Tag Archives: Film

The Best Films of 2015

2015 was a great year for cinema, with UK box office takings on the rise for the first time since 2012.  Big hitters such as Spectre, Jurassic World and The Avengers: Age of Ultron drew audiences in record numbers, although many of the sequels and franchise instalments of this year proved disappointing.

These are my top ten films of 2015. As usual, rather than obscure festival darlings, I’ve selected films that were out in UK cinemas between January and December last year, because too many best film lists are made up of films that haven’t yet or won’t be on general release. This is a list of great films you could have seen, and if you didn’t then you should catch up. These are all worth a watch.

10. Star Wars: Episode VI – The Force Awakens

Director: J.J. Abrams

UK Release: 17 December 2015

A runaway droid protects a critical message, an evil empire is on the rise and a young orphan is discovers their potential to use the force.

In a year full of franchise installments, this was the most highly anticipated of all, but after the disappointment of George Lucas’ hamfisted trilogy of prequels it was also one to approach with caution. Thankfully, J.J. Abrams delivered a Star Wars movie full of nostalgia for the original films that also introduced compelling characters that bring new life to the franchise. Like any Abrams production, the story evaporates if you look at it too closely, but there’s a lot of fun to be had and for that, I can forgive the film’s shortcomings.

 

9. Coherence

Director: James Ward Byrkit

UK Release: 13 Feburary 2015

The effect of a passing comet wreaks havoc on a group of friends at a dinner party.

Coherence is an experiment in cinematic minimalism – shot at the Director’s house over five days with no script and a skeleton crew. The result feels raw and naturalistic. The improvised dialogue is shouty at times but the conflicts and fractures that the group experience as the night wears on give an emotional grounding to the cosmic phenomenon. Byrkit capitalizes on an engaging premise that is perfectly suited to a tight budget.

 

8. Force Majeure

Director: Ruben Östlund

UK Release: 10 April 2015

The bond between a picture-perfect family is tested on a skiing holiday in this darkly comic drama from Sweden.

While the family are at lunch, a controlled avalanche comes uncomfortably close to engulfing the restaurant. Tension arises when Tomas, instead of coming to the aid his wife and children, runs for his life. What follows is an examination of gender roles and expectations within marriage and family and the frustration that arises when these ideals do not hold true in reality. Tomas’s masculinity is in crisis, strained by the restrictions of family life and societal expectation.

The film is punctuated by the surreal routines of the ski resort as cannons blast through the night creating more avalanches and snow ploughs hum across the slopes maintaining order. What is going on is an attempt to restrain nature, to make it more attractive and acceptable – more safe. But as the contradiction of the ‘controlled’ avalanche suggests, nature is wild and dangerous and our attempts to control its power are sometimes futile.

The family’s crisis sparks a debate that picks at the tension between who we truly are and the face we present to the world. The film loses its way a little towards the end, but after unpacking such a can of worms it’s not surprising that finding a resolution is difficult. Despite that, this is a fantastic scenario to chew over, especially when it is so artfully presented.

 

7. Bridge of Spies

Director: Steven Spielberg

UK Release: 27 November 2015

A lawyer who is tasked with representing a suspected Soviet spy soon finds himself deeply embroiled in the Cold War in this engrossing thriller based on true events.

Tom Hanks is perfectly cast as the Jimmy Stewart-like man of values. He plays to his usual type here but is well suited to the role. Mark Rylance also gives a great performance as the stoic enemy agent, resigned to his fate whatever it may be.

The Coen brothers share screenwriting duties with Matt Charman, lending an air of satire and absurdity to the proceedings, especially in the convolutions of the German and Russian bureaucratic processes. The comic touches don’t outweigh the suspense, however. The film contains very little action, but the Cold War setting provides the constant threat of potential violence. The plot is driven by conversation, with numerous scenes that are basically just men talking in rooms and yet the performances and direction keep the tension high throughout the discussions, which could have been inert in lesser craftsmen’s hands. The Coens’ script keeps Spielberg’s usual sentimentality in check and the result is the product of a confident director at the top of his game.

The film is especially pertinent in raising issues with America’s treatment of its enemies, as society is quick to deny basic rights to the accused spy, with the fear of the un-American threat outweighing people’s abilities to see or treat the suspect as a human being. His trial is biased, his right of appeal is denied and the public are baying for his blood in a first act that has shades of To Kill A Mockingbird. It is easy to see reflections here of the current political climate and the ongoing ‘War on Terror’.

 

6. Tangerine

Director: Sean Baker

UK Release: 13 November 2015

Two transgender sex workers have an action packed Christmas Eve in this vibrant farce.

Tangerine was one the most talked about films of 2015’s Sundance Festival, namely for being almost entirely shot using adapted iPhones. The low tech filming technique is a perfect way to capture life on a street level, giving the film a guerilla feel. Life is the operative word here – Tangerine is a film so buzzing with energy and colour that it’s vibrancy is captivating. What is captured is a snapshot of a world that feels genuinely lived-in, every street corner holding potential for more characters and stories that extend beyond the short period we spend there.

