Doctor Strange (2016)

I went to the 3pm showing of Scott Derrickson’s Doctor Strange at the Cineworld IMAX at Glasgow Science Centre (proclaimed, in person, at each visit, as the largest screen in Scotland). Then, with the indentations from the IMAX glasses still visible on the bridge of my nose, I returned for the 9pm showing. I’m tempted to end the review there, as it’s clearly obvious what I thought of this movie. I will add a little more (spoiler-free) detail.

I’m a DC guy that enjoys Marvel movies. My favourite movies in the MCU being Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015) and Iron Man 3 (2013). This list should give you the idea: I prefer the more quirky, ‘out there’ kind of Marvel movie. So, I was really looking forward to Doctor Strange.

From the spectacular opening, I knew I was in for a treat. While a Yankee Benedict Cumberbatch takes a little getting used to, this acting master craftsman soon has us under his spell. The real show stealer is Tilda Swinton, who, as The Ancient One, effortlessly portrays both gravitas and a sense of cheekiness.

Doctor Strange retains the feel and look of a traditional MCU movie, while delivering a little extra. Sure, the mind-bending visuals are spectacular, and a few times there are head nods toward more retro special effects, but what grabbed me was the spiritual angle of the movie. It’s not unusual for comic book movies to touch on or reference deeper themes. Doctor Strange doesn’t just touch on deeper themes, it explores them in a meaningful and consistent way. I identified with Steve Strange as he tried to straddle the worlds of Spirituality and Sarcasm. Having faith and trying to walk a spiritual path, but not taking yourself too seriously. This balance is maintained perfectly throughout the film. The more esoteric aspects do not feel shoehorned in as a prologue to the next action sequence, they are the central component of the story, and the film greatly benefits as a result.

While there are a few glitches, here and there, and I found myself wanting more of a certain sub-plot than I ultimately got, these are forgivable. Doctor Strange is a pleasure, from beginning to end.

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4200 Formative 4: Reflections on ‘Haunted’ and Areas for Development

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A dog in a car. A big fluffy dog in a Toyota Celica, to be precise. Captured by Jacob Topen, DoP on our latest Formative Group Observational Film Project, Haunted. Readers will be devastated to hear that neither the dog, nor the car appear in the film. Though, it should serve as click-bait for this article.

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Haunted crew, Above, L-R: Jacob (DoP), Miles (Camera Operator), Kelvin (Director), Me (1st AD) and Chris (Location Scout). Below, Chris (Hiding), Miles, Ross (Producer), Kelvin (Gesticulating, Wildly) and Gerard (Actor, Niall). Not pictured, Jack (Sound).

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Things were going pretty well during the one day shoot. I’d more or less absconded all 1st AD responsibilities to Chris and was sitting down eating a sandwich; Kelvin was kind of holding it together and Miles at least knows one end of the camera from the other. More importantly, we were sticking to the script. Then the worst thing in the world happened: Somebody had a big idea. As we all know, there is nothing more dangerous than new ideas. They mean change and change is dangerous. Unfortunately, this idea was really good, so we couldn’t sweep it under the carpet. Even if it meant a different ending and urgent change of location. So, from a cosy studio flat, we ended up in a National Park, looking at puddles, with Jacob running around in an ‘I love London’ cap, wearing safety glasses, and shouting ‘Traitor!’ in Gerard’s face.  At one point Ross was talking about Matte Paintings. I should say at this point that the big idea was Jacobs.

Haunted is not a comedy, is is an observational study of a young soldier with PTSD. This is the second time I have worked on a group film project at SAE Glasgow and the second time I have had the privilege of working with an extremely talented group of people. Kelvin was fantastic as Director, keeping the show on the road and fostering a collaborative environment. Ross was steady and calm, offering excellent suggestions when needed, which is what you need from a Producer. Technically, Chris was Location Scout, but did more prep work than anyone on the team, and his experience and knowledge on all aspects of the shoot was invaluable. Miles really knows his stuff and is a wizard with The Camera and Lighting. Jacob was a phenomenal DoP, always coming up with interesting and exciting ideas, including the big idea that meant changing the shoot. Jacobs acting background was also really helpful during the more powerful scenes. Gerard was a star as Niall, the films protagonist. His patience was unending, and his screen presence is excellent. We’ve also got Jack from Audio (or, Audio Jack) on board for sound and music. Jack is an extremely talented musician and the early work he’s done on the score is something to behold.

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A team that works well together will meet the challenges it faces and overcome them. To change the ending of Haunted was a challenge and a risk, but we all knew that while we could have settled for the end we had on paper, we would have been doing ourselves a disservice. We had a great mood in the camp all day, and we were ahead of schedule, so we went for it. And it was worth it.

Now, a word about me. I’d like to run my own Production Studio, Direct and Write. Not much to ask, is it? To do this I’m going to have to learn how the Film Industry works, the different roles within it, and how the different roles interconnect. I’m also going to have to learn the language of the industry. Each business has its own language, and if you don’t speak it, then you’ll always be an outsider. I also need to learn the basic technical elements of the industry roles. I am learning these things by working on projects like Haunted. The crew of Haunted have a tremendous amount of wisdom and experience between them, from prior studies and from working in the industry. By working alongside them, listening, observing and asking questions, I am learning.

