Monday 27 May 2013

Movie Review - Epic

With Ice Age 4 earning Blue Sky enough money to last another 3000 years, the ever-growing animation studio has taken a break from their reject Shrek franchise to give us a fresh product from their lineup of talent: Epic. With a title rather literal but also extremely vague, Epic tells the story of the young and boring Mary Katherine (Amanda Seyfriend) who, when visiting her estranged scientist father Bomba (Jason Sudeikis), is whisked away into a magical forest world lead by the Leafman warriors - a world her father has spent years searching for.

Mary Katherine befriends the Leafman trainee Nod (Josh Hutcherson) and his guardian Ronin (Colin Farrell) and is tasked with delivering a flower pod to blossom in the forest, bringing back life and shattering the sinister deforestation plans of the evil boggun Mandrake (Christoph Waltz). The story is fulfilled and tied up in an extremely predictable fashion and everything is rather by the numbers in this family flick; it's not an offensively bad plot, but it never has any sense of true urgency and sometimes feels a tad bloated to boost the run time.

Epic is an aesthetic pleaser, boasting the usual stunning focus on lighting that Blue Sky are known for and fluid and jubilant character animation. Visuals are not the problem - storytelling is. Epic never really has the balls to live up to its inappropriate title, constructed from an unoriginal screenplay that ticks off the usual modern animated film conventions: a forced romance, comedic sidekicks, a villain restrained by censorship and predictable morals. I'm not hating it for being samey as I understand it's targeted at kids just as much as older audiences; but we seem to live in an age where animated films can never build upon the status quo of their style and are churned out without any evident passion.

With so much potential established, it is disappointing to see things go to waste. Epic boasts an impressive voice cast who all perform exceptionally and a likeable host of characters. But when the characters are established, their development does little to explore anything within them other than the cardboard cutout personalities on the surface. Sure, I like them, but they don't inject much diversity into the film; this can especially be said for Mandrake, the film's poorly executed villain. Voiced perfectly by Christoph Waltz and animated as fittingly scary, his character is then wasted as he's shunted to the sidelines until absolutely necessary. The film barely explores character motives, and some of the choices made by whoever wrote the film really feel a bit random.

The dialogue is funny and there's a good moral lesson but it's one we've seen countless times before; Epic just doesn't feel particularly engaging, lacking a vibrant heart when it comes to its characters and a narrative with any meaningful backstory. It's most certainly watchable and enjoyable, and that's the case with most animated films these days: it's not bad, just annoyingly uninventive and deprived of any true substance. The outline of the story has a lot of potential to dig deep into, but this isn't taken advantage of. It's a solid family film but, as is the usual problem, nothing more.

Saturday 25 May 2013

The End

The place you see above is the campus for Brockenhurst College; well, part of it anyway. The college has been hailed as one of the best in Hampshire since its birth in 1909 (yeah, it's rather old) and teaches nearly 3000 students per year in dozens of GCSE, A Level and Foundation courses. Its fairly large campus is situated amongst a beautiful natural landscape in the New Forest and is right beside bus stops and the Brockenhurst railway station for easy transport access.

Now why the fuck am I telling you this? Well, Brockenhurst College just happens to be the place I studied at from September 7, 2011 until now. While my exams take place in June, never again will I visit Brock under normal, timetabled circumstances and so my time there has officially come to an end. While some pupils are staying for a third year, I myself am moving on to university in four months and so this place is now a memory - one I wanted to express my appreciation for in this (hopefully not) pretentious blog post.

The college's food bargain bin and social hub, Hard Brock.
I visited Brockenhurst College for the first time during one of their open evenings in October 2010 and I loved it. I had planned to take course in Film, Media, History and English Literature, and immediately signed up after a few hours at the lovely campus. Not only was the college being home to such great people a plus, but the lovely surroundings really differed from the dull concrete jungle of my home and made for a greater promise of variation. My induction day took place on July 1, 2011, and it's fair to say I was a complete nervous wreck; never had I socialized with so many people at once and never had I been jerked out of my routine that I adopted at school for so many years. It was all new to me and I was a bit of a twonk when meeting new people. But my bad experiences only improved me as a person, and by the time I started college on September 7, 2011 I was always ready for the day ahead. Well, most of the time. 80%, maybe?

