TV Shows of the Year – 2015

This year, for really the first time, I spent about as much watching TV as I did watching films. As a result, I have watched more new series than ever before, more often than not finishing each season that I start — Doctor Who being the main exception, because who on earth has the time for that?

However, the more television I watched the more I began to compare and contrast the shows that I was seeing, rating each new episode, and ranking the respective series against one another. With no outlet for these burgeoning opinions, and with no real inclination to create another blog, I thought I’d squeeze a quick top ten in here. Any excuse to microwave some popcorn at home on a cold winter’s eve.

10. Scream

ScreamThese days it seems as though every movie is at some point destined to be rebooted as a television series, whether directly tied into the source material like Limitless or as barely recogniseable as Teen Wolf to the 1985 film. The best, more often than not, fall somewhere in between, where the essence of a story is captured even if it takes place within a new and exclusive continuity. Many took issue with Scream‘s recalibration as a teenage soap opera, but the initial involvement of original director Wes Craven and a keen sense of the franchise’s MO meant that it still felt like Scream even if it didn’t follow exactly the same formula.

9. Catastrophe

CatastropheWhen it comes to nature documentaries, panel shows and period dramas, UK TV is often the place to be. For every other genre of television, however, it rather drags behind foreign productions. There were two notable exceptions this year, and while London Spy never made this list it was undoubtedly an engaging mini-series made all the more remarkable by the fact that it came from the BBC. Perhaps even more astonishing, however, is the fact that our shores also produced one of the best romantic comedies of the year in Channel 4’s Catastrophy, a dry relationship drama starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, with supporting turns from Ashley Jensen and Carrie Fisher. We got two seasons of it this year, and both impressed equally.

8. Marvel’s Jessica Jones

Jessica JonesMarvel’s second 2015 collaboration with Netflix, and the next instalment in its would-be Defenders franchise after Daredevil, Jessica Jones pitted Krysten Ritter’s private eye against David Tennant’s hypnotist in one of the studio’s more risque productions. Whereas Daredevil pushed the studio’s violence quotient to the point that characters were having their heads smashed in with car doors, Jessica Jones focuses on other adult themes while still dropping the fantasy from fantasy violence. This is a comic book adaptation that deals with sexuality, sexual consent and PTSD, and which does so in an intelligent and thoughtful way. All eyes are now on Luke Cage, as played in Jessica Jones by Mike Colter, who is set to headline his own miniseries in 2016.

7. American Horror Story: Hotel

AHS HotelAlthough I have enjoyed every iteration of Fox’s anthology serial American Horror Story to date, I have come to accept that I’ll never love the show (or any show, for that matter) quite as much as I did AHS’s second season, Asylum. The news that Lady Gaga was set to replace series stalwart Jessica Lange in the main role did little to raise expectations, though in the end Hotel proved that she was more than a match for the material. All of the usual players returned, including Ryan Murphy as showrunner, but there’s something even stranger than usual about the Hotel Cortez — and it’s not just the guest sewn into their mattresses.

6. Game of Thrones: Season 5

Game of ThronesHas the novelty begun to wear off? Or are we simply growing desensitised to Game of Thrones continued, nigh predictable excellence? Either way, there was the sense during Season 5 that the best was maybe behind us, as it arguably lacked the dramatic clout of previous seasons. At least, talk seemed to turn from the latest shocking developments to the showrunners’ worrying preoccupation with sexual violence. That said, the acting and action were still faultless, and it was a delight to see the once essentially exclusive narratives continue to intertwine as Tyrion Lannister set off in search of Daenerys Targaryen.

5. Marvel’s Daredevil

DaredevilAs Marvel’s Cinematic Universe continues to balloon with new characters and spin-offs, the studio’s television division seemed to be making efforts to streamline its content. Marvel’s Agents of Shield might have been busy establishing a film nobody would see until 2018, while Marvel’s Agent Carter went back to explore the fall-out from one of its 2010 releases, but Marvel’s Daredevil — their first collaboration with Netflix — went back to the drawing board as it attempted to establish another shared universe within a universe, or a microverse, focusing on smaller acts of heroism and adding a bit of texture to a franchise that worked overtime to iron out every wrinkle.

