The Blind Side is the true story of a wealthy WASP family, headed by Mater Familias Sandra Bullock, who take in a seventeen year old homeless black kid from the wrong side of the tracks. Battling social prejudice, lavishing him with clothes and an education, this is altruism at its best — or is there an ulterior motive? A prestigious football scholarship is at stake.
This fish-out-of-water tale has plenty of heart. Success is never a foregone conclusion. Tight scripting earnt this flick an Oscar nom for best screenplay, Bullock herself won Best Actress for her subtle, humane, and convincing portrayal.
P.S. I Love You is a rom-com based on a quirky and compelling idea. A terminally ill husband arranges ten surprise packages to be delivered to his wife in the months after his death. Think: posthumous and vicarious Bucket List.
Great idea, some genuinely moving sequences — all utterly undermined by the fundamental unbelievability of the acting and set-pieces. The husband’s better-than-Ed-Sheeran serenade is a stand-out moment of absurdity. And the kooky humour’s far less charming and funny than it thinks.
An odd film: I cried, and reached for the zapper. Coulda been great, but unbelievability and misplaced zaniness ruin it.
Fire in the Sky is the 1993 screen depiction of the 1975 alleged alien abduction of lumberjack Travis Walton while out working with his crew. A slowburn, the film is notable for its focus. Rather than gratuitious shots of ETs, the drama revolves around how the disappearance of a local man affects a small town. His crew are villified as murderers, and mob tyranny ruins their lives as the towns tears itself apart.
This film seared itself into my memory as a kid. The petrol station scene (I won’t ruin it) genuinely disturbed me. And the tension throughout builds to that sequence: the single most believable portrayal of an alien abduction I have ever seen. As utterly convincing, visually impressive, and skin-crawlingly disturbing as it was when I saw it some twenty-odd years ago.
But was he abducted? Some have criticised the ambiguity of the film: it never gives us a clear yes-no answer. But I think this is the feature’s strength. The picture’s concern is how people cope with traumatic situations.
Still so fresh. Please give it a watch on Netflix.
Under the Shadow (2016) depicts a mother and daughter struggling to maintain a normal life in war-torn 1980s Tehran. After their father and husband is conscripted, Iraqi bombs start raining down. In a visually striking moment, one bomb lodges in the building’s roof: it doesn’t explode, but it seems to bring a mysterious evil with it that begins to tear the family apart.
This BAFTA award-winning horror has long been on my “must watch” list. Sadly, I’m no longer a freeloading undergraduate with cash and time to spare, so I couldn’t catch it at the cinema. Luckily, Netflix bought it — a surefire sign that the film was gold — and I got to watch it this weekend.
Called an “Iranian Babadook” due to its slow build and psychological horror element, this film holds a 7.0 on IMDB and 98% fresh on RottenTomatoes — rarely heard of scores for a horror. Foreign language? Check. Original setting? Check. Social commentary? Check. Mark Kermode approved? Check. It’s everything that a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself should love. And how I wanted to love it. But this was the single-handed most disappointing film experience I have had in years.
Where The Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. 82 minutes never felt so long. The film wasn’t awful: jaunts to the basement bomb shelter were creepy, the sound design was at times deeply unsettling, and the evil presence was original and truly scary. But unlike The Babadook which nigh-on perfectly balanced psychological terror, monster scares, and possible mental breakdown in a is-it-isn’t-it-real stylee, Under the Shadow just felt like a going-nowhere social commentary on the state of women in post-revolutionary Iran with a bit of bump-in-the-night thrown in. Tension wasn’t maintained, the film didn’t feel like it was headed anywhere, and our mother and daughter, strangely, never truly seem imperilled by the menacing presence. The picture juggles several themes, yet never delivers on any of them. Smaller productions often suffer from fewer rewrites, Under the Shadow is no exception: this is a screenplay crying out for another round or two of redrafting. It never fulfills the ample potential it hints at.
However, the acting, direction, clever construction, and originality save the film somewhat. Memorable, note-worthy, but sadly Under the Shadow just doesn’t hang together.
Under the Shadow (2016) sees a mother struggle to maintain a normal family life in war-torn 1980s Tehran amidst Iraqi bombs and a mysterious evil presence.
BAFTA award-winning, foreign language, original setting, social commentary, Mark Kermode-approved: everything a latte-supping cosmopolitan liberal like myself loves. Yet this Iranian The Babadook doesn’t quite work.
Where Babadook was a nerve-shredding slowburn, Under the Shadow was just a patience-shredding slow. Babbadook‘s is-it-isn’t-it-real psychological terror has been replaced with going-nowhere social commentary on feminism in post-revolutionary Iran. A truly scary “monster” and creepy apartment building can’t hide the lack of focus or peril. Disappointing.
In this post, I wanna share how I became a dedicated Star Trek fan.
Ever since I heard that a new Star Trek series (Star Trek: Discovery) was definitely for real actually happening, to be released this year, I’ve been super hyped and also a bit scared — what if it doesn’t live up to my hopes?
As you can tell, I’m a massive Trekkie… Or Trekker… whatever, I don’t care, but that’s for another post. In this post, I wanna share how I became a dedicated Star Trek fan.
I was born in 1984. When I was a kid, back in the dark days when the UK only had four channels and we heard mythical stories about how in America they had FORTY, the replays of the original Trekwere always on the telly at weekends. But I never paid attention. It was just another rubbishy show from the ’60s. It barely registered in my consciousness. I much preferred Land of the Giants(!)
