Sunday 30 December 2012

My Top 5 Films Of 2012

2012 was a bumper year for movie-nuts with there being a little of something for everyone; bombastic superhero blockbuster, high tension Cold War dramas, zany coming-of-age tales all feature in my personal Top 5 Films of 2012.

5) Skyfall 

Daniel Craig as 007
James Bond was back in a big way this year; kicking off celebrating 50 years of films by making a surprise cameo at the Olympics, Bond's 23rd screen outing in Skyfall blew everyone away by being, let's face it, pretty damn good.

After a mission in Turkey goes pear-shaped for Bond (Daniel Craig) and Eve (Naomi Harris), Bond is faced with getting himself back in the game and stopping the villianous Silva (Javier Bardem) from killing M (Judi Dench) and destroying MI6.

Skyfall shook away the lingering doubts that surrounded Craig's second outing as Bond (2008's Quantum of Solace) and put himself right back on track with heaps of exciting action, sultry sirens and sleek sports cars.

You can read my original review of Skyfall by clicking on this link: Film Review: Skyfall

4) The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Logan Lerman and Emma Watson in
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a charming and honest look at the sometimes horrible experiences of being an adolescent in high school.

Charlie (Lerman) is a shy and introverted highschool freshman who is taken under the wing of two seniors; Sam (Watson) and Patrick (Ezra Miller).

Together the trio come to terms with growing up, leaving behind loved ones and moving onto college. Between them, the three leads develop a brilliant on-screen chemistry that makes their friendship look, feel and sound real. A killer soundtrack also enriches the high school and house party atmosphere.

It is however, the raw and tender moments between Charlie and Sam (as well as those that explore Charlie's troubled and damaged past) that sets this otherwise unassuming coming-of-age drama aside from the rest.

3) Looper

Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in
Put the pyrotechnics down people, Looper is here to show you how science-fiction should be done. Proving that all you need to put together some killer science-fiction is an intelligent script, a clever concept and a stellar cast, 2012 was the year that director Rian Johnson blew us all away with Looper.

Set in 2042, Looper centres on the simple premise of time-travel orientated assassination; a 'looper' is someone who kills targets that are sent from the future to their present, dumping the bodies and eradicating said target entirely.

With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt all putting in some great performances, Looper impressed on every level; it was well written, it was well-acted and it had some striking visuals when the action ramped up in the final third.

Cast aside your Battleships' and your John Carter's; Looper is how proper science-fiction should be done. Don't miss out.

You can read my original review of Looper by clicking on this link: Film Review: Looper

2) The Avengers

"Take away the suit of armour and what are you?"
Putting together the ultimate super-hero film was no mean feat for Joss Whedon, but somehow he pulled it off; bringing together Iron Man (Robert Downey Jnr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) into the one film for the first time could have ended in disaster.

Instead, the Avengers was a rip-roaring success, the combined forces of Marvel's greatest hitting the bullseye in terms of what we have come to expect from the characters. Interweaving numerous franchises and their subsequent back stories, Whedon gave each member of the team their due.

The real winner here however was the script; The Avengers is not just a contender for biggest action film of the year (the final third of the film tears New York a new one) but also the funniest. The verbal banter between Earth's Mightiest Hero's had me in stitches, the zinging one-liners racing across the screen with ferocious speed. Not just that, but Whedon spent the time focusing on the protagonist's mortality and humanity, not making them seem invincible or unbeatable.

You can read my original review of The Avengers by clicking on this link: Film Review: The Avengers

1) Argo

Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck in Argo
Set in a Revolutionary 1970's Iran, Argo tells the story of six American's fleeing from certain death at the hands of an Iranian public baying for their blood. Cut off from the outside world, their only hope of escape comes in the form of Ben Affleck's CIA agent and 'Argo'; a zany scheme that sees the CIA team up with Hollywood producers to forge the ultimate cover story. Under the pretence of filming a B-grade science fiction movie in the deserts of Iran, Mendez (Affleck) must outmanoeuvre the police and stay one step ahead if he is going to get the Americans' out of Iran alive. 

Based on a true story, Argo was gripping from start to finish. It managed to maintain finger-nail biting tension throughout, the final third of the film keeping the audience practically gnawing at their knuckles. Each and every member of the film's cast acts their part down to a tee, from Alan Arkin's grouchy movie producer to Bryan Cranston's stressed CIA executive, the cast doesn't miss a beat.

The absurdity and implausibility of such a plan being pulled off however also sees the film veer into some side-splitting introspective satire that sends up the inner-workings of Hollywood, something that perfectly counterbalances the drama with levity.

You can read my original review of Argo by clicking on this link: Film Review: Argo

Honorary Mentions

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, The Woman in Black, Brave, The Amazing Spider-man, Rise of the Guardians.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Film Review: The Hobbit - An Unexpected Journey

"I'm going on an adventure"

This review may contain mild spoilers.

Martin Freeman as Bilbo
Peter Jackson returns to Middle-Earth with the first third of his highly anticipated adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic fantasy novel, The Hobbit. Maintaining complete continuity from his earlier works on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Jackson's first Hobbit movie is one that is different in tone but not different in quality.

So put down your pitchforks and your torches. It's okay, just calm down. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is good. Very good in fact, certainly not deserving of many of the mixed reviews circulating around currently.

