Month: January 2017

February film preview

We did it guys, we’ve made it through the rather abysmal January – for films among other things and we’re onto the next month, hopefully we’ll have a few better films in store to come in the next 4 weeks! Here are a few, US release dates by default.

 

Rings – released on the 3rd of February

Directed by F. Javier Gutierrez.

Starring: Matilda Lutz, Alex Roe, Johnny Galecki, Aimee Teegarden, Vincent D’onofrio.

Sequel to the popular Rings films, set 13 years after the last film in the series as Julia becomes worried after her boyfriend – Holt, delves into the legend of the Ring video and the mythos surrounding it.

 

Fifty Shades Darker – released on the 10th of February

Directed by James Foley.

Starring: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Kim Basinger, Luke Grimes, Bella Heathcote, Elose Mumford.

Erotic drama and sequel to the… controversial Fifty Shades Of Grey as we follow Anastasia trying to move on from Christian Grey, though they reconcile and attempt a normal relationship, which comes with its own surprising baggage on Christians’ part.

 

John Wick: Chapter 2 – released on the 10th of February

Directed by Chad Jahelski.

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, Common, Ruby Rose, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane.

Follow up to John Wick, we follow Wick as he reluctantly comes out of retirement and travels to Rome in order to help an associate, whose guild is under attack.

 

The Lego Batman Movie – released on the 10th of February

Directed by Chris McKay.

Starring: Will Arnett, Zach Galifinakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Billy Dee Williams.

Comedy/drama set in Gotham as Batman goes on a personal journey, facing off against the menace of the Joker as he tries to take over the city.

 

The Great Wall – released on the 17th of February

Directed by Zhang Yimou.

Starring: Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau.

Fantasy period drama set in China during the Song Dynasty as European mercenaries become entangled in an effort to protect China and the great wall of China from monstrous attackers alongside Chinese warriors.

 

Tulip Fever – released on the 24th of February

Directed by Justin Chatwin.

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dane DeHaan, Zach Galifinakis, Judi Dench, Christoph Waltz, Jack O’Connell, Matthew Morrison, David Harewood, Cara Delevingne.

17th century period drama, as a painter falls in love with a married woman after he’s commissioned to paint her portrait by her husband. The two people get involved in the tulip market in the hopes of growing closer.

Passengers review

Passengers is a sci-fi drama directed by Morten Tyldum, on a generational spaceship – the Avalon, travelling on a 120 year journey, 2 passengers are awoken 90 years early, the film stars Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Sheen, Andy Garcia.

The central premise of Passengers is a quite interesting one, a sort of solitary space faring drama in the vein of Solaris but quite a bit different, with two sole survivors…. or passengers rather with Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), trying to cope and come to terms with the fact that they woke up 90 years early on their journey and can’t go back to sleep. Close, intimate dramas like this are built on the performances of the main characters and fortunately for the film, you have two of Hollywood’s most charismatic and likeable actors in Pratt and Lawrence and in truth either of them could have lead the film more or less on their own.

But together, they make for quite a good, believable pairing and have some good chemistry, which plays a fairly important role in the plot in how the characters relate, they aren’t quite the only characters present though and android waiter Arthur (Michael Sheen) also around, providing the passengers with some companionship at least. Unfortunately for the film, the plot just never quite gets to any interesting degree until the final third of the film imo so that leaves for 2/3 of a rather uneventful affair, despite Pratt and Lawrence being great in their roles, they aren’t left with enough to do and not enough really happens to them to make their ordeal captivating enough. And though some interesting moral and ethical questions are raised here, they’re barely explored in favour of furthering on the plot, Solaris this is not (though a lot of people think that’s boring as well) though I didn’t necessarily expect it to be, I feel the themes present could have been explored in a little bit more depth, what would you do on a spaceship you were doomed to die on? How would you think? Would you wake up other people if you could? The questions are fascinating and while they are explored through Chris Pratts’ action and psyche, this plays second fiddle to a somewhat forced romance angle.

