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Saturday, 31 December 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows


The event that fans of Sherlock Holmes, Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr. have been waiting for is finally here, the sequel to the 2009 hit Sherlock Holmes has arrived in style and does not disappoint. Recent fans of Holmes have been spoilt with the recent BBC adaption Sherlock, brilliantly portraying Holmes in twenty-first century London, however it is a joy to get back to a gorgeously decorated period version, made all the better by Guy Ritchie's direction. Picking up several years after the original, the film sees Holmes battling his archenemy to prevent the 'collapse of Western civilization, his nemesis that is the cool and meticulous Professor James Moriarty, played beautifully by Jared Harris. Watson (Jude Law), now happily married, is prepared to settle down and enjoy the pleasant luxuries of life, however Holmes' nature soon causes him to be inevitably swept along, accompanied by the mysterious gypsy Sim (Noomi Rapace) in a life and death struggle to bring down one of the most fascinating criminal minds of the century. The film, like the first, is gushing with references to the original text that will satisfy the appetites of fans of Sherlock Holmes, from quotations, characters and settings, providing Ritchie's second outing with Holmes with layers of details that will please different levels of the audience. The addition of Mycroft, played exquisitely by Stephen Fry (who seems born to play the role), delves into the family background of Holmes enabling us as an audience to image the bickering childhood between the two brothers who are constantly having deduce-offs to outdo each other.

The crucial element of this film is the villain. The story needed to take Holmes to a place where he had never been before, to push him that extra bit further than Blackwood (Mark Strong) had in the first film, which character is better to do so, none other than Professor Moriarty. Jared Harris' portrayal is amazing, both he and Downey Jr. are precise and calculative in their acting, making you really feel that these two incredible minds are in a never ending war with each other. The scene when they are having a chess game without a board and remembering each position on the board has never been seen before in a Holmes and Moriarty, and is a personal favourite of mine in any adaptation I have seen. However despite the mental conflicts and the combat, it is the gentlemanly qualities of both Holmes and Moriarty, and the manner in which they can turn from admiration into loathing is a genius achievement on both their parts, and also the genius of Guy Ritchie. This is probably one of the greatest Moriarty and Holmes conflicts that we have ever witnessed, and one that will not be easily forgotten.

Overall I found the film a joy to view, the sets, music and acting where superb, and both Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law once again prove that they are a brilliantly pairing for the Holmes and Watson duo. Being a fan of Sherlock Holmes for some time, I find any adaptation intriguing to watch, and as fan of Ritchie's first film this one possibly surpasses the original and many other interpretations. Warner Brothers are in talks to produce a third instalment, which I imagine will be released in a few years, but those of you who know that the film is based on story The Final Problem will question whether Holmes will or will not return to our screens. We may have a great hiatus on our hands and have to wait many years. Either way I will welcome another adaption of Sherlock Holmes with open arms, as A Game of Shadows is Sherlock Holmes at its absolute best.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Doctor Who - The Doctor the Widow and the Wardrobe

If I am being honest, most television this Christmas was dull. Normally there is at least one show, newly released, that really provides fresh entertainment which is memorable and poignant. Doctor Who is one of those shows notoriously excellent over the Christmas period, providing laughs, chills and adventure unlike anything we have seen during the festive season. This year was no exception, as we saw the Doctor (or the Caretaker as he professes in this episode) attempting to provide Madge Arwell (Claire Skinner) and her two children Lily (Holly Earl) and Cyril (Maurice Cole) with the most memorable Christmas ever after being evacuated to Dorset during World War II. Following the death of her husband (Alexander Armstrong), Madge refrains from telling Lily and Cyril about his demise, fearing it will upset their Christmas and the future Christmas' to come. 

Including forests inside of presents and living Christmas trees, the episode was completely aimed at a Christmas audience, one that is stuffed full of turkey hallucinating over all the alcohol and mince pies they have consumed. If this episode had been shown at any other time of the year I feel that it would not have been received well, however it was Christmas day, and therefore the gimmicks and humour were acceptable and in keeping with the festive cheer. It was not my favourite of the Christmas specials, as I still think that Steven Moffat will never be able to top last year’s sensational episode A Christmas Carol. Yet I loved the feel of The Doctor the Widow and the Wardrobe, as it dealt with what I feel is the most important aspect of Christmas, which is family, the happiness that you have together and the struggle to maintain that happiness through times of pain.

I will not spoil the end of the episode (although I gather most of you have seen it) as there was a brief surprise that really touched me, where the Doctor is aware of just how important he means to those who he knows and meets. Moffat really pulls at your heart strings when it comes to friendship in this episode, and how Christmas has the ability to bring family and friends together, and for you to realise how much you care about each other, and what you are willing to do to protect them. Overall I liked the episode and found it to deal with the themes of family and companionship brilliantly. Although it was not my favourite Christmas episode, I thought it was a touching episode that made me contemplate the importance of togetherness at Christmas, as well as family and friendship in general. 

