- Justice – Safe and Sound
- Todd Terje & The Olsens – Firecracker
- Compton White – Track 2
- The Strokes – OBLIVIUS
- Spring King – Detroit
- Bat For Lashes – Sunday Love
- Mitski – Fireworks
- Alexis Taylor – So Much Further To Go
- Christine and the Queens – Tilted
- Rival Consoles – Lone
- Floating Points – Argenté
- MSTRKRFT – Morning of the Hunt
For all the hype and hope, all the fury and anger, Ghostbusters was always going to be just a movie. It’s a shame then that it’s not a very good movie. Which is frustrating, as it manages to get so many of the difficult things right that a blockbuster franchise reboot entails, but then messes up the simple stuff.
Simply put, Ghostbusters might be the most carelessly assembled tentpole release in recent memory. Okay, except Batman vs Superman (there’s nothing here as incoherent as that film at its clunky worst), and perhaps if the film was snappier and shorter (not that it ever dragged), the problems wouldn’t be so noticeable, but Ghostbusters is marred by sloppy editing at every turn. It’s not just nitpicking continuity errors, but scenes feel so obviously pieced together from a mishmash of takes, I found it hard settling into a decent groove without something jolting me out of the experience again. Dialogue cuts off abruptly (showing the cracks of unsuccessful riffing), little is done to make the off-screen action feel like it flows concurrently with what is happening on-screen (one moment, Patty is lying on the floor, the next she’s upright with a ghost perched on their shoulders), and there is no sense of time and space (two defenestrations take place through the same window, yet this is never commented on). It feels like the events of the film could be over the course of a few days, but Holtzmann somehow manages to create all this kit, retool all these devices and pimp their ride seemingly at the same time she is out and about with the rest of the team. At one point, Erin is split up from the group only to rejoin them at a crucial moment because…reasons?
Sorry to get all nitpicky. But co-writer/director Paul Feig also fails to get a handle on the big set-pieces. The ghosts and special effects looked decent, if lacking in imagination, but the crowd scenes lack atmosphere – the big heavy metal concert looks like all the oxygen has been sucked out of it – cheap-looking sets and unconvincing backdrops don’t help either. All this wouldn’t matter so much if the film was funny – and I guess it is, sorta? Its fun, generally, and there were a few good laughs, but Ghostbusters is stuffed with too many jokes that fall flat, lost in mumbly, improvy, overtalking, a register that doesn’t quite work with the rest of the film. I kept on thinking “Okay, that’s weird” fairly often, like a comic beat had been missed, or something in the script just didn’t translate to screen and then failed again in the editing room but stuck around anyway. And despite stealing pretty much every scene, I am still not sure if I really understand Chris Hemsworth’s part in all this. It’s a great performance, and I understand it’s a gender flip on the idea of the dumb but sweet natured bimbo who’s breezed through life on looks alone, but Kevin is a special kind of surreal stupidity (we’re talking beyond even Dougal from Father Ted). It’s nice that the jokes are spread around but it leaves the humour feeling imbalanced. You need the principal characters to bounce off someone that represents some semblance of reality, but here every supporting character is an oddball. Oh, and I still have an issue with the internet appearing prominently in films (yeah, it’s a vital part of all our lives, but any references to Twitter and Amazon and YouTube just makes me cringe – acknowledging the manbabies that have plagued the internet since the film’s announcement works against it).
But for all my petty gripes (easy to let slide on their own, but the cumulative effect becomes too much to bear), Ghostbusters certainly has its pleasures. And as mentioned before, these are mainly the elements that were harder to pull off, so credit for the creative team and cast is still due. I liked all the main characters and the dynamic they had with each other and how the team comes together. The performances from Wiig and McCarthy add a touching emotional element, and although McKinnon is largely played as an inconsistent bag of quirks, there’s enough about her unphased perma-grin that delights. And Jones for the most part sidesteps lazy “Aw hell naw” sassitude with a winning positivity and energy. The overarching plot is fine, if not necessarily the fuzzy motivations and glossed over know-how, using the vague skeleton of the original film but making everything else very much its own. Ghostbusters is at its best when its doing its own thing; affectionate cameos and references abound, some subtle and neat, others distracting or horribly dated (note: The Obsbournes ended over a decade ago).
And in that way, I hope for a sequel. And I am glad they made THIS Ghostbusters film. With the team in place and the pressure off, another Ghostbusters outing completely divorced from its predecessor would be enticing (hopefully the final post-credits tag is just a corny wink than a statement of intent). But maybe next time round, Feig should pass the torch on to a writer-director who can mix comedy, action and horror and make it work. Are Edgar Wright or Joe Cornish available – or am I being too obvious?