Actresses Mya Taylor and Kitana Kiki Rodriguez are both revelations playing fully rounded, flawed characters with foul-mouthed vigour and heartbreaking tenderness. Despite all of the laughs, the bond between their two characters is the most striking and memorable element of this breathless film. This is a Los Angeles that is far from the gaze of traditional Hollywood and a film that, though stylized, feels undeniably true.

 

5. Phoenix

Director: Christian Petzold

UK Release: 8 May 2015

It is the end of the war and German Jewish nightclub singer Nelly is a concentration camp survivor. Her face, disfigured by a bullet wound, is reconstructed with plastic surgery, leaving her unrecognizable to herself. Eager to return to her former life, Nelly searches Berlin for her husband.

Christian Petzold’s compelling post-war drama is all about the German people’s struggle in the wake of World War II. Berlin is a city ravaged by conflict and working to rebuild itself. The film plays with ideas of identity be it lost, altered or performed. Those spared the horror of the camps seem unable to acknowledge the truth, preferring to deny or distort reality. Central to all of this is the identity crisis of Nelly, played perfectly by Nina Hoss. Nelly remains an enigmatic character throughout the film and yet her ambiguity doesn’t distance her from the audience. We are kept in suspense throughout, always wondering who Nelly trusts and what she has planned. The film is beautifully understated, subtle and low key, yet gripping all the way to its electrifying conclusion.

 

4. Carol

 Director: Todd Haynes

UK Release: 27 November 2015

A department store clerk falls for an older woman in 50s New York.

Haynes’s sumptuous adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s novel The Price of Salt is one of the most moving cinematic love stories of recent years. Every shot is gorgeous, with magnificent period detail and costuming. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have such crackling chemistry onscreen that it is impossible not to root for the couple. The tension of being gay in the restrictive 1950s looms like a cloud over the pair and yet Haynes never makes martyrs of our heroines, giving them dignity and agency rarely afforded to queer characters in Hollywood. Carol is a work of sheer beauty, completely enveloping the audience in its exquisite world. It’s a crime that it didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture this year.

 

3. Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

UK Release: 16 January 2015

Ambitious young drummer, Andrew Neiman, strives for greatness at an illustrious music school under the watch of abusive teacher, Fletcher.

Whiplash is a tour de force, charged with energy and intensity. JK Simmons and Miles Teller excel in their roles of tyrannical teacher and driven student, bringing a complex dynamic to life. Simmons terrifies, dominating the screen and Teller’s portrayal of the the internal conflict between Neiman’s drive and his discomfort will have you squirming in your seat. Brought together by a desire for excellence, this pair have a toxic relationship that forces the viewer to question the cost of greatness.

Do artists need to suffer in order to succeed? Simmons’ character certainly thinks so, relaying an anecdote of how a young Charlie Parker had a cymbal thrown at his head when he played badly, and how the resulting shame led him to focus on becoming his absolute best. Whiplash is an unsettling film as we watch Fletcher continually push Andrew, berating and bullying him, always wondering how much more he can take. This intensity is matched by the music of the film, fast-paced, punchy jazz with energetic drumming that requires a really physical performance from Teller. The spirit of the music is suffused throughout the film, as the rhythmic editing follows the beat.

I particularly like the ambiguity of the ending, which could equally be seen as Andrew’s victory or his defeat.

 

2. It Follows

Director: David Robert Mitchell

UK Release: 27 February 2015

“It could look like someone you know or it could be a stranger in a crowd. Whatever helps it get close to you.”

David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows is one of the best horror movies of recent years. It’s not often that a genre movie, especially horror, can be seen as art, but this smart and stylish film is spectacular. Beautifully shot, it is like a spiritual sibling to The Virgin Suicides, existing in a hazy teenage world where adults are rarely seen.

The concept is modern and edgy, so perfect for the genre and its adolescent perspective that it’s a wonder no one has thought of it before. The threat is a supernatural entity that pursues its victims endlessly until it kills them. The only way to save yourself is to pass it on by sleeping with someone. It is open to all manner of potential interpretations such sexually transmitted infections, the loss of innocence and issues of consent. For these young people, sex is a scary concept, one with messy and life-altering implications and the need to pass ‘it’ on is an added pressure to act.

Our unfortunate heroine falls prey to ‘it’ after a date with a charming man that takes a horrible turn. Rising scream queen Maika Monroe brings a balance of vulnerability and resilience to the role of Jay.

The pervading sense of dread is hair-raising and the ever-approaching force leaves the audience on constant lookout during every wide shot as any approaching figure could spell death for our characters. You’ll be looking over your shoulder for a long time after this one.

 

1. The Look of Silence

Director: Joshua Oppenheimer

UK Release: 11 June 2015

Joshua Oppenheimer returns to Indonesia in this follow-up to his documentary The Act of Killing.

The Act of Killing was one of the best films of 2013, but it is also a difficult film for a number of reasons. The documentary took an uncomfortable look back at the Indonesian massacre of 1965-68 in which over 500,000 alleged Communists were murdered by Government-sanctioned death squads. Even more disturbing is the fact that the killers are still in power in local and national government, with the families of the victims continuing to live in silence as their oppressors were celebrated for their ‘heroic’ acts of killing. What has evolved since these events is a society that is deeply held in a complex system of denial through which both victims and perpetrators filter their memories of the past and their present day interactions, unable to accept or acknowledge the tragedy of what happened.