The film also follows a pretty by the numbers twist as well which turns a fairly interesting premise into a more generic one, which is a shame and ultimately this is bubblegum mainstream sci-fi, not particularly that interesting or well thought out, with an intriguing premise that just acts as a background to a drama that itself isn’t really that interesting. Passengers tries to be unique and interesting but fails in its attempt, suffering from a fairly dull and lifeless plot despite its two strong leads and seriously, there is barely any actual plot present aside from the inciting incident of the story, just not a lot happens and it’s a waste of a potentially good story. And true to form, watching the film, you definitely do feel like a passenger – on some form of public transport, along for the ride but barely engaged and wanting to get off.

5/10

. Dull and by the numbers plot, could have had interesting plot developments

. Interesting ethical and moral themes are barely touched on

. Has good performances and chemistry between Pratt and Lawrence

My 2017 Oscars predictions

So while I’m not huge on awards season nowadays generally speaking, I’ll watch them but I’m not hugely enamoured by them any more (taste changes I guess), I thought I’d still chime in on the Oscars for this year as I tend to with the nominations coming out earlier in the week though I’m a bit late! Anyway here are my thoughts on who’ll be picking up gold in February and some reasons on my choices….

Best picture

Arrival
Fences
Hacksaw Ridge
Hell or High Water
Hidden Figures
La La Land  – Winner
Lion
Manchester By the Sea
Moonlight

La La Land just has to be a lock at the moment coming off of so much hype and praise and is the obvious choice imo but we may well see an upset this year… but I doubt it, I’m sure a lot of academy folks love Manchester by the sea and Lion as well but the musical may just take it.

Best cinematography

Arrival – winner
La La Land
Lion
Moonlight
Silence

More of a wishful winner but out of the choices, I do think it has the best cinematography by a margin with some pretty great visuals, which play some role in the films narrative as well, the most interesting film on the list too imo.

Best supporting actor

Mahershala Ali (Moonlight)  – Winner
Jeff Bridges (Hell or High Water)
Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea)
Dev Patel (Lion)
Michael Shannon (Nocturnal Animals)

Hard category here with some strong choices but Mahershala takes it for me with some great buzz and with him generally being a great actor, Michael Shannon – also great but didn’t do too much in Nocturnal Animals imo, Dev Patel is also a big choice and may well be a top pick for people.

Best documentary

Fire at Sea
I Am Not Your Negro
Life, Animated
OJ: Made in America – winner
13th

I’m picking at random to be honest, I haven’t seen any of these.

Best foreign language film

Land of Mine
A Man Called Ove
The Salesman  – winner
Tanna
Toni Erdmann

Another category of things I haven’t seen, The salesman sounds kinda… nice I guess?

Best actor

Casey Affleck (Manchester By the Sea)  – winner
Andrew Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge)
Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Viggo Mortensen (Captain Fantastic)
Denzel Washington (Fences)

Strongly contested category as ever, Gosling may not win the best actor award imo due to some strong competition and Casey Affleck may just get this, the academy seems to adore Manchester by the sea so I see it picking up some awards, I think it’ll be close between Affleck and Garfield in the end though.

Best costume design

Allied
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – winner
Florence Foster Jenkins
Jackie
La La Land

Interesting category here, Allied had some decent costume design but Fantastic Beasts wins this for me with its world of wizardry/30s era New York style that you just can’t quite beat for ‘cool’.

Best score

Jackie
La La Land – winner
Lion
Moonlight
Passengers

Can’t see past La La Land for this, a musical getting best score seems pretty logical.

Best song

Audition (La La Land)
Can’t Stop the Feeling! (Trolls)
City of Stars (La La Land) – winner
The Empty Chair (Jim: The James Foley Story)
How Far I’ll Go (Moana)

Again another strong chance for La La Land to win, with 2 nominations, this should be an easy sweep.

