Arrival – Film Review

No More Workhorse


Arrival– Film Review by Gareth Stack

Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the short story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker

Nobody makes science fiction movies anymore. What?! I hear you say. Aren’t they the only movies these days? And sure, if you walk into a random screen in a multiplex anywhere on the planet, chances are there’ll be a franchise superhero movie playing. Star Wars has recently seen a reboot, arguably besting the original. Ridley Scott’s masterpiece Blade Runner is due to receive a sequel next year. JJ Abrams Star Trek ‘re-imaginings’ are popular and indeed fun. But this revival of interest in the fantastical is deceptive. While Marvel and DC movies, and even the techno futuristic work of Christopher Nolan may play with the tropes of science fiction, they are emphatically not SF. For a…

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No More Workhorse Review


Generally, I can’t abide criticism. Outside of academia, it serves little function beyond banal consumer recommendation. However, my principles won’t get me free cinema tickets, now will they? Here’s my first wee report for No More Workhorse.

Todd Phillips made a career out of fusing comedy with ‘high concept’ action, raking in a fortune from the Hangover trilogy. Hill transcended gross out comedy to earn an Oscar nomination for his outsized role in Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street. Teller, hazed in a series of frat house comedies, gained attention for his turn in critical darling ‘Whiplash’. So can the Philips succeed in wringing engaging and humorous performances from such promising leads?

Read the rest.

45 movies to see before you die

I’m posting this because I want you to recommend me some movies. Little gems I haven’t seen, but would enjoy. Check out my list (and watch the movies!) and tell me what I’m missing. The mini reviews are from my facebook flixster app ratings.


Whit Stilman Trilogy
Metropolitan (1990), Barcelona (1994), The Last Days of Disco (1998)

Not one film, but three, Whit Stilman’s charmingly barbed portraits of a group of archetypal upper class Manhattan neurotics, rival anything Woody Allen has produced. Stilman manages to effectively satirise his characters, while whilst drawing them humanely, and with great affection. These movies exist in a kind of glossy nostalgic realm, a quirky modern American Merchant ivory of débutante balls and fairytale discotheques. Stilman’s dialogue is absolutely superb, Noel Coward crossed with Richard Linklater. Highly recommended.

Twin Peaks – Fire Walk with Me

Amazing, Lynch’s distinctive noirish fusion of utopian suburbia and it’s unseemly underbelly at its most visually esoteric and disturbing. Amazing performances by Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer, and Ray Wise as the macbethian Leland Palmer. Last but not least, a David Bowie cameo. Astonishing stuff. For those who say it lacks the series distinctive comedy, watch the first twenty minutes (almost a separate movie) again.

Before Sunset

The (second) greatest love story ever filmed. Two people talking for an hour and twenty. That ladies and gentlemen is why Richard Linklater is a genius. If you have a soul you will cry like a pussy.

Waking Life

Linklater, director of Before Sunset and Before Sunrise, and the dreamy 70’s highschool comedy Dazed and Confused, creates his most personal and experimental work, a trippy rotoscoped voyage into the nature of dreams, consciousness and life itself. Unmissable.

Ringu (Ring)

Perhaps the most genuinely terrifying movie ever made. Ringu uses ambient sound, atmospheric staging and subtle performances to disturb on a unconscious level. Forget Sarah Michelle Gellar, ignore the weak sequel and prequel. This is the greatest Japanese horror of all time.

Chasing Amy

The movie that finally made it ok to be bisexual in America. I kid. Easily Kevin Smiths best (and most underrated) film. An honest, and very funny, exploration of sexual orientation and the relationship between the sexes. Why did he have to go back to fart jokes?

Empire Records

Funny, sexy, singable, danceable; and infinitely memorable. This is the movie American teen comedies aspire to be. Watch it for a young Rene Zellweger and Liv Tyler, burning holes in the celluloid. Watch it for the deadpan Zen of Lucas. Watch it for the pitch perfect stoner abandon of Mark. Watch it for a portrait of the pre-grunge 90’s. Just watch it.


