Saturday, 28 December 2013

Yearly projections

The medium of film seems an appropriate way for this blog to look back on the year that was.

2013 is almost over, and in terms of cinema entertainment it’s been a memorable year.
Marvel films continue their, until now, unchallenged domination of the big screen, but wait, up in the sky, is it a bird, is it a plane..?
Alas, this list is dominated by large, noisy 3-D blockbusters, but spectacle is best appreciated on a big screen, after all.
A couple of smaller films brought plenty of film magic of an altogether different kind and I only just managed to get tickets to duck Matt Smith’s chin in 3-D. 
It seems that I may have missed ‘the film of the year’ however, as Gravity continues to attract praise from pretty-much everyone.
Here are some of my highlights (and a notable low-point).

Although released in late 2012, we saw Skyfall at the beginning of this year, making Bond the first of three long-running fictional heroes celebrating an anniversary on-screen in 2013. And if this film
put a foot wrong I certainly didn’t see it. I particularly loved the more personal, scaled-down resolution, with no large-scale assault on a super villain’s lair to stop a satellite-borne laser beam starting World War Three, this time.  Instead, Bond is desperately trying to get two elderly British thesps to safety through the besieged, fast disintegrating remnants of his family estate, and it’s riveting. 
Another highlight was young Ben Wilshaw as the new Q.  Making an instant impact with screen-presence well-beyond his age, some suggest him as a natural choice for the new Doctor when Matt Smith announces his departure.  By the year’s end Wilshaw has been cast as another icon instead: Freddie Mercury.

Iron Man 3
Two sequels and a last-chance reboot dominated the middle of the year, and I made it my business to organise group viewings of all of them with friends of varying enthusiasm.
First out of the gate was Tony Stark’s latest outing (which apparently could have been the original Iron Man 2 if the unexpected success of the first film hadn’t produced that ill-advisedly premature and hurried sequel a few years back.)
Downey delivers, as usual, and the idea of having Stark suffering from post-Avengers combat syndrome was a fascinating one.  Pairing him with the antithesis of a cute kid (Downey jnr, jnr?) lead to the film’s most charming scenes, Ben Kingsley is exceptional and Gwyneth Paltrow wears a vest top very well. But somehow this sequel fades from memory quite quickly after the climactic explosions die away.

Star Trek – Into Darkness
The biggest and perhaps only criticism I’ve heard of this film is that “It wasn’t as good as the first one”.  I suspect chances were it was never going to manage that particular feat, and I personally loved Abram’s second Trek.  An intriguing refracted image of the original Star Trek 2, on steroids, it also managed to tell an exciting, original story and the large cast were well-served.  Benedict Cumberbatch shows why he is everywhere at the moment.

Man of Steel
I’ve wrote plenty about this film here
and it just might be my favourite cinema experience of 2013 due to the intense feeling of relief that this man can still make us believe he can fly.  Perhaps a little cold and nihilistic at times, this is none-the-less the best possible start for the ‘other’ comic superheroes’ advance on the big screen. Led - as is only right - by Superman. Watch out Marvel!

 Pacific Rim
Aargh. How could this come from the mind of the same man who made Pan’s Labyrinth? As clanking and colossally monstrous as its ‘stars’, but not in a good way.  Please redeem yourself with your Lovecraft film, Mr Del Toro.

Song for Marion
Not seen on the big screen, we enjoyed this, appropriately, in more intimate surroundings at home.  A lonely man struggles with the loss of his wife only to finally realise that good can come from any situation and it’s never to late to change.  This is the epitome of a well-made, modestly budgeted British film with several hundred times more heart than anything on offer at the multiplexes, as brilliant performances and plenty of humour take you through a spectrum of emotions before thankfully coming to rest on ‘life-affirming’.  It probably helped that the original General Zod: Terence Stamp, the ninth Doctor: Christopher Eccleston, and the gorgeous Gemma Arterton were in the lead roles, too.

The Magic of Belle Isle
Perhaps a state-side answer to Song for Marion, another loveable curmudgeon finds redemption and a second chance due to the irrepressible natures of those around him, and a dog called Spot.  Morgan Freeman brings even more charisma than usual to the role of disabled former-author Monte Wildhorn and the every-day eccentricity of Belle Isle, combined with priceless, and sometimes elaborate, dialogue helps make this lovely little film irresistible.

The Day of the Doctor
I saw the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special with my wife and father, in a cinema packed with fans of all ages, in 3-D.  The audience was roughly 50% female, some wore Matt Smith costumes, some took their parents, even their Grandparents (or is that the other way-around?).  This alone would have been enough to burst my sad little fan-heart with joy, but impossibly, The Day of the Doctor actually lived up to its hype.  After a very patchy series earlier in the year, the programme-makers somehow got back in touch with the essence of ‘Who’ just in time, and literally gave us a celebration which had something for everyone.  Twelve (“No sir; thirteen!”) spinning little blue boxes felt like every Christmas present ever, arriving all at once.

Beyond the Edge
A late arrival (saw it yesterday!) and well-worth inclusion. I researched Hillary and Tenzing’s climb fairly exhaustively earlier this year (see infographic below), but this documentary finally conveyed what the climb was actually like, from the treacherous Khumbu icefall to the terrifying vertical Hillary’s Step. Superb research gives new insights to a story already familiar to many, while beautifully filmed recreations of key events convey the emotion and spectacle.  The achievement is humbling, yet stirs National pride at the same time, and our cat carries the name Ed with justified honour.

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