Best sound editing

Arrival – winner
Deepwater Horizon
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land
Sully

Bit of a different choice for me,  Arrival is a film not really noted for its score/music but I think it had a pretty strong score overall, so I think it may just win this category, I expect Arrival to get a few of the technical wins generally.

Best sound mixing

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge
La La Land – winner
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
13 Hours

Sound mixing, a popular musical, go figure right?

Best documentary short

4.1 Miles
Extremis – winner
Joe’s Violin
Watani: My Homeland
The White Helmets

I haven not seen any of these.

Best production design

Arrival
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – winner
Hail, Caesar!
La La Land
Passengers

Interesting category here, Passengers and Fantastic Beasts have the most grand and out there production design but Beasts wins it for me with its sheer spectacle, great costumes and great looking sets, though Hail, Caesar! is also a potential choice with some nice period costumes and a look at Hollywood in the golden age, Hollywood tends to like films about Hollywood and its history so you never know, it could win.

Best original screenplay

Hell or High Water
La La Land – winner
The Lobster
Manchester By the Sea
20th Century Women

La La Land will be sweeping the Oscars going by my predictions and probably a lot of other peoples’ but yeah, this should be another win for it, close runner up will be Manchester by the sea.

Best adapted screenplay

Arrival
Fences
Hidden Figures
Lion
Moonlight – winner

I’d hate to see Moonlight get shut out and I think it may pick this win up, also being a favourite among critics, Arrival is the film I want to win but y’know, the Academy and sci-fi, not the best relationship in film history.

Best animated feature

Kubo and the Two Strings – winner
Moana
My Life As a Zucchini
The Red Turtle
Zootopia

Actually a fairly strong category here, two popular Disney films and no Finding Dory…. but I think Kubo may take it as the more dramatic tale, not being as mainstream as some other choices, it’s also pretty good, so there’s that.

Best animated short

Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time – winner
Pear Cider and Cigarettes
Pearl
Piper

Also haven’t seen any of thsese…..

Best supporting actress

Viola Davis (Fences)
Naomie Harris (Moonlight)
Nicole Kidman (Lion)
Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures)
Michelle Williams (Manchester By the Sea) – winner

I can see Williams getting this, though she has tough competition, Nicole Kidman is an academy darling and may be a top choice for many though.

Best film editing

Arrival
Hacksaw Ridge – winner
Hell or High Water
La La Land
Moonlight

I always find this category a bit weird, good editing is something you don’t really notice so… how do you note it? Good transitions between scenes, seeing scenes, action and characters clearly I suppose… Hacksaw Ridge may get this with good cinematography in general and serious, emotional subject material.

Best live-action short

Ennemis Interieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights
Sing
Timecode – winner

I have not seen any of these either!

Best actress

Isabelle Huppert (Elle)
Ruth Negga (Loving)
Emma Stone (La La Land) – winner
Natalie Portman (Jackie)
Meryl Streep (Florence Foster Jenkins)

Big, big category, Meryl Streep is the tour de force and anyone beating her outright is big but I dunno… I think Emma Stone may just win this, my thinking is that Florence Foster Jenkins just isn’t in the zeitgest the way La La Land is now, so Stone gets this.

Best director

Denis Villeneuve (Arrival)
Mel Gibson (Hacksaw Ridge)
Damien Chazelle (La La Land) – winner
Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By the Sea)
Barry Jenkins (Moonlight)

One of the big categories, always hotly contested…. I’d love Villeneuve to win this but I’m doubtful, it’s between Chazelle and Lonergan for me with Gibson being a close outside choice, to more or less round up La La Lands sweep, I give it to Chazelle, a passion project for him and a generally well loved film.

Best visual effects

Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
The Jungle Book – winner
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – won’t win but I’d love it to!

really, really want Rogue One to win something and especially this but the academy doesn’t much care for sci-fi or mainstream films so it’s doubtful, a well loved Disney film with some great CGI isn’t too much of a stretch for winning this.

