Friday 28 December 2012

Best and Worst of 2012 - Best Five Films

We've covered the stinkers, and they were stinkers, but 2012 definitely has many quality films to offer - so with the bad stuff out of the way and never to be seen again, let's talk no further and dive into my favourite five films of the year.

#5 - Avengers Assemble

Avengers Assemble is the end result of four years of build up, starting with Iron Man in 2008 and forming what is officially called the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The series doesn't end here - we can expect a third installment to the Iron Man series next year, and sequels to Thor, Captain America and even this film are in the pipeline. Avengers does exactly what you'd expect - it's an explosive and insanely fun ride, with a surprisingly gripping and enjoyable story, likeable characters who share a great chemistry and a final battle so manic that it more than makes up for the annoying wait for the film itself. The lead actors are at their finest, and you never get the feeling the film is trying to take itself too seriously - unlike this year's The Dark Knight Rises, this is not a realistic and thematic interpretation of superheroes, but a comic book on the screen. Fantastic entertainment which I highly recommend.

#4 - Dredd

A modest critical success yet a complete box office bomb, Dredd failed to recoup even a mild $45 million budget when it hit cinemas in September. The film is a new adaptation of the famed 2000 AD comic character, who last appeared in a theatrical release in the universally panned (and mocked) 1995 Judge Dredd, starring Sylvester Stallone. This time round, Karl Urban takes the helm as the titular badass, and provides a performance that perfectly encapsulates the character's loyalty to the job, intolerance for crime and intimidating appearance to crooks. The film is driven by great character development and excellent action sequences, only really hindered by a sometimes sluggish narrative. It didn't deserve to bomb, and you should check it out for sure!

#3 - Brave

Having received substantially lower praise than other Pixar efforts, Brave's lack of universal acclaim is justifiable in areas - its narrative is much more formulaic than conventional Pixar productions. But does this make it a bad film? Of course not! Brave brings together some of the most likeable characters Pixar has created with a storyline that, while not that inventive, flows nicely and contains strong moral value. It's gorgeously animated and supported by a fantastic voice cast with the likes of Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson and Julie Walters. Not only that, but trust me when I say that you will laugh an awful lot - Brave is easily the funniest Pixar film ever produced.

#2 - Skyfall

Bond is back, and he's better than ever - Skyfall marks the first time 007 has blessed our cinema screens with fast paced action and sinister baddies since the convoluted Quantum of Solace in 2008. Those who were left distinctly underwhelmed by that flick - which is everyone - will have a burst of satisfaction upon watching Skyfall. Not only is the newest 007 blockbuster far more cohesive with its narrative structure, but its emphasis on character development, particularly with Bond himself, makes it emotionally stirring throughout. Its action scenes are incredibly creative and chaotic as always, and its pleasant nods to the franchises rich history alongside the realistic approach creates a perfect blend of the old and new.

#1 - Life of Pi

A story that was considered impossible to adapt into a film for many years due to its reliance on technical prowess, Life of Pi is one of the most inventive, unique and character driven films I have ever seen, and impresses both in special effects wizardry and storytelling. The relatively unknown international cast impress throughout and the character of Richard Parker, who I should say is just a CGI bengal tiger, is one you can quite easily connect to - him and Pi's bond that is developed throughout the film is utterly beautiful. Life of Pi is a huge achievement in filmmaking, and deserves its place to be the greatest film of 2012 by far.

And there you have it - my favourite films of the year. In retrospect, my most anticipated of 2012 before the year even commenced were The Woman in Black, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises, all three of which as you can clearly see didn't make the cut and were scored a good but not exceptional 7/10 by yours truly. Films can always surprise you, and hopefully there'll be more surprises awaiting in 2013. Until then!

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Movie Review - Life of Pi

An incredible story that initially struggled to see the light of day, Yann Martel's renowned 2001 novel Life of Pi blends a complex level of adventurous storytelling with religious allegory and spirituality - and now director Ang Lee has brought this fantastical tale to the big screen, but does it capture that same level of emotion?

An unnamed local author (Rafe Spall) approaches Indian immigrant Pi Patel (Irrfan Kahn) after a referral from his uncle that the man's story would form the basis for a compelling novel and, as Pi relates, will make him believe in God. Pi then divulges his story from his teenage years, where he (Suraj Sharma) and his family are caught up in a disastrous shipwreck when moving their zoo overseas. Pi is the only survivor, and is left stranded on a boat for 227 days with their bengal tiger Richard Parker - and that, as Pi explains, is where his greatest journey begins.