Monday 17 December 2012

5 Films for the End of the World

With the Mayan Apocalypse just around the corner (Friday the 21st of December 2012 to be precise), we're taking a look at some of the biggest and best End Of The World Movies. 

With Hollywood having covered everything from alien obliteration, viral holocaust and earth-shattering cataclysm, there certainty isn't any shortage of destruction on offer with this oddball mixture of despair and (sometimes) laughs. I've listed below five of my favourites; give them a read and let me know what you think in the comments section below!

Sunday 25 November 2012

Film Review: Skyfall

Bond visits sunny Scotland
"Everyone needs a hobby...". 
"So what's yours?" 

Proving that you can indeed teach an old dog new tricks, Skyfall resurrects everyone's favourite MI6 agent for another round of classic Bond action, with what could possibly be the best entry into the series since Goldeneye.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Rank The Films: Harry Potter

Lists, as I may have mentioned once or twice on this here blog are pretty nifty; straight-up, simple and so on. I like list. As because of this, lists form the basis for a new feature here on feeling fuzzier where I attempt to pull apart the pros and cons of a series of films and such. First off, the mega, the magical, the childhood defining (for me anyway) Harry Potter franchise.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Film Review: Argo

Bryan Cranston and Ben Affleck in Argo

Ben Affleck's third directorial effort hits the nail on the head yet again; Argo is a well-acted, genuinely gripping and impressive film that lacks any real flaws or misgivings. Contender for Best Picture? Quite possibly.

Monday 15 October 2012

Film Review: Taken 2

Liam Neeson adds to his repertoire of bad-ass action films by serving up another slice of gruff Irish grit in Taken 2

2008's Taken was something of a surprise hit for all involved; Neeson and co. expected the cheap Euro-thriller to head straight to DVD. Instead, the film raked in over $200 million worldwide, by which point a sequel would of been nigh on certainty.

Fast-forward to 2012 then and here we have it: Taken 2. Slightly confusing title and initial scepticism aside ("what?! how can she be taken AGAIN?"), Taken 2 follows on in the same vein as it's predecessor, mixing together a variety of action set pieces and more tender family scenes. It's simple, brutal and honest, something of a guilty pleasure.

After the events of the first film, screenwriters Luc Beeson and Robert Kamen have worked with the premise of dealing with consequences for ex-CIA operative Brian Mills' (Neeson) second-outing. Making Mills witness first-hand why killing a group of Albanian sex-traffickers doesn't go without repercussions is a clever enough plot-device to navigate the often difficulty of getting a sequel right.

What Taken 2 gets right is it's simplicity; it doesn't try to get overly clever. There is enough difference plot-wise to the first film to set it apart whilst enough similarity to remain familiar. Yes, someone is 'taken' in a dangerous, foreign country and yes, it is up to Brian to save the day, but it isn't simply treading water. Taken 2 strives to mix it up and show Mills when he is on the back foot and playing catch-up.

Moving the setting from the dodgy underbelly of Paris to the even dodgier underbelly of Istanbul, Taken 2 does slip up a little. Director Olivier Megaton seems hell bent on cramming in as many soundbites of prayer, and as many shots of mosques and crescent moons as possible, ramming home the point that anywhere other than good ol' apple-pie loving America is dangerous, seedy and rife with gun-toting Arabs. This might sound overly harsh, but when the main antagonist isn't even Arabic, it does seem as little out of place.

Add to this some questionable science involving hand-grenades and wind-direction, and it begins to feel like there were some clutching at straws going on during script-writing. The films' antagonists are also relatively forgettable, the same fate that befell their counterparts from the first film. Also, Taken 2's action sequences are ramped up on scale, detracting the gritty edge and plausibility the first film had in places.

Overall then Taken 2 isn't a bad film. It's simple, straightforward and sometimes silly. It's acted well by Neeson, Janssen and Grace and it also delivers enough action set pieces to keep the blood pumping. It might feel a little strained in places but on the whole, it's an enjoyable action-flick that gives Brian Mills' story a worthy second, and hopefully concluding, chapter. I mean, someone he knows can't possibly be taken a third time. Or could they?

I give Taken 2: 4/10

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Verdict: Doctor Who Series 7 Part 1

Doctorin' the TARDIS: Rory, The Doctor and Amy

Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill return for a third trip aboard the TARDIS as The Doctor, Amy Pond and Rory Williams in the five episodes kicking off Series 7, before the latter two bid farewell to the show. With the series once again split down into two (unequal) halves, I took time out after the first 5 episodes to weigh up on the show's 2012 return.

Sunday 30 September 2012

Film Review: Looper

Gordon-Levitt and Willis get down to business

The sci-fiction genre has taken something of a battering in recent times; whilst films like Source Code, Inception and Moon have injected some degree of success and acclaim, others have lowered expectations and standards; think Battle: Los Angeles, Transformers and Battleship

Along then, comes Looper, a new science-fiction film from director Rian Johnson, looking to reboot the genre with a winning combination of intelligence, action and thought. And boy, does it deliver.

Thursday 27 September 2012

5 Films Still To Come In 2012

Now that big blockbuster season has wrapped up for another year, you may be thinking to yourself, what else is there to look forward to? Well, fear not people, there is still a quality line-up of Hollywood's finest on its way, ready to garner your attention at the box office. Here's my pick of the biggest films still to come in 2012. Let me know in the comments below what your most excited for! 

