A Unexpected Underdog – The Adventures of Merlin

Merlin - Poster from IMDB.com

Merlin – Poster from IMDB.com

The Adventures of Merlin (2008)

Creators: Julian Jones, Julian Murphy, Johnny Capps, Jake Michie
Stars: John Hurt, Colin Morgan and Bradley James

I wasn’t going to watch this show when it first started on TV but I ended up watching it, like everything I watch, because someone said I might like it and it had an Irish actor in it. So I started watching and then kept watching and haven’t stopped.

I was never very interested in magic, magicians, witches or anything like that as a kid and I totally missed the Harry Potter faze that most of my friend’s went through growing up. I was however a lover of the tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. Growing up I really enjoyed the Sword In The Stone and the tale of a poor young boy who was actually the King of Camelot, proven for his character more than his birth right. I love a good underdog story and so when I worked out that this was a King Arthur tale I was in.

Now from saying the above you would think that I would’ve been quite disappointed with the adaptation of Merlin, however the first episode really grabbed me because instead of Arthur being the underdog, it was Merlin. The character of Merlin and his noble cause of seeking to stand up for the rights of those who were undermined and disadvantaged was one that really appealed to me. The cheesy humour and character relationships didn’t hurt either.

Colin Morgan who plays Merlin is an outstanding young actor and his innocence, naivety, and compassion are abounding as Merlin. He brings a real earthiness and humility to the character which makes him a likable underdog. There is a fragility to his physique that makes him the perfect young wizard and also makes him believably strong in mind and heart. It is this heart of the character which is the core of this show. It is about how he struggles to help and protect those who cannot protect themselves and it is his battle with the arrogance of Prince Arthur (Bradley James) and his connection with him that helps create the conflict needed for the narrative.

The creators and writers of the show have really made the show develop and succeed through it’s twisting of the myth and although it holds the mythology well in it’s narrative there is also a lot more depth to it created by the conflict with the characters and the secrets of the past that come to light over the seasons. The playfulness of the the first season slowly becomes less prominent as the story continues and as more people turn evil, however it remains within the realm of “family entertainment” for the most part. The youthfulness of the lead actors and the growing up that they experience over the course of the show has made it appealing for both children and adults alike.

The latter seasons although a bit darker are also more interesting as the relationships between the characters develop. The rival of Morgana and Emerys (old version of Merlin, still played by Colin Morgan and is incredibly convincing as an old man, it’s actually a little concerning how well he acts this role, awe-inspiringly good acting) and the love between Arthur and Gwen start to give a new depth to the story.

The battle between good and evil continues and the wisdom to know the difference is something that drives the characters in this show as well as the idea of duty and responsibility which for our day and age is an interesting one to explore. We don’t have the same sense of duty as they did previously however this show deals with the subject in a balanced manner which shows both the ill and the blessing of fulfilling duty and destiny.

I really like this show for many reasons but mainly because of Colin Morgan’s superb acting in every episode. He is mesmerising on screen and brings Merlin to life in the best way possible. His compassion and strength as Merlin is gripping and his journey through the story is riveting.

This show isn’t for everyone, it is fantasy and can be a bit cheesy at points. It requires a bit of suspension of reality and you have to allow yourself to be taken back in time but if you can live with the fantastical nature of the show it is a beautiful show to watch.

From A Genius Comes A Genius – Sherlock

Sherlock - Poster from IMDB.com

Sherlock – Poster from IMDB.com

Sherlock (2010)

Creators:Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat
Stars:Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman and Una Stubbs

I have been in awe of Stephen Moffat’s writing for a while now. I loved Press Gang when I was growing up and still remember watching it with my parents. I belly-laughed until it hurt at Couplings when I discovered it and consumed it like there was no tomorrow. Then when I worked out that he was the one responsible for the episode “Blink” on Doctor Who I took my Moffat appreciation to a whole other level of obsession. There was something about the way he constructed a story, intertwined the characters, and provided a script that held secrets that I don’t think even he realised were in there that I still sit shocked to realise. The complexity of the arching narrative, the detail in the little moments between characters, and the genuine nature of the dialogue between his creations is what makes it compelling to watch.

When it was announced that Stephen Moffat and Mark Gatiss would be collaborating to bring Sherlock to the small screen I couldn’t wait to see what they produced. Both geniuses in their own right, their collaboration was always set to bring forth a truly delightful television experience. And they delivered with Sherlock.

