About Me

Massive film fan, and first year History student.

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Saturday, 4 January 2014

Top Ten Films of 2013

1. Blue Jasmine

Woody Allen's return to form continues with the melancholy Blue Jasmine. Starring Cate Blanchett in a career defining performance and set to the warm water colour like tones of San Francisco, Blanchett's Jasmine and her abrasive nature allows the audience to feel little empathy for this often disturbed woman. In what is an obvious love letter to Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire, Blue Jasmine is brilliantly performed by a stellar cast yet Blanchett makes this film twinkle, and it is her performance which makes it my favourite film of 2013.  

2. Gravity

Four years in the making with a number of cast switches, (originally written for Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey Jr) Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón will be more than happy that he opted for the superb Sandra Bullock and the ever charming George Clooney in this strikingly beautiful sci-fi thriller. Bullock and Clooney play two astronauts left fighting for survival after a cloud of debris hits their space shuttle. Quite literally the most visually stunning film I have ever seen, backed up by a stellar performance from Sandra Bullock, Gravity is immeasurably tense while instilling a sense of horror and awe echoing the fascination of 2001: A Space Odyssey

3. Django Unchained

Being released very early into the year last January and coming into the 2013 Oscars cycle (yet was released too late for my 2012 list), i've had ample time to view Tarantino's spaghetti western a couple more times, and it gets better with each viewing. Jamie Foxx stars as the titular Django in this grimy, gorgeous epic while Christoph Waltz plays his bounty hunting partner in crime, Dr King Schultz. Bar a pretty dreadful Australian accent from Tarantino's cameo, the film is excellently performed, particularly from Leonardo DiCaprio's engrossing and wicked Calvin Candie while Waltz won Best Supporting Actor for his role. Django Unchained is brilliantly fun, while also being so beautifully made in terms of style and vision.

4. Prisoners 

Easily the best thriller of 2013, Prisoners was gripping, tense and unpredictable. Terrific performances from its two leading men, Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman, and an enthralling story set in typically eery small town America bring this dark film to life. Paul Dano's scene stealing performance as the broken Alex Jones is one of the best supporting roles i've seen this year. It's dark, depressive and absorbing, I look forward to what director, Denis Villeneuve, does next. 

5. The Place Beyond the Pines

Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrance returns to our screens, with Ryan Gosling in tow and adding Bradley Cooper and Eva Mendes to this moving crime drama. The Place Beyond the Pines is a dual tale of two fathers, one a criminal, the other a policeman, Cianfrance has created an atmospheric piece of cinema with two of the years stand out performances in Gosling and Cooper. While Gosling is his broody self, Cooper continues to surprise and excite, as he releases himself from the shackles of The Hangover films, becoming one of my favourite and most well rounded actors. 

6. The World's End

Edgar Wright's pub crawl movie, completing his highly anticipated 'cornetto' trilogy, continues to be as fresh and original as Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead were. Teaming up with usuals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, as well as Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan and Paddy Considine, The World's End is a hilarious and hearty end to what are three of the best British comedy films in decades. 

7. Filth 

Another Irvine Welsh adaptation hits the big screen, this time his 1998 novel of the same name got the Hollywood treatment. Directed by John S. Baird and starring James McAvoy as vile and corrupt Scottish policeman Bruce Robertson, it's a twisted, brutal film, yet its dark nature doesn't draw away from some if its more hilarious scenes. In fact it's that very ability to switch so easily between the fouler and more comedic aspects of the film that make it such a mix of depraved and brilliant. It is also the strength of McAvoy's performance that makes this film one of my favourites of 2013. 

8. Don Jon

Joseph Gordon-Levitt writes, directs and stars in this film about a twenty-something Italian American whose attempts to have a meaningful and loving relationship halt after his girlfriend, Scarlett Johansson, realises he has a porn addiction. Gordon-Levitt's directorial debut is original, poignant, funny and most importantly real. Its resolution is far more real than any other romantic/ drama comedy this year, and it's so stylishly put together. 

9. Star Trek: Into Darkness

JJ Abram's Star Trek: Into Darkness is an adrenaline pumping action packed sci-fi, and a more than worthy predecessor to the 2009 original. Featuring a brilliant ensemble cast including Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg with newcomers in the form of Alice Eve and antagonist Benedict Cumberbatch. Its fast and thrilling from the very start, it packs an emotional punch while also being funny throughout. Its visually stunning yet it is often the high quality of acting that surprises, Cumberbatch is at his very best throughout, becoming the complete Trek villain. 

10. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

A late entry into my top ten, and I'm still unsure whether it should be in my list. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, directed by and starring Ben Stiller, co-starring Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn and Adam Scott, it is the story of a negative asset manager at Life magazine, who goes on the search for a missing photo needed for the final cover of the magazine's last issue. The film at times threatens to be overly self-indulgent, but it's life affirming and moving. You cheer Stiller's Mitty on to the very last scene, a truly common hero. The very likeable Stiller plays him with understated modesty.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Gravity review by Andrew Griffiths

Acclaimed Mexican director, Alfonso Cuarón, takes his brand of hyper-realist human drama to space but is it style over substance or has he successfully managed to transport his humanist storytelling to the realm of satellites and cosmonauts? 

