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fatpie42 - LiveJournal.com

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  • 12/24/14--04:25: Happy Christmas Everyone!
  • http://animatedimagepic.com/image/christmas/merry-christmas-1861.gif

    Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Diwali, Hannukah, some other festival, or are just meeting up with some friends, I hope you have a great time this week. And I should be posting again before the New Year.

    Take care everyone!

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    Interstellar (2014)

    I've been a fan of Nolan's work since Memento. Like most people I discovered the film on DVD and might have missed the film entirely had it not been for it sharing cast members with "The Matrix" (which was enormously popular at the time).

    However I've generally preferred Nolan's smaller more intimate works to his big blockbusters. For me personally, The Prestige is a much more satisfying experience than "The Dark Knight". By Nolan's standards that made "Inception" a bit of a disappointment for me. It still had the bombastic blockbusteriness of the Batman films and didn't seem to develop central characters like Memento, The Prestige or even Insomnia.



    Suffice it to say, Interstellar is still blockbustery and the stunning visuals are generally not as rich as those in Inception. (Though we have some absolutely awesome robots and a pretty incredible trip through a worm hole. So I'm in no way dissing the visuals. However, it features some much more solid characterisation. McConnaughey is absolutely fantastic in the lead role and solidly holds up the emotional heart of the film with his powerful yet subtle facial expressions. 



    Anne Hathaway is great in her role too and there's a very impressive appearance from Matt Damon. Jessica Chastain is alright but I thought she was rather outdone by the actress playing the younger version of her character.



    There's a very strong theme connecting survival and love. So it's unfortunate that possibly the worst part in the entire film is a speech Anne Hathaway is expected to deliver about how love transcends science. It's somewhat helped that the speech is given out of desperation, but unfortunately it somewhat undermines Hathaway's character's credibility as a scientist.



    Overall, since I put a lot of stock in how much I enjoy characters, I very nearly preferred this to Inception. I believed in the people involved and it wasn't only the protagonist's issues which seemed.to matter. Also the film didn't feel so exposition heavy this time. The story turned out to be pretty straightforward and.tied up neatly. (I was also very pleased we didn't run into Spielberg-esque paternal-aliens.)



    I think spectators will benefit from a background in sci-fi. Interstellar sees the return of the time dilation which made up a central part of the premise in "Flight Of The Navigator" and we also see the explanation of wormholes from "Event Horizon" but in each case those known sci-fi components get a new twist. (For example, what does a wormhole look like, on the outside and the inside?)



    Interstellar isn't perfect, but it does so much brilliantly that it deserves full credit. Still the parts back in Earth do not work anything like so well and there isn't the same consistent drama and spectacle which made Inception work so well. But this is still a great piece of work from director Christopher Nolan and just not quite so great considering the high standards now attached to that name.

    A+




    All Chris Nolan Movies Ranked


    9. Dark Knight Rises (2012)

    In spite of a great atmosphere, some of the best action set-pieces in this trilogy and the talents of Tom Hardy in the lead role, this still isn't up to scratch. Nolan has a lother of tricks up his sleeve to drag us in and make it feel epic, but beneath the surface things don't completely make sense. The entire police force are trapped underground or in hiding yet eventually they are able fight the baddies with their bare hands. Batman starts the story out of shape and yet is eventually able to perform a remarkable leap with a damaged spine and no cartilage in his knees. And Marion Cotillard's character is thin as hell. Tom Hardy's villain isn't all that special either. The ones who get to make the best impact here are Anne Hathaway as Catwoman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a potential Batman sidekick. So even at his worst, Nolan is still able to do a pretty great job.

    B-



    8. Following (1998)

    A small black and white film which starts brilliantly, exploring the corruption of an aspiring writer who has made a game out of following people. However, the final twist comes out of nowhere mostly because certain plot elements are rather hard to keep up with. Still this is more than a solid film and.well worth your time. Particularly if you are a Nolan completist. It actually benefits from being one of Nolan's smaller projects.

    B+



    7. Insomnia (2002)

    A strong Al Pacino performance as the lead and a surprisingly good performance from Robin Williams as the villain. Unfortunately the story isn't quite as good as it could be. Yet even so this still feels like an improvement on the original. (This is a remake of a Scandinavian film.)

    B+



    6. The Dark Knight (2008)

    I know everyone loves this movie, but I have.some serious problems with the third act. It feels like the Two Face villain is hurriedly crowbarred into the last section of the film. It's also a real pity that tricks Joker's arc is never really properly finished off. Clearly they wanted to bring the Joker back later and never had the chance. But there's a lot that is very good here. I won't deny that. But it's not one of Nolan's best by my reckoning.

    A-



    5. Interstellar (2014)

    Some great emotional moments, some solid new additions to the sci-fi genre (the robots, the inside of a wormhole, subverting the Steinberg parental alien) and a fantastic central performance from McConnaughey. It all ties together nicely but the parts on Earth are rather less impressive.

    A+



    4. Inception (2010)

    A smorgasbord of trippy visuals centred around a central relationship between Di Caprio and Cotillard. There's some wonderful sci-fi here. Annoyingly the many side-characters are just that, left on the side, but there's a lot of fun to be had here.

    A+



    3. Batman Begins (2005)

    My favourite Batman movie. Having Batman mentored by Liam Neeson and making a conscious decision to adopt the Bat as a symbol to strike fear in his enemies, were ideas that really spoke to me. And of course the Batmobile is a tank. Genius! And Cillian Murphy as The Scarecrow? Wow!

    A+



    2. Memento (2000)

    The movie which first got me into Nolan movies. I was convinced to watch this partly because of good reviews, but mostly because of stars from "The Matrix" in the cast.

    It seems strange that Joe Pantilano and Carrie-Anne Moss are seen so very little these days (certainly not nearly enough). Yet meanwhile Guy Peace, the star of Memento who seemed like an unknown at the time (I did not remember him from "Priscilla Queen of the Desert"), remains a huge star.

    Guy Pearce gives a wonderful performance here as a man with a curious case of amnesia. He can remember his past, but he cannot remember his present. His long term memory will not retain anything.

    This is essentially a noir thriller and the interesting psychological case makes for an interesting twist on the genre.

    A+



    1. The Prestige (2006)

    It's tough deciding which I like best out of Prestige and Memento, but once again it's an intriguing premise expertly brought to the screen. The idea of magic at the dawn of science is a curious one and the mysterious historical figure of Nikolai Tesla looms large over the central 'rival magicians' storyline.

    This is a very clever mystery with unexpected twists and turns and one of the first films to seriously explore Hugh Jackman's acting talent outside of the role of Wolverine. (That being said, I was always a little unsure as to where he is supposed to be from. Is he just randomly an American in Victorian London?)

    This is a film which takes full advantage of some excellent talent to provide a story unlike anything else. A unique film, though until following other reviewers on Letterboxd I had not realised how divisive it was.

    A+

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    I've had a bunch of reviews waiting to be posted, so I'm shoving them online nice and quickly while there's a lull in proceedings. Hope everyone has a great evening and I wish you all a much improved 2015!


    What We Do In The Shadows (2014)

    Similar style to the Flight Of The Conchords series. A group of housemates (who are vampires) work through their differences. It's a very different style of comedy from that we've seen in horror-comedies before (even from other mockumentaries) and I was laughing more and more as it went on.



    It seems to be the accepted thing, to praise horror-comedies by calling them "the next Shaun Of The Dead" (even though, as a big Edgar Wright fan, I think there are a hell of a lot of horror-comedies better than SOTD). So fair enough, this is the vampire equivalent of Shaun Of The Dead and it should, by all rights, receive a similar level of praise.



    As with any comedy there are some less funny bits. The fashion show they do wasn't quite as good as the rest (so there's my obligatory criticism). One of my favourite parts is where some police officers come to visit and things don't play out how you'd expect.

    Great fun!

    A+



    The Pyramid (2014)

    I was expecting a mummy and *mild spoiler* there isn't one. By the end we get something much much better.



    Sadly in building up to the awesome finale a lot of the film feels like padding. The characters are flat and the one guy from the Inbetweeeners is pretty irritating. (I've never seen The Inbetweeeners and yet I could sort of tell. He's definitely not playing against type.)



    Even though I really liked the final section of the film, and while there's a pretty awesomely sadistic moment part way through, overall the film was unnecessarily stupid and incredibly poorly paced.



    I was expecting better from the directorial debut of Gregory Levasseur (regular co-writer with Alexandre Aja on projects like the Maniac remake, the Hills Have Eyes remake and Mirrors). Still there was a neat twist on the genre here, so perhaps Greg'll get better in the future?

    C+



    Break of Dawn (2002)

    It's not always the case that the way a film is written can clearly outshine the way it is performed. It is more common for good writing to be buried in a quagmire of bad production decisions, presuming the writing even remains intact.



    Bizarrely this film continues to clearly refer to the characters as French even though they clearly have American accents and consistently speak in English. Initially I thought perhaps the film was dubbed, but that doesn't appear to be the case.



    While there's quite a gripping plot here, the direction and performances really let it down. When your protagonist says "I've got cancer in my blood." That should not be amusing to the audience.



    Our cancer-suffering protagonist is offered a job which will lead to his death, but which will pay out a lot of money to his family. But the job isn't all it's meant to be. It was an intriguing mystery and ought to have been an exciting action film. But the execution left a lot to be desired. Joaquim de Almeida was pretty great in spite of everything.
    (Some may recognise him as Bucho from "Desperado".)

    C-



    Like Father Like Son (2013)

    I saw a number of people recommending "Like Father Like Son" and was expecting great things until I recognised that the director was also responsible for "Still Walking". My problem with this previous outing was that while it was perfectly well performed, absolutely nothing actually happened. 

    This time around there was at least some drama. However, the protagonist struck me as comically villainous.



    When a father discovers that the child they have raised is not their biological son, due to a mixup in the hospital, you might expect them to be upset. But you wouldn't expect them to exclaim "that explains everything" and to then presume the biological child brought up in another household will have more in common with them. You particularly wouldn't expect them to try to pay the other family in order to keep both children.



    Certainly I'm happy to follow unconscionable protagonists, but the filming style does nothing to play on the drama coming across like a whimsical story or a fly on the wall documentary. No judgements are made.on this obnoxious father figure and the film seems all too quick to forgive.

    D-

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    The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies (2014)

    You know how it goes. The first movie blows you away by introducing you to a whole new world where anything is possible. The second movie is then nothing like so impressive and doesn't end properly and the final movie of the trilogy is one great big long fight scene that just goes on and on.... Yeah, that was my experience with the Peter Jackson's initial Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    I was so annoyed by the way Jackson wouldn't stick to the wonderful cliffhangers in the original books. In the first movie I could just about accept it. I mean, why end a movie with Sam and Frodo escaping while all hell is about to break loose around them. We need the battle at the end of the movie, right? Sure it meant that we finished with some rather flat speech-making about how "we're all going to get through this", but I could just about forgive that.



