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Totally unnecessary that should stay a TV series.

Posted : 2 weeks, 2 days ago on 7 July 2014 07:37 (A review of Mrs. Brown's Boys D'Movie)

Since series one aired in 2011, the television show of Mrs Brown’s Boys has been heavily panned by critics. This has been due to the general idea of a man dressing as a foul-mouthed elderly Irish lady and has been known as “the worst comedy ever made”. However despite the negative criticism, it has had an extraordinarily high viewership across the UK with millions per episode. So, it has been a success financially rather than critically and the idea of adapting the series into a film was rather mixed. Following in similar footsteps to The Inbetweeners Movie in 2011 after that franchise’s success, the film would gain a wider audience outside of its original broadcasting source but would also risk overkill and simply come across as a money-grubbing project. As a fan of the show, expectations of the film were mixed and that is exactly what it became. It still featured the same style of comedy from the series but felt too forced, lacked momentum in traditional situation comedy and the plot was weak. Therefore, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie was rather unnecessary in general but neither was it entirely as awful as expected.

Even as a situation-comedy, the television series of Mrs Brown’s Boys was never anything to take seriously. In fact, its financial success is fighting back against the critics. Production on the feature film was never going to be a spectacle but even at a 3.6 million budget, it did decently. The series was filmed and set entirely in a live-audience studio and the film perhaps added a little more freedom and in terms of tone and filming, it was a delight to watch. Furthermore the fact that it utilises drama and truthful moralities about family and friends adds a sense of sophistication in light of the immature, forced humour. Still, it is in the plot that was the Achilles heel, particularly the use of disability and racial stereotypes in which it becomes a parody of society. It is totally unrealistic and is simply a more forced and cornier episode that has been extended.

Some of the most notable comedies in Hollywood have featured men dressing as women, such as Some Like It Hot, Tootsie and Mrs Doubtfire. In its own way, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie parodies the idea whilst at the same time, attempts to be a serious within itself and the plot. A ridiculous story and a ridiculous character simply connect. As well as being the creator and screenwriter of the series, Brendan O’Carroll stars in the role of Agnes Brown who is practically a parody of everything she claims to be. As a mother of six, her bad-mouth attitude often gets her into trouble and often does irresponsible things for a parent and among everyone she is like a matriarch dictator when she doesn’t really need to be. O’Carroll performs well for such a ridiculous character but still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he, and the film in general, earns Razzie nominations next year. The majority of his ensemble cast are hardly well-known nor are some of them even professional actors. In fact, many are O’Carroll’s own family members which include his real-life sister, wife, son, daughter and grandson. They all bond well with O’Carroll and Mrs Brown on-screen but the problem is that because Mrs Brown is such a daft character, generally, the supporting characters aren’t given the time of day either. However, although Mrs Brown is pretty absurd, there is something enjoyable about her in the series but in the film, it wasn’t really the same. It must be the “so stupid its fun” feeling has drawn the show and potentially the film’s financial success.

Judging from Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie’s release in general, it is becoming clear that it is suffering from repetition with the same elements, particularly humour and characters, being displayed over and over again without moving forward. Depending on their own expectations, fans of the original series either will like it or they won’t but those who don’t will most likely despise the film. From this reviewer’s perspective, Mrs Brown’s Boys D’Movie was awful in terms of plot, characters and humour but was filmed with a touch of enlightenment. It should simply stick to being a television series because everything that was flawed about it seemed to be too disproportionate for even an independent film.

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It really is 'the Goodfellas of 2010s' but BETTER!

Posted : 2 weeks, 3 days ago on 7 July 2014 04:52 (A review of The Wolf of Wall Street)

To an extent, The Wolf Of Wall Street is like an experiment on part of director Martin Scorsese. Throughout his career, he has been known for some of the most notorious gangster and crime films in Hollywood and his past two projects Shutter Island and Hugo had been out of left field from his past auteurist techniques. The Wolf Of Wall Street marks the return of Scorsese and cast members embarking into a gangster-like underworld with prospects of criminals, money and drugs whilst simultaneously attempting to live a life outside of it. In that sense, The Wolf Of Wall Street is a bit like Goodfellas all over again but in a more contemporary visual style. It tells the true story of Jordan Belfort, a stock broker who rises through corruption, money, drugs and sex which consequently leads to his fall. Just by that short synopsis, it is certainly a story that Scorsese would be able to pull off seeing as it’s identical to Goodfellas. The Wolf Of Wall Street is another superb Scorsese triumph and proves that he can still at over 70 years old re-create his trademark style of the crime genre.

In terms of The Wolf Of Wall Street’s contents, it is filled with interesting concepts of filming techniques whilst also illustrating moments of shock and dark humour. In some ways, Scorsese has made this like a documentary with DiCaprio as Jordan being both a talking-head and utilising voice-over narration telling his story. These strategies worked because it is told from the perspective of specific individuals and Jordan is the central figure to the story. Furthermore, we have witnessed a range of films featuring shocking sex scenes and excessive use of strong language but not in a long time has there been one featuring more than in The Wolf Of Wall Street. This brings us to what the film provides on an emotional level as there are moments of pure hilarity. Black comedies featuring crime only intends to be funny with a certain sense of humour and jokes aren’t directly told in the plot like in traditional comedies. To an extent, this coincides with humour from films by the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarantino.