Looper - Out Now

Looper is the hotly anticipated time-bending sci-fi action-thriller from director Rian Johnson, starring the 'so-hot-right-now' Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis as the same person. Yep, both Gordon-Levitt and Willis play present and future versions of the same character, caught in a battle of wits after the latter is sent back from the future to be killed by the former, thus being eradicated from the future in the past. Sound confusing? Possibly. Sound awesome? Definitely.

Looper has already garnered glowing reviews from Empire, Total Film and a whole host of others so my expectations are pretty high for this one. Check back for my review some time in the next week!

Lawless - October 11th

Set in Depression-era America, grisly gangster drama Lawless stars big stars like Shia La Beouf, Gary Oldman and Tom Hardy. 

Much like Looper, Lawless has been getting some good reviews for its acting talent (notably Hardy) and looks to breathe new life into the gangster genre.

Expect tommy-guns, Model T's and moonshine aplenty. But definitely  not any kids with custard-guns; Bugsy Malone this ain't.

Frankenweenie - October 25th

Hot off the heels of Dark Shadows, Tim Burton is back with another gloomy and gothic story, Frankenweenie. 

Based on a short Burton originally made back in the 80's, Frankenweenie tells the story of Victor, a young scientist who brings his dog Sparky back to life Franken-style.

With regulars Christopher Lee and Danny Elfman on board, expect nothing but Burton at his kooky best.

Skyfall - November 22nd

Daniel Craig returns to the infamous role of 007 in the hotly anticipated Skyfall.

Celebrating 50 years since the franchise's d├ębut with Dr No., Skyfall is expected to be a hark back to the golden era of Bond films with many classic staples included; Aston Martins, Q, Martinis, sultry Bond girls and exotic locales.

In this instalment, Bond's loyalty to M (Judi Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. Bring it on.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - December 26th

Peter Jackson returns to the far off realm of Middle Earth in the first of the a trilogy adapting J.R.R Tolkein's classic novel. A prequel to the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, expect Jackson's films to be intricately scripted, carefully sculpted and beautifully shot. 

Martin Freeman plays Bilbo Baggins, a role he was born to fill in my mind. Add to this a troupe of rag-tag dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Amritage) and a whole host of returnees such as Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Andy Serkis as Gollum and we're all in for a magical treat this Boxing Day. All together now, "one ring to rule them all..."

Thursday 16 August 2012

Feature: Best Movie Trilogies

Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy

Watching the epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises (see my review here) got me thinking; could this be the greatest movie trilogy ever? How many other trilogy's can attest to being as consistently brilliant as The Dark Knight Trilogy? 

Friday 20 July 2012

Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises

"When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die"

This review may contain some minor spoilers.

Eight years on from the events of The Dark Knight, Batman (Christian Bale) returns to the city that branded him a criminal to save them from a new enemy, terrorist Bane (Tom Hardy). 

Christopher Nolan's first two Batman films are seen as something of a benchmark as superhero films go; 2005's Batman Begins reintroduced The World's Greatest Detective to cinema-goers in dark and gothic fashion, followed by 2008's even darker The Dark Knight. Not one to disappoint, Nolan has done it again, with The Dark Knight Rises perfectly ending the trilogy in heart-poundingly tense and dramatic fashion.

The stakes, and the scale, are higher than they have ever been before, with the isolated Gotham City in a state of civil war and on the brink of annihilation. When the action kicks off in the film's final third, it's bigger than we have ever seen in a Batman film. It is also the most emotional Batman ever, with plenty of scenes that'll bring a genuine lump to your throat. The Avengers this ain't.

"I'm not afraid, I'm angry"
Going in, it felt as though one of the film's biggest drawbacks would have been it's long running time; at over 2 hours and 45 minutes it is something of a marathon event. This however turned out to be not the case at all; if anything, the time flies past so that it barely feels like 2 hours. The film is paced impeccably and never feels like it drags, even in the plot-laden first hour. This fairly plot-heavy opening hour is probably the film's only minor downside. As Nolan attempts to weave together all the necessary strands for the film, such as introducing a plethora of new characters (Bane, Miranda Tate, John Blake, Selina Kyle, Daggett), as well as recap the fallout from Harvey Dent's death, it can feel quite complex. For people new to the franchise, and therefore unfamiliar with the existing core characters, it would be hard to follow at the best of times.

Not that you can expect many people you haven't seen Batman Begins or The Dark Knight to be in the audience anyway; as a concluding chapter in a trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises completes one entire story that started eight years ago. Not only does it begin with a memorial to TwoFace/Harvey Dent and see Bruce Wayne continuing to ignore the cape and cowl as a result of his death, but it sees the return of some old foes from the first chapter.

