Horrorthon 2017

I really enjoyed Horrorthon film festival in Dublin when I went in 2014 but missed the last two years due to other commitments. I didn’t want to miss out again this year so I made a special effort to keep the bank holiday clear in order to see as many movies as possible. I really enjoy the mix of screenings: from older “classics” which can be great to see on the big screen, to new movies which I don’t have any expectations about, and also discovering different documentaries.

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Tragedy Girls

I went along to the opening night (a Thursday after work) on the strength of the buzz surrounding Tragedy Girls (2017), which stars Alexandra Ship and Brianna Hildebrand (both from X-men-related fame). This decision proved to be a good one as the film ended up being my favourite of the festival. It was funny, the lead characters had great chemistry and there were lots of sly homages to classic movies, including a particularly inspired Cannibal Holocaust set piece. The surprisingly bleak ending was refreshing: refusing to let the girls off the hook for, basically, being monsters.

I also bought a full day pass for the Saturday and Sunday and wanted to see as many films as I could over those two days. Saturday started with the “classic” Eaten Alive (1976), by Tobe Hooper. Now, I’m a big defender of Hooper’s work post Texas: I love Poltergeist, Salems Lot and Lifeforce, but this was just awful. The soundtrack was like nails on a blackboard and the characters were somehow even less palatable. Apart from one good scene of crocodile-related carnage it was mostly a tedious experience.

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Tag

I got far more enjoyment out of the Hitchcock documentary 78/52 (2017), as I do enjoy listening to people analysing great movies (and it inspired me to watch the original film again). The next film, Tag (2015), was one of the few films representing J-horror at the festival. From the trailer (seriouly, dig it out) I knew it was going to be bizarre and I sort of verged between hating it and loving it as it went along, but in the end I was won over as it somehow created a coherent ending out of seemingly unconnected set pieces.

The best film of the day was undoubtably the Brazilian shocker Our Evil (2017). This started out as a weird mix of torture porn and dark drama before turning into a sort of Lynchian supernatural fantasy. It was properly disturbing and scary and kept me guessing throughout. Next for me was Victor Crowley (2017) a sequel to the Hatchet film series which I haven’t seen. While the film isn’t really my thing, I can appreciate why people enjoy it and I must admit I laughed and jumped in all the right places.

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Our Evil

I ended my Saturday with Fashionista (2016). Midnight is not the best time to sit down for a Nicolas Roeg-inspired art film, but Amanda Fuller’s performance was so compelling that I kept awake (although someone did snore through the entire movie) and was glad that I stayed up.

I started my Sunday with the documentary King Cohen (2017), which was a very entertaining romp about a very charismatic film maker. I also enjoyed the short films selection and, while there were too many to mention, I was particularly impressed by animated film Winston (2017) about paranoia in a remote locale and Spanish dark comedy RIP (2017) about a man who ruins his own funeral by waking up alive, only to have his mother and wife try to kill him so that they won’t lose face.

Every year the secret film is the most popular: when I was there in 2014 it was the The Town That Dreaded Sundown remake (which I enjoyed), and in 2015 it was The Witch which is an awesome film. This year I was genuinely worried it would be the awful-looking Leatherface, but thankfully it wasn’t. It was weird watching a Christmas film in October, but as soon as the carol singers kicked in I knew it was Better Watch Out (2017). The pitch is “Home Alone as a horror film” but, although there were some timely digs at male chauvinistic behaviour, it wasn’t funny or violent enough to really work. Weirdly, it didn’t even seem to make use of the Christmas setting and overall it was a bit of a let down. (PS. I’m in the minority here it seems).

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Better Watch Out

68 Kill (2017) was my last film of this year and it was as offensive and bad taste as any exploitation film, but it made for a welcome jolt in the arm after the lacklustre Better Watch Out. It was so fast moving and incredibly funny that it was easy to forgive the grossness; the plot was held together by Matthew Grubler’s likeable performance, and some great evil characters played by Anna Lynne McCord and Sheila Vand. From the reactions around me it was a real crowd pleaser and a fitting end (for us) at the festival.

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End Of The Road 2017

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I hadn’t been to a music festival for about 3 years and I was really starting to miss them. For all the endurance required; the sleepless nights, only washing with wet wipes, queuing for portaloos; there is something magical about coming together with people just to have a good time. The wonderfully laid back End Of The Road has always been one of my favourites, so I eagerly snatched up early bird tickets before the lineup was out, as I had confidence that it would be good. Thankfully, my confidence was not misplaced and when Father John Misty and the Jesus & Mary Chain announced, I knew it would be as excellent as ever.

