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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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

Adapt and Make New – Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Much Ado – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

Director: Joss Whedon
Writers: Joss Whedon (screenplay) and William Shakespeare (play)
Stars: Amy Acker, Alexis Denisof, Fran Kranz, Clark Gregg, Jillian Morgese.

There is something about Shakespeare’s comedies that make for good adaptations. 10 Things I Hate About You, She’s The Man, O, The Lion King, etc, have all taken on new looks of Shakespeare’s plays. And then there is the cinematic versions of the plays such as Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1999), Othello (1995) etc. A good adaptation can be one that is true to the original text, or one that develops the ideas and narrative into a new setting. Joss Whedon has done both with his version of Much Ado About Nothing.

The film opens with a single piano note. A note that tells the audience that love is a thing that will cause both joy and sadness. It is with this simple note that the entire mood is set for the film. The film is shown in black and white, preparing the audience to see the blurred lines of grey in all the lies the characters tell one another, whether for good or for evil. And with the opening scene of Beatrice and Benedict as lovers you know you are in for an interesting take on Shakespeare’s tale of love, deception, rumours, and purity.

The best thing about this adaptation is Joss Whedon and the cast’s comedic timing. Much Ado is meant to be funny. It is a battle of wits between Benedict and Beatrice but here you see so much more of the comedy as played by all the characters. From little moments like Leonato (Clark Gregg) falling asleep/hung over in the kitchen and then being knocked awake and into speech, or Borachio (Spencer Treat Clark) standing creepily at the end of Don John’s bed. The comedy in this film is exceptional.

The way the film is shot is really interesting because of the different camera angles. The shots looking down from heights to where the characters are creates a voyeuristic feel. The audience is another member of the party and is privy to closed door conversations and monologues of characters. It feels very much like an amphitheatre at points, providing the film with visual cues back to the original play.

There are just some films that grab you from the first moment and don’t let you go until the credits roll. Much Ado held me through the laughter and the tears and made me want to revisit Shakespeare with a new passion. This film will make you laugh; it will make you question how you talk of others; it will make you question why you listen to rumours; and above all it will make you want to fall in love with innocence and joy.

5/5

Childhood revisited – Monsters University

Monsters University - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Monsters University – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Monsters University (2013)

Director: Dan Scanlon
Writers: Dan Scanlon (story and screenplay), Daniel Gerson (story and screenplay), Robert L. Baird (story and screenplay)
Stars: Billy Crystal, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Nathan Fillion, Helen Mirren.

Origin stories have become a real fad in cinema recently. It’s always fun to have a prequel to story you love, but there can be that niggling feeling at the back of your mind of the what ifs. What if they stuff it up? What if the characters aren’t as you remember them to be? What if it’s just a bad film?

Well Monsters University knocked all those what ifs from my mind the moment it started. The humour, the characters, the lightness was all there. Mike Wazowski (Billy Crystal) and James Sullivan (John Goodman) are back in this funny origins story. Monsters University is where all the great scarers are trained to go on to work at Monsters Inc. Disney is the champion of these types of stories. You know the ones, the little guy struggles against the big corporation to make them see that their prejudices are misplaced and then they all live happily ever after. Of course there is always much more to the story than just that, and Disney definitely know how to make it great. Monsters University doesn’t fail to live up to my high expectations. It is funny, heartwarming, and brings back all the delight of the first film.

Mike and Sully are headed to university. Both have dreams of being the best scarers the Monsters University has ever seen but they are both from very different worlds. Sully comes from a long line of scarers. Mike does not. Mike is a dreamer. He wants to be scary, but what is scary about a small green ball with a large eye? Mike and Sully are not friends. They are competitive, and polar opposites when it comes to scaring. But then they both get kicked out of the scaring major and must work together with a bunch of misfit monsters to win the Scare Games and the respect of their peers.

Monsters University is charming, funny, and has a great moral lesson woven into it. It’ll be one of my favourite animated films in the years to come. Almost everything about this film is great.

5/5

Just a good ol’ uplifting film – The Internship

The Internship - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Internship – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Internship (2013)

Director: Shawn Levy
Writers: Vince Vaughn (screenplay and story), Jared Stern (screenplay)
Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne

I’ve seen a lot of bad films in my time. I’ve seen a lot of good ones too. It’s always seemed to be a subjective matter of what is good and what is not. What one person finds funny may not be funny to someone else. And this is what I find interesting about a film like The Internship. I was in a great mood when I sat down in the cinema. I had been laughing with a friend beforehand and I didn’t have high expectations for the film. I was just there to have a bit of a laugh and to see Dylan O’Brien (Stiles from Teen Wolf) in a film. But The Internship surprised me. I mean, yes it is a big walking and talking advertisement for Google, and Google really doesn’t need advertising, it’s a verb. I’m not a huge fan of either Vince Vaughan or Owen Wilson, and together they have no appeal for me. But they do both have that charm of being funny american men. And as much as I would like to say that this film was as bad as I expected, it really was a delight.

