Tag Archives: Film Review

Film Review | Maleficent

Disney has always done good villains but now it seems that they want us to get to know them better, to understand them. Villain origin stories are officially a thing for the happiest place in the world ™ it seems. First we discovered why the Wicked Witch of the West was quite so wicked in Oz the Great and the Powerful and now we find out what has got the bad fairy from Sleeping Beauty all het up. Meet Maleficent.

MaleficentMaleficent | Robert Stromberg | 2014 | USA/UK | PG |98 min

Maleficent was a pure-hearted young fairy living in The Moors, the magical place out of bounds for humans. By chance she meets a human boy, Stefan, and falls in love with him. As she grows stronger and more powerful she becomes the guardian of The Moors, but she still can’t turn her back on Stefan. When he betrays her in his own pursuit of power her heart turns to stone and she is consumed by anger and the need for revenge. On hearing of the birth of Stefan’s – now King – daughter, she gatecrashes her Christening to curse the infant. Before the sun sets on her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on a spindle… you know the rest.

Or do you? Maleficent keeps a watchful eye over the cursed Princess Aurora, but is it to make sure her curse is fulfilled, or for another reason?

To be truthful, this film is all about Angelina Jolie. She seems made to play to Disney villain and she does so perfectly. Hitting the right balance between menacing and campy with the arch of a brow she is at once commanding and entertaining. She plays Maleficent’s transition from good to evil to kind of back again with such conviction it gives the slightly convuluted story credibility. Additionally, the make up and costume design is  incredible, giving Maleficent such a strong image that after watching the film, any time you think of a ‘bad fairy’, you’ll surely think of Ange.

Unfortunately this is  where the good ends. Sharlto Copley (Stefan)  is unusually disappointing and has one of the worst Scottish accents committed to screen. His character is supposed to show shades of Macbeth but falls flat. Elle Fanning (Aurora) and the other secondary characters are far too overshadowed by Jolie to remain interesting. Further, the good fairies who are charged with looking after the princess are supposed to provide the light relief but barely managed to raise a giggle from the crowd of kids in the cinema where I watched the film.

If you are particularly interested in costume and make-up design you might like this film. True also if you are a big fan of Angelina Jolie (and who isn’t). The poster images are instant classics, but sadly the film is not.

#BEDM | Film Review | Godzilla

A film review is a totally appropriate topic for a ‘Date Night’ prompt, right? I’m a big cinema fan (obviously), there’s something about the shared experienced of watching a film as part of an audience over at home. It makes it funnier, more emotional, more awesome. And Godzilla definitely falls into the ‘awesome’ camp.

Godzilla-2014-RoarGodzilla | Gareth Edwards | 2014 | USA/Japan | 12A | 123 min

Gareth Edwards returns with his second feature film and again it is a monster movie. This time though he has a considerably larger budget than the £10,000 for his 2010 feature, Monsters. Godzilla is a big-budget Hollywood movie but it benefits from Edwards’ experience in creating a film of substance and atmosphere on a shoestring.

Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) was just ten when a nuclear plant disaster in Janjira, Japan, killed his mother and sent his town into quarantine. 15 years later and now a bomb disposal expert he is forced back there when his father Joe (Bryan Cranston) is arrested for trespassing in the quarantine zone. Racked with guilt and anger since his wife’s death, Joe has spent 15 years investigating what really went on at Janjira convinced that there is a cover-up over what  caused the tremors that caused the meltdown. Turns out he’s right – the Government have been hiding knowledge of three giant monsters – a male and female parasitic insectoids and Gojira.

During some films of this genre, you are just waiting to see the monster (Pacific Rim) while other make the most of its off-screen time to build an actual story (Jaws). Godzilla lies between the two. Godzilla’s screen time isn’t huge but there are two other monsters – the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism) to balance this. The story is definitely solid, even if it doesn’t quite stand up to the likes of Jaws - possibly due to the sheer number of characters. Edwards clearly wants to return the legend of Godzilla to its roots – born out of fear of nuclear warfare. Dr Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) urges the government officials away from resorting to nuclear weapons to take down Godzilla and the MUTOs, his family having already experienced the fallout of Hiroshima. The design and sound of Godzilla is much more like an updated version of the Japanese Toho Pictures than the 1998 attempt and he is restored as an ‘avenging angel’ character over a mindless force of destruction.

