RANKED: Quentin Tarantino

In a new feature I am going to attempt to rank the works of some of my favourite directors worst to best. On the eve of The Hateful Eight’s cinematic release there would appear to be no better starting point than QT.

11. Death Proof (2007)

‘Hey, Pam, remember when I said this car was death proof? Well, that wasn’t a lie. This car is 100% death proof.’

Death Proof – Todsicher

Death Proof is the only Tarantino flick that I actively didn’t enjoy. Whilst the Grindhouse concept was a solid one, Robert Rodriguez’ entry Planet Terror worked much better than Death Proof which at it’s best had a stunning soundtrack but at it’s worst feels like a cheap Tarantino knock off.

10. My Best Friend’s Birthday (1987)

‘I don’t give a shit what unruly Julie plays on her show…’

hqdefault
That’s Tarantino on the left.

My Best Friend’s Birthday is barely a film at all. Filmed in grainy black and white and incomplete due to the final reel being destroyed in a fire, My Best Friend’s Birthday still contains all the hallmarks of what would later make Quentin Tarantino a cinema legend – monologues about pop culture, violence, drugs and fucking brilliant music.

My Best Friend’s Birthday is rough around the edges but it is worth watching for Tarantino completists.

9. Four Rooms – The Man From Hollywood (1995)

‘A hatchet as sharp as the devil himself’

four-rooms-632298l.jpg

Four Rooms was a project perhaps doomed from the start due to it’s ambition. Four very different directors each direct one segment based in a hotel room whilst Tim Roth’s bellboy Ted links the four stories together.

Aside from the forgettable opening segment (featuring Madonna), Four Rooms mostly works pretty well and Tarantino’s closing segment The Man From Hollywood is perhaps the highlight. Also notable for an uncredited cameo from Bruce Willis.

8. The Hateful Eight (2015)

‘A bastard’s work is never done…’

Brody-The-Hateful-Eight-1200

Of all Tarantino’s lesser films, The Hateful Eight is perhaps the most frustrating. All the pieces are in place for a classic QT movie with a great cast, a smart script and some beautiful cinematography. Like with Django Unchained however, Tarantino struggles to keep things going to the end and The Hateful Eight also drags on far too long.

Every Tarantino film is still an event but his next project will perhaps not be quite as anticipated after the disappointment of The Hateful Eight. Also loses marks for crimes against guitars

Read my full review of The Hateful Eight here.

7. Django Unchained (2012)

‘D-J-A-N-G-O… The D is silent.’

controversial-django-unchained-action-figures-are-pulled-off-the-shelves.jpg

There is no doubting that Django Unchained was a massive success. Three great performances from Jamie Foxx, Di Caprio and Christoph Waltz drive a quite frankly, fucking crazy movie.

I enjoyed Django but I found the relentless violence to be a bit cartoony at times in a way that doesn’t really fit like it did in Kill Bill for example.

6. Jackie Brown (1997)

‘AK-47. The very best there is. When you absolutely, positively got to kill every motherfucker in the room, accept no substitutes.’

Jackie-Brown.jpg

Jackie Brown often gets overlooked after following two of the best films of the 90’s in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction but judged on it’s own merits it is a brilliant piece of work. From Pam Grier’s kick ass turn in the titular role to Bobby De Niro’s hilarious performance and taking in Samuel L. Jackson’s ridiculous pony tail, it is ludicrous that a film as good as Jackie Brown doesn’t even crack Tarantino’s top 5.

5. Kill Bill: Vol 1 (2003)

‘That woman deserves her revenge and we deserve to die.’

killbill1.jpg

Kill Bill is a love letter to Tarantino’s many influences and is a full blown assault on the senses as it looks and sounds fucking phenomenal. The first entry sets the scene for the sequel but Kill Bill Vol.1 is a brilliant piece of work in it’s own right and of course it has an amazing  soundtrack. We all knew Uma Thurman was cool but wow! Just wow.

4. Kill Bill: Vol 2 (2004)

‘And what, pray tell, is the five-point-palm-exploding-heart technique?’

kill_bill_vol_2_movie_67105-1920x1200.jpg

It is almost impossible to choose between the Kill Bill films but Vol. 2 just edges it with more memorable scenes and the unforgettable ending.

Kill Bill Vol. 2 became more than the sum of it’s influences to become one of the most original and memorable films of the 21st century.

3. Inglourious Basterds (2009)

‘We got a German here who wants to die for his country! Oblige him!’

basterds-fix.jpg

Inglourious Basterds is the perfect storm of Tarantino at his most focused along with breakout performances from Christoph Waltz and Michael Fassbender as well Brad Pitt’s finest hour since Fight Club.

The obligatory excellent soundtrack is flanked by one of the most memorable opening scenes in movie history to form vintage Tarantino.

2. Reservoir Dogs (1992)

‘I don’t tip because society says I have to. All right, if someone deserves a tip, if they really put forth an effort, I’ll give them something a little something extra. But this tipping automatically, it’s for the birds…’

5-things-about-reservoir-dogs-facts-trivia-20th-anniversary

The film that started it all. Reservoir Dogs is Tarantino’s first feature length film and a seminal work. An incredible cast, one of his finest soundtracks and perhaps Tarantino’s finest dialogue were the catalyst for everything else that would come later including…

1. Pulp Fiction (1994)

‘And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy My brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay My vengeance upon you.’

pulpfiction

Quite simply one of the most stylish, iconic and influential films ever made. There are certain films that are so good they are universally loved by everyone, Pulp Fiction sits alongside Shawshank Redemption, Jaws and Back To The Future as one of the greatest ever movies.