I wonder how many people have read the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I for one have and I have loved them for a while now. I’m a sucker for a good mystery and I loved the wackiness of Sherlock’s character in the books. To bring the character into the 21st Century though is a challenging task because of the traditional investigatory paths that the original Sherlock had and the advancement of technology nowadays. I would never have thought to make Sherlock tech-savvy and that is probably why Moffat and Gatiss are the geniuses and I am not.

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson are brilliant characters brought to life by Moffat and Gatiss’ scripts and by the superb acting of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. The chemistry between the two men is inspiring and they explore a new angle of the relationship in a lot of ways. There is of course a lot of the original essence of the weird friendship there but it is a lot more complex and has a new depth that the original novels lack to convey. From the moment the two characters are introduced there is a spark of wonder that is the catalyst for the rest of the show. It is a moment that shows so much of what is to come in a simple minute of the film. The arrogance and charisma of Sherlock and the insecurity and rationality of John combine to drag you into these men’s journey together and which compels you to keep watching.

The show is slow moving and long for the most part but the quick speeches of Sherlock balance the investigating and experimental processes that are combined in his work. He reads rooms, people, scenes quickly but takes the time to make sure he sees the details as well. This makes the show roll on in a good pace and gives you time to take in what Sherlock has discovered in a quick minute of walking around a room. This pace allows the characters to develop and allows the relationships between the characters to be fleshed out more carefully. As the audience it is hard not to feel like you are taking the perspective of John Watson just like in the books and it allows you the perspective to journey along as an observer as John is for the most part.

The cleverness of the on screen text and the processing of information is one of the highlights of this show. I get giddy when they do something fun and new like that and it makes me excited for all the twists and turns that Moffat will provide in the narrative. It is small things from the text to Mrs Hudson’s one liners in the episodes that make this show really amazing. Moffat and Gatiss have made a show that will be rewatched over and over again and get the fan sites buzzing with theories on the how and whys of the show.

It will be a special and exciting moment when the third season finally airs and we find out how Sherlock escaped death and I can not wait for that moment!

I really recommend you spend the time watching this show. They are long episodes (90minutes) but every minute is worth it and it gets way better the further into the show you get. This is a fantastic show because of the writing and acting and production. Watch it!

Icky and Delightful – What To Expect When You’re Expecting

What To Expect When You're Expecting - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Official Poster – from IMDB.com

What To Expect When You’re Expecting (2012)

Director: Kirk Jones
Writers: Shauna Cross (screenplay), Heather Hach (screenplay), and Heidi Murkoff (books)
Stars: Cameron Diaz, Matthew Morrison and J. Todd Smith

Pregnancy is one of those both wonderful and icky topics of life. It is wonderful because it means new life has been created, but icky because when you think about it, it means you’re parents have had sex, probably a lot of it too. And that thought is just well, disturbing for most. But when the movies portray pregnancy as just the simply wonderful then you miss the icky. This film shows the diversity of people’s experiences in pregnancy. It shows the ups and downs of having a baby and the ways you can get pregnant or have a kid. The best thing about this film though is Elizabeth Banks (The Hunger Games, 30 Rock). She is the thing that makes this film work for me. Of course the wonderful different stories intertwining are great and the stories from miscarriage to adoption to twins is delightful but Banks portrayal of a pregnant woman is exactly what I expect myself to be like when/if I have kids, except probably with a little more crazy. She plays the part of a struggling pregnant woman so well and I love it. Yes pregnancy isn’t always a struggle but it’s nice to see someone fall apart and for it to be okay. There are just so many moments when I belly laughed at one liners between Banks’ character Wendy and her shop assistant Janice (Rebel Wilson). There is something honest and real about the crazy world of pregnancy that Wendy lives in that is truly humourous.

The other part of this film that really shone out was the Dad’s group. The slo-mo entrance of the dad’s at the beginning and end made me laugh so much, mainly just because of the kid, Jordan, who was just adorable and slightly bizarre. It made me want to be a dad but it also made sense to me to see these dad’s complain about every little annoyance when they are with the guys because where else can they do that kind of thing but the reality is that they love their kids more than anything and there is a real beauty and honour in that simple fact. Yes dad’s get all the crap thrown at them because the woman pushed the kid out of their body, and yes they probably should take the crap, but they are also very much in their own rights to have a safe space where they can do what the women do when they get together: bitch and whine about how annoying their kids are. Of course this is what I imagine happens when mothers get together but please correct me if I’ve been lead to believe.

The humour, the love, the bellies, and the sweet moments of this film made me really smile at the end. It was a really enjoyable and fun movie to watch. It’s not the greatest film ever made, and it’s not the best romantic comedy out there but it is fun and funny and it’s a great film to see with some friends.

