Mix it up – Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians of the Galaxy - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Guardians of the Galaxy – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Director: James Gunn
Writers: James Gunn (screenplay), Nicole Perlman (screenplay), Dan Abnett (comic book), Andy Lanning (comic book)
Stars: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana

It is no secret that I am a fan of Marvel films. One of my friends asked me when I was going to write a negative review of a Marvel film. I told him that I’d write one when I saw a bad one in this new phase of Marvel Film productions. Guardians of the Galaxy was another in a long line of films that I will watch on repeat when I get my hands on the Blu-ray.

Comic books translate into film either really well or hopelessly. There have been hits and misses. But since Phase 1 began it has been hard to fault them. I’m even partial to Iron Man 2 (yes I know that is controversial, and it isn’t my first choice but they introduced Black Widow there so I can’t hate on it). Guardians was a risk. It isn’t in the Avengers realm, there isn’t much chance of Iron Man or Captain America showing up (at least not yet in the films). It is a new universe for the Marvel Films to venture into, but the thing is I’ve grown to trust Marvel Films to put on a good show. You know when you walk into that dimly lit cinema with popcorn accidentally spilling onto the floor from your flimsy bucket, that you are in for a fun ride. Whether it is the thriller suspense of Captain America, the action/comedy of Iron Man or the fantasy world of Thor, there is an understanding between Marvel and the audience that you will be met with quality. This bond hasn’t just grown in the cinema over the last six years but over the last 75 years through the comics. We trust that the people bringing these stories to us love them just as much as we do.

Guardians is no different in this wonderful, trusting relationship. It is of the highest calibre of comic book film. It has the humour, the action, the villain and the hero (although not the way you would usually think of it) and you have those delicious graphics. The writing is incredible, the story flows beautifully, the characters develop genuinely, and the filming is gorgeous. My favourite part though? (And this probably isn’t a big guess for those of you who know me) Zoe Saldana. In a mostly male cast she holds her own as the strongest character, the one with the best character reveal and development, the one who gives the most and who has the most to lose. Gamora is fierce and there is no one that could do a better fierce than Saldana.

Guardians will be a treasure in my heart for a long time. A movie that is fun and adventurous and that genuinely makes me happy. It is so very almost perfect.

4.8/5

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Wicked is Good – The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Maze Runner – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Maze Runner (2014)

Director: Wes Ball
Writers: Noah Oppenheim (screenplay), Grant Pierce Myers (screenplay), T. S. Nowlin (screenplay), and James Dashner (novel)
Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter

This fascination with turning YA novels into movies sounds like a great idea on paper. But that is usually where the good idea stops. It worked with Harry Potter because each novel was its own entity. It had a narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It wasn’t always linked into the next book so explicitly. However, when we start moving into the Divergents, Maze Runners, and even Hunger Games, there becomes a distinct problem. There isn’t a clean ending. The story is about to continue. In books it works, in TV it works, put it on the big screen and you are just left hanging with an unsettled and unsatisfied feeling. Don’t get me wrong. I freaking love YA novels. I love the imagery and the action in them.  I love the characters. My bookshelf is dominated by them. But sometimes you just have to say no to the film.

The Maze Runner series was one that I only read after discovering James Dashner last year. The series is good. The writing is interesting and compelling, and the story is fascinating in all its intricacies. It seems like it would translate into a great epic film. Visually it does. The movie is beautifully crafted. But the film medium just doesn’t do the story justice.

The Maze Runner is inspired by Lord of the Flies and the premise is interesting. Stick a bunch of teenage boys in a giant maze and see what they will do to survive. What happens if you run the experiment for a few years and then change everything on them within a week? Chaos. The great thing about the Maze Runner series is that it asks us the question: How far would you go to save the world? The problem with the film is that it asks the question: How far would your curiosity take you? Yes it is an action thriller of kinds but it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat, it didn’t make me interested in the characters like the book did, and it just simply wasn’t as compelling as the book.