From the opening sequence of the film, Gravity grabs your attention with all the power it can muster and doesn’t let go until the credits are rolling. Whether it’s the incredible shots of sunsets over the distant Earth or the constant barrage of action that hits you between the eyes like debris from space, your eyes are fixed to the screen for every millisecond of the film’s running time.

With dizzyingly realistic camerawork, this could be the closest thing to visiting space without putting your life in the hands of Richard Branson. However, the film offers so much more than just some pretty shots of space, as it maintains a touching narrative of the astronaut’s personal struggles that is sure to enthral even the sternest sci-fi sceptics.

It is truly a tall task to make a film that takes place in a setting so far removed from our own lives, as space, relatable. However, this is one of the areas where Gravity succeeds and it does so spectacularly.

Perhaps it is Clooney’s dry witticism in his anecdotes about his adulterous wife and a trip to Mardi Gras in 1987 or maybe it is Sandra Bullock’s heart-wrenching backstory to how she ended up floating around the cosmos that provide a distinctly human element in such an other-worldly environment. 

And it is this juxtaposition between the mundane everyday conversation shared by the astronauts and the extra-ordinary circumstances that they find themselves in that develops such a captivating viewing experience for the audience. 

However, whilst this narrative might add a gripping touch of poignancy, it is often overshadowed by the seemingly never-ending stream of catastrophe. And this unrelenting adversity can be a bit much at times, as it becomes somewhat predictable after a while. 

Despite this, if you are willing to give yourself over to the film wholeheartedly and go along with the more action-centric elements then it is well worth the watch. And with some of the most impressive space photography in film history, Gravity is truly a must-watch event both as a visual spectacle and a moving story about triumph of the human spirit.

And if you’re a fan of Sandra Bullock flailing around in space, then you are well and truly in for a treat.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The Hangover Part III Review

The Hangover Part III is funny in parts, but its predictable and quite frankly uninteresting plot leaves this third and final (hopefully) installment feeling very stale

What do you do when you make a critically and commercially well received comedy film in Hollywood? You make a sequel, obviously, which always falls short of the original, always. So you then deem the film series a trilogy and make a third in an attempt to make up for the shortcomings of the second. So that's where we're up too with The Hangover trilogy. After making a good first movie based on a classic comedy template and an awful sequel in which you may have thought 'haven't I seen all this before', we're now struggling over the finish line to this trilogies completion and desperately hoping that this third film isn't based on a hangover and that that annoying chinese bloke won't appear again. Well I have good news and bad news, this film isn't based on adventures the morning after a big night out, woo! The bad news though, yes that irritating and disturbing chinese man is essentially the whole crux of the story. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis and that guy who goes missing in every movie all return to the franchise as their respective characters. Ken Jeong is back as Leslie Chow AKA that annoying fellow I was referring too, while John Goodman also makes an appearance as bad ass mobster, Marshall.

In a decent introduction scene we see Leslie Chow has escaped from a Bangkok prison, Shawshank Redemption style, (hasn't the poster over the hole parody been done to death now?) and is now on the loose. However, back in America, after a headless Giraffe incident on the highway and the death of Alan's Dad, his friends and family decide that going to a rehab facility is best for him. Doug, Phil and Stu all agree to drive him down, but on the way they are rammed off the road by mob boss Marshall. It is explained that escapee Chow has stolen half of a $42 million gold heist, and this mob boss, obviously not happy with the pitiful $21 million left for him, and because he's not rich enough already, explains that he really, desperately needs this money back, obviously. 

Wait, let me guess, let me guess, hmmm... Is this a play on The Beatles' seminal Abbey Road album cover? Genius. The question is, who's Ringo Starr?

The self named 'Wolfpack' are blackmailed into trying to find Chow, of course Doug is kidnapped and taken for 'insurance'. He is predictably absent for the rest of the film as he probably sips martinis and has a right old laugh with Marshall. Anyhow, the trio track Chow down (get it!?) to Mexico, using Alan as a ploy to nab him. However, being the clever weird little man that Chow is, he saw it coming and convinces Phil, Alan and Stu that they should break into his old mansion to get the gold back so they can give it to Marshall and get Doug freed. Unknowing to the Wolfpack though, the mansion is actually Marshall's, and Chow locks all three of them in the house, and the gold he takes? Marshall's other half! What a twist! 

Big bad Marshall is obviously very angry and shoots his colleague 'Black Doug', who you might remember from the first film, for no reason. Shame, I quite liked him, probably because he looks like that man from 'My Wife and Kids'. Marshall now really angry and apparently shooting people at will, gives them 24 hours to find Chow, or 'white' Doug dies. Golly. 

