BTB Awards: Best Film

Winner – Senna

ts limited release will mean that Asif Kapadia’s documentary about the life and death of Ayrton Senna is unlikely to be topping may film of the year polls and at face value that seems sensible. A feature length documentary about the career of a Formula One driver who died nearly 20 years ago doesn’t exactly scream ‘mass appeal’ but nonetheless Senna is easily one of the most remarkable films of the year.
Utilising only archive footage and Voice-over, Kapadia creates a narrative which manages to be stronger and more engaging than most dramas. The decision not to include any talking heads segments means that the film feels more like a story being told first hand than a reflection on past events and the in-car footage (which looks mind blowing on a cinema screen) enhances this even further.
While the insights into the notoriously secretive world of F1 will be a treat for racing fans, the film’s greatest strength is its ability to appeal to people who don’t have the first idea about the sport. More than anything else Senna is a heart stopping, tear inducing story about an utterly unique individual. Whether you spend weekends pouring over lap times or you’re someone who thinks pole position is a thing that strippers do, there is a tonne of things to love about this film and you will be doing yourself a genuine disservice if you don’t seek out the DVD.

Runner up – Drive

For the runner up we go from a real life man in a car who is unable to stop to a fictional man in a car with no choice but to go on. The stylish, neon lit, meticulously shot Drive follows the story of Ryan Gosling’s driver as he makes ends meet on the streets of Hollywood – beautifully captured in various skyline, helicopter and stylistically careful ground shots creating a fantastical, idealistic and visceral stage for the action to take place on. In many ways the cinematography is the story as the central character – known only as Driver – enters into a tentative and touching relationship with his neighbour Irene (a flawlessly American accented Carey Mulligan) and her young son, who’s husband is incarcerated. Lingering silences and long, unbroken takes give the scenes involving these characters an assured intimacy that lingers with the viewer and plays realistically.

This is punctuated by acts of unspeakable violence, some of which admittedly come close to destabilising the careful balance that Director Nicolas Winding Refn appears to be looking for. The film could have played out as successfully as a 15 certificate on first viewing making the violence seem gratuitous and unecessary, however, I suspect that on repeat viewings the brutality and ludicrous violence will permeate more strongly and be powerful reminders of a thoughtful and energised movie and certainly a step up into the big time for both Winding Refn and Gosling.

The involvement of Simpsons regular Albert Brooks as deceptively chipper gang boss Bernie Rose and Ron Perlman has his apparently more savage and sweary partner Nino doesn’t hurt either.

Effectively Tarantino-lite, this is much less cartoonish, stylised and self consciously scripted. It also seems, accidentally or not, to be lifting directly from the GTA game series – with the theme and the look harking back to both Liberty and Vice City. This only adds to the fun in this subtle shocker.

Best remake / prequel – The Thing (2011)

To the arctic circle now for the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece, The Thing. More than anything else it’s the choice to set the scene back in 1982 rather than reboot that has placed this film so high in our rankings. Following very much the same line as the original, it centres on the events leading up to the beginning of the first film in which two members of a Norwegian science team our found by an American research group.

The new film manages to mimic perfectly the light touch and claustrophobic lighting and setting, even going so far as to almost directly lifting moments from the original. But this is because the creature is doing what it did in the first place. The joy is in it’s appearance. The plot even deliberately curves at anticipated plot moments to both acknowledge and defy the original.

While it loses some of its appeal as the scale increases towards the end of the film, revealing perhaps a little too much of the origin this film scores highly for introducing a realistic female lead in Mary Elizabeth Winstead and tip toeing the line perfectly between homage and producing an original piece of cinema.

Best foreign language – Troll Hunter (2011)

Made off putting by the idiotic UK Trailer (below) this film by André Øvredal and Håvard S. Johansen (supporting writer) follows a group of hapless students in search of a hunter deemed illegal by fellow bear hunters. Determined to uncover who he is for the sake of an interesting film, they uncover a wide government cover up beyond anything they could anticipate.

Essentially, a Blair Witch Project that pays off the film manages to lull you into simply watching the ‘found footage’ of the students, constantly having to remind yourself that things are going to increase in scale exponentially at some point. And increase they do. However, the film maintains its roots until it’s finale on snowy Nordic tundra, maintaining a calm and careful pace that US blockbusters will never master.