However, in saying all of that, if you haven’t read the book it is probably a great teen action thriller. It probably will grab you and make you wonder where it will end. And you probably won’t see that last twist coming. The setting is frighteningly fantastic and the graphics are gorgeously gritty, the young actors do a great job of making me love and hate them at the same time, and the dialogue is used well to move the story along without feeling too expository. And let’s be honest, I still can’t fault Dylan O’Brien or Will Poulter on any point, they will have me going back for more.

3/5

That is not a word! – Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Saving Mr. Banks – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Saving Mr. Banks (2013)

Director: John Lee Hancock
Writers: Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith
Stars: Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Annie Rose Buckley, Colin Farrell

Mary Poppins is one of those films that most people love, but who, like me, had no idea where the story came from or that it was originally a book. The author, Mrs P.L. Travers was a fascinating woman as we discover in this film. Emma Thompson really carries this film. Her diversity and skill in being able to portray anyone at any time (I recently re-watched some of the Harry Potter films and she is unrecognisable as Prof. Trelawny) is a blessing to the character of P.L. Travers. She is an unpleasant, particular, and snobbish kind of woman. Although she grew up in the outback of Australia she rejected her Australian nature for a British and Irish obsession. It is the contrast between the character from her early days in Australia with her family and her life after she left Australia that really give this film depth.

The story is simple enough, flashbacks to the little girl, Ginty (Annie Rose Buckley), with the ongoing saga of Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) insisting she give them the rights to make the book of Mary Poppins into the film. But it is the simplicity and ordinary nature of the story that makes it a powerful tale. A girl who is continually with wanting to live in an imaginary world and the the world telling her that it is not a fairytale. The dissipation of hope and the insistence of harsh reality. The little girl is washed away through the bleakness of the world and yet, through all of this, she creates a wonderful world of fiction. An escape that captures the minds of millions of people. And it is this essential quality that Emma Thompson is able to present in beautiful clarity through her dealings with Walt Disney and the script and song writers of Mary Poppins.

Another stand out performance for me, mostly because I am Australian, is that of Colin Farrell. His Australian accent is perfectly subdued and subtle. So many times accents can be overdone, and Farrell managed to make it real. His charm and frivolity make the father of Ginty come alive. Without the rawness of the performance this film could have failed to bind together Mrs Travers’ past self and future self. The cohesion of the film is sturdy rather than flippant which is evidently the work of John Lee Hancock (The Blindside, The Rookie) as the director. To create a world where joy is balanced and juxtaposed with sadness.

I would never claim that this film is one of my favourites, it has its flaws, however I do believe that the essence of the film is an important tale to be told, such as the one in Mary Poppins. Without hope, playfulness, and a little imagination, this world is as bleak as we want to make it. We have minds that are capable of making even the smallest of chores a joy. Reality is only as harsh as we imagine it to be, so why not imagine it to be like a spoonful of sugar?

3.5/5

Will you love me until I become a hyperaware AI? – Her

Her - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Her – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Her (2013)

Director: Spike Jonze
Writer: Spike Jonze
Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Scarlett Johansson, Amy Adams

