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Friday, 27 December 2013

Best and Worst of 2013 - Best Five Films


I've already scanned once again through the worst films 2013 had to offer, but thankfully such negativity was short lived as I didn't see many rubbish ones throughout the year. And, to add to that thankfulness, I've seen plenty of great ones - so without further ado, let's begin my look at my five favourite films released in the past 12 months.

#5 - Monsters University


Pixar's latest hit collected over $700 million at the worldwide box office, but it still lacked the widespread critical acclaim of their past efforts - it was well received of course, but some felt the film had little to offer other than comedy. While it definitely isn't as emotionally gripping as their other works, Monsters University has a heart and delivers a moral much more complex than most animated films these days. The chemistry between our leading characters develops nicely, and a whole host of new ones only adds to the fun. It's not a masterpiece, but it's still the Pixar we all know and love.

#4 - Pacific Rim


Guillermo del Toro's sci-fi kaiju film did mediocre business in the United States, but managed to thrive overseas to generate a solid if disappointing worldwide gross of $407 million. The Japanese-esque concept evidently didn't get the traction Warner Bros. hoped it would, but the premise isn't as dumb as it may initially seem. It's far from genius, but perhaps that works to benefit the final product; a simple story is embraced perfectly, making for an epic film with a welcome sense of fun. It never goes down the dark and dreary route but it still manages to tell an entertaining story with likeable characters and some superb action sequences.

#3 - Star Trek Into Darkness


The first film in the rebooted Star Trek franchise enjoyed mild success in 2009, and so this much needed sequel was eventually pumped out four years later. Everyone worries about sequels and prequels, and while Star Trek Into Darkness is probably not as original or compelling as its predecessor, it still offers a thrilling and emotionally rewarding experience for fans and newcomers alike. The focus on character has been nicely improved; and newcomer Bennedict Cumberbatch brings a delightfully scary appeal to the film's badass villain. Even for those unfamiliar with the franchise, there's still a lot to love about this polished sequel.

#2 - Gravity


A surprise critical and commercial hit, Alfonso Cuaron's sci-fi thriller Gravity dominated the box office for many weekends when it hit cinemas in October. It has since become one of the most renowned films of the year thanks to the flawless performances and an absorbing narrative that does a lot with a relatively simple premise and setting. The special effects also provide a masterful and believable outlook on the beauty of outer space; captured perfectly through the exquisite cinematography. To see an original product like this thrive and enjoy success is very encouraging, as it deserves to be seen by any respectable fan of cinema.

#1 - Wreck-It Ralph


Though it hit US cinemas in 2012, Disney's Wreck-It Ralph didn't see a UK release until February 2013 - meaning I can cheat and add it to this list. Some of you may know I'm a sucker for Disney movies, and Wreck-It Ralph brought them and the world of gaming together like bread and butter. The clever references and joyful nostalgia aside, Wreck-It Ralph is a genuinely hilarious and touching adventure with a well structured story. A simplistic but valuable moral also lets it appeal to both youngsters and adults, and I can easily say that it's definitely one of Disney's finest works in their rich history, and my favourite film of the year by far.

There you have it. This list is substantially different from the films I was most anticipating when the year began, showing yet again how cinema can be a surprising experience. Hopefully 2014 will continue the trend and have more great stuff to offer!

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Best and Worst of 2013 - Worst Five Films


Having attended the cinema 25 times this year, and seen several new films outside of the big screen, there is a lot of content for me to formulate into the classic end of year best and worst lists. It was a bit more difficult to find ones for the worst this time around as I've seen sense since 2012 and not attended screenings for as many shitty films. But hey, there's still disappointments and stinkers, so let's check out the best of the worst right here, right now!

#5 - Epic


Though the premise seemed cool, Epic ended up being an animated film totally unworthy of its title. The animation is as gorgeous as it is in any Blue Sky production, but the storytelling leaves much to be desired with flat characters, a formulaic plot structure and a cliché climax. It isn't a bad film, per se, but just a very dull and uninteresting one that I'd never actively watch for a second time.