4. The Great British Bake Off

Great British Bake OffI’ve never really been one for reality television — I’m not sure I’ve ever truly recovered from the injustices of Pop Idol — but I’ve always made an exception for The Great British Bake Off. With its low-stakes competition and likeable contestants, GBBO has since its inception been the complete antithesis of something like X-Factor or Britain’s Got Talent — to date the closest the series has come to a scandal was when one of the bakers took another’s Baked Alaska out of the freezer. This year’s series was particularly undramatic — there was nary even a soggy bottom to be found, while the contestant everyone thought would win actually won, deservedly — but that did nothing to diminish the joy of watching nice people bake pretty cakes.

3. The Hunt

The Hunt 2David Attenborough has narrated some of the most astonishing scenes to ever grace British television, or any television for that matter, from pack-hunting orcas in Frozen Planet to Africa‘s showstopping giraffe battle. This year’s offering, BBC’s The Hunt, dealt with predators across various environments, from the forest to the ocean. Perhaps the most amazing episode, however, was Race Against Time (Coast), which featured traditionally aquatic animals such as dolphins and octopi leaving the safety of the water to hunt their prey on or over land. The surreality didn’t sop there, either, as monkeys and wolves took to the coast to feed on fish.

2. Scream Queens

Scream QueensAs good as American Horror Story: Hotel was, it wasn’t the best genre show from Ryan Murphy and frequent collaborator Brad Falchuk to be released this year. Poaching talent from both of Murphy’s previous shows (including AHS: Coven’s Emma Roberts, promoted to star, and Glee’s Lea Michelle, recast as a psychopath in a head-brace), casting decisions emblematic of a wider wedding of tones, Scream Queens feels fresher and more focused than any of his previous work. A love letter to the slasher genre, or rather the very worst of the slasher genre, it’s shrill, schlocky and stupidly smart.

1. Sense8

Sense8 2As their latest movie, Jupiter Ascending, was kicked around town by critics, the Wachowskis first foray into television received a more positive reception. Taking a leaf out of Cloud Atlas‘ book — their masterpiece, and in my opinion the best film to be released in 2013Sense8 was another ensemble piece that sought to bring a diverse and disparate cast of characters together even if few of them ever actually met in person. Able to share knowledge and experiences with others in their cluster, whether based in Germany or India, the characters assist one another in their day-to-day lives while simultaneously scheming to overcome a threat to their larger group. The result is a series that is unusually resonant, its emotional beats emphasised eight-fold.

 

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Films of the Year – 2015

Admittedly, I didn’t see quite as many films as usual at the cinema this year, as I was forced to prioritise the films I actually wanted to see over those that I might otherwise have taken a chance on. CarolSouthpaw and Tangerine might well have been masterpieces (as might Man from U.N.C.L.E., Ricki and the Flash and Hot Pursuit), but I wouldn’t know. Of the films I did see, however, a few stood out from the crowd. Here are the ten films that made the biggest impression.

10. While We’re Young

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There seem to be two Noah Baumbachs at work these days: one who specialises in Greta Gerwig vehicles aimed squarely at the art-house crowd and another who surprised everyone in 2012 by writing a thoroughly enjoyable Madagascar movie. While We’re Young rather splits the difference, combining well-observed human drama with the sort of larger-than-life characters that might potentially appeal to wider audiences. Heck, it even stars Alex the lion, aka Ben Stiller.

09. Mad Max: Fury Road

Mad Max 1There were those who went nuts for this movie, by anyone’s standards besides perhaps George Miller’s, but overall I found Mad Max: Fury Road about as exhausting as I did entertaining. There’s no denying that it’s a thrilling ride, or that it runs circles around most other action movies, but it is not without flaws of its own. Whether viewed as one long chase sequence or a succession of smaller ones there is no room for escalation, or progression. It could just as easily have been a short.

08. Theeb

Theeb 2I first saw Theeb at the Glasgow Film Festival in February, though I revisited it on release when invited to write the programme note for Glasgow Film Theatre in August, whereupon I realised that my love of it hadn’t diminished at all. Shorter and less convoluted than Lawrence of Arabia, but with the same sense of adventure and scenes of Jordanian spectacle, Theeb is the latest in a series of Middle Easterns to recontextualise one of the oldest conflicts in cinema. As brutal as it is beautiful, this is a film that will take your breath away, by turns leaving you awed and winded.

