sitting in stunned silence or having a little cry when it all gets too much.


However, every film fan and cinema-goer will have suffered, possibly a multitude of times, a trip to the cinema that has been spoiled or at least soured by someone who simply doesn’t know how to behave in a cinema. It just takes one to disturb the peace and unfortunately there are rarely ushers around to scold misbehaving patrons. A phone is the most common tool of mischief, everyone has one and some even feel the need to use it during a film. The powerful backlit screen can illuminate even the gloomiest of auditoriums, a bright beacon telling everyone that you are a selfish annoyance – and that’s putting it mildly, keeping it PG and all.

With Empire cinemas as well as BBC Radio 5 Live (under the eye of Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo) creating their own code of conducts, it seems The Courier is missing out. It’s time to remedy that fact with  these 7 golden rules:

1. NO mobile phone usage. No explanation needed, just no.


2. NO talking. Discuss and theorise after the credits have rolled please.


3. NO noisy eating or rustling. Soft rolls are ideal and big rustle-tastic crisp bags are forbidden.


4. NO acts which usually precede the cry of “Get a room”. You know.


5. NO feet on the seats and no kicking of aforementioned seats. It gets real annoying.


6. NO shoe removal. It shouldn’t need to be said but unfortunately it does. Do it at home only.


7. NO Slurping. There is no need to noisily slurp  the ice remnants at the bottom of a 5 litre Pepsitankard.




Editor’s Column #6

24 Feb

With the recent release of The Lego Movie it is apparent that the idea of adapting beloved toys and best-selling board games into blockbuster films has come roaring back into frame over the past few years.

Three Transformers films, with another due this year, two G.I. Joe films and Battleship have all released in the recent past and most have done really well commercially, though not always critically. Even the notorious bomb Battleship made over $300m worldwide thanks to a solid foreign performance; though hopefully we won’t be seeing a sequel anytime soon, or ever.


It is important to stress that this phenomena is by no means a novelty, in the 1980s there was the well-liked Clue film in 1985, based on the Cluedo board game, as well as a My Little Pony film, starring Danny DeVito, and a Care Bear film, both which spawned various sequels over the years.

We seem to be living in the ‘golden age’ of toy and board game based films as the studios now have the necessary visual technologies, which allows for Optimus Prime et al. to be brought to life on the big screen, without using dodgy puppets or animation. The Transformers films get a lot of hate but everyone, some begrudgingly, will admit the robots look realistic – as much as huge, transforming robots can look real – which would not have been possible a generation ago. This phenomenon seems like the case in point where studios had to wait for the technology had to catch up with the ideas.

The films in question are usually not particularly good – BratzBattleshipTransformers 2, et cetera – but they are unique as the allow people’s childhoods to come alive, literally. The toys that occupied many a child’s days no longer need imagination to come alive, they’re now on the screen walking, talking and probably shooting. With Lego blocks you could build anything and this notion translates perfectly to the screen where in these times of Life of Pi and Avatar, nothing seems impossible. A living, breathing Lego metropolis is now ‘real’ on the silver screen and no longer requires a ton of cash, bricks and an avid imagination.

With Transformers 4, a Hot Wheels movie and a Monopoly movie all on the way, and with a Lego sequel now looking likely after its stellar opening, it is apparent that we are in the midst of our childhood being catapulted into Hollywood, lets just hope it doesn’t get too damaged along the way.


Editor’s Column #5

10 Feb

January and the New Year are just behind us, and February has already arrived. The Golden Globes have been and gone (how great were Tina Fey and Amy Poehler!?!) and the BAFTAs and the Oscars are fast approaching on the horizon. Awards season is well and truly in full swing now, exciting times indeed.
In terms of university, exams and essay deadlines are behind us (for now) and a new term awaits which for some of us is our last few months in formal education.

More importantly, in terms of film this is probably the best time of the year. The cinemas are stuffed with great films, most in contention for illustrious awards at the aforementioned ceremonies. There is never another time of the year where the audience is so spoilt with choice, maybe apart from occasional summer blockbuster season. This year, we are lucky enough to have some real doozies: GravityAmerican Hustle12 Years a Slave to name just a few of my favourites from those that I have managed to see. There really is a very strong line-up this year, it may sound clichéd but this awards season feels like it is hosting some of the best films in recent times; the sheer emboldened mastery of Gravity, the 70s hair and intoxicating entertainment of American Hustle to the sobering ordeal of Solomon Northup in McQueen’s masterpiece, 12 Years a Slave. Importantly, all are memorable and in an age where many films are forgotten after the credits roll this is a somewhat valuable commodity.


There are of course a few disappointments and films that are snubbed for the big awards, many perhaps unjustly. Scorsese’s 3-hour chronicle of Jordan Belfort was epic in runtime but little else, despite some brilliant performances. Will DiCaprio finally win an Oscar this year seems to be the question on everybody’s mind, but equally noticeable is the lack of Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson from the list of Oscar nominees.