Like him or loathe him as a person, there is no denying that Quentin Tarantino has been responsible for some of the most important cinema ever produced.

4 TV Shows I Should Have Stopped Watching Ages Ago

4. Family Guy (256 Episodes)

family guy.jpg

Why It Was Good: When Family Guy hit in 1999, it found the middle ground between The Simpsons traditional sitcom setting and South Park‘s more offensive, challenging world and became a pop culture phenomenon.

Whilst never quite as good as The Simpsons or South Park, Family Guy was arguably funnier than either at its best.

Best Moment: Family Guy exists in a world of quick fire gags, so classic episodes are slightly hard to come by. Despite this, the Star Wars episodes are a genuinely wonderful achievement.

Why It Is Rubbish Now: When a show relies almost entirely on one liners and cutaways there will inevitably become a time when the jokes dry up. Family Guy has no story line to fall back on, so after 256 episodes it has become akin to watching a crap sketch show.

To be fair the current series has been a slight return to form but after the shitshow that was Season 13, Family Guy literally couldn’t have gotten any worse.

3. Soccer AM (700+ Episodes)

SetWidth590-max3
Max Rushden: Much Missed

Why It Was Good: Let’s get one thing straight. Tim Lovejoy is a cock. Despite overseeing Soccer AM‘s peak years (because people are stupid), it wasn’t until Max Rushden took over in 2008 that Soccer AM hit its stride and became more than just a juvenile football show.

Being a Cambridge fan, Rushden understands the lows and lows of being a lower league football fan and brought an everyman quality to a show that had previously come across as blokish and smug.

Best Moment: Max Rushden being shopped by Jack Whitehall as a night club sleaze was truly magical – ‘So Rushden slinks in with two Jaegerbombs and is just like ‘ooh… unbelievable teckers!”

Why It Is Rubbish Now: Soccer AM has always been an excuse to stretch a football highlights reel to two hours but Max Rushden held it all together by not taking himself or the show too seriously. Lovejoy was the complete opposite end of the spectrum but at least he was something. New host John Fendley is a plain Muller Rice, the box of Cornflakes in the multipack, the pack of fruit in the happy meal…

2. The League (82 Episodes)

cast

Why It Was Good: The League is supposed to be a show about Fantasy Football and when it stuck to those parameters it was without a doubt one of the funniest shows on TV. Any show that can boast Seth Rogan as one of the least funny characters definitely has something going for it.

Best Moment: *SPOILERS* Kevin’s utter shock and horror at losing the Shiva in the last minute culminating in him telling his child to ‘shut your face’ is a joy to watch.

Why It Is Rubbish Now: Where shows like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Parks & Recreation expanded their universe and reaped the benefits, The League seems to have forgotten why it was so good in the first place. This year’s season has been the worst thing I have seen on TV this year, truly awful.

1. The Walking Dead (75 Episodes)

1e587e89-bbdc-424e-8335-775578423ef9

Why It Was Good: A relatively good cast, breathtaking special effects and a strong story line ensured that The Walking Dead was hailed as one of the best TV shows of the year when released back in 2010. Season 1 was brilliant, Season 2 seemed to drag at the time but I would take ten episodes on the farm over ten minutes from one of the later episodes hands down, and Season 3 was strong as well.

Best Moment: *SPOILERS* All of the first season was brilliant (Come back Merle!) but The Walking Dead peaked in the penultimate episode of season 2 as Shane and Rick finally faced off.

Why It Is Rubbish Now: Where to start… The remaining cast have either been around so long that nobody cares if they live or die or they are totally interchangeable zombie fodder. The plot is slow, predictable and incredibly repetitive and the recent shambolic handling of Glenn’s storyline was indicative of how out of control the writers of The Walking Dead have become.

It is an incredibly big ask to stretch a zombie apocalypse out over 75 episodes and many years and The Walking Dead has undoubtedly failed to remain captivating.

Other Shows That Became Rubbish:

  • Californication
  • Homeland
  • Community (but then it became good again)
  • Penny Dreadful
  • Robot Chicken

Top Ten Albums of 2015

After tackling the Top Ten Songs and Top Ten TV Shows of this, the year of our lord 2015, I have now turned my attention to the best albums released in the last 12 months.

10. Will Butler – Policy

Will Butler took a break from his day job of playing a thousand instruments in Arcade Fire to produce this gem of a solo album. Butler maintains the eccentric style of Arcade Fire but with a much more upbeat rocky sound to wonderful effect.

Best Track: What I Want

For Fans Of: Arcade Fire, Virgins, Hockey

9. Tame Impala – Currents

You get the feeling that Tame Impala are one massive single away from being the next alternative band to make the crossover to the mainstream but instead of chasing the dollar, Tame Impala have stuck to their guns and produced perhaps their best album yet in Currents.

Best Track: Let It Happen

For Fans Of: Radiohead, Ty Segall, Daft Punk

 

8. The Maccabees – Marks To Prove It

Loads of people loved the third Maccabees album Given to the Wild, I found it to be wishy washy and forgettable. With their fourth effort however The Maccabees have combined the melodic energy of their first album with the darker sound of second album Wall of Arms, to form an album that is arguably as good as either.