Life of Pi is a visual delight - the story itself almost renders the whole project impossible, with the majority of it taking place in the expanses of the ocean with a young boy and vicious tiger stranded in a wooden lifeboat. But of course - Sharma was never at sea, and he was never joined by a real tiger. That may seem like an obvious comment, bit once you see the film, you will have a hard time believing it. Rhythm and Hues Studios have crafted some magnificent CGI special effects which are sometimes very clearly synthetic detail wise but are a visual treat and immensely believable - Richard Parker himself is animated so fluently that he might as well have been a real tiger. Not only this, but there are some gorgeous theatrical moments in the twilight sea and some fantastic use of cinematography - all this combined with a deep and touching score by Mychael Danna makes Life of Pi a huge aesthetic achievement.

Life of Pi not only excels at visual design but also in terms of unique and innovative storytelling - the bond between Pi and Richard Parker is incredibly touching and developed at a beautiful pace. Richard Parker himself is portrayed as a deep and enjoyable character instead of a mindless animal, and him and Pi's relationship carries into many of the film's themes. It's been a while since a film touched me to this degree, and Life of Pi truly tugs on the heart strings towards the end (and even a fair bit at the beginning) which really allows the audience to engage with the narrative and themes rather than watch characters weep and expect to feel sad.

It's all wonderfully acted and edited into nicely flowing story - the jumps back to present day were an older Pi details his story to the novelist provides more backbone to the overall plotting instead of feeling like jarring tonal shifts. Life of Pi is an authentic and emotional masterpiece, with humour, adventure and a ton of emotional resonance - it deserves to be a success and deserves to be met with praise, for it's a story unlike any other that will draw you in with incredible production value and fantastic storytelling - and it's surprisingly made even better in 3D, which in itself is treated as a visual art over a cheap gimmick. Don't hesitate - go see it.

Saturday 22 December 2012

Best and Worst of 2012 - Worst Five Films

2012 is drawing to a close very soon, so as I've been journeying to the cinema a fair bit since the year began, I have plenty of films to adapt into best and worst lists. To kick things off, here are my worst five films of 2012 - I'm only starting with the stinkers because I'm seeing Life of Pi next week which I am confident could make it to my best five list. We shall see!

#5 - The Lorax

An uninspired adaptation of a much loved Dr. Seus story, The Lorax is a prime example of how dumbed down animated films can be. There is absolutely nothing unique, compelling or continuously enjoyable about it - not only are the characters thinner than paper, but its attempt at exploring two narratives doesn't work as well it sounds. Rather than converge the storylines meaningfully, it plays out as if they have little to do with one another, only combining at the very end or providing dull backstory. Shoehorning in the modern day setting with the annoying protagonist Ted was a bad move, and an adaptation that remains true to the original tale would've been so much more entertaining.

#4 - Hotel Transylvania

I thought this would be a funny movie - it actually looked that way based on the trailers. What it turned out to be was a film that just didn't know when to stop when churning out endless slapstick gags, even sacrificing a cohesive storyline for it. Its characters are boring, the humour becomes so cheesy that you can practically smell it and the narrative is hollow and predictable nonsense. It will please the kids, but nobody above - they even shoehorned a Twilight joke into it, and it's absolutely terrible.

#3 - Paranormal Activity 4

Are you one of those many people that thinks this franchise needs to end? Then you'll be sad to hear that it's still got another three instalments or so in the pipeline. Paranormal Activity was an unexpected success, built off a low budget but demonstrating clever resourcefulness by creating tension through something as simple as a door opening. The series was milked even by the time the second iteration hit cinemas in 2010, and has since become a repetitive and lazy horror franchise that simply isn't scary. This fourth installment fares no better, with poor acting, a forced storyline and, to top it off, it's just so fucking boring.

#2 - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

As much as I despise Twilight, this film doesn't deserve to be the very worst of 2012 - but it sure as hell comes close. This 'epic conclusion' to the franchise is nothing more than what we've seen countless times - poorly written romance, atrocious acting and a sluggish and clueless narrative that doesn't go anywhere. The epic final battle is absurd if entertaining, but it all comes to end in the most anticlimactic and unsatisfying fashion that it might as well've not been in the bloody film. It's great to see this tired franchise meet its end, but even its final installment couldn't do anything to redeem the many faults. It's awful, basically.