To cite a cliche, Tarnation is a film that raises more questions than it answers. For all it’s flaws, a glimpse of the future of film-making, both in terms of it’s dynamic and fluid fusion of drama and documentary, and in it’s use of the montage of found footage to construct a narrative. Worth seeing, once, with friends.

Capturing the Friedmans

A harrowing documentary and an intriguing puzzle, Capturing the Friedmans is unlike any movie you’ve seen. Jarecki’s superbly paced film is composed primarily from found footage, acres of home movies made during a paedophile scandal by the close but tragically conflicted Friedman family. The evidence against the accused son and father is gradually wound out like a lure, and each time we feel close to uncovering the truth around the films central mystery, we become again uncertain. A wonderful, terrifying film about family, and it’s disillusion, which touches on a variety of important and ambitious themes, from sexual abuse to moral panics and the ambivalence of eye witness testamony.


The early 90’s in a movie. Irreverent, both to it’s caricatures and it’s audiences expectations, clueless is a much much smarter and better made movie than is readily understood. The movie is a pitch perfect social critique, an audacious Jane Austen update, and a genuinely funny teen comedy.

Koyaanisqatsi – Life Out of Balance

A stunning documentary, made years before the derivative Baraka; which explores mans relationship to nature. Like nothing you’ve ever seen, or heard. The soundtrack from Philip Glass, and cinematography from Ron Fricke are outstanding. A perfect trip movie.

Blue Velvet

Lynch at his most disturbing. From the opening shot, to the closing frame, the glossy surface of a parodically stereotyped American dream, is pulled aside to reveal a mutant underbelly of freakish sexual desire and tragedy; an allegory of almost Greek intensity. Unsettling and beautiful, Blue Velvet epitomises Lynches thrill of the bizarre; often copied, never equalled.

A Very Long Engagement (Un long dimanche de fiançailles)

Wonderful, beautifully filmed comic love story. Which sacrifices neither its humour to its narrative, nor its drama to it wit. Audrey Tautou is almost unbearably sad and lovely as the reserved but indomitable Mathilde.


A perverse, unique look at 21st century sexuality, as epitomised by the lives of a group of esoteric libertines. Intriguing, though deeply twisted.

Before Sunrise

The greatest love story ever filmed. Utterly believable performances and improvisation from the two leads, and a witty, naturalistic and subtly ambitious script. Sublime.

Sin City

Underrated flawed classic. Easily one of the most visually interesting films ever, Sin City’s frenetic pace never lets up, even over a 2hr running time. Memorable characters and a baroque narrative, make up for the occasionally so so performances. Mickey Rourke steals the show.

How To Get Ahead in Advertising

Shocking, thrilling, absurd comedy, from the team behind Withnail and I. A deeply unsettling and confrontational film; remorselessly critical of modernity and deeply silly. Wunderbar.


Larry Clark’s genre defining film, captures the lives of working class new york kids, and they smoke dope, chug nitrous, drink, beat one another up, and most controversially, have sex. More than a ‘realistic depiction’, kids (written by Harmony Korine – himself a street kid) succeeds brilliantly in getting under the skins of it’s characters, and exploring the nature of urban adolescence.

The Devil and Daniel Johnston

A beautiful and moving documentary, following a disturbed outsider musician, who skirts the proverbial line between genius and madness.

Four Weddings and a Funeral

Proof, if proof were needed, that Richard Curtis was once funny. Most emphatically not the chick flick it is sometimes mistaken for, Four Weddings is a superb comedy of errors. Genuinely moving moments.

Pulp Fiction

Hyper kinetic, startling, hip, and timeless; Pulp Fiction is Quentin Tarantino’s magnum opus. A movie nerds dream of obscure references and knowing dialog. Pulp fiction manages to be subversive, clever, and utterly watchable. Even Bruce Willis and John Travolta are cool; and Sam Jackson at his scene chewing best.