With The Act of Killing, Oppenheimer took an unconventional approach in his exploration of the massacre by asking the leaders of the death squads to recreate the killings as movie scenes in the style of their favourite gangster films. This proved to be a powerful way to demonstrate the galling lack of remorse and empathy of these men. What is tricky for the audience, beyond the shocking content, is that little blame or scrutiny is placed on the killing squad leaders. In order to shine a light on their blasé attitudes to murder, it was necessary for Oppenheimer to collude with these men and to play devil’s advocate. When he began the project, Oppenheimer’s intention was to make a film with the survivors of the genocide, but they were bullied into silence. The Act of Killing was the film that Oppenheimer had to make in order for The Look of Silence to be possible.

All of this background is necessary to begin discussing The Look of Killing because this second film helps to bring the first into perspective. Oppenheimer redresses the balance, giving voice to the victims by bringing us a much more personal viewpoint, that of Optometrist Adi, whose brother Ramli was brutally murdered in the genocide. Adi introduces us to his parents, still traumatised by Ramli’s death and courageously confronts the killers in a series of astonishing and tense interviews. Throughout the film, Adi comes up against the dismissal that “the past is the past,” meeting a resistance to remember on both sides of the atrocity. This denial of the past is so deeply ingrained in the culture that it’s as if everyone has been brainwashed. It is an irreparable wound, cutting deep into the heart of Indonesian culture and being perpetuated through generations.

The Look of Killing is an astonishing and extraordinarily powerful film. It’s more accessible than its forerunner, but no less striking. This is essential viewing.

 

What were your favourite films of 2015? Tell me in the comments below or let me know on twitter.

 

 

 

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Halloween Animation and SFX Make-up Workshops

The nights are growing darker and there’s a chill in the air. Halloween is almost upon us! To celebrate the season, I have some scarily good workshops for your school or club to enjoy.

Oak Grove zombie make up

Zombie Make-up Effects

Transform into a gory zombie using professional special effects make-up techniques.

 £150 for up to 20 people*

 

Apparition – Drawn Animation

Work as a group to make shape-shifting ghosts and ghouls materialise using hand drawn animation techniques.

£150 for up to 10 people*

 vlcsnap-2015-09-15-14h28m11s404

Haunted House – Paper Cut Out Animation

Use paper animation techniques to create a haunted house filled with things that go bump in the night.

£150 for up to 10 people*

 

Each workshop is a 3 hour session with all materials and equipment provided.

Workshops are suitable for all ages and abilities.

Email contact@evanwilkinson.co.uk to book now. Availability is limited so book early to avoid disappointment.

*Workshops are charged at £150 within the local Brighton area. Work outside of the Brighton area may necessitate further charges.

Zombie blog

Evan Wilkinson, Community Filmmaker

Evan is a local filmmaker with over 15 years of experience in delivering workshops and providing industry training. He is currently an industry tutor at the Brighton Digital Media Academy.

Visit http://evanwilkinson.co.uk for more information.

Exiled: Making A Political Documentary In An Election Year

In the 1960s, some 2000 British citizens were forcibly removed from their island home of Diego Garcia so that Britain could lease it to America for a military base. Exiled follows the journey of these displaced people to rebuild their lives and fight for their return to their homeland.

In 2009 I started work on the documentary Exiled. I was working for a small production company at the time, so small that it was common to be involved in each project in numerous roles. Only about 5 people worked on the film in production and post-production roles. I was the film’s researcher, production assistant, interviewer, scriptwriter, one of the camera operators and the film’s main editor. I probably put in more hours on the project than the director did, by which I mean to say that I was very close to this film.

It was a formative experience for me. The project introduced me to the power of documentary, giving me a new respect for the form and a huge appreciation for factual storytelling. It also gave me one of my greatest experiences of creating a film for and about a community, allowing me to learn about and interact with amazing and inspirational people whose strength and determination should be an example to all of us. I was already engaged in community filmmaking, but this was my first opportunity to see it working on a wider scale and in a more vital context. It played a huge part in shaping my identity as a filmmaker today. The project also brought about my first real engagement with politics and social issues, helping to inform my value system and political leaning.

I felt extremely passionate about telling the story of the Diego Garcians. My experience of making Exiled, and of meeting and working with the Diego Garcian community living in the UK will always stay with me and I still feel a connection to the community.

I learned a huge amount in my research of the islanders’ plight and knew nothing of the situation before embarking on the project. I ended up with a massive wealth of information and I was horrified by my findings. I was shocked to discover that our country could be responsible for such injustice in recent decades, and that so many of us are completely unaware that it even happened and that the saga is ongoing. The history of the Diego Garcians’ experience is long and complex. I’ve posted a brief summary here.

In the build up to the general election, I’ve been reminiscing about the project, which was completed during the last general election in 2010. As the documentary touched on local, national and international politics, the backdrop of the election began to influence the project more and more in the build up to Election Day as it began to attract interest and scrutiny from politicians. I’ve also been in touch with President Allen Vincatassin to find out how the community have fared since the film was made and what progress they have made with their campaign to return home.