 

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Slowdive

 

We able to arrive on Thursday and it was great to get there early and set the tent up at a leisurely pace before the main 3 days. It was even nicer to be able to see a band as legendary as Slowdive, kicking things off with an epic opening night headliner. Also, as there was no disco, I didn’t make the same mistake as previous years, getting so wasted on the first night that I was destroyed for the rest of the weekend. This meant I was uncharacteristically awake and enthusiastic to start by the time Friday morning finally rolled around…

Friday

 

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Parquet Courts

 

My favourite part of End Of The Road is chilling out at the Garden Stage during the day, drinking beer and discovering new music. This is especially fun to do if the weather allows you to sunbathe on a picnic blanket between sets, as it did on the Friday. The opening act was Aaron Lee Tasjan who played some nice songs and told some good stories. He was the first country cowboy to make sure the crowd knew he wasn’t a supporter of Trump: a common theme for the US performers this weekend.

 

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Parquet Courts

 

Next up was Julie Byrne. I really like her current album but due to technical difficulties her set didn’t have the chance to get going, although there were some pretty moments. Thankfully Parquet Courts, playing next on the main stage, didn’t suffer any sound issues and I think their brilliant and raucous set may have permanently damaged my hearing. Afterwards, Real Estate got everyone dancing but I sort of felt like every song sounded the same.

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We didn’t bother staying for Mac Demarco as I have never got into his music, despite trying, so instead we headed back to the Garden Stage to see Lucinda Williams headline. It was an intense set and the band were stunning but, for me, the stand out moment came when she pared it all back to just her voice and an acoustic guitar to play The Ghosts Of Highway 20. It was the very best of country music: personal and lived but also universally relatable, and it made for one of the most intimate moments of the weekend.

 

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Lucinda Williams

 

Saturday

The sun came out again on the Saturday morning and despite being hungover (we were out until 3am in the Disco Ship) the tent became so unbearably hot around 8am that we had to venture outside. I slept for a bit in the shade under a tree but I made sure to set my alarm so we wouldn’t miss seeing Courtney Marie Andrews and later Nadine Shah, who were both excellent.

 

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Courtney Marie Andrews

Later, as the sun was setting, Alvvays tempted us down to the main stage to enjoy a fun and energetic set of indiepop tunes. Unfortunately, through no fault of their own, the subsequent set by Band Of Horses was the only disappointment of the day. They played with a passion that was let down by an unlistenable sound mix. Despite the crowd chanting “bass down” and a couple of people complaining to the sound desk, it was never fixed so we left early to catch Car Seat Headrest instead.

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Nadine Shah

 

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Alvvays

 

 

 

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Alvvays

 

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Band Of Horses

 

Thank god that the main stage sound regained a reasonable balance in time for headliner Father John Misty. This was his first festival headlining slot and he had a full band, backing singers and even a small orchestra with him. Undoubtably the highlight of the weekend, his set was full of great songs carried by a charismatic and often chaotic performance that really was first class. He came across a bit like how I imagine Benedict Cumberbatch’s Sherlock Holmes would be if he fronted a Nick Cave cover-band. Saturday night was then completed by Father John Misty’s midnight mass, an indie-disco mash up back in the disco ship!

 

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Father John Misty

 

 

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Father John Misty

 

 

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Father John Misty

 

Sunday

On Sunday it felt like summer ended and autumn arrived overnight as the temperature dropped and the rain didn’t stop all day. This was actually a blessing at first, as the tent stayed cool and the rain muffled any sounds from the outside, meaning we were able to get an above average amount of sleep. I was finally tempted out to see Nadia Reid, Alison Cruchfield and the Spook School playing in the Tipi Tent early in the afternoon. The latter was a must see after their Indietracks performance had created such a buzz earlier in the year.

 

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Alison Cruchfield

 

We finally gave in and stood out in the rain for Waxahatchee, who had pulled in a large crowd despite the weather. We were now so wet that there was no point going back inside, so we stayed out longer (with the addition of a hot cider) and warmed ourselves dancing to Amadou & Mariam. Deerhoof were next in the Big Top, a band I’ve always wanted to get to know but for some reason hadn’t. They were so good that, after seeing them live, I am now working my way through their back catalogue.

 

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The Spook School

 

The final “big” headliner of the festival were the Jesus & Mary Chain who put on a pretty intense set on the final night. My only real complaint was that there was maybe too much of their brooding dark rock music all in one go, at least too much for me to fully digest. After their set we headed to see Japandroids, who, with sheer energetics, managed to wake me up even though I had been flagging for a few hours by this point. I was so rejuvenated that I even managed to make the “secret” shows, over in the Tipi Tent, enjoying a late night set from Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever and ending the festival on a high.