Viewing Gum Listening Post the 33rd! And a bumper edition it is too! Listen here, or just stream below.
- DJ Shadow – Nobody Speak (feat. Run the Jewels)
- Metronomy – Old Skool
- Tegan and Sara – Boyfriend
- Kero Kero Bonito – Lipslap
- Wild Beasts – Get My Bang
- M83 – Walkaway Blues (feat. Jordan Lawlor)
- Shock Machine – Shock Machine
- Garbage – Empty
- Melt Yourself Down – The God Of You
- PJ Harvey – The Ministry of Defence
- ANHONI – Why Did You Separate Me from the Earth?
- Jarvis Cocker – Theme from ‘Likely Stories’
- Tim Hecker – Collapse Sonata
- Radiohead – Burn the Witch
Another month, another Viewing Gum Listening Post! Yes, don’t I know it. I have proper features in the offing, I promise! Anyway, listen to right here, or just stream below.
- Miike Snow – Genghis Khan
- Mr. Oizo – Hand in the Fire (feat. Charli XCX)
- Shonen Knife – Rock’n’roll T-Shirt
- Weezer – Wind In Our Sail
- Iggy Pop – Break Into Your Heart
- Charles Bradley – Good to Be Back Home
- Anchorsong – Mother
- Emmy The Great – Social Halo
- Disasterpeace – The Mirror in the Attic
- MMOTHS – Body Studies
- Olafur Arnalds and Nils Frahm – 00:26
It’s been two months, but the first Viewing Gum Listening Post for 2016 (and the thirty-first overall) is ready for you to listen to right here, or just stream below. Various factors delayed its collation, but perhaps of most significant relevance was the passing of David Bowie, which prompted a fairly typical response from his devoted followers worldwide of absorbing as much of his incredibly vast and varied work for a goodly time. There are few artists who could very easily fill days of radioplay but thanks to Bowie’s ability to inspire as well as be inspired, to collaborate, to produce, to write, to make guest appearances, to follow music as well as be followed by other musicians, to cross genres – well, there was much material to savour during my hefty Bowie binge. I updated my 21st Century Bowie playlist recently, which can be listened to here.
I’m still not over it, and it will colour the rest of the year – and years – to come. But seeking out new interesting music was something he championed, and so the Listening Posts must go on!
- Yeasayer – I Am Chemistry
- The Crookes – The World Is Waiting
- RAT BOY – MOVE
- Field Music – Disappointed
- Sunflower Bean – Easier Said
- Fruit Bats – From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town
- The Besnard Lakes – The Bray Road Beast
- Daughter – Doing the Right Thing
- Animal Collective – FloriDada
- The Last Shadow Puppets – Bad Habits
- Shlomo – Druid Caravan of Smoke
I made a concerted effort to watch a lot of TV this year. With so many must-see shows, many fell by the wayside, so if it’s not on the list, I either didn’t watch it or didn’t like it as much as you! But for what it’s worth, here are ten favourite shows of the year, plus the next fifteen in briefer detail, all in no particular order within their separate quality brackets. And it wouldn’t be an end of year list on this blog without an evening’s work of sloppy photoshop work too.
THE TEN TV SHOWS OF 2015
With series one, Noah Hawley defied all logic and sense and turned a critically acclaimed and award-winning movie by a pair of master film-makers into one of the most entertaining shows of 2014 (indeed, my favourite of that year). That series two would end up being just as good, maybe even better, is unbelievable. Wisely going forward by going back (some 30 years before the ‘true story’ first time around), a great cast all bring their A game to a tale of warring gangsters, an oblivious couple caught up in the cross-fire, and a police force trying to make sense of it all, with so much to enjoy amid the ensuing carnage. May ‘The History of True Crime in the Midwest‘ offer more stories to come.
So much has changed in the televisual landscape since Mad Men first debuted (on BBC Two – remember when the BBC showed American drama?), it was no longer the sixties setting that made it feel like a product of another time. The end of Mad Men as such feels like the end of an era. And while this second half of its final series wasn’t quite as strong as the first, it finished off its run in some style. That the last few episodes would feel deliberately aimless was a reminder that dream-like, nomadic journeys of self-discovery was as much a part of its DNA as pitch meetings, office and social politics, and the evolving wardrobe of its characters. Mad Men leaves us in a better place (at least in terms of the variety of TV out there and the ease of accessing it), and it was worth sharing the ride with it.
