Category Archives: Films

10 Films to Watch in 2014

2014 looks set to be a great year in film, so I decided to round the all up in a personal top 10!

Note: All release dates are based on UK release.

10: Lone Survivor
Director: Peter Berg
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emilie Hirsch, Ben Foster, Emily lone survivorBana
Release Date: 31st January
This is a bit of a wild card. I only became aware of it recently (turns out those boards on the side of buses are actually useful!) and after checking out the trailer, I thought it looked pretty decent. I couldn’t work out a great deal of plot from the trailer, but it looks to be in the same sort of groove as The Hurt Locker, which was an excellent film. Again, it’s based on a true story, so this may also be worth checking out!

9: Edge of Tomorrowedge of tomorrow
Director: Doug Liman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Kick Gurry, Tony Way
Release Date: 6th June
Although I do love my science fiction, I’ve tend to favour the subtle, more subdued films such as Gravity or Moon, rather than all the big high-CGI, gung-ho action thrillers. However, this looks like a pretty thought-provoking film, so I figured I could just slip it into my top 10.

8: How to Train your Dragon 2how to train your dragon 2Director: Dean DeBlois
Starring: Jay Baruchel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrara, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett
Release Date: 13th June
This may be a film for younger audiences, but I still love an innocent animated film every now and again. I thoroughly enjoyed the first film in this franchise, mainly because of the original fantasy setting – something we don’t see enough of these days – and it was also genuinely funny. I have high hopes for this to follow in it’s giant footsteps.

7: Noah
Director: Darren Aronofsky
noah Starring: Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins
Release Date: 28th March
It’s obviously up for debate whether this is classed as “true” history or not, but whatever you believe, you can’t deny it’s set to be a great film. It may be a bit of a romanticized biblical adaptation, but in these modern times we need a bit of drama. Another great cast, and I suspect the trailer may make it look better than it’ll turn out to be, but still worth a look I reckon.

6: The Railway Man
Director: Jonathan Teplitzkyrailway man
Starring: Colin Firth, Nicole Kidman, Jeremy Irvine, Stellan Skarsgard, Hiroyuki Sanada
Release Date: 10th January
Yet another true historical, also set in the Second World War! This has got a pretty decent cast and it looks like a heart-wrenching tale of human (or should I say inhuman) injustice, but redemption. From the trailer, it looks like it’s going to flip between the past and the present day (or at least progress to the present day), and I think that’s going to be a great way to tell this particular story.

5: The Monuments Men
Director: George Clooney
Starring: George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett
Release Date: 7th February monuments men
Another historical film here, set during the final years of World War 2. An unlikely platoon of American soldiers are tasked by President Roosevelt to rescue the surviving artworks held by the Nazis, in an attempt to save all culture before the rise of Hitler. This has got a stunning cast, including George Clooney, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray, and looks set to be another one of those “untold stories” that benefits from a silver-screen adaptation.

4: The Lego Movie
Directors: Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman lego movie
Release Date: 7th February
A bit of an odd one here at No. 4, but I’m a bit odd like that. A Lego Movie? Wha….? How doesn’t that sound fun!? I’ve seen the trailer a couple of times and it just looks like a bundle of laughs. If it’s a success, I could see it turning into a massive sub-franchise of Lego films. It looks really original and just a fun film to watch so it gets this spot!

3: 12 Years a Slave
Director: Steve McQueen
Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch, Brad Pitt, Paul Giamatti
Release Date: 10th January12years
I love historical movies, especially if they’re true. I watched Lincoln last year, and this seems to be in the same vein. It looks brutal, but the truth is always brutal. I also plan to read the book from which this was adapted (written by Solomon Northup, based on his own experiences) some time, but everything about this film looks like it’s one of the stand-out films of this year.

2: The Book Thief
Director: Brian Percival
Starring: Sophie Nélisse, Nico Liersch, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
Release Date: 31st Januarythe book thief
I haven’t read this book yet, although I bought it the other day (it wasn’t stolen, if that’s what you’re thinking!). I have it lined up to read after the book I am currently reading, so expect a review of that soon. I’ll hopefully then watch the film and compare the two. However, I have heard great things about the book and the film trailer looks pretty top-notch as well, so it gets my Number 2 spot!