Though my abrupt change in timetable during the start of the year kinda pissed me off, I settled in quickly and awkward fears of socialization were a thing of the past. I had met my girlfriend Kerry Etheridge in my English Literature class and our relationship began on October 12, 2011. It was off to a bumpy start which included breakups, arguing and insecurities between us both, making for an intense emotional ride during the latter months of 2011 and even the start of 2012; but I felt this matured me even further. I experienced genuine pain and affection in the context of a relationship as we grew closer, and I am going to stop talking about this now before I gross you out. By the end of 2011, I had met loads of new friends and settled into a group of my own. That's better.

Students infest this place like flies on shit in the morning.
I really enjoyed college until around April 2012, when I grew tired of the dull routine and boring lessons - not to mention the immense stress as exams were looming. My timetable had me starting at 9am every day except Friday, and 4:20pm finishes were common. These long days began to take their toll and I struggled to feel motivated and cheerful until the final few months when I had found solace in the knowledge that I was prepared for my exams and that a lengthy summer holiday would welcome me to heaven. If I could go back to my first year, I would most certainly fix my stupid moods, for the memories are extremely joyous and I feel I wasted them a little by being so unmotivated.

My second year began in September 2012 and I felt returning was easy and relaxed. Whereas I'd be dreading returning to school and feel intense pain when recalling the pleasant summer holiday memories, college was easy to go back to as I wanted to see people again and settle in to a new timetable. I had swapped History for Psychology during the first weeks of Year 1 and, after getting a mediocre C grade in the subject, dropped it to focus on just three A Levels. I wanted my second year to be something much more memorable, and it was; but not for very good reasons.

A beautiful locale.
Okay, well, that's kind of harsh. Year 2 wasn't a total disaster, but it wasn't as memorable or compelling as Year 1 and this is for several reasons. While I had a great timetable that removed all my early starts and late finishes, I found myself unable to see many of my friends due to free period differences. Not only this, but I wasn't enjoying my subjects a great deal; Film and Media, my favourites, delved into darker territories in Year 2, studying more controversial themes and ideas which were admittedly interesting but also rather unpleasant at times. Has anyone seen Visitor Q? Well, I got to watch it for academic purposes in Film Studies and write my own essay on it. Beautiful.

English Literature in which I received an A grade at Year 1 became a boring subject in a class I did not fully get on with or settle into. I was a silent recluse in Literature and my class and teacher will probably tell you the same thing; and this contrasted greatly with my loud and crazy behaviour in the company of my friends. I know Year 2 sounds pretty crappy so far, but by far the biggest and best memory was the astounding Hollywood trip on February 23 which I detailed in a past blog post (and in like 2 billion tweets). The trip fuelled my good moods for so long during the build up, but left me severely depressed once it was over. It was that good.

A great stage of my life, but I have to move on.
If I wrote about every college memory, good or bad, and how it influenced every part of my life, I would be here until the end of time itself. I was never a talkative or comfortable kid at school; I hated every moment of it and leaving was a time of happiness and relief. College, however, has been quite the opposite. I admittedly didn't enjoy my second year a great deal and leaving that behind as been quite satisfying, but my first year remains one of the best moments of my life and, to be fair, even its successor holds many positive memories. I've met so many great people here, many of whom I may never see again, and so I wish them all the best of luck with their future endeavours.

I'm excited to move on to a new chapter in life with university and hope the people closest to me here remain more than just memories in the future.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Movie Review - The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest works in American literature, delving into the corruption and materialism that many say plagued the illustrious but decadent Roaring Twenties. Ridden with booze, self-indulgence and a consumeristic vibe, the story remains influential and culturally significant to portraying such a controversial time Fitzgerald himself struggled within. A number of inevitable film adaptations have been born from the material; but would you ever consider it apt for a $100 million production with some of the biggest actors in Hollywood, a strong focus on visual effects and over glorified 3D imagery? Well, Baz Lurhmann sure did. And strangely, I like it.

Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is a depressed alcoholic eaten up by a past trauma - one his doctor eventually says should be written down to exploit his solace in writing. The story he reveals is of a man named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), a person he considered full of hope and determination, who has mysteriously acquired a fortune after the first World War and uses his wealth to hold extravagant parties to rekindle a lost relationship with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan (Cary Mulligan). As the time passes, Nick is dragged further and further into a mishmash of his and others indulgent desires; and into a culmination of events that leaves disastrous consequences.