07. Song of the Sea

Song of the SeaAlthough Inside Out found the larger audience, it’s Song of the Sea that arguably deserves the most attention. From Cartoon Saloon, the studio behind 2010’s The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea stands out as bold and unique, even in today’s increasingly diverse cinematic landscape. The story is a simple one, but the artistry is so strong that Will Collins and Tomm Moore feel no need to target their adult and child audiences individually, but to let the fairy tale speak for itself. After all, the legend of the selkie has got this far without stunt casting or show tunes…

06. CHAPPiE

Like Richard Kelly before him, Neill Blomkamp seems destined to be remembered as a one hit wonder, with any follow-up to District 9 dismissed off the bat. The truth, however, is that Blomkamp is actually getting more interesting with every project, whether he’s still making films that audiences want to watch or not. A number of 2015’s other releases have dealt with artificial intelligence, from Ex_Machina to Avengers: Age of Ultron, but only CHAPPiE really explores the ghost in the machine. Recast as a good guy for once, Sharlto Copley plays the titular drone as a scared child, delivering one of the best motion capture performances not to come from Andy Serkis.

05. Jurassic World

Jurassic WorldWith Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens so fresh in the public consciousness, its not surprising that Jurassic World has been somewhat overlooked as critics publish their best of year lists…but it is sad. The films have a lot in common, not least their faithfulness to previous movies in their respective franchises. While J. J. Abrams appears beholden to what came before (but not all of it, apparently), Colin Treverrow revisits old locations with a cast made up almost exclusively with new faces. The result is a film that feels familiar rather than repetitive, and which augments that which came before instead of simply aping it.

04. Sicario

SicarioHopefully a sign of things to come, 2015 was awash with female leads giving their male co-stars a run for their money. Charlize Theron stole Mad Max from Tom Hardy to the confused consternation of misogynists everywhere, while both Star Wars and Terminator: Genysis had women front and centre. Really the only action film to do this without making a song and dance about it, however, was Sicario, a gritty thriller from Denis Villeneuve that had Emily Blunt on the trail of a Mexican drug cartel. A real tour de force, the film took its audience on one hell of a ride, leaving them almost as confused and compromised as its protagonist.

03. The Interview

The InterviewIt’s hard to explain, but every so often a film comes along that seems aimed squarely at you. Reviewed not so much as a film but a near international incident, The Interview was such a victim of its own success (in terms of offending Kim Jong Un, at least) that it didn’t stop making headlines until it was finally released, by which point South Korea, Sony and media commentators were presumably glad to be rid of it. A shame, really, because the film is an absolute joy, and all in all the most fun I have had in the cinema this year. Certainly, it’s the best political satire I’ve seen since Team America: World Police, and was only topped by Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s subsequent musical, The Book of Mormon, which I saw earlier this month at the theatre.

02. It Follows

If FollowsBig screen horror has become terribly predictable, with small screen shows such as American Horror Story and Scream Queens doing more to explore the current state of the genre than any film in recent years. For throwbacks, however, cinema is still the place to be, and its unlikely that any film will do a better job of invoking the ghosts and ghouls of yesteryear than It Follows. Quite simply one of the most imaginitive and iconic monster movies of the 21st Century, it is also one of the most chilling, as a curse that can only be passed on through sexual contact leaves teens haunted by a creature that only they can see. I’m honestly shuddering just thinking about it.

01. The Martian

The MartianAs funny as The Interview might have been, and as scary as It Follows still proves to be, there was only one film this year that truly married the visceral with the cerebral, and that was Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Yes, you read that right, Ridley Scott, the much maligned director of Prometheus and The Councellor. Starring Matt Damon as an astro-biologist stranded on Mars, the film is pure sci-fi, in that it is almost equal parts science and fiction. In an age of superheroes and supernatural romance, it is amazing how unusual it is to hear explanation rather than exposition, in which a problem is reasoned out and not just glossed over with lights and noise. It’s not just smart either, it’s as warm, witty and awe-inspiring as any film this year.