Anne Hathaway was purrrrfect as Selina Kyle/Catwoman
On the whole, The Dark Knight Rises has more in common with Batman Begins than The Dark Knight, which I really liked. As a story, it focused more on Bruce, not Batman. Also, it  gave less focus to the villain. Something The Dark Knight did well was really hone in on the relationship between Joker and Batman but it meant that the focus wasn't solely on the titular Knight. Not so in this one; this story is all about Bruce/Batman and not about Bane. Sure, Bane is the main antagonist, but he merely serves the purpose of giving Bruce the motivation to return as Batman and little more than that. It is good however that Bane is a physical opponent that tested Batman's strength, something that Scarecrow and Joker could never have done previously. The films centre-piece, a tense face-off between Bats and Bane is brutal and crushing, a stand-out scene. Fans of comic book series' like Knightfall won't be left disappointed...and I'll leave it at that. It is a little hard to make out some of Bane's dialogue at times and, with the mask covering most of his face, Tom Hardy's performance is a little inscrutable. He did well to come across as brutal and uncompromising, as well as intelligent and calculating but at the same time, wasn't a patch on the late Heath Ledger's cackling, psychopath Joker.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake
Christian Bale was brilliant as Bruce Wayne/Batman and probably gives his best performance of the trilogy here. He brings the necessary emotional gravitas as Wayne (especially in the film's pain-stricken middle third), as well as the imposing strength and weight as Batman nearer the end. Other returning actors such as Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman, as Alfred, Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox respectively, were also excellent, the first's anguish and pain at a watching a dedicated Bruce Wayne force himself back into action is especially poignant. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is also solid as hot-headed detective John Blake.

The real star of the show however was Anne Hathaway; Her husky and breathy voice, jet-black hair and slinky frame have made her absolutely purrfect for the role as morally ambiguous cat-burglar Selina Kyle. It was always going to interesting to see how she fitted into Nolan's hyper-realist universe but everything about her character fits in well with the surroundings; her masquerade mask, utility belt, lycra catsuit and cat-like vision goggles are a far-cry from the stitched-leather suit paraded around by Michelle Pfiffer in Batman Returns. It's a shame her character has only been introduced in this final chapter; the banter between her and Batman is very funny and allows for the mood to be lightened ever so much.

Technically, The Dark Knight Rises is also a marvel; it is shot beautifully, with snow-covered, war-torn Gotham evoking images of the 9/11 attacks. Nolan's ability to tug at heart strings is shown best here; a destroyed football stadium, an American flag in ruins all resemble all too familiar images of our own world. In addition to the fantastic cinematography, Hans Zimmer's rousing score perfectly complements the ideas of revolution and uprising that Bane insights.

The big question is however, is it better than The Dark Knight? Well, Part 2 of the trilogy does have stronger villains in Joker and Two-Face but then Part 3 has the necessary pay-off and closure, as well as additional allies for Batman in Kyle and Blake. In my opinion, the two stand on-par with one another as both are breath-taking and emotional films that convert real-world themes like the War on Terror and the GFC into mass cinema-friendly characters, settings and plots.

Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is sublime and heart-pounding. It is an epic conclusion to the trilogy in almost every way and fully-deserving of all and any acclaim it receives. It is one of those films you walk out of the cinema already wanting to see again. I give it 9/10. 

Monday 16 July 2012

Verdict: Life's Too Short

Life's Too Short features stars like Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. 

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant; the comedic geniuses behind landmark television shows like The Office and Extras, An Idiot Abroad, The Ricky Gervais Show, a plethora of podcasts and stand-up tours. Now, they're back with a third slap of comedy in Life's Too Short; but how does it stack up alongside it's predecessors?

Initially it might seem that Life's Too Short is treading over old ideas. Similar in concept and approach to both The Office and Extras through it's 'documentary' style and twisted versions of familiar faces, Life's Too Short doesn't appear to be doing anything that Gervais and Merchant haven't tackled before. It's themes of discovering the harsh realities of fame and fortune can be seem reflected in the chronicles of previous character's David Brent and Andy Millman.
Protagonist Warwick Davis, famous for appearing in the Star Wars and Harry Potter films, exhibits all of the same traits one would associate the Messrs' Brent and Millman; ignorance, obnoxiousness and being generally offensive. He is however, on the whole, a more likeable and endearing character than his predecessors'.

There is no doubting that the special guest appearances are works of genius. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter's short skit's were genuinely funny. Depp's dedication to his new film (it's directed by Tim Burton y'know), leads him to studying Warwick, and the more excited and intense Depp becomes the funnier it is. Likewise, Bonham Carter's inability to work alongside Warwick because he's a dwarf is the equal amounts cringe-worthy and funny.

Also, the scenes where Ricky and Steve play dead-pan and "holier than thou" versions of themselves are gold; fans of Extras will delight at the addition of Shaun "Barry from Eastenders" Williamson as the duos errand boy.

The show however, like both of Gervais' and Merchant's previous works tries to do a lot more than just flex it's muscles and show off its star power. There is heart and soul in Warwick's mistakes that show that Life's Too Short has a story and a message to tell. Yes, the jokes are skin-crawlingly awkward and make you want to throttle the star, but this all adds to the charm and appeal of the show. You do feel that come the end of the story arc, Warwick will have learnt from these mistakes and changed his ways in the same way Andy in Extras did.

This being said, the similarities to Extras and The Office are in my mind a little too obvious; the format, the character roles, the settings, the general feel. All of these factors add up to give a overbearing sense of deja vu. For example, Rosamund Hanson's role as Cheryl is really just a re-imagining Ashley Jensen's Maggie in Extras. She may be genuinely funny but it is easy to see where the idea for the "ditzy girl" character came from. Also, once the novelty of going "ooh look it's Johnny Depp/Liam Neeson/Steve Carrell" has worn off, the show reduces itself to laughing at midget ten-pin bowling and Warwick climbing a bookcase three times his size to reach a trophy.