#4 - Oz: The Great and Powerful


What makes my dislike for Oz so tragic is that I love the premise and thought the film had plenty of potential. But the execution is laziness at its best - everything is predictable, the origins of the Wicked Witch are ridiculous and the characters have little to no charm whatsoever. James Franco delivers a good performance as Oscar Diggs, who later becomes the classic renowned wizard, but even he struggles in such a mediocre script. A huge letdown that favours special effects over engaging storytelling.

#3 - Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Fans Of My Little Pony


The Brony culture is one of the most annoying fandoms of all time; guys, is it really a new, edgy and hip thing to like a show aimed a completely different audience? I liked Powerpuff Girls back in the day and I still do. This fandom thought it was such a huge thing that an indie film was produced to document it - but the end result is a pretentious film that only sucks up to the fandom, shuns those who dislike it and uses editing to create very melodramatic scenarios. It doesn't explore the fandom honestly and renders Bronies to be victims of harsh bullying - something I think is offensive to many fans of the show who like it without judgement from others. Pompous nonsense.

#2 - Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor


Steven Moffat wrote some excellent stories for Doctor Who, such as The Empty Child and Blink. Him taking the helm as head writer in 2010 seemed like a promising idea, and I actually enjoyed the fifth series despite some stupid ideas. But my interest in the show dwindled soon after when Moffat adopted a love of deus ex machina, endless plot contrivances and an incomprehensible layer of plot threads intertwined throughout multiple seasons and episodes. The show has become much messier and strives to be far too complex - a negative consequence that this 50th anniversary film suffers from too. Moffat was written a story way too complex for its own good and lacking any of the emotion it requires to work out. As a result, the film is a boring and silly ordeal, even with an excellent performance from the legendary John Hurt.

#1 - Thor: The Dark World


The fact that Thor's obligatory sequel barely managed to cross $200 million domestically (compare that with Iron Man 3's $409 million haul) shows that the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn't always the money making powerhouse it's made out to be. The film has certainly been a success, but the lack of interest in the character has taken its toll on its box office performance; and hopefully those who bothered to see it felt the same as me. The film has one of the worst villains ever to grace a superhero film, who remains badass in appearance but boring as hell outside of this. That combined with poorly timed comedy, no emotional stakes whatsoever and some of the most boring, dragged out fight scenes in any Marvel film easily makes Thor 2 the biggest letdown of the year and has increased my worries for the future of this declining franchise.

I'd love to put Iron Man 3 on this list as disappointed me so much, but in hindsight it was an okay film - it's just that horrifying plot twist and messy pacing that made it a huge disappointment. Still, we've seen the stinkers, so check out the next list very soon for the much better films 2013 had to offer!

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Movie Review - The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


Originally planned as a two part epic, Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Hobbit has since evolved into a trilogy in the style of his Lord of the Rings films - only this time his source material is a 300 page book over three 400 page novels. As a result, the reception has been generally mixed, and disappointing feedback for last year's first installment has left many uninterested for the future of the series. With the promise of more action and the much desired appearance of the dragon Smaug, surely this sequel can redeem all the flaws? In some cases yes, in many others no.


Continuing their quest to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the greedy dragon Smaug (Bennedict Cumberbatch), Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the company of dwarves lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) find themselves facing further perils as they brave the dangers of the Mirkwood forest and conflict with the Wood Elves, as well the pursuing Orcs and their mysterious leader. As the company press on and eventually make it to their destination, the evil inside begins to awaken, and Bilbo is faced with his dangerous task that lead him to join the epic quest in the first place.

Pacing is the weakest element of Jackson's return to Middle-earth; content has been extracted not only from the source material but a number of appendices Tolkein penned at the end of his Lord of the Rings books, resulting in an overdose of plot threads and unnecessary characters that never appeared in the original book. What then happens is the loss of the main idea of the story in all the mishmash of subplots. While the first film definitely suffered from this, I'd probably say that this sequel has it worse off as it features even more characters and sluggish scenes that never seem to benefit the overall plot.