#1 - House at the End of the Street

Poorly acted, poorly written and downright terribly plotted, House at the End of the Street is the poster child for atrocious horror filmmaking. Most of the film is squandered on lifeless conversations between wooden characters we are trying not to despise, and when it comes to a 'scary' moment, it simply has no effect. The film made me laugh more times than anything else, and its concept is already so absurd and generic that it loses any hope of redeeming itself. Even Jennifer Lawrence, despite her acclaim from The Hunger Games, is awful. Hopefully she was just conforming to the overall shitness of the film.

So there you have it - my top five worst films of the year. By coincidence, these are the only five bad films I even saw in 2012, but even that is something to be ashamed of. No year is without awful cinema, but neither is any year without quality cinema - as you'll see in my next list!

Friday 14 December 2012

Movie Review - The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

The recent decision to turn J.R.R Tolkein's classic children's novel The Hobbit into a three part fantasy epic was met with great controversy - unlike its similarly three part predecessor, Peter Jackson's next venture into Middle-earth is fuelled by considerably less source material: a 300 or so page light hearted adventure over a 1000 page three part high fantasy. Controversy aside, Jackson's first installment to this annualised trilogy has finally arrived: with a whopping 170 minute run time, can it possibly justify the pacing and material?

Taking place sixty years before the events of The Fellowship of the Ring, An Unexpected Journey delves into the adventures ageing hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) has yet to tell his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) - of when the great wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and a band of thirteen dwarves lead by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) invite a young Bilbo (Martin Freeman) to join them on their quest to reclaim the stolen dwarf kingdom in the Lonely Mountain and lay siege to the terrible dragon Smaug who stole it from them, along with their hoards of jewels and gold, many centuries before. As the Company reach the Goblin stronghold amongst the Misty Mountains, Bilbo encounters a strange being dubbed Gollum (Andy Serkis) and an enchanted, golden ring which will change his life and the fate of Middle-earth forever.

An Unexpected Journey is visually stunning - a terrific blend of intricate sets, fantastic locations and polished CGI work makes Middle-earth more pleasing to the eye than ever before. Complaints have been prominently targeted at the overuse of CGI - but does it truly detract from the tangible nature of this world? Not entirely. It's never going to mimic the organic values of natural special effects, but the animation featured throughout Jackson's newest Middle-earth installment is as excellent as the practical sets. The creatures are injected with a great deal of life and charisma thanks to fantastic motion capturing and synthetic detail, and each fictional landscape is as beautiful as the last. While the 3D is a wasted and far too conservative quality, the film and its expansive landscapes grouped with sweeping camera shots truly evolve into something incredible on an IMAX screen. Howard Shore also returns as composer, and creates a musical score that is possibly superior to anything we've ever heard from the Middle-earth film franchise.

The Lord of the Rings films, in most cases, carried hefty run times that you rarely noticed. The story flowed in a swift fashion and most scenes felt crucial to the narrative, even if things felt bloated at times. An Unexpected Journey naturally cannot mimic this, and such a trait will undoubtedly plague its successors. Much like Jackon's previous adventures in Middle-earth, the film almost tops three hours in run time, and this simply doesn't feel natural as many scenes feel bloated and sluggish and the pacing is purposely slow to cram in as much detail and backstory as possible. Interweaving content from the appendices Tolkein penned at the conclusion of The Return of the King, the film incorporates substantially more backstory and interlocking events than its source material, and many character roles are extended and built upon which works in some cases, and fails miserably in others. You do truly feel the run time of this fantasy flick, and that is never a good thing when it's this long.

The narrative is also very episodic - hear me out. The overall film feels like it's own adventure, which may seem like a praise. But in actual fact, it makes the overall story feel like an unnecessarily long quest, which is simply not what the source material offers. Smaug is not the antagonist of this film - you rarely even see him, and this structure does not work for a film of such a simple story. The characters exude plenty of charm and the acting is universally superb, but it is difficult to keep consistently engaged with a slow paced storyline that exploits the rich context of its fictional universe in a way that feels somewhat boring. An Unexpected Journey is a visually rich and explosive effort from Jackson, and its characters are arguably one of the most impressive factors, but the sluggish pacing and unsatisfying conclusion (not to mention having to wait another year to even see the actual bad guy - well, dragon) make it less of impact compared to its decade old brothers.

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Movie Review - Rise of the Guardians

It's a fact that has been milked to death when mentioning the renowned animation studio, but one that does at least hold some merit - Dreamworks like their sequels. Evolving even their smallest of films (How To Train Your Dragon, anyone?) into gargantuan franchises is their specialty, and one that for the most part comes off as a huge cash grab even if the money generating sequels share a level of high quality. It isn't rare, however, to see a fresh product from the studio's pipeline, and Rise of the Guardians is here to exemplify this - what it can't exemplify, however, is any form of originality for the genre.