 

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Waxahatchee

 

 

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Amadou & Mariam

 

Monday

On Monday morning I felt dreadful but it was totally worth it for 4 great days of music. I can’t believe I waited so long between festivals – I probably won’t let myself miss out again next year. Early bird tickets are already on sale for End Of The Road 2018 and, once I get paid, I might be severely tempted…

 

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Jesus & Mary Chain

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My Top 10:

  1. Parquet Courts
  2. Father John Misty
  3. Deerhoof
  4. Lucinda Williams
  5. Alvvays
  6. Jesus and Mary Chain
  7. Nadine Shah
  8. Courtney Marie Andrews
  9. Japandroids
  10. Spook School

 

Amy’s Top 10:

  1. Father John Misty
  2. Amadou And Mariam
  3. Lucida Williams
  4. Nadine Shah
  5. Courtney Marie Andrews
  6. Alvvays
  7. Nadia Reid
  8. Deerhoof
  9. Japandroids
  10. Spook School

 

 

#ThisIsYourFilm

Being a person that can’t resist making lists, I went ahead and did the #ThisIsYourFilm hastag on Twitter. The basic idea is that you pick a film from every year of your life.

To make things easier I used the IMBD release dates and filtered by the films I had rated on the website. I then did my honest best to pick the film that meant the most to me from each year, picking personal nostalgia/engagement over “gravitas”. I had to use gut instinct or the list would have been too pretentious. What I found interesting is how much the list reflects the era I grew up in and the films that were really popular on DVD at the time: films like Goodfellas, Toy Story, Jurassic Park and Battle Royale hold a great deal of nostalgia for both childhood and university. More than I expected.

What also surprises me is how many of my favourite films are missing, having come out before I was even born. I am also slightly disappointed that there are only 9 foreign language films on there, although just under half (14) are not American productions.

Here is the list in full:

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A new golden age of horror?

After a period of major studio remakes and found footage knock-offs, it feels like scary movies are once again being reclaimed by intelligent film makers outside of the mainstream. Subsequently, the last four years have had loads of great releases and it has felt like a new golden age. Let me explain further…

The seeds of this revolution may have been sown by Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish language films, as well as Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, J. A. Bayona’s the Orphanage and Alejandro Amenábar’s The Others. The literary tradition of the gothic horror genre has always lent it respectability, but the critical plaudits received by these films have surely helped usher in a new indie credibility.

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Recently, indie filmmakers seem more interested in adding a twist to the classical gothic themes, such as the Iranian vampires in A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) or the hipster romantic vampires of Only Lovers Left Alive (2013). It Follows (2015) gave us modern fears wrapped up in a supernatural curse and we got one of cinema’s most convincing devils with the goat Black Philip in The Witch, 2015. We have even had ghost stories, the best since Japan started exporting haunted videotapes, such as the Babadook (2014) and Under The Shadow (2016), set during the Iran-Iraq war.

Away from the gothic, Bone Tomohawk (2015) transported a group of Cravenesque cannibals to the classical western movie genre and Green Room (2015) played up to prescient fears of neo-nazism in a stunning confined-space thriller. Zombie movies had become as dumb as their protagonists (especially when trying to complete with the epic Walking Dead on TV) but Train To Busan (2016) and the twisty Girl With All The Gifts (2016) show there is somehow life left in the undead. Even some mainstream hits such as Don’t Breathe (2016) and M Night Shyamalan’s big return in Split (2017) (which I found slightly overrated) were interesting.

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I am yet to see The Wailing (2016) and I Am Not A Serial Killer (2016) but I am convinced that horror is as strong as it has ever been: the year ahead looks excellent with Prevenge, The Bad Batch and The Love Witch all due out. The world is becoming a scarier place every day, and horror movies have a way of feeding off modern fears. Let’s hope they continue to do so in such original and interesting ways.

 

 

My top top films and albums from the past year.

I think everyone has pretty much acknowledged by now that 2016 was a little bit shit. The human suffering in the Middle East doesn’t seem to be abating, there was a pretty dodgy referendum vote in the UK, many of our favourite pop and movie stars have passed away (Bowie, Cohen, Prince, Carrie Fisher…) and as for America, the less said about that the better! The rise of hatred and fear so close to home is a genuine worry and 2017 will probably turn out to be this year’s hangover.

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Notebook of films released this year that I got to see, either at cinema or on DVD/On Demand.