The Norwegian mountains and countryside are really the great treat of the film at times (when there’s no monsters to hunt) as, for instance in one short sequence, sheer mountainsides and a glacial lake are filmed out of a car window as one of the students calls to another taking a whizz as nonchalantly as Sam Mendes filmed a brick wall with a plastic bag floating around in front of it. It becomes clear that what the world finds magnificent, Norwegians can take for granted and that the filmmakers are acutely aware that half their work is done merely filming on location in their beautiful country.

But it’s the monsters themselves that take centre stage. The decisions in the way that each is introduced is masterful, each uniquely different in pacing, reveal and environment. One is viewed finally from a great distance through a window of a shack which serves only to increase its impressiveness. With an enigmatic, monosyllabic central Troll Hunter, grimly wandering into harms way on behalf of the Norwegian government with the hapless batch of determined and stunned students along for the ride, it’s spectacular, engrossing and fun.

A stark change in tone in the middle of the film does threaten to scupper it slightly but the even pacing and anticipation of the unknown final Troll at the heart of the problem keeps things moving to impressive effect. They will try to remake it. I’m sure they’ll fail. Take the Norwegian out of Norway and it’s knackered.

Best Comic Book Movie: X-Men: First Class

In a year in which at least three highly entertaining and thoroughly exciting comic book adaptations were released it was the one not made by Marvel that edged it for us – however marginally. It was the X-Men that clinched the title.

Easily the strongest of the X-Men films, Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman along with woefully under acknowledged screenwriters Ashley Miller and Zack Stentz brought the X-Men back to the 20th Century. Like Captain America, Vaughn and Goldman (the creative team behind Stardust and Kick-ass) the decision was taken to go to the roots of the title, seeing the original X-Men line-up changed to deal with those already revealed. Only, instead of merely laying comic book events over historical ones, Vaughn and Goldman interlace them directly with historical events.

We find an arrogant and slightly unlikable Professor Francis Xavier (played by James McAvoy) in the swinging sixties looking to extend his theory of evolution on to any girl with a discoloured eye or wonky toe. It’s clear that the X-Men are born from Xavier’s arrogance and it fills beautifully an absent detail in the inception of the X-Men. Brought into it is Erik Lenseherr (Michael Fassbender) who is hunting Jew killers and Nazi conspiritors around the world. Thinking that control of his power is fuelled only by anger and fury it makes Lenseherr – soon to become Magneto – a more well rounded character, as a cyclical psychology has formed in which Lensherr has to generate these feelings to tap into his power, only further perpetuating his anger and violent behaviour. All of the characters carry inherent (and human flaws) that make them accessible and offer a tone of inevitable doom to the proceedings.

Well realised set piece after well realised set piece is laced through the plot as the X-Men are pulled into conflict between both the Russian and US Navy during the Cuban Missile Crisis in a bid to avert Nuclear War. Something that could easily have been a cynical plot device is so neatly realised that it makes sense (and, winningly, illustrates the absurd nature of the Cold War in a language understandable to younger audiences).

So close in fact were the runners up for Best Comic Adaptation that featured below are the trailers for both Thor and Captain America. We thoroughly recommend both and can’t wait for the Avengers movie next year….

Runner-up – Thor

While pipped at the post by First Class, Thor was overwhelmingly the surprise of the year, guided effortlessly to be an entertaining romp by Royal Shakespeare Company founder, Kenneth Branagh, offering up laughs, pathos, energy and a star turn by Chris Hemsworth as the titular character. Tom Hiddleston as his half-brother Loki stood out only slightly among a frankly incredible cast featuring Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgard (most likely drawn in particular to Branagh’s banner).

Thor tips the balance beautifully between fish-out-of-water comedy, fantasy epic and Superhero movie. Marvel’s incredible run of success to the Avenger’s movie next year seems to be unstoppable and Thor, as a potential tripping point has proven a nice surprise as a watchable, stand alone movie.