The Wolf Of Wall Street sees Leonardo DiCaprio collaborate with Martin Scorsese for the fifth time. Their previous works together have seen a wider ensemble cast with highly developed supporting characters becoming almost like shared leading roles with DiCaprio, but The Wolf Of Wall Street is his film alone. He absolutely shines as Jordan Belfort with a performance that could possibly be his most complete to date. In this role, he presents pure charisma that sealed his place as a Hollywood star back in the mid-1990s. This is particularly due to Jordan’s charms and intelligence among peers and to the audience. On the other hand, his age catches up with the character he is playing as he becomes the leading, independent businessman and crook whilst we progressively follow Jordan down his destructive path from rise to fall, similar to Henry Hill in Goodfellas.

Furthermore, Jonah Hill has been an actor who, judging from his previous Oscar-nominated performance in Moneyball, does have a talent outside of the traditional overweight, geeky and rather idiotic stereotype that he’s usually been portraying. Whilst that character type is featured in The Wolf Of Wall Street, Hill’s performance as Donnie Azoff matches with the film’s dark humour and deserved to get his second Oscar nomination. Newcomer Margot Robbie also made her presence known in Scorsese’s latest in the role of Naomi Lapaglia/Belfort as her performance is nothing short of sexy yet emotional. It wasn’t the career breakthrough as we have seen in the past but we could see that of her in future performance, and her role in The Wolf Of Wall Street has shown she is capable.

Running at 180 minutes, The Wolf Of Wall Street may seem like a very slowly paced and stretchy film which it is slightly within the film's final 15-20 minutes but from the beginning, you are hooked and through narrative time, will be drawn in Jordan’s path of money, drugs and sex to his downfall. It is probably Scorsese’s longest film but has certainly cited itself as a reminder that the legendary director hasn’t gone weary over time with his trademark genre. The Wolf Of Wall Street may shock viewers with his explicit use of sexual activity, innuendos, drug use and language but it goes beyond the extreme by making it funny to which Scorsese impressively pulled off. Scorsese is still a sublime director and whatever feature he brings next will be another with exciting and high expectations.

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Now the best film in the series.

Posted : 3 weeks ago on 2 July 2014 11:09 (A review of X-Men: Days of Future Past)

Following The Avengers in 2012, Marvel Comics are currently going through a phase of expanding their universe within their cinematic adaptations by introducing further characters than the typical individual hero and villain. The X-Men series alone have their variety of characters which has usually featured an ensemble cast and began back in 2000 with its first instalment. In 2011, we saw the impressive prequel X-Men: First Class that filled in a few untold gaps of the supposed original trilogy, particularly the broken friendship between Eric and Charles. Now, in 2014 we have Days Of Future Past, possibly the most unique X-Men adaptation so far due to its narrative complexity. Serving as a sequel to both The Last Stand and First Class, Days Of Future Past bridges between two eras of the series with the result being arguably the greatest in the franchise.

The most extraordinary aspect of X-Men: Days Of Future Past was its narrative structure. When you think of science-fiction and time travel, you immediately think of Back To The Future, but Days Of Future Past implements a story that totally alters how we have perceived the first ‘original’ trilogy. In fact, only the X-Men series in comic book adaptations could have pulled off a film set in different narrative times because it is a wide universe on its own, and its variety of heroes and villains each coincide with different background stories that make them connect. This is particularly due to Logan being the same age or perhaps older than Xavier and Lehnsherr. Furthermore, how the different time settings were structured within its mise-en-scéne was impressive. Like in X-Men: First Class, the earlier decades of the 20th century depicted in Days Of Future Past felt like it was set during those stages. It didn’t feel as colourful or tonally rich compared to the previous three films which has excelled impressively from a historical viewpoint. However, the only issue with the narrative style was the futuristic and dystopian future with older Xavier and Lehnsherr with the other X-Men. It appeared too unrealistic for Earth and felt somewhat distorted within the narrative by raising question as to which point was this set inbetween predecessors. Was it inbetween X2 and X-Men: The Last Stand or, considering it’s a sequel, after the latter? Despite this, the narrative style and visual effects were impressive and particularly the editing between past and present time was convincing and done creatively.

The X-Men series have always been successful on part of their ensemble cast members. Hugh Jackman who has been part of the series since day one reprises his role as Logan/Wolverine for a fifth time and shines once again. You would think that after five performances that there would be a slight break in character but Jackman constantly succeeds. He may now be fourteen years older compared to his first performance and both his masculinity, both physically and in personality, as an actor contributes a lot to his role of Logan and continues to deliver some of the best performances in comic book adaptations. Jackman as Logan has been the centre of the X-Men series and though he had a humourous cameo in First Class, he now has more screen time in Days Of Future Past with James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. Although we see younger versions of both Xavier and Lehnsherr and that Logan has appeared alongside Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, McAvoy and Fassbender manage to hold the same chemistry. McAvoy’s performance in particular was superior as it focused a lot on his powers, primarily reflecting them as a danger of what’s inside his own mind as opposed to a gift of reading other people’s minds as previously depicted. Fassbender is equally as masculine in the role of Eric Lehnsherr/Magneto as Sir Ian McKellen who also makes a solid re-appearance.

