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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.

Courier – Top 10 of 2013 (Before Midnight)

9 Dec


4. Before Midnight

Before Midnight is the third film in Richard Linklater’s series – preceded by Before Sunrise and Before Sunset – that has followed Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delphy) growing up and falling in love along the way. In Before Midnight, we meet the couple on a family holiday in Greece, with kids in tow. The subtly brilliant performances and the sharp, witty script that defined the previous films all return inBefore Midnight; a rom-com it may be, but not in the traditional sense. Laden with dialogue, often a weakness but here a strength – light enough to amuse, rich enough to compel in equal measure. Linklater does not deal in fluff;Before Midnight is certainly darker than its predecessors but no less casually profound. It seamlessly adds to one of the most charming modern love stories, watching Jesse and Celine chat feels like visiting old friends. Relationships are rarely perfect, unlike Before Midnight, which comes mighty close indeed.

Full article, with pieces by other writers, available here:

It’s a Wonderful Life – Review

9 Dec


Frank Capra’s timeless tale is for many the ultimate Christmas film. The always-affable Jimmy Stewart is George Bailey, a compassionate but frustrated businessman in small-town America. Bailey’s helped by angel Clarence (Henry Travers) as he contemplates suicide on Christmas Eve, who shows him what life would be like if he never existed over one snowy night.

Both Capra and Stewart both consider if their favourite film; it truly is a genuine classic, it improves with both age and familiarity and brings joy to all those who experience it. The original black & white version, the only way to watch it, conjures up the lustre of old Hollywood and fables of old. The word ‘magical’ is often bandied about in film criticism but It’s a Wonderful Life is one of the early pictures that deserves every letter of the word. It tackles humour, sentimentality and warming charm perfectly; it takes you through the emotional scale and is incredibly watchable. The performances are marvellous, Stewart taking the reins as the relatable small-town man with big dreams, Donna Reed – in her first major role – as the ideal American wife and Travers as the always-kind Angel 2nd Class.

Everything fits, everything works; it all comes to together so succinctly and perfectly that it is hard to aim any criticism in the direction of Capra’s masterpiece. Few films are flawless, however there always exceptions to the rule.

Heartwarmingly beautiful, It’s a Wonderful Life is the perfect Christmas film. 


Editor’s Column #4

2 Dec

Harry Potter. The Lord of the Rings. These two film franchises certainly helped shape my childhood and many other students currently working hard (ahem) at university, not just in the UK but also all over the world.


Students born in the golden decade that was the 1990s will remember growing up with Harry Potter; first the brilliant books and then the magical films. Famous franchises become part of the probably the most important part of your life. The brain is at its most absorbent and malleable during the childhood and teen years so no wonder that Harry Potter and The Lord of the Ringsbecame some of the most beloved for the 90s kids. I think everyone remembers at least one spell that Harry, Ron, Hermione and co. learnt in the classrooms of Hogwarts, right?

The 90s kids aren’t alone in the franchised childhoods though, kids from the 1960s onwards will all remember the multitude of James Bond films released every decade since; 70s kids had Star Wars, 80s kids Indiana Jones and so on. Every generation has at least one, or more, franchises that they can relate to, as well as endlessly re-watch and quote – “Wingardium Leviosa”.

What is it about franchises that we love so much? There is no definite way of truly knowing; but a combination of likable characters locked in a battle of good versus evil, along with a great story and some memorable music and actors thrown into the mix tends to create an enchanting and well-loved franchise. “Expecto Patronum”… sorry, I digress; I’ll just stop now.

Unfortunately for every brilliant franchise, there has to be one that flops at the first hurdle, where the first film is also the last one. Since the beginning of this century alone, there have been numerous failed franchises, particularly book to film adaptions, which are all desperate to replace the gaping hole left when the Harry Potter films came to an end. The Golden Compass – based on the first book in the popular Phillip Pullman trilogy – stopped before it even really started, as didEragon, also based on the first book in a popular series. The Twilight Saga and more recently The Hunger Games managed to take-off with great success, but franchises are not immune to failure purely because they are based on popular books; it is a fine line between sink and swim.

When they do well, however, they really are milestones of cinema and life, measurable in equal doses of familiarity and childhood memories.

Editor’s Column #3

22 Nov

Almost every film has it. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, and sometimes it’s plain ugly. Actually, that could be referring to any number of cinematic elements, from music to actors, but this week’s column is all about exposition.

Some sort of exposition, or background information, is present in most film, regardless of where or when it was made. It is often used to convey backstory or as a tool to revisit a character’s past and expand on their persona.  From sci-fi to film-noir, everyone loves a bit of backstory that fleshes out the plot; the hard part is doing it right. Dialogue, narration, flashbacks, a TV news story, text, photos, mise-en-scene, music – exposition is a chameleon that comes in many disguises. The more naturally it blends in with the film, the more seamless (and hopefully better) the final picture.

Think Star Wars and everyone will remember the opening of all six films. The iconic, yellow text that crawls up the screen before vanishing into the darkness of space. Thousands of years of (fictional) history and tons of backstory all crammed into a quick read at the beginning of every film in the Star Wars series, the classic theme music in the background tops off the textbook example of how to do exposition brilliantly.

Not forgetting Mr. DNA too, the talking DNA strand that condenses a lot of potentially boring science into a quick animated clip that sets up the premise for Jurassic Park. Or the tattoos of the local man at the tavern in Puss In Boots that tell the story of the ancient treasure of the golden goose eggs. These are just some examples of how to do exposition memorably and rather subtly.

However, badly done exposition can stop a film in its tracks when a massive info-dump occurs, characters narrating or spouting out tons of information is a common problem and is often done badly, particularly in sci-fi and fantasy films where the audience needs to know how the world works. Apart from notable examples such as The Matrix, most similar films are guilty of dumping in a load of exposition to set up the film but this tactic actually takes you out of the film and its created world.

The character Basil Exposition in the Austin Powers series parodies the ‘M’ role in the James Bond series perfectly and indeed the spoofs the whole idea of exposition. I am sure he loved Star Wars,Jurassic Park and Puss in Boots because if anyone knows exposition, it’s Basil.