Better Call Saul
The Breaking Bad spin-off that was much talked about and hugely anticipated quickly established itself as its own thing, exceeding expectations and being perhaps even better than its forebear. I’d go so far as to recommend it to those yet to see Breaking Bad (so long as you skipped the first 5-10 minutes), as it has all the fun and tension of seeing a slippery central character trying to get out of various legal scrapes, but with not quite so much killing and nastiness which might otherwise be off-putting.
True crime documentaries have been as much a staple of television as the detective shows that form the fictitious flipside of the coin. But few have such access to its central suspect, let alone one as high profile (at least in the US at the time – I’d never heard of the case beforehand) as millionaire Robert Durst and his connections to a string of murders and disappearances. Even if you know the much-discussed ending (a deeply chilling final shot that recalled Ghostwatch of all things – while we’re on the subject, I’d also recommend The Enfield Haunting if you have an interest in said show), the whole series was one of the most engrossing watches of the year.
Despite the publicity onslaught at the time, it seems all the media attention evaporated for Sky’s big original production with its impressive international cast (including Michael Gambon, Sofie Gråbøl, Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Eccleston) soon after, which is a shame, as Fortitude was my favourite new drama series of 2015. What made it especially compelling was how it was never quite clear what kind of show it would become – was it a detective mystery, a serial killer thriller, a supernatural investigation, a sci-fi horror? That it ended up being all those things to an extent, and more, while maintaining a consistent tone is remarkable. If you’re partial to the likes of The Returned and Twin Peaks but with a touch of The Thing thrown in for good measure, then Fortitude’s grim, strange delights may be just the thing for you.
This is England ‘90
Another successful film-to-TV transfer, the four-part mini-series and likely conclusion to the adventures of Shaun, Woody, Lol, et al packed in many laugh-out-loud moments as well as its fair share of heartbreak and trauma too. It could be accused of turning up the misery to the point of incredulity, but having become so invested in the characters over one film and three series (not quite #sixseasonsandamovie), I think it earned its bruising toughness, counterbalanced with a sense of hope and optimism (well, not for all of them). Tears, both happy and sad, were indeed shed.
Show Me A Hero
For those intimidated or put-off by all the hype for The Wire and unsure whether to invest the time and energy would do well to check out Show Me A Hero, also from David Simon. At six episodes, it’s a fully contained and manageable story, based on real events, and while it doesn’t sound like an exciting proposition (public housing in Yonkers, New York, in the late 80’s), its cross-section of individuals directly and indirectly affected and involved with the issues has all the drama and social commentary of its bigger brother. Great use of music and attention to sound mixing too (the noise of the public debates was particularly striking).
Sharon Horgan teamed up with Rob Delaney to deliver another great comedy that’s as good if not better than Pulling. Frequently hilarious, Catastrophe had the kind of frank, disgusting but authentic dialogue that rarely emerges from behind closed doors, but, you guessed it, a beating heart under the profanity-strewn surface. Apart from some side characters that still feel out of place after two series, it was something really special. A very whistleable main theme too.
So long, for now, Dr Lecter. After three series with ever-shrinking audiences, NBC pulled the plug on one of the most imaginative and beautiful programmes ever made. And how do you make the most beautiful show on television even more beautiful? Take it to Florence, that’s how! It seemed its fate was sealed as soon as it went full Eurotrash and became a ‘funny’ accent extravaganza. And granted, the first few episodes felt even more languid than usual, as it recalibrated itself following the second series finale. But once friends, enemies and frenemies are reunited, it offered much to savour. That it also managed to fit in The Tooth Fairy – now in its third filmed adaptation after Manhunter and Red Dragon – and still managed to surprise and feel fresh is testament to just how good Hannibal was, and hopefully one day may be again. Fingers crossed for a movie, but not just any movie. A full-blown, over-ripe, nightmarish, gorgeous, movie musical is about the only way I can see it going. And yes, Mads Mikkelsen can sing. Kind of.
Despite its BAFTA and British Comedy Awards, I thought we had seen the last of Hunderby given it being tucked away on Sky Atlantic and lack of mainstream attention. But hush-ho! We were blessed with two glorious, disgusting specials in December. The relationships became ever more convoluted, the plot increasingly contrived, all in the grand traditions of the literature of course, and Julia Davis’ vulgar vernacular made my eyes fountain with laughter and locked my face in a grin throughout. Very silly and in exquisitely bad taste and all the better for it.
AND THE NEXT FIFTEEN…
Lots of people looking miserable in dark rooms and creaky corridors is how I imagine the Tudor period, so Wolf Hall is probably a rather accurate depiction of historical events.
