Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Trouble with IMDb

Newsday Tuesday

The Trouble with IMDb
The Look:
I mean is there any real point continuing with this post. All you have to look at is their current homepage to  realise the extent of which they’ve ruined what was a perfectly useful, information-filled site. Just from glancing at this screenshot (right top) you have to question whether you’re even on IMDb. The Amazon Prime Instant Video (could they not think of a catchier name?) logo is so f*cking humungous, and yet they still felt the need for another squeezed in over on the right there. 

 Then there’s all the filler images that take away any clean space that used to make the site relatively neat.  Countless pictures of the titles that Prime offers, and often not even good ones, I mean Taken 2?, christ sign me up! 
 I’ve thrown in this older screenshot of the site for comparison. I will agree that, although heavily nostalgic, the 2007 screenshot (below) really does look like it could have been 1997 instead. On the other hand I think they did lose a lot of that initial identity as the site drastically modernised. It didn't need tonnes of pictures and adverts to make it interesting, it was just a Database after all. 

The Ratings:
Now this is a tricky one because you can easily be held up to the argument of differing taste when it comes to disagreeing with certain movies’ ratings on IMDb. Having said that, there is a fundamental problem with the system and as I’ve watched the site’s popularity grow over the years I’ve been finding the ratings less and less useful. 
 To start with, there is a huge rating bias to the newer releases. In just the few years since 2010 there have been 30 films that have made the Top 250 of All Time. That seems incredibly high and it’s a shame because the Top 250 was, for a long period of my early film watching life at least, that staple go-to when wanting to find something that I was confident would be a great picture and one which had earned its place in this hall of fame. Now though it seems that any popular new release will just jump straight in there regardless of its comparable merit. I didn't really want to name any specific releases but Interstellar being the 21st greatest film of all time really proves the point here. And if the reason for that is purely the recent hype factor and that it's rating will likely decrease over time, unfortunately Avengers Assemble is still 201st on the list. 
 For me I’ve had to move on from IMDb ratings. The older films and lesser-known indie releases I do find have a moderately greater accuracy but the skewed system of people seemingly voting only 1 or 10 for new & popular titles has unfortunately tarnished my adulation of the top 250 and their entire rating setup. If you're after suggestions all I can recommend is to look around. Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic are much more honed than this mess. 

Message Boards:
Having avoided them for years and years I was going to give the Message Boards a real new look when I decided to do this post. However, the first one I came across, for Whiplash, I was faced staring at “Maybe Hitler would like Jazz after this…”. Naturally curious I delved in to find the first line heralding: ‘Whiplash represents exactly today's dominant neoliberal ideology’. I really think that says everything you need to know about the state of IMDb’s Message Boards. If you're interested in a chuckle and reading on about what would have been Hitler’s passion for Whiplash, and believe me you’ve been warned, this is the link here

So What Is It Good For?
 - Trivia - There is always some great things you can learn in here about the film’s production, inspirations, actors who were in the mix, etc. Great section if you have some time on your hands and/or are particularly interested in a title. 
 - Filmographies - Has to be the first site you go to when you can’t quite recall the film that actor/actress has also been in. Also great to discover the bodies of work from directors you’ve liked. 
 - Release Dates & Trailers - I do think the specific trailer section of IMDb could be improved, but it rarely doesn't have the trailer for a film you might be considering. 

 - Plot Synopses - Speaks for itself.
 - Lists - An underrated section of the site I think. If you can wade through the “My Top 1000 Favs” and “Every film I’ve ever seen ever” trash then you can actually get some top recommendations. 
 - Personal Ratings - The truth is once you’ve been a part of the site long enough you amass such a large quantity of Rated Films that you can't let that go. I do wish they’d add a feature that allowed them to at least estimate what you might think of titles you haven't watched based on an analysis of your current ratings though. Something similar to Netflix which I’ve found surprisingly accurate so far, apart from the odd few shockers.  

 Overall it's a shame that this site has turned into what it is. The look and feel of it has descended to one big Amazon advert. The public rating factor is what used to make it brilliantly unique. However, with the increase in non-dedicated/one-time users, what has developed is a large majority creating accounts, voting 1 or 10 (and likely on films they might not have even seen yet), to go along with the crowds or in an attempt to push a title further up or down and not reflecting what they actually would score a film out of 10. The Trouble with IMDb seems to be that currently, the Bad outweighs the Good. 

Tomorrow’s Where-in-the-World-Wednesday will take a look at the Russian Oscar-Nominated (/loser) ‘Leviathan’, the Danish triumph ‘The Hunt’, as well as German epic ‘Downfall’.