Making A Political Documentary In An Election Year

In the 2010 General Election, Crawley’s seat was a swing seat, having been won by only a tiny margin in 2005. Henry Smith was the Crawley Conservative Parliamentary candidate in the 2005 General Election where he received the highest national swing from Labour to Conservative (over 8.5%) reducing the Labour majority from 6,770 to just 37 – making Crawley the most marginal constituency in the country. The winning Labour candidate, Laura Moffatt, had the number 37 tattooed on her ankle as a reminder of how slim her victory was.

The growing Diego Garcian community in Crawley made up over a thousand new voters in the area, so winning their votes was set to make a huge difference to the outcome of the election in 2010. Laura was retiring as an MP and Henry was taking another run at her seat.

Both politicians were involved in the documentary as both had been greatly involved with the Diego Garcian community – Laura in her role as the MP for Crawley and Henry as the leader of West Sussex County Council at the time of the Diego Garcians’ arrival in Crawley. I met them both and interviewed them about their support for the Diego Garcians. Both seemed genuine and engaged. Both continue to support and work with the Diego Garcian community.

We’d reached out to numerous other members of Parliament, past and present who had been involved in the story or could offer a valuable opinion, but we had no take-up.

In March 2010, David Miliband (then Foreign Secretary) visited Crawley to attend an event for the Diego Garcian community. He was involved in declaring the waters around the Chagos Islands a Marine Protection Area in the interest of conservation. The Diego Garcian Society were optimistic about the plan, considering it as not just a means of protecting their homeland, but a potential opportunity for new jobs in the Chagos and a chance to be more connected to their home.

We originally had permission to film the event for our documentary, but found ourselves turned away by security when we arrived with our cameras. After some negotiation by our hosts on the council we were allowed into the event, but sadly, not with our cameras. When the event ended, however, our Director used the question and answer session to his advantage, introducing himself and our project to David Miliband and asking him in front of the audience if he would agree to a quick interview with us. David agreed. We charged back to the car for our kit, ran back in –almost getting blocked by security once again – and hastily set up an on-the-fly interview.

The original footage of the documentary is no longer in my possession (as Compulsive, and its archives are no longer in existence) but I do have a low-res copy of the interview. The quality is terrible and I didn’t include it in the final cut but I’m still proud that I was able to interview the Foreign Secretary.

It felt a little suspect for the government to suddenly take more notice of the Diego Garcians so close to the election but the islanders were optimistic and keen to support any initiative that could lead to a return. Unfortunately, the creation of the conservation area was later criticized as a further obstacle to the Diego Garcians’ right to return as the islanders would now find their return posing a threat to the environment as well as international security. The possibility of this being a tactical move by the British government to further deny Diego Garcians access to their homeland was confirmed by Wikileaks. 

Our clients at Crawley Borough Council, had set a screening date for two weeks before the general election and as the day approached things started to get crazy.

Once government entered Purdah, we were contacted by an official at the council who told us that we needed to submit the film to their office for approval before the screening date. They would advise us as to whether we would be allowed to screen the film and explained that we would need to accept any necessary cuts that they recommend or else have the screening banned. We were told that all publicity of the screening was banned. No photos could be taken at the event. A list of all guests at the screening was required, detailing their political bias. No political figures were permitted to speak at the event unless we allowed someone from every party to speak and be given the same amount of time.

Following this, we had requests from the Foreign Office, the local Conservative Party and the local Labour Party to allow them to see the film before the screening and make cuts if they deemed necessary.

We received a complaint from the Shadow Foreign Secretary about not being included in the documentary – the same Minister who refused our repeated requests for an interview months earlier. All kinds of people who had declined to appear in the film were suddenly angry that they’d been excluded. People seemed to be lining up to speak at the screening, all jostling for a chance to attach themselves to the Diego Garcian cause.

When we informed our clients about the situation they said that moving the screening date would constitute a breach of contract so we found ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place. Our film was at risk of being picked apart. All of our contributors had signed release forms. No one had any rights to our footage beside us. Our commitment was to the Diego Garcian people and to telling their story as best we could. Our intention had always been to allow the community to tell their story in their own words. We didn’t want to relinquish control of our film and allow others to dictate how the story would be told. All of a sudden, all sorts of people who weren’t even involved in the film were concerned about how the film could damage their chances in the election.

It was a stressful week but thankfully we reached an agreement with our client about rescheduling the screening until after the election, which put control of the edit firmly back in our hands. As soon as the screening was moved everyone lost interest again. The Shadow Foreign and Commonwealth Office went back to ignoring our emails and no other politicians besides Henry and Laura retained an interest in taking part in the film or attending the screening.

After the screening in May we worked on a longer 60 minute cut of the film for October’s Black History Month. After that we had plans for a feature-length version of the film that we were unable to raise funding for. Our aim would have been to further investigate the right to return and to question the role of the base in light of emerging evidence of it’s use for renditions flights. We had hoped that this final version of the film could take a harder line against the military base and the politicians involved in the expulsion. We wanted to create a campaign film for the islanders that would really question how this could happen and how the islanders could still be denied the right to return home. It’s unfortunate that our funding applications were unsuccessful.