A Love Story Without A Marriage At The End – Brave

Brave - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Brave – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Brave (2012)

Directors: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman, and Steve Purcell
Writers: Mark Andrews (screenplay) and Steve Purcell (screenplay) and Brenda Chapman (screenplay) and Irene Mecchi (screenplay), and Brenda Chapman (story)
Stars: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly and Emma Thompson

One of my favourite Spice Girls’ song is Mama because it’s not your usual soppy song but it’s about girls gaining understanding about their mums and what they have had to put up with as they have raised us. It speaks of a kind of love which is unique, frustrating, and that triumphs in forgiveness and humility. It is simply beautiful.

Brave is not your typical Disney Princess story. It’s the story of a girl who is faced with a situation which is unpleasant any which way she looks and with a mother who, although trying to do what is best for her daughter, is trying to push her daughter along a path that clashes with everything her daughter feels. It is about women with fierce pride and about their tortured journey to try and communicate and understand each other’s point of view.

Disney has once again created a beautiful tale of strong female characters and a story that reflects our day and age. The idea of independence, of choice, and of the power to be who you are is one that has really been taking shape for a while now but has really come out in our narratives recently. And I love it. It is a wonderfully powerful role model and heroine for young women and allows us to break out and explore the world in our own way. It is about coming to the realisation that our mother’s want the best for us, but that we also need to teach them as much as they teach us. Ultimately it is a love story between mother and daughter.

I loved this film because it was typical Disney with it’s great comic timing in animation and its brilliant narrative of adventure, discovery, forgiveness, and triumph. The biggest surprise in this film is that there isn’t really an “evil” that the protagonist is fighting against. There is a witch but she isn’t necessarily evil, and there is a mad bear but he’s just sick with power and loneliness. There is no evil villain but there is the battle of pride which Merida and her mother have to come through. It is this aspect that makes the film different from other Disney princess films and appealing to me as a viewer. I didn’t have high expectations for Brave because I was afraid it was going to be underwhelming like Princess and the Frog was. But Brave really blew me away as it was a beautiful animation and narrative that made me laugh and sigh and come out of feeling uplifted. And that’s what Disney films are meant to do right? They are meant to make you dream and make you feel like anything is possible in the world. Merida is a wonderfully strong heroine and I loved this film so much it may end up bumping Tangled down into third place in my top Disney films list. Beauty and The Beast will always be my favourite but Brave is about a restored mother/daughter relationship and that is a wonderful breath of fresh air in Disney films as it makes up for all those evil step-mothers and their mistreatment of their children. Now we have a magnificent mother character in Disney.

Blind Faith and Viscous Visuals – Prometheus

Prometheus - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Prometheus – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Prometheus (2012)

Director: Ridley Scott
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Damon Lindelof
Stars: Noomi Rapace, Logan Marshall-Green and Michael Fassbender

I haven’t seen the other Alien films, and now I remember why I haven’t. I’m not a big fan of viscous visuals. I do however like Sci-Fi and aliens and so I went to see this film with a friend who also likes aliens and Sci-Fi. We both came out feeling slightly ill but I spent sometime reflecting on the subject matter of the film and have come to the conclusion that although I didn’t like the execution of the story I like the ideas behind it. The idea of searching for a creator of humanity, where we get our identity, where we came from, what drives us, and all the other scientific and philosophical questions of life penetrate Sci-Fi quite frequently and this is no different in Prometheus. The search for where human beings came is where we start and where we end in this film. The circular journey is the main thrust of the film and the answers and questions that the movie leaves you with are unsatisfying but that is the point. I found myself journeying with these explorers into this unknown world and getting lost with them and then being violently ripped back from it when something gross and violent happened on screen at which point I slid down in my chair and tried to hide my eyes from the viscousness of the subject matter on screen. The action, the visual effects, the characters were compelling and I was happy to ride along with them but I have to say my favourite part of the film was the creepiness of David’s head at the end. There was just something so wonderfully comic and tragically horrendous about this woman being left alone to search the universe for answers with a severed head and a robotic body.

I didn’t enjoy watching Prometheus and I don’t think I ever will enjoy watching the Alien films. I still feel slightly ill even thinking about it. But for what it is and what it tries to be I think it does okay. There are points where it fails far short of being a great alien sci-fi film and it disappoints your average joe if they are after something great and groundbreaking but there are some entertaining moments. I can’t stay I would recommend it but if you’re into that kind of thing, go for it.