Monday, 23 February 2015

The Oscars and the Grouch 2015

The Oscars and the Grouch 
and the Oscar goes to…”

 With the Globes and BAFTAs having been and gone, the stage was set for the Awards that people actually give two sh*ts about. This year’s Academy Awards proved to be a magical night of gowns, glitz, glamour, golden gongs, film celebration and thinly veiled disappointment (you may have noticed I blatantly just gave up on the alliteration there, shameful). For me it was once again a lonely, alcohol/caffeine-fuelled ceremony, beginning at around 01:30am in the UK, which, as expected, resulted in me getting quite considerably more tetchy and aggressive (admittedly to a picture on a screen) as the evening rolled on. However, this did not distract me from the fact that the movies this year were a fantastic collection and that I’ve had the pleasure to watch a very large portion of them, save but a few. Now I know we don't have the time to cover them all but here are the main events: 

  • Best Picture - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
  •  Brilliantly unique, black comedy that really set the pace of Oscar season and rightly so. The cast performances were stellar, especially Edward Norton and Michael Keaton, and it was great to see Zach Galifianakis test out his fractionally more dramatic acting chops for once. With the directing and screenplay also winning statuettes it really highlights the success that this picture was in 2014. Congrats.
  • Best Director - Alejandro G. Iñárritu Birdman
  • This was incredibly ambitious to attempt such a style of directing for a fell-length feature film and the result was excellent. Just like the musical score, this hectic mix of dramatically varied elements combined effortlessly on screen to produce a wonderfully memorable film. The credit had to go to Iñárritu for making that possible and you could tell he was thrilled with the award. 
  • (It was, however, slightly shocking for Linklater to still be left out of the Oscar party. He now totals 5 nominations without a win and I was certain one of these top two awards would credit Boyhood, but that's old age academy pensioners for you folks).

  • Best Actor - Eddie Redmayne The Theory of Everything
  • Redmanyne's performance was fantastic and there’s no getting away from it. A clean sweep of the Globe, Bafta and now the Oscar and yet he still acts shocked and surprised about being recognised. You become so engrossed in this movie and the story of Stephen Hawking’s life that you forget the skill of the acting that Redmayne produces. This superb performance truly does justice to the man and inspiration behind the film.

  • Best Actress - Julianne Moore Still Alice
  • Fifth time she has been nominated and without a win she was destined to be the Oscar favourite. A powerful film that ironically stays in your mind for days afterwards, Julianne Moore's performance brings the character to life and more. Always been a fan of hers and if you haven't seen The Kids Are Alright the I implore you to do so. Out of this years nominees though I'll admit I was kind of rooting for Felicity Jones to win but oh well, can't have them all. 

  • The Rest of the Winners
  • Best Animated Feature Film - Big Hero 6 Disney/Pixar - Great film but where was Lego?
  • Best Supporting Actress       - Patricia Arquette Boyhood - Boyhood's only win, well deserved.
  • Best Supporting Actor         - JK Simmons Whiplash - Absolutely, outrageously, stunning job!
  • Best Original Screenplay      - Birdman - Would have been Wes' Grand Budapest Hotel for me!
  • Best Adapted Screenplay     - The Imitation Game Graham Moore - Fair play, but odd speech! 
  • Best Foreign Language Film - Ida Poland - Haven't actually seen this yet, Leviathan was top!
  • Best Documentary              -  CitizenFour - Couldn't have been any other winner, thrilling!
  • Best Original Song          - Glory John Legend & Common - LegoEverything was awesome...

 - The Ceremony - Hosted by: Neil Patrick Harris
 In what seems to be an unpopular opinion I thought Patrick Harris was quite brilliant as host. A great opening number was followed by him seemingly not giving a f*ck about the entire event and adding a (somewhat-diluted) touch of Gervais to the proceedings with his close-to-the-mark quips. Add in a few truly terrible puns, a magic trick and a underwear presentation and it really was entertaining (for the Oscars bear in mind). Really not hard to beat Ellen last year though.

Speeches - I do have some issues with a few of the speeches this year, however, which seemed too often to descend into a podium for each victor's personal gripes about the world. “We need more volunteers…”, “We need more Black's Rights, Women’s Rights, Gay’s Rights, White’s Rights & Whistleblower's Rights” ... Followed closely by "Oh and lastly thanks to Mummy, Daddy, that God bloke for making me so special." We get it you don't w
ant to seem all greedy up there with your new friend Oscar, but how about give it a rest for the evening shall we. This isn't an Awareness Fundraiser it's an Awards Show. Move along.