You wanted to see the dragon in this film, right? Be prepared to wait nearly two hours for him to show up. I am not kidding. While this isn't a problem on its own, it is a problem when you realize how dragged out many of the preceding scenes feel and how painful it is to sit through some really boring moments that try to exude tension but end up making you impatient. The final 40 minutes of the film are absolutely superb, and there are some brilliant action scenes and a good sense of humour flowing across the near 3 hour story. However, this isn't enough to save the film from its many moments that do their best to put you to sleep.

There's really no need for me to say that the special effects are brilliant, but I have to give specific praise to the creation of Smaug who was not only beautifully voiced by Cumberbatch but also portrayed by him via motion capture. As a result, he's animated wonderfully as a gargantuan beast, but there is a perfect degree of emotion within his facial expressions; giving him the intelligence and depth the character requires. It's a shame I cannot extend this praise to the overall film which, enjoyable as it is at times, feels very dragged out like its predecessor. I probably enjoyed this one less than the first, which is a bold statement when you see how flawed they both are.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Best of Disneyland Paris


If someone was to ask me what my favourite place in the world was, what would it be? Home? A place of natural beauty? A location of exceptional historical significance? Nah. Disneyland Paris would be my answer. I have currently been to the resort around five times, most recently with my lovely girlfriend in last week - it was sad to come home after such a great time, but it was all worth the wait, and I encourage anyone else interested to go there when they can. As a quick guide, here are the five most essential rides you should check out!

#5 - Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast


Forget thrills and intensity now - one of the most enjoyable rides at the Paris resort is one that everyone can enjoy. Laser Blast allows 2 riders to sit in a small spacecraft which cruises round an indoor circuit, taking you through many colourful landscapes across the universe in a battle against the evil Emperor Zurg. The basic premise is to use your laser gun to shoot various targets - infrared sensors detect when you hit one, and points are then added to your score, which appears in front of your seat. The targets vary in colour and distance to reveal how many points they award; and when the ride comes to an end, players can view their score and compare it to the scoreboard ranks. Great fun for everyone, and even better at destroying friendships.

#4 - Tower of Terror


Based on the classic American anthology series The Twilight Zone, Tower of Terror first came to Disney's theme parks in 1994 when the Florida version of the ride officially opened. It has since opened in Tokyo, California and, of course, Paris - the Parisian edition of the ride is based on plans for the California one, making the two practically identical. The ride follows the story of a once renowned hotel which fell to ruin when a family of guests mysteriously vanished in an elevator shaft - riders are taken to that same elevator shaft to enter the Twilight Zone. After an eerie queue and unsettling introduction, riders sit in a large elevator which drops and rises at around 30mph. Not only is the ride a thrilling experience, but everything is aesthetically incredible - the detail put into the exterior, queue and overall ride experience is stunning makes everything all the more enjoyable.

#3 - Rock 'N' Roller Coaster


Found only in Disney's Florida and Paris theme parks, Rock N Roller Coaster features the renowned band Aerosmith in a story of them developing a ride with music technology, the Soundtracker, to enjoy alongside their musical hits. The ride begins its journey with a classic countdown before launching you at 0-60mph in about 3 seconds, straight into a large room filled with strobe lights and smoke effects. Riders are taken through three inversions, all sorts of steep drops and sharp turns before returning to the station - all while listening to a random Aerosmith song in the ride's on board speakers. Good stuff.

#2 - Big Thunder Mountain


No Disneyland is without Thunder Mountain, except Hong Kong for whatever reason. Though all of them vary in slight ways, the main principle is the same; but the Parisian version actually features it's own narrative. The idea is that a mountainous region has become a mining town overnight due to a rare material found within the rocks, but the natives of the area relay tales of the region being cursed; consequently, the mine trains begin to race around the rails without drivers, leading to nothing but disaster. This version of the ride features two underwater tunnels to travel from the station to the mountain, which uniquely sits in the Rivers of the Far West. As the ride begins, you traverse up very noisy lift hills in dark caverns and launch around a track with sharp turns and sudden drops at a speeds of around 30mph. Without a doubt the final section is scariest; the train returns to the station via the second underwater tunnel, reaching its maximum speed in total darkness, which is incredibly frightening but equally fun. The intense but family friendly nature of the ride makes it no surprise that it's one of the most popular at any Disney resort.