11. Whiplash, 12. Slow West, 13. Birdman, 14. Inside Out, 15. Steve Jobs, 16. Ant-Man, 17. Top Five, 18. Bridge of Spies, 19. Unfriended, 20. Wild

Expecting a Jump to Lightspeed? How The Force Awakens Stalls the Star Wars Saga

Star Wars 3

Beware, the spoilers are strong with this one.

Return of the Jedi. That’s what the last film in the extant series was called — chronologically speaking, at least. Return of the Jedi. And yet, thirty years later, at the outset of a new trilogy designed to take the Skywalker story forward, these Jedi who have apparently returned are nowhere to be seen. According to the opening crawl, the Jedi did enjoy something of a brief resurgence, but the New Jedi Order came to an abrupt end when one of Luke’s padawans gave in to the Dark Side. In the years since, as the film’s title suggests, Luke and the light have gone into hibernation.

This might come as something of a surprise given that until now Star Wars has followed the Skywalker story this far, but The Force Awakens instead asks audiences to put a pin in the whole Chosen One thing and instead watch what is essentially a rerun of the first movie, as a new, utterly unrelated group of youngsters get to grips with the Force and take their first small steps into a conflict that has raged for generations. While it’s understandable that J. J. Abrams and Disney might not wish to acquiesce to the Expanded Universe — a collection of stories previously considered to comprise the canonical continuation of the saga, post-Jedi — it does rather lead to a more contrived and counter-intuitive continuity as the obvious narrative trajectory is eschewed in favour of a more awkward alternative. Ben no longer refers to Luke’s son, but to Han and Leia’s, while everyone else has to be introduced individually and ushered into position before the story everyone’s actually been waiting thirty-odd years for can actually begin.

Strangely, rather than open the world of Star Wars to encompass new worlds and perspectives, J. J. Abrams decision to start his film in this way has the opposite effect. The film may open on Jakku, ostensibly a new planet, but there is no mistaking it for a pale imitation of Tatooine, a remote outpost of almost no relevance to the wider mythology. The new characters don’t offer much more in the way of variety either, limited as they are to an orphan, a maverick and a Stormtrooper. So much of Rey’s past is withheld that it’s hard to infer anything about her upbringing or motivations, while Finn’s identity as a trained trooper — if not actually a clone — means that much of his own history is already written. Bizarrely, the film actually does introduce a character with some alleged connection to Star Wars lore, played by Max von Sydow no less, but rather than make use of his potential for providing context and establishing stakes Abrams simply kills him off, without the ceremony such an actor or character undoubtedly deserves. What of Endor, the last known resting place of Darth Vader, and therefore the most likely place Kylo Ren acquired his idol’s helmet? What of Cloud City and the AWOL Lando Calrissian? What of Kamino and its directly referenced clone army?

It’s not until the second act that we meet up with any familiar characters. Last time we saw Han Solo he had apparently turned his back on smuggling for good in order to begin a relationship with Leia and in the process become a fully-fledged soldier in the Rebel Alliance. He had lent the Millennium Falcon to Lando for the Battle of Endor, himself and Chewie instead leading a ground assault aboard a hijacked Imperial shuttle, but it’s easy to picture the pair fighting many more battles aboard the fastest ship in the galaxy — itself an asset to the Rebel Alliance. As it happens, this is not exactly how history transpired, as following the conversion of his son to the Dark Side Han returned to smuggling and apparently lost his ship to another scoundrel. The Falcon is found by chance on Jakku, by Rey and Finn, though it isn’t long before its most famous owners take advantage of the opportunity to take it back. It’s a nice moment, and duly brings Han and Chewie back into the fold, but relies so heavily on coincidence that you can’t help but imagine there might have been a more straightforward (and much less contrived) way of doing so.

Even so, it’s a little odd that Han should be re-introduced first, ahead of Luke or Leia. He may always have been the most popular character but he was never the series’ protagonist, instead occupying more of a supporting role. His son may be the saga’s new chief antagonist, but Kylo Ren’s obsession with Darth Vader — his grandfather on his mother’s side — and the fact that Leia is now a general in the Resistance — the enemy — makes her a more obvious target for a personal vendetta than an absentee father. Instead, it’s Han who gets the face-to-face confrontation with Kylo Ren, in which he inevitably meets his end at his son’s own hands (Harrison Ford has been looking for a way out of the franchise since Jedi), while Leia is sidelined at the other end of the universe. Presumably Ren knows of his mother’s role in the Republic, and given that the super-weapon on which he is situated is currently taking aim at the Resistance’s base, you’d think he’d be a bit more concerned with his Force-sensitive mother’s fate. During his confrontation with Han Leia isn’t even mentioned.