Best Track: Spit It Out

For Fans Of: The Futureheads, Future of the Left, Foals

 

7. The Wonder Years – No Closer To Heaven

More than perhaps any other band on this list The Wonder Years mean something to their small but devoted scores of listeners. A new Wonder Years album is more than an album, it’s a call to arms and an arm round your shoulder. Whilst they were never going to top The Greatest Generation, The Wonder Years have moved their sound forward and remain far and away the most vital band in the emo punk genre.

Best Track: A Song For Ernest Hemmingway

For Fans Of: Jimmy Eat World, Alkaline Trio, NOFX

 

6. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

Along with Wolf Alice and Father John Misty, Australia’s Courtney Barnett has been one of the most successful new artists to hit in 2015. Sometimes I Sit and Think… follows a series of critically acclaimed EP’s and lead single Pedestrian at Best was everywhere in 2015.

Best Track: Pedestrian at Best

For Fans Of: St. Vincent, Dan Bern, Frank Turner

 

5. Frank Turner – Positive Songs For Negative People

Frank Turner is perhaps one of the most unlikely chart heroes of the last decade which shows that despite his niche folk/punk style it is his personality that grants Turner universal appeal. Positive Songs For Negative People was the second consecutive Frank Turner album to reach number 2 in the UK album charts. Don’t be surprised if the next one is number 1.

Best Track: Get Better or The Last Storm

For Fans Of: Levellers, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Bragg

 

4. Spector – Mothboys

It was a risky move for Spector to spend three years following up début album Enjoy It While It Lasts but it has helped them develop a more sprawling and expansive sound culminating in masterful single All The Sad Young Men as well as maudlin sing alongs Bad Boyfriend and Decade of Decay.

Best Track: All The Sad Young Men

For Fans Of: Maximo Park, Lightspeed Champion, Wombats

 

3. Circa Waves – Young Chasers

What happens when you cross the Arctic Monkeys with The Strokes? Liverpool’s Circa Waves are the answer. Merging The Strokes sunny sound with the Arctic’s lovelorn lyrics, Young Chasers is the most underrated album of the year and also the best released by a British Band. Not weird enough for the Mercurys, Young Chasers is, at it’s core, just a fucking brilliant pop album.

Best Track: Lost It

For Fans Of: Strokes, Razorlight, Arctic Monkeys

 

2. Modest Mouse – Strangers To Ourselves

Finally on their sixth album Modest Mouse have produced an album that isn’t just five great tracks and a lot of filler. Strangers To Ourselves is tight, funky and focused with Ansel, Lampshades on Fire and The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box among some of their best work.

Best Track: The Ground Walks, With Time in a Box

For Fans Of: The Hold Steady, Talking Heads, Black Keys

 

1. Gaz Coombes – Matador

Whilst 2012’s Here Come The Bombs was a solid if forgettable album, Matador is cinematic, eclectic and on a much grander scale to anything else in Coombes’ back catalogue. Deservedly nominated for the Mercury Music Prize, hopefully the attention garnered by Matador will turn a new generation of fans on to the wonderful Supergrass.

Best Track: The Girl Who Fell To Earth

For Fans Of: Radiohead, John Grant, Everything Everything

 

And in no particular order, the best of the rest:

20. Noel Gallagher – Chasing Yesterday

19. Blur – The Magic Whip

18. Wolf Alice – My Love is Cool

17. Reverend & The Makers – Mirrors

16. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

15. Cribs – For All My Sisters

14. Menace Beach – Ratworld

13. Vaccines – English Graffiti

12. Foals – What Went Down

11. New Order – Music Complete

 

 

 

The Top Ten Best TV Shows of 2015

Here lies a comprehensive list of the ten best TV shows I have watched in the year of our lord 2015. They aren’t all necessarily new shows but all have released a season in 2015 that I have really enjoyed.

DISCLAIMER – Obviously I am only one person so there is probably loads of stuff I may have missed this year (The Last Man on Earth) or haven’t finished watching (Daredevil) as well as some shows that haven’t fully aired yet (Peep Show).

So without further ado: Continue reading “The Top Ten Best TV Shows of 2015”

COMING SOON: 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS FILMS – PART 2

winter-is-coming-card

Last year’s 12 days of Christmas films involved tears, tinsel and Tim Allen.

Just like last year I will be watching and reviewing 12 films in 12 days from the 12th of December up to the 23rd.

Here are the 12 Christmas films I will be watching for 2015:

1. A Very Murray Christmas
2. Surviving Christmas
3. Four Christmases
4. How The Grinch Stole Christmas (Remake)
5. The Snowman/Father Christmas
6. Polar Express
7. Die Hard 2
8. Star Wars Holiday Special
9. A Christmas Story
10. Gremlins
11. Miracle on 34th Street (original)
12. Nightmare Before Christmas

 

Top 5 Edward Norton Characters

Ed Norton is a tough actor to pin down having appeared in critically acclaimed blockbusters, indie flicks and disappointments. For every Fight Club there is a Death to Smoochy

Despite never quite scaling the heights that his talent fully deserved, Ed Norton is without a doubt one of the greatest living actors. Here are 5 of his most compelling and memorable characters.

5. Monty Brogan – 25th Hour

Best Quote: Too long to transcribe here but see above video. Well worth a watch even out of context.

Best Moment – The above rant, whilst brilliantly written by David Benioff, is bought to life by a self righteous and toxic Norton who somehow also brings a sympathetic edge to what is basically a diatribe of hate. It is also one of the great on screen monologues.