Although Logan is the centre of the past and present tense in Days Of Future Past, there is no main protagonist in this film. It carries a lot of background detail and important plot points of supporting characters who progressively become leading, particularly Mystique/Raven. Now practically a young superstar in Hollywood, Jennifer Lawrence delivers another superb performance as Mystique who goes beyond Rebecca Romijn’s previous portrayal of the character. She’s good in action sequences, genuinely heartfelt and sexy which is Mystique/Raven in a nutshell. In fact, Days Of Future Past could secretly be Lawrence’s film when every film that she’s in, even supporting roles, seems to be these days. Furthermore, we see Nicholas Hoult return as Beast/Hank McCoy who is portrayed identically to the Hulk in The Avengers. It examined a lot about McCoy and how the Beast affects him both physically and emotionally. It is difficult to compare Hoult’s role to Kelsey Grammar’s in The Last Stand as the latter came into the series quite late and wasn’t developed enough like Hoult’s, but together, they’ve been convincing as the Beast and perhaps challenge the current portrayal of fellow Marvel man-monster - the Hulk. Finally, we see solid cameo returning performances from Ellen Page, Halle Berry, Anna Paquin and Shawn Ashmore.

With comic book adaptations these days either becoming bloated with too many characters and subplots or corny, X-Men: Days Of Future Past luckily avoids both and becomes a film that has totally altered how we perceive the series. It bridges between the series’ two eras and excellently makes reference to past instalments with characters whilst simultaneously creating something different with the complex plot. With the exception of a strange dystopian future, the plot becomes mind-blowing, the action is intense, visual effects are stunning and the performances are sublime. Therefore, X-Men: Days Of Future Past has now become the greatest film in the X-Men franchise and among the best Marvel adaptations of all time.

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Better than predecessor but still not great.

Posted : 1 month, 3 weeks ago on 31 May 2014 08:26 (A review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2)

The two reboots in the Spider-Man franchise have been released too quickly, after less than a decade since the first theatrical trilogy. The 2012 film took a new turn for Spidey as we witnessed a darker tone yet felt somewhat empty in terms of execution. Two years later, Sony and Marvel released its sequel and although it is better regarding characters and visual experience, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 still falls flat through plot contents and irrelevant references to future films. So, it does not necessarily stand out as an individual feature, let alone a sequel, and still doesn’t quite become the convincing return for Spider-Man and co which we are still waiting for.

Marc Webb returns to direct The Amazing Spider-Man 2 after the predecessor and he practically recycles contents from the first film. On a visual and technical level, Webb edges closer to the original comics’ tone than Raimi’s trilogy did. The film was impressive in that sense but the concepts of plot and characters still feel flat, even Peter Parker/Spider-Man. The first reboot in 2012 was practically a remake of Raimi’s first instalment in 2002, with the involvement and motives of both Gwen and Connors/Lizard being identical to Norman and Mary Jane, and while we are introduced to Electro and Rhino, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is identical to the second Raimi film. The two reboots have perhaps been made too soon and unfortunately due to this, it is utilising pieces from Raimi’s trilogy and lacking originality to the comics. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 also strangely aims to provide hints for future Marvel projects. In fact, a lot of the footage, particularly on Rhino’s part and specific images, felt like a trailer for a third installment. Webb’s Spider-Man series is still not impressive but at the same time, could have been worse.

As two different franchises from opposing directors, we have seen two different types of Peter Parker. While Tobey Maguire had a nerdier approach to the character like in the original comics, Andrew Garfield attempts to add more raw emotion. However, the problem with Garfield as Parker is this - he still doesn’t show the audience what type of guy he is. Is he a geek, a skater, a heart throb or a combination of all three? This may add more complexity on Garfield’s part in the role and does enhance more emotion than Maguire did. Furthermore, when an actor plays a superhero or supervillain, they either stand out as that alias or as their human alter-ego. Garfield has more the youthful physicality for Spider-Man whereas Maguire had more for Peter Parker. Therefore, Garfield is perhaps a stronger Spider-Man. One problem with Garfield as Spider-Man, however, is the needless implementation of humour during action sequences. It works with Iron Man as Tony Stark is a smug character with a dark sense of humour but Garfield is too serious in the role of Peter Parker to throw in humour as Spider-Man.

Meanwhile, Emma Stone delivers another fine performance as Gwen Stacy. She delivers the intelligence and innocence of Gwen at a more superior level than Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3 and other than Peter, she is the heart of the film with heartfelt chemistry with him. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 had multiple rumours during production regarding the amount of villains. The central antagonist of the film was Jamie Foxx in the role of Max Dillon/Electro. Having closer resemblance to the Ultimate version of Electro, Foxx was impressive in the role; however, Max’s motives to become evil in the form of Electro were rather weak. Dane DeHaan becomes the new Harry Osborn in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 with a fine performance. Although DeHaan’s role is perhaps influenced from his breakthrough performance in Chronicle and that it is difficult to touch or come close to James Franco’s version of the character, DeHaan is on par with convincing psychological issues, particularly following the transformation into Green Goblin. Sally Field makes an appearance as Aunt May Parker with a genuinely heartfelt performance and Paul Giamatti provides hints for forthcoming instalments with a decent cameo as Aleksei Sytesvich/Rhino.