    But then they moved onto my favourite of the books and there were so many issues in that:

    - Gollum has multiple-personality disorder? Bad Gollum and Good Gollum are two different people? Whaaaat?

    - Strength returning to the king of Rohan plays out like an exorcism? Whaaaat?
    - Aragorn falls into a river and floats downstream a bit for no reason? Whaaat? And then helm's deep has a little side-door jumping distance from the main bridge? Whaaaat?

    But worse than any of that, they stopped BEFORE the cliffhanger! All film long I was waiting for the fight with Shelob, Frodo to be killed (or at least appear so) and then for us to finally end with Sam seemingly needing to complete the mission all by himself, suddenly thrust into the role of the hero. Yet when we finally reached that stage in the final movie it didn't seem all that impressive at all. How could it when the cliffhanger element had been entirely removed.



    Oh and while I'll admit "Two Towers" and "Return of the King" were somewhat improved by the extended editions, I still hold two major things against Return of the King. First of all, it missed out the shire. (Seriously, that is a big deal and the first movie in the trilogy did all the foreshadowing for it.) Second of all, the movie ends about 15 times (did we really need to know about Sam's girlfriend and then watch forwardflashes of him romancing her, marrying her and getting lumbered with kids and a mortgage?) But last and not least:
    "No man can kill me"
    "I'm not a man" STAB!
    *facepalm*
    (In the extended version it's made clearer that she only defeats the Nasgul because of the Hobbit stabbing him in the foot with an enchanted dagger of some kind, but in the theatrical edition it seems pretty much like the nasgul are allergic to girls.)


    This image shows the Hobbit 'Merry' stabbing the nasgul warrior before he is killed by Eowyn.

    So why am I ranting about Lord of the Rings in a review of the last Hobbit movie? Well, in case you didn't notice, Peter Jackson has DONE IT ALL OVER AGAIN! Seriously, what's all this nonsense about how the latest Hobbit movie has spoiled the memory of the Lord of the Rings movie. Heck, first time Jackson does it he gets Oscars galore and yet this time around he gets unfettered hatred. What gives?



    Yes, he's done a film which seems inferior to the previous films in the trilogy, which seems longer than ever, which seems to start off with elements which clearly should have been in the previous film and which is mostly one long uninspiring battle sequence. What else is new?



    There were some cool bits. The final confrontation between Thorin and Azog on the ice was pretty awesome. I was also pretty blown away by the giant monstrous worms (which helped to explain how a whole army of orcs were able to ambush them all at the last minute). Also, while I have some issues with how the necromancer/Sauron section was handled, the fight with the still-ghostly nasgul by Saruman, Galadriel, Elrond and Gandalf was still pretty cool.



    One thing I'd really been interested about when the decision was made to split the Hobbit into three, was what had happened between Gandalf and the necromancer/Sauron. It's practically a footnote in the actual book, but it becomes so important when Lord of the Rings starts. I was actually expecting it to take up most of the final movie. But as it is, the whole section ends so quickly and blandly that it hardly felt worth it.

    And what the hell happened to Radaghast? We began the first Hobbit movie with this all-new intriguing wizard character, yet in the following two movies he does precisely naff-all! What a waste!



    Perhaps this movie, like "Return of the King" before it, is improved by the extended edition? Perhaps my opinion of it would be similarly lifted by seeing a less butchered cut? Perhaps in the wider context the elfen woman holding her dead lover shouting "Why does it hurt so much?" and receiving the reply "Because it was real," doesn't sound like the cheesiest nonsense I ever heard.



    There were parts of the film I enjoyed, but there were so many parts where I was just bored. Oh and the hurried job of CG animating Billy Connelly was HORRIBLE. But overall I don't think the theatrical version of "Return of the King" was a hell of a lot better, to be quite frank.

    C-

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  • 01/10/15--12:59: Movie Guide 2015!

  • The Most Anticipated Movies of 2015!

    Soooo.... a new year and a new selection of movies to either be disappointed by or to go "oooh actually that was pretty good". Inevitably the really exciting films are the ones which you never saw coming, but who knows eh?

    You'll notice that "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens" only gets a footnote here. It's only in the 'considered' list at all because I'm somewhat intrigued by the idea of Star Wars without Lucas, but frankly I wasn't impressed by the trailer at all and after "Star Trek Into Stupid", J.J. Abrams last big sci-fi action movie, I'm disinclined to believe that this is going to meet the hype. I'm into the second book of the Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn and I keep thinking how rubbish it is that these wonderful ideas will never be in a movie.

    And you'll see absolutely no reference to "Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice Part One" because frankly, on top of the title being even worse than the title for the upcoming Star Wars movie, I just really do not want to see Affleck as Batman. He's overrated enough as a director, but as an actor, is anyone really interested?

    Anyway, here's the 20 films I'm most interested in now that the new year has begun...


    JANUARY


    Wild
    Reason For Anticipation: Positive reviews on Letterboxd
    UK Release Date: 16 January 2015
    Trailer link


    Ex Machina
    Reason For Anticipation: Alex Garland's directorial debut
    UK Release Date: 23 January 2015
    Trailer link

    I don't think I'll really be going to the cinema this month. I've heard a lot of strong recommendations for "Wild" with Reece Witherspoon and I'm pretty sure I'll love it when I finally see it, but I'm most likely saving it til DVD. I'm quite intrigued by the Alex Garland directorial debut, but more because I'm keen on sci-fi and because Alicia Vikander (A Royal Affair) is playing the robot rather than because I'm expecting the author and screenplay writer Alex Garland to be an amazing director.



    FEBRUARY


    Kingsman: The Secret Service
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class)
    UK Release Date: 12 February 2015
    Trailer link


    Project Almanac
    Reason For Anticipation: Intriguing trailer
    UK Release Date: 13 February 2015
    Trailer link


    Predestination
    Reason For Anticipation: Directed by the Spierig Brothers (Daybreakers, Undead)
    UK Release Date: 20 February 2015
    Trailer link


    It Follows
    Reason For Anticipation: Intriguing trailer
    UK Release Date: 27 February 2015
    Trailer link

    Four films anticipated all within the same month. I wonder which ones I'll get around to seeing. Certainly the big film this month is "Kingsman". I have never seen a Matthew Vaughn film I didn't like and strongly suspect that he had a big contribution to the success of "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells" and "Snatch" which were the two Guy Ritchie films he produced before Guy Ritchie's career seemed to go off the deep end without him. I'm not sure how I'm going to take any interest in the obnoxious central character in "Kingsman", but I trust Matthew Vaughn has the chops to pull me in despite my revulsion to the scumbag protagonist.

    Project Almanac and It Follows are two smaller projects which I wouldn't have known about if it weren't for the recommendations on "My Geek Blasphemy" (afraidofplaydoh's blog). Project Almanac is a "Chronicle"-style time travel movie that looks pretty awesome, while "It Follows" is a horror film with elements reminding me of "The Thing" and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". A curse which makes a monster come for you that can pretend to be anyone. Looks absolutely chilling.

    Finally there's the movie "Predestination" with Ethan Hawke. It's another sci-fi movie, so that's appealing, but also it's from the directors of "Daybreakers" which really caught my imagination. I'm hoping this'll be similarly cool.



    MARCH


    Kill the Messenger
    Reason For Anticipation: Intriguing trailer + Jeremy Renner performance
    UK Release Date: 6 March 2015
    Trailer link

    I saw the trailer for this pretty early in 2014 (if I remember correctly) and I found it very interesting right from the start. Jeremy Renner seems to be pretty awesome in non-action roles (and that includes "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters" since as much fun as I found that, Renner still seemed flatter there than in more typical dramatic roles) so I'm really keen to see what he does with this. Renner plays a journalist exposing the US government using the drug trade to fund their work abroad. Oddly, I only know about this from a little song from "American Dad". http://youtu.be/wbLD2JyFAlE I think the movie'll be a little different.



    APRIL


    Avengers: Age of Ultron
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Joss Whedon (Serenity, Avengers Assemble)
    UK Release Date: 24 April 2015
    Trailer link

    Joss Whedon had already proved himself as a director before he came onto Avengers, but it's cool that he's shown that he's a big fan of the Marvel universe (having also written comics for Marvel characters) and that he can use his trademark comedic style to have the different Marvel characters play off one another in an entertaining way. I've not even watched the trailer because I don't want anything spoiled for me if it doesn't have to be.



    MAY


    Mad Max: Fury Road
    Reason For Anticipation: Mad Max reboot
    UK Release Date: 15 May 2015
    Trailer link

    I've only ever seen one of the Mad Max movies ("The Road Warrior", the second movie of the three), but the latest trailer made this look pretty damn good. Perhaps a slightly more tentative recommendation than others here, but I've got high hopes all the same.



    JULY


    Terminator Genisys
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones episodes, Thor: The Dark World)
    UK Release Date: 3 July 2015
    Trailer link


    Inside Out
    Reason For Anticipation: Pixar (Wall-E, Up, Finding Nemo, Monsters University, Brave)
    UK Release Date: 24 July 2015
    Trailer link

    Alan Taylor, director of one of my favourite Marvel movies, is working on a new Terminator movie which actually seems to take an interesting new direction with the time travel. In case you didn't like the last Thor film, it's worth noting that he had a fair bit of studio interference to deal with and also worked on several cool Game of Thrones episodes. At very least, I think he's proved himself a capable filmmaker, so I'm very interested to see what he does this time around.

    "Inside Out" appears to be about the different emotions within a young girl's mind interacting. It's good to see that Pixar still have original concepts and I'm keen to see what they do. I feel like reactions to recent Pixar films like Monsters University and Brave have been kinda harsh.



    AUGUST


    The Fantastic Four
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Josh Trank (Chronicle)
    UK Release Date: 6 August 2015


    Regression
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Alejandro Amenabar (Open Your Eyes, Tesis, The Sea Inside)
    UK Release Date: 28 August 2015

    Ever since "Chronicle" I've been keen to see what Josh Trank does next. So apparently he's working on the new Fantastic Four reboot. Sadly it already sounds like he's going to get the same kind of backlash Marc Webb received working on "Amazing Spider-Man". But hopefully when the film finally comes out it'll blow everyone away like "Chronicle" did. Certainly the "Fantastic Four" movies aren't sacred cows like Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" movies seemed to bizarrely considered.

    I have no idea what "Regression" is about really. It's another movie with Ethan Hawke and Emma Watson is also in this one. Alejandro Amenabar is a brilliant filmmaker and I will always watch his films. His last film "Agora" was definitely his worst film and it was still very impressive indeed.