I hope you all enjoyed it, however I feel that the long wait for season seven will be painful.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The Dark Knight Rises- The Trailer

So the most recent trailer for the new film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises, has been released after four years of waiting since Batman (Bruce Wayne) took the blame for the actions of the late Harvey Dent, A.K.A. Two-Face, in the 2008 film The Dark Knight. Many anticipated that the new villain to cross Batman’s path would be the Riddler or Harley Quinn, as long as it wasn’t Mr Freeze in the form of a certain Austrian Governor of California. Upon the confirmation that the villains would be Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Bane, many fan boys were both ecstatic and mystified as to where Nolan was going to take the characters, particularly Bane who as many fans know was forever tainted in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin as an illiterate moron, or as others have put it, Bigfoot in a mask.  However Tom Hardy’s take on the character is promising to be brutal and truer to the comics that present Bane as Batman’s equal, matching him in intellect and surpassing him in strength. Fingers crossed that he lives up to the challenge and becomes the villain that just might break the bat.

So the trailer began with a choir boy singing the American anthem at a football stadium which in fairness is unlike other examples of Nolan’s work. We then hear a teary Alfred (Michael Caine) telling Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) how he feels he has failed his parents and not looked after him, some unknown characters speaking about Commissioner Gordon being dumped by the Mayor of Gotham as it is peace time, and Selina Kyle  (Anne Hathaway) saying that ‘a storm is coming’.  Among other unexplained shots, we hear the chanting from the teaser trailer and the ‘Fire Rises’ marketing videos, which has caused much speculation among fans who believed it to be ‘BANE, BANE, MATALO, MATALO’, which translates to ‘BANE ,BANE ,KILL IT, KILL IT!!! However it is revealed to mean ‘rise’, very poignant considering the title, but who exactly will rise is another question, Bane or Batman. Then one of the most talked about shots in the trailer which features the football stadium where the boy was singing which, during a game, explodes and causes the pitch to collapse into a huge crater. This is unlike anything previously seen in the Nolan Batman universe and promises to be an exciting scene with high octane action and explosions, every geeks dream. Now the moment that many fans have been waiting for which is to hear Bane’s voice, which is a deep gargling sounding voice which has, as you may have heard from reviews, caused divided opinions. Although he is nothing like the inarticulate oath that we have seen before, he is difficult to understand, however I love it and think it is very powerful, controlled and unlike anything we have seen before in the Joker and Ra's al Ghul. Proclaiming to Bruce Wayne that ‘when Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die’, we get the impression that Bane and has a plan for the city that just may be to destructive for Batman to overcome. Conclusion, Bane means Business. The remainder of the trailer flicks through images of Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, tumblers, Batman, wire work, street brawls, explosions and to top it all off, the Batwing. Oh yes the final shot shows a chase between several tumblers and the Batwing which undoubtedly will be an incredible scene. The theme music kicks in, the film title comes up, the music cuts out, and the audience go silent.

Overall the trailer delivered a lot more than the teaser and showed Bane’s voice, the Batwing and visual tools that Nolan has never used in his Batman universe. The well paced trailer was exciting, bold and informative enough to propose new questions that will be answered when the film hits theatres next summer. I am sure that the audience will flock to see the film in their thousands when it is released in July 2012, but whether the film will satisfy the appetites of the geeks among us I am not sure, I do hope so, and in fact I want it to surpass the brilliance of The Dark Knight. Let me know what you think, but I can honestly say that the trailer lived up to what I expected and will keep me intrigued until next year. A great trailer for a potentially amazing film.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Thing

Director: Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.

Certificate: 15

Cast: Mary Elizabeth Winstead,Ulrich Thomsen, Eric Christian Ilsen, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Rating: 3.5/5

I am not a big fan of horror films: usually they are compiled of more guts than Bear Grylls, enough blood to give Dracula indigestion, and a level of acting that would make an episode of Eastenders feel like Chekov. However The Thing, directed by Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., is one of a small number of horror films that relies on suspense and tension, without resorting to gratuitous blood and gore, well nearly (autopsy scene for one). Dubbed as a prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), the story tells of the events leading up to the original, of a frozen alien discovered in Antarctica that can assume the appearance of its prey. Sounds interesting enough doesn't it?

The idea that the enemy is among you and you cannot identify it or know what it looks like is a sensation that makes this film, as well as other psychological horror films so successful, as friendship and alliance between the characters is put to the ultimate test which demands one thing: trust. Despite this the film fluctuates between a psychological thriller, and a good old fashioned bloody horror flick with cliché lines, and a narrative that is both predictable and monotonous. The film lacks pace at the beginning, but is carried along nicely through a balance of tension and brief spells of action as each team member succumbs to their predictable deaths. Apart from a few famous faces, including Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost), and the odd recognisable one, the cast is not complied of what you would call A-list stars, however each character plays their part perfectly until they meet a grizzly demise. The effects of the creature, although impressive, are by no means groundbreaking, the script as mentioned previously is predicable for a horror, despite including moments of creativity which are great fun. It is your typical, average horror film with enough violence, death and carnage to sustain you for the full one hundred minutes of viewing, any longer and you will be cheering every time a character is bumped off.