Broken Flowers

A truly unique film. Jarmusch’s narrative touch is light as a dream, and much of the film resembles the internal emptiness of Bill Murray’s aging lothario. Somehow, the movie is so uniquely made as to convey this quiet desparation watchably. A little heavy handed in places, Broken Flowers has perhaps the greatest sound track of all time.

Lost In Translation

Sophia Copola captures Bill Murry at his most endearingly curmudgeonly, Scarlett Johansson before she burnt out in the bottom of a dye bottle, and Japan as you’ve never seen it. Tender, bitter sweat and utterly charming.

Me and You and Everyone We Know

A melo pearl of eccentric charm, Miranda July’s first feature manages to portray subtle human universals, aspects of love and longing rarely if ever portrayed on film. Touching and delicious.


A dreamy formal experiment. Less about high school shootings per say, than the intrusion of sudden violence into the flow of life, Elephant is a brave, beautiful film. Glacially slow moving and deeply romantic.


Robert Crumb is a biographers dream, a painfully awkward artistic genius, his comics redefined the nature of illustrated narrative. Here he is portrayed as the demented but high functioning survivor of a family of broken misfits. Zwigoff (who plays with Crumb’s old timey band ‘The Cheap Suit Serenaders’), provides us with a stylised, charming glimpse into a life utterly unusual, and wonderfully absurd; and a hint of the importance of creativity and individualism, as antidotes to consumerist conformity.

Ghost World

Stunningly effective comic adaptation of Daniel Clowes distinctive surreal noir. Thora Birch shines as the confused, but always stunningly dressed Enid. This movie has everything – bollywood, steve buscemi, and a rambling ice cool storyline.

Being John Malkovich

Spike Jonze mind bendingly epic trip through the mind of John Malkovich, by way of ape trauma, bizarro world cameron diaz and masterpiece puppetry. Like nothing else.


Perhaps the best articulation of Charlie Kaufmans surreal narcissism to date, Adaptation is a postmodern take on the facets of identity which define a life, and the aspects of reality which suffuse fiction. A wonderfully madcap observational comedy, featuring an incredibly unexpected performance from Nicholas Cage. Adaptation is only let down by it’s sentimental ending.

The Shining

Kubrick does horror. An operatic vision, complete with ghostly tempters, rivers of blood, an icy maze, and a haunted mansion. Jack Nicholson’s pitch perfect performance combines with John Alcott’s magnificent cinematography to produce an unequalled sense of menace. The films introductory shots from the air are still copied, and it’s use of point of view is the gold standard for the development of disturbing tension. The lengthy, taut conclusion defines cinematic nemesis. Ludicrous and terrifying.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Perhaps the greatest film of possibly the greatest director of all time. 2001 is near perfect; a tone poem vision of mankinds voyage from primeval ape to star faring superman. A classic of paleo-futurology, and an utterly spell binding beatific vision, 2001 was literally decades before it’s time. Ignore the stony performances and the glacial pace, this film is magic.

Fight Club

A directorial tour de force by David Fincher, from the cult Palahniuk novel; fightclub manages to articulate the angst of a generation born under consumerism – whilst being a hip, expensive hollywood star vehicle. An ironic, but astonishingly successful contradiction.

The Hitcher

A schlocking thrill ride, The Hitcher is one of those films – like Jonathan Demme’s ‘Silence of the Lambs’ – which transcends the conventionality of it’s premise, to produce a work of real terror. Rutger Hauer has never been better (including his turn in Blade Runner), as the mysterious, psychopathic killer.


Wes Andersons sad tale of quixotic outsider Max Fisher, is stunningly original. A true unaffected indie classic, and possibly the best of Anderson’s low energy comedies.


Nabokov’s controversial novel, brilliantly interpreted with an emphasis on it’s comedic elements. James Mason is excellent as a repressed but debonair Humbert Humbert. Peter Sellars is suitably terrifying and ambiguous as the monstrous Clare Quilty. Lacking the eroticism of the novel, but darker than many of its critics credit.