The Force Awakens goes to great lengths to show Rey as a capable and compelling female character who can take care of herself. She has apparently raised herself, supported herself and protected herself for most of her life, while the film depicts her fighting off kidnappers, resisting Kylo Ren’s attempts at mind control, and saving both herself and Finn from an untimely end. In fact, of all the newcomers, it is Rey who stands out as the obvious leader and hero-in-the-making. The Force Awakens also features Gwendoline Christie as Captain Phasma, a powerful figure in the First Order, and never once makes reference to her gender. It’s a shame, then, that Leia isn’t given more to do, instead being left to watch helplessly as a group of men across the galaxy attempt to fire a sun at her. Come film’s end, when the Resistance retrieves Luke’s location from a star map conveniently located within R2, she doesn’t even set off in search of her long-lost brother — the brother she has very explicitly been searching for all this time, and the Resistance’s best chance at stopping the First Order and avenging her late husband. Presumably we’ll see her again in Episode VIII, but it would have been the perfect opportunity to get her back into the heart of action. It’s certainly a far cry from the Leia of Return of the Jedi, who strangled Jabba the Hut and fought the Empire on Endor. As Luke’s Force-sensitive sister, and presumably the “other” hope referenced by Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, why isn’t she using her latent abilities to stop her own son?

And then there’s Luke, a bona-fide Jedi, so committed to his friends that he abandoned his training on Degobah in order to save them, completely unwilling to join Yoda in exile and neglect his destiny a moment longer than he must. Luke, who, from the moment he saw his aunt and uncle slaughtered by the Empire, never stopped fighting, even after he learned that the Sith Lord behind it all was actually his father. Instead, Luke spent the rest of the series trying to save Anakin from himself, eventually succeeding and in the process returning balance to the Force. He blew up the first Death Star, rejected the call to darkness, and even built his own lightsaber. To learn that, after all he had accomplished, Luke simply gave up when another threat arose, is to learn that you never really knew the character at all. That he gave up on family and left his best friends to suffer an uncertain fate after doing so much to save them doesn’t sit right at all. None of it fits, it feels illogical when it should feel intuitive, and is the chief reason that The Force Awakens doesn’t really feel like Star Wars at all. It’s a film about people running away — and while this may have precedence thanks to Yoda and Obi-Wan, when it comes to the main heroes that audiences have tracked throughout the original trilogy not even C3PO missed a moment of action.

Instead, it feels like fan fiction, or a throwaway aside. Like someone who grew up loving Han Solo and A New Hope (but who dismissed the prequels, and probably wasn’t even that keen on Return of the Jedi, if he was being honest, as most fans apparently have) who has been given the chance to write the future as he would like it to be, and not how it ought to be. We get a remake of the first film (or fourth, chronologically speaking) instead of a sequel to the third (sixth). There is safety in the familiar, and nostalgia pays, but it is not the Star Wars way. After all, it all started with Lucas, and if there’s one thing you can’t ever accuse him of, it’s giving his audiences what they want. Say what you like about the prequels, but they spent about as much time progressing the story as The Force Awakens spends regressing it.

July 2015 – Baskin Robbins always find out

Slow West posterI’m not going to lie, with each passing month these round-ups are starting to feel more and more redundant. I saw ten movies this month, but only got around to reviewing four of them. For the likes of Magic Mike XXL, True Story or The Gallows I either couldn’t find enough to say or enough time to say it in to justify a 600 word review, while inconvenient scheduling meant that I had to leave ten minutes before the end of Song of the Sea, which up until that point seemed like a shoe-in for my film of the month.