Spike Lee’s 25th Hour is an underrated gym that not enough people have seen. It is perhaps more poignant than ever given recent events and bubbling tensions.

4. Lester ‘Worm’ Murphy – Rounders

Lester_Worm_Murphy

Best Quote: ‘I guess the sayings’ true. In the poker game of life, women are the rake man. They are the fuckin’ rake.’

Best Moment – Worm returns to Matt Damon’s Mike McDermott’s life like a whirlwind destroying everything in his path. This is never more devastating then when Worm surprises McDermott while he is hustling a poker game for cops… it doesn’t go well.

Like 25th Hour, Rounders is a criminally underrated gem. It is also bang in the middle of Norton’s golden run starting with Primal Fear and taking in American History X and Fight Club.

3. Mike – Birdman

birdman-riggan-meets-mike-shiner-played-by-edward-norton

Best Quote: ‘Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.’

Best Moment: Mike is undoubtedly one of Norton’s more abrasive characters. Mike’s initial arrival on the set of Riggan’s play is a tour de force in snarky, passive aggressive, douchebaggery from Norton who appears to be relishing every second of playing such an arrogant jack ass.

In his later career Norton has had much more success playing supporting characters such as in Birdman, Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom.

2. Derek Vinyard – American History X

american-history-x-kapak-fotografi-2

Best Quote: ‘If you come near Danny again, I will feed you your fucking heart, Cameron.’

Best Moment: Perhaps unfairly American History X will always be remembered for the infamous ‘curb stomp’ scene but Derek losing it over the family dinner table at his mother for dating a Jewish man is just as powerful.

American History X is the 32nd best film ever made according to IMDB users despite only being nominated for 1 Oscar. Like Shawshank Redemption before it however, American History X is now receiving the plaudits and the audience it initially deserved, years after the fact. Derek Vinyard is Ed Norton’s best performance but not his most iconic character. That plaudit belongs to…

1. The Narrator – Fight Club

2mrun7l

Best Quote: ‘I am Jack’s smirking revenge…’

Best Moment: In a film bustling with memorable scenes it is nigh on impossible to pick just one. The opening hushed narration, the first fight with Tyler, crying into Bob’s tits, the destruction of Jared Leto, the heart wrenching finale of watching society collapse with Marla by his side etc.

The defining moment for the Narrator however comes when Tyler burns his hand with Lye. Norton’s screaming and wincing makes the pain seem real and his beautiful realization ‘it’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything’ frames the rest of the movie.

Top 5 Kevin Smith Partnerships

The fictional ‘ViewAskewniverse’ that Kevin Smith has created has struck a chord with people the World over who see themselves, in the geeky idiosyncrasies and insecurities of the main characters. Kevin Smith’s films are awash with Heroes and Sidekicks – just like the world of comic’s that Smith loves so much. Here are five of the best of them…

5. Banky Edwards & Holden McNeil

1429159345_ccda9d7b41_o

Played by: Jason Lee and Ben Affleck

First appearance: Chasing Amy

Best moment: Narrowly pipping the ‘tracer’ argument from the opening scene, is the glorious moment when Banky finally realizes that Alyssa is lesbian and the sexy song she has just sung was not for Holden but for Kim. Jason Lee’s smile paints a thousand spiteful words.

4. Bartleby & Loki

angels

Played by: Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

First Appearance: Dogma

Best Moment: The slaughter of the Mooby executives with Bartleby constantly undermining Loki’s ‘penchant for the dramatic’ is hilarious and well written. The fictional Mooby’s brand would go on to play a big part in the Kevin Smith universe. Not least for the next two clowns…

3. Dante Hicks & Randal Graves

clerks

Played by: Brian O’Halloran and Jeff Anderson

First Appearance: Clerks

Best Moment: Hard to pick just one defining moment from two movies that are basically Dante & Randal sitting around talking but the ‘home truths’ scene at the end of Clerks is surprisingly hard hitting and emotionally resonant as Randal flames Dante for blaming everything on others and telling him to ‘shit or get off the pot’.

2. Brodie Bruce & TS Quint

brodie-and-ts

Played by: Jason Lee and ‘TV’s Jeremy London’ (to quote Jason Lee from the Mallrats DVD commentary.)

First Appearance: Mallrats

Best Moment: The taking over of Mr. Svennings dogshit game show has some killer lines (‘When Jaws popped out of the water…’) but their initial entrance to the Mall where they bump into that dick from the Fashionable Male and Willam’s sailboat is Brodie and TS’ finest hour.

1. Jay & Silent Bob

jay-silent-bob

Played by: Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith

First Appearance: Clerks

Best Moment: Finally getting their own movie is obviously a wonderful achievement but in terms of the characters themselves surely (SPOILERS) buying the Quick Stop at the end of Clerks II is their crowning glory. Taking the whole franchise back to where it all started. Snoogans.