Jack Frost (Chris Pine) rises from a strange slumber inside a cold lake with no memory of his existence or purpose, only being told his name by the godlike entity dubbed 'The Man in the Moon'. As the years pass, Frost utilizes his abilities to manipulate snow and ice to bring joy to children and himself, albeit in a rebellious and careless fashion. When the sinister boogeyman known as Pitch Black (Jude Law) emerges from his own slumber to seek revenge on Guardians North (Alec Baldwin), Bunnymund (Hugh Jackman), Tooth (Isla Fisher) and Sandman, Frost is chosen to fulfill his destiny as the next Guardian, which in turn will lead him on a journey to not only save the children of the world but to discover the one thing he has always wanted to know - his own self.

Rise of the Guardians, like any film by Dreamworks, is richly animated, albeit this time around things seem a lot less colourful which actually works in conjunction with the somewhat bleak narrative structure. The overall aesthetic design, while definitely not matching the terrifying motion capturing of Zemeckis, adopts a more realistic approach over a cartoonish and vibrant appearance, which is also something that fits the story nicely and makes the film less reliant on endless visual gags. 

Where Rise of the Guardians loses its footing is with the overall plot and some of the characters, which are both so by the numbers that it feels very little effort was put into developing any sort of original plot with the somewhat unique premise at hand. Virtually nothing about the story is inventive, and the villain is completely ridiculous - Jude Law's voice acting attempts to capture some overall sinister vibe, but just comes off as forced and absurd. The plot is riddled with cheesy dialogue and forced emotional scenes, the only saving grace of these being the likeable main protagonists. Frost is rendered to be somewhat unlikeable, but has a certain charm and his lust for his own past raises some interesting if barely explored inner conflict. The other Guardians, namely the Easter Bunny and Santa, provide much of the film's comedy and help to forward the narrative, but even they feel half baked at times.

Everything is resolved with a lifeless and predictable culminating battle, and the conclusion to this film raises absolutely no surprises whatsoever. I'm not trying to pan it simply for being unoriginal, for it's a decent animated flick - the jokes work, the voice acting across the board is excellent (bar Law mainly) and it goes without saying that it's visually pleasing. But the inventive premise has been squandered on a story so bland and so irritatingly predictable that the film feels like a missed opportunity. Not bad, but certainly not great.

Friday 30 November 2012

Nintendo Wii U - Initial Thoughts

First announced at E3 2011 after much speculation, the Wii U is the successor to Nintendo's immensely popular Wii console first released in 2006 and known for its motion based approach which helped it compete (and eventually outmatch) rivals PS3 and X-Box 360 despite the inferior hardware. The Wii U is Nintendo's first step into HD gaming - the technology began with game consoles over seven years ago, but Nintendo's first use of it has had a big impact on the gaming community. The console was finally released in Europe on this day, and my long awaited pre-order arrived this afternoon - having set it all up and played for a bit, how does it hold up?

The Wii U is available in two packs: Basic and Premium. The Basic Pack comes with a white Wii U and GamePad with 8GB of internal flash memory (not massive, but an immediate improvement on the pathetic 512MB for Wii) as well as a HDMI cable and AC adapters for the Wii U console and the GamePad. The Premium Pack comes with all of the above, except the console (as well as the controller) is black and built with 32GB of memory. The extras include a charging cradle for the GamePad, a regular stand for it and the console, a sensor bar (exactly the same as the Wii one) and Nintendo Land. The Basic Pack retails for about £250 in the UK whereas the Premium goes for about £300, though this can differ amongst retailers. In comparison, the Wii and 3DS launched at a price of around £180. I myself purchased the Premium Pack.

The console itself very slightly larger than the Wii, but aside from a sleeker and thinner design, not much has changed. You still have a slot loading disc drive with eject and power buttons alongside it as well as the trademark red sync button to connect GamePad and Wiimote controllers to the system. Secluded under a small panel is the SD card slot, again like the Wii, only it is joined by two USB ports. There are also two USB ports at the back of the console as well as the generic ports for the AC plug, HDMI cable, sensor bar and AV cables should you not want or be able to use HDMI. The console is much less attractive than the Wii when positioned vertically due to the ugly and cheap looking stands; it looks best on its bottom. The GamePad is almost the same size as the console, with the touchscreen itself stretching out 6.2 inches - it is resistive, meaning multi-touch is not possible, but thats really not been a problem for myself. The GamePad's screen is surprisingly high quality and sensitive, and the controller itself is nicely light and feels great to hold and play with. Its size may seem off putting, but I assure you it's a well designed and gorgeous piece of kit.