Music - The musical numbers were also terrifically varied this year. A trippy, Europop-esque performance of ‘Everything is Awesome’ from The Lego Movie really did spark the evening up a bit, although I feel Clint Eastwood might have been faintly disturbed by the entire thing. A shockingly subdued rendition of songs from ‘The Sound of Music’ was performed by Lady Gaga, who managed to change out of her marigolds from the Red Carpet and put on something rather more toned-down. On the whole highlighting the great voice behind the unbearable nutter. And lest we forget the performance of Glory by John Legend and Common, from the film Selma, which received a hardly surprising standing ovation. I'm fairly certain that last night's theatre was rigged up with signage that after every black oppression/Selma reference stated  “Quickly guys last one on his feet is a racist!”

Phew, anyway, well at least that's that done for another year. Come back tomorrow for Newsday Tuesday (still a solid name right there) where we will be discussing a few of the films and trailers on the horizon for the next few weeks.  

Monday, 17 March 2014

Musing Monday - Dive Into Documentaries

Dive in to Documentaries 
Telling the life of F1 racing driver Ayrton Senna, this fast-paced documentary grips you from start to finish using a combination of archived interviews; raw racing footage; and Senna’s personal home videos; that allow us to truly see the glory and struggles of a man in the sport he loved so much. Even with no prior knowledge of the man or the sport this film allows you to truly connect with Senna in a time where politics in F1 and his bitter rivalry with Alain Prost came to blows. This film is easily one of my favourites.  

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters 
A documentary that takes you into the world of arcade gaming and a lust for high-scores may not sound too appealing, but I have rarely felt such a strong will, while watching a film, for one man to conquer another. Much like Nintendo’s Donkey Kong game, this film has us yearning for Steve Weibe (the Challenger) to overcome all the obstacles in his way (a questionably rigged team of validators and the interrogation over his machine, among others) so that he can ultimately defeat the brilliantly wicked villain of this film Billy Mitchell (the current high score holder) and claim what is rightfully his: that Donkey Kong High Score. An excellent immersive documentary.

Dear Zachary: A Letter to his Son about his Father 
One of the most heartfelt documentaries of all time. A man set out to record the life of his late good friend Andrew Bagby so that his newborn son could know more of his wonderful life. What begins as just this, with moving interviews with friends and family and footage from Andrews life, sharply turns into a haunting search for justice over his murder. This is a heart-wrenching story that has you holding back both tears and anger as you desire to uncover the truth. 
Jiro Dreams of Sushi
This somewhat unusual film takes us to Tokyo to meet 85-year-old Jiro Ono, the owner of a Sushi Restaurant in the less than glamorous Ginza Tokio Subway Station. Nevertheless, through his traditional and fiercely dedicated style, we learn that this man has earned the coveted 3 Michelin Stars. As his waiting list begins to exceed his likely years left, his son Yoshikazu must prepare for the daunting task of stepping into the shoes of his lauded father. A beautiful tale of a humble, yet driven, man and a dip into Japanese family culture and cuisine.

Searching for Sugar Man  
This Best Documentary Oscar winner is an inspired story of two South African men hoping to find their musical hero and icon, Rodriguez, who, although being an unknown in the United States where his records were released, went on to become a soundtrack of the apartheid movement in SA. With rumours of his suicide these filmmakers try to track down the truth, instead what they found was extraordinary. The songs have been in my head ever since.    

Friday, 14 March 2014

Flashback Friday - Rope (1948)


‘The power to kill can be just as satisfying as the power to create.’

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 picture Rope, still proves to be one of the most brilliantly acted and suspenseful films to date. This tale of two young men, who, as we join the story, strangle their ‘inferior’ classmate, are so enraptured by the idea of a ‘perfect murder’ that they invite their friends and family to a dinner party that very same evening, with the body still hidden inside a chest in the very same room.
 John Dall, as Brandon, gives one of the most twisted performances in cinema as he continually pushes the boundaries of this morbid situation: inviting David’s fiancée to the party; moving the food onto the same chest the body lies; and, maybe to his miscalculation, bringing their old teacher Rupert (James Stewart). Phillip (Farley Granger) grows increasingly nervous over their antics and is shown time and time again being unamused by Brandon’s confidence. 
 The film, based on a play in 1929 Rope’s End, and inspired by the real life murder of Bobby Franks in 1924, all unfolds before us in this one living room in one evening. It shocks me that such a brilliant piece has never been reintroduced onto Broadway or the West End, however it wouldn’t surprise me that it is due to the brilliance of Hitchcock’s work. 