Foo Fighters – A Retrospective (Part 2)

In Your Honour 7/10

in-your-honor
The bold or stupid decision to make a double album concludes the same way for nearly every band – with one great albums worth of songs and lots of stuff that should have been B sides. In Your Honour is no different and the choice to make one album of hard rocking songs and one album of acoustic fare – or ‘the bottle and the hangover’ as Grohl described it – further damages this record. That’s not to say there aren’t lots of great songs on both disks. Album opener and title track In Your Honour is a stirring call to arms dedicated to the legions of Foo’s fans and written specifically to be played in massive arenas. Elsewhere on the first disk classic Foo Fighters single Resolve is perfect for a lazy summer afternoon (doesn’t work as well walking around a grim Doncaster shopping centre it turns out) and The Last Song has a wonderfully sing along chorus. The main event on disk 1 is the monster single and worldwide hit Best of You, still one of the most loved tracks in the Foo’s back catalogue but I prefer second single DOA, by far the most assured song on the album and one of the best of the Foo Fighters latter career.
The acoustic disk is a surprise as Grohl had only ever really hinted at this side of his song writing on Walking After You and a smattering of others and it is a surprise to see just how good some of the softer songs come across. If you took a couple of songs off of side 1 and replaced them with the brilliant What If I Do and Another Round you would have one of the greatest albums this band had ever produced. Another Round also marks the departure from early 2000’s post grunge to classic 70’s rock in Grohl’s song writing.

One impressive thing is that the songs on In Your Honour are designed to be played in front of huge crowds, many bands have succumbed to the pitfalls of writing music specifically for this purpose (KOL, Razorlight, Coldplay to name a few) but Foo Fighters are a band that seem just as comfortable in a tiny bar as they do as festival headliners which is one of the reasons they remain perhaps the biggest rock band on the planet.

Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace 6/10

FOO FIGHTERS
So the Foos entered the studio for album number six full of confidence after the huge success of In Your Honour with the intention of pushing the band ‘out of our comfort zone’ which is odd as E, S, P & G sees Foo Fighters settling into what would become their standard sound and what would also provide the blueprint for every album that followed. Grohl stated this album would be an attempt to marry the two different sounds present on In Your Honour into one satisfying whole but in reality there are no real risks taken on the Foo’s sixth album. It opens as strongly as any Foos album since The Colour and the Shape with the brilliant quartet of The Pretender, Let it Die, Erase/Replace and album highlight Long Road to Ruin but from there it all goes a bit middle of the road. Come Alive is totally forgettable Foo’s by numbers, Cheers Up Boys (You’re Make Up is Running) is nothing more than a great song title and Statues is an example of the 70s rock sound the Foo Fighters seemed to have settled into going forward.

Of the more softer efforts Stranger Things Have Happened is definitely a success and would have been one of the stronger songs on the acoustic disk of In Your Honour but But, Honestly and Home are sunny if plain additions to the long list of Foo’s filler album tracks.

It is in the first four songs and particularly mammoth singles The Pretender and Long Road to Ruin where the secret to the Foo Fighters longevity lies. Their ability to produce massive hit singles keeps them relevant in the pop mainstream whilst a reliance on their past classics and the influence of Grohl himself (plus the return of Pat Smear) keep a foot in the door of the underground music scene. Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace is the sound of a band resting on their laurels but when the musicianship is so accomplished it barely matters.

Wasting Light – 8/10

Foo-Fighters
If Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace was the smug feeling of satisfaction upon eating a particularly nice meal than Wasting Light is the bratty belch that follows. There is an urgency and insistence to Wasting Light not seen since Stacked Actors era Foo Fighters. Brilliant album opener Bridge Burning is more fast paced than anything on the previous two records and is just a really fun track. Obligatory huge single Rope sounds like the better songs from One by One and it is nice to see the Foo’s treating their own back catalogue with the same reverence they clearly hold for the 70s rock they grew up with. Maybe it is the full time return of Pat Smear or the fact they recorded this album entirely in Grohl’s garage but for the first time in a long time there seems to be a real fire in Grohl’s belly as the spiky guitars of Dear Rosemary and heavy riffage of White Limo attest to.

Wasting Light is also the first album since The Colour and The Shape that you can say if it were released by a young up and coming band people would sit up and listen and that is as big a compliment as any for a band seven albums in. It wouldn’t be a Foo’s album without a number of forgettable album tracks (A Matter of Time) but there is definitely more killer than filler on Wasting Light.

Album closer Walk is not only one of the top ten best ever Foo Fighters songs but it is also a testament to how good a songwriter Grohl is. He can marry hard rock songs, alternative post grunge and stadium fillers on the same album in a way that only the very best artists can (REM are another good example of a band with this ability).

Wasting Light is a welcome and passionate addition in a very strong back catalogue and I struggle to think of another band who could say the same thing 7 albums in.

Sonic Highways – 10/10

140811-foo-fighters-sonic-highways-album
After the surprising brilliance of Wasting Light it was difficult to see how Foo Fighters would improve on this. I was initially excited when I heard that Grohl would be recording each song in a different American city as part of a documentary for HBO but I could never have guessed how comprehensive, emotionally charged and just downright fantastic that documentary would be. This was hinted at on the very interesting film Sound City that Grohl made about the famous Los Angelas recording studio but Sonic Highways is a different proposition. The list of artists interviewed is diverse and impressive with everyone from Arctic Monkeys to Dolly Parton having their say on cities such as New York, Austin and Los Angelas. The result is that there really is something for everyone who is a fan of music (so everyone then) to enjoy.

It is almost irrelevant that the album this process begat is actually not as thrilling as the one that preceded it. The album opens in the style we have become accustomed to – with two massive singles. Something from Nothing is fresh and catchy and probably the best thing on the album. Hot on the heels is shouty toe tapper The Feast and The Famine. From there it almost irrelevant that this is the Foo Fighters at their most indebted to Elton John, Cheap Trick, Neil Young et al. It is the story and the documentary behind the album that make this one of the most enjoyable releases of 2014. Sure there is good stuff beyond the first two tracks. Congregation will be yelled back to Grohl by fans for years to come and at only 8 songs I can confidently say there isn’t a bad song on the album but in thirty years’ time it will be the breathtaking documentary that accompanies the album that people will remember and continue to enjoy and it is for that reason that I have awarded this album full marks. For the first time in over ten years I can say I am genuinely really excited to see what Grohl and Co. will do next.