What we have all needed is escape and thankfully (I think at least) this has been one of the best years for movies in a while. 2016 has not been all bad, honest! I am a huge fan of genre films as anyone who follows my twitter would know, and this year has been a stellar year. 2016 has given us gems such as Bone Tomohawk, Hateful Eight, High Rise, Green Room, The Girl With All The Gifts, Don’t Breathe, 10 Cloverfield Lane and The Witch. We have had some good arthouse movies too, not least American Honey, Paterson, Nocturnal Animals, there have been some good major releases including Room, Spotlight and the Revenant at the start of the year. We also got the biggest laugh for ages from the hilarious Deadpool.

There have been some good music releases too and even though I am always a bit behind on the times when it comes to music, I have enjoyed the new albums from Parquet Courts, Car Seat Headrest, Angel Olsen and PJ Harvey. There were some good gigs in Dublin and we got to see Suede, Neil Young, Mitski, Dinosaur Jr and Danny Brown. After a year like this it will be interesting to see where film and music will go: I imagine darker, but who knows. Maybe we will instead clamour for more love, happiness and understanding as the real world is already dark enough.

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My 15 favourite movies:

Managed to see a good portion of films released in 2016 thanks to Irish Film Institute membership and a Cineworld Unlimited Card. I also ended the year binge watching a lot that I had missed. The only rule for this list is that the film had general release into the cinemas in 2016, here are the 15 best I picked out:

1.Embrace of the Serpent

2.Green Room

3.Hell and High Water

4.Bone Tomohawk

5.The Nice Guys

6.10 Cloverfield Lane

7.Victoria

8.Hunt for the Wilderpeople

9. When Marnie Was There

10.The Revenant

11.Nocturnal Animals

12.Anomolisa

13.Room

14.Everybody Wants Some

15.High Rise

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My 10 favourite albums:

I always end up listening to the best releases from a certain year too late to make a meaningful list but below are the albums I enjoyed the most. Special shout out to new albums by A Tribe Called Quest, Bon Iver and Frank Ocean which I am currently listening to and enjoying, but haven’t heard enough to make a meaningful judgment.

1.Angel Olsen – My Woman

2.Car Seat Headrest – Teens Of Denial

3.Mitksi – Puberty 2

4.Danny Brown – The Atrocity Exhibition

5.Parquet Courts – Human Performance

6.PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project

7.The Avalanches – Wild Flower

8.Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

9.Solange – Seat At The Table

10.Nao – For All We Know

My thoughts on Prince

I’m not one to get worked up about celebrity deaths, but Prince; man, that was unexpected. There are so few artists that I have such a deep affection for, almost an obsession with, that have died in living memory that it’s weird to take in. I remember first hearing the album Purple Rain as a teenager – it had been copied onto a battered 320MB pen drive by a friend. I didn’t think I needed to listen to Prince at that point: I was into punk rock and thought he was just a foppish singer from the 80s, but after hearing the rolling organ intro to Let’s Go Crazy, the winding guitar in When Doves Cry, the grinding Darling Nikki and, of course, the epic title track, I was hooked.

I kept loving Prince throughout University and wanted to share how brilliant he was with everyone. I remember drunkenly hijacking a party playlist at a scientific research institute in Germany, playing nothing but Prince songs from the Love Symbol album. I can think of at least 4 girls I dated who were forced to sit through a double bill of the films Purple Rain and Sign O’ The Times (with footnotes on how amazing Sheila E’s drumming is). I often played Prince songs far too loud and drove atleast one flat mate crazy. I first got together with my girlfriend because I needed someone to dance to Prince when it came on at a clubnight (Death By Shoes in Sheffield). Everyone knows I love Prince – I got plenty of Facebook comments and messages yesterday.

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There is something weird and thrilling about Prince as a person. The fact he could barely get through a song without some sort of horny break down. The obsessive perfectionism: there are a huge number of his songs where he played every instrument on the recordings, even adding female backing vocals by speeding up his own voice. There was that weird period where he changed his name to a symbol to try and get out of a record contract, and that even weirder time when he decided to release a (pretty piss poor) album exclusively in the Daily Mirror (as good as Prince’s classics according to, er, The Daily Mirror). He also shared a lot of his best songs (Manic Monday, Nothing Compares 2 U) with others and helped out a lot a musicians, giving a lot of fantastic female performers a platform that is hard to find in a male dominated industry.

Prince has always been both a huge talent and an enigma. The obituaries out today may mention Purple Rain and Nothing Compares 2 U, but my favourite songs include Cream, Get Off, Housequake, Little Red Corvette, Sign O’ The Times, Raspberry Beret, Kiss, My Name Is Prince, Sexy MF… there are just too many to mention. I am gutted I never will get a chance to see Prince live, as he is remembered as a fantastic performer as well as a great recording artist, but I am glad I discovered his music when I did. Here’s to Prince, rest in peace you sexy motherfucker.