Assemble and Flirt – The Avengers

The Avengers - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Avengers – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Avengers (2012)

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay), Zak Penn (story), and Joss Whedon (story), Stan Lee (comic book) & Jack Kirby (comic book)
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson

This movie could not have been more awesome if it had tried. I have raved and raved about this film to my friends and I’ve seen it multiple times at the cinema and will continue to go back for more. There is something about it that just works. I grew up watching action films with my brother and so have a bit of a love for comic book hero stories. This, however, is the first time that I’ve fallen in love with the evil dude as well as cheering on the good guys. I don’t know what Tom Hiddleston does to get into Loki’s head but he can keep doing it forever in my head. That man can play evil and you still want to take him home and introduce him to your mum, and he has the most wonderful smile. As well has the wonderfully evil Loki, Joss Whedon’s creation of the Avengers and his script are perfection for an action film. It has the crazy evil plot, the heroes fighting against one another which only makes them come together even more, it has humour, it has a hot Scarlett Johansen in a tight black lycra body suit, it has the best Hulk/Stark dynamic and it has the enigmatic Agent Coulson. There are so many moments in this film when I caught myself wriggling in my seat with a massive grin on my face thinking “THIS IS SO FREAKING GOOD!!!” and getting so excited about the film even as it was happening. Even now I get excited jitters about how incredibly good this film was. It’s hard to explain the euphoric feeling that The Avengers gives me. It’s like being a teenage girl in love with a crush and having them pay you a compliment, you go all gooey inside and can drift through the next week in a daze. That’s how the Avenger’s makes me feel, like a stupid, cupid-struck, teenage, fangirl… and it feels amazing.

If you don’t see this film you will be missing out on one of life’s great blessings. I want to thank Joss Whedon and Marvel for bringing together such an incredible cast, a good scriptwriter and director and for spending the big bucks to make this film all we could have ever asked for and more.

The Elderly Are Still People – The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Director: John Madden
Writers: Ol Parker (screenplay), Deborah Moggach (novel)
Stars: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith

There is something wonderful about seeing a film about old people coming of age with people who have been through a lot of life already. I saw this film with my mum and grandmother. Three generations laughing and crying at all the same moments. This film got mixed reviews when it came out and was said to be a coming of age story for old people but I think it’s so much more than that in a lot of ways. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a film about a group of retired people who have come to a point in their life where a trip to India seems like a good lifestyle choice. For all different reasons from financial trouble to long lost love to wanting to find love to having medical issues treated, these people are thrown together in an odd old hotel run by a young Indian man whose life dream is to see this hotel reestablished to it’s former glory and to provide a place for westerners to come and see the richness of Indian life.

This film is very “British” in it’s humour, it’s subject matter, and it’s conclusion I think, but it is so appealing to my young self as well because of the inspiration it provides to its viewer. It teaches us not to settle for second best in this life, to go after the dreams we have, to trust our instincts, to fall in love with the people we want to fall in love with, to say sorry before it’s too late, to know that whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, you can still restart your life at 80 if you want, and don’t be afraid to take risks.

The cast of this film is absolutely stellar and there isn’t a performance that isn’t perfection in my mind. From the exquisite Dame Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Maggie Smith to the young Dev Patel (Skins and Slumdog Millionaire) they are all lovable and heartwarming characters and I’m so glad they all came together for this film. It’s one of those rare films where I come out wanting to grow old and explore the world in all it’s exoticness, even at 70.

Traveling By Map – The Muppets

The Muppets - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Muppets – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Muppets (2011)

Director: James Bobin
Writers: Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Jim Henson (based on) (as Disney’s Muppet properties and characters)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jason Segel and Chris Cooper

I have always loved the Muppets and I grew up watching their films and TV show reruns. However I really fell in love with the Muppets when I turned 21 when I, for the first time, watched the original Muppet Movie. There was something about seeing the self-aware sense of humour be done in a subtle way that really appealed to me. So of course when the new Muppet film was due to be released I organised with a few girlfriends to see it on opening day. It was everything I could’ve hoped for and more. It had the random singing numbers, the self-aware humour, the story of the Muppets having to come together again and defeat the challenges facing them. And yes, it is the “same story” as the other Muppet movies (Muppets Take Manhattan, The Muppet Movie, even A Muppet Christmas Carol has the same idea) but there is a wonderful beauty to a good story arch and The Muppets stands up for itself in that.