 Alfred Hitchcock famously stated that suspense stems from the audience being informed and that is no more true than in this production. Our knowledge of this macabre circumstance is what makes the film so incredibly gripping and Brandon’s brash black humour so daring. 
 James Stewart (who starred in 3 other movies with Hitchcock), presents a fantastic juxtaposition of logic to Brandon’s unusual philosophies on murder. As the evening rolls on and the absence of David draws a worried tone from the other guests, Rupert begins to focus on Brandon’s earlier  comments on murder and ‘inferior beings who are unimportant anyway’. The escalation of the suspicions and questions leads us, as the viewers, through a fantastic maze of deceit and interrogation, with Phillip becoming increasingly unable to handle the pressure and attention. 

 For myself, Rope highlights how timeless a movie can be and how, no matter the developments in effects or scale, we can still discover true quality in earlier works, whilst it’s inspiration from a true story highlights Hitchcock’s view that just ‘a glimpse into the world proves that horror is nothing other than reality’

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Spotlight on: Wes Anderson

Spotlight on: Wes Anderson
Wes Anderson is the man of the moment (and no that’s not just amongst hipsters), his newest movie ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ is currently sat at No.3 in the UK Box Office. This is despite having only been released last Friday and in roughly 200 less cinemas than the Top 2. 
 I was lucky enough to see the film on Saturday and it confirms to me that Wes Anderson makes some of the most beautiful movies there have ever been. His attention to detail in all parts of production make a viewing of one of his movies, and I can assure you they are all as good as each other, a real event of entertainment. This unique style of his, that stretches right back to his first feature ‘Bottle Rocket’, has gone from being one only witnessed by his cult-like following, to a staple on the film calendar.
 The Grand Budapest Hotel follows the adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend. The story of the film was brilliant and through some impeccable dialogue, Gustave’s hilarious adventures were of an almost childlike, yet sometimes dark, nature. The achievement of this balance is entirely down to the stellar cast, who must be one of the best ensembles of all time, featuring: Ralph Fiennes; Edward Norton; Adrian Brody; Jude Law; Bill Murray (of course…it’s now their 7th Collaboration); Willem Dafoe; Jeff Goldblum; and with a fantastic debut for Tony Revolori, playing Zero. Extraordinarily that list still doesn’t even cover the breadth of stars this film roped in.
 Now for those who have seen Fantastic Mr Fox, and I hope that’s all of you because it is an amazingly styled and shot adaptation, Wes Anderson has delved back into this wonderful set creation for The Grand Budapest. This has allowed him to insert his stylistic touch on a much larger scale and thrust us deeper into the world he has so wonderfully created. 
 For me, the warmth of character relationships in Wes’s films (think Sam and Suzy in Moonrise Kingdom) are what makes them such a draw for me. Combined with the colourful, quirky sets (think Fantastic Mr Fox),  and extravagant costumes (think Life Aquatic), and that distinctive comic dialogue (think Rushmore) is what makes Wes Anderson’s films a step above the rest for me. I can be assured that when I go through the doors of the cinema, I’m escaping into another world, a spectacle of enjoyment. 
- Bottle Rocket (1996)
- Rushmore (1998)
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
- The Life Aquatic w/Steve Zissou (2004)
- The Darjeeling Limited (2007)- Favourite
- Fantastic Mr Fox (2009)
- Moonrise Kingdom (2012)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Quiz Time: 
1. How many films has Owen Wilson co-written w/Wes?
2. What is the main character of Rushmore called? 
3.Who voices Mr.Fox?

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Where-in-the-World Wednesday - A Few Favourites

- To begin this feature I though of nothing better than to mention and review some of my favourites from around the world. I’ve tried to pick 3 from different countries for some variety but I can tell you it was nigh-on-impossible to narrow these down.

Cinema Paradiso - Italian

Possibly my favourite film of all time. I say possibly because I don’t like to be caged in with a definitive answer. For me it has it all: an adventurous, passionate child in Toto; an amazing yet grounded role model in Alfredo; an inspired capturing of first love; the haunting changes of adulthood; a caring family; the struggles of death; and the opportunities of a new life. The tale is magnificently displayed on screen and for me crosses any language barrier there is. It’s final scene is one of the very few times I have found myself in tears at the end of a movie. 

 The Lives of Others - German

 The Lives of Others is an intensely suspenseful capturing of one man’s isolation ultimately resulting in obsession. Set in East Berlin, 1984, this veteran member of the Stasi, Captain Weisler, undertakes the role of monitoring a young playwright and his actress girlfriend. Left in an dusty room to listen over their most private conversations, Wiesler (played superbly by Ulrich Muhe) develops a sympathy for their situation. The director von Donnersmark takes us through this journey with an immense display of character development and a story that may seem to have little action ends up being a gripping film. Truly a must see!   