Shenanigans ensue, with the crew returning to Vegas in order to catch Chow. Usually at this point in a review I will describe how thrilling a film's finale is and not give any of the ending plot away, but to save you all time we all know they catch Chow in a mad escapade around Vegas' finest hotels (great advertisement I bet), get Doug back and Alan is okay and doesn't really need his rehab. Bet you didn't see that coming.

Look how angry he is!? That lovely knitted scarf is really menacing

In all seriousness, The Hangover III has its moments. The opening scene in which Alan accidentally executes a Giraffe on the highway is genuinely funny, as is his Father's death scene. The post-credits sequence also got a lot of laughs, as Stu wakes up with a brand spanking new set of breasts. The four main characters have an honest chemistry between them, and they utilise this well. At least this third film wasn't based on a hangover, which in some aspects felt refreshing, and they were able to introduce new characters through it. 

Zach Galifianakis can still be funny throughout, and is often the film's gem, but his weird bearded man routine has become tiresome. Bradley Cooper is of course likeable, as he is in most films. Some of the best scenes came when it was just Phil and Alan, with Cooper's stone solid face to Alan's constant barrage of questions proving to be amusing. Not much to say about Ed Helms, he was of course the same as in the previous two films, the frantic awkward one who only ever looks on the negative side. Other than a couple of one liners and a likeable persona, he doesn't add as much, but I suppose they did put boobs on him though, poor Stu, always coming off worse the morning after.

My issue with The Hangover III though is its story, which is predictable and boring. I know a comedy isn't supposed to have an intensely complicated plot, but with what most comedies lack in story, they make up with laughs. The Hangover III lacks these laughs which bridge the gap between poor story and humour. The writers often use recycled plot points and jokes from the previous two films, making the whole movie seem stagnant. It really raises the question, was a third film needed? 

The Hangover Part III is watchable, and on occasions enjoyable, but its uninteresting and obvious plot make for poor viewing. If this film does well, and because it's The Hangover it inevitably will do, who's to bet those Hollywood producers will say, 'hey let's do a fourth!', 'hey lets set it in Vegas!'. Thus further flogging the proverbial dead horse. 


Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Great Gatsby Review

Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby is a glitzy and intriguing revamping of F. Scott Fitzgerald's American classic while Toby Maguire proves to be the film's gem 

Gatsby, what Gatsby? Yes old sport, one of the most eagerly anticipated films of the year hit our screens a couple of weeks back, with its release date having already been delayed 6 months and the obvious pressures of adapting one of the greatest 20th century novels to the screen, expectations were naturally high. There are already four film versions of F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, yet all four are generally considered to be duds, so it was down to Moulin Rouge director Baz Luhrmann to try and turn the luck around. Anyone who's seen Moulin Rouge or indeed Luhrmann's Romeo + Juliet will know that while he's a successful auteur, he has a rather glamourous cinematic style, often splitting critics. 

So it was no surprise to hear that the film divided reviewers with various mumblings about the Jay-Z produced soundtrack and flashy visuals talked about. Regardless of this I went into the cinema open minded, mostly because of Luhrmann's decent track record (Australia excluded) and not to mention its stellar cast. The great Jay Gatsby in question is played by the consistently brilliant Leonard DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan and Joel Edgerton as Daisy and Tom Buchanan respectively, Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker and of course the book's narrator and our eyes and ears, Nick Carraway, played by Toby Maguire.  

The film starts with Maguire's Nick Carraway describing to a Doctor events that transpired recently which resulted in him having a nervous breakdown. Carraway, struggling to focus his mind is told to start writing his story down on paper. At the start of summer, 1922, Nick leaves the mid-west and heads east to New York, becoming a bond salesman and settling in a small house in Long Island, right next to a luxurious mansion, owned by Jay Gatsby, a mysterious businessman who tends to throw lavish parties. Nick also lives across the river from his cousin, Daisy Buchanan and her husband and Nick's former college friend, Tom. He goes to visit, also meeting fellow socialite and golfer, Jordan Baker. While at dinner it is clear Daisy and Tom are having marriage issues, as it becomes obvious that Tom is having an affair. 

Nick is quickly sucked into the grand New York party scene, awash with bootlegged drinking, drugs, money and sex, as he becomes disheartened with his friend Tom and his affair with the wife of a poor mechanic, Myrtle Wilson (Isla Fisher). He also receives a personal invitation from Mr Gatsby to attend one of his parties, once getting there realising he is the only one to get such a personal invite, everyone else just turns up. Nick immediately gets caught up in Gatsby's thrilling party life, while also meeting back up with Jordan Baker as they discuss the man behind these huge, electrifying events. Nick hears various rumours about the secluded millionaire, ranging from him being family to the old Kaiser Wilhelm, to the idea that he might not even exist.