#1 - Space Mountain: Mission 2


Originally opening in 1995 as Space Mountain: Da la Teree á la Lune (From the Earth to the Moon), Disney's most famous attraction was refurbished and retitled a decade later to conform to a new narrative of exploring deep space and alter the ride experience without rebuilding any of the track. Unlike other iterations of the ride, the Parisian Space Mountain boasts a much more vivid exterior, track inversions and a launch hill instead of the traditional lift hill. It is often viewed as the best version of the ride and rightfully so; the trip around space is fun and thrilling, further enhanced by excellent onboard music by Michael Giacchino. If ever you visit the resort, make this ride a priority.

Don't view this list as all the resort has to offer - many other excellent rides including Star Tours, Crush's Coaster, Indiana Jones et le Temple du Péril, Phantom Manor and Pirates of the Caribbean are essential to check out, so do so if you ever visit the parks! 

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Movie Review - Frozen


Another year, another Disney film - despite unfavourable initial comparisons to Tangled, Disney's latest hit Frozen has managed to build a solid reputation since it was first advertised earlier this year and has recently opened across the world to enormous success. The Disney 2000s financial slump is now a long gone part of history, but can they still maintain their critical success with this latest release?


The Kingdom of Arendelle has long been closed off from the world; an action which the eventual queen Elsa (Idina Menzel) governs to ensure the secrecy of her unusual powers, giving her the ability to conjure ice and snow in an uncontrollable manner. Her carefree and somewhat naive sister Anna (Kristen Bell) has long pursued a life outside of the castle walls, but her persistence begins to push Elsa over the edge, leading to a public reveal of her controversial magic, the freezing of Arendelle and Elsa's abandonment of the kingdom. In order to put things right, Anna must team up with mountain man Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) and sun-loving snowman Olaf (Josh Gad) to find her long lost sister and bring summer back to the frozen kingdom.

We all know and love Disney for their mastery in the field of hand drawn animation, but their work in CGI in just as remarkable - Frozen is a gorgeously animated fare, with fluid and expressive characters and some of the best lighting seen in a recent Disney flick. While we're on the subject of aesthetics, Frozen also boasts an excellent soundtrack by Christophe Beck and conforms to Disney's classic musical conventions with an onslaught of charming songs - particularly Menzel's performance of Let It Go.


It pains me to admit, however, that Jennifer Lee's script for Frozen is weakened by the film's sluggish pacing, which can make many scenes feel boring, some characters grossly underdeveloped and some concepts lacking sufficient focus. Outside of her tragic backstory, it's difficult to fully connect to Elsa, the misunderstood villain, whose role isn't as flourished and original as it has the potential to be. There's plenty to enjoy here; the characters are always fun even if underdeveloped, and the plot takes a unique turn which will leave many surprised - but it sometimes feels the excellent story doesn't get the execution it deserves.

Frozen is a great film and has plenty of comedy, heart and lavish visuals for audiences of all ages. The initially controversial Olaf sidekick turns out to be loveable and hilarious, which should hopefully negate any criticisms, and the chemistry between Kristoff and Anna is charming if sometimes forced. Voice acting across the board is top notch - really my main criticism is with the pacing and balance the story sometimes lacks, but this won't stop the film being enjoyed by any fan of good ol' Disney movies.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Dreamworks Animation - Worst to Best (Part 2)


It's been nearly two weeks since Part 1 of my Worst to Best of Dreamworks Animation films was posted, so now I feel its time to conclude my list in this next post. We've been through most of the stinkers, so now we're focusing purely on the gooduns - thank god!