    OCTOBER


    Crimson Peak
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army)
    UK Release Date: 16 October 2015


    SPECTRE
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty, Road To Perdition)
    UK Release Date: 23 October 2015

    I'm interested to see what Guillermo Del Toro does with a horror film. It seems like a haunted house premise. Del Toro is always worth a look. And hey look! Mia Wasikowska again. YAY!

    Meanwhile, Sam Mendes is back with a follow-up to "Skyfall" and it seems so obvious that they'd have a film based around the 'Spectre' organisation as part of their reboot of the Bond franchise, yet it came as a complete surprise. The only film by Mendes I've ever hated was "Away We Go" which I guess is just the sort of indie comedy that simply doesn't appeal to me. I can't wait to see Mendes tackle Bond again.



    NOVEMBER


    The Good Dinosaur
    Reason For Anticipation: Pixar (Wall-E, Up, Finding Nemo, Monsters University, Brave)
    UK Release Date: 27 November 2015


    Krampus
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Michael Doherty (Trick 'R Treat)
    UK Release Date: 27 November 2015

    There's been no real promotion at all for "The Good Dinosaur" so far, from what I can tell. There's a poster, which looks like it's aimed at a very young audience. Still, I can't help but be interested in anything Pixar are involved in. Perhaps I'm silly to think this way after "Cars 2", but heck, it's not Cars and Pixar don't make big mistakes all that often. But the big film for this month is probably "Krampus", the first film from Michael Doherty since the horror anthology movie "Trick 'R Treat". I'm a fan of Christmas horror and I'm keen to see what Doherty treats us with this time.



    NO UK RELEASE DATE

    War On Everyone
    Reason For Anticipation: Director John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary)
    No UK Release Date



    Suburban Gothic
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Richard Bates Jr. (Excision)
    Release Date: 30 January 2015 (USA)
    No UK Release Date

    Trailer link


    The Hateful Eight
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Django Unchained)
    Release Date: 13 November 2015 (USA)
    No UK Release Date



    Midnight Special
    Reason For Anticipation: Director Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud)
    Release Date: 25 November 2015 (USA)
    No UK Release Date


    John Michael McDonagh might not have impressed me quite so much with Calvary, but it was a damn interesting experiment and I'll be very happy to see what he tries next. Also directors Jeff Nichols, Richard Bates Jr. and even Quentin Tarantino all apparently have films coming out this year. But no UK release date yet. *sigh*


    Also worth mentioning!

    Coherence
    Reason For Anticipation: Positive reviews on Letterboxd (including my own)
    UK Release Date: 13 February 2015
    A little side-note here, since I've seen it already. (Hence why I'm not anticipating it. Apparently Coherence finally comes out this year and it's a great film. I don't know that it'll get a wide release, but that would be nice since it totally deserves it. A really interesting and entertaining sci-fi movie which deserves a wide audience.
    Trailer link




    Seventh Son
    UK Release Date: 27 March 2015

    Sergey Bordrov's first high profile movie since "Mongol" (about the rise of Genghis Khan) is an action movie with Jeff Bridges that has been delayed a fair while now to sort out the effects work. It looks like a lot of fun, but really it's only the director's name which has me taking an interest.
    Trailer link



    Other movies I considered:
    Birdman
    (Positive reviews on Letterboxd)
    UK Release Date: 2 January 2015

    Foxcatcher
    (Intriguing trailer)
    UK Release Date: 9 January 2015


    Jupiter Ascending
    (The Wachowskis - though I haven't like anything they've done since Matrix Reloaded)
    UK Release Date: 6 February 2015

    The Signal
    (Intriguing trailer)
    UK Release Date: 13 February 2015

    Chappie
    (Neill Blomkamp)
    UK Release Date: 6 March 2015

    Home
    (Interesting promotional cartoon)
    UK Release Date: 20 March 2015

    Tomorrowland
    (Brad Bird)
    UK Release Date: 22 May 2015

    Ant-Man
    (Marvel series - But Edgar Wright no longer directing)
    UK Release Date: 17 July 2015

    Hotel Transylvania 2
    (Genndy Tartatovsky)
    UK Release Date: 9 October 2015

    The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2
    (Hunger Games series - though I didn't see part 1)
    UK Release Date: 20 November 2015

    Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens
    (Post-Lucas continuation of Star Wars)
    UK Release Date: 18 December 2015

    Bølgen
    (Directed by Roar Uthaug - Cold Prey, Escape)
    Release Date: 2015 (Norway)
    No UK Release Date

    Tales of Halloween
    (Horror anthology including director Neil Marhshall)
    Release Date: 30 October 2015 (USA)
    No UK Release Date

    The Transporter Legacy
    (Transporter series)
    Release Date: 19 June 2015 (USA)
    No UK Release Date.

    Truckers
    (Terry Pratchett Adaptation)
    Release Date: March 2015 (USA)
    No UK Release Date


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    January 2015

    (Birdman - 02/01/15)
    (Foxcatcher - 09/01/15)
    Wild - 16/01/15
    Ex Machina - 23/01/15


    February 2015


    (Jupiter Ascending - 06/02/15)
    Kingsman: The Secret Service - 12/02/15
    Coherence - 13/02/15
    Project Almanac - 13
    /02/15
    (The Signal - 13/02/15)
    Predestination - 20/02/15
    It Follows - 27/02/15


    March - May 2015

    Kill the Messenger - 06/03/15
    (Seventh Son - 27/03/15)
    (Chappie - 06/03/15)
    (Home - 20/03/15)
    Avengers: Age of Ultron - 24/04/15
    Mad Max: Fury Road - 15/05/15
    (Tomorrowland - 22/05/15)


    June - August 2015


    Terminator Genisys - 03/07/15
    Inside Out - 24/07/15
    (Ant-Man - 17/07/15)
    The Fantastic Four - 06/08/15
    Regression - 28/08/15


    September - December 2015


    Crimson Peak - 16/10/15
    SPECTRE - 23/10/15
    (Hotel Transylvania 2 - 09/10/15)
    The Good Dinosaur - 27/11/15
    Krampus - 27/11/15
    (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 - 20/11/15)
    (Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens - 18/12/15)

    No UK Release Date Yet...


    Bølgen
    The Hateful Eight
    Midnight Special
    Suburban Gothic
    Tales of Halloween
    The Transporter Legacy
    Truckers
    War On Everyone

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    Nebraska (2013)

    Flipping boring indie nonsense. Damn these high-brow 'dramedies' which try to mix drama and comedy, seemingly as an excuse for having very little of either.



    Yeah sure everyone's great at acting. Whoop-de-doo. Could you put them in another film which is actually worth my while watching instead? It's all very well having good acting and good performances, but those two elements in a vacuum are worthless. You also need good storytelling and well-written characters and those are pretty thoroughly lacking here.



    For the record though, Stacy Keach was brilliant.

    D-



    Sin City 2 (2014)

    A real disappointment. I've heard all sorts of ums and ahs and guesses at what went wrong here. It apes the style of the original "Sin City" movie so closely that many seem to have been given cause to doubt their appreciation of the original film.



    I've heard people suggesting that perhaps they weren't impressed because they'd seen it all before? Or that perhaps the increase in the number of comicbook adaptations had soured them on this style? Or even that perhaps they never really liked the original "Sin City" in the first place?



    But I think the answer is much more simple. "Sin City 2: A Dame To Kill For" is BORING. It's an anthology movie where none of the individual stories has a satisfying ending, if they bother ending at all.



    It's also awkward to appreciate because many of the characters who are returning ought to be dead after the last film. And even in cases where they could still be alive, they are not always being played by the same actor and the script makes it difficult to work out who they were in the last film.


    Those don't look anything like real stitches. They don't look artistic, they just look fake.

    Eva Green is great, I'll admit it. I've never rated her much in the films I'd seen her in, but here she really shines. She shines all the more considering how poorly her character is actually written. And in spite of all the sleasiness of it, the pattern of the shadow of the blinds on her naked body is one of the few really gripping pieces of imagery here. Sadly the violence doesn't seem anything like as exciting as in the last "Sin City" film.



    Basically, for all the poor opinions I heard about "Machete Kills" that was one hell of a lot of fun. The problem with "Sin City 2" is that it is simply miserable. A lot of the stories are new and I'm inclined to presume that the reason why this sequel took so long to make is probably because Rodriguez wouldn't make it until the script was at least this good - and it still wasn't good enough.

    D-



    Tracks (2013)

    Mia Wasikowska plays the real-life figure of Robyn Davidson in this adaptation of her memoir of her trek across the Australian outback with a herd of camels. She is, unsurprisingly now after "Stoker", absolutely wonderful.



    There are some musings from her character towards the beginning of the film seemingly looking down on other people in her age group. There's also an odd sense of superiority connected to her desire for isolation. I was worried that I might have a similar problem with this as I had with "Into The Wild", another film about a self-righteous smug protagonist with misplaced ideals about how wonderful being isolated out in the middle of nowhere would be.



    However, in the end this film did not really seem to be beatifying it's lead characcter. Robyn speaks this way because that's the sort of person she is and these lines no doubt come straight from the memoir of the real life figure. Over the course of the film Robyn's desire to remain isolated does not always seem sensible or even consistent, but she is always a fully-realised human being and her inconsistencies are part of the humanity of her character. The contradictions are a big part of the story. On the one hand we have a woman who wants to make a trip without being hassled by journalists or even the one photographer who is occasionally visiting her on the route, yet she relies on the funding from a magazine (for whom the photographer works) in order to do her journey in the first place. She prides herself on her ability to survive in harsh conditions, yet her principles often get in the way of survival requirements, such as when she refuses assistance when going into a dangerous area or is slow to retrieve a gun when she is under threat.



    Tracks is an absolutely beautiful film, but it is much more than pretty cinematography thanks to a gripping central performance from Mia Wasikowska.

    A+



    22 Jump Street (2014)

    Funnily enough, while this might not have quite the same scale of laughs as the last film, it's pretty damn smart. Keen to avoid falling into the same plain as other naff disposable American comedies, the filmmakers make a lot of meta-jokes and references to fully take advantage of its status as a sequel.



    I actually wonder whether they shouldn't have gone further and crazier, since it is the maddest parts that work the best. "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" was a brilliant sequel because it was made with no intention of ever making a third film and that seems to be the logic of the gag before the final credits. And I wonder whether that same madness couldn't have been spread across the whole film.



    Anyway, now I finally understand why I kept hearing kids saying "my name is Jeff" in a squeaky voice.



    Just like the first movie, 22 Jump Street is much more fun than it had any right being. It's not the most fantastic film ever, but it's solidly good fun and well worth checking out.

    B-

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    The Family (2013)

    Luc Besson has a reputation now as a producer of cheesy action films, but I've long been a big fan of his personally directed efforts.