So even though its more of the same witty and clever stuff from Gervais and Merchant, Life's Too Short seems to fall a little, well, short to be honest. It might have genuine character development and a moral at it's heart, but it is also not as revolutionary as The Office and not as outrageous as Extras were, and is seriously lacking in Karl Pilkington.

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-man

Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker/Spider-man

How soon is too soon for a re-boot? Five, ten years? When Sony Pictures announced back in 2010 that a reboot of their lucrative Spider-man franchise was on its way, many people reacted with despair, proclaiming it too soon for Spidey to given the a rework since Spider-man 3 had only been in cinemas 3 years previously. Now, two years later, The Amazing Spider-man swings into cinemas a mere decade after the Sam Raimi original.  But does it live up to its namesake?

Thursday 5 July 2012

Film Review: Snow White And The Huntsman

Fairest of them all? - Kristen Stewart
It all starts with once upon a time, weaves it's way through familiarities like an apple, an evil queen with a black heart and a heroic huntsman, but Snow White and The Huntsman gives fresh life to an old fairytale, albeit not completely convincingly. 

Saturday 30 June 2012

Film Review: Brave

Pixar lands yet another arrow directly in the bullseye with Brave, a magical and dazzling movie that introduces the studio's first female protagonist, Merida.

Wednesday 13 June 2012

Film Review: Prometheus

Ridley Scott's Prometheus

This review contains spoilers. Don't say you weren't warned!

Part prequel, part stand-alone feature, Prometheus is part triumphant return and part missed opportunity by director, Ridley Scott. With an impressive cast, a multitude of iconic images and a genuinely scary host of squelchy extra-terrestrials, Prometheus is a solid and impressive film.

Monday 4 June 2012

Film Review: Men In Black 3

Hitting screens back in 1997, the original Men in Black was big hit for Will Smith after the previous year's Independence Day. 15 years on, Men in Black 3 is a fun addition to a franchise that now has a whole new generation of children and families to entertain.

Friday 25 May 2012

Verdict: Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy

Noel Fielding is handed the reins to his own sketch show, Luxury Comedy, and the result is a canvas that nurtures the comedian's wildly expansive imagination. Luxury Comedy however is an ambitious title and one that is maybe, a little too ambitious for Fielding to pull off.

Monday 14 May 2012

Film Review: Dark Shadows

The latest in a long line of adaptations, Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is quintessentially his own; all the ingredients are thrown in that make up a "Burton" film, and yet, like Alice in Wonderland before it, Dark Shadow's fails to make optimum use of these ingredients to make a delicacy.

Thursday 26 April 2012

Film Review: The Avengers

Marvel's plan to unite four separate super-hero franchises into one gigantic movie has been an ambitious and risky undertaking, and it could have very easily turned out to have been a whopping big mistake. Thankfully, it most certainty hasn't been a whopper; The Avengers is a fantastic film that does a great job of balancing it's extensive ensemble cast and also raising the bar for future super-hero films. Justice League who?

Friday 13 April 2012

Feature: Failed Book to Film Franchises

Disney's John Carter

Under the weight of blockbusting mega franchises like Twilight, The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, it's easy to forget that there are plenty more than fall by the wayside. So many fan favourite books from popular authors fail to translate onto the big screen. First up...

John Carter (2012)

Life lesson for Disney; no matter how many millions you throw in the direction of a classic sci-fi novel, it doesn't convert into an instant hit in film. John Carter, based on the 11-volume Barsoom series that were published from 1912 (!) to 1943, bombed so hard it made a hole the size the planet on which it is set in the pockets of the poor Disney studio that developed it.

With a 250 million dollar budget, John Carter is steadily making back its expenses but it has not gone well for Disney. Strangely, it did well in Russia. Huh.

Chance of spawning a sequel/franchise: Next to nil

Stormbreaker (2006)

As a fan of the original Anthony Horowitz book on which this film was based (and subsequent eight sequels) I'm not afraid to admit that Stormbreaker didn't hit the mark. Alex Rider, the series' protagonist, is a schoolboy caught up in a Bond-esque caper with spies, gadgets and all that jazz.

Sounds great on paper, but the film didn't draw in audiences and any plans for adaptations of the other (and actually increasingly better) Alex Rider novels were scrapped. 

Chance of spawning a sequel/franchise: After all this time, slim

I Am Number Four (2011)

Released last year, I Am Number Four is based on a novel of the same name by Pittacus Lore. A planned series of six novels, the current two books are unlikely to see the light of day in cinemas after the first didn't do as expected.

Plugged as a successor to Twilight, I Am Number didn't attain the same media whirlwind the vamp/wolf orgy did. Still, it made enough to justify a sequel so maybe we'll see a sequel sooner or later. Stranger things have happened *cough* Indy 4 *cough*

Chance of spawning a sequel/franchise: Slim to moderate

The Golden Compass (2007)

Based on the first novel in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, The Golden Compass was one of the most expensive projects undertaken by studio New Line Cinema. Packed with stars like Daniel Craig, Nicole Kidman, Eva Green and Ian McKellen, the film had franchise potential written all over it. 

The film however was written off as being rushed and lacking by critics and the chance of there ever being a sequel to The Golden Compass is slim. With such strong source material, it could well have challenged the likes of Potter and Narnia.