Above all, Godzilla is a hugely enjoyable film. The final third is stompy, confident, and full of swagger. Godzilla’s first roar make the wait for him to appear in all his glory worth it. See it in IMAX to have your face melted by the sheer awesomeness.

The Grand Budapest Hotel | Under the Skin | Starred Up

Here’s a lightning fast round-up of the films I’ve been watching recently.

The Grand Budapest HotelThe Grand Budapest Hotel | Wes Anderson | 2014 | USA/Germany | 15 | 100 min

The Grand Budapest Hotel is possibly the most Wes Andersony Wes Anderson film ever. Starring Ralph Fiennes as the legendary concierge M Gustave and packed to the brim with Anderson favourites (Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman etc. etc.) it is a candy-coloured caper of the quirkiest degree. It is extremely silly but fun and a visual feast – exactly what you’d expect from a Wes Anderson film.

Under the SkinUnder the Skin | Jonathan Glazer | 2013 | UK | 15 | 108 min

At the opposite end of the scale, Jonathan Glazer’s Under the Skin is a hypnotic science-fiction that slowly reveals itself as the other-worldly Laura (Scarlett Johansson) lures unsuspecting men into a strange, limbo like trap. Although it’s not entirely clear what is happening, the film is mesmerizing and stunningly shot to which Johansson lends an ethereal presence.

Starred UpStarred Up | David Mackenzie | 2013 | UK | 18 |103 min

Eric Love (Jock O’Connell) is “starred up”. A 19-year-old who is transferred to an adult prison two years early due to his violent and uncontrollable temper, ending up in the same wing as his father. David Mackenzie delivers a gritty drama with spectacular performances from all the cast members, particularly O’Connell and Ben Mendelsohn who plays Eric’s father Nev. The father/son relationship adds a new dimension to the well-worn prison politics drama.

What have you been watching recently?

Film Review | Her

Spike Jonze’s latest film, Her, has a wonderfully odd premise: a man falls in love – properly, romantically, sexually, head over heels in love – with his computer operating system. With my usual dose of healthy skepticism I headed to the cinema to find out how this would work. But was it wonderful, or just odd?

her filmHer | Spike Jonze | 2013 | USA | 15 | 126min

Her is set in the near future in a Los Angeles where men wear high waisted trousers, telephones are in-ear devices and no one writes their own letters. We meet Theodore (Joaquin Phoenix) who is going through a not-entirely-friendly divorce. Sensitive and melancholic by nature, he is slipping towards depression, avoiding both the situation and his friends. When he installs a new operating system for his computer OS 1 he finds his world opening up in a way he never imagined. His OS, Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johannson) is intelligent and intuitive, with the ability to constantly learn and adapt – essentially to create her own personality. She helps Theo to deal with his divorce, say yes to adventures and even restarts his writing career. As Theo describes his situation: “Sometimes I think I’ve felt everything I’m going to feel. And from here on out, I’m not going to feel anything new. Just lesser versions of what I’ve already felt.” Incredibly, and to his huge suprise, Samantha is the one to change this.

What is striking about Her is just how surprisingly plausible it is. Theo works in a office space which favours the cubicle set up, he lives in a busy city with daily public transport commutes, his home is in a large apartment building. He is by no means isolated, indeed he has solid friendships with collegues and people who live in his building, yet he still feels a crushing loneliness. People are plugged into thier technology nearly 24/7 and this heightens the distance between strangers. The styling of the clothes and surroundings is all too familiar, setting the action in the future but the very near future, our generation’s future. This is sci-fi, but in this world the ‘robots’ won’t go on a rampage, they won’t kill anyone, there won’t be a revolution. They’ll quietly enter your life and they’ll break your heart. Anyone who has felt the dread, anger and simultaneous sorrow at losing their iPhone already knows how possible this is.