    So I was surprised to hear very negative responses to hear "The Family", particularly since the trailer seemed like so much fun.



    On the one hand, the film is enormous fun. On the down side, the jokes aren't always enormously funny.



    I've heard it suggested that "The Family" is too derivative, but actually an ex-mobster family causing trouble while in witness protection seems like a novel approach to the material by my reckoning.



    DeNiro is great, Pfeiffer is great, the child actors are great, ACTOR'S NAME is great as the officer keeping track of the family and there are even some awesome action sequences towards the end.



    With a better script this could have been brilliant. With Besson in the director's chair, he makes the most of the material, but he's clearly very limited.B-


    Ranked Luc Besson films

    I haven't seen "The Big Blue" or any animated movies directed by Besson and I have as yet to see "Lucy", but below I rank 7 major entries from Luc Besson's filmography.


    7. Angel-A (2005)

    After a long time off from directing Besson came out with this black and white comedy about a man who meets an angel, with both characters somewhat down on their luck.

    It wasn't all that funny and the twist in the story seemed rather daft and pointless.

    The biggest problem is that the central couple have nothing in common and absolutely no chemistry, so why are they put forward as a romantic pairing? Meh, fake sentimental rubbish!

    High expectations due to Besson's name can't have helped.

    D-


    6. The Family (2013)

    Not brilliant. Clearly Besson can do a lot better, but put a smile on my face. A well-constructed film, though it felt like it should have been funnier.

    B-




    5. Nikita (1990)

    Nikita starts off as a lunatic, becomes a surprise hero and then seems to be randomly softened in the second half.

    When Jean-Hughes Anglade turned up I was expecting something akin to his performance in the"Killing Zoe". Instead he plays a rather bland character who only serves to make our protagonist more bland.

    And this is a pity, since for the most part Nikita is great film with Besson's seal of quality guaranteeing a lot of fun for the audience.

    Nikita is a solid action thriller, but I didn't feel that the central character's criminal background was sufficiently explored for me to find her change of role convincing. The script, rather than the direction or performances, made it hard to believe in the premise. Our protagonist seems to go too quickly from violent lunatic to sensitive romantic.

    Still, throughout we still get the Besson touch.

    B-


    4. Joan of Arc: The Messenger (1999)

    You have to recognise that this is a film with *serious trigger warning here!* a graphic rape scene in the first half. Also Joan D'Arc is known for her martyrdom and that element is included here too. So it may be surprising to hear that this is a pretty upbeat action film with a lot of comic elements.

    Milla Jojovich is mostly known for her role in the Resident Evil movies, but her career as an action movie star (as opposed to being secondary to another star, such as Bruce Willis) starts here. Joan of Arc is a pretty awesome action role.

    Dustin Hoffman's small role towards the end is also very cool. It gives an added depth to what is mostly an action film. Jovovich portrays Joan's  unhinged religious side brilliant and it really makes her a unique protagonist.

    Considering the inevitably tragic elements of any film about Joan of Arc, this is remarkably fun and actually pretty silly. But the Besson factor ensures this is also a lot of fun.

    B+


    3. The Fifth Element (1997)

    While not an absolute favourite sci-fi movie, this endlessly inventive action film holds a special place in my heart.

    I've long been a fan of Bruce Willis (making recent Willis films like "A Good Day To Die Hard" all the more upsetting). He's on top of his game here and really translates a sense of fun to the audience.

    I will also note that, while his performance doesn't wholly work here (to put it lightly) I've enjoyed his work in the (first two) Rush Hour movies and I can see what he was going for with his hyperactive futuristic DJ role. (I also love Chris Tucker's more serious roles in "Jackie Brown" and "Dead Presidents". Honestly, he's great!)

    Mustn't forget Gary Oldman in his slightly more cartoonish villain than his role in "Leon".

    The Fifth Element is just plain fun. Nothing wrong with that.

    B+


    2. Adele Blanc-Sec (2010)

    Adele Blanc-Sec is fantastically crazy. It has its own weird brand of internal logic whereby a Teradactyl can be revived after millions of years and get about someone eating a (chicken) egg.

    So much fun. So wonderfully mad. Plus there's a highly expressive central performance.

    A-


    1. Leon (1994)

    One of my favourite films of all time. This features probably Gary Oldman's best performance of all time and certainly Natalie Portman's best performance. There's even a director's cut that is even better.



    Leon really pushes the boat out on emotion, action and Lolita-esque controversy.



    There are also some unforgettable camera shots. There's a first person perspective of being shot in the back, some awesome shots from a doorway and a camera panning left to capture the fireball of an explosion.



    Leon was my favourite film for a long time and it's not such a surprise that, in my teens, the film to just about overtake it was "The Matrix". They are both action films which succeed through iconic imagery, intense moments and clear exploration of themes. Despite being caught up in the initial Matrix craze thanks to my love of sci-fi, I always knew Leon was the stronger film.



    Will Jean Reno be in the next Expendables? While I'd like to say he's too classy for that, his career after Leon hasn't been as high profile as his awesome performance here might suggest. But for me, Leon is just too cool to be expendable.

    A+

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    12 Years A Slave (2013)

    I've been meaning to watch this for a long time. And was it worth the wait? Well, I'm not sure. I should note that the one thing I cannot possibly fault the film for is its performances.



    Obviously there's Chiwetel Ejiofor in the lead role, an excellent British actor who really ought to have started receiving a wide range of central roles after this showcase of his incredible talent. I mean let's face it, the main thing people know him for is as the villain in "Serenity" (where he was also amazing btw). No one really noticed him much as Denzel Washington's partner in "Inside Man", no one comments on his appearance as one of the figures opposing Clive Owen in "Children of Men", his role in the under-appreciated action movie "Salt" is pretty small (though Ejiofor makes the most of it nonetheless) and pretty much nobody has seen "Kinky Boots" where he is a central character (a flamoboyant drag queen in fact). And since "12 Years A Slave" where the hell has he been? I mean, come on! Give him a role in a Marvel movie or something, everyone else seems to be getting a role in those.



    Anyway, first we get Ejiofor, then Benedict Cumberbatch turns up as a slave owner, then Michael Fassbender turns up as a slave owner. And then finally Brad Pitt turns up as the good guy, speaking out against slavery. And yes, Brad Pitt is great too.



    My actual problem with the film is that it seems to have no sense of pace or tone. There's no storytelling here. It's just misery porn. The movie begins in the middle... for absolutely no good reason. The movie then rushes to our protagonist's kidnapping so that it can flashback to his time as a free man, but little of this re-ordering of the character's timeline seems to serve any real purpose. The director seems to love long lingering shots of Chiwetel Ejiofor looking pained and it just became annoying after a while. The only purpose to any of it is to say "isn't this horrifying and uncomfortable?"



    The soundtrack is all over the place. There's a few points where the music seems dramatic, but there's no real drama here except in the sense that everything which happens from start to finish is repulsive. The point where I became particularly aware of how much this film relies on the performances is the scene where Ejiofor returns to his family. (I mean, it's called "12 Years A Slave" not "died in slavery".) This should be the real emotional moment of the film and it just struck me as cold. That is, until Chiwetel Ejiofor starts delivering his lines and brings some colour into an otherwise wholly bland scene.



    It's just annoying that the filmmaker has what could be a very compelling story and is doing little in the way of storytelling. It's a bunch of scenes stuck together and it feels like there's no real artistry to any of it. If it weren't for the stellar cast involved, I'd be falling asleep. The actors make me care, in spite of the plodding, cold, bland filming style.



    This could have been the incredible cinematic experience everyone told me it would be. But sadly the filmmaker seems to have little understanding of how to present a gripping story. While I'm not his biggest fan and while I know his work can be cheesy at times, I couldn't help but feel that Spielberg would know what to do with a story like this.

    C+



    Dallas Buyers Club (2013)

    I was pretty blown away. Matthew McConaughey is absolutely great in this, as is Jared Leto and for a story about HIV it doesn't make us spend a lot of time watching people cry. This is about a character who decides to focus on living his life, even when illness is threatening to finish him off. It reminds me of "Puncture" (bizarrely titled "Injustice" here in the UK) starring Chris Evans.



    The film refuses to be your typical tearjerker. Our homophobic protagonist learns to spend time with gay people, but we never get cheesy spiritual life-changing moment where he suddenly recognises his mistakes in the past. Deaths in the film are not marked with a montage of weeping. And for all the good any character does, every character in the film has their own personal genuine flaws.



    Of all the performances, I'm afraid I think that Jennifer Garner lets the side down. She doesn't have a fantastic amount of range and I found that whenever she was on screen, I found it hard to think of her as a genuine character. There's something unnatural about her performance. This is all the more of a problem in the third act when the film starts lagging a bit. Jennifer Garner is supposed to become more important at this stage and I'm afraid it's to the detriment of the film.



    That being said, this was more than a solid film. I felt both moved and entertained. The central performances from McConaughey and Leto are brilliant and the twists and turns in the story are compelling. The flawed characters felt genuine (which is possibly one reason why Jennifer Garner comes off as flat, what with her having more of a goody-two-shoes role).



    Of course, while we might not spend all out time watching people cry, there are people crying and getting angry, violent. There's a whole plethora of emotion on display here and the film guides the audience expertly through every moment. This was so very nearly an A-grade movie for me. Were it not for some unfortunate lagging and, as is often the case with biopics, some uncertainty from the filmmakers on how to end the narrative, I would be hyping the hell out of this movie.

    B+

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    (Via Pharyngula)

    Admittedly, first of all I can't flipping stand Twitter. So there's that.

    And sure, Buzzfeed are known for shameless click-bait. But that, if anything, makes it all the more impressive that they are taking a stand here. There are videos on Youtube with enormous numbers of downvotes where it is clear that it's the idiotic anti-feminist crowd who are responsible, so dismissing them like this could make a difference to their number of clicks (though actually these anti-feminists seem to love to spend time reading people they hate anyway).

    On the subject, I was very happy to see today that Laci Green is still making videos. I remember when she was making videos very comprehensibly and sensibly promoting atheism and now she's doing some absolutely great sex and health education work. Just take this video for example and this most recent video (with a pretty important petition attached if you are in the US). She's doing some great stuff and I'm pretty sure that the main reason she has so many down-votes on some of these videos is because of obnoxious anti-feminist arseholes.

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    The past couple of years I've made it a tradition to do an end of year list just showcasing the movies I'd enjoyed most from that year and then to do a proper "very best" list another year later once I'd had a chance to catch up on the ones I didn't have a chance to see.

    Here's some links from previous years:
    2012 - End of year list
    2012 - Finalised list

    2013 - End of year list
    (The finalised version is coming in the near future)

    I also have finalised lists for the following years:
    2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007
    (The plan is to release a full top 10 of 2007 at some stage to replace the top 5 currently posted. But I'll need to see a few films I may have missed from that year first.)