The story unfolds as two older gents, Billy (Vince Vaughan) and Nick (Owen Wilson) in a crisis a lot of people are facing – no jobs, no savings, no prospects, and no skills in a technological age. It’s your usual triumph of the little guy over the bully kind of comedy. It is funny, light-hearted, and entertaining. The misfit interns that we get to know and love along the way are thrown together in a group that has to compete for the opportunity of getting a job at the end of the summer intern. They are a weird bunch but they charm their way into the audiences hearts through quirks and humour.

It always fascinates me how the way you view a movie can be determined by the attitude you enter the film with. I’m not sure that The Internship is a good film or whether I was just in the right mood. But I can definitely say that it wasn’t a bad film. It was a good laugh and a great time.

3.5/5

Director: Shawn LevyWriters: Vince Vaughn (screenplay), Jared Stern (screenplay), 1 more credit »Stars: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne | See full cast and crew

The wonder of opulence, the sadness of greed. – The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

The Great Gatsby (2013)

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann (screenplay) and Craig Pearce (screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (based of the novel by)
Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Tobey Maguire, Joel Edgerton, Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, and Jason Clarke.

Who is Gatsby? The question that haunts and taunts throughout the novel and throughout Luhrmann’s film. Firstly, I have to admit that I love Fitzgerald’s writing but hate the story of Gatsby. It took me a long time to pick it back up after reading the first chapter and I struggled to get through it because I despised the characters, even Nick Carraway. Their selfishness, opulence, disregard for life and love, and use and abuse of the people around them made me sick. But that is what Fitzgerald intended to some degree. He slowly reveals our darkest secrets and shows us our reflection in each of the characters features and flaws. I was anxious going into the film. With Baz Luhrmann’s reputation for over the top theatrics and in your face metaphors it was hard not to be really, especially after watching the trailer for the film. And yet, from the moment the lights dimmed in the cinema and that title sequence began I knew it would all be okay.

The Great Gatsby is a film that transports you back to the mid-20s whilst keeping your feet firmly planted in 2013. The atmosphere, the light, the music, the sounds, everything screams at you with a haunting whisper of our reality. Gatsby (DiCaprio) is the ever hopeful and Carraway (Maguire) is the witness to the demise of hope and innocence. DiCaprio is brilliant. He shines so brightly and broods so grotesquely that there is rarely a moment that you can not believe that he is Gatsby. He is the lost soul who is trying to grasp something he never had a chance of possessing. Carey Mulligan is teamed with DiCaprio like the second side of his coin as the foolish Daisy Buchanan. Her flittering eyes, constantly on the verge of tears, and vacant looks convey the truth of Daisy.

But the man who really steals the film is Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan, Daisy’s racist, bigoted, cheating husband. The slow brewing act of Tom is built throughout the film until the moment he takes Gatsby down in a small room of a hotel in New York. Edgerton’s performance is stunning. You are both repulsed by and drawn towards him like Daisy. You want to hate him but you know that in some small way that he is right about Gatsby, and you can’t fault him for that. Everything else, sure, he is a douchebag 100%, but he is right about Gatsby, and Joel Edgerton plays the balance remarkably.

The trailer to this film shows the opulence, the extravaganza, the pomp and ceremony of Gatsby, but what it fails to show is the great moments in between which make this film fantastic. It is the moments of slowness, the moments of Carraway’s reflections, the glimpses of Gatsby’s past, the brokenness of life in the world, and the calm before the storm that make this film great. Baz Luhrmann has managed to give life to Gatsby and Carraway’s friendship and to provide a film that shows both the wonder of opulence and the sadness of greed.

4/5

Into the darkness with beaming luminescence – Star Trek Into Darkness

Star Trek Into Darkness - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Star Trek Into Darkness – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Director: J.J. Abrams
Writers: Roberto Orci (written by) & Alex Kurtzman (written by) & Damon Lindelof (written by) and Gene Roddenberry (television series “Star Trek”)
Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Benedict Cumberbatch, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban.

I have been putting off writing this review. Simply because I have no idea even where to begin or what to focus on. I try to have a general direction with these reviews. Star Trek Into Darkness has made all the rationale words of a writer and reviewer disappear from my head. All I can think of to say is: “IT WAS AMAZING! YOU NEED TO SEE IT NOW!”.

But that would not be helpful. So here I go. Trying to describe this epic film in a few hundred words.

Visually this film is stunning. The graphics are simply breathtaking. From the very first moments of the film you know that the film is going to be a visual onslaught of beauty. The techniques Abrams adopted to shoot the first Star Trek film in 2009 are evident with lens flares galore. And sometimes you notice the visual cues that are cleverly adopted to salute to the old series, including a red shirt gag. Abrams has succeeded once again in using the screen, the set, the camera, and the lighting to tell a whole narrative alongside what is said and done on screen.