1: The Hobbit: There and Back Again
Director: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, Luke Evans
Release Date: 17th December
This is the top film in 2014 that I am looking forward to because, as followers of my blog will know, I love fantasy books and fantasy films. In general terms, The Hobbit hasn’t stood up to the brilliance of The Lord of the Rings, but it has still been a great ride. In this third and final the hobbitinstalment, we have the Battle of the Five Armies to look forward to, so the effects team can really go all-out on the visuals here – the fans can’t fault that! Just such a shame we have to wait a whole year between the films!

The One that Got Away: Hunger games: Mockingjay- Part 1
Director: Francis Lawrence
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Phillip Seymour-Hoffman, Donald Sutherland
Release Date: 21st November
I’m putting this one in as a bit of a footnote, to be honest. I had high hopes for the Hunger Games film adaptations, and those hopes have gradually sloped downhill. I thought the first film was average bordering on good. The second film was a great improvement and, from where we stand now, I’m going to say the best film in the series. After I found out that the third and final book (which I thought was a bit of a disappointment in any case) was going to be split in two… Well, you get the idea. I didn’t think a great deal happened in the third book, so I have no idea how they’re going to stretch out into at least 4 hours. Therefore, this goes in my disappointment box.mockingjay

So, there you have it! What do you think? Would you change or add any films on this list? Discuss in the comment!
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The Impossible

Today I review a 2012 film set during and after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Based on a true story, it’s sure to tear at your heartstrings…

Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Runtime: 113 minutes
Age Certificate: 12
Release: October 11th, 2012

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis:
Boxing Day, 2004. A day that shall forever be remembered as the day the unexpected happened: the 3rd largest earthquake ever recorded triggers the largest tsunami on record. 10-metre waves hit south-east Asia with incredible force and affected millions of families across the world.

The Impossible is the remarkable true story of one family in a million. The ordinary, middle-class Bennet family are on holiday over Christmas, staying in a resort in Khao Lak, Thailand. Their world is turned upside down and torn apart, and this is their impossible story of how they beat the odds; how they survive.

Ewan McGregor plays the distressed father trying to unite his family...
Ewan McGregor plays the distressed father trying to unite his family…

Any story is always better when it is a true one. The Impossible undoubtedly proves that rule. Any realistic disaster movie is made so compelling for the audience if they can relate to it, and if the story is based on truth then that goal is even more successfully reached. In a way, The Impossible is the story of every family caught up in the Boxing Day Tsunami; or, more broadly still, the story of what the experience would have been like for every family when placed in that situation. The difference is, of course, that this is one lucky family.

The story is a straight-forward one, and is not what makes the film excel. However, it doesn’t need a great ‘plot’ to be interesting- it’s interesting in the fact that it fits in that golden category: it is true. The magic is behind what is done with that story.

The film really brings home the horrors in being caught up in a tsunami
The film really brings home the horrors in being caught up in a tsunami

The acting in this film is brilliant. There are five principle characters: Maria Bennet (Naomi Watts), her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oakley Pendergast). Watts and McGregor give realistic and often frightening realisations of their characters- two scared, separated parents with a single goal of uniting their family. Tom Holland, who plays Lucas, the eldest son, also gives an astounding performance as a brave young boy burdened with a heart-breaking task.

The other big selling point of this film is the effects. Any film re-enacting a 35ft tsunami is likely to be CGI-heavy, and this film pulls it off spectacularly. There is no sign of the approaching threat for the first 15 minutes of the film, so naturally you are on edge, waiting for the inevitable to happen. Yet, despite this, the speed and ferocity of it shocks and scares you still. It is brutal. This realism factor really adds a lot; it turned a good film into a great one. The rest of the underwater sequences are also brilliantly realised, giving the audience a fully immersive experience. It’s easy to forget that it isn’t just the sheer power of the water you are up against, it’s the debris as well. Short but graphic underwater scenes really drive home how lucky these people were to escape with their lives, let alone each other.

A lot of the film centres around the relationship between Maria Bennet and her eldest son, Lucas.
A lot of the film centres around the relationship between Maria Bennet and her eldest son, Lucas.