    So now let's look at the 2014 'end of year' list. The first part of which is below.




    25.The Amazing Spider-Man 2
    UK Release Date: 16 April 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): B+


    Even with a bit of a mixed up script, this still pulled me in far better than Sam Raimi's earlier cheesy-as-hell Spider-Man films. It was sad that we wouldn't see Emma Stone continue in the role of Gwen Stacey, but if Sony are giving up on Spider-Man then perhaps that doesn't matter. Andrew Garfield is the definitive Spider-Man actor for me now and whatever happens with Spider-Man in the future, his will be the performance I need the newcomers to live up to. I'll be interested to see what Webb does next since the way he handles the romance and emotions at the centre of these films really helped them to stand out in spite of their more typical superhero tropes.


    24.The Borderlands
    UK Release Date: 7 April 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): B+


    In spite of a bit of an anti-climactic ending, naturally I'm going to fall in love with a horror-comedy like this. I laughed a lot, there were plenty of parts which creeped me out and I have never understood the backlash against found-footage (perhaps because I've steered well away from "Paranormal Activity" films).



    23.The Babadook
    UK Release Date: 24 October 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): B+


    This is the sort of horror film I normally hate. A ghostly presence seems set to destroy a single mother and her child. A few of the ghost story elements I hate so much are here. There are a few carefully placed but entirely unambiguous jump scares too. But the central performances are utterly incredible, so even when the film seems to lose direction at a few points the actors still keep me on board. Despite a few misgivings I've got to admit that this film is quite remarkable. Essie Davis is frikkin' amazing.



    22.Inside Llewyn Davis
    UK Release Date: 24 January 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): B+


    Well yeah, it's a Coen Brothers movie - and it's a good one. Perhaps not as brilliant as the Coens at their best, but Oscar Isaac's self-important folk musician character has fantastic comic timing and an awesome level of expressiveness. It's also quite brave of the Coens to bet on us being hooked by the music, but there's no doubting that the music here is brilliant and often powerful.



    21.Vampire Academy
    UK Release Date: 4 July 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): A-


    Yeah, it's silly nonsense, but I had a real blast. I hear that the humour isn't actually found in the book, so if anything it sounds like the movie improves on the source material. There's a pretty awesome cliffhanger at the end and I would love for them to make a sequel, but for some bizarre reason the critics and audiences have not been kind. Personally I thought this was at very least on a part with what I've seen of the Harry Potter movies.



    20.Grand Piano
    UK Release Date: 19 September 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): A-


    There are some pretty silly elements, but nonetheless "Grand Piano" is a lot of fun and yet another interesting project for Elijah Wood. (Anyone not yet seen the "Maniac" remake yet? Elijah Wood is really blowing me away with his work recently.) Quite amazingly Elijah Wood is doing the piano playing himself in those scenes.



    19.Captain America: The Winter Soldier
    UK Release Date: 26 March 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): A-


    After the first Captain America film left me nonplussed, I've got to say that this sequel was a massive improvement. The plot surrounding the eponymous "Winter Soldier" doesn't entirely make sense to me (particularly Captain America's rather naive method of dealing with him in the end). And surprisingly the Winter Soldier is never really the central focus of the film like you'd expect. But this is a spectacular balls-out action movie with some of the best hand-to-hand combat of any of the Marvel movies. The plot is pretty lame, but the characters are cool and the action sequences are set-up in a way that is consistently exciting and engaging.



    18.Man of Tai Chi
    UK Release Date: 7 July 2014
    Grade (if lower than A+): A-


    Silly martial arts movie, with Keanu Reeves as a super-evil cheesy villain - and I just loved it. It's more about the awesome action than about the plot, but the plot's not all bad either. I was actually surprised by how awesome the final fight with Keanu Reeves was. They avoid problems with his lesser martial arts ability by having him come across as almost supernatural in that final fight and making full use of his size by comparison to the central protagonist. Visually stunning with a good heart, this is a must-see martial arts film.



    17.Horns
    UK Release Date: 29 October 2014


    Sold as if it were a horror film, when it's actually more of a fantasy-comedy. Daniel Radcliffe's protagonist finds himself with magical horns which force those around him to be painfully honest and he uses this magical power to try to uncover the truth about a murder for which he has been accused. While not always consistent in tone, there's no lack of humourous moments, visually stunning moments and effective emotional notes. Overall this is an emotional rollercoaster and I was hooked.



    16.The Sacrament
    UK Release Date: 8 June 2014


    Simple bare-bones horror-drama about a group of filmmakers who decide to investigate a cult. Right from the start it is clear that something is wrong, but the story unfolds in a very balanced and fully-realised way. Sure, we know all hell is going to break loose, but we're never quite prepared for how it happens and I regularly found myself surprised by little details.



    15.X-Men: Days of Future Past
    UK Release Date: 22 May 2014


    The best superhero film of the year isn't absolutely perfect. The future scenes with the old cast aren't really so impressive as the scenes in the past. Still, bringing Wolverine properly into the "X-Men: First Class" universe worked remarkably well and there was no lack of awe and wonder as the story unfolded. Magneto is in a metal-free prison under the Pentagon for murdering JFK? And that's a pretty early revelation! So much fun....



    14.Interstellar
    UK Release Date: 7 November 2014


    Nolan's latest film really packs a punch. Sure the parts on Earth felt a bit naff in the second half, but the story tied up neatly. There's the coolest robot we've seen in a long time, some pretty amazing visual touches (particularly the inside of a wormhole) and an awesome central performance from McConnaughey. What can I say? I'm a sucker for sci-fi and this is some damn cool sci-fi.



    13. Toy Story of Terror!
    UK Release Date: N/A


    Not really a movie (in fact it's Pixar's first made-for-tv piece), but it's so wonderful that I just had to include it on this list. I've now actually had a chance to check out the follow-up "Toy Story That Time Forgot" which was still pretty cool, but not quite on the same level. A continuation of the adventures of the toys since Andy passed them on to a new child in "Toy Story 3" with a focus on the horror genre. How perfect! Also the Transformers-style toy is really cool.



    12.Tracks
    UK Release Date: 25 April 2014


    Mia Wasikowska continues to astoud. A mixture of gorgeous scenery, great performances and genuinely moving moments in a woman's journey across the outback. While the journey seems to have no real purpose, that's part of the point. Mia Wasikowska portrays a complex character who may not always make the best decisions and may be stubborn and foolish too, but thanks to the performance we really get inside her head. On top of that, the film is absolutely gorgeous, allowing us to be enchanted by our protagonist's perilous trip into the solitude of the wilderness.



    11.Locke
    UK Release Date: 18 April 2014


    Tom Hardy is a wonderful actor. I've heard mixed reactions on his Welsh accent here, but few would doubg the quality of his performance. Playing a morally ambiguous figure in a beautifully tragic scenario, it's remarkable how exciting this is when it mostly involves one guy on the phone in his car. I suspect the film might be less exciting for people who find themselves entirely siding with Locke. Personally I thought Locke's problem was that he'd left everything too late and was struggling to make everything right when disaster was already inevitable. Steven Knight gets to deliver on the promise he showed with "Hummingbird" (aka "Redemption") the previous year.


    Part 2: My top 10 picks of 2014 (for the 'end of year' list) - coming soon!

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    Before I give my top ten of 2014, it's worth noting down what films I still haven't seen. What with this film coming pretty close after the end of the year, it would have been quite impossible for me to have seen close to everything worth seeing from 2014 just yet.

    For the record, here's a list of movies (several of which are nominated for Oscars) which will be 2015 releases in the UK:
    - Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
    - Foxcatcher
    - The Theory of Everything
    - Whiplash
    - Wild
    - REC 4: Apocalypse
    - Selma
    - Still Alice
    - John Wick

    So not only have I seen none of them, but they were not even eligible for the list. I'm keen to see most of these though.


    I am very keen to check out the following:

    - The Boxtrolls
    Animation from the same people who brought us "Coraline" and "Paranorman". I loved both of those earlier projects, so I'm very keen to see their latest offering.


    - Get Santa
    Christopher Smith, director of "Triangle" and "Black Death", has directed a Christmas comedy with Stephen Graham, Jodie Whittaker and Rafe Spall. Warwick Davis appears as an elf and Jim Broadbent stars as Father Christmas on the run from the police. I very nearly went to the cinema to see this and if it weren't for Christopher Smith's appalling tv adaptation of the Da Vinci Code rip-off "Labyrinth" by Kate Mosse, I'd probably have made more of an effort. Still, I've heard good things and I'm very keen to check this out.


    - The Guest
    From the creators of "You're Next" and with a neat Drive-esque new-retro soundtrack. I've heard comparisons to "The Terminator". I've just GOT to see this!


    - Maps To The Stars
    David Cronenberg has been very hit and miss, but with Mia Wasikowska involved it's hard to resist.


    - Starred Up
    A prison drama which at least one LJ user recommended to me. Looks intriguing and I hope to see it soon.


    - We Are the Best!
    An endearing sounding Swidish-Danish drama about some young kids who bond through their love of punk rock. A lot of people seem to have loved this.


    - The Wind Rises
    The latest Hayao Miyazaki film (the genius behind the anime studio "Studio Ghibli") and possibly his last ever.


    I'll probably have to see the following at some point:

    - Boyhood
    Sounds like a typical plodding indie movie with a neat little gimmick. But everyone seems to think this is the big Oscar contender and that it fully deserves to win an award, yet no one seems to be able to explain why. If this is a waste of time, I'm going to be so annoyed.


    - Gone Girl
    I haven't enjoyed a David Fincher movie since "Fight Club". I don't know what is going on with this director, but I feel like he's completely lost his flair.


    - The Grand Budapest Hotel
    I have never really enjoyed a Wes Anderson film yet and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" completely turned me off his work. But everyone is raving about this one for some reason. I may actually give this one a miss.


    - The Imitation Game
    I'm not keen on the suggestions that Alan Turing is portrayed as a traitor in this movie. That's what I've heard anyway, but I really hope it's false. I guess we'll have to see.


    - Mr. Turner
    Mike Leigh hasn't had a great track record for me. I saw his previous film "Another Year" and was bored to hell by the banal unrealistic characters (apparently produced by improvisation to make them seem more natural). Also a long time ago I gave up on his widely praised "Secrets And Lies". But nevertheless I'm hearing a lot of a positive recommendations for "Mr. Turner", so I'm resolved to the possibility that I may once again be left shaking my head and wondering what all the fuss was about.


    - Two Days, One Night
    A popular film with the critics, but I'd never heard of it until I organised a list of the most highly rated movies on Rotten Tomatoes. We'll have to see.