Spike Jonze is one of those directors that has a unique perspective on storytelling. From Adaptation to Being John Malkovich to Jackass. His repertoire is diverse. And always just that little bit strange. He is able to play with what we think and believe able the world and create a social and cultural commentary without making you feel like what he is critiquing is wrong. This is exactly the case with his latest writing and directing feat of Her.
Joaquin Phoenix is a writer in an age where everything is digital. He creates beautiful handwritten notes for people. He creates their voice, their words, their feelings, and is really good at it. But he has trouble connecting and understanding people. His wife left him and has drawn up divorce papers, he is a bit of a loner with only a few friends. So when a new operating system comes along with the ability to understand and predict what the user needs and wants, he subscribes, and then falls in love with his AI, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. She becomes every thing he needs and they start up a relationship.
This film delves into the very real situation of us falling in love with someone we can’t see, touch, be with. Most people would say that is just a long distance relationship or an online relationship, and that is what I think Spike Jonze is getting at. Why wouldn’t it be okay for us to fall in love with an operating system? We fall in love over a screen already, it isn’t that much of a stretch. We have friends all over the world who exist mostly in our minds and on a screen. Of course, they also do exist in the real world, but what if they didn’t? Would it make that much of a difference to us? If we had an operating system that was like our friend, what would we do? Do we treat it just like a computer, or would we treat it like that friend we have in another city, state, or country?
Her is a film that tips the balance on romantic cliches and uber gooey lovey-dovey talk which makes it unbearable in parts if you aren’t romantically inclined to sentimental talk. And even for someone that has seen more bad romantic films more than once it is cringe worthy in parts. It’s like those couples that stare lovingly into one another’s eyes for long periods of time in the park. It’s just a little sickening. Of course there isn’t any staring into one another’s eyes in Her, because she is an operating system and doesn’t have eyes, but there is a lot of talk.
I liked this film, even though it left me feeling uncomfortable, because it makes me question how I use my technology. Do I really consider who I am texting or am I doing it just to have contact with someone in the void? Am I more in love with the idea of someone or am I appreciating them for who they truly are, outside my own crazy imagination. In saying that though, it isn’t a film for everyone and for some it will be unbearable. But isn’t that the way with all films?

Haunted by Humans – The Book Thief

The Book Thief - Original Poster - from IMDB.com

The Book Thief – Original Poster – from IMDB.com

The Book Thief (2013)

Director: Brian Percival
Writers: Markus Zusak (novel), Michael Petroni (adaptation)
Stars:
 Sophie Nélisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson

I have been waiting and waiting for this film. It took me three gos to get into the book but once I did I fell in love with everything about it. It is now in my top five of favourite books and I was both excited and anxious about whether the movie would be anywhere as compelling. I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest.

Liesel (Sophie Nélisse) is adopted into a German family just before the start of World War 2. She is inquisitive and quiet and strong. Her life is not easy, she has lost her brother and her mother and now finds herself in a strange home. She is intelligent but illiterate and so her Papa, Hans Hubermann (Geoffrey Rush), teaches her to read and write. Liesel finds her home, her security, and her family in Hans and Rosa Hubermann. And the the war begins. A girl whose mother was a communist, who doesn’t understand why anyone would burn a book, and who holds a secret that can never be told, the Hubermann’s have a Jew in the basement. Max comes to them in the middle of the night, ill and seeking help. Hans has a debt to pay to Max and they give him refuge in their home. But they live in Nazi Germany. A secret this big, a war this loud, there is no escape from the sorrow and pain of  war. Except those small moments, when music, art, and stories are all that remain to keep hope in the air.

Brian Percival and Michael Petroni have brought Markus Zusak’s book alive in beautiful hues of light and darkness. This film ebbs and flows through the war with intent to give the audience the roller coaster of emotions. The stillness of sorrow juxtaposed with playfulness and laughter. This film made jolt from crying to laughter with the switch of a scene. Beautifully scored and directed, this film is the almost perfect representation of the book on screen.

4/5

True love or real love? – Frozen

Frozen - Original Poster - from IMDB.com

Frozen – Original Poster – from IMDB.com

Frozen (2013)

Directors: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee
Writers: Jennifer Lee (screenplay), Hans Christian Andersen (inspired by the story “The Snow Queen” by), Chris Buck (story), Jennifer Lee (story), Shane Morris (story)
Stars: Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel

I love Disney films. Actually, I love most animation films. It is the child in me and the giddy little girl that loves to dream of worlds with magic and kingdoms and the prospect of true love. But as someone that likes to think of herself as a feminist, in my adult years I have become more and more concerned with the fact that “Disney Princesses” have become a whole franchise on their own that take away the great things about the princesses in the 1990-2000s film and reduce them back to Snow White-esque films. The little girl who knows no better than to clean a house, sing a song, and then almost die, only to be saved by a kiss from a creepy guy that has been trying to track her down because he heard her sing once. Seriously, that’s kind of scary. Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and The Little Mermaid portray these women who are only present to be “won” by a prince and then married off to them. Most of the time they don’t even hold a conversation before falling deeply in love. And then we have the 90s princesses. Fierce women like Belle, Mulan, Pocahontas, Jasmine and Tiana who are women whose first priority isn’t to marry but to be great women. They reject the stereotype of true love and want to be women who are strong and independent women. But they all end up married or in love anyway. Then in the 2010 we were given Rapunzel, a princess who verges between the pre-90s and 90s princesses. Someone who does housework but is also seeking independence and freedom, and who also, just like all the others, falls in love. I love Tangled but there is always that itching feeling that it is coated in that “Disney Princess” franchise femininity that makes me cringe.

In 2012 Disney gave us Merida. The first Disney Princess that doesn’t fall in love. Where the story is about a mother-daughter relationship rather than a prince-princess relationship. And it was great. So when Frozen arrived on our screens this year I was anxious. I wondered whether Disney would continue with this theme of not needing a man to be a whole person, or whether they would go back to their roots that they had tried to get rid of. Disney did not disappoint. They managed to combine both stories of true love and equality in fantastic fashion. Two strong female characters, one your Sleeping Beauty type and the other Merida type. The rejection of traditional “true love” and the exploration of real love, was heartwarming. Elsa and Anna are princesses that I would like to look up to. Women who don’t let themselves be controlled by society but help shape it to fit them and create a world of inclusion rather than exclusion. Disney managed to turn their archetypes of hero and villain around and surprise us for once. It is funny, sad, inspiring, surprising, uplifting and visually gorgeous.

Frozen, even with its flaws (yes it still does have some), is a film that I will watch and re-watch like I have Beauty and the Beast and Mulan. Sisters forever!

4/5

Howling to infamy – The Wolf of Wall Street

The Wolf of Wall Street - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Wolf of Wall Street – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Terence Winter (Screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie

Oh Leo, my love, why can’t you pick films like this all the time?

Warning: this film is fantastic but if you are sensitive to nudity, drug use, or swearing, you probably won’t want to go see it. There is a lot of all of that stuff, and it is not shy about it.

The Wolf of Wall Street is one of those rare gems where a mix of things that could make a film bad makes it brilliant. It is too long, there is too much sex and swearing and drug abuse, the main characters aren’t all that likeable when you really think about it, and yet it is still a great film.

Set in the 80s and 90s, it follows the “based on a true story” tale of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), a broker who whilst the rest of Wall Street crashed, was hooking people onto the idea of investing in companies that wouldn’t make a profit. Charming, driven, and intelligent, this man is the kind of man that will do anything to make as much money as possible, and isn’t afraid of crossing those moral lines that guide most of us. DiCaprio brings that air of sophisticated charm to a role that in another’s hand could have made this film a flop. He is both a despicable human being and a criminal, as well as being inspiring and wonderful to those who work for him. DiCaprio makes greed look both good and undesirable at the same time. This film creates so many conflicts and juxtapositions that it is hard to know whether you want Belfort to succeed or be taken down by the FBI.

(I could rant about how great Leonardo DiCaprio is in this film until the end of time. Seriously, it’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape good. He should do more physical humour. He is fantastic at it. His timing is impeccable. Oh and that scene in the country club foyer… ok, ranting now controlled…)

With a stellar cast including Jonah Hill, Kyle Chandler, and Margot Robbie, Scorsese has out done himself. Martin Scorsese has never been afraid of pushing boundaries and he does so in almost every scene in this film. It is obscene and opulent and yet I still love it.