Here is part 1 for anyone that missed it:

https://robwatchesmovies.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/foo-fighters-a-retrospective-part-1/

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS FILMS

winter-is-coming-card

Day 12 – It’s A Wonderful Life 8/10

‘Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.’

Its-a-wonderful-life

And so to the finale. It’s A Wonderful Life is far and away the most acclaimed Christmas film of all time so a fitting end to this series and a nice dose of sentimentality after two hours of Bruce Willis in a dirty vest.

#26 in the IMDB top 250 and with Oscars coming out of its arse like stuffing from a turkey, we are talking about the daddy of Christmas films. The strange thing is until the final half hour there is barely a mention of Christmas. The ending is so uplifting and famous though and that is what people remember. Director Frank Capra takes a long time to get to that point though. Taking over two hours to convey the message ‘be thankful for what you have’ could have been a little indulgent but it is the performance of Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey (surely one of the most likeable movie characters ever) that pushes this film along and keeps the viewer engaged.

It is a testament to the films quality that nearly 70 years and untold cultural shifts later It’s A Wonderful Life still stands up and will continue to find a new audience at Christmas time for years to come.

Day 11 – Die Hard 9/10

‘Now I’ve got a machine gun… Ho Ho Ho!’

diehard-hohoho-full

A Christmas film in the loosest sense of the word in as much as it takes place vaguely around Christmas time, the real reason for its inclusion here was as an excuse to make my girlfriend watch it. If Christmas is about one thing it is forcing other people to do things they don’t want to do for your own selfish reasons…

For me as well though any excuse to watch Die Hard is always welcome. Not only is it the definitive action film but Bruce Willis’ John McClane is also the definitive action hero.

What makes Die Hard great is that it is not all about the main star as other action films tend to be. Fleshing out the supporting cast is loveable kid killer Al, who is McClane’s only route to the world outside of Nakatomi Plaza, Argyle the limo driver who manages to stay on the right side of offensive black stereotype (just), and of course the wonderful Alan Rickman as Hans Gruber – one of the most memorable villains in movie history.

Another distinction between Die Hard and its peers (including later movies in the series) is that it is somewhat grounded in reality. McClane is not a superhero but just a cop who with a lot of luck and street smarts manages to take down a criminal operation. Obviously the story is unlikely but nothing here is impossible.

All in all Die Hard is not just the best action movie of all time it is one of the greatest films period, which is why it is such a shame that the preposterous A Good Day to Die Hard exists at all.

Day 10 –  Scrooged 8/10

‘Well, I’m sure Charles Dickens would have wanted to see her nipples.’

5c6abd297ba0

So to me what is probably the main event of this entire series. Bill Murray’s masterpiece (in Christmas movie terms) Scrooged.

Part remake, part spoof of the classic Dickins tale, Scrooged is a weird film even by 80s standards. Just as comfortable with cartoonish violence as with heart tugging emotional scenes, it could have been an utter disaster if not for Bill Murrays brilliant performance as the protagonist. Murray can make anything funny but he has a genuinely clever and witty script to work with here and there are countless laugh out loud moments. Crucially most of the effects are simple and effective and they still hold up today and the ones that don’t are so ridiculous it doesn’t matter that they look a bit dated.

Stinking the place out with a rubbish performance is Indiana Jones’ main girl Karen Allen who I suppose doesn’t have much to work with being as her character is such a massive wet lettuce and continual doormat for Murray but nearly every scene featuring Allen feels unnecessary.

Particularly memorable are the three ghosts with the ghost of Christmas past a particular success and Scrooged is worth viewing for the mental concept behind the ghost of Christmas future alone. Things had started to get a bit saccharine since it’s been a few days since Bad Santa but Scrooged was the perfect remedy for that and a good precursor for Die Hard tomorrow.

Day 9 The Santa Claus N/A

‘ ‘

269-16553

It turns out that watching 12 films in 12 days at this time of year is a logistical nightmare.My plan was to go out for a friends birthday, have two pints (wait for it to all blow over – wink), then return home for a civilised night with Tim Allen and Judge Reinhold. Instead what transpired was, I had seven pints of real ale, stumbled home leathered and stared incomprehensibly at Tim Allen’s smirking face for forty five minutes before giving up and going to bed.

I really tried to follow what was going on but at one point I was seeing double Tim Allen’s and literally nobody wants that.

Day 8 – Jingle All The Way 3/10

‘You can’t bench press your way out of this one’

Jingle-all-the-way-fight

If you showed this film to somebody now who had no knowledge of Arnold Schwarzenegger they would be so baffled as to why this ever got a cinematic release. I haven’t seen an Arnie flick for a number of years and I had never before realized how much of a truly terrible actor he really is. Obviously I still love him, not just for kitsch value but for the huge part he played in my childhood. You can’t argue with Terminator & T2, Predator, Running Man, Total Recall etc… You can however argue with Jingle All The Way.

The highlight of this film from a technical stand point was when I nodded off for ten minutes and had a dream that I lived in a wooden shack with a lovely old loyal dog. I awoke to one of Arnie’s three facial expressions staring back at me. Truly when you stare deep into Arnie… Arnie stares back into you.