#9 - Shrek the Third (2007)


Despite excellent box office takings of nearly $800 million, Shrek the Third had a very mixed response from critics and audiences, with many feeling the film relied too much on rehashing old jokes and plot points. While Shrek the Third definitely isn't as good as the previous installments, it's still a funny and entertaining adventure and, as I've said before, provides a nice conclusion to the story arc of Shrek and Fiona's romance, as well as the fate of Far Far Away.

#8 - Madagascar (2005)


Despite mixed reviews, Madagascar was enjoyed by most audiences and earned over $500 million worldwide, spawning another major franchise for Dreamworks to milk. Though the animation sometimes seems a bit jerky and its characters can feel a little flat, Madagascar truly dominates when it comes to comedy; the voice acting, the dialogue, the slapstick - it's all beautifully timed and the end result is one of the funniest animated films I've ever seen.

#7 - Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)


Crisper animation and a stronger focus on character made Madagascar's sequel a much more compelling watch, even if it sometimes doesn't feel as funny as its predecessor. The film topped the first installment in terms of box office revenue and critical success and is generally regarded as having a much deeper narrative than before, something that may detract from the comedy at times but still makes for a much more enjoyable film overall.

#6 - Kung Fu Panda (2008)


Though Jack Black can be insanely annoying as the gullible lead character Po, Kung Fu Panda boasts enough visual charm and excellent vocal performances to compensate. The story is rather by the numbers and some of the themes have been explored countless times, but Dreamworks' kung fu hit really comes together with some interesting ideas and epic fight scenes, making for a basic but vastly entertaining animated hit.

#5 - Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)


When looking back at my review of 2011's Kung Fu Panda 2, I feel I really sung the movie's praises to the point of blatantly ignoring its flaws. That's not to say the film is bad - it's another great effort from Dreamworks, and newcomer Gary Oldman brings a fantastically menacing performance to the new badass villain Lord Shen. However, the story is chockablock with contrivances and some very forced morals, even if a certain scene exploring Po's past is excellently done on a visual and emotional scale. The end result is a dramatically uneven but vastly enjoyable sequel that in some ways tops its predecessor.

#4 - The Croods (2013)


The Croods looked funny but not highly compelling in its trailers, but the film itself plays out wonderfully from start to finish. A formulaic plot makes everything very predictable, and the romance is nothing to write home about, but a strong moral of family values lies within the comedic storyline and all the characters have their own beautiful appeal, benefited even more from some flawless voice acting.

#3 - Shrek 2 (2004)


Everyone expected Shrek 2 to be a huge success, but it still managed to surprise audiences by earning an incredible $919 million back in 2004 - making it Dreamworks' highest grossing film and the highest grossing animated film until 2010's Toy Story 3 ($1.063 billion). Though not as compelling as the first film in my eyes, Shrek 2 remains a hilarious and emotionally satisfying sequel that does a fantastic job on building upon its predecessors storyline.

#2 - Shrek (2001)


After a slew of hit and miss releases, Shrek was the light at the end of a long tunnel for Dreamworks Animation - the animated blockbuster collected $484 million worldwide back in 2001, making it the second highest grossing animation that year behind Pixar's Monsters, Inc ($525 million). With a perfect balance between subtle adult humour and jokes for the younger crowd, as well as charming characters and satisfying themes, Shrek stands tall as one of the finest animated comedies of all time and is definitely the best in its huge franchise.

#1 - How To Train Your Dragon (2010)


How To Train Your Dragon didn't exactly make box office history when it earned $494 million back in 2010, but it was still seen as a huge success and sparked a line of upcoming sequels and a new Dreamworks TV series. The reception for the film was so good that people often compare it to the best works of Disney and Pixar - and for good reason. How To Train Your Dragon is as funny as the best Dreamworks hits, but also boasts a surprising amount of depth to its story. The vast changes made from the source material are to the benefit of the final product; the film tries something very new with the concept and focuses beautifully on the bond between a boy and his dragon and the effect it has on their opposing cultures. It may seem like the cliché choice, but I care not - for this is truly the best film ever to come from Dreamworks Animation.

Thanks for reading!