Chances of spawning a sequel/franchise: Next to nil

Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004)

An adaption of the first three books in the series of the same name, A Series of Unfortunate Events had big stars (Jim Carrey, Meryl Streep) and a distinctive visual style but somehow still didn't manage to gain enough momentum to sustain a sequel. 

It's a shame because Snicket is the most enjoyable film out of these five. It was fun, over the top and kooky, all ingredients that can be the makings of a family film franchise. 

Chances of spawning a sequel/franchise: After nearly 10 years, very slim

Sunday 25 March 2012

Film Review: The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games

The latest teen-reading series to hit the big screen, The Hunger Games brings the futuristic dystopia of Suzanne Collins' Panem to life in edgy and gripping fashion. 

Thursday 1 March 2012

Verdict: Sherlock - The Reichenbach Fall

"I may be on the side of angels, but don't for one second think I am one of them"

This review contains spoilers

Completing a trilogy of ninety-minute episodes, The Reichenbach Fall began with a ominous flash-forward to an emotional Watson (Martin Freeman) recovering with the fallout of past events. Before rewinding to three months previous, he manages to choke out the words "My friend, Sherlock Holmes, is dead".

This scene pretty much sets the scene for what is to come; a gripping and emotional-laden mystery punctuated with some genuinely shocking twists and tear-jerking moments. Based upon Conan Doyle's book "The Final Problem", this season finale sees Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch), squaring up against his nemesis Jim Moriarty (Andrew Scott) for the second time.

Initially introduced in the final episode of last season, the intense rivalry between the two has now already been establised and this allows for writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat to launch straight into proceedings. In the opening half an hour, Moriarty launches a series of high-profile robberies the include the Tower of London and the Bank of England. I felt this first part took a while to get going, but once Moriarty's 'final problem' begins to unfold, it really kicks up a gear or six. 

The way in which those around Sherlock (such as Inspector LeStrade) are turned against him and made to doubt him is done brilliantly, in such a way that even the audience begins to question the Detective. Is he solving these crimes or orchestrating them? As always, there are enough red-herrings to keep the audience guessing and participate in, but never enough to give it away or ruin the surprise.Whilst those familar with Conan Doyle folklore will be more astute to the cliffhanger than other's, the ending is still genuinely gripping stuff. Both brutal and touching, the episode's final ten minutes are brilliantly acted by both Cumberbatch and Freeman. It's a genuinely tear-jerking moment and in my experience that's a rare thing for television shows to achieve.

Andrew Scott also is seriously affecting as Moriarty, as he seemingly channels Heath Ledger's Joker and becomes the man "who just wants to watch the world burn". The way in which Moriarty brings about Sherlock's fall from grace through the tabloids is not just cleverly executed but also appropriate given the current spotlight on the British newspapers and media in the Leveson inquiry. In addition to this, the final third of the episode where Sherlock and Moriarty try to out manoeuvre one another through lies and deceit is brilliantly written. And then just when you think Sherlock has the upper-hand on his nemesis comes that cliffhanger...

Overall, this second season of Sherlock certainty didn't disappoint and has really set the bar even higher. It's now up to the duo of Gatiss and Moffat to better it for the already confirmed third series (most likely to arrive next year, with the Cumberbatch and Freeman off appearing in major Hollywood films such as The Hobbit and Star Trek affecting shoot schedules). The wait and withdrawal symptoms won't bother me however. I'm sure it'll be worth it!

Saturday 25 February 2012

Verdict: Sherlock - The Hounds Of Baskerville

Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch in Sherlock
This review contains spoilers

Building upon last week's excellent series opener, The Hounds Of Baskerville shows that Mark Gatiss' and Steven Moffat's take on the super sleuth is going from strength to strength. Whilst the first episode played with the idea of Sherlock falling for the seductive charm of femme fatale Irene Adler, this week we were introduced to something bigger; that Holmes could feel fear. 

Set, just as the original Conan Doyle novel was, on the spooky and desolate Dartmoor in Devon, the change in locale was a interesting new backdrop for the series. Usually confined to the bustling and noisy streets of London, the open plains, dark forests and misted hollows of the sparse moor all added to creating a genuinely frightening entry into the series and a more than worthy adaptation of the original novel (with the smallest of tweaks). Here, Baskerville is no longer a Gothic manor house but a shady animal experimentation lab. And the so called hound? Well, I wouldn't want to ruin to much now would I?

Like I mentioned earlier, there are some truly gripping and scary scenes in this episode, as the "hound" stalks and terrorises Holmes and Watson. In one instance, Gatiss and Moffat seemingly go all Paranormal Activity on us, trapping poor Watson in the dark and deserted lab with said demonic, snarling hound. Never allowed a proper glimpse at the possessed pooch, the audience is treated to an interesting Conan Doyle/Blair Witch mash-up. One chilling sequence where Watson is alone in the darkened wood with only a torch for company was a particularly spine-tingling, paranoia-laden moment. It's not all "things that go bump in the night" however. The dialogue crackles with sharp wit and one-liners that we've come to expect from the series.

Much like the first episode, The Hounds of Baskerville did much to play with the ideal of Sherlock being human. Benedict Cumberbatch was on brilliant form in this episode as a man torn between relying on fact and believing in myth and the occult. The supporting cast also were impressive, most notably Russell Tovey as tortured soul Henry Knight.

