My favourite movies of the year, in order.
10. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug/The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Peter Jackson brings his Middle Earth series to an end with two strong, engaging and entertaining fantasy epics. The decision to split a slim book in three may seem more commercial than artistic, but to his credit Jackson pulls it off with only a few short sections that drag. Full reviews here and here.
9. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Chris Evans returns as the star spangled Avenger and does a cracking job as a man having to deal with his past and a changing world. In the age of drone warfare it addressed some key questions and at times was more conspiracy theory than superhero action flick. Great support from Samuel L Jackson, Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie and further proof of just how well Marvel have gone from page to screen. Full review.
8. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
I know some folks were disappointed, and it lacks the action and intensity of the first two installments but I dug it immensely, especially Jennifer Lawrence’s performance and the bravery of actually giving Katniss’ PTSD time on screen rather than galloping through to the action, which will definitely come in the final movie. Full review.
7. 22 Jump Street
A surprising comedy sequel that manages to be just as funny as the original, thanks in part to great chemistry between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, and a scene stealing performance from Ice Cube. Full review.
6. X-Men: Days of Future Past
The best X-movie yet?
Time travelling superheroics allow two generations of heroes to be shown and features fantastic performances and a solid, engaging plot. Full review.
5. Gone Girl
David Fincher delivers a gripping, twisted thriller that’s a little schlocky in places but benefits from solid performances from Ben Affleck and a seriously creepy Rosamund Pike. Full Review.
Jon Favreau delivers a sweet, charming movie about family, friendship and the simple things in life. It boasts a cracking soundtrack, but don’t watch it on an empty stomach as the food porn is strong. Full review.
Okay, so we’re all getting a little sick of “Let It Go” now, but this is still a solid, top drawer Disney flick with some fantastic songs, brilliant gags and a captivating fairytale plot. One of the best in recent years and bound to be one that lives on. Full review.
2. The Lego Movie
A cracking animated movie with wonderful voice casting, brilliant gags and a really dynamic, exciting look and feel to it. Also, “Everything Is Awesome” is the only thing that can challenge “Let It Go” for earwig of the year. Full review.
1. Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel gambled by making a movie about unfamiliar characters on the other side of their cinematic universe but it paid off in one of their best movies yet. Featuring a fantastic band of misfits as the heroes this wasn’t just a sci-fi action adventure but one of the funniest films in years. Chris Pratt excelled as the roguish Star-Lord, but he had fantastic support from the rest of the cast.
Loved it in the cinema and loved it just as much on DVD. A belter of a movie, and already eagerly awaiting the sequel. An easy winner of my favourite film of the year. Review here.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I actually saw this a while ago and planned to review it sooner, but it kept getting pushed back for different reasons, but I wanted to get the review in before the end of 2014 and the yearly Top 10 movies list.
There have been a couple of games based on toys and most have been lacklustre (I enjoyed the first Transformers movie, but the sequels were woeful and Battleship was just terrible), luckily there’s this movie to stand as the best example of the genre. It’s quite fitting that a movie based on Lego, a toy all about creativity and possibilities should provide a movie that crackles with imagination.
The basic plot of a regular Joe having to realize their potential is standard fare, but it’s where the movie goes with it that shows genuine imagination, wit and ambition.
The movie follows Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a cheerful, dim-witted Lego man who lives a normal day-to-day life following the instructions that he’s provided with and never really thinking for himself. All seems good for Emmet, but one night he gets sucked into a rebel plan who don’t like that President Business (Will Ferrell), plans to use a weapon called the Kragle to stop the Lego world being different and inventive.
Emmet touches the “Piece of Resistance” a brick that grants the owner, the prophesied “the Special”, the power to stop the Kragle. The Piece was hunted by Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), an ass-kicking master builder who works for Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), who made the prophecy.
Wyldstyle is frustrated by Emmet’s stupidity and lack of imagination, and they doubt whether he is actually the Special. Aided by Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, Batman (Will Arnett) they travel across different Lego worlds and try to figure out how they can stop Lord Business from his evil plan, building to a climactic showdown.
I totally dug this movie, which is jam packed with wonderful graphics and a wealth of gags throughout. It’s a kids movie that truly works on two levels, with younger viewers loving the story and the visuals, but lots of jokes that might go over their head, the best example of this being the decision to have Will Arnett’s Batman being a bit of a douche, and the scene where he plays his band’s demo is a delight.
The voice cast across the board are fantastic, especially Chris Pratt as the clueless Emmet, with this and Guardians of the Galaxy this year, and Jursassic World coming soon, Pratt seems to have arrived in a big way, and here he is on sensational form, with his vocal skills really bringing Emmet to life.
Morgan Freeman does his usual voice of wisdom thing as Vitruvius, and they have fun with this, especially when he makes his opening prophecy.
The movie makes little jokes about Lego’s history, with cameos from Lego’s Star Wars line and the plot having a slight dig at those Lego fans who just build once and keep them pristine, thanks to the live action section (also featuring Will Ferrell). The live action sequence is a bit cliche, but by that time the movie had built up such a feeling of good will in me I went for it.
From the start to the finish I was utterly charmed and it had me chuckling consistently, especially at daft gags like Liam Neeson’s split personality character Bad Cop/Good Cop. It’s a cheerful, vibrant and engaging movie that will work for all ages and is an utter gem.
One word of warning though, the cheesy song “Everything Is Awesome” from the movie will lodge in your head for a long time after, and recur frequently.
Verdict: An utter delight of a movie, filled to the brim with quality gags and strong vocal performances. It’s a fast based, fun and inventive movie and easily one of the better animated movies of recent years. Delightful. 9/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Some spoilers ahead.
Of all of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies this is the one that drags the least, yes, some of the fight sequences go on a bit too long, but it hits the ground running and doesn’t really let up until the finale.
When we last left Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and most of his dwarf mates they’d just taken back the Lonely Mountain, having evicted the dragon Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who was flying towards Laketown in a bad mood.