Although The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is more superior than its predecessor, its weak spots still has not make it an entirely promising rebooted series. Marvel seem to be trying too hard by bloating in too many subplots and too many characters. This sequel did not quite suffer in that respect like Spider-Man 3 but even so with its closer resemblance to the original comics, it could finally reach its full potential with The Amazing Spider-Man 3 and hinted Sinister Six feature.

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Another visionary triumph from Aronofsky.

Posted : 2 months, 1 week ago on 13 May 2014 09:20 (A review of Noah)

Before seeing Noah on the big screen, initial expectations were a mixed bag. Aronofsky’s auteurist style through glowing visual spectacle and his own psychological visions of life would make Noah stand out. However, because we had yet to see a spectacular Biblical adaptation of Noah’s Ark and that Aronofsky made minor adjustments to develop his own interpretation, the faithfulness to the original tale had been uncertain. This is primarily due to Hollywood centralising spectacle vision these days above plot concepts and character development. Still, it is an Aronofsky film and the majority of his work had become successful. Noah took a different turn from any other Noah adaptation, if not any Biblical film, than we have seen in a long time as it focuses more about the consequences of evil among humanity, which we can understand in real life, and expresses an important message - the world that was created isn’t a bad place, it’s the people in it.

Aronofsky has always been a creative auteur in bridging a characters’ vision of their fantasies through imagination and reality, whether psychologically in Black Swan and Requiem For A Dream or visually in The Fountain. The Genesis tale of Noah and his Ark is vital to Aronofsky’s auteurist style as the story illustrates on a visual scale, the history of mankind and formation of the Earth, whilst also focusing on the consequences of mankind and psychological viewpoint of Noah. Details leading to the events are told in a prologue in a unique animation, similar to Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part I. The fact it was done in this style allows viewers to imagine those occurrences, such as Adam and Eve as well as Cain and Abel, for themselves. The animation also recreates history, at least according to the Bible, and makes it appear more supernatural, representing a significance of Heaven and Hell. Aronofsky also applied a superb stop-motion sequence depicting the history of the universe and evolution of life which could possible serve as historical theories regarding Earth’s formation. He also uses multiple landscape shots of Earth to signify it as pre-historical and examine the naturalistic beauty of the world, though damaged by mankind. Nevertheless, Aronofsky has always been an artistic director and his work on Noah would perhaps be his most innovative, visually, and deserves critical acclaim for yet another triumph.

Once again, we are witnessing Russell Crowe in another historical drama playing a leading figure. From Maximus and Robin Hood and now to Noah, Crowe delivers a performance that is extraordinary that bridges heroism and psychoanalysis. Very much like how Aronofsky had co-written the script, Crowe expressed Noah as a far more analytical character than he had been before and reveals the previously overlooked concepts of human conscience. Crowe is evidently a superior leading, powerful star in historical films that emphasise on human drama and thankfully, his performance as Noah could be about as faithful to the Bible. Jennifer Connelly portrays his wife Naameh, who may be an underdeveloped character but is simply represented as the mother of the family. Emma Watson’s career just got even better with another mature performance as Ila who, to a certain extent, becomes as important to the film as Noah himself as the film progresses. With more analysis, it could be possible that it’s secretly Watson’s film more than Crowe’s. Meanwhile, Ray Winstone has been overshadowed throughout his films these days but his role as Tubal-cain is possibly one of his biggest roles to date. It may not have been entirely relevant, but similar to half of his name, he reflected the evil of mankind at the time which became essential for the flood. Logan Lerman, who ironically starred with Watson in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, makes a surprisingly good appearance in the film as Noah’s second son Ham and Anthony Hopkins, who seems to play the oldest character in high-budget productions these days, added further sophistication into the film as Noah’s grandfather Methuselah.

Aronofsky takes an interesting turn with Noah as he focuses less on satisfying religious folk with Biblical contents with its main emphasis being on human drama, psychoanalysis of the human mind and the consequences of evil. Aronofsky utilises his own unique visionary style as an auteur and applies human drama to this Genesis tale better than any other previous adaptation. Thus, Noah is a beautifully filmed, well-performed and uniquely written success which deserves its place among Aronofsky’s best films to date and that he could be a strong candidate to adapt another Biblical tale in the future.

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Disney's greatest animation since Tarzan.

Posted : 5 months, 2 weeks ago on 3 February 2014 07:35 (A review of Frozen)

When looking back at the fifty-two previous feature films from Walt Disney Animations, the vast majority would perhaps refer their favourites to be during the Renaissance era in the 1990s and those made during the early days of Disney. Their latest, and fifty-third, animation Frozen continues perhaps the second Disney Renaissance and implements the true, enchanting magic of Disney that we have not seen for a long time. Based on a Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, whose other work has been adapted by Disney before - The Little Mermaid, Frozen possesses the identical traits to the greatest eras of Disney animations. In fact, excluding Pixar, it has become easily the greatest animated Disney feature that has practically everything we would expect of it: heartwarming characters, beautiful story, breath-taking visual effects, energetic songs and most importantly - heart that leaves an important, moral message.