Inside No. 9
Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith’s second post-League collaboration after Psychoville mirrors its predecessor by following a good first series with a great second one.
Still not essential viewing, but the second series of John Logan’s gothic mash-up found itself a sense of humour, and with it became far more entertaining.
Comedy Central UK finally woke up to the fact that it might actually be a good idea to show some of the much-praised original programmes from the U S of A, so while Key & Peele, Kroll Show, Nathan For You, Review and more remain unshown, at least we finally got to see Inside Amy Schumer and this, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s very funny misadventures as they struggle to deal with the real world in any way, shape or form.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
Not read the book and I gather chunks were understandably excised, but it didn’t affect the story-telling or character as I saw it. An enjoyably weird and unpredictable tale that offered some startling stuff.
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Given how much I didn’t get on with the film when I watched it for the first time only this year, I’m pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed its prequel some 14 years after the original was made. Great new additions round out an original returning cast that has its fair share of stars already, and its goofiness is infectious.
The second (possibly final?) series was as atmospheric as ever, though had a different feel and agenda to what came before. Less focus on character and mood, more on twists and revelations, but managed a tricky balance of being both satisfying and ambiguous.
W/ Bob & David
The team and talent from Mr. Show (which I still have not seen) reunite for a mini sketch series that not only knows how to squeeze the best out of a great set-up, but has the performances to back it up. Digital!
And Then There Were None
Superior Agatha Christie adaptation with a stellar cast, so you end up feeling extra upset when your favourites from stage and screen start dropping like flies.
Master of None
Aziz Ansari wrote the book on modern romance (literally), so it’s no surprise Master of None (co-written with Parks and Recreation’s Alan Yang, and originally developed with the much-missed Harris Wittels) would be a witty, articulate and accurate depiction of relationships (and much more besides) in this day and age.
I still think this gets better year on year. Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman settle more comfortably than ever into their roles, and the good-bad story ratio was the highest it has been post-comeback.
The Great British Bake Off
Nadiya – QUEEN. Comfort food telly of the highest order.
Ash vs Evil Dead
I have a feeling I may end up writing a more in-depth review once I finish off the series, but, a few misgivings aside, this is a largely successful (and quite frankly still amazing that it ever happened) resurrection. Lively, boisterous, and very, very bloody.
Rick & Morty
Maybe not as strong as the first series, but still a remarkable, rule-breaking animation that can run rings around supposedly serious sci-fi fare. With extra dick and fart jokes.
As the El Dude Brothers ride off into the sunset, let’s just stop to appreciate just how such a cringe-inducing, uncomfortably accurate comedy of social embarrassment and despair with a bizarre first-person gimmick became one of the longest running sitcoms in British TV history? Just as good as ever.
Here are ten films I saw in 2015 that I liked a lot with some comments too (some lazily culled and edited from earlier reviews), with some fairly arbitrary ranking (I could probably swap around the top five each day). Given how film release schedules work (or don’t in one particular instance) and festival screenings and the like, it’s somewhat fluid what constitutes a 2015 film (a couple of international releases date from 2013 and 2014, one other film here isn’t out in the UK until March), but if you want the full context of my tastes and habits to avoid a “Where’s [BLANK]?”-athon, I’ve got a Letterboxd account now, which I plan to make full use of in the New Year. So now you can judge everything I watch or do not watch! Enough preamble, on with the list!
1. The Look of Silence
A companion piece to Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, this time telling the story of the Indonesia genocide from the point of the view of the victims, rather than the perpetrators. Here, an optician whose brother was murdered before he was even born confronts those responsible, but this is far more complex than a straightforward revenge story. In fact, while this may be a more accessible work than The Act of Killing in many respects, it is even more essential. Playing something like a documentary version of Dead Man’s Shoes, it’s chilling, eye-opening and powerful, and carries with it, in its main subject and his family, an emotionally engaging centre through the horror.
2. The Lobster
Though absurd in its set-up and often very funny, The Lobster has a lot to say about our own reality, namely love and relationships, and the weird rituals, mechanics and quirks that make no sense taken out of context and viewed dispassionately – even if there is something strangely moving about the central character’s own quest for companionship. Though this is his first film in the English language, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dry deliberate tone and stilted dialogue fits well with the international cast. It’s weird, sad, dark and hilarious, reminiscent of Chris Morris’ Jam if anything, and one of the best films of the year.