In Laketown were the rest of the party, along with elf maiden Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the family of Bard (Luke Evans), who’d been locked up by the corrupt Master (Stephen Fry). With the dragon on the way everyone decides it’s a good time to get out of town, with Tauriel and the dwarves trying to get the kids to safety while the Master and his assistant Alfred (Ryan Gage) try to haul ass with as much gold as they can.
The only person willing to hang around is Bard, who breaks free, grabs his bow and heads up the bell tower to try and take out the fire-breathing enemy. Which he does, slaying the beast with his final shot.
The survivors of Laketown want Bard as their leader, but he is reluctant. Tauriel reluctantly leaves Kili (Aidan Turner), the dwarf she is falling for as she learns of her banishment from her home. Legolas (Orlando Bloom) tells the bearer of this message that he will stay with Tauriel, and they set off to see what the orcs are up to.
Meanwhile, Gandalf (Ian McKellen) is being held captive by the necromancer and is weakened. Luckily for him his friends are on the way and soon Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), Saruman (Christopher Lee) and Elrond (Hugo Weaving) rock up to bust him loose. They face off against the ghostly nine kings and finally free their friend, although the spirit of Sauron appears. Galadriel banishes him back to Mordor and Elrond wants to pursue, but Saruman advises him to care for Galadriel and leave it to him. Which if you’ve seen Lord of the Rings doesn’t work out too well.
At the mountain, Bilbo begins to worry for Thorin (Richard Armitage), who’s changed since getting his gold back. Suffering from “Dragon sickness” he becomes increasingly greedy and paranoid, obsessed with finding the Arkenstone and beginning to suspect and doubt his friends. Bilbo actually has the Arkenstone, but fears that giving it to Thorin will only make things worse.
Bard and the survivors camp in the ruined city of Dale, and Bard plans to get the gold Thorin promised Laketown so they can rebuild. Also arriving are the elvish army led by Thranduil (Lee Pace), who have come for some gems in the mountain and seem to be keen for war. Bard wants peace and goes to speak to Thorin about his promise and the gems, only to find the King Under the Mountain refuses to honour his word, even though he only has 13 fighters.
Gandalf arrives to warn them that a massive orc army is coming, led by Azog (Manu Bennett) and that dwarves, elves and men must unite, but Thranduil doubts him, especially as there is no sign of the army.
Bilbo sees a chance for peace, taking the Arkenstone to Dale, and telling Bard and Thranduil to offer it in exchange for what they want from the horde in the mountain. Gandalf, impressed by his cleverness and bravery advises him to leave but Bilbo defies him, sneaking back into the mountain to stand along his dwarf friends.
And so battle approaches, with elves and men facing off against the dwarves, who receive reinforcements in the form of Thorin’s cousin, Dain (Billy Connolly, who’s recognizable as soon as he speaks from a distance) but then gets distracted by the orcs rocking up.
I really dug this movie because as I said, it starts strong. The sequence where Smaug torches Laketown is done magnificently, with genuine terror and destruction gripping the town. Jackson never loses touch of the human side, with the different reactions of the residents and there’s even comedy in the form of Fry and Gage’s greedy fleeing characters.
It’s hear that Luke Evans really takes command as the heroic, noble Bard. In a film with this many characters it’s hard to stand out, but for me Evans’ Bard is one of the strongest. He’s quite an old school hero, uncomfortable with power and extremely honourable, and Evans makes him a convincing badass, and the kind of man others would rally to.
The rest of the cast are all on fine form, even if some are underused. Blanchett, Lee and Weaving rock up at the start, kick ass like some kind of prog band fused with the Justice League and then leave the proceedings. Ian McKellen is still impressive and likable as Gandalf, but even he is sidelined for much of the movie.
The main focus seems to be the growing bromance between Bilbo and Throin, with the simple hobbit helping the King have brief flashes of the dwarf he was before the dragon sickness took hold. Armitage should be applauded for conveying this decline in a relatively understated way, the only slightly hammy moment being a sequence where he hallucinates.
Martin Freeman is still likable enough as the fussy, still slightly cowardly Bilbo, although he shows increasing reserves of courage when needed and proves to be quite useful. I also liked that true to the books they have him get knocked cold for most of the climactic fight.
Which brings me to one of the major issues I had with the film, the eponymous battle. While it kicks off with some epic scenes and a few nice touches (the dazed battering-ram troll made me chuckle), it gets a little repetitive after a while and you lose track of the major players in the main battle.
Bard, Thranduil and Dain all get little moments of glory, but Jackson then splits onto two fronts, with Thorin, Fili (Dean O’Gorman), Kili and another dwarf going after Azog, and ignoring much of what goes on below aside for a few moments with Bard and his family.
I’m not saying we needed to see every one of the dwarves in action, because quite frankly there are too many. Aside from Thorin, Fili and Kili the only one I can name is Balin (Ken Stott), the kindly one who looks after Bilbo the most, these aside the only one I was invested in was James Nesbitt’s character (Wikipedia says it’s Bofur), and that’s only because it’s James Nesbitt.
In fact I was a little disappointed that one of the dwarves survived, as he’d been annoying me since the first movie. It was this fella, Ori (Adam Brown):
The problem is that while the major battle rages below we’re treated to a smaller skirmish on the hill- Bilbo and a dwarf vs some orcs, Bolg (John Tui) vs Kili, Tauriel and Legolas and the main event Throin vs Azog. Thorin and Azog’s showdown on the ice is rather well done, but the Bolg vs everyone scrap goes on far too long. Bolg beats down everyone basically, killing one, wounding another before Legolas finally takes him out.
The fight has a few moments, but there’s a moment where Legolas runs up falling boulders like he’s Mario or something and at that point it lost me. I get that it’s a fantasy, but we’ve already seen that Middle Earth has gravity so it’s utterly stupid.
Also, I never fully bought into the Kili and Tauriel love story, as it felt like it developed far too quickly and never resonated right with me. The actors involved do well, and as the fight plays out it does pack an emotional whallop, but for me a death elsewhere was more powerful.
These minor niggles aside it’s still a very enjoyable movie and does whip along at a good pace, it didn’t feel like I’d been there for almost two and a half hours.