I really enjoyed Her, more than I thought I would. So to my original question, yes it’s odd but that’s wonderful. I definitely urge you to give this film a chance.

And to all the OS developers of the future, please don’t use the insanely sexy, husky voice of Scarlett Johannson for your operating systems, you’re just asking for trouble.

Film Review | 12 Years a Slave

First film review of 2014 and it’s a good one! The film that is, not necessarily my review, I ain’t no critic. We are well and truly into Oscar season and Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave is right at the forefront with nominations in 9 categories. On Sunday night, the Producers Guild Awards caused a bit of a stir when it declared 12 Years a Slave tied with Gravity for their Best Film Award, the first tie in PGA history. The PGAs, along with the Screen Actors Guild Awards are renowned for predicting Oscar night success, so what could this mean for 12 Years a Slave? Could it find itself sharing the glory?

MCDTWYE FS00812 Years a Slave | 2013 | Steve McQueen | USA/UK | 15 | 134mins

12 Years a Slave is based upon the memoirs of Solomon Northup, a free man living in New York State who was abducted and sold into slavery in 1841. As Director, Steve McQueen lends his unflinching cinematic style to this brutal and tragic account. Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) fights to maintain his dignity as well as his life when faced with power-mad foremen and psychotic plantation owners. Ejiofor’s nuanced performance perfectly encapsulates Solomon’s struggles. In a stand out scene, Solomon stands with his fellow slaves at the freshly dug grave of a man who dropped down dead in the middle of the cotton fields. Initially resisting the songs sung by his comrades, we see as Solomon’s anger drains to sorrow, his hope fades to fear and his identity as a free man disappears into acceptance of his new, powerless situation.

There has been much said about the violence in the film but it is never gratuitous and is in fact unavoidable in a film about slavery. For McQueen to gloss over this would be an injustice to the victims of slavery, and if 12 Years a Slave tell us anything, it is that there has been enough injustice already. Instead, it lingers on the violence and pain, exposing it, challenging the viewer to turn away. We see Solomon hung from a tree, his punishment for defending himself against an attack from an overseer. His feet barely touching the slippery mud below, Solomon hangs there for hours in the blistering heat gasping for breath. In this extended, unblinking scene, the camera gaze is as passive as the passer-by’s going about their business.

Lupita Nyong’o also delivers a standout performance as Patsey, a young woman who suffers greatly at the hands of the cotton plantation owner Edwin Epps (Micheal Fassbender). The subject of Epps’ lust which frequently turns into unimaginable violence, Patsey is in a desperate situation. As Solomon has realised, staying under the radar is crucial to survival and this is simply not an option for Patsey. Nyong’o masterfully delivers a performance which perfectly shows Patsey’s desperation, fear and defiance.

12 Years a Slave is an extraordinary film. It is undeniably an important subject matter and in the hands of McQueen and Ejiofor we have what will surely become part of the canon of must-see films about American history for many years to come. Although the violence is hard to watch, it demands to be seen and recognised. This is how we can learn from even shameful parts of our history. In my mind it is well deserving of the accolade of Best Film at this year’s Oscars, as well as Best Director for McQueen and acting awards for Ejiofor and Nyong’o. I’ll be watching on the 2nd of March with bated breath.

Best of 2013 – Film & TV

This morning WordPress emailed me with my stats for the year. Turned out I had written 199 posts on 2013. Well we can’t have that! Here is number 200, a semi thought out media based favourites list. The usual disclaimer applies, these are my personal favourites of the year (that I can remember). There is a whole tonne that I haven’t seen – The Selfish Giant, Gravity, Breaking Bad etc etc. Sorry. Hangs head in shame. In no particular order:

Films magic_magicMagic Magic (Sebastian Silva) | Young, naive girl travels to South America and quickly unravels, possibly due to Micheal Cera’s creepy knitwear. Juno Temple is captivating even as an unstable, hysterical tourist.

Good VibrationsGood Vibrations (Lisa Barros D’Sa & Glenn Leyburn) | A feel-good film set against the backdrop of the Troubles? That’s punk for you.

BlackfishBlackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite) | I love a good, biased, cause documentary to get all het up about. Even better when it’s about my major hate – SeaWorld *boo hiss*  Free Tilly!

FilthFilth (Jon S. Baird) | This one is a film that grew on me the more I thought about it. James McAvoy is surprising perfect as the twisted Bruce Robertson.

frances_ha_4Frances Ha (Noah Baumbach) | Definitely my favourite of the year. In the same vein as Girls but Frances is a more relatable, likeable character. I love the scene where she spontaneously dances through the streets. Pitch perfect.

TV CatfishCatfish: The TV Show | I love Catfish! So addictive even though it is ridiculously set up. Spoiler alert – they’re aalll catfish!

Orange is the New BlackOrange is the New Black | Totally binge watched this on Netflix one weekend. The end was so shocking! Can’t wait til it comes back next year.

Trophy wifeTrophy Wife | I’ve just started watching this but I’m really enjoying it so far. It’s similar to Modern Family and Suburgatory, the other two sitcoms I’ve been loving this year so thought it was an appropriate choice for this list, it being new and all. I love Bert, he’s so funny.

GirlsGirls | Show me a 20-something woman who doesn’t love Girls and I’ll show you someone who hasn’t seen it. I joke, I realise it is quite a Marmite show but on this occasion I’m all for it. And yes, I bought the Patrick Wilson storyline, I’m all for any storyline that involves a naked Patrick Wilson.

Penguins Spy in the HuddlePenguins: Spy in the Huddle | EEEE! Penguins! Filmmaking technology! Baby penguins! No one does wildlife documentaries like the BBC. This one was beyond comparison. When Dolphins: Spy in the Pod starts on January 2nd I may spontaneously combust. Just a warning for you there.

What were your favourite films and TV shows of 2013? Tell me all the ones I missed.

Film Review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, or Hunger Games 2 as hopefully no one calls it. I’ll start by saying I have read The Hunger Games trilogy. I actually read them after seeing the first film as I enjoyed the film so much so I have none of the ‘oh the book was better’ anxiety that normally comes with this kind of territory. After all, this film is not only a book adaptation but a sequel. Ew! Must be terrible, right? No. It’s not.

The Hunger Games Catching FireThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire|2013|Francis Lawrence|USA|12A|146min

Catching Fire picks up with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) after her ‘victory’ in the 74th Hunger Games. Having outsmarted the totalitarian establishment, she has put herself and everyone around her at great danger by unwittingly positioning herself as a symbol of hope for the oppressed masses. Recognising the threat that she poses, President Snow (Donald Sutherland) decides that she must be eliminated at any cost. Following a traumatic Victory Tour with fellow winner and pretend fiance, Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutherson), Katniss learns that she will soon be returning to the arena where she will again have to fight for her life in the 75th Hunger Games.

The long run time reflects the faithfulness to the book. I can imagine that it would be extremely tempting to rush right to the beginning of the Games, but instead the director decides to give the time needed to develop the real story, the story of the Districts before leaping into the spectacle of the Games. For this, the film benefits. It gives more depth to the world glimpsed in the first film.

As in the last film, Jennifer Lawrence is quietly commanding as Katniss. The new supporting cast hold their own against Lawrence and inhabit their roles brilliantly, especially Jena Malone as Johanna, the tribute from District 7 and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the new Head Gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee (yes really).

Catching Fire is a worthy sequel to The Hunger Games, which when it was released lambasted the critics preconceptions of a “Battle Royale for the Twilight generation”. I personally enjoyed Catching Fire more, but this is likely due to the fact that it is also my favourite book in the series. Fans of the series will love this film. It doesn’t really hold up as a stand alone film so if you didn’t see The Hunger Games, rectify this first.

At the end we are treated to a glimpse of mostly-either-hysterical-or-unconcious-Katniss of Mockingjay which sadly will be split into two films. Creating two strong films from the weakest novel in the series will surely be a challenge for any director, particularly now that the bar has been raised by Francis Lawrence with Catching Fire.