Best makeup and hairstyling

A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad – winner

Bit of an interesting category here, Suicide Squad will actually win this for me and it will be hilarious, yes Suicide Squad will win an Oscar, love it, hate it or really hate it, it had some great costume design and make up for the characters, Joker, Killer Croc and Harlie Quinn to name some so, fair enough.

Some predictable choices here in what will be a fairly predictable Oscars imo, 7 wins for La La Land and I can see that happening, if not more, though if it gets shut out that would be one of the biggest Oscar shocks in years, Hacksaw Ridge or Manchester by the sea may end up doing a lot better than I predict but I guess we have to wait and see! The 89th Oscar awards are on 26th of February.

Allied review

Robert Zemeckis directs Allied, a WWII spy drama based around a Canadian intelligence officer who comes across a French woman living in Nazi occupied North Africa and the two become intertwined, planning to undermine certain operations, the film stars Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Vincent Latorre.

The central conceit of Allied is an interesting one, centred around espionage during the second world war and even around the idea double crossing which definitely did occur, with axis aligned agents pretending to be allied agents and vice versa, the premise itself is probably what got you to watch the film and it works for the most part. Pitt and Cotillard make a fairly good on screen couple as it turns out and they have a fun rapport on screen, driven mostly by Cotillard in a spirited performance as French agent Marianne Beausejour, the chemistry between the two is there but I found Brad Pitt seemed a bit bored in quite a few scenes and lacked emotional expression which made for a bit of an odd viewing/pairing.

That being said he isn’t necessarily bad in the film but pretty average, which is a shame for an actor of his calibre. Cotillard does make up for Pitts apparent lack of enthusiasm though and the interactions between the two are fairly enjoyable to watch, though seeing them in action more would have been a bit more fun.

I feel like Allied is a tale of two halves of a film, the first half mostly in North Africa with Max and Marianne on duty being intriguing, interesting and exciting as they go about their duties but the second half definitely loses some of that intrigue and excitement, which is understandable as the plot literally goes to a different location and context to be fair, though this is still all during WWII. There’s a bit of an odd feeling to the film as a whole, as it tries to juggle a few things at once it’s a espionage drama without that much actual espionage and also a story about romance but the two don’t exactly mesh together as seamlessly as you would hope and the result of which is oddly toned with an imbalance of romance and drama. And this imbalance makes for weird transitions between time in which the characters do different things and it’s a bit jarring towards the middle when the action slows down a fair bit, which may feel like things get a bit boring for a lot of viewers.

The romantic side to things is present but a bit rushed along, especially in the 2nd half of the film, probably for the sake of the plot and the premise around Marianne being accused of being an Nazi spy but that aspect of the story, while being the lynch pin for a big portion of the plot, is barely explored and merely touched upon, concluding a pretty disappointing fashion.

6/10

. Odd tonal balance to film, neither a great drama or romance

. Aspects of Max and Mariannes’ romance feel rushed and not that convincing

. Cotillard gives a good performance, Pitt not so much

The Lord of The Rings: The Return of The King – review

The Lord of The Rings trilogy draws to its end with The Return of The King as Frodo and Sam near Mount Doom and the end of their journey, while Sauron mounts his forces for a final attack on Gondor in order to destroy it, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett.

Return Of The King is quite the epic in every sense of the word, a very natural feeling crescendo to the LOTR trilogy I feel, as we follow the main characters from the films (the fellowship mostly) go along their separate journeys, now even more separated in different stories, though off together in pairs aside from the trio of Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli, it’s great to see some characters together even though they’re separated as a group as a whole, all working towards the same goal of fighting against Sauron/evil essentially. The stakes just feel a bit higher this time around with all of Gondor being the centre piece for battle and the focus for a lot of the film as we really get a scale of the power of Sauron and the armies that he commands, dwarfing the already massive army that Isengard brought out at Helms Deep in The Two Towers.