An effective noirish thriller, built around thoroughly original premise, and an excellent script. Nolan’s direction is workman like but effective. Guy Pearce is vulnerable and stunning.

The Silence of the Lambs

A beguiling thriller with captivating cinematography, a stellar cast and tight suspenseful direction. Endlessly imitated, from a wonderful novel by Thomas Harris, Silence of the Lambs is easily the best ‘serial killa’ thrilla’ of all time. Hopkin’s portrait of the insane genius Hannibal Lector is as memorable as it is unequalled in the later sequels.

Forrest Gump

Robert Zemeckis has a rare gift for infusing tacky premises with magic, and Forrest Gump – the fictive biopic of an idiotic accidental hero, is no exception. Hanks manages to transform an Adam Sandler stereotype into a character of real depth. Although it’s easy to see how film buffs can their noses up at this big budget, arguable tasteless and deeply conventional film; they’re missing the point. Gump is an inspirational, original and deeply affecting parable. A lovely film, that only Hollywood could produce.

Back to the Future

No modern childhood would be complete without a trip to Marty McFly’s sentimental portrayal of 1980’s and 1950’s America. Proof positive that Robert Zemeckis is up there with Spielberg as one of our greatest popcorn directors. A smart, slapstick sci-fi classic.

Mulholland Drive

The best recent Lynch movie, a meandering soap opera from hell; Mulhollad Drive is sexy, disturbing and surreal without being confused. A twisted joy. Naomi Watt’s role’s are two of the finest performances you’ll see in any film.

Bad Taste

In a just world, Peter Jackson wouldn’t have bothered with the over long, over dull and over rated LOTR trilogy, and would have continued to make absurd, hilarious splatter movies like Bad Taste. Possibly the second goriest film of all time (the first being Jacksons later comic horror ‘Brain Dead’), Bad Taste was made over a period of years, on a minuscule budget with a cast of amateurs. It’s makers clearly loved every moment of the process. Not a great film, a great experience.


Insane, fearsomely clever (from a Tom Stoppard script), and utterly unique; Brazil is probably the most unsettling distopian vision ever filmed. Influenced by everything from Blake to Francis Bacon to Philip K. Dick, and unequalled since, Brazil is a momentous achievement, and an unflinching look at the cowardice and hypocrisies that allow evil to proliferate.

Groundhog Day

When romantic comedies are done right (both comic and poignant), they can be as entertaining as great drama. The rarity of a film like Groundhog Day demonstrates that they are at least as great an achievement. Bill Murray makes the picture.

The Unavoidable Future of Entertainment


Anyone interested in the future of television, or more accurately, the post televisual future of web distributed original video content, would do well to check out Channel 101. We’ve reviewed the site before on Technolotics, but I think its worthy of a more in depth look, as it seems to be currently flying under the radar.

While sites like Youtube and Guba, may or may not have a future primarily as redistributors of broadcast content, they’ve done little to foster the creation of original work. In fact, by restricting the length and size of files which can be uploaded (ostensibly to reduce copyright infringement), YouTube have diminished their chances of becoming a hotbed of original content. Google video, although bravely eschewing any restrictions on the length of uploaded content (whilst foolishly restricting video quality to an extremely low bit rate), does little to foster the community creation or pooling of talent needed to inspire the development of original shows and films. Note, it’s far from clear that it was ever Google’s intention to become a generator of new IP, so Google Video shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a failure – however, judging from the inability of Orkut to develop beyond a cookie cutter (and rather primitive) social network, it’s not certain that Google ‘gets’ web2.0.
Finally, Apple’s iTunes store, whilst encouraging the success of individual (usually pre-existing) IPTV shows like Diggnation, TWIT, and Tikibar TV, has and will continue to see itself primarily as a marketplace for network television in portable (DRM’d Mpeg4) formats.