Yet Gatsby finally introduces himself to Nick, taking a shine to the young bond salesman, inviting him out to various trips and meet ups in the city. But his motive isn't friendship, Nick finds out that Jay is hoping to capture the heart of his cousin, Daisy. They were once lovers over 5 years ago, and Gatsby is still hopelessly besotted with her. He asks Nick a favour, Gatsby hopes to once again meet up with Daisy, and despite her husband, fall in love again and make her his wife. The pair begin their long expected love affair, with Gatsby revealing he built his riches, the mansion, the pool, the luxury clothes, all to win her back. Yet with Daisy seemingly back in love with Jay, but constantly dropping hints that their life together can't happen, things begin to take a more tragic and troubling turn. Despite Gatsby's confidence and hope, events only get worse, accumulating in a harrowing disarray of heartbreak and disillusion. 

Luhrmann's take on The Great Gatsby is a visual thrill ride, flashy, loud, and full of colour. From the desolate valley of the ashes to the high rising skyscrapers of the city, Luhrmann's vision rains rich vibrancy over Manhattan. I couldn't fault the visuals, they are a means of escapism for the audience as they are drawn into the glitzy life of America's wealthy. At times, it can feel somewhat cartoonish and a little over polished, but this takes nothing away from the overall feel. The film's soundtrack is built up of modern songs produced by Jay-Z, I still remain slightly torn over the music, but am leaning towards a positive outlook of it. The songs certainly reflect the immense riches and glamorous parties of the wealthy on screen, and it certainly doesn't distract from the power of the story. They also fit the visuals perfectly, the bright neon reds and the emerald greens which so enrich the champagne living of the elite. Still, it would have been interesting, and slightly more fitting to see a film set to the music of the era, after all Fitzgerald did name it the 'Jazz age'. 

I also noticed some small technical issues, in the 2D edition anyway. During one such car scene as Gatsby drives the naive Nick into the city, I realised some of the speech was out of sync, it seemed disappointing that on such a vast production that an error like this was left unobserved. However, none of these more technical criticisms distract from the story or the high quality of acting on screen. I feel Luhrmann should be very much praised for his take on the story, it's a loud, highly ambitious project, you can clearly see his wondrous, dazzling vision of Gatsby, and in the end, he pulls it off.  

I obviously expected high quality acting given the big names in the cast, and they certainly deliver. Leonardo DiCaprio is the charming aloof Gatsby in every way. From that smile to the suits, he is magnificent. You see the mysterious socialite, yet also the sweet insecure heart of a man hopelessly in love, anchoring his hopes and dreams on the decision of a single woman. It's tragic, you can see the delusion in DiCaprio's eyes. He is at his most brilliant when he gets frustrated with Nick, who tries to drag Gatsby back to reality, he becomes stubbornly paranoid and naively hopeful. It is everything you expect from the always superb DiCaprio. 

Carey Mulligan is a class act, you won't forget her opening scene easily as she looks up at the audience, all doe eyed and bewitching. While you also won't forget the sorrow in her eyes at the first mention of Gatsby, a look of lost love and a clear feeling of regret. Mulligan has become one of my favourite actress' ever since her meteoric rise after appearing in 2009's An Education. Her portrayal of the delightfully pure yet money obsessed and ultimately cowardly Daisy is spot on. It's this wide eyed innocence partnered with a darker side that truly makes her a 'beautiful little fool'. 

Toby Maguire does a terrific job of portraying our narrator, Nick Carraway. I've found Maguire can have a tendency to become annoying in some films, so I was surprised and delighted when not only did he put in a first rate performance but the best performance in the film. Much like Daisy, Nick seems to have an innocence about him, the idea of a young man coming to the big city, staying in a quaint little cottage next to a mansion, he is the character we most identify with, and becomes the most likeable figure on screen. We become disillusioned with the lifestyle of the rich as he does, we see him inevitably change as the story plows on. From young hopeful bonds salesman to boozy and bitter wallflower to the Gatsby, Tom and Daisy love triangle. His greatest moments come when the veil of superficiality is lifted and Nick can speak his mind, his outbursts of anger, of spitefulness at the whole tragic passing of his kind and optimistic friend Gatsby. This is a really understated yet distinguished performance from Toby.

In supporting roles, I loved Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, the total opposite to Gatsby. Old money vs new money, flirtatious promiscuity vs devoted, faithful love. He is unlikeable from the start, but undoubtedly loves Daisy, prompting the tragic moral struggle for Daisy's heart. Elizabeth Debicki is great as Jordan, caring and classy, yet ultimately shallow. My only fault with the acting however doesn't lie with the actors, but with the script and Luhrmann's direction. The best scenes in the film are when the characters lose their mask of false kindness, and lash out in real emotion at each other, allowing the actors to really let loose. The problem is, is that these scenes are few and far between with the phony facade of insincerity that follows the rich appearing all too often. Raw emotion is needed to really drive the story home. 

The Great Gatsby is a truly haunting and tragic romance, and Luhrmann's take on it is a thing of kaleidoscopic beauty. At times it can feel like he substitutes real narrative for visual luster, but it says something that to this day the most endearing aspect of this novel turned film is its powerful story. F. Scott Fitzgerald's original tale is the real winner, and with all literary agendas aside, this is a fantastic and powerful film. 