Setting up the Wii U was an absolute catastrophe and took well over 90 minutes, which doesn't include transferring Wii data. The basic initial setup was simple until it came to connecting to the internet - no matter how many times I tried and how many settings I messed around with, the console would just not connect to my perfectly functional router. I learned that this was a widespread issue, and the fix was easy but tedious - input all the settings manually, including the IP address and Subnet Mask. This will eventually allow the console to connect properly, and then you're greeted by the infamous system update: to get the complete package of software and features, you'll have to download this, and for me it took a whopping 75 minutes. Ouch.

Nintendo Land is packed with enjoyable if short lived minigames.
The Wii transfer took just over half an hour or so, and was a relatively easy process. Once that was done, I could delve into some Nintendo Land - this game is much like Wii Sports in a sense that it demonstrates the capabilities of the GamePad and is, in the case of the Premium Pack, bundled with the console to get newcomers started. Though Wii Sports was a dull and lifeless game that only really became fun due to well implemented motion controls, Nintendo Land is a colourful, varied and enjoyable experience that feels like an actual game instead of a controller tour. I have yet to fully experience all the Nintendo Land minigames, but it's safe to say I am really enjoying it at this stage, my only main gripe being the irritating screen tilting that matches the movements of the GamePad in the hub world. Visually, it's a beautiful game full of colour and charm, and the HD influence is clear from the beginning - everything is extremely crisp (the same can be said for the menus) and it gives us a good indication of what the Wii U is capable of.

I also tried out some of the other features, namely Miiverse, which plays out like a Facebook for Wii U gamers. You can visit forums for available Wii U titles and post messages and drawings conveying your thoughts or queries. You can like other people's posts, which is dubbed 'Yeah!' in this app, and can also reply - in a manner also similar to Facebook, you'll receive notifications when a person replies to or likes a post of yours. Though it seems basic, it opens up a whole new dimension of social interaction on the system, making it feel much less of an isolated experience when compared to the Wii and its terrible messaging service. Other things I tried include Youtube, which works well enough despite meh video quality and the Daily Log, which simply records your gaming activity including the number of times each game or app has been used and the total playtime. It feels a bit less deep than the 3DS one, but is still a nice little feature.

The Wii U GamePad prototype from E3 2011 - it has changed quite a bit since!
So, that concludes my initial thoughts. I'm very excited for the prospects of the Wii U this generation and I am looking forward to seeing how it competes with not only the new consoles from Microsoft and Sony but also its predecessor, which has topped around 100 million in sales. At this stage, if you really want the console, then it's a worthy investment - the launch lineup is much stronger than the 3DS and Wii, and the system itself will easily entertain you outside of gaming alone. Who knows what will happen in the future, but I believe this generation of home consoles is set to be one of the biggest yet.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Movie Review - The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

Loved and hated by many, The Twilight Saga has established itself as one of the most controversial franchises of our generation; each installment has been progressively beaten to a pulp by critics yet raked in huge profits at the box office and pleasing its large fanbase. And now, after four years of this crap, we come to the second part of the 'epic' conclusion - that is, if there was anything to conclude in the first place.

Immediately after her rebirth as a vampire, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) lives in peace with her husband Edward (Robert Pattinson), their daughter Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy) and the rest of the Cullen family. Having initially been accepted by the The Volturi, Bella's status as a vampire and the lives of the Cullen family are at stake when their baby is mistaken for an immortal child, a breed of vampire incapable of restraint, leading to a race against time before The Volturi's punishment is made for a crime never committed.

What's so bad about The Twilight Saga overall? There are too many things to answer that question with. Not only is the contrived, poorly written romance a bad enough aspect, but the terrible scripts, atrocious acting and non existent overall narrative threads together a string of five awful films into a forced mess. Nothing is emotionally stirring nor gripping, and the characters portrayed exude no likeable factors. Being consistent with this poor reputation, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 recycles these negative conventions and tops it off with some extra awfulness.