The films I did manage to review were Slow West, one of the better Westerns released…well, ever; Terminator Genisys, one of the stupidest and least necessary sequels…well, ever; Minions, a Despicable Me spin-off that somehow managed to be even worse than Despicable Me; and Ant-Man, the twelfth instalment in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, and probably the best twelfth instalment of anything…well, you get the idea. In all fairness, however, it’s only real competition is For Your Eyes Only. Between the uninspiring films and the underwhelming weather, summer 2015 has so far been both depressed and depressing.

Luckily, a few films seen earlier this year at the Edinburgh International Film Festival finally hit screens nationwide this month, meaning that I could still be part of the cinematic conversation. Pixar’s Inside Out opened in cinemas, while video game adaptation Dead Rising: Watchtower went (unfairly, if you ask me, and if you compare it with other big screen video game adaptations) straight to DVD. I bought a few DVDs this month too, including two of my favourite films of the year so far: The Interview and It Follows. The next time I’m in HMV I’ll also be able to pick up CHAPPiE and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night as well. Should you wish, you can find my entire top ten listed on my Letterboxd page.

Thankfully, I have been a bit more productive elsewhere. My first article for The Blazing Nomad went live as part of their July edition, while I published two more pieces on Finding A Neish following a trip to the Isle of May with Paul Greenwood and a solo expedition from Arbroath to Montrose along the Angus Coastal Path. The site has been going from strength to strength, while the corrosponding twitter profile has been accumulating followers at a frankly astonishing rate. Having been shortlisted for World Nomads and Lonely Planets 2015 travel writing scholarship in June, I this month received certification for my achievement. I also visited Loch of the Lowes near Dunkeld to watch ospreys at the wildlife reserve, but I haven’t yet decided whether there’s a blog in it.

Film of the month: Slow West

June 2015 – The kids? This will give the parents nightmares

TSPEAnd just like that it’s June: festival season.

First, though, I had a few films to catch up with on general release, including A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Spy and Jurassic World, the last of which came the closest of any blockbuster this summer to making me feel like a kid again. I later ended the month with Slow West, one of the few Westerns I have actually enjoyed.

At home I became obsessed with Sense8, binge-watching the entire series over the course of a couple of days. I of course loved the similarities it shared with Cloud Atlas, my film of 2013, but was also impressed by the new territory it explored, too. I wrote a list of eight reasons why everybody should be watching the Wachowskis latest for HeyUGuys.

Come June 16th, however, it was off to Edinburgh to review, interview and have a few — as I made my way through as much of the 69th Edinburgh International Film Festival programme as I could in the five days I had available. These included Amy, 13 Minutes, Therapy for a Vampire600 Miles, The Road Within, MaggieCop Car, Manson Family VacationThe Circle, The Hallow, The Messenger, The Stanford Prison Experiment, Iona, Inside Out, How to Win at Checkers (Every Time)Last Days In The Desert and Dead Rising: Watchtower.

Of the films I saw this year The Stanford Prison Experiment was the one that really stood out, not just as a great festival film but one of the best movies I’ve seen so far this year. In fact, it was an incredibly strong line-up, resulting in no less than five four star reviews for HeyUGuys and this blog. I also had the opportunity to speak to director Corin Hardy and actor Robert Sheehan about their respective films.

This month was also notable for other reasons. Having applied for a travel writing scholarship with World Nomads and Lonely Planet that would have seen me set off on an expenses-paid trip to San Francisco I was delighted to discover that I had been shortlisted for the competition. While I ultimately didn’t win, it was still nice to have my work recognised by such respected talents in the travel writing industry. In the submission I recounted a teenage trip to Scarisoara Cave in Transylvania.

I also had my first article published by The Blazing Nomad, a list of the best gelaterias in the French Riviera following my April visit to the area. This was in addition to a visit to the Isle of May, my first experience of AirBnB and semi-regular glimpses of the Dundee dolphins swimming in the Tay.

Film of the month: The Stanford Prison Experiment

May 2015 – All my teeth come from different people

Top Five PosterAfter a pretty unproductive April, which saw only two reviews added to this blog, I’ve this month stretched to the marginally less pathetic number of five.

Perhaps fittingly, the best of the bunch was Top Five, Chris Rock’s Birdman. It had some tough competition, though, in the shape of George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road and Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended.