Sunday, 26 May 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness review

JJ Abram's Star Trek sequel is a truly riveting and mesmerising journey packed with stunning visuals and a superb ensemble cast

The Star Trek film franchise returned to our screens a couple of weeks ago with its second installment, Star Trek: Into Darkness. Newly announced Star Wars director JJ Abrams returned to the fold to direct, although uncertainty surrounds his decision on directing a third, while the whole cast from the first movie are back, including Chris Pine as the charismatically arrogant Captain James T. Kirk, and Zachary Quinto as half human/half vulcan Spock. New additions to the cast include British actor, Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus and Sherlock actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the film's primary antagonist, John Harrison. With Abrams having done a slap up job of rejuvenating the dying franchise back in 2009, there was obvious pressure on him to do the same with this sequel. Abrams recently said he was never a huge Trek fan when he made the decision to direct the franchise back in 2007, allowing him to not get bogged down in the Trek fanboy universe and start afresh from the beginning, bringing something new to not just Trek but to each individual character. He has returned to Into Darkness with the exact same approach, and it has absolutely paid off. 

Into Darkness starts off where the last movie left us, with the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise on a mission to explore deep space and observe new planets. The whole gang is back, including Dr McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery Scott or 'Scotty' (Simon Pegg), Spock's love interest Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana) and of course helmsmen Hikaru Sulu (John Cho). Following a disastrous mission to a beautifully crimson yet primitive planet, Captain James T. Kirk is stripped of his official title, and taken off any future Enterprise missions.

In the mean time, terror ensues for Star Fleet as attacks are made against them by ex-Fleet officer, John Harrison. After an attack on the San Francisco headquarters, killing Kirk's mentor Christopher Pike, Kirk is re-instated as captain of the Enterprise, with Spock as his first mate. With Harrison in uninhabited Klingon territory, the crew's mission is to locate Harrison and kill him immediately. Yet with tensions running high between Humans and Klingon, any sort of intimidation by the Enterprise, even on uninhabited territories, could start an intergalactic war.  

Having already lost Scotty due to moral issues in not being able to properly inspect missiles on board, the Enterprise also suddenly leaves its warp stream on it's way to Harrison, leaving the ship unnervingly floating in Klingon space. Left with no other choice, Kirk, now having changed his mind from killing Harrison to capturing him, in line with Fleet law, heads down to the planet with Spock and Uhura, capturing Harrison after a brief encounter with some hostile klingons. 

Yet Harrison is manipulative, citing cover ups at Star Fleet as to why he is raging a campaign of terror against them. With Kirk seemingly trusting Harrison, not helping tensions on board, things take a turn for the worse as an ominous ship approaches, while Harrison is revealed to actually be the greatest Trek baddie of them all, Khan Noonien Singh! The Enterprise and its crew now face a interstellar battle to not just save themselves and the ship, but to save the true morality of Star Fleet.

Abrams could not have directed a more thrilling and action packed movie. From start to finish it never stops, taking us from London, to San Francisco, to Klingon space and the moons of Jupiter, it's truly an astonishing journey. Visually it's dazzling, and in terms of CGI it may possibly be one of the most impressive films I've seen. There is some classic Abrams lens flare, but thankfully it's kept to a minimum. It really feels like Abram has put real time and effort into making this, crafting such a breathtaking space epic. Writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have done an excellent job on the plot, fusing this new Trek era and old ones alike, it's big reveal was also cleverly timed, and in all honesty, surprising. 

Abrams, Orci and Kurtzman also did well to pull in the reigns on the story, any director would have ran away with a Kirk and Carol Marcus love story, and while signs of a romance were obviously there, the writers never divulge further, ideally allowing Kirk's relationships with other to evolve, while also setting them up nicely for the third movie. The film also struck a good balance between action, emotion and humour. The film is funny at the right times and tear jerking at the right times (specifically the superb Kirk/Spock scene on the engineering floor), Shane Black and the Iron Man 3 team, take note!

While this film is expectedly brilliant in its visuals and story alike, its real surprise is the general high quality of acting throughout. The ever evolving Chris Pine was again ideal as James T. Kirk, while of course he portrays him with typical boisterousness, charm and bravery, he certainly delivers in the more serious scenes. Kirk is often a complex character, always wanting to break the rules, yet striving for greatness in Star Fleet, Pine obtains the perfect balance of this divisie nature, while he also again proves to bounce so well off Zachary Quinto's Spock. Much like Pine, I find Quinto to be a superb Spock. From body position, to facial expressions, and even that nature of stillness that accompanies the vulcan, Quinto nails it. His ever evolving friendship with Kirk is a fascinating one too, and felt more genuine and true than any romance they could have whipped up. Quinto is particularly outstanding when he tries to portray the difficult job of Spock's emotional side.