The main factor that contributes to the poor quality of the film is the fact that it does not feel like the epic finale it is marketed to be - okay, I'm not saying film marketing is ever the pinnacle of honesty, but this is a film that concludes a major franchise. What it actually feels like is a clueless, mindless cobbling together of boring scenes with no sense of direction. The majority of the film seems to revolve around the main characters sitting in nicely furnished houses and discussing plans of action, annoying vampire jokes and the dull, droning narrations of Bella. Rather than deliver subtle exposition, the film seems to explain even the most obvious of plot points to the audience as if we're idiots. Then again, anyone who's attending a screening of the film might as well be treated as such, even myself.

The film culminates with a rather good if absurd final battle, but a huge anticlimax drives this into the ground and leads to to one of the worst 'resolutions' in film history. The film has little to redeem itself from the nonsensical and pale story, the bad characterization and the above awful CGI special effects, and in comparison the explosive nature of other conclusive films like Deathly Hallows - Part 2 and The Dark Knight Rises, Breaking Dawn - Part 2 is just another dull entry to a dull franchise and is, praise god, the last we have to endure.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Movie Review - Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

Dreamworks and sequels tend to go together like bread and butter; you can pan the concept all you want, but the franchises churned out by the famous (and sometimes infamous) animation studio enjoy box office success beyond all measure and reach audiences of a variety of ages. Their Madagascar series, which began in 2005, has now stepped forward to receive its latest iteration: taking our favourite bestial quartet across the countries of Europe.

Continuing their everlasting quest to get home, lion Alex (Ben Stiller), zebra Marty (Chris Rock), giraffe Melman (David Schwimmer) and hippo Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith) track down the penguins at Monte Carlo for assistance, where they are pursued by the ruthless animal control unit lead by the psychotic Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). Finding refuge on board a departing circus train, the animals are tangled up in a conflict of interests to restore the circus' success in the public eye for their personal gain of arriving back home in New York - something which may be more difficult than they originally expected.

Madagascar 3 adopts the same quirky and cartoonish visual style that its predecessors used to such great effect, allowing for over the top slapstick and charming character designs. Despite their clean and polished appearance, the graphics never aim to simulate or mimic reality; something that helps to maintain the zany vibe the film carries throughout. The visuals are also complimented by a decent if forgettable soundtrack by Hans Zimmer - though one mostly built off recycled and, regrettably, tired pop songs.

The stellar voice cast from the previous films reprise their roles with the same comedic appeal, which mainly stems from the hilarious Ben Stiller and equally funny Chris Rock. Newcomers Frances McDormand, Martin Short, Bryan Cranston and Jessica Chastain also perform well, even if a few of them have forgettable roles. Madagascar 3's main problem lies with pacing, which is often shunted aside in favour of comedy and sometimes forced set pieces. The film kicks off within minutes and comes to an almost abrupt end which doesn't feel all that organic; not only this, but the plot structure is overwhelmingly formulaic, making certain scenes lacking any sort of punch or purpose.

Madagascar 3 is a funny and entertaining effort from Dreamworks, which in hindsight is all it's meant to be. It won't win any awards for narrative development - but do you care? I sure hope not. A great laugh for adults and kids alike and one packed with charming characters and hilarious slapstick gags, Madagascar 3 pretty much succeeds and what exactly it aspired to do, albeit without a great deal of originality or innovation.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Movie Review - Batman Begins

After the explosive conclusion of his renowned Batman trilogy earlier this year, Christopher Nolan is no stranger to any fan of the film industry; and despite his other strong efforts both independent and alongside Hollywood, he will forever hold a strong bond to the caped crusader and the benchmark achievement of reintroducing him to contemporary cinema with style. It's Halloween today, so without further ado, we shall take a trip to the past and explore the dark, fearful and sometimes frightening first installment to a stunning trilogy: Batman Begins.

After the sudden murder of his beloved parents whom he fails to avenge, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) travels the world to understand the mind of the criminal and manipulate the essence of fear to utilize in combat. His efforts are picked up by Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson), a member of a vigilante society known as the League of Shadows, who tutors Bruce to 'become more than just a man in the eyes of the opponent'. The society's draconian ideals become too much for Bruce to stand alongside; returning to his home of Gotham City alone, he is joined by his faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine) and Applied Sciences colleague Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) to become Batman, his caped alter ego dedicated to eradicating crime in a decadent city, though he soon realizes what he tries to stop is linked to those who taught him in the first place.