What is said and done though is just as great as the visuals. Benedict Cumberbatch has made it known that he is a formidable actor in a lot of different films and TV series, and as the tormented villain of this instalment his presence seals this film with a fifth star.

Narratively this film is quite similar to the first. Captain Kirk is faced with tough choices and with his comrade of Spock by his side they battle together with their differences clashing and complimenting each other. The emotional journey of these characters is always quite interesting as the ideas of what it means to be human are explored. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are fantastic lead actors but it is really the secondary actors of Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, and Karl Urban that make this film that little bit better than other action sci-fi films. The comic relief, the emotional support, the friendship and the conflict that these characters bring to the film makes it fun, fast-paced, and thoroughly entertaining.

I loved this film, as you can probably tell, and will see it many more times to come. It is one of those films that will make me giddy with excitement and make my heart race every time. Perfectly paced, this film doesn’t drag you along for the ride but welcomes you on to the bridge and gives you a seat just behind the captain’s chair.

5/5

Immersive and all consuming – Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Cloud Atlas – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Cloud Atlas (2013)

Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski »
Writers: David Mitchell (novel), Lana Wachowski (written for the screen by), Tom Tykwer (written for the screen by), and Andy Wachowski (written for the screen by)
Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant

The thing that makes this 3 hour extravaganza captivating and able to hold one’s imagination and attention for such a lengthy period of time is the perfect balancing of story peaks and troughs. Through each scene there is a sense of intrigue, mystery, and interconnectedness that helps you piece each story together. Not knowing how each will end but wanting to know how each life affects the others is part of the journey of this film.

I haven’t read the novel but I intend to. Mainly because I’m fascinated to see how the tension is built in written form because it works so perfectly in the film. The Wachowski’s and Tykwer have taken Mitchell’s story and transported it onto screen so that it stands alone as a fascinating visual journey. Through editing, careful scripting and the soundtrack scoring, the peaks are powerful and come at the perfect moments in each sequence. The audience isn’t treated as unintelligent and being pushed and prodded through the complexities of the story. This film seeks to challenge our thinking. It is the reason why I think people won’t like Cloud Atlas, but I hope my pessimism is proved wrong because the challenge is worth the work.

There have been few moments in my life when I have been so captivated by a story in film that my entire body reacts to what is happening on screen. I can watch a film and do twenty other things at the same time and be able to tell you what it was about. But this film, oh my, this film transported me. It immersed me so fully and completely in its world that my mind, body, and spirit was involved in this film to the extent that I was left at the end of the film with an emptiness I can hardly describe. I wanted to watch it again immediately. I wanted to explore the world more fully, I wanted to know the characters more completely, and I wanted to escape again into the world of Cloud Atlas.

I could talk about the actors, the great prosthetics, the fantastic special effects, the comedy of the old people, the language of the tribal people, but I would be here all day. Instead I would like to leave you with the desire to see this film because of the experience I had in it. I know that everyone’s experience with this film will be different. It’s like the first time you hear that song that transfixes you and you replay it over and over because you’ve fallen in love with it, but you’ll never reclaim that first imagining, that first experience. Cloud Atlas is an immersive and all consuming cinematic experience that you should experience for yourself. Be captivated.

4/5

Why the director makes all the difference – Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Zero Dark Thirty – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Zero Dark Thirty (2013)

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Writer: Mark Boal
Stars: Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Chris Pratt

It took over ten years for Osama Bin Laden to be found, captured, and killed. Zero Dark Thirty is a film about how long the journey to finding him was, and how the things the military did to get him were “necessary”.

Some may say that this film is pro-torture and anti-Islam and in some ways it is but it is so much more than a propaganda film. Kathryn Bigelow has a flare for creating intensely gripping and realistic films and Zero Dark Thirty is one of her best. The intensity of this film doesn’t come from the subject matter, although it is a gripping story. It comes from the way Bigelow has directed the film. It is the moments of stillness that make this film so fantastic. You view the characters from the outside, disconnected and watchful but when it comes to the highly intense scenes you are thrown into the action with deliberate closeness. It creates for an interesting experience as a viewer as you feel both disconnected and deeply involved at the same time. It is a fascinating and wonderful sensation as a viewer.

The other point of greatness in this film is Jessica Chastain’s performance. It is perfect. Chastain portrays a real woman. It isn’t a feminine or masculine spy type but a perfect balance of intelligence and humanity. It is a mellow and grounded performance that reveals so much about the reality of the resilience of intelligence workers in war. The harshness of their work and the reality of war is portrayed so realistically through this film that it gives this story a believability unlike other war films that have come before it.

This film is a narrative of how the world leader of terrorism was killed and how a woman’s determination to find him was so strong that she devoted her life and career to the cause. It tells the tale of how loss and moral ambiguity can cloud a person’s judgment and about how having a single focus and single mission in life can leave you with a sense of empty relief when it is all said and done.

4/5