The supporting cast are also great, Simon Pegg is of course an absolute delight on screen, not only proving to be funny, but also showing his acting can reach a deeper, more sincere level. It was nice that Scotty proved to be such a pivotal character in the end, meaning Pegg got more lines and scenes than I expected, the more Pegg, the better. I also loved Karl Urban's Dr McCoy/Bones, a hilariously shrewd and typically cantankerous portrayal of the Enterprises' chief medical officer, while Alice Eve's Carol Marcus was a nice addition to the film. You really grow to like every single character onboard, and each crew member seems like a vital component in succeeding in the Enterprise's mission. It's also great to see character evolution and growth in the supporting cast particularly in Scotty and Sulu, Abrams is surprisingly able to pull this off despite a large ensemble cast. We also get another look at Leonard Nimoy as older Spock, another nod to old Trek of course but also keeping us aligned with Abram's current universe, though he did not add much to the plot. 

Yet, full praise must go to the incredible Benedict Cumberbatch. What a performance! He is the complete Trek villain, a Khan for the ages. His thunderous oration and delivering of lines matches that of even Alan Rickman, his performance is simply sensational. He's impervious and frightening whenever on screen, constantly menacing and unpredictable, you can't trust him, but you understand him. He is manic and intelligent, bionic and vengeful, yet calm and impatient all in one. Cumberbatch's Khan is a theatrically angry yet fallen figure and easily the best action villain in recent memory. I genuinely believe Cumberbatch is one in a million, one of those actors who comes across every so often who is able to sink into characters with ease, giving consistently powerful performances. 

My only criticism, if you could even call it that, is that it truly never stops. It doesn't slow down for anyone, which personally I like, but for others I could see this becoming a problem. 

Star Trek: Into Darkness is a more than worthy sequel to its predecessor, a captivating mix of both adrenaline pumping action and emotional punch. Visually it is faultless, seeing space in CGI has never looked better. Come for the visuals, come for the big fights and the charm of Kirk or the pedantic nature of Spock, but by all means stay for Cumberbatch's terrifying turn as Khan. You will leave the cinema feeling gripped, fascinated and more than satisfied. Honestly the best action movie of 2013 so far. 


Saturday, 25 May 2013

The Name Of The Doctor and Series 7 Review

So, the finale of Doctor Who series 7, tantalizingly called 'The Name Of The Doctor', will the Doctor's name finally be revealed? Is this his greatest secret? Well obviously there was no way the Doctor's name would be revealed, unless you want a surefire way of getting DW cancelled again. Regardless of what the Doctor's name is, revealing it is always going to be an anticlimax. Anyway, so after what I thought was the poor 'Nightmare in Silver' but the decent 'Crimson Horror', things have taken a turn for the worse as the Doctor's friends are being kidnapped.

Madame Vastra gets hold of some information by a prisoner about what is supposedly the Doctor's 'greatest secret'. She calls a meeting of the Doctor's allies, Jenny, Strax, Clara and River Song. Following a discussion it is revealed that his secret was space time co-ordinates for Trenzalore, as revealed in series 6, this is the place where 'the eleventh will fall' and where the grave of the Doctor rests. But with Dr Simeon/The Great Intelligence kidnapping his friends, the Doctor is forced to face his death and travel there in order to save them. Once there, it is revealed that the only way to get inside the tomb is if the Doctor's name is spoken, the Great Intelligence starts to kill Clara and co, only stopping if the name is spoken.

But with River still mentally connected to Clara, River says his name so no one else can hear it, opening the chamber. Inside lays a destroyed abandoned TARDIS with the Doctor's 'timeline' running straight through the middle, everything he is, his past, his future and everyone he's ever known. The Great Intelligence reveals its plan to step inside his time stream and re writing his history, turning his victories into failures and finally defeating the Doctor. As he does this, star systems go out, a universe without the Doctor has vast consequences. Clara decides to go in there to stop the G.I. and save the Doctor every time he's in trouble, in order to make sure his timeline is not destroyed, thus explaining why she is the impossible girl and why The Doctor met her in 'Asylum of the Daleks' and 'The Snowmen'. The Doctor knows he must save Clara though so unwittingly steps into his own timeline, discovering Clara in a dark and unknown place outside of his timeline.

As the two meet they are aware of another presence in the room. Clara explains that she has never seen this version of him, but the Doctor replies saying that he chose the name 'The Doctor' himself, as a 'promise', and that the mysterious man in the corner was 'the one who broke the promise.' The man turns round, and yes IT IS JOHN HURT, playing a version of The Doctor! Phew, quite an episode ay.

Firstly I have to say, despite a pretty lacklustre series, probably the worst since the 2005 reboot, this episode really made up for everything the writing team have done wrong over the past year. It was a thrilling, brilliantly acted and surprising finale. I had fears that the resolution to Clara's 'impossible girl' story arc would be underwhelming, and that this secret that the Doctor harbours would be equally as anticlimactic. But thankfully I was proven very wrong! The idea that Clara slips into The Doctor's timeline, thus finally explaining why she lived and died twice in totally different ages was a brilliant one. I'd rattled my mind each episode for the reason why she was the 'impossible girl', and never once thought of something like this, a lovely little twist from Moffat.