On first viewing, Pitch Perfect 2 also seemed like a solid effort from actor-director Elizabeth Banks, but second time around — when the jokes had lost their punch and the songs their novelty — the issues became clear: it all fell a little flat.

As did Tomorrowland, Brad Bird’s second live-action effort after 2011’s Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. A silly story taken rather too seriously, the film suffers from a distinct lack of credible stakes, a confusion of focus and the iconoclastic touch of Damon Lindelof.

This month I also attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival programme launch for HeyUGuys, wrote up April’s visit to Monaco for FindingANeish, and submitted a competition entry to WorldNomads.

Film of the month: Top Five

April 2015 – Well, I was born yesterday

AvengersIt hardly seems worth posting an overview this month.

While I’ve seen most of the big films released in April — Fast & Furious 7, The DUFF, John Wick, Lost River and Child 44 — I only got around to reviewing two.

The Signal, which I actually saw in March, played on only a handful of screens before landing on DVD in April, while I caught The Avengers: Age Of Ultron at the regional premiere in Edinburgh on the 21st.

The reason for this shortfall? Hard to say, really, though the arrival of Daredevil on Netflix perhaps explains where my priorities lay towards the beginning of the month. Life compounded things further, with a friend’s wedding, a holiday to the South of France and a busy spell at work keeping me away from both the cinema and my computer. The quality of the films on offer, it must be said, didn’t help either. Fingers crossed May is a more productive — or at least inspiring — month at the movies.

Film of the month: The Avengers: Age Of Ultron (just)

March 2015 – Will you stop playing that tiny piano?

It FollowsTo be honest, the best films showing in cinemas in March were probably released in February — yup, it’s been that kind of month.

There was CHAPPiE, of course, Neill Blomkamp’s latest unfairly maligned follow-up to the ludicrously overrated District 9, and The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water, which was at once the best hand-drawn, computer-generated and stop-motion animation of the year so far, but neither reached quite the same heights as It Follows.

Still Alice, Run All Night and Home each had their moments, but none are likely to endure as classics, or even favourites of 2015 — not even the one that won an Oscar. And then there was Cinderella, a fairy-tale that sidelined its fairy in favour of rather more everyday acts of courage and kindness — Disney’s Death & Decorum. After all, why wish upon a star when you can make do with a stick instead?

In fact, the outright disasters are more likely to hang in the memory, with March boasting two of the most insipid and insulting blockbusters of recent memory — Insurgent and Get Hard. The former insulted its audience’s intelligence while the latter simply insulted its audience.

Can The Avengers avenge March and save April? Thankfully, there’s not too much longer until we find out.

Film of the month: It Follows.

January 2015 – Brad Pitt ate my sandwich

Birdman PosterHaving ended 2014 with a list of my top ten films of the year, I began 2015 looking forward to the films I was both anticipating and borderline apprehending. Wait, that’s not right. Apprehen…siv…ing?

Two films from the first list opened in January — Big Hero 6 and Kingsman: The Secret Service — but neither lived up to my expectations. I was also unimpressed with Foxcatcher, American Sniper, A Most Violent Year and The Gambler.

Not quite so disappointing were The Theory of Everything, Into The Woods and Wild, while Whiplash, Testament of Youth and Ex_Machina really hit a chord. By far the best film released this month, however, was Birdman, a film unlike any other that might have indirectly earned the superhero genre its first Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards.

This month I also contributed programme notes to Glasgow Film Theatre, wrote about my adventures in Edinburgh’s Pentland Hills and finally visited the Isle of Skye.

Film of the month: Birdman

Ten 2015 Movies I Could Take Of Leave…Preferably Leave

Since starting to blanket watch the latest releases — first to better serve customers while working in a cinema and later to inspire reviews for this blog — I have seen an incredible amount of dreck. Every year is the same, and yet each year I continue to watch films I know full well will be terrible — either out of unrelenting optimism (nothing pleases me more a pleasant surprise) or some misplaced sense of professionalism (nobody’s going to reprimand me for missing the new Transformers). I have already written a list of the films I am most looking forward to in 2015, so here’s a list of the films I’m not looking forward to at all.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

InsurgentThey say that there are only seven stories in fiction, but everyone knows that when it comes to the emergent Young Adult genre the one usually suffices. Even so, the first Divergent film seemed especially derivative, with its dystopian districts (or factions), its annual sorting assemblies (or Choosing Ceremonies) and crazy games (or whatever they call that zip-line thingy). The second film looks set to take things to whole new levels of incomprehensible, as the preposterously named Tris Prior is subjected to another round of nonsensical tests — this time in a bid to open a mysterious box.