As in all great films, the situation exhibited in the story often has a much greater meaning, a much more general one. Despite the film being frightening, heart-breaking and often tear-jerking, it is ultimately uplifting and almost poetic. It’s a story of human resilience and our instincts of survival. It’s a story of courage, bravery and endurance. But most of all, and most importantly, it is a story that teaches us the importance of family, and the love that drives it.

So, is it worth watching The Impossible? Definitely- but it is impossible to watch without shedding a tear or two towards the end…

Trailer:

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

I promised it, and here it is. A long film, a long review! Just quick heads-up, the ratings I give on this blog are utterly meaningless, they’re just my own personal scoring…system?

Directed by: Peter Jackson
Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Richard Armitage, Luke Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch
Runtime: 160 minutes
Age Certificate: 12A
Release: 13th December 2013
Rating: 4.5 / 5

“If this is to end in fire, then we will all burn together!”

Synopsis

After successfully crossing over (and under) the Misty Mountains, Thorin and Company must seek aid from a powerful stranger before taking on the dangers of Mirkwood Forest–without their Wizard. If they reach the human settlement of Lake-town it will be time for the hobbit Bilbo Baggins to fulfill his contract with the dwarves. The party must complete the journey to Lonely Mountain and burglar Baggins must seek out the Secret Door that will give them access to the hoard of the dragon Smaug. And, where has Gandalf got off to? And what is his secret business to the south?

I went to see the second Hobbit film, the awesomely titled Desolation of Smaug, last week with great expectations. In general, I thought the first film was okay. It’s main flaw was the lack of action and long strings of laborious walking sequences (Peter Jackson does love those, eh?). However, I’d heard over the ol’ InterWebs that the second instalment would be very much gung-ho and action-based.

In short, the Desolation of Smaug was a fantastic improvement. I could literally go on about every single scene, so I’ll try and break it down into the best bits!

Plenty of action scenes in the second film!
Plenty of action scenes in the second film!

The greatest part of this film was, I thought, the way it began to pull together the threads of the first film, the majority of which was exposition. If I compared them to ropes (naturally), the first film would have been all frayed with different characters and storylines out of place and dragging around. But, by the end of the second film, the rope is much more solid and tightly knotted together. It no longer feels disjointed and you become more relaxed with the epic grandeur of it all, although the sheer amount of stuff going on can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming!

As mentioned before, the USP of this film was the action, and it didn’t disappoint. This is when the visual effects team really got to go wild. There were many action sequences, most notably the barrel-riding chase, which I’m sure will be advertised as a new Disney World ride very soon! On the one hand, the VFX gives us a sense of how much work goes into every single shot in order to create a brilliantly-realised, in-depth world, but on the other we’re given the chance to see some ridiculously over the top stunts! And the best thing is that we are not pinned down by the seriousness of The Lord of the Rings; everything here fits in perfectly with the childish vibe of the original book.

hobbit.characters
New characters galore!

A big highlight was the greater diversity of characters in this film. Gandalf and the dwarves can get a bit samey-samey after the first film so this is very welcome. Luke Evans is great as Bard. Stephen Fry plays the small but brilliant role of the Mayor of Lake Town. The elves add a pinch of pro dancing/fighting to the mix, although I didn’t think the additions of Legolas and Tauriel were that necessary. Legolas has some excuse, as he had to be there to fit in with the lore of Middle Earth, as he is Thranduil’s son (and it was an excellent opportunity for a Gimli joke!). However, Tauriel is completely unneeded, as is the ‘love triangle’ between her, Legolas and Kili- why would an elf fall for a dwarf anyway? I thought they hated each other! Oh yeah, I suppose it’s that love thing again…

hobbit.gold
My favourite scene- Bilbo meets Smaug!

One thing we didn’t see very much of though was Bilbo – sometimes so much so that you forget he’s the title character. At this rate, the trilogy might as well be called: The Hobbit, And 100 Other Characters. We need more Martin Freeman – he is excellent in this role. What we do see of Bilbo, however, is brilliant. Namely, his first meeting with Smaug – my personal favourite part of the film. The dragon is incredibly impressive  and Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect as the sly, brooding voice of this monster.

While we’re on the subject, the interior of the Lonely Mountain is brilliantly envisioned. We don’t see much of the physical dwarven city in the book, so this extra bit is certainly welcome. All the dwarven contraptions and machinery really colour in that blank gap that was left in the book.