I recommend this film to those of you who won’t mind the R+18 rating because you’ll probably love it for all the right reasons. I recommend this film to all those who do mind the R+18 rating because it is one of those films in a million that will make you appreciate your sensibility and your morality all that more.

4.5/5

When the train arrives – The Railway Man

The Railway Man - - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Railway Man – – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Railway Man (2014)

Director: Jonathan Teplitzky
Writers: Frank Cottrell Boyce (screenplay), Andy Paterson (screenplay), Eric Lomax (book)
Stars: Nicole Kidman, Stellan Skarsgård, Colin Firth, Jeremy Irvine

The thing about growing up in the 21st Century and being a movie and TV addict, is that you become less affected by violence. Or at least I definitely have. I can’t stand the blood splattering every where like in horror films, but when it comes to torture and war stories it doesn’t faze me that there are people dropping dead everywhere. Which is the problem when you come to a movie like The Railway Man. A film that tells the story of the aftermath of what happened to the men from the British army that ended up taken prisoner by the Japanese near the end of the Second World War. Eric Lomax is a soldier. He lived through the war and came out the other side. But during his service he was tortured by the Japanese for information. This torture has stayed with him his whole life, especially the face of his torturer. The post traumatic stress that he suffered after the war wasn’t uncommon. His experience was one that drove him to want revenge. And once you see what they did to him you try to understand, but can’t. If you’ve seen Zero Dark Thirty or have watched Criminal Minds at all then I don’t think the torture hits as hard as it’s meant to.

The performances by Colin Firth and Jeremy Irvine as old and young Eric Lomax bring power and strength to a part that could be played as the victim. But that is not what Lomax is, he is a hero and a survivor and Firth and Irvine portray him as such. But what really makes this film powerful, apart from its obviously powerful story, is the music. David Hirschfelder has composed pieces that fit perfectly with Jonathan Teplitzky’s slow paced directing and intense close-ups on characters faces. It is this that creates the emotion that this film deserves. The heartbreaking feeling that sinks into the pit of your stomach as you see Lomax suffer and try and stay strong. The absolute sorrow that is conveyed when Lomax confront his torturer years later is crushing.

People kept telling me before I saw the film that it was horrible what they did to Eric Lomax and that you should be prepared for the worst. And so I prepared myself, I thought of all the worst possible things and was prepared. But as someone that watches a lot of crime TV and action films I feel saddened for myself, and probably others like me, that won’t really understand the power and the horrific nature of torture. But in saying that this film is continuing to haunt me and stick to the tendons of thought as I go about my day. Jeremy Irvine should be receiving so much more praise than he has already received for his performance in The Railway Man.

3.5/5

Ladies and Gents, watch and learn – Rizzoli & Isles

Rizzoli and Isles - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Rizzoli and Isles – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Rizzoli and Isles (2010-)

Stars: Angie Harmon, Sasha Alexander, Jordan Bridges, Lee Thompson Young, Bruce McGill, Lorraine Bracco.

The Bechdel Test was created by a Alison Bechdel in 1985 when she created a cartoon that featured a character that asked why works of fiction didn’t feature two women in the same scene talking to each other about anything other than men. Of course the question had been posed before. Many feminists have questioned the portrayal of women in film and TV, and with good reason. There is actually a website that lists films that meet the Bechdel test. The list of films that meet the tests three points will surprise you too. It’s not a hard to fulfil the requirements: 1. The film must have at least 2 women in it, 2. who talk to each other, 3. about something besides a man. How hard could that be right?

Well Rizzoli and Isles definitely hits that list. Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles are two women who are intelligent, distinctive, accomplished, hard working, and very different from each other. The show is just a procedural cop show on the surface. But with two female leads who aren’t afraid of being smart and successful in their particular careers, and who aren’t afraid of being their own type of girly.