The Great Gatsby often feels like an urban version of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, or perhaps Avatar or Oz the Great and Powerful. While I'm partially joking, it's hard to deny the films backgrounds and sweeping camera shots are crafted mostly from richly vivid CGI - Lurhmann's depiction of the buzzing atmosphere of 1920s America is near perfect and evokes a sense of luxuriousness that the audience, much like the characters, gains from negative, indulgent happenings. Lurhmann has flawlessly conveyed a visual depiction of the outrageous culture, but an anachronistic if memorable soundtrack doesn't quite fit the mood or time period and can often create jarring tonal shifts.

Whoever was in charge of casting for this film was inspired - DiCaprio was born to play the eponymous role as many are saying and Maguire shares a fantastic chemistry with him. The supporting cast of Mulligan and Joel Edgerton bring more finesse to the string of performances and a well written script ensures Gatsby is consistently entertaining. The only real narrative issue is with pacing, which is a tad conflicted during the opening and ending portions where the film races along at a relentless speed without much care toward development and focus. There are also some moments where things tend to drag, but thankfully these aren't common annoyances.

The character of George Wilson who many know turns out to be extremely important is crucially under developed, which is something several other characters also suffer from. These grudges aside, The Great Gatsby is a compelling and visually rich drama that remains faithful to Fitzgerald's original story - but is further brought to life by exceptional performances and fantastic production design. If you're a fan of the novel, go and see it, old sport.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Movie Review - Star Trek Into Darkness

The Star Trek franchise always had a bumpy ride when it came to the film industry, with its very first motion picture receiving a critical mauling and lackluster box office returns. While The Wrath of Kahn remains a successful and equally loved sci-fi hit, it wasn't until J.J Abrams' 2009 Star Trek that the series broadened its appeal beyond the Trekkie fanbase and reignited interest within modern audiences. Fours year on, the next stage of the planned trilogy has arrived. And believe me, it's nothing like you'd expect.

The reckless behaviour of Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) leads to his demotion from captain of the USS Enterprise; a rank he is soon forced back into when Starfleet is attacked by one of their own operatives, John Harrison (Bennedict Cumberbatch), who for years has been wanting to settle a personal score with his commanders. With the help of Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban) and the rest of his crew, Kirk must now journey into the depths of space and seek out this deadly new foe; but he finds out there is much more to these events than he initially expected.

Ignoring the excellent performances and thrilling set pieces, what made Star Trek such a fantastic reboot was the quality writing which developed likeable characters and exploited clever dialogue and plot advancement. All this returns in Into Darkness, with the main actors reprising their roles beautifully and the dialogue better than ever. The humour is timed to perfection with an excellent wit, and you'll never cringe at any of the lines. Cumberbatch truly shines throughout the cast, delivering an intimidating and monstrous performance as the villain but thankfully never resorting to philosophical and melodramatic statements every time he speaks - something I feared would happen. Also, dat voice.

The narrative is very faithful to the title, delving into darker themes and content that the first Star Trek merely touched upon. The relationship between Kirk and Spock is developed beautifully, really becoming one of the most important elements of the film that's complimented by stellar performances. The plot twists dramatically shift the focus; the film was not what I expected from the trailers, but this is a very good thing, delivering a deeper focus on character and surprises with perfect pacing. Into Darkness thankfully never gets too complex with its narrative structure - and what's better is how the alternative timeline explored in its predecessor is thankfully still acknowledged, forming it into a constant aspect of the plot instead of an abandoned one.

The special effects impress throughout and it's all made even better in gorgeous IMAX 3D. Whether we're talking about the makeup, CGI or excellently crafted sets, Into Darkness never disappoints visually and provides an incredibly rich aesthetic experience. Set pieces are shot well and consistently thrill, even if they can be a bit too noisy. The final battle ends on a somewhat anti-climactic note, but otherwise the film flawlessly threads together a gripping story with creative action sequences. Fans of the franchise will love the nods and subtle references, and Into Darkness is an essential watch for anyone remotely interested - which should be everyone.

Sunday 5 May 2013

Nightmare - SEE IT NOW!

It's been a long time since The Attic arrived last year, and now after months of development, writing, filming and editing, Nightmare is finally here!

The premiere screening took place on Friday May 3 and was a huge success! People really enjoyed the evening and the film received very positive reception. See what you think by clicking the link above and checking it out! Fullscreen at 480p is the best choice; Nightmare was shot and edited in SD format so the interlaced nature of the video is exposed a bit too much in the 720p setting.

Please leave a comment with your feedback and enjoy, and watch this space for the announcement of my next project!