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A cinema adventure 2016 – the first 3 months.

I barely saw anything at the cinema in 2015, so this year I decided to give myself a good kick up the backside and go as often as possible. My first step was a subscription to Cineworld Unlimited, so I would be guilt-tripped into making sure I at least got my money’s worth (and it would maybe encourage me to see films I wouldn’t usually rush to see), and my second step was to renew my subscription to the IFI so I could still enjoy their more obscure film selection.

The first quarter of this year kicked off with 3 Westerns (and Jane’s Got A Gun is out soon), making for a sort of surprise renaissance. The most talked about of these was The Revenant, which is partly a dark masterpiece and partly a giggle at the lengths Leo will go to win a Best Actor Oscar (I spent the entire film wondering what crazy thing he was going to do next). Seriously, I kept forgetting I was watching a movie and instead felt like I was watching a bizarre episode of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, where a washed-up Leo has to fight a Bear and then eat a Bison liver to win meals for his camp-mates.

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The Hateful Eight may have lacked the propulsive narrative of the best Tarantino’s, but I still thought it was a great ride – especially at the stunning 70mm presentation I saw at the IFI. The epic white shots of the landscape had the same atmospheric efficiency as its obvious influence the Day Of The Outlaw, which set it apart from the more scenic landscape of the other “Western in the snow” this year, The Revenant. As good as it was though, the best Tarantino-esque Western of 2016 so far isn’t by Tarantino: it’s by a new guy and it’s called Bone Tomohawk.

Yes, Bone Tomohawk is very Tarantino. As well as sharing his sharp ear for dialogue and penchant for extreme violence (actually, to be honest, the ending is closer to the brutality of Takashi Miike’s Audition), Bone Tomohawk also borrows its structure from From Dusk till Dawn. But, like all the best Tarantino films, it has bags of originality alongside the influences. Somehow the “The Searchers meets The Hills Have Eyes” plot really works and it is also very scary in places. Another great entry into the “new wave” of more interesting horror that is currently building momentum in the post “torture porn” world (see also, The Babadook and It Follows).

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The film I most need to re-watch so far is martial arts film The Assassin. This is partially because it was filled with beautiful images and atmosphere – filmed in an unusual aspect ratio for an epic – but also partially because it was impossible to follow. That’s not really a criticism, the dreamy logic was part of what made the film great; even if I did, at times, wish I wasn’t deliberately being held at such distance by the director.

Heading deep into Oscar Season we had plenty of serious films, made by serious people and filled with serious performances, to enjoy. It doesn’t get more serious than Spotlight, which was an enjoyable twist on All The President’s Men. Room, along side the Revenant, was the best of the Oscar contenders, turning a pretty dark concept into something great that was filled with humanity. These films really earned their nominations, but I was disappointed not to see Straight Outta Compton up there too.

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Its not Blockbuster Season yet but we have already had some good ones. Mercifully, The Force Awakens wasn’t a let down, largely thanks to BB8. Seriously, I could have happily spent the 2 hours watching him roll about with no plot or context, and would have still bought the T-shirt. Deadpool is the breakout super hero of the year (although not as original as some people claim, has everyone forgotten Kick Ass?) and it was a great romp.

For pure entertainment value this year though, there hasn’t been a film to beat Disney’s Zootopia. It is up there with Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E as one of the best cartoon films since the start of the computer animation boom. The world building of the city is outstanding, showing up many more serious sci-fi and fantasy films with its vast levels of detail, really showcasing the potential of CGI. Kung Fu Panda 3 may have paled in comparison, but was still an enjoyable watch – perhaps the best of an already solid franchise.

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As well as films by Tarantino and Iñárritu, the other great directors to release a movie this year were the Coen Brothers. Hail Ceasar! is enjoyable, filled with pastiches of Hollywood and nods to Barton Fink, but is also possibly their least emotionally engaging work to date. Ben Wheatley’s High Rise was even more decisive and even though I loved it, many didn’t and at least 10 people walked out of the showing I was at. I missed Ballard’s prose but enjoyed the laugh-out-loud dark humour (which you would expect from the team behind Sightseers). It may be a failure in some ways, but I prefer interesting failures to boring successes.

…and that was the first 3 months! 12 films is already more than I saw all of last year, so lets keep this up. What have I got to look forward to? Lots! A new X-Men film, Suicide Squad, Finding Dory…lots of good looking independent releases. Pheww!