Intouchables - French

A relatively recent picture, only released in 2011, this true story is transported onto the screen with two incredible performances from the lead actors. This collision of two vastly different men, from infinitely different backgrounds, results in one of the most beautiful friendships ever captured in a movie. A wealthy quadriplegic, Philipe, needing a carer picks the most unlikely candidate for the position, Driss, a young man from the suburbs just after his unemployment benefits. Told through a flashback it reveals how they show each other their own world and how this unusual exposure to one another enhances their views. The dancing scene alone is enough to make this list.  

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Oscars and the Grouch

Newsday Tuesday

Oscars and the Grouch

For most people the Oscars (or Academy Awards, although that didn’t help with my title) is a night of glitz and glamour, of film celebration and acting merits. For me it is a coffee fuelled late night, beginning at around 1:30am in the UK, which often results in me getting more tetchy as the evening rolls on. This year’s movies were a great bunch and aside from a few films I managed to have watched them all and give my own opinions. Now we both don’t have time to cover all of the films so let’s focus on the main winners shall we: 

12 Years a Slave - Best Picture/ Supporting Actress/ Writing (Adapted Screenplay)
For me this seemed an obvious winner for Best Picture. It had everything the Academy holds dear. Firstly it was a hard-hitting drama, it is rare to see Best Picture go to anything else, for instance Comedies and Action films stand little-to-no chance. The true story, based on the novel Push by Sapphire, hang on wait, no it was Solomon Northup’s memoirs, delved us into the world of slavery in the United States and one man’s struggles in his attempt at freedom. The acting was superb, especially by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Luptia Nyong’o (frankly the awards presenters deserve Oscars just for pronouncing those right), and although Chiwetel (I’d like to think we’re on a first name basis) missed out on the Oscar Statuette the nomination was completely deserved, and in the majority of Oscar lineups would have been his. 

Gravity - Best Director/ Original Score/ Sound Editing & Mixing/ Cinematography/ Visual Effects/    
                    Film Mixing
I don’t think I have long enough to describe my distaste for all the accolades this film has garnered. I went to see this in 3D at the cinema and whilst I can appreciate the outstanding visual effects and cinematography, for which they definitely deserved the awards, the overall movie left me angered that all of that time was wasted on this script. The movie itself seemed so ridiculous and Sandra Bullock’s character was just so insufferable that, like George Clooney’s character, I would have happily drifted into space to get out. The whole story of a bloody medical engineer being put in space after barely any training to repair the Hubble Telescope is laughable and that doesn't even begin to cover the stereotypical Vodka in the Russian Spacecraft and actual Ping Pong bats in the Chinese vessel. The point where she randomly guessed buttons, like Homer Simpson in a nuclear meltdown, I actually moved forward in my seat to leave. I could go on (in fact I already have gone on too much), but it angers me that this film was so lauded by the critics and public alike. 

Dallas Buyers Club - Best Actor/ Supporting Actor/ Makeup & Hair Styling  
There is one word to sum up this film - Aids Acting. The two leads were absolutely superb. Matthew McConaughey (I’m in my second week of lessons on how to spell that name, think it’s going well), was breathtaking as the lead and has put himself right back on the map after being a go-to romcom actor of the last decade. Jared Leto seemed destined to win from the moment he put on a dress and a wig, although I personally would have like to see the award go to someone else, Barkhad Abdi and Jonah Hill spring to mind with two wildly different but also incredibly vivid character portrayals. 

The Rest - 
Frozen - Best Animated Feature Film - DESERVED - Disney is back!
Spike Jonze - Best Original Screenplay - Her - DESERVED - Unique and original.
Cate Blanchett - Best Actress - DESERVED - Anyone but Sandra Bullock!
The Great Beauty - Best Foreign Language Film - SHAME - Was rooting for The Hunt.
20 Feet from Stardom - Best Documentary - Not Seen - Unfair to Comment
The Great Gatsby - Best Production Design/ Costume Design - Fair Play DESERVED
‘Let It Go’ from Frozen - Best Original Song - DESERVED - Catchy as a cold (just came up with that).

The Ceremony - 

Unfortunately for Ellen Degeneres I really feel she added nothing to the ceremony other than trying to act like ‘one of them’ with Hollywood’s biggest stars. The now infamous ‘selfie’ (pictured below) and numerous Twitter and Samsung references were so poorly veiled that it spoiled the moments she tried to make humorous. That pizza joke dragged on far too long and the audience were as uncomfortable as the delivery man by the end of it. Disappointing. The adding of all the Best Original Song nominees to the proceeding seemed to have been a last minute thought as they looked over the lack of material Ellen had between awards.