Favourite films of 2015

There will be a post to declare my favourite film of 2015 in the next few days. These however are some of my favourites from what has been a decent cinematic year.

What have you watched and enjoyed this year?

Do you agree/disagree with these picks?

 

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The Martian, Psalms and Wonder

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“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” – Psalm 8 v 3-4 NIV

Last Monday night I saw Ridley Scott’s The Martian and if I’m honest it has stayed with me all week.

I loved the film and reviewed it in my previous post. I’ve spent the week contemplating scenes and remembering jokes from it as well as the disco soundtrack.

On Sunday I went to church and the verses above were read and I remembered The Martian again.

Space is the unknown and there is something in all of us (whether you have a faith or not) that wants to know more. Why is everything so perfectly laid out? The large distances involved in travel, the emptiness and yet at the same time a place filled with stars, planets and moons. Can it be coincidence that we have been given life on a planet the perfect distance from the sun to allow air, water & oxygen to help us survive? It baffles me and simultaneously fills me with awe.

How quickly and how regularly we forget. I’m grateful that The Martian helped me remember.

The Psalmist helps us to feel this wonder too. Psalm 8 is written by someone pondering their place amidst the vastness of the universe and at the same time pondering the care and concern of the create who made them. Which leads me to Sunday.

What am I here for? What is my vocation? How do I live that out in the world and show my faith? How do I live life in all it’s fulness?

I’ve been blogging for a little while now but Sunday made me realise how much I want to pursue this. I find so many strands of faith in the films I watch and I want to share that to hopefully help those ‘stumblers’ like me who don’t have all the answers.

This is a passion and it’s time to move up a gear. Already this week I’ve pushed a couple of doors and pleased to say they have not slammed in my face. It’s exciting and its scary.

I’m ready for the next step wherever the journey goes with this.

I hope that many of you will come with me.

Steve Stockman’s blog from Sunday on vocation is here. I hope it inspires you as it has me.

Review: The Martian

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The summer of 2015 will not live long in the memory (film wise). However as the leaves begin to turn and the nights draw in, those responsible for the release date scehduling have already given us a cinematic gem in the early days of Autumn.

The Martian (dir. Ridley Scott) is the tale of Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded on Mars and presumed dead following a storm and the evacuation of his crew mates. This story of the human survival instinct combines the great elements of Castaway (dir. Robert Zemeckis) and Moon (dir. Duncan Jones) to bring what will surely be seen as a return to form for director Ridley Scott.

Matt Damon is brilliant as Watney. Charming, funny, heart wrenching he really is the total package.

The film is also very self-aware in its tone with what could be considered moments of ‘nudge wink’ dialogue that almost adds a B-movie quality to proceedings in a very endearing manner.

This is probably where the Martian excels when inevitably compared with the recent space epic, Interstellar (dir. Christopher Nolan).

One of the problems with Interstellar was that it always felt as if it took itself too seriously. The Martian avoids this trope. While the science is always present, it often takes a back seat to the humanity of the story, and to its credit the science is never too confusing or off-putting. The rescue mission, while ridiculous in part, is never completely unbelievable. This is the charm of The Martian there are no glaring distractions you simply enjoy the ride from start to finish.

The key to The Martian is the heartfelt desire to see Watney make it home against all odds. We route for his character from minute one until the film ends. We laugh, we feel his pain (emotional and physical) and we want to see him beat the odds.

The Martian is not a science fiction tale it is a tale of the strength of determination that happens to take place on Mars.

I wholeheartedly enjoyed The Martian and will have no hesitation in returning to Mars to do it all over again.

The Martian is released UK wide tomorrow (30th September).

Thanks to MovieHouse for the advance screening access. 

Neill Blomkamp: Dystopian futures that speak to today

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Chappie is released this weekend in the UK and I’m excited about seeing it. Over the last few years I have, after several repeat viewings, become a huge fan of Neill Blomkamp’s previous films District 9 and Elysium.