Obviously as mentioned above, the Doctor's name would never be spoken, but the secret revealed at the end was even better. Introducing a never before seen Doctor, thus sending DW fanatics into a flurry everywhere, with theories bouncing all over the internet. Even better, the legendary John Hurt will be playing this Doctor, you couldn't see a better man in the role. I couldn't imagine a better set up leading into the 50th anniversary episode in November, Matt Smith, John Hurt and of course the returning David Tennant all playing their respective Doctors.

Matt Smith was absolutely superb in this episode, a real acting tour de force. The moment when Clara tells him about Trenzalore, you really see Matt's acting skill, I was on the verge of tears as he croakily faced the reality of death. Matt has very unfairly received criticism during series 7, any issues with the show are due to failures in the writing department, Matt has been the only redeeming feature for most of this series. With better scripts he would easily be regarded as one of the best Doctors.

I do feel somewhat like the Great Intelligence as a villain has been wasted. It felt like it was only used as a mere nod to classic who as opposed to being a genuinely formidable enemy. I would love to see Richard E. Grant back though, he was a terrific villain, snarling, vengeful, and quite simply, frightening. The Whispermen were also a nice new addition to the Doctor Who monster club, despite doing very little they were rather creepy, I would love to see them back too.

However, I do have some reservations. Whilst I do like Madame Vastra and Jenny, I simply can't stand Strax. Despite offering some comic relief, he is a mere annoyance on screen and I was hoping when Vasta was forced to kill him, he would stay dead. Sadly I was wrong. Next series we need less Strax. Throughout the episode I loved the nods to classic who, from the 'The Valeyard' down to Clara appearing in old episodes. But the CGI seemed very clumsy throughout, it didn't ruin anything, just seemed to be lacking in any decent post production value.

A lot of questions arise from this episode, of course the most asked being, who is this Doctor John Hurt is playing? There are a million theories all over the internet for this, so i'll leave this discovery up to you. Other questions arise though, this prisoner who held such vital information about the Doctor, who is he? All we know is his name is Clarence, it's possible he was just manipulated by the G.I. in order to get to Madame Vastra, if this were true then he is very much a sloppy plot device, I'm sure Moffat could have thought of better, more interesting ways for Vasta to gain the space time co-ordinates. With River Song appearing but saying goodbye to the Doctor at the end of the episode, does this now mean River's time with DW is over? I like River, so if this were true it would be a loss to the show, yet she does seemed to have run her course. However before she says goodbye, she says she is still able to have a mental connection to Clara, and when the Doctor asks why, she of course answers, "spoliers!". So is there more to come from River? Are Clara and River somewhat connected? There is still more to be discovered here. I also saw a decent point made on another blog yesterday, cast your minds back to 'The Bells of St John', the only reason Clara ever meets the Doctor is because a woman in a shop suggests she rings the Doctor's phone number because it's 'the best helpline in the universe.' Could it have been River? Or Rose? After all she is returning for the 50th anniversary, but as of yet this question ,like so many others, remains a mystery.

So as a finale, 'The Name Of The Doctor' was a return to form for Moffat and the show. Series 7 has generally proven to be a dud, despite some decent episodes. But with so many new twists revealed in this episode, it's hard not to be excited for the 50th anniversary and Series 8. Either way as a stand alone episode, this was easily one of the best since series 5, Clara is great, but Matt Smith has consistently been dazzling, a wondrous mix of child in a sweet shop and ancient time traveller, as long as he continues to play the Doctor my faith in the show remains.

The Name Of The Doctor: 5/5
Doctor Who Series 7: 2.5/5

Monday, 6 May 2013

Iron Man 3 Review

Iron man 3 is throughly enjoyable, yet has Shane Black's witty script taken the comedy element a little too far? 

So Marvel kicked off the start of 'Phase 2' last weekend with the release of Iron Man 3 and the return of genius billionaire playboy philanthropist, Tony Stark. With the success of The Avengers and Iron Man originally kicking off Phase 1 back in 2008, it only seems right that we come full circle and for Robert Downey Jr. and crew to start us off on another round of films. Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle and Jon Favreau all return to the franchise as their respective characters. However after the bomb that was Iron Man 2, Favreau decided not to return as director, so taking over the reigns we have former Downey Jr. collaborator and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang director Shane Black. The supporting cast is strong with Guy Pearce playing founder of scientific think tank, Advanced Idea Mechanics, Aldrich Killian. Rebecca Hall plays former Stark lover and assistant to Killian, Dr Maya Hansen. While the ever superb Brit and stage legend, Ben Kingsley, plays the menacing archenemy of Iron Man, The Mandarin.