As with Elf, this is not a film I had the pleasure of viewing as a kid and while I am really glad I finally watched it as it is definitely an experience there is no denying it is just awful. To be fair this is a film completely of its time that would never be made today but it is a pretty fair indication of the 90s culture that seemed to result in every single idea anyone had immediately being turned into a feature film.

Jingle All the Way is a kids film that features a man explicitly trying to have sex with his neighbours wife. It takes in a genuinely offensive racial slur (shaking like a dog in a Chinese restaurant). The acting, script and execution are truly terrible all the way through. It is however, a film that when I compiled this list for the 12 days of Christmas films was one of the most requested so director Brian Levant (responsible for such masterpieces as Problem Child 2 and The Flintstones Movie) obviously did something right.

Day 7 – National Lampoons Christmas Vacation 7/10

‘Where do you think you’re going? Nobody’s leaving. Nobody’s walking out on this fun, old-fashioned family Christmas. No, no. We’re all in this together. This is a full-blown, four-alarm holiday emergency here. We’re gonna press on, and we’re gonna have the hap, hap, happiest Christmas since Bing Crosby tap-danced with Danny fucking Kaye. And when Santa squeezes his fat white ass down that chimney tonight, he’s gonna find the jolliest bunch of assholes this side of the nuthouse.’

national_lampoons_christmas_vacation_image.jpg

Christmas Vacation is the third of National Lampoon’s… Vacation series and I must admit before beginning I haven’t seen any of the others so there is probably loads of stuff that passed me by here. I still love this movie though and it is in my top five Christmas films. Unlike the cloying sweetness of stuff like Miracle on 34th Street and Elf, Christmas Vacation is closer to a real family Christmas what with the turkey being ruined, the Christmas lights not working and putting up with borderline insane relatives for days at a time. It’s also a bit different as it ends on Christmas Eve so doesn’t have the big Christmas day pay off that renders all the films in this genre a bit samey.

As it came out in 1989 Christmas Vacation is obviously a little bit dated now (animated intro anyone?) but when you have Randy Quaid and comedy God Chevy Chase heading up the cast the majority of jokes are going to land and there are many laugh out loud moments along the way. The kind of Christmas film I imagine Scrooge would enjoy.

Day 6 – Elf 6/10

‘You sit on a throne of lies!’

Elf-will-ferrell-1745019-800-450

Elf is the first film on the list that is neither new to me or beloved from my childhood. I was about sixteen when I first saw Elf so I was too busy listening to Slipknot and wearing black nail varnish to have any time for Christmas films (apart from maybe Black Christmas or A Nightmare Before Christmas...) so Elf passed me by at the time. I did catch it a couple of years later but I wasn’t that impressed and I have to say after a second viewing it still didn’t do a great deal for me.

Anchorman and Everything Must Go aside, I’m not actually that into Will Ferrell and he is consistently loud and irritating as Buddy. Being flanked by Zooey Deschanel who always toes the line between adorable and downright annoying doesn’t really help either and it is telling that the funniest scenes are the ones that Ferrell isn’t in at all (The brilliant scene where Peter Dinklage is pitching children’s literature ideas and the funniest part of the movie where the interviewee is in love with the television reporter).

James Caan looks at Ferrell with as much disdain as I felt towards the character so I enjoyed the scenes between the two more than the stuff involving Ferrell prancing around making noise.

Elf is the film I have enjoyed least on this list so far but I’m sure it is loved by people who grew up watching it.

Day 5 – Miracle on 34th Street (1994) 7/10

‘I’m not just a whimsical figure who wears a charming suit and affects a jolly demeanour. You know, I’m a symbol.’ – Santa Claus/Batman

Miracleon34thStreet1994-Still1CR

Day five of 12 days of Christmas films and I feel like I have eaten the cinematic equivalent of a full selection box so sickly sweet, that it is all becoming too much for a cynical, miserable old turd like myself. Miracle on 34th Street is the most traditional and festive film yet and at nearly two hours long it did get a bit much towards the end. However Richard Attenborough really is superb as Kris Kringle. If Santa is real I want him to be like this. I firmly believe it would feel really safe and warm sitting on Attenborough’s knee. He even cracks a few jokes. Banter Claus if you will.

It is weird seeing Saint Nick in a courtroom drama but those scenes are probably the best in the movie with dreamy lead Dylan McDermott also putting in a strong performance as the lawyer defending Santa. That little girl from Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire is adorable once again but it is a smart move to fade her character out a bit in the second half as I think she would have started to grate on me eventually.

Miracle on 34th Street has absolutely no edge and it takes zero risks but sometimes a straight up heart warming fable is called for and never more so than at Christmas.

Still waiting for the dark crossover sequel A Nightmare on 34th Street where Kringle is burnt to death by local residents and he comes back in a green sweater and emerges from the fireplace with knives for fingers to murder the children.

Merry Christmas.

Day 4 – Home Alone  8/10

‘Keep the change ya filthy animal!’

19

The first movie on the list that isn’t specifically about Christmas but it does take place over the Christmas period and features various xmas songs on the soundtrack.

Writer John Hughes had barely put a foot wrong what with the success of his much loved Shermer films Sixteen Candles, Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Weird Science etc but it was with Home Alone that he really hit the jackpot.