3. It Follows
There is so much about David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows to talk about, it’s hard to know where to begin (I go into more detail here). For all the talent taking place on screen and off (especially when it comes to its score and cinematography), a recommendation would be hard to justify through style alone, but It Follows’ substance runs deep. It feels timeless yet current, it presents a gimmick and vague set of rules but allows an uncertainty and ambiguity to the premise to unsettle you further, and it plays on multiple themes explicitly but doesn’t vocalise them in a way to make them seem so heavy-handed. A trashier version of the film, played more for yuks and scares, could exist somewhere – and would probably be very entertaining – but as it stands, It Follows feels fully-formed and left me much impressed.
Carol is a simple story – in the best possible sense – impeccably performed and elegantly told. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara put in their very best work, even given their tip-top standards, and you can almost smell the smoke and perfume pouring off the screen. Every glance feels electric, every touch momentous, and every creative detail perfectly judged.
5. Mad Max: Fury Road
There were arguably better films released this year, but Mad Max: Fury Road was the talking-point movie of 2015, ten tonnes of unfiltered crazy from a singular vision in George Miller, age having done nothing to dull his sensibilities. As blockbusters get baggier and bleed into each other through ‘cinematic universes’, this is world-building done right, with exposition that cuts to the chase, characters that speak through their actions, story that is inferred without sacrificing pace. Instantly iconic.
6. Force Majeure
A family skiing holiday is punctured by a sudden incident and a split-second decision that has deep personal ramifications. Sounds like a thriller, yet Ruben Östlund’s hilarious comic tale manages to create simmering tension while maintaining an excruciatingly funny vein of humour. If you can bear the cringe-inducing awkwardness of it all, Force Majeure is a biting and witty dissection of the roles and responsibilities of men and women in their social and domestic relationships. The great expanse of the Alps has never felt so claustrophobic.
Included here as something of a protest vote, Snowpiercer remains without a UK release due to meddlings from the Weinstein Company. A shame, as it means audiences here have been denied a chance to see another fine film from Korean master director Bong Joon Ho (his first – mainly – in the English language) on the big screen. In spite of this, Snowpiercer is a compelling addition to the future dystopia social satire sub-genre, charting an uprising aboard an intercontinental train perpetually travelling through a post-apocalyptic Earth turned icy wasteland. As with Bong’s earlier work, it can smartly juggle grim reality and sudden violence with dark humour and emotional weight, and a great cast commit themselves to the outlandish premise (Tilda Swinton particularly memorable as a Roald Dahl-esque villain). Absolutely worth seeking out.
8. Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Big space movies are back. Gravity, Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy, even Prometheus has something to answer for (well, a lot of things to answer for). Ridley Scott’s attempt this year to make an all-together decent off-world offering was very close to finding its way into my top ten – the hugely enjoyable The Martian – but Star Wars: The Force Awakens managed to not only course-correct a franchise that had lost its sheen, but do so in such an entertaining fashion. And it’s not just an exercise in nostalgia. In fact, I was having such a good time with its trio of new characters (plus Ball Droid), it was a bit of a disappointment when Han and Chewie show up. The Internet can nitpick away at its flaws; JJ Abrams for all his success at nailing the tricky stuff does have a habit of fumbling story and speeding through leaps of logic (which makes the next instalments and spin-offs more exciting now the groundwork is out of the way). But fewer better times were had at the cinema this year.
While Sicario has garnered justifiable praise, it’s Dennis Villeneuve’s previous film (released in the UK on 2nd January 2015, so just sneaking in here) that left the greater impression. Enemy is an engrossing head-scratcher that lingers long after watching, not just as you unpick the plot but with the weird sense of dread that seeps through it. Almost a year after watching it, there’s still stuff in here I’ve yet to shake off. Jake Gyllenhaal is just as good here as in Nightcrawler (though played very differently), and if Villeneuve can combine the atmosphere and paranoia of Enemy with the tension and action of Sicario, then his forthcoming Blade Runner sequel may shift from ‘approach with caution’ to ‘very exciting indeed’.
Charlie Kaufman’s latest work is naturally as Kaufman-esque, for want of a better word, as previous favourites, witty and strange and emotionally engaging. But in teaming up with co-director Duke Johnson, together they have also crafted a quite remarkable animation to boot. The use of animation serves many functions here, especially as our lead character, a relatable but crucially not necessarily likeable writer (played by David Thewlis) is surrounded by a sea of identical faces, be it man, woman or child, all voiced by Tom Noonan. To describe what Anomalisa actually is would perhaps reveal too much as the story itself is slim and contained, but the directions it takes and the choices it makes offer much to take away for further thought and reflection. For any fans of his previous films, it is essential viewing.
And for making it this far – a reward! Here’s my annual Spotify playlist of favourite pieces of scores and soundtracks from 2015. Stream below or click here to open separately.