The screenplay is very loosely based on the Extremis story arc found in the Iron Man comics back in 2005. Narrating throughout the film, Stark originally takes us back to 1999 and to Switzerland, oh yeah and let's hope that's the last time we ever hear Eiffel 65's hit song Blue (Da Ba Dee) to introduce a film ever again, ever. So after a rather harsh encounter with a young and geeky AIM founder Aldrich Killian, we return to present day where Stark is attempting to perfect another prototype of one of his Iron suits. All is not well in the Stark abode though as following events in New York during The Avengers movie, our favourite egotist is having continuing panic attacks, not only resulting in restlessness as he attempts to perfect his suits, but also friction with his new girlfriend Pepper Potts (now leader of Stark Industries).

Following a number of terrorist attacks by international menace, The Mandarin, one of which puts Stark's beloved Happy Hogan into a coma, Tony sets out for revenge, hoping to stop the Mandarin once and for all. Yet not everything is as it seems. After Stark breaks into the Mandarin's compound in Miami, he discovers an out of work, drunk British actor by the name of Trevor. The Mandarin was just a ploy, with the true evil being Aldrich Killian, seeking revenge from 1999 and who's using his DNA reprogramming formula in an attempt to totally control the war on terror. With some help from War Machine, aka James Rhodes, (now rebranded the Iron Patriot), Stark hopes to destroy Killian's plans, which by this time has involved kidnapping the President.

Shane Black does an absolutely slap up job of returning Iron Man to the screen. After the poor Iron Man 2, this third instalment is refreshing and feels much more like the hit that was 2008's original Iron Man film. Visually the movie is of course stunning, the 3D doesn't particularly add much, but the action sequences are of course expectedly brilliant. Particularly the scene in which Air Force One blows up, and a couple of dozen people are falling to their deaths, only to be saved by Stark. It's mind numbing action that's easy to throw yourself into. Black and Drew Pearce's script is also something to admire.

Throughout, the film is hilarious, from cheesy one liners to cultural references, particularly Stark's verbal sparring with 8 year old Harley (Ty Simpkins), as they joke about their Father/Son relationship among other things. Sometimes it can feel too much, especially in the more serious scenes when the tension was annoyingly broken by a quip made by Rhodes or Stark. Of course comic book films should be funny, we don't want everything like The Dark Knight trilogy, but it often feels overdone and a little too much. Even the ending credit sequence felt a little ridicules, it was almost a parody, like a cheesy 80's Bond intro.

I'm also torn by the scriptwriter's choice to make the Mandarin a ploy and use Guy Pearce's Killian as the lead villain instead. At times it felt as though twisting Kingsley' Mandarin from a international terrorist into a drunken drug addicted British actor was absolute genius. Kingsley excelled in the role, producing a wonderful comic performance full of charm, wit and idiocy. The references to British culture, the watching of a Liverpool game and Trevor's performance of King Lear in Croydon were lovely little snippets which I very much enjoyed. However despite the brilliance of this character, it not only feels like a total waste of Kingsley's acting talent, but also a waste of the Mandarin character, who in the comics is a genuine villain and Iron Man's arch enemy. If Ben Kingsley had truly played the Mandarin as he is in the comics, the movie could have been even more spectacular.

Instead we were left with Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian, once rejected by Stark and now attempting to make as much money as he can through the war on terror. After seeing Pearce play the baddie in 2012's Lawless, it appears the actor is growing accustom to playing darker characters. Yet, very much like in Lawless, Pearce once again over played the character. At times he did well, he was despicable and hated, yet throughout the film I felt like I was watching an over exaggerated impression of a villain. He was never particularly frightening (apart from when he breathed fire, which was kind of totally ridicules), and his dirty charm eventually got annoying by the finale. I also have to criticise the AIM henchman, the men and women who gave their bodies to Killian's formula in hope of better physicality. We never saw a motivation behind joining AIM, and while they looked pretty cool, these characters often felt hollow.

Robert Downey Jr however was on top form as Tony Stark. As always bringing that superb mix of arrogance, charm, smarts and cool. Stark suffered from persistant anxiety attacks throughout, and Downey Jr played the broken Stark brilliantly well. It was a change to see that Superheros aren't always super strong and confident, especially in a character as egotistical as Iron Man. I don't think this breakdown went far enough, but it was still well done and a nice link up with The Avengers movie. Downey Jr's contract is up after the release of this third installment and it would be a shame to see him leave. He is the quintessential Iron Man and I can't picture another actor in the role. Another highlight of the movie was the buddy cop relationship Stark had going with James Rhodes. Downey and Don Cheadle bounced off each other well and it will be good to see Rhodes/Iron Patriot back in Captain America: The Winter Solider. Gwyneth Paltrow was also excellent as Pepper Potts. Seeing her get in on the action with Tony was great to see, and she also brought a little depth and emotionality to the character that was lacking elsewhere in the film.

Iron Man 3 wasn't the darker more complex film many had hoped, yet it is a still an adrenaline fuelled thrill ride full of hilarity as well as action. It is flawed in many aspects, but the film still very much delivers, and is the perfect start to kick off the next set of Marvel films. I would say seeing Ben Kingsley say 'wanker' and chanting 'oggy oggy oggy' is worth the price of the admission alone.