The main aims of Disney animated films over the years have been to not only showing magic, but emotionally experience it. Frozen implements the fantastical, fairy tale-like enchantment that we have not seen from Disney in a long time. To a certain extent, the film not only revives traditional Disney magic but pays homage to it. For example, the castle of Arendelle resembles the actual Disney castle in Florida. The enchantment centres from there and its surroundings enhance it. In addition, Frozen may be for a different generation, it possessed the same type of energetic songs that have been so successful for Disney over the years, especially “Let It Go” which is perhaps the greatest song in Disney animation since “You’ll Be In My Heart” in Tarzan. Similarly, Frozen was filmed in 3D animation, opposite to the majority of past Disney animations. The effects enhanced the magic with its sublime detail of particularly snow, ice and water. On a technical level, if there’s anything that Frozen has taught us, it’s that Disney magic still lives with perhaps the opposing style of animation - 3D.

Other aspects of Frozen which has made it a superb Disney classic is the heartwarming characters, who each resemble characteristics to those from the past. Anna is a traditional Disney Princess, particularly like Belle with her energetic passion and loyalty to her family as well as Ariel, with her instant romantic connection to Hans. Anna’s older sister Elsa, the Snow Queen, takes a slightly little adjustment to supporting characters within Disney narratives. Her unique ability of creating ice and snow with her hands was the audience’s first impression of what the film was going to be about and yet, it is that which brings the two sisters together. Possessing power is normally a Disney antagonist’s passion but in Frozen it shifts away from that and becomes something different by going more personal. Furthermore, Olaf the Snowman is a humorous and delightfully original supporting character. It became an interesting concept of a snowman’s desire to live in the summer, and the creativity of that side of the plot worked. Olaf resembles those characters, particularly in the Disney Renaissance era who became side-kick material to the protagonist, such as Genie in Aladdin, Timon & Pumbaa in The Lion King, Mushu in Mulan, Phil in Hercules. In that sense, Olaf provides a new meaning to certain Disney supporting characters with his personal ambitions yet pays homage to them.

Although we have seen delightful Disney animations in recent years, none of them compare to the true Disney magic that Frozen possessed. All of the greatest classics have left the audience with important messages and Frozen certainly does that - love is the ultimate healer and the best way to defeat hate is to love. In that sense, it is a heart-melting treasure for both adults and children. Nevertheless, Frozen is the type of film that even Pixar need at this moment and it could be the first Disney animation (excluding Pixar) to win the Academy Award for Best Animated Picture.

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A gut-wretching & inspiring historical drama.

Posted : 6 months ago on 21 January 2014 10:35 (A review of 12 Years a Slave)

Having the ability to cinematically re-tell a chapter of history has expanded rapidly in this generation. The majority of bio-pics and historical-dramas feature a story with oppressive contents; however, there are the odd few true stories which depict a touch of hope within humanity. 12 Years A Slave tells a story of pre-Civil War America that represents the brutality of slavery whilst within it, introduces Solomon Northup’s extraordinary and touching tale during enslavement. Following in similar footsteps to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List and Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, 12 Years A Slave certainly does provide enough visual persuasion of 1800s American slavery whilst also becoming a fantastic bio-pic filled with sublime performances from its ensemble cast and breath-taking mise-en-scéne.

Although slavery in America occurred in the 19th century, for Hollywood to illustrate and promote an oppressive piece of their history may have been difficult. Still, the aim was to interpret American slavery as it was at the time. Last year we saw Django Unchained, a slight historical twist of slavery in the US but 12 Years A Slave more realistically portrays a brutal reflection, especially the attention to detail in moments of violence and abuse. Furthermore, slavery in 12 Years A Slave is centred primarily on Northup’s personal experience in which the whole concept becomes both disturbing and inspiring. Similar to the representation of the Holocaust in Schindler’s List and Nazi-invaded Poland in The Pianist, Northup’s 12-year odyssey of enslavement exposed inner faith, which is the key to a bio-pic told within a hostile environment.

Prior to directing 12 Years A Slave, Steve McQueen had only made two features - Shame and Hunger, both of which are low-budget, British independent films. In their own ways, both have been sadistic projects from the perspective of its protagonist. In that sense, 12 Years A Slave and its contents became prominent to McQueen’s directorial style and subject choice. 12 Years A Slave became less independent than McQueen’s previous works and had consequently become a high-standard film, with a higher budget and more Hollywood-y touch to it. At the same time, it still maintained the perspective of Northup within the dark and raw surroundings. Similarly, while the subject is oppressive, the actual production of 12 Years A Slave was beautiful, particularly Sean Bobbit’s cinematography who occasionally highlights the natural landscapes; therefore, enhancing the realistic touch of 1800s America.