    So with those possible exclusions admitted, let's push on with my top ten of 2014!
    (Click here for choices 25-11)


    10.All Cheerleaders Die
    UK Release Date: 27 October 2014


    Lucky McKee is awesome. This time he's handling a more comedic film than his previous efforts. I loved how the action escalates. Zombies, magic, high school drama, blood, sex, jealousy, backstabbing between 'friends' and the occasional self-serving psychopath. This is a complete rollercoaster of a film. The ending is pretty sudden with a promise of a sequel which may or may not come to pass, but I felt this really worked well as film in its own right anyway. While perhaps not on the same level as McKee's "The Woman", I absolutely loved this movie.


    9.Proxy
    UK Release Date: N/A


    A very happy surprise. "Proxy" has a horrible and shocking event towards the beginning and starts off seeming like a serious drama about a woman come to terms with trauma. Yet it gradually becomes clearer and clearer that this is about women exploring personal tragedy and embracing self-destruction, like a female version of "Fight Club". I've heard it suggested that this film is misogynistic, but I felt like we really got into the minds of these characters even if that's a twisted place. About half way through the film feels like it ought to be over, but I'm really glad it doesn't end there because the second half is so wonderfully nuts. I've never seen a film quite like this one before and that's always a good sign. Sure, this still hasn't been released in the UK, but there's no release date announced and I was able to get hold of the import DVD so I feel it may as well go in the 2014 list.



    8.Raze
    UK Release Date: 16 June 2014


    I wasn't sure how a film about kidnapped women forced to fight to the death would work. However, there's a variety of characters and even with the rather quirky scenario we become pretty emotionally involved. The filmmakers are careful to ensure that the story unfolds in a way that explores the characters rather than making it a series of fighting set pieces. Yet the fights are often pretty entertaining too. The appearance of Doug Jones giving inspirational speeches to the captive female fighters was very welcome and he chews the scenery like a boss. Zoë Bell, a regular stunt double for Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, knocks it out of the park as the lead protagonist here. "Raze" was my favourite film in 2014's horror marathon. Awesome.


    7.The Lego Movie
    UK Release Date: 14 February 2014


    Wonderful comedy, beautiful animation and just generally enormous fun. I found both Princess Unikitty and the cartoonish portrayal of Batman to be an utter delight. I wasn't quite so keen on the bit where live-action Will Ferrell showed up, but the film was endlessly watchable in any case. I particularly loved the references to "The Matrix".


    6.What We Do in the Shadows
    UK Release Date: 21 November 2014


    The "Flight of the Conchords" team come up with one of the best horror-comedies of all time. So wonderful and novel was this piece of work that the inevitable comparisons with "Shaun of the Dead" felt a little insulting. Vampires have never been spoofed quite like this. I was particularly surprised by the results of the visit from the police.


    5.Edge of Tomorrow
    UK Release Date: 30 May 2014


    Stupid marketing failed to let anyone know how funny this film was going to be. A sci-fi movie that makes use of the "Groundhog Day" premise (i.e. a day repeating over and over again) was a neat little concept, but "Edge of Tomorrow" also takes advantage of the comedic and emotional consequences of this central theme. "Edge of Tomorrow" also has some absolutely fantastic action sequences and some gorgeous sci-fi imagery.


    4.Pride
    UK Release Date: 12 September 2014


    A British comedy about gay pride with a plethora of major British and Irish acting talent. Frankly I wasn't sure that this would be terribly good, since great acting talent doesn't necessarily guarantee a great film. However, I was completely blown away. Just when I was wondering whether Dominic would ever shine in any other role than McNulty from "The Wire", he absolutely knocked my socks off with his performance here. Paddy Considine is always amazing and has a very powerful central role here too. The same goes for Joe Gilgun who is yet another actor who deserves to be snapped up and given a Marvel role. (Oh yeah, btw anyone notice how Chiwetel Ejiofor got announced for a role straight after I suggested it? Please do that for Joe Gilgun now! *pleads with cosmos to reorder itself*) "Pride" is one of those enchanting British comedies and hopefully this will continue to be cherished for years to come just like "Four Weddings And A Funeral", "The Full Monty" and "In The Loop".


    3.Snowpiercer
    UK Release Date: N/A


    Joon-Ho Bong is a director who has never disappointed me so when I heard he was directing a sci-fi movie (I LOVE sci-fi!) with such a stellar cast (Jamie Belle! Tilda Swinton! Kang-Ho Song! John Hurt!) I couldn't wait to see it. Now for some stupid reason the Weinstein's seem to have decided not to release this very widely at all and it's currently not slated for a release in the UK at all. As with "Proxy" lower down in the rankings, I've got my import DVD and frankly I'm counting this as a 2014 release. It's not showing any signs that it'll ever be properly released in the UK and it's a real pity. The level of inventiveness and imagination here is breathtaking, with some quite incredible and bizarre turns from beginning to end. The central "Snowpiercer" train is quite literally a microcosm of society and the film fulfils the proper sci-fi function of using an unlikely scenario or maguffin to tell us more about the real world. Chris Evans is quite wonderful in the lead role and really deserves more credit for his performances outside of the Marvel universe.


    2.The Double
    UK Release Date: 4 April 2014


    Richard Ayoade proves that he's not only an absolutely hilarious performer, but also a stunningly talented director. After Paddy Considine stole the show in one of his few comedic roles in Ayoade's last film "Submarine", he almost does so again as the lead in a cheesy low budget sci-fi tv-show-within-a-movie that appears on the television at a number of points in the film. But mostly this is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky and, while keeping a suitably dark and dismal tone for that material Ayoade balances this with some wonderfully entertaining black comedy in a similar vein to the Coen Brothers "A Serious Man". Our central protagonist is a weak-willed and timid victim, but when he meets his confident, amoral, parasitic doppelganger he soon realises that it's time for him to grow a backbone before it's too late. An incredible piece of work and an amazing cinematic experience.


    1.Nightcrawler
    UK Release Date: 31 October 2014


    This year's "Drive" basically (which perhaps explains why some of the posters look almost identical to the "Drive" poster). A morally ambiguous central character who, at some points, drives a fancy car. While "Drive" was a critique of the action movie genre, "Nightcrawler" is a critique of capitalism and the entire job market culture. When I first saw "Nightcrawler" I was fairly certain the lead character was a psychopath, but I've come to understand why Gyllenhaal objects to that characterisation. The lead character has the same cold approach to people as the job market. He makes use of people like a corporation and uses the same cold and empty phrases to motivate them, even while he is pleased to see his own career progression in the same way. It's bizarre that the business philosophy culture seems to suit him particularly well because of his lack of humanity. It might even be argued that he has molded himself in that way to suit that very culture and is rewarded for doing so. As well as being a shocking and disturbing adrenaline rush of a film, "Nightcrawler" has an important warning for its viewers about the society in which they live.



    You can see part one here.

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    You can never judge a movie by its trailer, but this is looking damn awesome...


    (video link)

    This film was in my movie guide for 2015 - Click here to see the full list with explanations.
    (Click here for the 'at a glance' version.)


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    I actually saw these two films a long while ago last year. I didn't post the reviews at the time because I was convinced that it wouldn't be long before I did another Hitchcock review series. But that isn't happening any time soon and these two are long overdue.


    Saboteur (1942)

    A bit of a meandering storyline and some very unsubtle pro-war propaganda. The first half is a lot better than the second half, with a protagonist who appears to be falsely accused of sabotage and caught in a wider conspiracy. The suspicion he has to deal with makes for a very exciting set-up. I feel the film goes downhill when they are on a travelling circus carriage with 'circus freaks'. The female lead suddenly seems to decide to support the protagonist at that stage and I cannot work out why. When the Nazi collaborators are waffling on and the film turns into a battle of ideologies, I felt the film severely lost its way. The villains are never allowed to be at all convincing in their arguments, just in case someone in the audience decides to sympathise with them. It's a pity since it feels like the film was narrowly avoiding a more subtle and interesting script, but if you want cartoonish villains with no depth it's not a good idea to spend quite so much time with them hanging around philosophising from their armchair.

    C-





    The Lodger (1927)

    I've had a bad track record with silent movies for the most part. With every silent movie classic I tried I kept falling asleep part way through winding the movie back only to fall asleep all over again. I seem to have watched the few silent movies I've tried only in fits and starts. Watching "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari", I fell asleep. Watching "Nosferatu", I fell asleep. Watching "Metropolis", despite really wanting to see it and endlessly winding back to see the last part I missed, I continually fell asleep. Whether it's the fault of philistinism on my part or bad habits brought on by a now highly sound-reliant entertainment industry, it just seemed like I could never keep my concentration during a silent movie.

    That is, until I saw the early Hitchcock film "The Lodger". And I must say, it was far less overt and obvious than I suspected. There were earlier moments in the film which seemed over the top and silly to me, but you should never underestimate Hitchcock. By the end, it turned out there had been rather surprising fake-outs and Hitchcock had neatly avoided making things too straightforward.



    There are tales of a serial murderer and around the same time a creepy lodger arrives to use the spare room. Could the two be connected?



    "The Lodger" might still be a product of its time, but it was highly enjoyable and I never came close to dozing off for the entire runtime. Even in the silent era, Hitchcock is still the master of cinema. In a format which normally has me fading out of consciousness, Hitchcock has the power to keep me on the edge of my seat. There's even some nice bits of humour in places. In general, I'm still more inclined towards Hitchcock's talkies, but this was very impressive and a wonderful surprise.

    A-

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    Hatchet 3 (2013)

    I only ended up watching any of the Hatchet films because of the intriguing trailer for this third instalment. The trailer showed the final girl from the previous film wandering into a police station covered in blood and announces, "I killed him." What a great way to start a slasher sequel! Heck, how did nobody ever think of this before?



    To start with, things were looking promising. Zach Galligan (you may remember him as Billy Peltzer from the Gremlins movies) plays the local sheriff - and he's great! But like with Tony Todd in part 2, he cannot save the film, particularly not from it's talentless lead star.



    I'm sorry, but Danielle Harris CANNOT ACT. Heck, she spends most of this movie isolated in a prison cell, so it was especially irritating when we had to watch yet another scene with her. She is completely unconvincing and pretty inconsistent. I suppose the idea is supposed to be that she's a good person who has been through a lot, but in the end her main characteristic in the film is swearing and being standoffish. This seems to be expected from pretty much everyone in a Rob Zombie movie, but in the first Hatchet movie people actually seemed a little more to down-to-earth and normal - and Danielle Harris just seems so fake.



    It's a real pity that after having loved the first film in this series, the second and third entries have been so thoroughly disappointing.

    E-




    The Rover (2014)

    I wanted to like this a lot. Guy Pearce gives an intense central performance. He made me really wish his story was going somewhere since he was totally selling me on what little the script was prepared to reveal of his past.



