Tag Archives: 2012

The ‘This is Not a Best of List’ Film List of 2012

3 Jan

Films of 2012

I have a confession to make. Actually, I have two confessions to make. First of all, I hate these ‘Best of 2012’ lists that have been popping up everywhere since mid November. I find, for me, that they get very tiresome very quickly; especially if they are published before the end of the year; Christmas isn’t the only thing that happens in December, lest we forget.

My second confession is about the films themselves. The truth is, when I sat down to write this list, I realised that while I had seen lots of films in 2012, they were either new, and as yet, unreleased films shown at festivals, or they were one-off screenings of classic films that I hadn’t seen before, so they weren’t exactly ‘new releases’.

So after much thought, here is my ‘not a list, don’t call it a list’ of my three favourite films of last year.

The Shining (1980)

Ok, I know that Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation Stephen King’s most famous novel, The Shining, isn’t a brand new piece of cinema, but the release of the extended US cut of the film in the UK in November brought a new dimension to Kubrick’s cult horror. While the US cut, which features an extra 24 minutes of footage, which were omitted from the European release, wasn’t Kubrick’s favourite version of the film, this cut brings something else to the familiar plot. Initially ignored and misunderstood upon its release for its ‘Art House’ style, and also due to Kubrick’s many changes to King’s story – which King didn’t approve of – The Shining has now become a right of passage for almost every film fanatic.

Featuring Jack Nicholson’s infamous turn as the out-of-luck writer with a dark past, this film showcases both Nicholson’s performance and Kubrick’s ability to create real, lasting tension and unease. In part, King’s tale of a haunted hotel and the evil of the spirits contained within, The Shining is also a piece that explores a family at breaking point, and analyses the effects of isolation whilst delving into the more extreme aspects of mental illness. Intriguing, masterful and still chilling more than 30 years after its original release, the extended version of the film is an unforgettable piece of late 20th century horror cinema.

You can read my review of the film on TVBomb.

Prometheus (2012)

Ridley Scott’s long-awaited addition to his Alien franchise, Prometheus was released to great fanfare in June, and quickly split the critics and the viewing public. Featuring an all-star cast, the film was initially marketed as a prequel to Scott’s highly influential 1979 sci-fi horror, however, Prometheus, while featuring terrifying creatures like ones featured in the original film, was designed to be a companion film, and not a prequel.

Although the film came under some harsh criticism for its somewhat unexpected back story, and a few other plot points – Guy Pearce’s make up, anyone? – Prometheus is, at its heart, a film that’s less about sci-fi and more about horror. Exploring Alien‘s existing themes of body horror, gender, and perhaps, most importantly, of violence, rape and unwanted pregnancy, Prometheus is concerned with humanity, and our fears. It taps into our most basic terrors; the fear that we are not alone, that our bodies are not our own, and that we are powerless and important when compared to the vastness of the universe.

Best viewed as a companion film to Alien, rather than a direct relation, the thing to remember about Prometheus is that while it can’t emulate the shock  created by or be the game changer that Alien was, it doesn’t have to, it’s concerned with deeper things.

You can read my review of the film on TVBomb.

Killer Joe (2012)

When I saw Killer Joe at the 2012 Edinburgh International Film Festival, I couldn’t speak properly for a few minutes. I hate writing in clichés, but William Friedkin’s film adaptation of Tracy Letts’ 1993 play of the same name does everything film is meant to do. It entertains, it unnerves, it terrifies, it shocks and, most importantly, it gets into your head and stays there. A tale of a dysfunctional family hiring a contract killer that they can’t afford – the ‘Killer Joe’ of the title, expertly realised by Matthew McConaughey – to kill their mother for her life insurance takes the viewer on a number of twists and turns throughout. But the real power of the film lies in its overarching theme of exploitation, and of course, the film’s final scenes, which culminate in an explosion of violence so unexpected and so frightening, that they really has to be seen to be believed.

A true return to form after Friedkin’s last few films, Killer Joe was not only one of the highlights of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, but also one of the strongest new releases of the year. For me, this tale of contract killings, exploitation, selfishness and greed is perfectly realised and completely and utterly disturbing. A must see.

You can read my review of the film here.

What I Learned About Theatre Criticism in 2012

27 Dec

The Critic

This year has really flown by. It seems like last week I was preparing for the Fringe and now, suddenly, here I am, sitting in my living room, surrounded by Christmas chocolates, wondering what the Hell happened this year. So, in the spirit of reflection, procrastination and a slice of goodwill, here are the vital lessons I learned about theatre criticism this year.