Special praise should also be reserved for Ryan Gage as the cowardly, mono-browed Alfred, who gets a lot of laughs from the creeping, cringing character.
Peter Jackson has done fantastic work bringing Tolkien’s work to the big screen, and even though you feel The Hobbit could have been done in one, maybe two films, the journey from start to finish has still been a fun one and well worth it.
It’s been reported that due to rights issues this may be Jackson’s last foray into Middle Earth, and I think that’s a good thing. I’m not a massive Tolkien fan (I enjoyed The Hobbit, but never finished the LotR books) but even the fans I do know admit that the two pieces Jackson’s adapted are the best, and a few have even confessed to struggling with his other writings.
Jackson has made two strong trilogies, which are gripping, entertaining and clearly lovingly crafted fantasy epics, and any filmmaker should be happy with that.
Verdict: The most action packed of the series and a satisfying conclusion to the story. Some of the flaws are still there, but once you go with it this is a fun, exciting epic and captivated me fully. In an ensemble cast some fade into the background, but everyone acquits themselves well. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
It’s a brave move to make a movie where your protagonist is a total douche and doesn’t have a redemptive story arc, as you’re asking the audience to buy come along for a ride with someone they dislike, and may actually want to get busted. Martin Scorsese has often focused on flawed characters who do terrible things (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas) and here he tackles a greedy, unrepentant crook in the form of stockbroker Jordan Belfort.
Belfort began his career as a junior trader and was wiped out by Black Monday, the 1987 stock market crash. Starting from the bottom selling penny stocks, he proceeds to build his own company Stratton Oakmont, quickly getting rich thanks to dodgy dealing, fraud and a bunch of economics stuff I don’t fully understand. At the same time Belfort and his underlings descend into extreme debauchery, fueled by a cocktail of drugs they jet around the world in a whirl of strippers, hookers and excess.
Before long he attracts the attention of the FBI and the net begins to tighten due to a combination of errors, stupidity and bad luck.
One of the best moves Scorsese pulls is by making the story into a jet-black comedy as opposed to a serious drama. A serious drama could work, but would require some kind of character development and judging from recent interviews the real Belfort is more sorry that he got caught than for his actions. For a drama it lacks a final act finish that satisfies, Belfort goes to prison but uses his money to live a cushy life behind bars and then continues to make a living with “I can make you rich” seminars.
But as a jet black comedy it works a treat, with the farcical elements cranked up to 11 in places and some fast paced, profane dialogue providing plenty of laughs.
The best thing Scorsese does however is put Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role. DiCaprio has developed into one of the best actors of his generation and his performance here is magnetic, he manages to capture the smooth talking charisma that gets people to go along with Belfort and his rallying speeches to his cash-hungry minions are well done and commanding, even if they provide an uncomfortable look into the heart of greed.
DiCaprio holds the audience’s attention and is a captivating, if infuriating protagonist giving swaggering narration for the audience and oozing a sense of entitlement and ruthless ambition. It’s a strong performance as he manages to capture Belfort’s flaws and anger, and strives to make him human for the audience. The problem is that the script, based on Belfort’s own book paints him as an insufferable character, and it’s too DiCaprio’s credit that he sometimes gets you to sympathize with this man.
He also shows a fantastic knack for comedy, reveling in the excess of Belfort’s life and some good physical skills. A sequence where Belfort is so out of his gourd on Qualudes that he has to drag himself, slurring across the floor and down a flight of stairs is a work of genius.
The supporting cast are on fine form, particularly Jonah Hill as one of Belfort’s associates (and I suspect the main reason MWG went to see this movie at the cinema). I’d not seen Hill tackle a role like this before, it’s still broadly a comedy but it’s a bit darker than his usual fair and to be fair he takes to it well, although his fake white teeth are distracting.
The rest of the cast do well too, but it’s DiCaprio’s movie and he dominates it totally.
Scorsese shoots Belfort’s story with an admirable level of moral ambiguity, and the film is never massively judgmental of it’s protagonist, just setting things out as the way they are. I’m sure some audiences will find something appealing in Belfort’s life, but for me the scenes of excess and debauchery grew stale after a while and there was a certain desperation behind the partying.
I think the problem for me is that unlike Goodfellas, the other Scorsese film this reminded me of, Belfort’s motivations are even shakier than Henry Hill’s, who’d drawn into the mob by the glamour and success but finds a real bond and camaraderie with his fellow gangsters, even if this is built on shaky foundations, here Belfort seems to be out for himself from day one and sees everyone, even his supposed friends as stepping stones to his own success.
There’s only one glimpse of decency, where he warns a friend that he’s wearing a wire so they don’t incriminate themselves, but even this is soured by the suspicion that this is just so Belfort can safeguard his future earnings while appearing to cooperate with the law. The gangsters of Goodfellas may have been hypocritical and turned on each other, but there was at least some genuine loyalty to betray, Belfort doesn’t care about anyone else, although he expects others to remain loyal.
All in all it’s an entertaining flick, with lots of black comedy throughout. I did struggle to get over my dislike for the main characters and their greedy actions, but DiCaprio is impressive in the lead and a magnetic presence on screen. Scorsese’s direction is fantastic, but the movie left me cold after the laughter stopped. Although judging by the final scene, where Belfort looks out on a sea of money hungry faces, I suspect this is intentional.
Verdict: Outrageously funny and boasting a fine lead performance from Leonardo DiCaprio, who manages to stop his unlikable character from being utterly loathsome, although I struggled to fully shake my distaste for Belfort and his worldview. Still a strong, engaging movie as you’d expect from Scorsese. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
When it was announced that the X-Men’s next onscreen adventure was to be based on the Days of Future Past storyline from the comics there was a bit of a geek meltdown. DoFP is one of the most famous X-stories out there, and featured a dystopian future where many of the Marvel heroes had been killed by mutant-hunting robots called Sentinels. Startling bleak in it’s depiction of the nightmarish future the plot hinged on Kitty Pryde (aka Shadowcat) having her mind sent back in time to her younger body, where she had to stop events which would lead to her hellish future.