    Robert Pattinson finally gets to show some genuine talent here. (His first opportunity for me to see this was supposed to be "Cosmopolis" but he came off as a robot there. But then pretty much everyone besides Paul Giamatti seemed like a robot in that film.)



    Early on there's a rather cool shot of a car skidding into a ditch. I also quite liked a scene where Robert Pattinson finds himself entirely outgunned in a firefight. Sadly, as awesome as Guy Peace might be here, most of the excitement comes from his grim looks and cruel frowns. Mostly this is dull dull dull with an enormously anti-climactic finale.



    As a sci-fi fan, I was intrigued by this new kind of 'post-apocalyptic' film. However, the attempt to set up a world destroyed by the fall of capitalism just felt incoherent. A man forcing a customer to buy something at gunpoint was an interesting moment, but overall the economic meltdown preceding events seemed irrelevant.



    David Michôd is a very competent director, but this was a flawed project. Great performances, but nothing happens and the premise doesn't completely make sense.

    D-




    Jack Frost (1997)

    *trigger warning* This slasher movie contains a r*pe scene.

    I've been making a point of trying to get a Christmas horror movie watched every year (though it's generally New Year when we watch it).



    Jack Frost is very stupid and not quite as funny as it thinks it is, but has enough of a sense of humour to make up for the points where the lower budget is particularly noticeable.



    The snowman's one liners aren't often great. But there's still plenty of awesome slasher kills and the scientific explanations seem intentionally ridiculous. The rape scene is also intentionally ridiculous. (Exhibit A against the 'rape is never funny' principle. A principle admittedly with very few exceptions.)



    Jack Frost is entertainingly trashy. Not all of the flaws can be forgiven on grounds of self-parody, but that aspect certainly helps.

    B-

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    Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014)

    While Colin Firth takes centre stage for the most part (pulling off some incredible action scene moves) it is Jack Davenport (from "Coupling", the UKs answer to "Friends") who first gets to really make the premise of the film clear. Smoothly stepping into frame to violently and bloodily murder the bad guys yet rescuing an expensive alcoholic beverage as he does so.He gives a dashing smile and quips to the liberated non-combatant who looks on speechless (and horrified).



    Yep, this is a spoof of James Bond and a very entertaining one, and ultra-violent too!



    Anyone who saw Edgar Wright's "The World's End" will have seen the incredibly choreographed action sequences featuring the camera carefully rotating around to capture every single punch in full context of the surrounding environment. If you enjoyed that as much as I did, you'll be glad to know that Matthew Vaughn is also employing this style. One particular fight scene mid-way through the film is particularly stunning as a result. Especially since the villains this time around aren't robots with ink instead of blood, making the violence far more shocking.



    Just as "Kick-Ass" was an ultra-violent send up of the superhero genre, so is "Kingsman" an ultra-violent send up of James Bond films. In both cases the original material being spoofed was already pretty silly, but these films simultaneously mock and pay homage to their chosen genre. Mark Millar's attempts to shock can often cross the line.



    I discovered this when reading his graphic novel "Wanted" and many others discovered this upon the release of "Kick-Ass 2"; yet Matthew Vaughn and writer Jane Goldman know how to make this material work for the average filmgoer. Mark Kermode seems to feel that the film oversteps the mark in one of the final scenes, but frankly the tasteless element in question is so clearly parodying a typical James Bond trope that it only seems fair to let it pass. Sure, the scene is question is rather crass, but it is parodying a long tradition of crassness in Bond movies which few would bat an eyelash at.



    Kingsman becomes genuinely implausible on a number of occasions, even more so than Kick-Ass, and that's all part of the fun. Expect more of the same chaotic style, colourfulness and walking on the border of bad taste which made Kick-Ass so much fun, with the action sequences actually more exciting and visceral than ever. Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman know how to tell an entertaining story and they do just as good a job as you'd expect here.



    As a side-note, those rather more excited than I regarding the upcoming Star Wars sequel may also be pleased to hear that Mark Hamil does a great job in his role here. (With a flawless English accent too!)

    A+



    (An attempt at) Ranking Matthew Vaughn's Films
    Quite frankly I love every single one of these. Matthew Vaughn and Edgar Wright are amongst the few directors who have never made a film I didn't love. But in any case here's an attempt at a ranking.


    5. X-Men: First Class
    Despite a short production time to make it work, Matthew Vaughn made the best X-Men film ever making fantastic use of a stellar case, with a more balanced portrayal of the various superhero characters than ever before. I didn't quite buy into the final act on first watch, but upon a second watch I came to see so many fantastic little details that I had to put my grade up to an A.


    4. Stardust
    A wonderful fantasy story with an awesome villainous performance from Michelle Pfeiffer. Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman bring to life Neil Gaiman's interpretation of genuine fairytales (with the original darkness before they are Disney-fied). Actually they still make the story a little more sweet and cheerful than the original short story and I think it's the right decision. Beautiful, funny and visually exhilarating; this is awesome.


    3. Layer Cake
    After producing Guy Ritchie's first two films "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrells" and "Snatch", it felt like a bit of a hollow boast when all the trailers for "Layer Cake" promised to be "from the producer" of those other two films. So it was a big surprise when, unlike Guy Ritchie's subsequent efforts, it turned out to be utterly brilliant. In actual fact, I find "Layer Cake" to be superior to Guy Ritchie's initial efforts, possibly indicating that Matthew Vaughn's influence on those earlier projects was greater than you might expect. Daniel Craig gets to show off some of the talents he would later use in his role as James Bond, including one part where he gets to show off Bond-style with a gun. Looking back, I couldn't help but feel "well of course he became James Bond!"


    2. Kingsman: The Secret Service
    It was especially hard to work out which film should have the top spot. But in the end, I feel that Kingsman is a return to the 'Mark Millar adaptation' style, meaning that it's not quite as fresh and new as the last time it was done. That being said, with such incredible action sequences and a similarly amusing and exciting storyline, part of me wanted to give this the top spot.


    1. Kick-Ass
    Released in the same year as "Iron Man 2" when Marvel hadn't quite dominated the superhero genre, but when superheroes were already big in the public mindset all the same, came an adaptation of an independent Marvel project satirising the genre. Kick-Ass takes a similar "what if superheroes were real" premise to "Watchmen" yet committing to the realism rather more consistently even while playing the whole thing for laughs. The main appeal here is actually Hit-Girl, a performance which first introduced us to the now highly respected Chloe Grace-Moretz. It was such a bizarre idea that it really captured imaginations. (Though apparently in the Marvel movie universe Black Widow was working for the KGB before she even turned 8, so perhaps we can expect to see a similar kind of character in the more straight-laced superhero films.) Meanwhile the protagonist is an ordinary guy whose only superpower is that he is a bit more resiliant to pain than most people, which hardly seems likely to make him equipped to take on the mob. More than anything else, this turned out to be a great showcase for Vaughn's colourful palette and expressive visual style, with action, humour and a knowing wink.

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    Selma (2014)

    Biopics are always awkward and it's particularly difficult to get us to invest in a story when we all already know the outcome. As much as I dislike the movie "Titanic", James Cameron was no fool when he based the film around a fictional romance instead of making the story hinge on whether the ship would finish its journey or not.



    The concern for all those involved in Selma is whether their struggle for civil rights will be successful. It's very easy for us in the audience to pick sides because we already know who wins. Still, the film does a great job of making sure we understand the controversy of the era. The President does not simply happily embrace Martin Luther King's message, even though he is fully on board, because like any President he needs to appeal to voters across the nation. Meanwhile there's a similar (intentional) inconsistency between George Wallace's speeches in public and his attempts to manage the situation behind closed doors. We also see some of the in-fighting between black groups and arguably a clearer picture of Malcolm X than we ever gain from Spike Lee's three hour twenty minute movie about the man.



    David Oyelowo is an actor I've loved ever since he was in the tv series "Spooks" (known in America as "MI5"). The show went on for 10 series, but I lost interest when Danny (Oyelowo's character) was killed off and several other important characters left in a much earlier series. (Peter Firth is actually the only one to consistently remain in the show all the way to 2011 - and he's also going to be in an upcoming movie.) It was a surprise when Oyelowo randomly appeared at the end of "The Last King of Scotland" and even more surprising when he was a villain in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes". It's great to see him finally getting a role worthy of him here. He captures Martin Luther King very impressively and has been praised for his performance by members of Dr. King's family.



    One thing I felt was done particularly well here was the portrayal of violence against black people. We've all seen the images of peaceful marches and we've all seen snapshots of attack dogs and water cannons and police waving batons. But this film captures the sheer chaotic brutality which, within a group of black protesters or even black bystanders, indiscriminately targets young, old, male and female alike. Sound effects and choreography ensure that the audience feels every single blow. Ouch!



    Sadly overall there's a lack of an interesting compelling plot. This is a typical biopic problem, particularly with an historical figure as well-known as Martin Luther King. We already know where the story is heading and all the film can really do is try to emphasise a few new details we might have missed. Certainly the decision to frame the story with reference to FBI logs secretly recording the details of Martin Luther King's public and private life was a very interesting touch, but overall it's difficult to see this as a satisfying story.



    But this is nonetheless a very accomplished film. I suspect plenty of schools will be quickly buying in their copy as an aid when educating future generations about this important part of our collective history. At very least, that will ensure that this film stands the test of time. It's a damn good film and deserves attention. But biopics are inevitably handicapped by the requirement to stay true to their subject matter (or the consequences of failing to stay true to their subject matter) and while "Selma" works hard within those limits, it remains somewhat limited all the same.

    B+




    Hannah Arendt (2012)

    I was not sure what to expect with this film. I've long been intrigued by what I've heard about Hannah Arendt. I've made a less thorough examination of her philosophy than other philosophers and I was keen to get a snapshot of her life in its historical context. And wow, does this film pay off on that expectation.



    The film begins with a man being captured and bundled into a van. We soon discover that this is Mossad kidnapping a Nazi accused of war crimes so that he can be tried in Israel. (Rendition eh? Topical!) Hannah Arendt's friends get into an argument about the issue and quickly start talking in German, much to the chagrin of their American hosts who are unable to follow the fast-paced discussion. The way that characters switch languages to suit the scenario is interesting.



    This film is not just about a plot, or even about the characters, but is about the whole culture in which these characters live. There's one scene where two characters begin quoting various lines of "Faust" to one another and while, being rather less cultured than the characters involved, I couldn't really follow the references, it was interesting to see them excitedly quoting a piece of literature for which they have a shared passion. In the same scene one character who joins in with quoting from "Faust" is simply a bystander on a neighbouring table.



    Sadly, as with most biopics, the film is unsure how to end. Thankfully it doesn't make the common choice of ending with the central historical figure's death, but it never quite feels like the controversy is resolved. It probably didn't help for me that I was already somewhat familiar with Hannah Arendt's ideas on 'the banality of evil', but was not at all familiar with the controversy she sparked amongst fellow Jews.