You Will Never Be Popular

There’s one thing I can confidently say about being a theatre critic; you will have  a very interesting relationship with those around you. Directors, actors, the public and even theatre FOH staff may not like you. Unless you’ve done something really personal to offend them, don’t sweat it, this is part of the job. If you write something people agree with, they will celebrate you; if you write a piece that they disagree with, then they will probably dismiss you. Your name will be celebrated by some, but unfortunately, it will become mud in some circles – accept it, wear it as a badge of honour, but don’t let it get you down.

Arguments on Twitter Are Never a Good Idea

I love Twitter – it’s probably my favourite social network – and while I don’t update my Twitter feed daily, I’m on the site every day, sometimes several times a day. But, like social networks, it has its downside, in fact, it has many downsides at times.  The 140 character limit of a tweet can be frustratingly limited, and we’re all guilty of leaping to the wrong conclusions because of one misunderstood tweet from time to time. So, even though so-called ‘Twitter spats’ can be very, very funny to read, they are nowhere as fun to be involved in – especially if you’re on the receiving end of another person’s unrestrained and completely unexpected bile. If you find yourself being drawn into a Twitter spat, don’t rise to anything, keep a clear head, and a sense of humour.

Nasty Critics Get Nowhere

Have you ever had to work with, or had the misfortune of being around a nasty person? Someone who thought nothing of being rude about other people in order to make themselves seem better by comparison? Well, some people seem to think that this is the way forward in theatre criticism. All too often, I have seen new critics attempt to ruffle feathers by writing very harsh, or downright rude reviews – this doesn’t get you very far, it gives you a bad reputation, and it makes you seem bitter. Don’t do this. The way to make your mark is by writing good reviews and being a reliable writer, you want to make friends and influence people, not be rude and alienate them.

Other Critics Will Irritate You

Believe it or not, critics are people too. And just like every other human beings, we are as irrational and emotional and as fallible as everyone else on the planet. This year was the year that I really managed to get out there and meet lots of critics; from established critics, to brand new critics, to up-and-coming critics, and I learned something new from all of them. However, as with every vocation, it’s almost impossible to get on with everyone, and some critics will naturally clash. Why? Because we are human; we share our opinions, we don’t always agree with each other’s opinions, and we have to work together in very confined spaces. So, accept that people will annoy you, and accept that you probably annoy other people too, and for the sake of a quiet life, try to avoid the ones you don’t get on with, they’re probably not really worth getting annoyed about.

Content is King

Sure, some publications will get read regardless of the quality of their content; perhaps the best example of this is The Daily Mail, but please excuse the cliché for a moment, because content is king for critics. We have to get our facts right first time, we must be impartial, fair, and we have to make our points with care our signature style. Everyone’s got a different way of writing, and that’s what’s really beautiful about the critical game – we’re all very distinctive in our own way. But remember, when writing reviews to research the production, question its themes and direction and write well. Believe me, editors and readers always remember the critics that write well.

Online Publications Will Be the Future (In the Future)

The people that lament the apparent death of print journalism (see below) and it is true that the industry is losing more money every year; we haven’t quite worked out how to make money from online journalism just yet. Yes, some publications, like The Times, have a paywall, and Newsweek recently ended their print edition to go online only, but the recent death of The Daily,Rupert Murdoch’s paid news app for the iPadproves that while demand for quality online journalism is high, we haven’t quite found a way to make real, sustainable and regular money from it.

Print is Not Dead

Just a few years ago, traditional print journalism was in its prime, and online journalism was seen as more of a support to the print format. Now, of course, online has overtaken print, and many commentators, pundits, journalists and writers have been quick to cry that print journalism, for the most part, is dead. I disagree, there is still a market for print journalism – a lot of magazines can only work in the print format – and a lot of people prefer them. It’s true, publishers, even some leading ones, are losing money – but the presses are still printing our daily, weekly and monthly magazines. In fact, until every company stops churning out a print version of their publication, then the medium is very much alive.

Know Your Worth

When you take your first wobbly steps on the sticky path towards becoming a recognised, respected and paid theatre critic, you will have to do some work for free. This is a great way to start building up your portfolio and getting your name out there, and the good thing about building up your portfolio this way, is that there are always lots of websites looking for voluntary writers. However, the bad thing about this situation is that there are always websites looking for unpaid writers. Like I said before, we’re still trying to find a way to make money from online journalism, and so, many websites and editors can’t pay their writers, because there is no money. This is true for a number of sites, but some sites can and do, pay their writers, but often use voluntary writers too. It’s important to know your worth, though, and don’t get stuck doing unpaid work for years and years or for the sake of ‘getting a link back to your blog’ or ‘having your name published’. Get some writing work, get some experience, and then start looking for ways to get money for your work if you can.

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