Then the election came. Henry gained the seat he had been campaigning for for so long. He continues to support the Diego Garcian community in Crawley. Laura retired from politics but also continues her support of the Diego Garcians.

With the new coalition government came austerity cuts to arts budgets and youth services. It was a hard time for community filmmaking. Compulsive Productions sadly closed down the following year and with that went any hope of continuing the project, although I still have hopes of returning to the story one day with a follow-up film. The silver lining of my time ending with Compulsive was that it set me on the path to building a business of my own and Exiled remains to this day one of the most exciting and inspirational projects I’ve ever had the pleasure of working on.

Since the making of the film, Allen Vincatassin has been elected President of the Provisional Government of Diego Garcia and the Chagos Islands. I spoke to him last week about how the community is doing and how the campaign has progressed and I’ll be sharing the update in my next post. It’s good news and it could be a step forward.

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron Review

avengers-age-of-ultron-art-poster-133238

*Warning – this review may contain spoilers for earlier films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.*

Marvel’s superhero team-up event is back for round two and comes out of the gate fighting. A strong opening action set piece joins all of the team mid-action fighting established villains Hydra; clearly Joss Whedon knows what we’re all here for. The scene’s quick fire succession of quips and arse-kicking sets the pace of the film. This movie is fast, sometimes too fast, performing a cinematic sleight of hand to make sure we don’t question too much while we enjoy the thrill ride.

The biggest question for me was – how did we get to here?

Iron Man 3 saw Tony Stark destroy all of his Iron Man suits, but here he is battling Hydra with his buddies. Captain America: The Winter Soldier saw S.H.I.E.L.D. ripped apart by Hydra and no longer trusted by the American public. Marvel’s TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. sees S.H.I.E.L.D.’s work continue undercover as a necessity, with S.H.I.E.L.D. agents essentially becoming outlaws.

Clearly, some sort of time jump has occurred and I can understand the filmmakers not wanting to spend costly narrative time assembling the Avengers all over again, but a little explanation wouldn’t have gone amiss. After all, Stark tower now has a gigantic ‘A’ on the side and is serving as a very visible Avengers HQ, which doesn’t really follow neatly from the subterfuge of The Winter Soldier. It feels as if a lot of the more interesting developments of earlier franchise instalments have been cast aside.

It’s understandable that a few details need to be streamlined for the sake of expediency. The Avengers’ biggest selling point is also its biggest threat – there are a lot of superheroes in it. That’s a lot of characters to give time to, a lot of franchise properties that come with their own fans and expectations. Each hero needs screen time, a hero moment, a fully developed character, a progression from their last appearance and a plotline outside of the action. Add to that the weight of some villains and new faces, returning secondary characters and all of the various plot ‘beats’ to hit to provide an action movie experience as well as plant the seeds for future installments and you have a lot to shoehorn in. As you can guess, this leads to some rushed story developments, and the occasional exposition dump, particularly when it comes to the twins who suffer the most from the film’s lack of breathing space.

That’s not to say that the film doesn’t deliver. It’s a superhero movie and on that front it gets the job done. The action is exhilarating with great fight choreography and special effects. There’s a lot of fun to be had here. When the script isn’t weighed down by back-story it provides a lot of laughs and for the most part presents us with three dimensional, flawed characters with differing opinions and viewpoints.

Stark

Tony Stark continues his streak as the Avengers’ own Peter Venkman, winding up Captain America in particular and possibly laying some groundwork for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War. Creating Ultron in his quest to perfect artificial intelligence, Stark unleashes a monster upon the world that proves to be a formidable opponent for the team.

Black Widow softens and gives up some information about her mysterious past. I have mixed feelings about her character’s use in the film and I may need a follow up post to explore the intricacies of the issues at play. With all of Joss Whedon’s recent talk about sexism elsewhere in the industry, I was surprised to see Black Widow relegated to the roles of love interest (thereby becoming a character defined by her relationship to a man) and a hostage (unable to free herself and instead having to wait for the men to locate and rescue her). Black Widow is a tough and secretive character, it is a logical progression to grant her a softer side, it’s just unfortunate that that needs to cloud her status and agency within the film. The superhero genre is a boy’s club and as one of the few prominent female characters in the MCU, Black Widow carries the burden of representation.

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-Black-Widow-and-Hulk

Hulk broods, pines and repeats his usual “Hulk smash, Banner feel bad” refrain. There’s a sense that Hulk’s smashing will have wider ramifications for the MCU going forwards, but two movies in, Ruffalo’s Banner already feels like he’s stuck on repeat.

Hawkeye

After drawing the short straw in Avengers Assemble, Hawkeye gets some much needed character work. He’s the only Avengers team member not to have appeared in any MCU films outside of the Avengers, and we know little about him. Gaining a background humanizes Hawkeye and raises the stakes for him. In the final act, Renner gets a great speech about being the guy with no superpowers and his vulnerability enables us to respect his courage. The film is quick to play on our affection for the character though and is a bit heavy handed in toying with our expectations of what will happen to him now that he has something to lose.