Fast forward to age nine-ish. Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Trek reboot, had been running for several years and still I didn’t notice. And then one day, a season five episode came on: Cause and Effect. It involves the Starship Enterprise being stuck in a timeloop; the same catastrophe-tainted day keeps repeating itself. Think sci-fi horror version of Groundhog Day, or the film Triangle, but in space, and with dodgier make-up and production values.
I won’t ruin the episode for you. Check it out on Netflix! But it marks the sort of intelligent, mind-bending stories that were par for the course in Trek. Every time a new mindbender or time-travel flick comes out, like Looper, I love it. But I always refer people to Trek.
If you’re new to Star Trek, here’s a few more episodes you might want to take a look at (all currently available on Netflix):
The Visitor (Deep Space Nine, series 4 episode 2): another great time-travel episode.
Hard Time (Deep Space Nine, series 4 episode 18): the psychology of guilt and suffering.
In The Pale Moonlight (Deep Space Nine, series 6 episode 19): the hardship of keeping your principles in war.
Trials and Tribble-ations (Deep Space Nine, series 5 episode 6): a good example of the lighter-hearted side of Trek, which pays homage to the original series with some neat special effects.
Sadly, no matter how I wax lyrical about the virtues of Trek, nobody’s buying it. The rubber ears, the dodgy acting, the huge number of episodes where, yes, nothing really happens. Sadly, TV has moved on. There is no Trek that fits modern conventions. For example, series are now limited to around ten episodes a season, there are no “one-off” episodes, and it’s all about moving the plot forward. The closest Trek came to this, and arguably it was instrumental in pre-empting the current trend, was the Dominion War story arc from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (my favourite incarnation of Trek, for what it’s worth).
But now with Star Trek: Discovery, I hope a new Trek for a new televisual era will be born, a Trek that captures the imagination of the young as much as the new Star Wars films have, as much as that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation captured mine some twenty plus years ago.
Arrival sees a linguist tasked with making first contact with extraterrestrials.Based on an award-winning short story, the film can only be described as this generation’s Contact or 2001: A Space Odyssey. Same epic feel, familiar dark featureless monoliths (spacecraft). Yet it’s no rip-off.
Truly alien aliens, a tension and uneasy terror that surely would acccompany first contact, a disturbing sense of realism. All achieved without wobbly camcorder shtick.
Just like its illustrious spiritual forebears, Arrival is beautifully understated, deceptively straightforward plot-wise, and handles deep themes without pretension or pomp.
The anti-Independence Day. Found Contact snooze-inducing? Miss it. I say: instant classic.
Arrival, based on Ted Chiang’s 1998 Nebula award-winning novella Story of Your Life, can only be described as this generation’s Contact or 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are even shades of 1998’s Sphere. It’s not derivative of those great works, but has the same epic feel — and by “epic”, I don’t mean bloated and poorly plotted, which is what so often passes for epic nowadays (see Superman v Batman, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, and a 300 page book being turned into a three film, eight hour monstrosity, The Hobbit).
Aliens have landed, but they keep quiet, safely ensconced in their ships. What’s their intention: Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or more War of the Worlds? The film sees linguist Dr Louise Banks, so well-played by Amy Adams that I forgot I was watching a well-known A-lister, tasked with deciphering the alien’s language and making first contact. Her job cannot be underestimated: these aliens are no humans-with-rubber-ears.
Truly alien aliens, a sense of tension and uneasy terror that surely would acccompany first contact, a disturbing sense of realism. And it achieves this without wobbly camcorder shtick. With a nod to 2001 and Sphere, it even has its own monoliths — gigantic, featureless, silent, dark spaceships which float mere feet from the ground.
And just like its illustrious spiritual forebears, Arrival is beautifully understated, deceptively straightforward in its plot, and deals with deep themes with no hint of pretension or pomp. It even raised a few laughs from the audience. Perfectly pitched mind-candy. The only minor criticism is that the film might have benefited from upping the personal and global peril in places.
It really is the anti-Independence Day. If you are one of those people who described Contact as snooze-inducing where nothing happens and “in the end it turns out her dad was an alien” (quote from SouthPark, not actually what happens!), then give Arrival a miss. However for me, as a fully qualified linguist, I hope this is the start of a glut of films where knowledge of valency changing operations and morphosyntactic alignment in obscure New Guinea languages saves the world. Grammar has never been this exciting, or important. An instant classic.
It used to be that to qualify for a reboot or remake, a film had to satisfy two criteria:
the original had to be a “classic”,
a generation had to have passed since the original: Cape Fear (1962, 1991), The Hills Have Eyes (1977, 2006), Superman (1976, 2006).
Not so anymore. The appearance of Cabin Fever, a 2016 remake of a middling 2002 film, means all bets are off. And it’s not the only one:
Hulk (2003, 2008)
Fantastic Four (2005, 2015)
Death at a Funeral (2007, 2010)
Planet of the Apes (1968, 2001… 2011)
Using sophisticated NASA-style algorithms (read: guesswork) powered by the next generation software and hardware (read: coffee, boredom in my job), I have managed to foretell a 100% accurate schedule* of film and TV reboots for the next few years.
So put these dates in your daybook, because these films are coming to a cinema near you!
*At time of going to press: all changes to schedule are the result of a mishap with a DeLorean.