Batman Begins reeks of dark undertones; the film is constructed in a realistic fashion to portray the titular hero as a real human being with internal struggles and physical competition, not an unstoppable icon with the bulk of a superhuman. This portrayal makes for an interesting narrative that unveils in a way that pits Bruce Wayne, not his caped alter ego, in the center of the frame. The hero's journey explores Wayne's sense of loss and his consequent actions because of it brilliantly, capturing the emotional integrity of key scenes which is all backed by some very strong acting, particularly from Liam Neeson. Though a realistic tone is maintained across the plot, don't feel any suspension of disbelief has been abandoned; Batman retains an arsenal of badass gadgets and a brilliantly redesigned Batmobile (dubbed the Tumbler) as well as an expertly designed suit which gives him the intimidating yet iconic appearance on screen.

Visually, Batman Begins looks very tangible; there is a limited use of CGI in favour of stunts, models and detailed set design. Everything is modelled with a great level of attention in mind, making even the smallest aspects of a set very appealing and showing just how much care went into the filmmaking process. The suit of our iconic superhero is also designed with realism and appearance in mind; it's crafted together by the characters themselves, who even explain the materials used and piece it together as the story progresses, but still captures the fearful essence the original costume adopted so well and never looks silly or embarrassing. Batman Begins only suffers in the visual side of things in one major aspect, which is the camerawork in certain action scenes. Namely prominent in the climactic fight scene, the camerawork can be clumsily positioned and made worse by overly rapid editing which reduces the aforementioned battle scene to a mishmash of grunts, punches and nonsensical martial arts attacks. Some of the film's combat scenes also feel very synthetic, with no real ferocity or speed.

Batman Begins is backed by a plethora of strong performances, a fantastic soundtrack by the amazing Hans Zimmer and a story that is well focused, fluently told and explorative of entertaining themes and ideas. Seven years down the line and with the trilogy finally over, Batman Begins is still a remarkable effort from Nolan and his team and a great way to spearhead an acclaimed film franchise. Batman became a laughing stock of campy costumes and idiotic villains after his second cinematic release in 1989: Batman Begins not only ended this nonsense, it saved the character and reintegrated him to modern audiences brilliantly.

Friday 26 October 2012

Movie Review - Skyfall

It's been four years since Bond hit our screens with the thrilling albeit convoluted 2008 hit Quantum of Solace, and now after a long wave of complications and now anticipation, 007 finally returns with Skyfall, not only the pinnacle of Bond films in general but the finest release of 2012 by far.

After a disastrous mission in Turkey culminating with a terrible misfire, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is missing and presumed killed, leaving MI6 open to a cyberterrorist attack which strikes from the core and leaves several agents dead and the rest exposed from their cover. Sent back into the fray following his sporadic return to England, Bond soon finds the true mastermind behind the threat: Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem), a man whose past and motives challenge Bond's own loyalty to M (Judi Dench) and, in turn, MI6 itself.

Skyfall abandons the unbalanced, action fuelled vibe of its 'predecessor' in favour of a story that not only makes sense but carries a great deal of backstory, emotional resonance and plenty of tension. James Bond himself is developed beautifully as a character; Daniel Craig's past two outings have largely explored Bond as an agent, his role in the career of an MI6 operative. Skyfall delves further into his life as a man and his past as a child, all of which is intertwined with kinetic, well directed action scenes and a ton of wit.

This modernized and realistic interpretation of the franchise is continued flawlessly, but fans in particular will be surprised by the nods and throwbacks to the past iterations and their organic role in advancing the storyline. There's some major twists throughout which aren't gimmicky with a sole purpose to shock the audience but extremely well plotted and executed with sheer style. The action intertwined throughout is choreographed fantastically and bursting with imagination; it's not generic car chases and dull fistfights but a great deal of adrenaline pumping explosions, crashes and all manner of insane set pieces. It's especially important you view these in IMAX, for this is where they truly shine.

It's all beautifully acted and backed by a strong soundtrack, including a masterful theme song by Adele. Craig proves he can perfect the gritty and violent Bond but never portrays him as a robot with one strict emotion, providing a lot of humour to each scene and brilliantly executing some of the strong emotional moments. Silva is portrayed by Spanish actor Javier Bardem with an equal amount of excellence, the only flaw being the character's vague backstory which in turn weakens his motives. Other than that, he's a complete loony, albeit an intelligent and awesome one.

Skyfall blends the old and the new into a perfect outcome; it's easily the series' finest outing and a marvellous way to commemorate the 50th anniversary. Those who were disappointed with Solace will no longer feel short changed, and those picky fans who still doubt Craig's ability in the role should hopefully shut the f*** up.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Movie Review - Paranormal Activity 4

Today I made the decision to watch Paranormal Activity 4, the latest in the money printing supernatural horror series that began in 2007 and has since evolved from subtlety to outright silliness. As the film concluded with its daftly awkward ending, a humourous usher at the cinema remarks 'I'll see you back for the next three!'. The next three. Paranormal Activity 5, 6 and 7. Everyone and their mother will be gazing at the statement in terror, with feelings of negativity pumping through their veins; and yet, the films will still catch money like diseases. But what exactly makes them such enticing films? Who knows, but Paranormal Activity 4 certainly doesn't exemplify the answer.