Beefcake

I’ve saved the beefcakes for last in my character round-ups as they actually have the least going on in terms of subplots. Captain America argues with Tony a lot and Thor takes a bath. It’s appropriate for these two characters to take a bit of a back seat as they’ve had the room to grow in their own headlining franchises. Cap’s work here serves to lay the groundwork for his upcoming movie and Thor’s bath time discovery sets him up for the mission that will inevitably continue in Thor: Ragnarok and clearly plants the seeds for Avengers: Infinity War.

As for the new faces –

ultron

Ultron serves as a menacing villain and one who presents a more tangible threat than whatever it was Loki was trying to achieve in Assemble.

Twins

Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver have a lot to accomplish in a short space of time, with an arc that feels a little rushed and contorted but is improved by their believable emotional bond. Elizabeth Olsen in particular delivers a raw emotional performance that makes her character stand out as an exciting addition to the MCU.

Red-Dwarf-Kryten-2-590x350

The Vision is introduced in a messy scramble of a scene. His character is a hard sell. He is one of the most fantastical additions to the Earth-based Marvel adventures in origin and appearance (he’s kind of like a bright red Kryten) but Paul Bettany’s charm and presence make him likeable.

The film ends with some potential new Avengers in training, which could be interesting (and necessary) heading into Phase Three. There are also some characters hinting at goodbyes (a few of the actors’ contracts will be up for renegotiation soon) so a period of change is on the horizon. This is reportedly Joss Whedon’s last movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. After having a key role in developing many of Marvel’s recent outputs it will be interesting to see what impact his departure will have. I’d be happy to see a bit of a change in tone in order to keep things fresh.

Overall, Age of Ultron is a great adventure and a fantastic episode in Marvel’s grand superhero soap opera. Marvel Studios is at the top of it’s game for slick, shiny action set pieces with jaw dropping stunts and special effects. The non-stop pace of the film is exhilarating, jumping from one action sequence to the next and taking in a number of international locations along the way but this relentless speed means that the script suffers from a lack of breathing room. Some of the character introductions and plotlines lack subtlety and sometimes the sheer number of players onscreen can make scenes feel jumbled. There’s so much to fit into the film’s running time that the strain is often evident. I rarely feel that a film could benefit from being longer, but in this case I’d be willing to bet that the film’s extended cut for home release will be a smoother, more coherent version.

In its final act the film benefits from a greater emphasis on saving lives amidst the fighting, a concern that seemed lacking in Avengers Assemble‘s Battle of New York. There are also hints of a more empathetic appreciation of the consequences of city crushing superhero smackdowns. My betting is that Captain America: Civil War will see a rising level of animosity towards superheroes and the collateral damage of their heroics.

 

About the Author:

Evan Wilkinson is a Community Filmmaker based in Brighton. As well as producing videos and community film projects, Evan teaches workshops in filmmaking, script development and animation. For more information please visit: http://evanwilkinson.co.uk

15 Movie Mums for Mother’s Day

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow, so I’m taking a look at some of cinema’s most iconic mothers, both good and bad.

Manuela, All About My Mother

Directed by Pedro Almodovar 1999

After the tragic loss of her son, single mother Manuela takes a journey to reconnect with her past. Manuela’s maternal instinct seems to extend to all she meets as she supports, protects, nurses and advises the friends that she encounters.

Almodóvar dedicated this film “To all actresses who have played actresses. To all women who act. To men who act and become women. To all the people who want to be mothers. To my mother.”

Mrs Voorhees, Friday the 13th

Directed by Sean S. Cunningham 1980

“Kill her, Mommy! Kill her!”

Jason is the iconic killer of the Friday the 13th franchise but it was his mother who was the first to start killing off promiscuous teens at Camp Crystal Lake. Not even Kevin Bacon is safe from this revenge-seeking Mum.

M’Lynn Eatenton, Steel Magnolias or Sally Field in EVERYTHING

Directed by Herbert Ross 1989

Hollywood’s Mum Sally Field has made a career out of playing mothers on the big and small screen, so many that this list could have been entirely populated with them – Norma Rae, Celeste in Soapdish, Betty in Not Without My Daughter, Miranda in Mrs Doubtfire and Forest Gump’s mum to name a few.

Beverly Sutphin, Serial Mom

Directed by John Waters 1994

“Beverly, I’ve read all about this. Is it menopause?”

Katheen Turner relishes in the role of deranged suburban housewife and serial killer Beverly, in John Waters’ black comedy. Beverly wants everything in life to be perfect, she’s just prepared to go a little further than most to uphold her idea of family values.

Peg Boggs, Edward Scissorhands

Directed by Tim Burton 1990

Peg is the sweet Avon lady who discovers Edward and brings him home in Burton’s dark fairytale. Dianne Wiest gives a spectacular performance in the role and her character, the first we meet in the film, serves as the perfect introduction to the world of the film and helps to establish its quirky tone.

Sarah Connor, Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Directed by James Cameron 1991

Sarah Connor is the ultimate lioness, fiercely doing all she can to protect her son and the fate of the world. Her evolution from the first film to the second is a major transformation from damsel in distress to warrior woman, also making her one of the most iconic female characters in science fiction cinema. She might not be the warmest of mothers but you’d want her in your corner in a crisis.