It was a great storyline and worked because of the dark tone, and the fact that Kitty Pryde was the group’s sweet, innocent youngster but could/would become this battle hardened woman who would witness most of her friends die. It was a great idea for a movie and would also feature a crossover between the casts of the original X-trilogy and the prequel X-Men: First Class.
Changes would have to be made, in the movies Kitty Pryde, played by Ellen Page was only a minor character, could she carry a movie for the fans? And also, to reach the First Class cast was tricky as Kitty wouldn’t have been around. And so, the decision was made to make the focus of the movie be Hugh Jackman’s Logan aka Wolverine.
I’ve seen a lot of criticism for this online, with many people complaining that Wolverine has been the main focus for all the movies (First Class aside), it’s not exactly untrue but it misses the point- Wolverine is a big fan-favourite, probably the most popular X-Man and Hugh Jackman’s work in the role has been superb, with him putting in charismatic performances even when the movies have been lacking (see X-Men: Origins: Wolverine).
Also, it makes sense to have Wolverine go back in time to his younger self, as he is one of only a few characters to legitimately cover both time periods. The movie also plays a trump card in suggesting that Wolverine is the ideal candidate as his healing factor means he will survive the trip better.
The movie starts in the future where the Sentinels have hunted and killed many mutants, and a small band survive underground. Kitty and a group of Professor Xavier’s former students survive by staying one step ahead, when the Sentinels attack Kitty transports Bishop’s (Omar Sy) mind back a few days so they can get out in time.
Professor Xavier (Patrick Stewart) meets them accompanied by Wolverine, Storm (Halle Berry) and former advesary Magneto (Ian McKellen). They plan to send someone back to 1973 where they hope to stop shape-shifting Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence), a former ally of both Xavier and Magneto, from killing Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), the man who invented the Sentinels.
Trask’s death fuels anti-mutant feeling and the captured Mystique’s DNA is what enables the Sentinels to adapt, making them able to counteract mutant powers and be even more effective killing machines.
The problem is that to convince Mystique to stop in her assassination will prove difficult as she had become increasingly militant and embittered, and Xavier alone would not be able to convince her, they need Magneto’s help too. However, in ’73, Magneto and Xavier are enemies and convincing them to work together will prove challenging.
Wolverine goes back and finds the young Xavier (James McAvoy) a very different man, stripped of his powers, afraid and self-hating. Convincing him proves a challenge, and he is less help than anticipated, but Magneto (Michael Fassbender) represents a greater challenge, being locked up in a high-security prison.
Meanwhile, in the future the Sentinels plan to launch a massive attack on the remaining X-Men, who can’t flee while Kitty is holding Wolverine’s mind in the past.
Can they hold the line in the future long enough for Wolverine to succeed in the past? And if Wolverine, Xavier and Beast (Nicholas Hoult) do break Magneto out will they be able to get him onside? Will that be enough to stop Mystique in her quest for revenge?
I really dug this movie, and thought that it worked. The X-Men movies have never fully succeeded in my book, being rather fun and well done, but often flawed thanks to changes to the characters and casting (Halle Berry continues to disappoint and lack the gravitas and power to be a good Storm, and Hoult’s Beast is nowhere near as funny or lovable as the comic book version)
However here the cast are one of the greatest strengths, with Jackman still proving charismatic as the clawed Canadian, and playing it just right. The tone of the movie is such that there are some nice character moments and plenty of humour amidst the superheroics. Jackman’s Wolverine differs from his comic counterpart, and has always lacked the underlying edge that made the character so popular, but he’s managed to create a compelling onscreen character and has great presence.
Also impressive are McAvoy and Fassbender as the younger Xavier and Magneto. McAvoy has the harder job as the whining, self-loathing Charles is less than sympathetic, but he does a good job in showing us the reasons why and a glimmer of the decency which will help him become the Xavier of the future, and he also displays fantastic comic timing, getting several of the film’s biggest laughs. Fassbender meanwhile is tremendous, capturing the fire of Magneto along with the easy, commanding presence that McKellen bought to the role, but with more youthful vigour and an impulsive, angry nature.
McKellen and Stewart do their roles with ease and capture the sense of two friends who have set aside all disagreements for the greater good and convey that there is genuine affection there.
Jennifer Lawrence impresses as Mystique, despite not being on screen as much as I’d like. She manages to capture the character’s icy determination, while also managing to convince that there is a fragile, damaged young woman beneath it who has turned to violence out of desparation and disillusionment.
The future X-Men are a little underdeveloped, and even Ellen Page doesn’t get much to do. They have cool powers, and as a Bishop fan it was cool to see him on screen, but I never found myself that invested in any of them.
Hoult and Berry continue to struggle with watered down versions of their characters, and while Hoult has some chemistry, Berry continues to be woefully lacklustre as Storm, one of my favourite comic book heroines.
Representing the non-mutants and impressing throughout is Peter Dinklage as Trask, in a powerful, commanding performance. Dinklage has great on screen presence and the film should be applauded for not making him a textbook nutjob. Trask believes himself to be the good guy and Dinklage does well in making it clear that the nightmarish future is not what the man wanted, and that he saw the war on mutants as a way to unite mankind and bring about lasting peace.
He’s misguided and short-sighted, and there is a nasty side to him, mixed with rampant egotism, but Dinklage ensures that he remains human and believable throughout. In the middle of a vast ensemble cast Dinklage, and his impressive ’70s ‘tache is one of the standouts.
The plot works well as long as you go with it, and it zips along at a decent pace that kept me engaged throughout. There’s also a nice vein of humour running throughout the movie and the movie thankfully avoids just making tons of ’70s jokes. The plot is simple enough to follow and the cutting between past and future works well, especially as climactic fights kick off in both time frames. (The denouement is a little cheesy and didn’t work for me).
For an Marvel fan this is a solid movie, providing a lot of the action you require from a blockbuster, but grounding it in compelling characters, strong performances and a sense of humour. Not all of it works, but for the most part it’s a success and it’s great to finally see the Sentinels on the big screen, and they do make for an impressive, terrifying threat (even if the design does seem rather similar to the Destroyer from Thor).