The run-up to the big ceremonies is also a great time to catch up on previous winners and create for yourself an Oscar or BAFTA ‘crash-course’. Catch up on 21st century winners such as ArgoThe Hurt LockerChicago and Brokeback Mountain or go back to older gems such as PattonKramer vs. Kramer and Cabaret and marvel at sterling performances that were recognised.


If you’re short on money or time and don’t go to the cinema often, I’d say go now, go now; the awards circus will be over within a month so catch some of the year’s best films whilst they’re all in town – you may just discover something truly special.


I Watched… #56 (12 Years a Slave)

30 Jan


12 Years a Slave (2013)

Slavery is an oft-covered subject in cinema, from tacit acceptance in Gone with the Wind to the fantastical, gratuitous revenge story of Django Unchained, but it has taken many years and a young, English artist-turned-director to portray its true horrors.
Steve McQueen (Hunger, Shame) tells the story of Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) as is, whereas most period pieces sacrifice history for the theatrical, McQueen sticks to the facts. The facts were that Northrup, a free man living outside New York with his wife and two children, was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the South of antebellum USA. McQueen focuses on the story of one man, but Northrup’s story clearly defines the American slave trade.

This is certainly McQueen’s most ambitious project yet, some may even view it as bravery but a film such as this shouldn’t be brave because, in truth, it should have been made decades ago – a film where slavery is unwrapped, dismantled and it’s rotten core fully exposed.
12 Years a Slave is a powerful film, but even this label is too broad, so many films are powerful: romantic ones that tug the heartstrings to drug-fuelled tales of caution. It is McQueen’s masterpiece though, that creates it’s own sub-category, it goes beyond thanks to its overdue necessity, it drags shame and the deep depravity of human nature forward into the light, it can be seen by all and the habitually employed shadows of theatricality are cast off.

Northrup is the anchor of the story and the audience’s conduit into the depths of slavery. He was a man born free, a musician unaccustomed to the hardships of slavery and shocked by its brutality, a relatable figure in an unfamiliar world. Once on the plantations of Louisiana, arriving there by paddle-steamer by way of New Orleans, Northrup finds himself in a foreign place, the urban comforts upstate New York replaced with humid swamps, towering trees weeping moss and cotton fields, their white crop as the soft source of endless suffering.

There is a wild beauty to the Southern landscape, an element that McQueen fully exploits; the influence of Terence Malick is clear as shots linger on the lush bayou, a peaceful place that bears the scars of slavery, much like the slaves who have felt the whip.
Idyllic nature is juxtaposed with brutality of man and no man is more brutal than Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender), Northrup’s second master after the benign Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) is forced to sell. Epps is an unrelenting master who in one hand holds the whip and in the other, the bible. Religion and force combine to justify and enforce his ownership and shocking treatment of his ‘property’. He is part of a mad world; a world where slave-master’s preaching drowns out cries of mother’s stripped of their children, a world where unspeakable acts appear to be gospel, a world where people plunge to the depths of humanity and don’t resurface.

Northrup is a keen violinist and it is his musically orientated tour to Washington that leads to his abduction, music is an inherent thread of the film. Hans Zimmer’s score is hauntingly perfect and it is a violin – presented to him by Ford – that gives Northrup a link to his past life, the names of his family carved into the ornate woodwork. The slaves sing songs in the cotton fields; music provides a moment when the slaves, at least in mind, can be free. Some of the slaves do call out for death but most want to live, survival is not living but it is better than death, just about.

Ejiofor is magnificent, he more than holds his own despite being surrounded by a sterling cast including Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti who, alongside Lupita Nyong’o in her stunning debut performance, provide the pieces for McQueen’s raw spectacle.

12 Years a Slave is essential cinema; necessary, shocking and honest. Where the eyes would naturally waver, the camera stares, unable to flinch as scenes of hanging, rape and lashing seem to play on well into the realm of the uncomfortable. McQueen portrays humans as going back to their animalistic roots; the slaves are forced whilst others descend into a primordial madness, a whip and bible in hand with money on the mind.
12 Years a Slave is a searing, visual poem, but one born with a dark heart. It is a truly unmissable film, even though some may be reluctant to watch it again.

I Watched… #55 (The Wolf of Wall Street)

24 Jan


The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Scorsese’s biography on Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) follows the rise and fall structure to a ‘t’, from a wide-eyed kid in the 80s to his fall as crime, corruption and FBI investigations take their toll. However, unlike his 1990’s masterpiece GoodfellasThe Wolf of Wall Street is epic only in runtime, clocking in at around 3 hours.

Both films concern anti-heroes but Jordan Belfort is no wise-guy and certainly no Henry Hill, his character is so loathsome and unlikeable that there is no sympathy to be found for a stockbroker whose mantra is to ‘f**k the client’ as a means to satisfy his insatiable greed. There is no pathway into the film, a disconnect exists due to the frankly disgusting behaviour and attitudes of the protagonist Belfort and so Wolf never really takes off.
Scorsese drenches the film in comedy and black humour, Wolf is often very funny, to help get his message of ‘a cautionary tale’ onto the screen and ramp up the entertainment, but it is this abundance of comedy, sex and drugs and general repetitive exuberance in the methods that clouds the message of wrongdoing. There is little synchronisation between the methods and the desired end result that Scorsese envisioned, the sheer sliminess of the Belfort character doesn’t help and one suspects DiCaprio was ideal for this role so to make the character more appealing and likeable for a global audience; but even the brilliance of DiCaprio does not help to generate any sympathy.