Norma Bates, Psycho

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock 1960

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

Mrs Bates is one of the most iconic movie mothers of all time and she’s not even in the film save for a few brief shots of her corpse. Such is her influence over Norman that her presence extends beyond the grave and has a grip over the entire film. Norma’s twisted relationship with her son inspired several sequels and a recent TV series.

Renee LeBlanc, Tarnation

Directed by Jonathan Cahouette 2003

Jonathan Cahouette’s autobiographical documentary details his difficult relationship with his mentally ill mother, Renee. The film made headlines in 2003 for being made for a budget of $218 using iMovie. It pieces together a collage of home video footage, performances, answer phone messages and video diaries. This challenging documentary depicts an unconventional mother and son relationship that is raw and powerful.

Mildred Pierce, Mildred Pierce

Directed by Michael Curtiz 1945

Joan Crawford plays long-suffering mother Mildred Pierce, who is unappreciated by her selfish daughter in this classic film noir. After separating from her first husband Mildred finds work to support the middle-classed lifestyle her children are accustomed to, particularly pretentious Veda, who is ashamed of her mother’s working status. Mildred does everything she can for her family but her wealth-obsessed daughter is eventually her undoing.

Mildred’s drive to be an independent woman is admirable in a time when women’s roles were in flux after the war, although it is unfortunate that this desire seems to ultimately be punished. The film noir genre was built from the uncertainty of this period as well as a deeply paranoid suspicion of women. Veda fulfils the femme fatale role here, but we are at least aligned with Mildred and sympathetic to her fate.

Joan Crawford, Mommie Dearest

Directed by Frank Perry 1981

We can’t talk about Joan Crawford without taking a look at this camp classic. Based on the tell-all memoir by Christina Crawford, the film details the emotional and physical abuse Christina suffered from her unhinged adoptive mother. While the details of the film are shocking, the heightened melodrama is so over the top that the film is unintentionally comedic.

Rosemary Woodhouse, Rosemary’s Baby

Directed by Roman Polanski 1968

Roman Polanski’s chilling horror film depicts Rosemary’s unsettling journey to motherhood. Rosemary is surrounded by people who control her body by sedating her, raping her, impregnating her and forcing drinks, food and instructions on her for the sake of the baby. Rosemary’s anxiety builds as she suffers through the difficult pregnancy. Her attempts to rebel against these overbearing forces prove futile, however, as her own maternal instincts compel her to accept and protect her child, even though he is the antichrist.

This excellent blog post by Erin Fenner explains why “Rosemary’s Baby is a horror about being a woman.”

Edith “Big Edie” Ewing Bouvier Beale, Grey Gardens

Directed by Albert & David Maysles, Ellen Hovde & Muffie Meyer 1975

The Maysles brothers pioneered the ‘fly on the wall’ documentary style, trying to have as little influence on their documentary subjects as possible in order to present them naturally. In Grey Gardens they turn their camera to two socialites living in a rundown house in the Hamptons. Although her daughter, Little Edie, became the real breakout star of the film, Big Edie still holds her own. The complex relationship between these two eccentric women is loving, co-dependent and at times resentful, but ultimately united and protective.

Sadly, Albert Maysles died this month, but his films have a respected place in cinematic history, particularly this cult classic.

Ellen Ripley & The Alien Queen, Aliens

Directed by James Cameron 1986

Ripley is one of the most iconic female characters in science fiction cinema (along with Sarah Connor, mentioned earlier) and one of the most popular. In this sequel to Alien, Ripley’s character undergoes a transformation in her developing role as adoptive mother to rescued Newt. This relationship brought a new dimension to Ripley’s character, showing her as tough and strong but with the capacity to also be caring and soft. It also gave her someone to protect at all costs. The film (and the Alien series as a whole) is full of imagery to do with impregnation and birth trauma. It is fitting then that this film also debuts the Alien Queen, the most monstrous mother figure ever committed to screen. These two movie mothers face off at the end of the movie in an epic battle, each fighting for the survival of their young.

Godzilla, Godzilla

Directed by Roland Emmerich 1998

Yes, this film is terrible – let’s get that out of the way first.

I was a giant-lizard loving 14 year old when this movie came out and I was totally onboard for this one at the time.  I’ll bet some of you are asking – isn’t Godzilla male? Yes, he is (although apparently it’s up for debate)  although in Emmerich’s universally panned take on the character, Matthew Broderick’s scientist discovered that Godzilla was reproducing asexually and had layed a motherload of Godzuki eggs inside Madison Square Gardens. That’s right – Godzilla’s a Mum.

Who are your favourite Movie Mums? Let me know on Twitter.

Moonlight Saves The Day

This was a short film made by children from Years 3 and 4 at Meon Junior School in Portsmouth. It was part of a Creative Partnerships project focused on literacy. The group had already worked with another company to devise a fairytale-like story. I was tasked with showing the children how to turn that story into an animation through a series of workshops.

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We began by breaking the story into scenes and discussing how scenes are laid out in a script. It was not long before we had adapted the group’s story into a script to use whilst shooting. Following this, we explored shot language and the group learned about how to use master shots, close-ups and cut-aways to tell their story visually. Armed with this knowledge the group were able to create a shot list and a storyboard for their animation.