Verdict: It’s not perfect, but it’s an immensely enjoyable and successful big screen version of an iconic X-Men storyline. Jackman, McAvoy, Fassbender, Lawrence and Dinklage are the standouts, as many of the supporting players get lost in the crowd. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Post-credits sting: A tantalizing glimpse of one of the most powerful and impressive X-villains.
So yesterday I wrote about 22 Jump Street, which included two of MWG’s crushes, but the universe balanced itself out as we went with some friends to see this movie, which features two of mine.
Of all The Hunger Games movies this one was always going to be the most difficult to pull off. The third book is regarded by some as the weakest of the trilogy, which I don’t really understand because I really dug it, but I think it’s definitely the bleakest part of the series, and where Collins really starts to explore the effect of the violence on the characters and blur the lines between good and bad. There’s less action, and no central games to ground the story, and some will struggle with the fact that our heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) spends much of it traumatized by the events of the second installment.
Rescued from the games and discovering that this was the plan all along Katniss finds herself living under the strict regime of District 13, a vast, militaristic underground base. Feeling betrayed by her friends and isolated, while also unaware of what has happened to her partner Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) after he was taken by the Capital. Her only comfort is the presence of her family and Gale (Liam Hemsworth) her friend and hunting partner.
Katniss is asked by District 13’s leader President Coin (Julianne Moore) to be the face of the revolution but Katniss isn’t able to deliver the propaganda speeches well enough.
Former mentor Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) argues that Katniss won the audience over by her own actions, and that it was when nobody was telling her what to do that people were affected.
Katniss is sent to view her former home, District 12 which has been bombed and agrees to shoot propaganda, accompanied by Gale, senior officer Boggs (Mahershala Ali) and a film crew headed by Cressida (Natalie Dormer), who has fled the Capital with her crew to aid the rebellion.
Katniss’ work stokes the fire of rebellion in the other districts leading them to revolt, it also prompts the Capital to use Peeta in several interviews to call for peace and for Katniss to surrender. Throughout these interviews Peeta appears to become increasingly listless and gaunt, causing Katniss to worry even more and fear that her actions will lead President Snow (Donald Sutherland) to execute him.
Can Katniss overcome her demons and become the face of the revolution that everybody wants her to be? Can the outgunned resistance hope to succeed against the superior forces of the Capital? Can Peeta be rescued from the clutches of President Snow?
I dug this movie, although it does struggle with some of the challenges it sets itself. First of all is the beginning where Katniss is reeling from the end of the Quarter Quell, I personally think Lawrence does a good job conveying Katniss’ damaged psyche and the scars she carries from the violence of the games. It’s believable that a young person forced into a vicious game of death would struggle to adjust afterwards and her grief and fear for Peeta is believable.
But for some this may be hard going as it’s quite a while until we finally start to see the fire within Katniss and she starts to show the tough spirit which made her such an engaging character in the first place. It’s good that the movie doesn’t just jump to her being a tough hero again as it shows that stress and emotional problems can hit anyone, regardless of how “tough” they seem.
Towards the end there are glimmers of that anger and passion, the steeliness which Lawrence has put into the character since the first movie and she continues to be a captivating and engaging screen presence. Lawrence manages to at once capture the battle scarred young woman and the unsure girl at once, and I found myself completely empathizing with her once more.
The rest of the cast are superb as well. Liam Hemsworth is still lumbered with the underwritten Gale, but he does the best he can and captures the character’s heroism while hinting that he may be becoming increasingly cold and detached. In one scene he’s shown to be thinking rationally and unemotionally while Katniss is clearly troubled.
Josh Hutcherson does well as Peeta, appearing increasingly wasted and dead eyed in his interviews, occasional flashes of fear or emotion reaching the surface before being stifled. It’s clear instantly that some unspeakable horror has been done to him off camera and in a handful of brief scenes Hutcherson does a magnificent job of conveying this.
Woody Harrelson continues to steal scenes as the charismatic, disheveled former victor Haymitch, sarky and at odds with the strict life he’s found in District 13, but still managing to capture the sense that he does genuinely care for his charges and is invested in toppling Snow.
Speaking of Snow, Donald Sutherland continues to ooze menace as the despot, and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman is on fine form as the PR officer Plutarch, a sheen of confidence which falters under pressure.
The PR side of the war is a theme that runs throughout, with Katniss groomed for the cameras and the rebellion’s attempts to turn her into a rallying symbol for the fight. The machinations of propaganda are shown, with both sides playing the game and often trampling emotion for effect. This is best shown in the case of Katniss’ film crew, headed up by Natalie Dormer’s Cressida, who is an icy presence and who is constantly looking for the best shot, but sometimes woefully unaware of the emotional effect it is having on those she films.
The film works because it captures the issues of uprising, freedom and propaganda with some fantastic scenes of the rebels in other districts. It also manages to add a sense of unease around the militaristic District 13 and their cold leader Coin, played by Moore, who may be a little to understated to really capture the rebel leader’s icy, suspicious manner, which was far easier to grasp on the page.
The action sequences are short, fast and brutal, and shot with real energy, it may not be wall-to-wall thrills, but going on the books, Part 2 will definitely be more action packed.
I’ve heard some fans complaining of the focus on the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle, and I understand that it’s been covered a bit excessively, but it’s still key to the plot, and why we’re engaged with the characters. The personal relationships are why we stick around, and to act as though it’s not important is to miss the point. We want Katniss and the rebellion to succeed because we care about the character and her life, and part of that is her love life.
To be fair it’s played well, and never takes away from the larger issues but the scenes where characters talk to Katniss about Peeta, and discussing her kiss with Gale hint strongly at where her loyalties lie, although Gale shows enough heroism and their friendship is so strong that there’s still a small element of doubt.
I’m going to finish by lavishing some praise on Elizabeth Banks, who is sensational as Effie, Katniss’ former escort to the games. In the first movie she was a over made-up and gaudy wigged grotesque, almost offensively chipper in her dealings with two characters off to kill and possibly die, but over the course of the subsequent films Banks has fleshed out the character.