Blomkamp attempts to make intelligent science fiction. Neither District 9 or Elysium are perfect films but in both cases they attempt to make bold statements on our current world through dystopian futures.

Blomkamp appears to be interested in the social structures we have created be it either through race, as depicted in District 9, or the class system, as depicted in Elysium.

Chappie appears, from my viewings of the various trailers, to tap into this idea again. How do we cope with someone different? Someone who wants to be seen on a level playing field and yet are rejected based on appearance, race, religion, sexuality or whatever the difference may be.

Whether intentional or not Blomkamp is acknowledging something very current in our world. Our fear of the stranger, our fear of difference and ultimately our fear of change.

I can’t wait for Chappie this weekend and I’m even more excited to see another Blomkamp dystopian future that could help us address the present .

Disappointment of 2014: Snowpiercer

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To call Snowpiercer my disappointment 2014 may come as a shock to some. Those who know my love of sci-fi will know that Snowpiercer is in fact one of my highlights of 2014. So why label it a disappointment?

It’s quite simple my disappointment is because if you are reading this in the UK it’s highly likely you haven’t seen Snowpiercer. Sadly, from all reports, there is a high chance you never will.

Set in 2031, the entire world is frozen except for those aboard the Snowpiercer. For 17 years, the world’s survivors are on a train hurtling around the globe creating their own economy and class system. Led by Curtis (Chris Evans), a group of lower-class citizens living in squalor at the back of the train are determined to get to the front of the train and spread the wealth around. Each section of the train holds new surprises for the group who have to battle their way through to the top carriage.

There is a long running disagreement between the director, Joon-ho Bong, and production company, the Weinstein company. Allegedly the tale is that one of the parties want a further edit that would take 20 minutes of the running time. This (as far as I’m concerned) is unnecessary. I thought this film was terrific with great direction, beautifully shot, well acted and a plot that in 2014 of all years has great relevance with it’s social class message.

Currently this film has no UK distributor attached and looks unlikely that it will.

This is such a shame a more people deserve to see this great piece of work.

When you consider the endless trail of sequels, and some of the frankly terrible efforts that do make cinematic release it makes Snowpiercer all the more tragic.

The film has reached mainland Europe and had a screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival. You can find it on Region 2 DVD or if you have a multi region player it’s not a problem. Seek it out, see this film join the minority who are no longer disappointed.

Review: Looper

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In a previous post I questioned the validity of poster quotes hailing Looper as this decade’s Matrix. Some have made these comparisons but for me it doesn’t come close to having the same impact and bears little or no similarities.

This is not to say that Looper is not a good film or an enjoyable film. Simply it proves that a film can not be judged on the poster content.

In 2074 time travel has been made possible but also illegal. Criminals however use it to transport those they want to disappear by sending people back in time 30 years. Waiting for them is a Looper. A Looper is hired to kill and dispose of those sent back in time with the reward attached to the body.

Sounds simple however eventually the gangsters needing to cut all ties will send their Looper their 30 year older self to dispose of and hence carry out what is referred to as ‘closing their loop’. When Bruce Willis arrives to be disposed of by his younger self, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and escapes the chase begins to have the loop closed.

Time travel films are nothing new and films such as Back to the Future, the Terminator franchise and Source Code all sprung to mind while viewing. Particularly the Terminator films where the change the past fix the future theme plays a large part. 

Looper is a good watch with a lot of good points not least its ability to poke fun at its own  sometimes ludicrous depiction of time travel. Also it has much to say over man’s desire t play God even when this involves making decisions relating to your own future self.The effects are very well done and action sequences certainly have you on the edge of your seat. 

The only problem still lies in that poor poster description. This is not as good as The Matrix, it s not as good as Terminator 2 and even Source Code is better at dealing with time travel issues. Looper has also been compared to Inception which again I feel is unwarranted. The intelligence of Inception is not even close to being matched in Looper.

However Looper is to be recommended, is highly enjoyable and will for many be an introduction to intelligent sic-fi. For those receiving an introduction however I feel there are better films that were made previously which offer a greater time travelling experience.