APphoto_Film Review The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
Gandalf takes a back seat…

Despite this, there were two main ‘extra bits’ I felt added nothing to the film. One is the fact that Kili and a few other dwarves stay behind at Lake Town. This is done for good reason – to work out poetically with that love triangle – but it was a bit odd to watch only some of the dwarves make it to the mountain rather than the whole troop that left Bag End at the beginning. Secondly, the Necromancer

storyline, I thought, is getting a bit pointless. It’s interesting, but when the story flicked back to Gandalf at Dol Guldor, it felt a bit draggy.

But, overall, an excellent improvement from An Unexpected Flop! The ending, as Smaug heads towards the Lake, was a neat cliffhanger and it looks set to be a great third film – we’re on the home stretch now, folks! What can we look forward to? Battle of the Five Armies. More Smaug. The Necromancer storyline is resolved. I know, how about a fourth film entitled: A Totally Expected Return Journey?!

What did you think? Was I overly harsh, or did you think it deserved a lower score? Please comment and discuss! 

Kung Fu Panda 2

Kung Fu Panda 2 focusses a lot on Po's origins

Kung Fu Panda 2 focusses a lot on Po’s origins
So, here goes: my first film review. I appreciate it’s not a new film, but sometimes old films need reviews more than new films, right? Please share your views below and give criticism where needed!

Directed by: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
Starring: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu
Runtime: 90 minutes
Age Certificate: PG
Release: May 2011
Rating: 3.5 / 5

Synopsis

In the Valley of Peace, Po Ping is revelling in his fulfilled dreams as he serves as the fabled Dragon Warrior protecting his home with his heroes now his closest friends. However, Po and company learn that the murderous Lord Shen of Gongman City is threatening the land with a fearsome new weapon that could mean the end of kung fu. They attempt to stop him, but the panda is burdened with crippling memory flashbacks linked to this villain. Now with China in the balance, Po must learn about his past and find true inner peace against all opposition.

Since the release of the original film, Kung Fu Panda, in 2008, this franchise has become somewhat of a hit and has found its way onto childrens’ lunchboxes all around the world. It’s been given it’s own TV series on Nickelodeon and, in 2011, a second film aptly named Kung Fu Panda 2.

As sequels go, this is a great film. The plot is completely separate from the first film, with a new and spectacularly devious villain (Lord Shen, voiced brilliantly by Gary Oldman), and a new storyline. This plot touches back to the first film as it answers a question that was never resolved initially: where did Po come from, why is his “Dad” a goose and, perhaps most importantly, where are all the pandas? I thought this was great as the combination of a great plot and a personal motive for the hero always makes for a great film.

Lord Shen the peacock is the new villain
Lord Shen the peacock is the new villain

There are a few new characters introduced, including the new villain Lord Shen, the mysterious Soothsayer and Po’s reluctant new allies, Master Ox and Master Croc. New characters plus a new location (Shen’s stronghold city, Gongmen) is always great in a second film (especially a kid’s film), although the sheer volume of characters that tag along behind Po can sometimes be a bit chaotic and gives some of them not a lot to do.

The backdrop of Ancient China is unique among Dreamworks animation films and is a nicely refreshing location, making every shot look like an oil painting. This is backed up by some great sweeping olde-timey-Chinese music!

The animations as always are brilliantly colourful, meaning there’s never a dull moment on the screen (there’s so much going on in the fight scenes- it’s really a tribute to the best of animation!)

The Five are back in action!
The Five are back in action!

Overall, this is a great film to watch as a family. It’s action-packed, fast-moving and genuinely funny. We’re plunged straight into a nice plot which has a proverb-like Dreamworks moral hidden beneath it of finding “inner peace” by connecting with nature. And there’s the small matter of a big revelation in the very closing seconds of the film (no spoilers here)! I think this is a great sequel that will undoubtedly carry this popular franchise forwards into a later film(s).

Kung Fu Panda 3 is scheduled to be released on December 23rd 2015, followed by a further 3 films in the franchise.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Flop?

Bilbo Baggins gets an unexpected visit from some (very hungry) dwarves!
Bilbo Baggins gets an unexpected visit from some (very hungry) dwarves!