Throughout his career up until now, Chiwetel Ejiofor has been ‘that actor’ who made regular supporting appearances behind central stars. However, Ejiofor leads the pack in this historical-drama with a superb breakthrough performance. Similar to Adrien Brody’s performance in The Pianist, Ejiofor reflects Northup’s clear family-minded, sensitive nature whilst exhibiting the horrors of slavery. We observe many African-Americans in 12 Years A Slave but Northup becomes the black male slave as his journey of torture, pain and sorrow illustrates a clear understanding to viewers from just one man’s viewpoint. Nevertheless, Ejiofor has finally had his breakthrough role and deserves to be an Oscar contender. Meanwhile, Lupita Nyong’o makes her acting debut in an outstanding performance as female slave Petsey. Like Ejiofor, Nyong’o’s performance is a representation of gender within American slavery and her role impressively interpreted the vulnerability and innocence of women during enslavement as well as the pain, cries and pure fright.

Michael Fassbender returns for the third consecutive time with Steve McQueen. Following his previous critically acclaimed performance in Shame, Fassbender shines once again as the sadistic plantation owner Edwin Epps. Fassbender has portrayed cold, bitter characters in the past and this became advantageous to his role in 12 Years A Slave. He superbly reflected the cold-hearted, sinister mannerism of Epps; therefore, honestly depicting the cruelty of Caucasian plantation owners towards their slaves. In addition, Benedict Cumberbatch makes a decent appearance as William Ford, another plantation owner but more benevolent than Epps. Paul Dano also gets some screen time as Ford’s abusive and incredibly racist carpenter. Being arguably the most racist character in the entire film, Paul Dano brilliantly enhanced further realism among their treatment of black people during that period. As a result, it has become his greatest performance since There Will Be Blood or even Little Miss Sunshine.

Whether based on real-life events or an original screenplay, the cinematic representation of slavery is bound to raise curiosity and occasional controversy, especially when there’s slavery involved. 12 Years A Slave marvellously depicts to viewers how America was in the South during that period, which was enhanced further by McQueen’s superb directing, excellent performances from particularly Ejiofor, Fassbender and Nyong’o. McQueen’s latest is as energetic, drama-wise, and is not far among Schindler’s List and The Pianist in terms of expressing human drama through historical facts. Nevertheless, 12 Years A Slave may be a stomach-turning film but there is no doubt it is one of the most powerful bio-pics of this generation and will be a strong contender for Best Picture.

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A better paced and much more exciting prequel.

Posted : 7 months, 1 week ago on 16 December 2013 02:41 (A review of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug)

After waiting for almost a decade, The Hobbit prequels to Lord Of The Rings began with the impressive yet somewhat poorly-paced and stretched predecessor An Unexpected Journey last year. Some could argue that it became a disappointment to Tolkien fans for stretching approximately one hundred pages of writing into an almost three-hour film. However, the second installment The Desolation Of Smaug is a much stronger, exciting and thrilling adventure. This sequel is in a dangerous position because its execution could go either way - whether it’ll provide central concepts to the plot that’ll lead to the finale or that it’ll be an inaccurate, weaker follow-up. Although Jackson implemented certain features in The Desolation Of Smaug that were not in Tolkien’s book, it is an impressive sequel that somewhat redeems An Unexpected Journey and ends with a superb cliffhanger leaving the audience to eagerly await for There And Back Again next Christmas.

The main issue with this entire Hobbit trilogy is how Jackson is stretching the contents of a single 361-page book into three lengthy films. An Unexpected Journey’s pacing was rather weak and filled approximately half of the novel into almost three hours. However, The Desolation Of Smaug gets straight to the point by filling in multiple plot concepts in the middle of the book whilst still providing enough narrative space and time for viewers to enjoy. While the main plot is of Bilbo, Thorin and companies’ continuous quest to the Lonely Mountain, the sequel has many subplots - Gandalf’s search of Necromancer and the love triangle between Legolas, Tauriel and Kili. The latter may have been a ridiculous shoe-in for Jackson to initiate longer running time but it somehow does not ruin the film. Besides, Tolkien told multiple sub-plots in Lord Of The Rings, much like Jackson did in the films. In fact, Jackson is almost spot on with pacing this time. Also, the plot is full of multiple locations and new characters who weren’t in An Unexpected Journey (yes, even Smaug). Still, although we witnessed a weak opening sequence with no meaning of what happens in The Desolation Of Smaug (it becomes more of a reminder), Jackson has really picked up the pace.

Of course, Tolkien fans have been expecting The Hobbit film adaptations to appear as epic and realistic, visually, compared to Lord Of The Rings. However, the difference is that not only is there a ten-year gap between the trilogies but Lord Of The Rings is a trilogy primarily for a teenager and adult audience whereas The Hobbit has been described as a gem of children’s literature. So, quite frankly, the visuals are going to be different. At the same time, audiences would expect them to be identical seeing as The Desolation Of Smaug is part of a prequel trilogy and for it to feel connected to Lord Of The Rings. This sequel is not only darker, narrative wise, than its predecessor but it is visually darker and provides a more serious tone to the trilogy. Similarly, the 3D format is actually worth the money in this sequel, particularly the barrel sequence and of course, to finally see the dragon in the flesh.