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The next thing the group had to tackle was character design and so we discussed what the characters should look like and what physical attributes we could give them to enhance their personalities. Based on this list of qualities and descriptions the class drew their ideas for each character and then voted for their favourites to make the final decisions.

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Once we knew what the characters looked like we turned our attention to the animation’s sets and used a similar process to design the different environments of the story.

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Once the design stage was complete, we moved onto construction. I led the group through a workshop on how to make articulated puppets for paper cut-out animation and then we assigned teams to start work on each of the characters and sets. This was a difficult job as the children had to take into account the ways in which each character needed to move as well as making sure we had removable features for every facial expression required for each of the characters.

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We also had to create versions of the puppets in different sizes, such as enlarged heads and facial features for close-ups. Added to all of this was the challenge of keeping every element of the animation in proportion so that it would work when we put it all together.

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With all of our elements prepared, we were able to start animating the film. The group had a workshop to introduce them to animation techniques at the start of the project, so they would be familiar with the software and the process. Shooting out of sequence, the classes were split into small animation teams each with a few shots to complete. We only had two days in which to shoot the film. Everyone involved in the project also got to record narration and sound effects for the film, which were then combined when the film was edited.

10 Fun 11 FunThis is one of the youngest age groups that I have worked with and so I was extremely impressed by the quality of their work within such a limited timeframe. The project was delivered and completed in the space of six weeks, with only a day of workshops each week for each class.

If you would like to try your hand at an animation workshop or make a short film as a project like this one then please visit my website for more information.

T.A.N.K.S.

T.A.N.K.S was one of the films made by young people through the Oak Grove Film Project, a peer mentoring and integration project that brought mainstream young people and young people with special needs together to make short films. Workshops explored genre, technical filmmaking skills, script writing and development, casting, stage fighting, props making, acting techniques and direction.

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In the first year of the project the young people made a science fiction film, an outcome decided by the project organisers. For the project’s second year I wanted the young people to have more ownership of what they made, so I wanted them to select the genre themselves. In order to present the group with their options I ran a series of workshops on genre looking in particular at genres that were easy to define stylistically and visually such as Horror, Western, Thriller, Action and Adventure. In each workshop I would show film clips as examples in order to prompt the group to pick out the defining elements or ingredients of each genre. We looked at the visual style, basic story structure and archetypal characters within each genre and explored the associations that the group had with each type of film. The group then voted for the genre that they would like to work in, choosing to make an Action movie.

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With the genre selected, we then began to explore Action in more depth looking at films like Die Hard, Hot Fuzz and Kung Fu Hustle. The group explored a workshop on the action hero, looking at the typical personality traits of an action hero, their journey to becoming a hero through the course of the story and their relationship to other characters such as a sidekick, a love interest (who finds herself in danger) and an authority figure who challenges the hero’s methods.

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With our understanding of the action hero complete, I then led a workshop that looked at the villain’s role within the genre and the ways in which the villain can be compared and contrasted with the hero. We also looked at his henchmen and cronies.

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To begin generating ideas for our film, I ran a workshop in high concept movies – films with a simple premise that can be explained in one sentence. The group were asked to identify a number of films from their high concept descriptions and then began creating and pitching their own high concept premises for the film. The aim was to establish a threat for our hero to fight against as this would provide the basis of our plot. We played around with a lot of ideas, established which concepts were the most popular choices and then began to swap and combine elements until we had a story idea that everyone agreed on. The threat was an evil headmaster with a brainwashed army of school children – Totally Awesome Ninja Kids – giving us our title, TANKS.

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With our characters identified and a premise on which to build our plot, I then led the group in exploring the hero’s journey more closely and used story structure, along with all of the genre ingredients we’d already listed, to map out a blueprint for a typical action film plot. This blueprint followed a recognizable three-act structure that the group were able to apply to a number of action movies that they were familiar with. This plan outlined roughly ten scenes in which our hero notices something suspicious, investigates, identifies the villain and meets a series of obstacles before finally defeating the enemy. We were then able to slot our story ideas and ingredients into the blueprint and soon had a full story outline for the writers to work with.

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The group split into two working groups for the screenwriting process with a group of writers discussing ideas and drafting scenes while a group of actors improvised scenes and characters. Each week the two groups would feed each other ideas with the writers suggesting scenes or characters for the group to improvise and the actors performing them. I felt that this was a good way for those who didn’t want to write to still feed their ideas into the script and influence the story. Improvisation can be really useful to help writers come up with new ideas or fill in gaps in the story that they might be struggling with.

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Castings were filmed and done in groups so that people could also try out for crew roles and get in some practise with the kit.

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The film needed to be high energy. Obviously car chases weren’t possible and so our chases had to be on foot. We also had a stage fighting workshop in order to learn safe fighting techniques for the film and devise our onscreen clashes. This was a particularly fun day.

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We shot the film over a few weekends at The Rosie and around Oak Grove College. The film was entered into the Oak Grove Community Film Festival and was nominated for ‘Best Drama.’

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To find out more about my community filmmaking projects and workshops, please visit my website.