Like I mentioned in a previous preview, I like how the series shows war as it is, gritty, indiscriminate and brutal – even with the fantastical elements of this story and we see this in the chaos that takes place during the battle of Minas Tirith and Pelennor fields later in the film, with some great editing and use music in particular to emphasize the tone of certain scenes – a loss of hope, fear against evil while Minas Tirith was besieged which slightly turned to hope when Gandalf marshalled the cities forces and rallied them. I feel like small details like this are great, showing the complexity of the characters in the situations they’re in, the characters are just like people – even Gandalf, sometimes hopeful, fearful, happy and sad but importantly for the story with the main characters, they never give up.

The set pieces in Return Of The King dials things to 11 in terms of action and set pieces as well, in massive open fields, tens of thousands of soldiers in armies and of course, the ever memorable Rohirrim charge, the challenge to adapt such ambitious battles on screen must have been a huge undertaking but they’re done well, showing the action clearly and again, emphasizing the mayhem and ruthlessness of war when it all comes down to man to man combat. And for a film in the early 2000s, the visuals still hold up and look decent due to prosthetics and more ‘real’ looking Orcs that aren’t all CGI, though even the CG looks okay. The film isn’t all action – though there is a fair amount of it, with some great, downplayed emotional moments between characters, Faramir wanting his father (Denethors) love and respect, even to the point of endangering himself, Sam and Frodos ongoing journey and tumultuous friendship due to Gollum which almost breaks them apart as well as other side stories that are ongoing that are all important to the main over arching plot. And again the stories are balanced well, leading to a satisfying and emotional conclusion.

I’m not going to lie, I kinda love Return Of The King as I feel it’s a perfect conclusion to one of the best stories on film, with great set pieces, great character arcs/developments and some fantastic individual moments that remind you why you probably like or love the series as a whole, excellently well done fantasy with a compelling world and engaging story.

10/10

. Brilliant conclusion to the overall story. Good character development and arcs, characters grow and change

. Fantastic, poignant set pieces with some good visuals even up to today

. Consistently strong performances

The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers -review

The Lord Of The Rings series continues with the 2nd entry, The Two Towers as the fellowship, now split goes about its separate ways, Sam and Frodo continue on to Mordor, following Gollum, meanwhile Isengard prepares for war and martials its forces as it prepares to face Rohan, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Miranda Otto, Karl Urban.

The epic story of Middle Earth continues in The Two Towers, now in a bit of a darker tone than Fellowship with the returning main cast plus a few new additions, we now see the story go back and forth between travelling parties from the fellowship as the plot progresses, a more or less equal amount of time being given to the characters with some literally following others e.g. Aragon, Legolas and Gimli following Merry and Pippin. The great thing is that even with the story being split in three, the different parts are still all as interesting and engaging and as is the norm with a lot of sequels, we get an expansion on the world we’ve been introduced to with the introduction of Rohan,Ents,  Isengard, Saruman and Helms Deep, all key players and important parts to the film, this makes for a more compelling story as we see the far reach of Sauron and his evil magic, even affecting normal men and we really understand why the ring needs to be destroyed.

Rohan brings an interesting key aspect to the story as we get to see a big faction of men and how they react to evil, the ring and how they take action, interacting with Gandalf, Aragon, Legolas and Gimli and driving the story forward, if the Fellowship of the ring was an introduction to the story and the start of an adventure, The Two Towers is a war film first and foremost, focusing quite heavily on war and showing what it looks like in Middle Earth. I like that the films don’t shy away from showing the horror of war and loss, not being explicit on gore or blood but you still see the casualties of war, men, elves, orc alike (and so on), even in a world of fantasy and magic, death is still gruesome and prevalent and this makes for an interesting aesthetic for a fantasy film that has a fair amount of magical creatures and beings.

The series as a a whole grounds things to a degree, not overly relying on magic or special spells to save the day for the good guys but good old fashioned tactics and force of will… and a little but of good fortune as well. The Two Towers takes the story to an interesting middle point, involving the main characters in a lot more peril which makes things all the more engaging as we’re fairly empathetic towards the characters at this point as we want to see what happens to them as the story progresses and the film amazingly manages to juggle its multiple ongoing stories to a good degree, giving each of them enough screen time to stay interesting.