The overall 'mystery' was not as multi-layered and intricate as the preceding episode and for anyone paying close-attention such as myself, the resolution will come as little surprise. Not that this takes anything away from my overall enjoyment of the episode. In fact, that the plot was a lot more straight-forward, enabled me to take in and enjoy the story as a whole, instead of trying to keep track of the fast-paced twists and turns that usually are injected by Gatiss and Moffat.

One other downside I can think of is simply the fact that there is only the last episode next week to go before series 2 wraps up and the long wait for another series begins again. Despite this, better to have quality over quantity right? 

Sunday 19 February 2012

Film Review: Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace 3D

Ewan McGregor and Liam Neeson in Phantom Menace
(Image from
Star Wars is back on the big-screen in three-dimensions, with George Lucas taking us back to where it all began (chronologically) with 1999's Star Wars Episode I - The Phantom Menace. Set 32 years before the events of the original 1977 Star Wars, Phantom Menace charts the discovery of a young slave boy named Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) by two Jedi Knights Qui-Gon (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) on a remote desert planet.

Widely accepted as the least popular Star Wars film since it's release 13 years ago, how does it stack up today? Whilst the films downfalls and hiccups are still present and are possibly more prevalent today than they were initially (Lucas can't exactly take the digital eraser to Jar Jar now can he?), there is still much to enjoy about the Phantom Menace. 

Whilst the addition of 3D visuals seemed fairly trivial before walking into the movie, I can gladly say that they worked very well, immersing the viewer in the Star Wars universe better than ever before. Benefiting most from the added dimension are of course the action set-pieces. Impressive enough by themselves, the addition of the 3D visuals allows them to really leap out of the screen and get the audiences heart racing. It seems if there was ever a film series made for showcasing the benefits of adding 3D visuals, it's Star Wars. 

The high-speed pod-race around which the fate of Anakin, the Jedi and Queen Amidala's fate revolves is edge-of-your-seat stuff. The same can be said for the finale which sees star-fighter dogfights above the planet of Naboo. The icing on the cake however, is the epic duel between the Sith Lord of Darth Maul and Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan at the film's climax. Arguably the best light-sabre sequence of the entire saga, the 3D visuals makes it simply spellbinding. 

The rapid shot changes aren't marred by 3D blur to such a degree that it makes them feel wasted, unlike other poor 3D cinema experiences I've had in the past (for example, see my recent review of Underworld: Awakening here) Whilst not perfect, the 3D visuals in Phantom Menace are an impressive addition to the film. It makes for a enjoyable and entertaining experience that will please audiences of all ages. 

As I mentioned before however, the film itself suffers from the same hitches that plagued it back in 1999. Time has not been kind to annoyingly kid-friendly and cartoonish frog/alien hybrid Jar Jar, who still fails to raise a smile and grates throughout. Young tyke Jake Lloyd as Anakin Skywalker also sets about delivering dialogue akin to being a school nativity play, hardly a Dark Lord in the making. Lastly, the overly wordy and "diplomatic" scenes set within the Galactic Senate are hardly enthralling stuff for anyone unfamiliar with the series and may not win over new fans. Phantom Menace simply doesn't reach the admittedly atmospheric heights of those in the original trilogy (where's Han when you need him, eh?)

Despite not being the fan-boy favourite or the promised timeless classic, Phantom Menace should still do well enough at the box-office for George Lucas to continue with his planned 3D re-releases of the rest of the saga over the course of the next 5 years. With 2002's Attack of the Clones up for the 3D treatment next year, that's where the fun really begins. Huge fans of the films like myself will regard seeing Phantom Menace back on the big screen and in 3D as a must and will undoubtedly be the ones to get the most out of the experience. 

Thursday 16 February 2012

Verdict: Sherlock - A Scandal In Belgravia

Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Lara Pulver as Irene Adler
-  Courtesy of BBC
This review contains spoilers

Picking up directly where the first series had left off, the first 90-minute episode of series two of the BBC's Sherlock hit the ground running and didn't let up for the entire duration.

With Sherlock (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Watson (Martin Freeman) facing off against Moriarty (Andrew Scott) in a tense and gripping finale, the first series decided to end there and then, leaving viewers with over a year's wait to find out the resolution. It may not have ended as explosively as hinted at, instead ending somewhat anti-climatically. This however in no way means that it was a let-down in any sense of the word. The resolution of the cliffhanger, left by creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, instead has served a greater purpose in creating a wider story arc for the series and in introducing Lara Pulver as dominatrix Irene Adler.

Tasked with retrieving incriminating and scandalous photographs of the seductive Ms. Adler with a undisclosed member of the royal family by his brother Mycroft (also Mark Gatiss), Sherlock is in full belief that he will have succeeded by that night. Instead however, he is faced with the fact that Adler is every bit as clever and deceptive as he is. I won't give too much away here for those of you having not seen it because it's a cracker.

Whilst the plot demands the audiences full-attention with numerous interwoven and interlocking strands, at no point does it feel overly complicated or confusing. Like any well-written mystery, there are twists and turns aplenty and nothing is ever as simple as it seems. Also, any questions left unanswered are sure to be a part of a wider scheme that will play out throughout the series.

Much like the highly complex storytelling he has crafted on Doctor Who, there is a sense that Steven Moffat is in his element here as he weaves the multi-layered story together strand by strand throughout the episode and no doubt, the series. The ending may seem a little far-fetched for some, myself included, but I didn't let that affect my overall impression of the episode too much.