Alex Nelson (Kathryn Newton) lives next door to an isolated house inhabited by deranged child Robbie (Brady Allen) who frequently sneaks into her own property alongside an apparent invisible 'friend'. When Robbie comes to stay with Alex and her family following the hospitalization of his mother, an unsettling atmosphere arises and mysterious sounds begin to plague the house corridors. Determined to locate the source of the paranormality, Alex and her boyfriend Ben (Matt Shivley) set up a network of CCTV cameras across the building to uncover the true motives of Robbie and the mysterious entity he speaks of.

What made the first Paranormal Activity so effective in areas was the actual realism behind the use of home video footage and the subtlety of the events, such as the simplistic but tension mounting opening of a door. As the series progressed these tactics became naught but abused clich├ęs, and the fourth installment enjoys lounging back on these instead of injecting any effort or innovation into the storyline or content. Devoid of any scares, Paranormal Activity 4 baby feeds you with irritatingly loud noises, quiet moments which only serve to prepare the aforementioned jump scares and a home video footage style which is utterly contrived. Seriously, why the hell are these people carrying expensive cameras everywhere they go?

There is little else I can say of this film that isn't utterly obvious. The premise is tired and the conventions were dead and buried long before this latest iteration: supernatural horror isn't a lost cause, but films like this make you doubt its success in contemporary cinema. The acting is stupid, the product placement is horrendous and the lack of scares makes this a bloated and unnecessarily long borefest. Might I also add that the reasonably scary scene shown in the trailer is not in the film. Total bullshit.

Tuesday 16 October 2012

Movie Review - Hotel Transylvania

With the advent of 3D dominating modern cinema, animated films are far more commonplace than ever before; the genre has fallen victim to a lackluster reputation of thin scripts, predictable narratives and cheap morals shoved into the faces of the young audience, and while every so often you're greeted with an animated flick that can reach dual audiences, far more likely are films like Hotel Transylvania where the BBFC rating manages to sum up the narrative, gags and morals in an instant.

Following the tragic death of his wife many centuries ago, the overprotective and xenophobic Count Dracula (Adam Sandler) vows to keep his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) safe from the persecution of mankind by constructing a gargantuan castle within a haunted forest: dubbed Hotel Transylvania, the landmark acts as a way for monsters to kick back and relax in a human-free zone. When the comforting tradition is broken with the arrival of Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a lone human traveller, Dracula is tied up in a hectic conflict to keep his daughter protected, but soon realizes there is more to the human race than he originally thought.

Sony Pictures Animation have crafted a highly comedic visual look for the film, with absurd facial expressions and zany, slapstick gags, joined by added 3D depth which, you guessed it, is absolutely worthless. The look adds a certain charm to the characters and humour, but ultimately isn't strong enough to redeem Hotel Transylvania from its many flaws. An endless wave of screaming, cartoon violence and occasional fart gags bombard the audience at a relentless pace to a point where it almost feels demeaning; there's no shortage of funny jokes, but even the mediocre slapstick is crushed underneath irritating pop culture references.

At times it's difficult to tell where the film is trying to go with its narrative; it all seems to come an abrupt halt throughout the middle to make way for endless slapstick and silliness, as if cobbling the misplaced ideas of a child. The hollow script is already highly dull, but towards the end the writers seemed to have given up completely; there is what I shall dub a deux ex machina as the story reaches the conclusion which is so contrived, unbelievable and lazy that the film immediately loses any remaining decency with its plot devices. Be honest now: can you really sit there and tell me you don't know what the ending is already?

The voice cast is strong and great fun; Adam Sandler becomes comedically involved with the character which makes him vastly entertaining alongside the strong supporting cast including Samberg, Steve Buscemi, David Spade and Kevin James. The only real downer is Selena Gomez herself, whose character is not only boring and often annoying but also performed with no real excitement or interest. Hotel Transylvania is definitely one for the very young or very mad, exuding no real depth or creativity whatsoever with a premise that seems half decent. A weak story and endless reliance on slapstick humour drowns the audience in mediocrity and pure laziness, which the film utterly reeks of.