Sure, she’s still around for a few gags and her distaste for the dour lifestyle in 13 is amusing, but Banks makes her human and oddly endearing. She may not be the brightest spark, but she’s shown to be compassionate and to genuinely care for her former charges, and Banks should be applauded for bringing the character to life in such a brilliant way. It happens in the books as well, but the screen version hit home more for me, and a large part of that is the performance, with Effie coming across as a dim, but ultimately sweet, refugee and one of the many lives effected by the uprising. Her confidence and smiling nature seems to be a mask which she doesn’t know how to fully discard, it’s also a hint that many innocents in the Capital will struggle with the new world the rebellion wants to establish.
Banks is one of the best elements, but it’s still a strong dystopian sci-fi movie with engaging, well rounded characters and I’m still eager for Part 2.
Verdict: Things take a turn for the dark, as the film explores how violence and death effects people. It’s also a good satire of the media and the role of propaganda in war. Lawrence continues to impress and the supporting cast, particularly Elizabeth Banks, do great work. Splitting the third book in half makes sense in some ways, but it does mean that this is the least action packed of the movies and Katniss is sidelined for much of the fighting. It won’t work for everyone, but for me it continues to impress. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I was looking forward to watching this movie, because the first one was pretty funny and I’d missed it in the cinema. Luckily MWG was a fan too and she picked this up the other day, although I suspect a crush on one of the leads may have had something to do with it. Unlike many women who find Channing Tatum hot, MWG has a thing for Jonah Hill (one of her five) and so we checked this out the other day.
What I dug about the first movie was the fact that early on they referenced the fact that it was based on an old TV by having a character openly state that they’d run out of ideas so were just doing what they’d done in the ’80s. Here they make lots of sequel jokes, with the same character (played by Nick Offerman) stating that they were to go back undercover this time as college students and do “exactly the same thing”, only with more budget this time. This postmodern touch is done rather well and referenced throughout as the characters have better offices and the set pieces get bigger.
While the joke is a little laboured after a while the movie totally works and a lot of that is down to the two leads, Tatum and Hill, who have amazing chemistry on screen as Jenko and Schmidt respectively. Hill is a fantastic comedy performer and makes the awkward, clumsy Schmidt a likable character but once again Tatum is impressive, showing some fine comedy chops as the dumber, more gung-ho half of the partnership.
Posing as uni students to track down a new drug on the market, this time it’s Jenko who excels, finding a place at a frat and as a football player and quickly establishing a bromance with quarterback and possible suspect Zook (Wyatt Russell).
This leaves Schmidt feeling sidelined and he struggles to fit in, apart from with art student Maya (Amber Stevens) who he hooks up with. Schmidt and Jenko clash and their friendship frays. They clash over how to pursue the case and also
Can they remain friends and crack the case? Has Jenko found somewhere better than the force? And should they really just try and do everything the same as before?
I loved this movie, it’s lovably daft and tongue in cheek, and contains several big laughs. I chuckled and giggled my way through the whole thing and while it’s extremely dumb in places, it remains a solid sequel and a well crafted action comedy.
As I mentioned the leads are sensational and play off each other to great effect. Hill gets some of the best lines, and some of it feels ad-libbed, but Tatum is also shown to be a strong comic performer and his bromance with Zook is well handled, being quite fun. They also manage to make both characters believable, likable and engage the audience in their partnership, and films, even comedies always work best when the audience buys into the characters and Hill and Tatum ensure this is the case here.
The action sequences are well done and manage to keep the balance between action and comedy just right. Not too vicious to sour the laughs, but not too silly to spoil the adrenaline rush. That being said the fight between Schmidt and a female villain is comedy gold.
The supporting cast do a good job too, Nick Offerman’s cameo gets a few laughs and sets out the movie’s tongue in cheek tone. Amber Stevens, who impressed me in the show Greek is a little underused, but still works well with Hill, and Jillian Bell as Maya’s sarky, bitter roommate gets some fantastic insults in.
Peter Stormare seems to have a ball in the kind of role he seems able to do in his sleep, but the strongest supporting player is Ice Cube as Dickson, the heroes’ boss. Playing up the “angry black captain” stereotype once more Ice Cube is hilarious as the foul-mouthed captain, yelling down those in his command and barking out insults. Cube gets some of the film’s biggest laughs and reminds you of how good he can be on his day.
The end credits are quite fun too, continuing the postmodern, mocking tone by including clips and posters for further Jump Street installments, which sees Jenko and Schmidt take on assignments in culinary school, scuba school and several other daft assignments. It goes on a little bit too long, but is worth it just for 29 Jump Street, which sees Hill replaced by Seth Rogen (another of MWG’s five) and I would probably actually pay to watch the spoof movie.
Verdict; Daft and fun, it’s not quite as good as the first but Hill and Tatum continue to work well together and there are plenty of laughs along the way. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
When I was a kid I loved the cartoon Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles (as it was known here in the UK), I collected the toys, I played at being a ninja with my friends, I had a Donatello cake at my birthday party (despite Raphael being my favourite), I was a massive fan and eagerly watched the old movies, which now look terribly dated and badly done. I of course grew out of the Turtles and moved on to other stuff, but whenever they’ve been revamped I’ve had look in, with mixed reviews (the later cartoon series was pretty boss, but the live action show and the CGI movie from 2007 were distinctly lacklustre) .
So I was curious that they were rebooting it, although the presence of Michael Bay made me skeptical. Surprisingly the movie is rather enjoyable and lots of dumb fun.
A lot has stayed the same- April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a TV reporter who’s stuck covering the dull, frothy “and finally…” stories with cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), but wants to pursue more serious news like the mysterious Foot Clan who are taking over New York. Tipped off she witnesses a vigilante attack and stop a Foot robbery, but is unable to get enough evidence.