9/10

. Interesting expansion on the lore of Middle Earth, interesting introductions of Rohan, Isengard

. Great balancing of different ongoing stories

. Gritty depictions of war and death, even in fantasy makes for compelling viewing

The Lord Of The Rings: The Fellowship Of The Ring – review

Peter Jackson directs the opening entry in the classic LOTR trilogy, as we follow Frodo Baggins, a hobbit from the shire that sets out on a journey with his companions as commissioned by a wizard – Gandalf, with the aim to take the ring of power to Mordor and destroy it, the film stars Elijah Wood, Orlando Bloom, Jonathan Rhys-Davies, Ian Mckellan, Andy Serkis, Viggo Mortensen, Sean Bean, Liv Tyler, Hugo Weaving, Billy Boyd, Sean Astin, Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett.

The film that kicked it all off, The Fellowship Of The Ring is a wonder, being tasked with bringing a whole world of fantasy to modern audiences that may have been unfamiliar with it, having not read the books or heard of Lord Of The Rings even, Peter Jackson had a monumental task on his hands in simply adapting the massive story for the big screen but he managed to do it and to do it rather well at that. First off by getting a great cast for the film and for the roles of the main characters that we’ve now come to know and love, a mix of actors from around the world that perfectly fit their role and play up well to the theatrical, near play like drama that encompasses the story, down to the characters actions and their dialogues, casting choices like Ian Mckellan as Gandalf and Christopher Lee as Saruman – 2 wizards on opposing sides were brilliant choices and they brought gravitas to the film.

Fellowship, like the other 2 films in the trilogy has some fantastic elements to it that make the world of Middle Earth feel and look real, from the set designs to the character costumes, characters and races look distinct and unique, elves being tall and slender, dwarves short and stout – orcs rather ghoulish and dirty, these details go some way to help suspend disbelief and engross you in a fantasy world as a viewer, you also have to mention the fantastic vistas and locations present in the film as a lot of the films were shot on location in New Zealand. The mountain ranges, open wild trails etc are great to look at but also help to emphasise the sheer size of Middle Earth and the distances in between locations that the characters have to travel to.

The film has a nice sense of whimsy and adventure to it as we see the fellowship set about on their journey together as a group of 9 and it’s great to see the characters interact for the limited amount of time we see all 9 together, chased by the ghastly Nazgul all the way and because they’re so different to each other, it makes the journey more enjoyable to watch, that coupled with them running into enemies along the way makes things more interesting – as them simply trekking across Middle Earth does feature quite heavily. Fellowship isn’t all sunshine and roses though, having a mixed tone that reminds you that this is a fairly adult story of loss, death and friendship and the story has you empathise with the characters to a degree that losing one carries real weight, even though this is the first film in the series. This is due to small moments that reveal aspects of the characters, from fears to doubts and so on that show that they’re multi-dimensional and interesting. Another great aspect of the film is the score, one of the best in any film series – ever in my opinion, fitting certain scenes perfectly and making the trek across Middle Earth for the fellowship feel all the more epic, Fellowship is a brilliant starting point to one of the best film trilogies in cinema history and a great introductory piece to the Lord of The Rings story.

8.5/10

. Great casting choices, fantastic, convincing acting

. Brilliant visuals, great shots of landscapes to represent Middle Earth

. Engaging and engrossing story told well

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge Of The Sith – review

George Lucas directs the concluding chapter of his prequel trilogy in Revenge Of The Sith, starring  Ewan Mcgregor, Hayden Christensen, Natalie Portman, Samuel L Jackson, Christopher Lee, as the story has progressed, Anakin has grown closer to reckless, violent side, while a secret plot involving the republic comes to the forefront.