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

I’m going to watch The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug on Sunday and, as a fan of J.R.R Tolkien’s books and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, I thought I’d share my views on Jackson’s controversial “prequel” trilogy, which is (very) loosely based on Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

In the grand scheme of things, I was a little late coming to The Lord of the Rings, but after reading Tolkien’s epic three-part saga and the comparitively walk-in-the-park-ish Hobbit, I was hooked on Middle Earth, and fantasy books in general, forever! After reading the books, I watched the three Lord of the Rings films more or less back-to-back and enjoyed every moment of them. They contained everything a modern fantasy film series needed: groundbreaking visual effects, an epic storyline, and some brilliant casting.

I was surprised and excited when the new Peter Jackson film, The Hobbit, was announced a couple of years ago. I was even more surprised when I heard it would be spread across two films! And yet when it was finally announced that The Hobbit would be a trilogy of films, I was more doubtful than surprised.

'The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey' promotional poster
‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ promotional poster

It’s become a rather annoying habit of recent times, films being split into two (or in this case, three) instalments. We had it with the final Harry Potter film (I felt that was fair enough), Twilight: Breaking Dawn and the final Hunger Games book. The Hobbit, however, seems to be a slightly more controversial affair: does a 350-page book really need 9 hours (we all know what Peter Jackson’s like!) to give it credit. My first thoughts were that it would discredit it above all else.

I watched The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (the first instalment of the new trilogy) in the Spring of 2013 and found it enjoyable but predictably disappointing. As I watched it fairly late in the day (just a figure of speech- although in reality I did stay up till midnight watching it!) I had already heard about the fact that “the adventure” doesn’t actually start until about 45 minutes in, and the fact that we’ve only just got past the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence at the end of the film, so I knew what to be expected. However, I didn’t think it was a bad film. I don’t think anyone who likes fantasy stuff in general can say it’s a bad film. It had everything The Lord of the Rings had: even more groundbreaking visuals (if that is possible!), an epic storyline (apparently stretched but possibly stunted!) and an excellent cast (I particularly thought Martin Freeman was a great choice!). But, paradoxically: there was loads of extra stuff but there was something missing!

The reason for expanding the book into three films was to cover some other material not mentioned in the books, like what Gandalf was up to when he left the dwarves. Some of these events were, however, mentioned in some of Tolkien’s more obscure works like Unfinished Tales. So now we see not only the dwarves’ heroic quest to reclaim Erebor, but Gandalf and Radagast’s efforts to get rid of a Necromancer from the “abandoned” fortress of Dol Guldor. Who is Radagast, you ask? Radagast is an example of a character that didn’t appear in The Hobbit originally (although he was part of Tolkien’s universe). I thought his character was brilliant and Sylvester McCoy was the perfect actor to inhabit this role of the eccentric, mushroom-loving wizard!

The first film started a new 'Necromancer' storyline that did not exist in the original book.
The first film started a new ‘Necromancer’ storyline that did not exist in the original book.

So, there were good changes and bad changes with the first part of The Hobbit, and it seems that change is something we will have to get used to: The Desolation of Smaug introduces many new characters, including Legolas (remember him?!) and an elf named Tauriel who was made up by Jackson completely from scratch!

What’s my verdict then? Are The Hobbit films a let-down when compared to their spectacular predecessors? There’s no denying they are different. Overall though, I think we have to look at it more simply. The Hobbit was written as a children‘s book. It’s meant to be a fantasy romp, a bimble through Middle Earth where the characters exist in their own little bubble universe of singing, plate-throwing dwarves, ridiculously over-the-top action sequences (that one in the goblin caves!?) and lazy eagle taxi services. And honestly, as is often the case with such popular sagas as this, it’s the fans who do the most complaining! So I say: just sit back and enjoy the ride (“go with the flow” as Radagast would probably say!). Take everything in your stride. At heart, this is a fantastical fairytale that we can escape into, not fall asleep to.

Plus we have the added worry that this will probably be the last of Middle Earth we see on film, so enjoy it while you can!

Of course, it could all change with the second film! I’ll review The Desolation of Smaug some time next week- it’s sure to be an interesting night at the cinema! (when I say night, I mean it- the thing’s 170 minutes long!).

But what was your verdict on An Unexpected Journey? Did you think it was a bit of a flop? Discuss in the comments below!

Smaug is coming...
Smaug is coming…