Home Alone is still in the top 50 highest grossing films worldwide and it made a huge star of Maculey Culkin albeit briefly. The real stars of Home Alone however are the hapless and brilliantly named Wet Bandits portrayed by the always hilarious Joe Pesci, and Daniel Stern. I have also loved John Candy since seeing Cool Runnings and Uncle Buck as a kid so his cameo as Gus Polanski – polka king of the Midwest – is also a plus point.

Culkin is certainly confident and he has a certain charm but it is difficult to see why he became such a massive star on the strength of this film. I much prefer Devin Ratray as Culkin’s bullying older brother Buzz. I have often longed for a spin off pairing Buzz up with Biff Tannen from Back to the Future where they go on a spiritual and existential journey but alas nothing has materialized.

Home Alone is not a brilliant film from a technical stand point but it is a real, bona fide classic and for many people of my generation it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.

Day 3 – Bad Santa 8/10

‘Why don’t you wish in one hand, and shit in the other. See which one fills up first.’

bad-santa_billy_bob_thornton

After the saccharine sweetness of Santa Claus, Billy Bob Thornton’s anti Claus is a welcome change of pace. If you are looking for something a bit risqué but still Christmassy then don’t watch this. Especially don’t watch it with your family. If you want to see Santa drinking, smoking and whoring his way across the advent calendar though then look no further than Bad Santa.

Thornton is superb as mall Santa Claus and thief, Willie. He is disgusting, foul mouthed and by all accounts a truly terrible person but Thornton somehow makes him likeable to the point that in the genuinely emotional conclusion I was actively rooting for him. It is a testament to the quality of Thornton’s performance that even though Bill Murray and Jack Nicholson were considered for the lead role, I don’t think anyone could have pulled this off as well as Thornton does. Brett Kelly is also superb as The Kid that acts as Willie’s potential salvation, matching Thornton’s scowl with blank nothingness. Elsewhere Bernie Mac is a pleasure as always displaying more humour with one look of disdain than Chris Tucker could with a thousand loudly screeched sentences.

The most Christmassy thing about Bad Santa is the score which is made up entirely of well known classical music including stuff from The Nutcracker which I always assume has something to do with the festive season despite knowing nothing about it (and being too lazy to research it properly).

This was director Terry Zwigof’s follow up to much loved cult classic Ghost World but for me Bad Santa is more cohesive and definitely funnier if not as quirky. If you have nobody to pull your cracker with and you find yourself surrounded by empty beer cans and overflowing ashtrays this Christmas let Bad Santa make you feel better about yourself.

Day 2 – Santa Claus 7/10

‘Santa Claus doesn’t tell lies’

dpYw85wNHQj1GJyjkjI8pMqRozb

Santa Claus plays like three very different movies all squashed into one. The first is like a Marvel origin story for Santa complete with tragic beginnings and rebirth. This film takes place entirely at the North Pole and is about as Christmas as anything could ever be. The set looks like the ghost of Christmas present has been sick everywhere so resplendent is it in red, green and gold.

The second part is a truly terrible piece of cinema about Santa befriending the most orphany orphan since Oliver Twist upon which time all sorts of sickly, heart warming events transpire.

The third and most brilliant plot line involves a rogue elf unwittingly teaming up with an unspeakably evil toy executive to try and respectively save Christmas and make loads of money by blowing up children. This is as brilliant as it sounds especially with John Lithgow channelling his inner (Jolly Saint?) Nic Cage with a wonderfully over the top performance as the exec.

santaclausbdcap4_original

On a serious note though Santa Claus  is all heart and crucially Dudley Moore respects the role of Patch the Elf (in the same way Michael Caine did with Scrooge in Muppets Christmas Carol). Sure it’s sentimental and some of the acting is atrocious and one moment of product placement featuring McDonalds is so blatant that I half expected Santa to eagerly proclaim ‘I’m loving it’ into the camera with a cheeky wink, but isn’t that what Christmas is about? Sentimentality and crass consumerism? Humbug!

Day 1 – Muppets Christmas Carol 10/10

There is no such thing as objectivity when it comes to Christmas films. You can’t look at one Christmas film and say that is definitely better than another one. Your preference depends on what you were brought up on. Just as there is no answer to the Coco Pops vs Sugar Puffs debate, one could not provide an unequivocal winner in a battle between Scrooged and Miracle on 34th Street. For me you can forgot the tree going up, the Coca Cola advert or my Dad starting to drink a single malt with every meal, Christmas begins when I watch The Muppets Christmas Carol.

The-Muppet-Christmas-Carol-2

Before Adventure Time and Pixar, The Muppets followed the trail blazed by Looney Tunes in not talking down to children. Muppets Christmas Carol takes in themes of omniscience, death, regret and redemption while still staying faithful to Dickins’ beautiful prose. Perhaps if Disney had taken a leaf out of The Muppets book they wouldn’t be producing such turgid affair as Frozen.

At the heart of this anthropomorphic retelling of the Dickins classic is a wonderful performance from Michael Caine as Scrooge. He plays it straight and adds gravitas to the heavier scenes towards the end shared with the ghost of Christmas yet to come (always the life and soul of the party).

The juxtaposition of classic literature with familiar Muppets classics such as heckling old men, singing mice and talking frogs, always seems surprisingly natural and it never jars. The songs are mostly on point, even when Michael Caine starts warbling like someone’s uncle at a New Years Party and because of the aforementioned refusal of The Muppets to patronize the audience there are many genuinely laugh out loud moments throughout.

For me Muppets Christmas Carol simply IS Christmas and perhaps for the first time ever on this blog I am not afraid to use the word magical.