The electrically-charged interaction between the two characters of  Sherlock and Adler in the opening act of the episode sizzles is fast-pased with brilliant and burning one-liners. It's highly entertaining stuff as the two cross, double-cross and attempt to outwit the other. As the episode trots along, the story jumps several weeks and months, allowing for the relationship between Sherlock and Adler to develop.

This is done really well and it adds another layer to the Detective's character, something that we saw little of in season one, which understandably focused primarily on laying the framework of the show. Like any good sequel, the second series has dispensed with the introductory phase of the show and allows for characters to grow and expand more.

The writers have cleverly found that sweet-spot between the dark and twisting intrigue of murder mysteries and light-hearted and playful banter of the best sitcoms; there are plenty of giggles and chuckles to be found alongside the enthralling brainteasers.

In addition to this, it would seem the writers have also begun to really invest in the relationship between Sherlock and Watson. The two have really begun to understand each other more and this makes for interesting scenes where Watson struggles to hold down a girlfriend thanks to his loyalty to Sherlock. The two also are hugely funny, with one scene including bedsheets, near-nudity and Buckingham Palace springing to mind.

First impressions indicate that Moffat and Gatiss have taken everything that viewers and critics loved about the first series and improved on it two-fold. There's genuine mystery, deduction and intrigue, laugh-out-loud quips and the occasional dark and more sinister, dramatic moments. A Scandal in Belgravia is another top-notch episode of one the BBC's biggest shows. Fairly elementary really (sorry couldn't help myself)

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Film Review: Underworld Awakening 3D

Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening 3D
Movie sequels can be tricky. As can movie prequels. But movie threequels? They are trickiest of the lot. Take Sam Raimi's hugely popular Spiderman franchise for example. The first and second films were both massively successful and celebrated, the only stumbling block came with the overly jumbled third instalment. The same can be said for numerous film franchises such as X-Men, Shrek and The Matrix.

Which brings us to the latest instalment in the widely popular vampire/lycan/action/fantasy/catsuit orgy that is the Underworld series. Underworld: Awakening is the fourth entry into the series but is the third to be set in modern day with 2009's Rise of the Lycans being a prequel to the initial two films, Underworld and Underworld Evolution.

Stepping back into the corseted catsuit for the third time is Kate Beckinsale as vampiric Death Dealer and all-round badass Selene. Set 12 years after the events of Evolution, the warring vampire and lycan factions are now hunted by humanity, who have since learnt of the existence of their kind.

As a relative newcomer to the franchise (having only been introduced mere weeks ago), may I first start off with this; Underworld Awakening is unlikely to attract any of the uninitiated to the series. With an extensive, complex and fleshed-out back story, the Underworld series is best viewed and appreciated in it's entirety. The three films that have preceded Awakening obviously accounted for something, and so I would at first recommend a quick catch up on at least the first two films in order to familiarise yourself with the characters, ideas and plot-lines.

Underworld aficionados will be pleased be to hear however that Awakening is a worthy entry into the series. Whatever the film lacks from the absence of stars such as Bill Nighy and Martin Sheen, it makes up for in satisfyingly gore-drenched vampire versus lycan action.

The actions set-pieces are certainly impressive stuff, but I did feel that the films insistence on adding 3D visuals did detract from the enjoyment somewhat. Rapid shot changes and fast-pased fight sequences were well executed but often reduced to a mash of jarring blurriness and disorientating visuals. The films final third may have one of the most exciting and impressive set-pieces of the entire franchise; it's just a shame the murky and unimpressive addition of 3D lowers the entertainment factor. If you get the chance, see it in 2D instead.

That aside, Beckinsale does a fantastic job of steering a fairly average plot that sees her escape her human captors and uncover her vampire/lycan hybrid of a daughter, Eve (India Eisley). Suddenly faced with maternity, Beckinsale's usual cold-hearted killer shows more vulnerability here and this is the central device that drives the plot forward. Eisley is also satisfyingly creepy and frail as Eve. A notable absence from proceedings is that of Scott Speedman's love-interest Michael. Whilst referred to, his non-appearance was undoubtedly added in as a lead into the plot of Underworld 5. Instead, Theo James' character David, falls fairly flat and has little else to do other than add an fairly pointless injection of heroic testosterone.

The Verdict: 5/10

Overall, the latest Underworld film is a notable addition to the franchise, but ultimately falls short of expectation thanks to it's fairly hammy script and dull visuals. The action scenes are top-notch, but disappointing 3D ultimately means the audience misses out on the excitement. One to catch if your a fan of the series and vampires that don't sparkle.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Film Review: The Muppets

Jason Segel, Amy Adams, Walter, Kermit and Fozzie in The Muppets

Back on the big screen for the first time since Muppets from Space in 1999, The Muppets is a brilliant return to form for the gang as they manage to recapture the magic that has worked for nearly 50 years. Where the film works best though is in appealing to the current generation of children who are used to occupying their time with Nintendo, Ben 10 and Pixar.

Friday 20 January 2012

My Top 5 Films of 2011

Chris Hemsworth as Thor
With 2012 well under way, I felt it a good time to look back over the last 12 months and highlight which films really stood out for me and which I enjoyed the most.


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