When the Foot Clan try to draw out the vigilante April witnesses four attackers take them out and follow, capturing a photo of the foursome who turn out to be giant ninja turtles. She gets a photo of them and realizes that they are the same turtles her father used in his lab research into a revolutionary mutagen. She visits his former partner, Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), who explains that the mutagen was a cure-all and that he thought all the samples had been lost.
Meanwhile the four turtles arrive back at their base where their sensei Splinter (voiced by Tony Shaloub) punishes them for going above ground, however, when they mention April’s name he sends them to find her. April is brought back to their sewer base and Splinter explains their connected history. April saved Splinter and the turtles from the lab fire her father started after discovering that Sacks was in league with the Foot Clan’s leader Shredder (Tohuru Masamune), to release a virus and then use the mutagen to save the day and get power and money.
The Foot Clan have tracked April and attack, with the heavily armoured Shredder seriously wounding Splinter and Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo all being forced to surrender to spare him. Raphael is believed to have died and April is hidden before they blow up the base. Raphael (Alan Ritchson) has survived and with April and a reluctant Fenwick they set off to rescue his brotherS and stop Sacks and Shredder’s plans.
Can they rescue Raphael’s brothers? Will they be in time to stop Sacks’ diabolical plan? And just how long until Mickey’s flirting with April becomes seriously creepy and leaves you wondering about the dynamics of mutant turtle and human crossbreeding?
Here’s the thing, this movie is dumb in lots of ways. Firstly, there’s the fact that as soon as Fichtner appears on screen as Sacks you know he’s dodgy, because, well, it’s William Fichtner, he looks suspicious at all times. It’s so obvious that the reveal of his evil alliance can only be a shock to the particularly dim witted.
And Shredder’s new robotic armour just feels a little too Transformers-y I get why it’s been done, to make a 4-on-1 fight seem more balanced, but Meka-Shredder doesn’t really work for me.
There are other flaws too, changing the origin story to make April a vital part of the Turtles history just feels a little too convenient and unnecessary. Also, April is a bit of a dull character. We see her driven to be a success and find the truth, but she shows very little of the grit that she’d require and for most of the part she’s just there to run around and help a little. Sure, they try and make her a strong female character by having her prove vital to stopping the plan at the end (oh, sorry, is that a spoiler, that the Turtles win?) but her character is so flimsy and underwritten that it’s hard to care.
Megan Fox does okay with what she’s given but it’s not really a performance which will stick with you or win many fans.
That being said, it is fun, the action sequences are done fairly well and the film is loaded with laughs, mainly coming from the always entertaining Arnett or the wisecracking Turtles. Best among these is goofball Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), who quips his way throughout proceedings and who’s lovably dorky antics ensure you warm to him far more than the human players.
The rest of the turtles fall into their traditional roles- Raphael is the gruff, loner of the group, Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the noble leader and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) is the geeky tech genius. All are done rather well and the design on them is quite good, especially in changing each character’s attire to reflect their personality a bit more.
The turtles are just as likable as when I was a kid and today’s kids should like their jokey dialogue and goofy physical humour, and they are the film’s strongest asset. Sure, it’s light on any real drama and it’s ridiculously overblown in places, but as Fenwick tells April, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of froth.
Verdict: It won’t change your life and it’s a tad predictable, but this is still a fun, goofy action movie which is carried by the wisecracking, dorky antics of the Turtles and should win over a new generation of fans for the franchise. 6.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
Warning! Spoilers ahoy!
So I missed this movie when it was at the cinema due to being a poor student but MWG grabbed it on DVD and I finally got to see it. I’ve always been a fan of Captain America, which is weird as a Brit, because he’s probably the most patriotic of the Marvel heroes, but I think it’s because since WW2 they’ve been careful not to use him too much for propaganda and actually use him as this kind of noble, moral standard of what America should be, not what it is, often opposing or becoming disillusioned with his homeland.
The movie picks up after the events of The Avengers, with Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) living in Washington, where he befriends Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a veteran of the Afghanistan war, who can relate to Steve’s problems with reintegrating back into “the world”.
Steve continues to work for SHIELD, carrying out missions with Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). On one mission he discovers that Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) has given Widow a different mission that he’s kept secret from Cap, and reveals that SHIELD have built massive helicarriers that can target specific individuals using long range weapons and spy satellites, which is something Cap objects to, feeling that it isn’t freedom but fear that Fury is providing.
Fury can’t decipher the info that Widow’s recovered and so talks to senior SHIELD official Price (Robert Redford) about delaying the project. Shortly after Fury is attacked, and narrowly escapes after being attacked by a mysterious masked figure. He hides at Steve’s apartment, and the mysterious attacker strikes again, gunning down Fury and evading Cap, at one point catching his shield before throwing it back.
Following this Price asks Steve for any info that Fury had, and after he refuses Steve is attacked by his former allies and flees, uniting with Widow and going on the run to investigate who betrayed Fury. Widow reveals that the masked man is the notorious Winter Soldier, an assassin who has been active for many years.
Cap and Widow discover that SHIELD has been infiltrated by Hydra, the Nazi faction that Cap fought in WW2 and that they have long established double agents within the organization. Their plan is to cull mankind, using the helicarriers to eliminate people who may become threats to Hydra and their goals.
In need of help THEY recruit Wilson, who they give a set of robotic wings to wear to help in their mission. The Winter Soldier attacks them and during their fight Cap removes his mask and recognizes him as Bucky (Sebastian Stan) his old childhood friend who he believed had died in WW2. This throws both men, Cap as he realizes his friend isn’t dead and the Winter Soldier, who is confused by his opponent’s reaction.
Will Bucky remember who he is? How far does Hydra’s infiltration go? Who can they trust? And can the three of them reveal the conspiracy and stop the launch of the new helicarriers?
I really dug this movie, which kinda merges superheroics with some conspiracy theory stuff. It also raises interesting questions about governments spying on their citizens, and where the line lies before security becomes fascism. Captain America is the perfect superhero to deal with this issues, with this definitely not being what the shield slinging Avenger signed up for and it not sitting well with his moral outlook.