Overall I found The Thing, not disappointing, but lacking in something that I cannot out my finger on, maybe it is just me. Maybe it will be forever inferior to the original; however without the immense shadow of the first film, it is questionable whether this prequel would have received the popularity it has if it had been a standalone film. It is by no means down in the gutter with the later Saw instalments, nor is it revered like films such as The Mist (2007) or The Omen (1976), it is a good cinematic romp, and if you are a fan of the original or if you enjoy your horror, The Thing will sustain your bloodthirsty appetite until another more horrific film comes along.

Friday, 18 November 2011

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

Director: Steven Spielberg

Cast: Jaime Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Daniel Mays, Mackenzie Crook

Certificate: PG

Rating: 4/5

Steven Spielberg’s and Peter Jackson’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn takes the cinematic experience to new found heights, presenting Herge’s literary creation in a format unlike ever before. Upon discovering a secret contained within a model ship, Tintin and his dog Snowy battle to uncover the secret and avoid those who insist on obtaining the secret for themselves. How long does he have, and who can he trust?

One of the most impressive and apparent features of the film is the animated style in which it is produced. Often considered gimmicky and unnecessary, the motion capture used in the film is some of the best that has yet to be put on the screen, building upon such films as Avatar, A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express and creating something that is gorgeous to look at and mind numbingly realistic. Not only has that but the motion capture helped the film to attain a cartoon aesthetic, remaining truer to Herge’s original stories than any grand live action attempt. The cast is superb and, if you know your television and cinema, are easily recognisable, with Billy Elliot’s Jaime Bell and King Kong’s Andy Serkis taking the roles of at the legendary Tintin and the permanently drunk Captain Haddock respectively. The film is carried along with slapstick humour from the characters of the hapless detectives Thompson and Thompson, grand action scenes that make your eyes explode with excitement. It is a visual and stunningly realistic treat. 

The collaborating writers of the script are, if I may say so, not who I would have expected: Doctor who’s Steven Moffat, Scott Pilgrim’s Edgar Wright and Attack the Block Joe Cornish. This concoction of writers of sci-fi and humour you would think may cause the film not to remain true to Herge’s original creation, however fear not, as all three are lifelong fans of the stories and you can instantly tell by the care and attention that they have incorporated into every line, producing a fantastic and well paced script.

One thing however that I still cannot put my finger on, was who was the audience the film aimed at attracting? In the cinema there were numerous age ranges and group sizes, ranging from children with their parents up to couples in their fifties. Was this a kid’s film or not? I feel that if you are expecting Tintin to be a kid’s film you would be wrong, the only possible appeal that this film could have for children is that it is computer animated. The story, although not too complex, kept me hooked more than I imagined it would have done so for the younger audience members. So if you have kids who want to see the film, don’t expect fluffy white animals with celebrity voices, this is a film. It was a brilliant film that the whole family can enjoy, but not strictly just a children’s film and one that may disappoint kid’s who wanted to see it. This is another of the intentions that Spielberg and Jackson had by making the film in this way, removing the notion that just because a film is animated it will attract children and establishing that motion capture could potentially be the future of cinema. Motion capture is not just for children, but a new format of making films like never before.

Overall I found the film incredible to watch, the script was brilliant and the visionary work of both Jackson and Spielberg was ingenious. The acting, although you barely see the faces, was superb, and each actor performed their role perfectly and made a computer image feel lifelike with an existence that simple CGI could not offer. However as I mentioned previously this is not a children’s film in the same way as Pixar and Disney films appeal to kids, although children will love it as much as the adults, it may be a tad confusing for them to understand the plot fully. However I feel that anyone who sees this film cannot help but marvel at it, as it is a groundbreaking cinematic achievement that has already produced two further sequels that will go into production in the next few years. A brilliant cinematic romp.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Tinker Tailor Solider Spy

Director: Tomas Alfredson
Rating: 15
Cast:  Gary Oldman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Cathy Burke

John le Carré's famous espionage thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is often considered as one of the greatest spy novels of all time, now adapted to the silver screen by director Tomas Alfredson. The story tells of retired George Smiley, who is recalled to investigate a potential mole supplying information to soviet spies within a segment of the secret intelligence service known as ‘The Circus’. Not knowing who he can trust, Smiley is forced into desperate situations in order to unveil the traitor and cease their operations. Sounds pretty basic doesn’t it? However there have been opinions relayed by certain audience members who walked away from the film having reviewed it as too confusing, poorly paced and lacking tempo. They were expecting a James Bond style of espionage, a gritty thriller that is low on plot and high on long and often gratuitous action scenes. If you are expecting elaborate action scenes, technologically advanced gadgets and gorgeous woman in bikinis, all features that you would expect in other spy films, then Tinker Tailor is not for you. If you are not one for long expansive scenes of dialogue, and you prefer seeing a collection of villainous minions get annihilated and pummelled by a suave and sexy spy, then I would stick to Bond, or if you must, Johnny English.