Rizzoli is a cop, a homicide detective who has had tough times in her career. Being haunted by an incident of almost being killed by a serial killer, Jane continues to work hard to solve murders and put killers behind bars. Her past is present but she is strong, both physically and emotionally. She is intimidating to men because she can fight her own fights and could knock any of her coworkers out if she needed to.

Isles is a doctor. The chief medical examiner of Massachusetts and a forensic expert. She is brilliant and logical and even tempered. She approaches life as a scientist in most areas, even when it comes to men and clothes. Her reasoning for dressing well is logical and rational. She is bold in her pursuit of men but possess the grace and poise to attract them.

The show itself is like any other cop show really. There are crimes that need solving in amongst the drama of the lives of the characters and the characters help each other get through the ups and downs of life, big or small. It’s the fact that there are two very interesting women at the head of the show that makes it more interesting than other cop dramas. The dynamics of seeing two women live out their lives, succeed in their workplaces, and deal with the troubles that come their way is so refreshing. Rather than them pining over men and worrying about finding Mr Right, we see them as human beings who are more than just the object of a man’s affections, or as only on screen to provide eye candy for the audience.

I really like this show because I like crime dramas, but also because it is so refreshing to have role models on TV who I’m not ashamed to look up to and admire. They are well-rounded, deep, complex characters. And with a background in the novels of Tess Gerritsen it is no wonder. Thank goodness this show exists.

5/5

The unnecessary and the potential – The Wolverine

The Wolverine - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Wolverine – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Wolverine (2013)

Director: James Mangold
Writers: Mark Bomback (screenplay), Scott Frank (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman, Tao Okamoto, Rila Fukushima

The Wolverine is the latest instalment for the X-Men film franchise. The Marvel comic book universe of X-Men has come alive on the screen over the last 13 years. There is always some issues in adapting a piece of literature to the screen, and especially so with comics as they come with a plethora of canon and decades of story lines intertwining. The X-Men movie franchise has been somewhat successful in creating its own world on the big screen. There are however issues with this latest instalment.

Wolverine (aka Logan, played by Hugh Jackman) is practically immortal. His immortality comes in handy every now and again but it is more of a burden and a curse than a blessing. The story begins with Wolverine saving a Japanese man in the Nagasaki blast in 1945. In the present day the man he saved, Yashida, is dying and requests that Logan comes to say his final farewells to him before he passes away. Logan travels to Japan to see the man but all is not as it seems. Yashida has been researching Mutants and in particular the adamantium metal that Logan has infused in his skeleton.

The story is interesting and moves along in a swift and compelling pace but it is how the story is formed that is troubling. The saying “sex sells” is put into action in The Wolverine. Jean Grey, Logan’s previous love interest, turns up in his dreams as his conscience, always lying in bed with Logan in a silky night dress. And then there is the granddaughter of Yashida, Mariko (Tao Okamoto), who Logan saves from Japanese mobsters and then falls in love with as they escape from danger and work out how to stop the evil guys. If the story was more fully developed then these two love affairs, one in the past that Logan still holds on to and the new one he is trying to move on to, could have made more sense. But the lack of time spent and clarity of the underlying ideas behind these relationships was disappointing. Instead Wolverine comes out looking like he is only using Mariko to get over Jean. This, I am told by a dedicated fan of the comics, is not what it is meant to be. Yes, I understand that the relationship between Logan and Jean needed resolving but to throw Mariko into the picture without being clear on Logan’s emotional progression creates flaws in the fabric of this, otherwise good, comic book film.

There are some great female characters in Yukio and Viper, as well as Mariko. They provide some balance to the overload of male ninjas in the film and are spectacularly cast, especially with Rila Fukushima as Yukio and her execution of the line “I am you’re bodyguard” to Logan. Nice touch Mark Bomback and Scott Frank.

All in all, The Wolverine is steady-footed film that helps progress Logan’s story to a place where X-Men: Days of Future Past (due out 2014) can really expand upon Logan/Wolverine’s role in the X-Men franchise.

3/5