To Channel 101. What is it, and what makes it important? 101 is far from your everyday nascent net-tv channel. Despite the name, the site is primarily the web distribution element of a monthly LA film festival, where participants primarily from LA (though the contest is open to anyone), of greatly varying talent and experience, submit brief (5 minute max) pilots, the best of which are selected to compete by the sites founders, and subsequently killed or given life as returning shows, according to the whims of a live audience. Audiences selected pilots are then titled ‘Prime Time’ shows, and return to compete again. Here’s how the sites creators explain the process. The system is entirely democratic, as even initially rejected pilots can be submitted to the festival (with the likelihood of audience derision), should the creator chose to call ‘a Chauncey’. The clincher is, all videos that make it to the festival are subsequently made available to download, with full RSS support – so unpopular pilots and cancelled shows can have a second life as downloadable hits.

It’s not so much that Channel 101’s show are good – as with broadcast television the majority are unwatchable – but the format provides an incentive in terms of exposure, creative cross pollination, and the excitement and pressure of a live event, for the creation of top quality shows; and top quality is the only description for some of Channel 101’s most successful offerings. Shows like the hilariously deadpan, and subliminally confrontational ‘House of Cosbys‘, or the disturbing and original fusion of CG animation and pantomime that make up ‘Twiggers Holiday‘; are original and brave in a way that network television (either side of the Atlantic) hasn’t been since David Lynch’s eponymous ‘Twin Peaks‘ back in 1991. The channel has attracted some major talent (see below), and helped foster a couple of interesting careers – Rob Schrab, the writter and star of ‘Twigger’s Holiday’ (and a co-founder of Channel 101), has gone on to co-write ‘Monster House‘ the latest Robert Zemekis produced potential summer blockbuster.

I’m not suggesting Channel 101 itself will ever be a major player in internet video creation (although I wouldn’t rule such success out), or that it’s model will become typical, but it certainly represents one methodology with creative, and perhaps as importantly, financial potential. The site currently subsists on Merchandise and DVD sales, but could easily be modified to a subscription first model (ala the delayed public release of Revision 3‘s Diggnation), , or to include advertising. My hunch is that something like 101 is big enough to keep its creative momentum going, while in the long run vidcast / vodcast / IPTV shows without an affiliation will disappear due to view / creator apathy, and the low signal to noise ratio of casual YouTube and Google Video style services.

Channel 101 Points of Note:

1) Intersects with real world creative and audience community
2) Each show is an actual vidcast – with RSS feed and iTunes listing
3) 100% original IP
4) Regularly scheduled content updates
5) Not Web 2.0 – Not a community driven web presence in the traditional sense
6) Blurs the line between short films, and regular series
7) Shows are freely distributed – but not under a creative commons or similar licence.

Channel 101 Highlights:

* House of Cosbys (hosted offsite since Cosby lawsuit)
* Chad Vader
* Twiggers Holiday

Celebrity Appearances:

* Drew Carey
* Jack Black
* Sarah Silverman
* Jimmy Kimmel (I hear he’s sleeping with someone talented)
* Cute blonde from Scrubs

Notable Creative Geniuses

* Rob Schrab
* Justin Roiland

The Tedium is the Message


Just watched the academy award winning movie ‘Crash’ for the first time. Wow. Just wow. I really feel like I learned something. Sometimes the people who at first seem the worst, are in fact the best. And something else, we’re all racist, deep down. Yeah that’s it. *Cough* That this, you’ll forgive the word, tripe, won best picture, rather than say, ‘Brokeback Mountain’, is as clear a case of homophobia as you’ll find this year. Not, please note, that I’m suggesting Brokeback was the best movie of the year, by any means. The best movie made in the year between the 2005, and 2006 academy awards, was probably made in Armenia, or Vietnam, or Holland; it didn’t make it past the art house, and you’ll never get to see it. But of the films which made it past the US centric, studio focused, homogenised, politicised and gentrified voting process of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, to rise to the lofty rank of nominee, it was the best.

If you like your message movies set in LA, focusing on the thorny issue of race, and featuring lots of intertwining stories and an all star cast, might I suggest the altogether superior 1991 film ‘Grand Canyon‘. It was even nominated for an Oscar. But of course, it didn’t win.