Jason Segel and Amy Adams are brilliant but my favourite performance in this film is by Mickey Rooney who appears for one line but warms my heart so brilliantly! And many of you may not know who Mickey Rooney is and you should go and google him and watch some of his early films with Judy Garland because he is a brilliant actor/musician/dancer/singer/etc. The entire Muppet cast is incredible but even more so is the writing of Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. They have created an accurate rehashing of one of the world’s most loved family enterprises and I really hope that a whole new generation get to fall in love with The Muppets like I did as a kid.

If you haven’t seen anything of the Muppets previously then a) I feel sorry for you and your childhood, and b) you may not get the Muppets straight away. It is particular strange as an idea but it is an idea that works. The characters, their development over the course of the film, and the way the film brings together so many different artists is a delight to watch for people of all ages. It makes a great family film and adults will love this film as much, if not more than the kids.

A Fandom I Happily Joined – The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Hunger Games – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Hunger Games (2012)

Director: Gary Ross
Writers: Gary Ross (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (screenplay), Billy Ray (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)
Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth

I have to confess before I start that I am a huge fan of the Hunger Games books and so I had quite high expectations of the film but I was also always going to love the film because I am a fan. Hunger Games has been the first film craze that I’ve actually jumped on the band wagon with. I missed the Harry Potter fan phase and didn’t even attempt to get into Twilight because vampires creep me out. Hunger Games though I started reading before I knew there was going to be a film and I fell completely in love with the books and the characters. It is my favourite style of book, dystopian young adult fiction with a strong female lead who is seriously flawed, it appeals to me in so many ways. I was pumped for this film and also really nervous because I wasn’t sure whether my expectations would be crushed.

There is always that nervousness when filmmakers take a book and make it into a film that it may be adapted too freely and won’t be true to the story but for a book that is narrated by the main character and a female that is so withdrawn into her own world, The Hunger Games really lives up to expectations. I was drawn in from the very beginning by Jennifer Lawrence’s portrayal of Katniss and the environment that they show for District 12. There is something beautifully tragic about the district that unravels as Prim is chosen for the games and Katniss volunteers. The eeriness of the crowd and their response to her volunteering, the abruptness of Effie’s selection of Peeta. My favourite thing about The Hunger Games, apart from Lawrence’s faithfulness to Katniss, was the soundscape and music. It surprised me how well the music fit with the scenes. The costuming, the landscapes, the evil career tributes and the beauty of Rue were other highlights for me. There was of course bits that were disappointing for a fan of the books, but there will always be with the adaptation of book to film. If you haven’t read the books then there are parts that aren’t as terrifying as they are in the books but the way they create the gamemakers headquarters is brilliant and I completely fell in love with Seneca Crane even though he was evil. The Hunger Games is one of those teen franchises but unlike Twilight, there are strong characters to be looked up to, deep subject matter to be considered and questions of morality and right versus wrong that need asking of our own society and culture.

The Hunger Games is a goo action adventure film all on its own and I would definitely recommend you see it. There are moments in the film which I wish were longer – the kiss in the cave was seriously underwhelming – and characters I wish we saw more of – Haymitch and Cinna – but it is the kind of film that I will watch over and over again and will find something new to appreciate each time. I just can’t wait to own it on DVD and watch all the extras like a good little fangirl.

Creep of the Creepy – Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Dark Shadows – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Dark Shadows (2012)

Director: Tim Burton
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay), John August (story) and Seth Grahame-Smith (story), Dan Curtis (television series)
Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer and Eva Green

I’m really not sure whether it’s because I can’t hate Johnny Depp and Tim Burton and I am always intrigued by the films they decide to make or whether it’s that I actually enjoyed this film but for the first time in my life I didn’t mind watching a film with a vampire as the lead character. I know that this wasn’t the best film ever made. There were so many issues with the script and the delivery of the story. It was cheesy and disappointing for a lot of the film as I wanted it to be more exciting and just simply better. The relationships between the characters felt incredibly forced and the only character I liked was the drunken Doctor (portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter) who only played a minor role and basically only turned up for one liners. There is one highlight of this film though and that is that I know the entire cast can play incredibly creepy extremely well now. If there was ever a film that was going to be high on the creep list it was this one, but they all take it to the extra level of creepy and in the light of the rest of the cast Johnny Depp seems reasonably sane in the film. The end of the film is surprising and it kind of made up for the rest of it but I can’t say that this is at the top of my favourite Depp/Burton films. I really wanted to love this film but it lacks what it really needed, some sanity within the creepy. I enjoyed it while I was watching it but it didn’t satisfy my expectations (as low as they were) for a good Depp/Burton film and it makes me sad that this is the case. If you like Burton and Depp you will probably enjoy this film but don’t expect it to enter your top ten of anything, not even worse films as it is simply mediocre.