Runner-up – Captain America: The First Avenger

After being deemed unfit for Miltary service, Steve Rogers volunteers fora top secret research project that turns him into Captain America. We all know the story, however old school Director Joe Johnston achieved the implausible and made Captain America cool again. Borrowing heavily from Mark Millar’s Ultimates (effectively, in hindsight, a love letter to Hollywood and a considered development of the Avengers brand to become more audience friendly outside of comics) Cap still retains most of his gosh, shucks charm.

The decision to set the entire film in World War 2 is a bold and clever move, giving the audience credit where there may have been none with a more cynical film company. Featuring Hugo Weaving as arch Nemesis, the Red Skull, Stanley Tucci as Cap’s creator Dr. Abraham Erskine, Toby Jones as Dr Arnim Zola and Tommy Lee Jones as Colonel Chester Philips it has a touch of class as well as being a crowd pleasing actioner. It also has the best villain diversionary tactic gag in comic book history as a Nazi assassin (Richard Armitage) escapes across the docks from the newly created Cap, he grabs a young boy and throws him in the dock. Cap, stopping to help the boy in time honoured fashion is greeted with the sight of the boy paddling away, shouting ‘Go! It’s okay. I can Swim.’ A wry sensibility that runs through the whole film.

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X-Men: First Class: Meet the Class 2

Hank McCoy is the Beast. Probably the most prominent character from the books to appear in the film – after Prof X and Magneto) and present in X-Men: Last Stand (played by Kelsey Grammar (Frasier) and introduced as an old friend of Professor X). He presents difficulties in that his CGI / Make up is intensive stuff but is a welcome addition to what is a unnecesarily attractive cast for mutated misfits. However will always be the most difficult character of the X-Men to bring fully to life on the big screen. This trailer suggests that Matthew Vaughn might’ve puled it off but without a full reveal who can say.

Emma Frost is / was one of the most challenging characters in the X-Men canon (unprecedented student death toll under her tutelage, unofficial psychic sex therapist to the team, former enemy and the only girl who could take Scott Summers way from Jean Grey – before she died – again) but looks like she’s been reduced to that of a bit player in this trailer. Emma Frost is in alliance with Shinobi Shaw as White Queen to his Black King of the Hellfire Club in the books. Simplified here, Frost looks like she’s a minion. Though to waste a character like Frost seems unlikely – particularly given her introduction in Origins: Wolverine.

This still leaves the familiar Professor X, Magneto, Shinobi Shaw, Angel and (below) Azazel. Plenty more to take a look at then if you haven’t managed to see the film yet.

X-Men First Class: Meet the Class 1


Banshee: Sean Cassidy in X-Men (introduced as part of the second gen X-Men in Giant Size X-Men 1 along with Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Warpath and Storm). Banshee lived on in the comic books for some time, a stable, reliable side character and came into his own as leader of Generation X (alongside Emma Frost) in which he, Frost and Sabretooth kept the next generation of kids out of the way of the Phalanx. In X-Men: New Class he’s almost the only character placed pretty much in line with continuity in the books as his age in the sixties reflects the age he’d be now (relative to Prof X). A mainstay of the books for some time Banshee was killed trying to stop a plane crash.

Havok has occupied most of the theories surrounding the decision to start at the beginning. Havok’s most notable feature in X-Men is that he is brother to Scott Summers (Cyclops) and has always lived slightly in the shadow of his brother. That clearly isn’t the case here as Cyclops is part of the modern day canon of the previous movies. At the X-Men: First Class panel at MCM it was a question aimed squarely at the writers. All they could say was that Havok is related in someway to Scott. Hard to figure out where they’re going with this but if a franchise is built hopefully all will be revealed.

The inclusion of Mystique is an interesting choice. Most viewers of previous X-Movies’d be aware that Mystique has a very clear resolution to her plot line. Her association with Erik Lensherr in this adds a neat reference point to both sets of movies (with the Wolverine Origins franchise sandwiched in the middle).

Atomic Kitchen-sink: X-Men First Class Title Sequence

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Joe D of Vimeo has put together the opening sequence to X-Men: First Class (the prequel to X-Men I,II and III set in the sixties) as it was meant to be. More G-men than X-Men and borrowing the theme tune from the animated series I think its a nifty, haunting little number with a brilliant Bond / Randall and Hopkirk Pastiche of January Jones. Will the mutants save us from Nuclear disaster?! Apart from a slightly dodgy video of the Earth exploding he’s got little else on there – but nonetheless this is Jazzy Genius.