In the lead role Chris Evans is again impressive on his third outing, manage to capture Cap’s morality without ever becoming overly cheesy or preachy. Thankfully the writers have made sure to give Cap a sense of humour and not just be an overly serious square jawed hero. His easy banter with Sam and Widow ensures he feels like a real character and there are some nice touches along the way, such as Widow trying to matchmake for him and a notebook of things he has to catch up on.
They also make sure they highlight that underneath the star spangled uniform he’s a genuine badass, you don’t fight your way through occupied Europe without knowing how to handle yourself and there are some fantastic action sequences, with Cap displaying some fantastic close-quarters moves and a sequence where he finds himself surrounded in a lift is magnificent, fast and brutal, akin to something from a Bourne movie.
That’s not to say there aren’t big sequences and OTT flourishes, including Sam Wilson’s Falcon dipping, diving and swooping around blasting away at Hydra goons and avoiding missile fire. Cap’s shield throwing is also stepped up, with him using angles to get his targets and using it to destructive effect.
The other characters are all done well, Johansson impresses as Widow, showing great chemistry with Evans and relishing an expanded role. The best feature of the character is her intellect and slightly murky past, she’s the bad cop to Cap’s good cop, and exhibits a real ruthless streak, and their growing bond is one of the film’s strengths, with Cap slowly coming to trust the former assassin, and Johansson does a great job of showing that this trust really means something to her character.
Similarly, Mackie is on fine form as Sam Wilson, from his introduction where he is repeatedly overtaken by Rogers while jogging to donning the wings he’s a quick, heroic figure and despite different backgrounds forms a solid bond with Rogers based on their shared experience of combat and returning home. Mackie makes the character extremely likable, and I’m hoping we get to see more of him in future Avengers films (I’m not holding my breath, War Machine/Iron Patriot vanished from the team up).
Samuel L Jackson is impressive as usual, making Fury a tough, cynical leader. Veteran performers Redford and Jenny Agutter both do well too, and after a blink and you miss it cameo in Avengers its nice for Agutter to actually get to do something this time right.
The only weak link really is Sebastian Stan, who admittedly has a challenge on his hands as Bucky/The Winter Soldier. He’s meant to be brainwashed and almost robotic, but when he does finally have doubts Stan never quite convinces, being a bit too blank for my liking. It’s a tough role and maybe he’ll return, but on this showing I won’t be heartbroken if he doesn’t.
All in all it’s a gripping, well written superhero flick which is what we’ve come to expect from Marvel. It doesn’t quite match the original in the fun stakes, but the slightly darker storyline works and leaves the character in an interesting place, now a solo operative planning to take on Hydra with just Falcon as back up.
Verdict: Lots of fun and a gripping story, a few developments are easy to spot but Evans is great in the lead and the supporting cast is generally on fine form. Good exploration of surveillance politics and Cap’s place in the modern world. 8/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
End Credit Sting: Pretty cool, introducing a few more Avengers into the mix and definitely beats Guardians‘ Howard the Duck cameo.
On Friday MWG and I went to see the latest big screen outing for Bram Stoker’s vampire, and announcing itself as giving the story of his past for the first time. The problem is, there have been tons of movies about the Count’s origins (including the so-bad-it’s-good Dracula 2000, which goes with the theory that Dracula is actually Judas), but that aside this is quite a fun movie.
Here Dracula is Vlad the Impaler (Luke Evans), a Transylvanian prince given to the Turks as a hostage and raised as a warrior, notorious among his enemies for his practice of impaling his victims. But Vlad has set aside the sword and returned home where he has ruled in peace for ten years, with his wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) and son Ingeras (Art Parkinson). He keeps the Turks at bay by paying tribute to their emperor, Mehmed (Dominic Cooper), who he’s knows since childhood.
A Turkish helmed is discovered and Vlad investigates upriver to a cave where a strange creature kills two of his men and he narrowly escapes. Vlad talks to a priest who reveals that the cave is home to a vampire.
The Turks send an emissary and reveals that many of their men have been slaughtered, and to replace them Transylvania must provide 1,000 boys for their army, and Vlad’s son must go as a hostage. Vlad reluctantly agrees, but at the last moment, despite Ingeras volunteering, Vlad kills the men sent to take his son.
Realizing that the Transylvanian forces have no hope of stopping the Turkish army he returns to the mountain where he does a deal with the vampire (Charles Dance). The vampire’s deal is simple, for three days Vlad will have the power over the creatures of the night, heightened strength. If he can resist his new thirst for human blood he will return to normal, if not he will be doomed to become a blood craving monster, and will probably destroy his family.
Can Vlad stop the Turks in three days? Will he resist the temptation of human blood or become a monster?
This movie was quite a lot of dumb fun, and benefits from a solid performance by Luke Evans, who plays Vlad with the right mix of ferocity and nobility. He conveys the desperation that drives him to make the deal and the remorse he carries for his former actions. I’ve had a bit of a man crush on Evans for a while now, due to him putting in solid supporting appearances in the likes of The Hobbit, Fast 6 and The Raven. In the first lead role I’ve seen him in he continues to impress, even if the plot and script are laboured.
For starters, as soon as Chance sets up the three days rule you know that at some point Vlad’s gonna have to chow down on someone for a good reason, thereby dooming himself and fulfilling the whole “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” cliche. To be fair, despite this it’s engaging enough and you start wondering how they’re going to work it.
The major problem the movie has is that vampire Vlad, armed with his superpowers (which include super senses, turning into bats, super speed and strength) has no real threat or enemy to fight. The filmmakers do pull a clever trick by having the final showdown take place in an environment that puts him at risk, but it’s too little too late and for much of the film’s his scraps with the Turkish army are painfully one sided.
Charles Dance hams it up enjoyably enough, and Dominic Cooper is alright as the villain, but everyone else is kind of bland or underwritten.
It’s a fine way to pass the time, but it doesn’t really stick with you. It’s not good enough to be great, and not bad enough to be a guilty pleasure, it’s just an average, but enjoyable movie.
Verdict: A perfectly satisfying genre flick, Evans is solid in the lead and there’s some OTT stuff from Dance which is fun, but it’s lightweight fare and a tad formulaic. 6/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.