Martin Freeman proved himself to be a fantastic choice for the role of Bilbo Baggins in An Unexpected Journey and once again, he maintains that in The Desolation Of Smaug. Bilbo’s true character was exposed in this second prequel as he faced a great deal of danger which required bravery and courage. Freeman’s subtle execution of Bilbo became success as we saw him become more vulnerable at the same time slowly begins to be under the manipulation of the Ring. Ian McKellen delivers a great performance once again as Gandalf the Grey. While he was undoubtedly the best actor in Lord Of The Rings, his performance has not changed and it was great to see him back. Richard Armitage still does not entirely impress as Thorin Oakenshield. Yes, he possessed that bitter, cold attitude but his desperation to reclaim Erebor and signs of courage were lacking in this sequel. Hopefully, he can improvise one final time in There And Back Again.

Undoubtedly the highlighted character in The Desolation Of Smaug is Smaug himself, beautifully voiced and performed via motion-capture by Benedict Cumberbatch. In Tolkien’s novel and prior to fully witnessing Smaug, he has been known as a terrible, powerful dragon and Jackson’s interpretation of the character was jaw-dropping. Dragons have always been portrayed as dominant species of special magnificence and Smaug ultimately fulfills that. Still, Cumberbatch’s role was absolutely fantastic and perhaps runs up towards the brilliance of Andy Serkis as Gollum. Perhaps Cumberbatch’s key quality as Smaug was his booming voice which served as a personal quality and was beautifully applied with the dragon’s visual image. Therefore in the cinema world, Smaug has ultimately become the beast of all beasts and Tolkien would be proud. Cumberbatch’s portrayal of The Necromancer is also worth noting too as he provided a sinister performance through voice which leads to the return of a certain villain in Lord Of The Rings.

On a similar note, the return of certain Lord Of The Rings characters who are not in the original Hobbit novel has been another big issue for fans. For example, Orlando Bloom reprises his role as Legolas. While he was great in Lord Of The Rings his involvement was not necessarily required. His physical appearance looked rather strange, particularly eye contact lenses. It looked too comical and did not entirely look like the Legolas who we saw in Lord Of The Rings. However, that does not necessarily mean that his general appearance was not terrible. No, Legolas was not mentioned in the original book, but Bilbo and the Dwarves’ encounter with the Elves in Mirkwood would be another way for Jackson to provide slightly original ideas whilst still flowing along with Tolkien’s original story.

Although The Desolation Of Smaug had a few minor issues with sub-plot and implementation of characters, it is a vast improvement on An Unexpected Journey. The second prequel has provided more adventure, Tolkien’s literature trademark, and more action that has enhanced a more refreshing return to Middle-Earth. This Hobbit series perhaps was not going to be the exact same Middle-Earth that Jackson entered into with Lord Of The Rings trilogy but this second prequel really is not far. Nevertheless, The Desolation Of Smaug is an entertaining and intense film that has left us to enhance our excitement for the long-awaited finale in this trilogy.

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A jaw-dropping & breathtaking space-drama.

Posted : 8 months, 2 weeks ago on 10 November 2013 05:07 (A review of Gravity)

In this day and age, it is not often we experience cinema as a spectacle event. Films of this type usually provide the combination of powerful human drama with a new supply of technological features, particularly in 3D. In that sense, they have often stood out against typical Hollywood films and have something new to offer. Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is another addition to that list among spectacle films, such as Avatar, Hugo and Life Of Pi, as its visual representation becomes an equally substantial achievement to the plot and characters. Alfonso Cuarón returns to filmmaking for the first time since Children Of Men in 2006 and provides us with a truly intense, eye-gauging and stunning space-drama.

Those who are familiar with Cuarón’s work will identify that two of his auteurist styles of filmmaking are his excessive use of long takes and tracking shots. In the past, these techniques have allowed the audience to literally become the camera and vice versa that leaves us to follow the characters and examine the narrative flow. In Gravity, we witness unbelievable direction from Cuarón through multiple long takes, such as the film’s first thirteen minutes. These long takes suggest Cuarón’s talent as a director of immaculate quality, ability to direct the actors in ways which maintain the audience’s attention. Cuarón’s central focus in Gravity is the naturalistic portrayal of outer space and his direction is portrayed similar to a discovery channel, which becomes an observation exercise for viewers. Through sound effects, we often hear only the sound of breathing and throughout most of the film; there is a limited supply of music. This additionally stands away from other Hollywood films as it becomes a spectacle film filled with nature. Cuarón’s sci-fi hit adds a sense of realism and truth.

In many ways, Gravity is a typical survival film that we have seen time and time again. The film itself is basically two astronauts stranded in outer space after a mission goes wrong and try to get back to Earth. That is the story and due to this, the plot is thin and occasionally lacked depth. We did get a few incidents in which protagonist Ryan Stone talks about her daughter but the aim of Gravity is to experience hers and Matt Kowalsky’s situation and pray that they find solutions to return home. So, in a sense, the plot is exactly the same as the story. The audience still experience space as it is but Gravity still had the potential to go beyond those borders and provide us with further ambiguous structure. The 3D experience arguably has not been more exhilarating and breath-taking since Avatar in 2009. It goes to show that it only works if a film is purely made for it and has been done properly and patiently. 3D almost literally dragged us into outer space but the beauty of Gravity is that it would still be a marvelous experience without it.