Revenge Of The Sith kicks things off right away with a fantastic scene above the planet Coruscant, following Obi-Wan and Anakin as they’re tasked with retrieving the wanted Count Dooku, it’s a great looking scene for one and a good barometer of things to come with a fairly action packed film as a whole, though Episode III also manages to mix a fair amount of drama in it as well. A high point of the film is its visuals, the best in Star Wars to date with some good action sequences and great special effects and up to that point, Star Wars had never looked this good and it makes for some pretty epic set pieces, particularly the opening sequence for the film.

The tone of the film is markedly darker and logically so as the plot goes on, with this being the most emotional film in the prequels and the more emotional moments do work for the most part with some better acting performances, some improvement from Hayden Christensen and a good performance from Ewan McGregor. Seeing the height of the power of the Jedi in this period and then seeing its decline is an overall great unfolding plot point and the twist that is sprung by the film was predictable, but still impactful (ugh the Jedi kids) and importantly, the film doesn’t simply stray into and remain in a completely dark, depressing mood. As we come to learn there’s always hope, pun intended, the prequels were an… interesting foray into politics and how ideals and beliefs can become corrupted and even fascistic – presented in how the Galactic republic slowly becomes the Empire, an basic measure of this is very visible in the clone troopers and how their design and look changes over the prequels to closely resemble the traditional stormtroopers, as the capital ships also change to resemble Star Destroyers. Touches like this are small and may be missed entirely if you don’t look for them but I find them interesting in relation the lore of Star Wars as a whole.

And while supporting characters played by Natalie Portman and Samuel L Jackson are also decent but not spectacular, the journey of Anakin and his eventual transition to the dark side is what the story ultimately rides on and you have to buy into it, empathise and sympathise with the character for it to really work. And for the most part it works, despite Hayden Christensens’ less than stellar performance, simply because the remaining elements of the film all work well, from a great soundtrack which fits the film, good action and visuals and the feeling of a satisfying conclusion to the prequel story, which you already know continues into the original trilogy.

7/10

. Has some great visuals, fun set pieces

. Has some of the better performances from the prequels

. Manages its overall tone well – dark yet hopeful

The Dark Knight Rises – review

The epic Nolan Dark Knight trilogy came to its conclusion in The Dark Knight Rises, following a veteran Bruce Wayne who steps back into the Batman mantle to face a new menacing threat to Gotham in Bane, starring, Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Gary Oldman, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine.

The Dark Knight Rises, so much to talk about, Nolans trilogy comes to an interesting in a movie that was far from the beloved masterpiece that The Dark Knight was, firstly we get a reluctant Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) who has hung up his cape and hasn’t been Batman for 8 years after facing off with the Joker Bruce is in poor physical shape as well and Gotham has for the most part been doing okay. That is until Bane (Tom Hardy) shows up and threatens Gotham with unintelligible mumbling and an atomic bomb, of course, this brings Bruce back into the game and is the inciting incident of the story.

One thing that has to be noted off the bat (no pun intended) is the cast, none of Nolans’ Batman films have a bad cast at all but the casting this time around is so, so on point, featuring some returning characters from the previous two films, as well as some brand new ones in Bane (Tom Hardy), Blake (Joseph Gordon Levitt), Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), Bale still gives a good, memorable performance though not his best in the trilogy. But Tom Hardy is easily the MVP of the film and fully envelopes himself as Bane, bringing an impressive physical presence and a menacing aura about him and onto the not so great, Marion Cotillard brings a lacklustre performance as Nyssa in an otherwise impressive roster of actors while Anne Hathaway is also great as Catwoman and captures the feeling of mischief, fun and rule breaking the character has been known for.

Nolan is brilliant at crafting fictional worlds of great scope and it’s no different this time around, Gotham feels like a real city with some questionable Police decisions and people in power making mistakes – which happens. And a maybe less noted but important thing about the film is the costumes which are all great, Bane ‘looks’ like Bane albeit not 8 feet tall like his comic book character but Hardy still cuts an imposing physical figure and he has a great screen presence in scenes, hearkening back to Nolans’ gritty depiction of Batmans’ over the top world.