Groovy 'lil Muties babay!!

Jonathan Ross gets a movie offer without writing the book!!

Horse faced television presenter Jonathan Ross has grabbed an accolade formerly only the most seasoned or lucky comic creatives enjoy. A stone cold offer to make his material into a film from one of the most powerful directors in Hollywood.

According to movie source website Deadline, Matthew Vaughn, Director of Kick Ass and currently putting the finishing touches on Marvel Cuban Missile Crisis and Professor X and Magneto Biopic X-Men: First Class is interested in a third super-hero film ‘The Golden Age.’

The comic book tells the tale of retired superheroes who are forced to don their costumes and help their grandchildren after their middle-aged parents “screw up the world”.

And Vaughn is certainly thinking massive when it comes to his cast for the film. His wish-list includes Clint Eastwood, Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty – which frankly make it incredible to watch.

Vaughn said, “You have these great star names and they’re mainly playing supporting roles now. I want to give them the lead again and let them have some fun.”

Still it’s no massive surprise that the J Ross (television celebrity) has managed to skip the queue with his follow up to ‘Turf’ on this one as Vaughn’s regular writing partner is Jane Goldman, Jonathan’s wife. So it’s not what you know but… hey, we already knew that…

Class Half Full? First Class Trailer Hits The Net!

The first trailer for X-Men First Class went live last night and the nerd rage reaction has been predictably explosive. Some people are really REALLY angry about this movie. To be fair on Fox, this trailer looks kinda ok but with the buzz surrounding some of the other superhero films this year ‘kinda ok’ may not be enough to cut it. As I’ve said before, I really love Matthew Vaughn’s work and I have a suspicion that this film could end up falling into that odd category of films that have nothing to do with the source material but are still pretty good as films…films like *ducks* Constantine.

I’m so far on the fence about this film right now that I’ll need an forklift to get me down, but some of the stuff in this trailer has at least made me feel that the film may not be the train wreck that it was looking like a few months ago. Time will tell, X-lovers, time will tell.

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First Look at First Class?

Afternoon chaps,

Several web outlets are reporting the following photo as being the first official shot of the cast of the upcoming Matthew Vaughn directed “X-Men: First Class”. It’s hard to say right now whether it’s real or not as the studio aren’t commenting but it certainly looks convincing. A number of sites including MSN and MTV have pulled the photo since it’s release yesterday but this could either be because they don’t buy it as real or that the studio got the lawyers on to them. Personally, I think it’s probably the real Hank McCoy but with the power of photoshop these days it’s always hard to say for 100% so just keep that in mind.

Left to right: Michael Fassbender as Magneto; Rose Byrne as Moira MacTaggert; January Jones as Emma Frost; Jason Flemyng as Azazel ; Nicholas Hoult as Beast; Lucas Till as Havok; Zoe Kravitz as Angel; Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique; James McAvoy as Xavier.

So assuming this is genuine, what can we learn from it? Well first up it’s clear that they’re not going for continuity here. Of the actual X-Men team that featured in the First Class comic, the only one who makes an appearance is Beast and even then it’s in his more familiar fuzzy look rather than the way he looked in the book. Angel gets a wee nod in the inclusion of Angel Salvator (nope, me neither. Apparently she’s from New Warriors) but there’s no sign of Jean Grey or Cyclops anywhere.

On the surface it smacks to me of the kind of random menagerie casting that they employed in Wolverine and X3. Take a tonne of B list comic characters who are well known enough to make comic fans go see the film but obscure enough that you can largely ignore everything about them. That said, this is Matthew “Kick-Ass” Vaughn that we’re talking about here so a degree of patience is perhaps required. I’m still pretty confident that my love of Cyclops will eventually overcome my enthusiasm for new takes on old ideas and this blog will wind up hosting a “Why is Hollywood so scared of boy scout heroes?!” rant, but for the time being I shall hold my peace and see where it goes. After all the costumes do look very cool.

That said, if this is the look they’re going with for Professor X, then he sure as hell better have a very close encounter with a set of hair clippers within ten minutes of the film starting. Seriously, some heads are meant to be bald.

Scary huh?

 

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