While we witness a truthful depiction of outer space and its natural beauty, it is entirely depicted through the dangerous and intense journey of Dr Ryan Stone and Lieutenant Matt Kowalsky. Sandra Bullock took on the role of Stone with a superb performance. Bullock has often been criticized for her acting and while she has been a bland actress throughout her career, her role in Gravity is arguably her greatest yet. We experience everything with her and whilst in her situation, she envies pure human spirit and a firm connection with the audience.

Some have argued that Stone and Kowalsky, portrayed by George Clooney, were underdeveloped as characters. However, they are not like your traditional Hollywood characters with acknowledged backgrounds and motives. It is their independence that allows them to drive themselves out of the circumstances. In fact, the development of particularly Ryan Stone is told through her struggles to return to Earth. It becomes a revelation for the audience as the courage and bravery is who she really is. On the other hand, Matt Kowalsky was almost irrelevant to the film as he was seriously underdeveloped, even as a supporting character. George Clooney was basically playing George Clooney. In a sense, it worked because he was symbolizing the average man in space and Bullock the average woman, but of what we see of Clooney, his appearance was rather bland and had nothing compared to Bullock’s performance.

Typically, Gravity has been compared to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey through similar visual representations of space. Cuarón’s sci-fi hit certainly does achieve a spectacular, naturalistic experience of space along with 3D but it could and should have been a true landmark if it perhaps enhanced a deeper plot. Despite this, Gravity is still an unforgettable experience that makes its mark among Avatar, Hugo and Life Of Pi as a film of pure visual magnificence. Be prepared for an jaw-dropping 90-minute ride in space.

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Paul Greengrass' best film since United 93.

Posted : 8 months, 3 weeks ago on 3 November 2013 11:38 (A review of Captain Phillips)

In recent years, we have witnessed the release of multiple biography-dramas. While they are re-telling certain events in the magical world of cinema, there are not many out there which clench the emotional drama or intensity during its time setting, especially if it is from the perspective of an individual character. Paul Greengrass already blew our minds with his unbelievably realistic, stomach-turning 9/11 drama-thriller United 93, and seven years later, he has achieved that once more with Captain Phillips, which revisits Captain Richard Phillips’ experience of the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. Greengrass has been known for his auteurist style for depicting real-life dramatized events with his unique camera style and approach to Captain Phillips ultimately paid off. Here we have another masterpiece from Greengrass that will leave you off the edge of your seat and is a strong Best Picture contender.

Paul Greengrass has always been a director of documentary-like technicality. His most notable attribute as an auteur has been his effective use of shaky camera. This is sometimes a huge gamble as its continuously wobbly movement could confuse the audience as to what is happening in a scene. Greengrass is the master of this technique because it is perhaps as close as a film can get to grasp a sense of reality, in a similar style to documentary. With all of the thrills, action and suspense that Captain Phillips possesses, the implication of Greengrass’ wobbly filming style worked beautifully. If anything, it got the audience even more involved as a realistic drama but it still worked tremendously as an escapist film.

Another substantial quality in Captain Phillips is the nail-biting suspense. Admittedly, the film begins like it is an ordinary day but the appearance of the Somali pirates and the hijacking picks up the pace. From this point, the suspense gets higher, the surroundings get more claustrophobic and the audience’s uncomfortable predicament gets tighter. Greengrass progressively tightens and zooms on the suspense through his technical style and narrative flow which we, the spectators, are almost reaching out of our seats and begin to find it more difficult to endure. Nevertheless, the amount of stomach-turning tension that Captain Phillips bestowed perhaps could not have got any higher than Greengrass’ shaky-camera techniques and of course, Tom Hanks in the leading role.

Particularly in his most famous roles, Tom Hanks has delivered performances as characters either in search of a unique adventure or are forced into one. His appearance in Captain Phillips is in some ways a typecast because it is once again, a film that features Hanks practically on his own in which the plot’s central focus is on the circumstances of his on-screen character, similar to Cast Away. In Captain Phillips, especially in the film’s second act, the audience are there with Phillips every step of the way and Hanks’ portrayal of a terrified yet brave and noble man really shines. It is perhaps his greatest performance in a long time and he is undoubtedly a contender for Best Leading Actor. While Hanks’ is leading the cast like he almost always does, a stand-out performance in Captain Phillips is newcomer Barkhad Abdi as pirate leader Muse. In his first ever acting role, Abdi reaches up to the hype and formed a superb chemistry with Hanks. Muse is a complex character as he, like Phillips, wants to do what is right for his country, current situation but does it in a wrong but rather desperate way which demoralizes his objective and perhaps the poor Somalia people. Nevertheless, Abdi’s first on-screen appearance is an inspiration to amateur actors and he deserves an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Captain Phillips is a gifted thriller which possesses the ability to maintain exhilarating suspense and emotional exhaustion upon the audience. The fact it was based on a true story, one that occurred only in 2009, depicts further historical involvement and Greengrass’ technical documentary-like style practically seals that. At the same time, it is rather unpredictable for a bio-pic as narrative events, characters and camera shots are thrown around everywhere examining and tightening the circumstances. Thus, Captain Phillips gives Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty a run for its money and it could become Greengrass’ greatest opportunity yet at Oscar glory as well as for Tom Hanks to claim his third Academy Award win.

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