Although the script is well constructed and eloquently executed, the cinematography is filming at its best. In order for the brilliant dialogue not to clutter every scene in the film, Alfredson uses the editing and cinematography to convey the narrative without causing the film to become heavily worded, inducing more emotion and pathos into the film through visual features. Another of these visual treats is the cast, with the film displaying an ensemble of actors that would occupy the nominations of most Oscar evenings, each with an individually intricate role within the films elaborate canvas. The film just oozes cinematic perfection; it is subtle and apparent, definite and vague. Each twist and revelation drags you through the film, with every one of them posing more questions which are not necessarily answered in their entirety. It is the epitome of cinematic suspense.

Despite the disapproval of some commenting that the film is too complicated, Tinker Tailor does require you to think and imagine for yourself. There is no introductory caption explaining the political situation when the film is set, nor is there any information provided for the audience to understand the location of the scene, or where the scene falls within the chronology of the narrative; the audience is forced to think and use their initiative. The film is almost aware of its own presence, and is intentionally uninformative and lacking in complete information. This is one of the most effective features of the film, as it encourages the audience to engage with the film, and not to remain passive and distanced from what they are seeing. As I commented before t is unfair to say it is a complicated film that intentionally confuses the audience, however Tinker Tailor requires you to simply think and judge for yourself. However this film does not make its audience intellectually inferior to itself, nor is it aimed specifically at those who appreciate espionage thrillers. It aims to reach out to a much wider spectrum of cinematic enthusiasts, with the hope of appealing to a collection of cinemagoers that have a varying interest in film and the world of cinema and storytelling. If you enjoy your cinema, if you like electrifying scripts that are well acted, direction and cinematography that can evoke certain emotions where dialogue fails to, then Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is a joy to see.

Review: 4.5/5

Reel Steel

Director: Shawn Levy
Rating: 12A
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Dakota Goyo, Evangeline Lily, Anthony Mackie
Set in the near future, although somehow still really farfetched, Reel Steel tells the story of former boxer Charlie Kenton (Jackman) who in 2020 earns money by fighting Robots in various boxing tournaments and exhibitions. That is basically it in a nutshell. To me robots boxing sounded like a cross between WALL.E and Rocky. Robots with similar physical strength to Sylvester Stallone, although with better dexterity and intellectual levels, I assumed that Reel Steel would be an entertaining B movie at most. I did not have the highest of expectations; I believed I would see the film and instantly leave the theatre only to forget about it.
However I must admit that the film did surpass the expectations that I originally had, only slightly though. I thought the casting of Hugh Jackman was an intelligent idea, as he can carry off the physical attributes that the role of Charlie Kenton required, as well as supplying humour and energy to the role. I enjoyed contemporary settings, including cattle ranges and old gymnasiums, integrated into the near future scenery to create an interesting, yet familiar futuristic visual style. I also felt he CGI was impressively utilised too, becoming one of the film’s most impressive assets. However when you strip away the visual effects and the action scenes, the story comes down to the relationship between an estranged father and his son, both of them to no surprise take a dislike to one another at the beginning of the film, and become inseparable over the course of a few days. These elements of the father son relationship going through the conventional ‘I never wanted you’, ‘I am starting to realise we are the same’ and ‘we are better when we are together’ narrative features dragged the film down, making it familiar, predictable, and dull.
Overall the Reel Steel was a slight disappointment, however if I had been a twelve year old this would probably be the most amazing film ever, inspiring me to get together with my friends and re-enact imaginary robot boxing in the safety of my own back garden. If you went to this film expecting amazingly written scripts and an experience that would repeat upon you for several days, then Reel Steel would have been a disappointment. However, for what it is the film does what it delivers for a ‘robot boxing’ film, action, humour and violence galore. I felt that Reel Steel did what it set out to achieve, to entertain. Even if it was lacking in certain areas, the film displayed everything you would expect from a futuristic action film, with entertaining action scenes, brilliant CGI and a perfect combination of comedy and story without letting the one overcome the other. If you have ever wanted to see a predictable, yet enjoyable film about ‘robot boxing’ set in the future with lots of action, cheesy lines, loud noises and metal on metal fighting, then Reel Steel is the film that delivers all of your dreams.
Rating: 3.5/5