Action wise, the film isn’t as focused on it as much as it was a feature in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight with more of a focus on the main conflict between Batman and Bane but the existing action here is done well, the set pieces in the film are big in scope and also look great, shot beautifully on HD cameras to give great visual detail and and a grand scale to certain set pieces, Gotham has never looked this good on the big screen and it the visuals are fantastic. The things that let The Dark Knight Rises down as a Batman fan can be perfectly summed up in 3 words – needs more Batman, also there’s some bland acting and plot threads that seemed rushed to their conclusions.

And while not being the Batman film to satisfy a lot of Nolan or Batman fans, The Dark Knight Rises is still an impressive cinematic effort, very well shot and well acted, it’s a showcase of its directors ambition and dedication to his work, the film has its prominent low points but they are mostly overshadowed by an overall good story and satisfying conclusion.

7/10

. Brilliantly cast and equally well acted

. Well shot fil, great visuals

. Some unavoidable plot holes that draw you out of the story a bit

Snowden – review

Snowden, directed by Oliver Stone is a biographical drama based on the real life of former CIA analyst Edward Snowden who turned whistleblower in 2013 on the NSA and their surveillance programs in 2013, the film stars Joseph Gordon Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Zachary Quinto, Melissa Leo, Robert Firth.

Biographical dramas can easily be hit or miss, depending on how interesting a persons’ life is, how much you as the viewer engage with their story or not and they can be risky stories to tell in terms of potential return on investment, Edward Snowden however certainly doesn’t have a dull background and the way he came into the CIA and the things he came across are certainly pretty interesting. The drama is a pretty standard fare in the way a biography is told, though it takes place in 2 parts, in the present with Snowden and some journalists in a hotel ready to leak his exposé of the NSA and flashbacks to Snowdens’ relationship and some of the inner workings of the CIA/NSA as Snowden worked on certain projects over the years.  Though we don’t necessarily get a huge insight on how Snowden necessarily felt about his work at the time, as the film showed him internalizing his thoughts mostly before he exposed the NSA, the man obviously couldn’t go shouting from the rooftops about what he knew but I was curious to see more of what he thought. That being said, seeing how some of the projects worked made for some fairly shocking revelations.

Though for me, what makes the story compelling is that it’s all real, these events actually happened and we’re all more or less aware of prism and the NSA and the film works through dramatic scenes to emphasise Snowdens’ internal struggle in being uncomfortable with the work he did, while wanting to do the morally ‘right’ thing, knowing he’d essentially be a fugitive in the USA and chased by the FBI and other authorities. In terms of casting, there are some good choices, Joseph Gordon Levitt does a pretty great job, matching the cadence and persona of Snowden himself, barely breaking his specific accent through the whole film, meanwhile his girlfriend Lindsay Mills played by Shailene Woodley is also pretty good, being a believably liberal thinking mind, making for an initially conservative Snowden (when they first meet). The supporting cast don’t do a whole lot though as we mainly focus on Snowden and Lindsay, though Glen Greenwald – played by Zachary Quinto gets to be in a fair number of scenes.

It’s interesting to see Snowden grow and change over the years as well, a brilliant mind growing up as a conservative thinker ironically and if you’re interested in the man himself, learning more about him might be right up your alley and in terms of negatives, the plot you could say – has a political slant, painting Snowden and what he did in a pretty clearly positive light I feel but I don’t necessarily have a problem with it, though if you feel that biographical dramas should be neutral, you may take issue with it. Overall Snowden is an interesting drama, bringing a new side to the real man that we all sort of vaguely know of and showing us a bit of how he came to the point he’s at now, it’s not a story everyone will care for but I think it’s an important that this story was told and it’s ever relevant in the modern era.

7/10

. Has some good performances, Gordon Levitt is great in it

. Plot itself is pretty engaging, though we know the outcome already

. Possibly a bit biased in favour of Snowden