Despite the clouded message, the supporting performances are fantastic, Matthew McConaughey’s all too brief role is memorable as a wiser, older stockbroker who imparts his wisdom on a young and impressionable Belfort. Jonah Hill, as his best friend and business partner Donnie Azoff – just as deluded as Belfort, but with glistening white teeth – is excellent and builds on his promise shown in Moneyball, and of course Belfort’s glamourous trophy wife Naomi, who is lively in her big break opposite the veteran DiCaprio.
Parts of Wolf work well, the unusually patient and reserved direction from Scorsese and stable camerawork functions fine as DiCaprio takes the centre stage. The whole never ties together though due to a detachment between the message and depiction as well as an anti-hero who demands and deserves nothing but an apathetic treatment from the audience; a 3 hour biography with such a repulsive character certainly becomes tiresome.


I Watched… #54

10 Jan


Nebraska (2013)

Alexander Payne has already shown his talent as one of the modern greats with Election and Sideways, an auteur treading the line between mainstream and arthouse. His latest film, Nebraska, continues his witty, humorous screenplay style and his critiques of contemporary American society.

Gorgeously shot in a soft black and white with a tinted style that seems a shade away from allowing colour to seep into the picture. But colour would defeat the purpose and brilliance of Nebraska, which follows the aging Woody Grant (Bruce Dern) and his son David (Will Forte) as they make the trip to Nebraska to claim a marketing prize of one million dollars. This is a road-trip movie, much like Sideways, but the roads of Midwest America are long and bleak, illuminated by the bright lights of taverns that prove an irresistible call to the alcoholic Woody, played magnificently by Dern in this glorious and funny old-fashioned picture.


My 11 favourite films of 2013

31 Dec












It’s that time of year again, looking back with a nostalgic twinkle in the eye as you remember all the great (and occasionally rubbish) films you have watched over the past 12 months. Why 11? Why not? These Top 10 lists all need turning up to 11…

Anyway, down to business. Here are my Top 11 favourite films that were released in UK cinemas in 2013, this is THE definitive list of the best films of the year by the way, so enjoy:


A mighty and ambitious project that deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as 2001: A Space Odyssey; the 3D looked great and the symbolism superb, best film of the year and perhaps the century too (big call, I know).

The Act of Killing

A harrowing and insightful documentary featuring former Indonesian death squad leaders re-enacting their killings and mass murders; the banality of evil gets a fresh upheaval in this remarkable, heavy and ultimately necessary film.

Before Midnight

The cute couple get a trilogy. This is the third film featuring the delightful relationship of Jesse and Celine as they walk&talk around scenic European locations; funny, casually profound and with a great script to boot, who says sequels supposedly decline in quality?

Zero Dark Thirty

Bigelow’s brilliance shows again as she returns to the troubled Middle East, this time higher up the chain of command and no bomb disposal teams around. Chastain delivers a knockout performance as she tries to track down Osama bin Laden by any means necessary.

Captain Phillips

Veteran Hanks and newcomer Barkhad Abdi duel on the high-seas in Greengrass’s taut thriller. His trademark camerawork is perfectly suited for this film; all about Somali pirates but also dealing with so much more; a real masterclass in suspense.

The Impossible

An emotional sucker-punch? It certainly is. Too soon? Perhaps. Another certainty are the strong performances from Watts & co. and the devastating visuals of the tsunami and its destruction. A hard-to-watch human tragedy, but brilliantly done.


Hitchcockian splendour is what Park delivers in his first English-language film based on Shadow of a Doubt. Deliciously dark and beautifully shot, this Hitchcock homage will cause wry smiles aplenty and a new take on growing up in rural America.


One of the most famous Presidents is bought back to life thanks to Day-Lewis’s invigorating performance and Spielberg’s patient and unintrusive directing. Speeches are made, fists are waved and slaves are freed in this epic of historical proportions.

Blue Jasmine

Blanchett carries Allen’s latest film with gusto and she delivers a perfect and weighty performance as a New York socialite spiralling into denial and madness whilst living with her sister in San Francisco. Even when Allen doesn’t hit the peak, he is still miles ahead.


A bleak road-trip movie shot in serene black and white. Featuring Woody as an ageing alcoholic (played by the brilliant Dern) trying to claim a $1m prize which is a couple of states away. Payne gives us another heart warmer with his trademarks of poignancy and humour in equal doses.

This is the End

This is the funniest comedy of 2013, in a year when many comedies were surprisingly lacking in the humour department (Hangover III, The Heat…etc). It has its flaws but an interesting plot and gags by the cameo-load allow a film with Rihanna in it to bookend my yearly Top 11.