The Big Boys (2016)

Every now and then a film comes along that defines a genre. I think you’ll agree that, despite being made several decades after the movement, The Big Boys (Le Big Boyes) is the film that defines French New Wave Cinema.

Despite it’s obvious innovations, French New Wave suffered from too many limitations. Firstly, it was all in French. Disastrously short sighted in marketing terms. Secondly, the films were long. And I mean really long. Now, I don’t know whether or not people had more time in the 40’s or 50’s or whenever these films were made, but I simply don’t have enough space in my day to watch someone riding a bike for six hours, sighing. Thirdly, and most importantly, who cares about some people dancing in a cafe? I can watch Pulp Fiction for that. And it’s got Samuel L. Jackson in it.

Despite not having Samuel L. Jackson in it, The Big Boys has none of these flaws: It’s in English and it’s about 2 minutes long. And it’s got subtitles, so it’s credible. There is also no bike riding or dancing in cafes. Though there is a bit of sighing.

Classmate Jacob Topen at his improvisational best as the rest of us (Me, Kelvin and Miles) try not to crack up. Arron on camera, Gerard on lights and Dave Directing. Enjoy.

Rocky IV (1985)

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Just to pre-warn you, this is a spoiler review.

Here are some facts about Rocky IV:

  1. It is almost an identical beat-for-beat remake of Rocky III (1982)
  2. At one point, Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) gifts his hapless brother-in-law, Paulie (Burt Young) an apparently sentient robot. The fact that the robot has consciousness is used to comic effect early in the film, then not mentioned.
  3. James Brown appears in person and performs ‘Living in America‘.
  4. About one-third of the way into the movie, it transforms into an 80’s soft-rock karaoke montage.
  5. Although we see Rocky’s adversary, Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) receiving injections during a training montage (and the fight, I think), it is not established whether or not these are performance enhancing.
  6. At the end of the movie, it is implied that Rocky has defeated communism.
  7. I think this movie is more or less perfect.

There is nothing wrong with Rocky IV, if you don’t like it, simply keep watching it until you do. Buy the soundtrack on cassette. Listen to it on a Sony Walkman, to get into the eighties feel. Then go back and re-watch it.

Rocky IV is the previous 3 films in the series distilled: We see the fight from the previous film. Rocky has retired. Something bad happens to get Rocky back in the ring. The odds are stacked against him. Rocky is training in an alien environment. Something is distracting him from training. This is resolved. Rocky trains well. Rocky overcomes his adversary through sheer force of will. The end.

We love Rocky and we want him to win, just like we did in the 70’s. Stallone is still likeable, though his chiselled (enhanced) appearance proves a slight disconnect in terms of relateability. The tunes are great. I’m not a big fan of 80’s rock, but I’m a sucker for a montage and this is really more montage than movie. The fight scenes are great; loud, bombastic and over the top.

The big miss of the movie is Burgess Meredith, who played Mickey, Rocky’s grizzled trainer/manager. Meredith added such gravitas to the series, but was written out in the previous instalment. Rocky’s new trainer, Duke (Tony Burton) is fantastic, but under-utilised. His leap over the ropes at the end of the fight is something to behold.

So many elements of this film have made it into pop-culture. Even if you haven’t seen it you’ll know something about it. It is the eighties embodied on celluloid. Great fun.

Paranorman (2012)

After a recent viewing of the visually stunning stop motion animation, Kubo and the Two Strings (2016), I was keen to check out other movies in the LAIKA studios back catalogue.

Paranorman is the story of Norman, a young boy outcast by his local community due to his claimed ability to see ghosts. When his home town is threatened by an ancient witches curse, Norman must use his unique talents to save the day. Disclaimer: I’m a big fan of 80’s horror, and this film spends a great deal of time and meticulous effort paying homage to the genre, if not directly, then in terms of tone and mood. In other words – I am going to like this film from minute one. And, from minute one – Norman is immediately likeable; the solid feel of the stop-motion gives the (sometimes grotesque) characters a reality and weight that is sometimes missing from CG animation. The writing is superb, funny and moving without being manipulative. There are also a few curveballs thrown in for good measure. Paranorman dares to be different on various levels.

Although I found myself wanting more of certain characters and less of others, I respected these as creative, rather than commercial decisions, and I can live with that.

Ultimately, I’m a visual guy, and I found the visual imagery  in Paranorman beautiful and mesmerising. The cinematography is quite wonderful. While hitting all of the right classic horror movie beats, director Sam Fell skilfully avoids cliche, and manages to tackle some pretty heavy duty subject matter. Suffice to say that I was not expecting Witch Trials and their consequences to be a major element in a PG rated animation. This is an enjoyable film that deserves multiple viewings.

 

Simple Time Management Techniques

I’m a big fan of keeping things simple. For me time management is about prioritising, organising, taking regular breaks and uni-tasking. Staying calm also goes a long way. If I am uptight or frustrated I am less likely to make good decisions, and if I’m not making good decisions then quality goes out of the window.

This article from the NHS Website sums it up perfectly.

Also, check out my previous post on the importance of doing one thing at a time.