Get Hard

Get HardJust as there are actors whose developing careers you follow with interest, there are those whose ongoing success you can’t quite explain. Last year the most inexplicable of all was Kevin Hart: star of such torturous tripe as Ride Along and About Last Night. Hart has a number of films out in 2015 — among them Top Five and The Wedding Ringer — but to date Get Hard looks to be the worst of the lot.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

HTTM2The first Hot Tub Time Machine was a mess of hackneyed but ultimately wholesome 80s nostalgia and the sort of mean-spirited bilge that’s gone on to supercede jokes in 21st Century comedy. The trailer sees Rob Corddry (deservedly) shot in the crotch, necessitating another trip to the eponymous jacuuzi so that he, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke can track down the shooter — this time travelling to the future. John Cusack has been replaced by Adam Scott, but even that’s not enough to win me around.

Insidious: Chapter 3/Sinister 2

Insidious 3The most exciting thing about Insidious and Sinister upon their respective ’10 and ’12 releases was that they were a bit different. At a time when the horror genre was dominated by sequels, remakes and reboots they dared to nightmare up something, if not new, then at least relatively novel. The fact that they have since gone on to produce franchises of their own (to be joined by the equally disappointing The Conjuring 2 in 2016) goes against everything that made the original films special. That they’re each starting fresh with new characters doesn’t help either.

Minions

MinionsWith Gru having gone it alone in Foxcatcher, it seems that his minions have been left to their own devices. Minions will see his little henchthings serve some of the most famous villains in history — Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Dracula (haha…ha, get it? Hilarious) — before auditioning for the big bad of the 1960s: Scarlet Overkill. Unfortunately, with the synopsis promising a “threat to all minions” it’s sounds an awful lot like Penguins of Madagascar, which doesn’t bode well for Universal Pictures. After all, the original Despicable Me was practically identical to another DreamWorks Animation — Megamind — only inferior in just about every way.

Terminator Genisys

TerminatorThat title! For all Terminator Salvation‘s many, many flaws, at least it managed to spell its title correctly. How do you pronounce it? What does it mean? For goodness’ sake, why? Terminator fans are used to second-guessing the franchise — its timeline alone poses a number of unanswerable questions — but this is the first time they’ll be scratching their heads before the start of the movie. Good thing Hurricane Bale’s no longer involved, or the person who thought Genisys up would likely be in for a battering.

Fantastic Four

With the superhero genre reaching saturation point — there are as many as thirty comic book movies due out in the next five years — it takes a special kind of alien/mutant/billionaire-playboy-philanthropist to stand out. Fantastic Four couldn’t even distinguish itself in the years before Marvel Studios (and its MCU) had monopolised the genre, and there is no evidence to suggest that the reboot will be any different. It’s hard to remember a film that has generated such negative buzz prior to release (even Tim Story’s sequel was given the benefit of the doubt), and when even the amazing Spider-man can’t guarantee box office success you really need every positive word you can get. It’s out in August and we’ve not even had a poster yet.

London Has Fallen

London Has FallenI haven’t seen the first one admittedly, but with only ten months to go until the release of the sequel I can’t imagine myself having the time or the inclination to catch up with it in time.

Spectre

SpectreSkyfall was great. Really great. After one of the most pointless reboots imaginable — and whether you liked Casino Royale or not, there’s no denying that Quantum of Solace undermined it completely — Eos’ James Bond franchise had arguably the most convoluted and confused continuities in cinema (while also being the most inconsistent in terms of quality). Nevertheless, screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan managed to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr No in style, with a celebration of the character, concept and iconography that felt not only coherent but conclusive. It had taken twenty three attempts to get it right but the studio had finally produced the definitive 007 movie. Although director Sam Mendes was subsequently tempted back for another instalment, it already feels like a compromise. Do we really have go through all this again?