    Still, I gained a lot of interesting insights into Hannah Arendt through this film and thoroughly enjoyed the passionate intelligence of every conversation she has. This is a very strong central performance, but one which is consistently complemented by the supporting performances. Hannah Arendt is constantly in dialogue with those around her, some of which she constantly outsmarts or dominates in discussion (e.g. the New Yorker editor) and some of which are able to keep up with her in discussion (e.g. her husband Heinrich). But in any discussion she is always a very intense conversationalist, sometimes even when saying very little, yet she is also a very warm figure (though often accused in the film of being cold and lacking emotion).



    This film is a very interesting exploration of how Hannah Arendt tackles the discovery that a major war criminal responsible for horrifying evils against the Jewish people (which are, as Hannah Arendt notes, crimes against the whole of humanity) is actually a fairly mild-mannered passive bureaucrat. Hannah Arendt is determined to uncover the truth and to think deeply no matter where her thoughts take her and that is what enables her to uncover her shocking 'banality of evil' philosophy when those around her prefer to have their view of the villain distorted rather than face the terrifying truths of human nature. - Or at least, that's how I interpreted it.



    This is a really interesting film, but it's a film based around ideas and characters. There's something resembling a three-act structure, but it's a little forced in that respect.

    B+

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    I've been seriously busy lately, but for those who are on my private posts list I'm thinking I might actually talk about personal stuff for a change in some upcoming posts. That'll make a change right?

    Anyway, xerinmichellex's relatively recent post about Doctor Who has inspired me to write this. So here goes. (Apparently Tumblr is having a celebrating New Who week. Okay whatever the excuse to talk about Doctor Who... :P)

    It's natural that people tend to side most with the Doctor they started with and/or grew up with. Those two tend to be the same. Let's not forget that this a children's show; albeit one that has traditionally led the child viewers to hide behind the sofa. Of course, this show tends to stick with viewers long since they are children, which is what was so wonderful about Capaldi saying he hadn't played the Doctor since he was nine.

    My Doctor is therefore quite an underrated one: Sylvester McCoy. And it probably didn't do any harm that I jumped straight in at "Remembrance of the Daleks" where he has companion Ace firmly established and letting him borrow her nitro-9 explosives (and would later famously attack a Dalek with a baseball bat). McCoy was a hard sell for audiences because he'd been involved in some kind of children's show beforehand, which feels odd for me having always known him as a deeply mysterious and often pretty dark incarnation of the Doctor. He often seemed to end storylines by utterly destroying the villain (including with this explosion which was a little bigger than intended. - McCoy walks on calmly though you will notice a slight wince as the edge of the blast hits him.)

    Favourite Series/Season:

    For old Who I think it makes most sense to talk about best storylines since they are normally about 5 episodes long. I was very impressed with "Tomb of the Cybermen", but my favourite of all time has got to be my first ever Doctor Who story, which is also to my mind the best Dalek storyline ever, "Remembrance of the Daleks". It's a proper mystery and it took me several watches to fully understand what was going on. (What can I say, my first watch was at the age of 5 and I was having to get to grips with the entire concept of Doctor Who at the same time.) Since my first ever episode involved a Dalek hovering up stairs, I found myself consistently puzzled by subsequent "Daleks can't climb stairs" jokes.



    If forced to pick a NewWho series, for me it would have to be series five. Matt Smith made me take Doctor Who seriously for a change, his run seemed to be moving closer than ever before to the style of the old Classic Who and there was a more consistent arc to that series than in any of the series before or since. And let's not forget cool moments like the episode where the Doctor faces against a villain played by Toby Jones, the run-in with the Silurians which feels like a clear reference to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and the Vincent Van Gogh episode which represents Richard Curtis' best work in a long long while.


    Favourite Character:
    Well whether we're dealing in Classic Who or New Who my answers feel pretty much inevitable. I'm not going to pick a Doctor, but in both cases I've got to pick female companions. There's the utterly badass "Ace" who dodges laser fire from Cybermen in order to take them down. Then there's the pure force of personality from "Amy Pond" who, inititally at least, doesn't seem to hero-worship the Doctor like previous companions did. Her first response to the Doctor is to blame him for abandoning her so he has to spend his time after that earning back her trust. I'm not judging which of them is better. Classic and New Who are two very different beasts. But they are both very cool.



    Favourite Theme:
    Um what? You mean like "Doctor is Jesus" idea that seemed to be played up in series three of New Who? Is that a theme?


    How about the "actions have consequences" theme in "The Girl Who Waited"? I've always enjoyed a good time travel plot and the idea of Amy becoming a bitter woman + badass because she's been forced to survive for decades in a world where medical robots are trying to inject her with 'medicine' that will kill her was pretty neat. The theme actually isn't so different from that in "Torchwood: Children of Earth" i.e. 'what if the Doctor DOESN'T come to save you?"



    And another aspect of the theme there is that all that time Amy has been waiting for Rory and she doesn't really want to give him up to the younger version of herself who hasn't had to sacrifice all that she has to earn him. It's an episode where the Rory/Amy relationship is truly ABOUT the Rory/Amy relationship rather than the awkward love triangle which is occasionally suggested.



    Another theme which I need to mention is that the one of "how far will the Doctor go?" The idea of the Doctor having responsibilities isn't really one I remember being explored so often in Classic Who. Sure, he had moral dilemmas and sometimes they would be difficult. But right from the start Hartnell's Doctor was mischievous and would happily lie to those with him to give an excuse for an explore. But with the New Who Doctor there is a sense of personal moral responsibility which seems to be attributed to his guilt over the loss of the Time Lord race, for which he blames himself. That moralism comes to a crescendo with David Tennant who comes to refer to himself as "a man who never would" (which seemed quite at odds with his "no second chances" stance at the beginning of series two). But in series one, the episode "Father's Day" has the Doctor trying to bend the rules for Rose. He's appalled that she breaks the rules of time travel causing serious problems, but he holds back from hanging her out to dry over it - and in the end it is actually neither Rose nor the Doctor who sorts out the issue. In that way it's much closer to a Classic Who style plot where the Doctor has to tackle problems but in the end things often fall into place by themselves (which leads me to wonder in a lot of McCoy's storylines in particular whether he actually knows exactly how things will play out from the start, despite feigning ignorance).



    While never actually stated at the time (since they didn't know that they were being cancelled), McCoy's Doctor was actually going to be revealed as a Time Lord 'God'. I'm reckoning he'd need to be a trickster god really. He says the odd phrase like "I'm much more than just another Time Lord" to indicate what is going on, but it isn't until the non-canon "Death Comes To Time" audio story that it is finally revealed that McCoy is actually a Time Lord god and that Ace was all that time being prepared to become a Time Lord herself. So I'd say that was a pretty cool, theme and while it never made it into canon explicitly, there are plenty of indications of that theme which ARE in canon all through McCoy's run as the Doctor (becoming particularly explicit in the story "Silver Nemesis"). I like to think the Doctor has a particular mysterious side to him and that he's more than just another time lord (even if not actually a deity).

    Final Thoughts:
    I still need to see season eight having given up after the best prison in the universe turned out to be the one with bizarrely lax security. Perhaps I'll like it overall in the end. Certainly I don't really want to give up on Doctor Who just yet. I also would like to check out a lot more of Classic Who as well as revisiting the various Sylvester McCoy storylines from my childhood. In the end Doctor Who is a series which has its ups and downs - and that's fine because it has the creativity and passion to keep its fans going through both peaks and troughs.


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    The Guest (2014)
    A family mourning the death of their son while abroad in the armed forces receive an unexpected visitor. A charming and polite man, he explains that he knew their son and made a promise to visit them. As it turns out, the mysterious visitor can be clearly seen next to their son in a photo of him with his army buddies. They welcome in the stranger and he quickly becomes popular with most people he meets, but we can tell there is something wrong.



    I've heard some make comparisons with "The Terminator", but I think that's misleading. Then again, it's perhaps similarly misleading to make the inevitable comparison to "Drive". A man who is not all he seems committing brutal violent acts to the sounds of 80s-esque music? That's Ryan Goslings 'driver' character surely? But then there were comparisons to "Cabin In The Woods" when Adam Wingard released "You're Next". Unlike the remake of "Maniac" with Elijah Wood, "The Guest" doesn't have the same kind of aesthetics to "Drive". It shares some themes, but it's a different sort of film.



    Apparently the central 'guest' figure is actually a British actor well known for his role in the tv show Downton Abbey. Frankly, I had no idea Dan Stevens wasn't an American actor. Admittedly I'm not great at recognising when actors are doing bad American accents. I had no idea that there was ever anything wrong with Dominic West's accent in "The Wire", even when pointed to particularly egregious examples. But in any case, I completely bought into the charming soldier with a strong sense of etiquette coming to visit the family of his fallen comrade. And despite the dark turn the story takes, this isn't a cynical film. Like with "Drive" the transition from charming figure to violent monster is intended to (somewhat) surprise us. We're not supposed to simply expect violence from a hardened soldier. Sure, that wouldn't be fair at all, but it does occur in some films and it is not necessarily a hard sell. Still, that's not what is happening here.



    There are some fantastic action sequences, a cool soundtrack, an array of believable characters surrounding our mysterious larger-than-life central figure. And while we are talking about "The Wire", I should probably point out that one of the actors from that show turns up here too. And unlike your typical silly action film (including the majority of the Marvel films) the action sequences don't feel like they just occur for the sake of spectacle. This is a consistent plot, building up tension and ramping up to a conclusion driven by its characters. Admittedly I found Maika Monroe rather less interesting than the actors playing her brother and her parents, but her performance is just fine.



    "The Guest" is a very easy film to recommend. A dark humour, great action sequences, real tension and adrenaline all pushed forward by the characters. And overall, just simply a great time.

    A+



    It Follows (2014)
    Maika Monroe wasn't really the best thing about "The Guest" and she doesn't really blow me away in the lead role here either, but she's a competent actress in this inventive horror film.



    A cross between an "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" style monster movie and a "The Grudge"-esque supernatural curse, this movie very neatly dodges my typical gripes with 'ghost stories'. The villain is a monster, not a person who needs to get in touch with their feelings and there are clear rules which the monster will follow (though that includes the proviso that the monster will do things 'just to mess with you' sometimes).



    In the end the story is pretty simple, but that's not necessarily a problem. The lack of development or fleshing out of the characters is a bigger issue. But the fantastic premise and the Carpenter-esque sense of style ensures that I would be very interested in a sequel and am very satisfied with this as a one-off.



    For all its limitations, this is a strong film in its own right, even if it lets the central monster do most of the heavy lifting.

    The climactic scene in the third act is very cool. And one piece of advice: Be on the lookout for family photos!

    B+

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