RSS Feed

Category Archives: Culture

Skulduggery Pleasant: Midnight review

The latest book in the Skulduggery Pleasant series has been out for a while now, and after spending the past two weeks engrossed in the latest book involving Derek Landy’s Skeleton Detective, I am desperate for more. This book is once again a strong and captivating read that effortlessly continues the story established in the past ten books, whilst never feeling derivative. Midnight continues from the semi-cliffhanger of Resurrection, and sees a grown up Valkyrie and a more forlorn Skulduggery once again being forced to work together and fight the forces of darkness.

Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

Solo review- Is the Force strong with this film?

Posted on

It seems like only yesterday the film world was divided over the quality of The Last Jedi. In reality, it has been five months although that is admittedly a short time for Star Wars films to premier. Solo, the stand alone Han Solo prequel film, has been mired with some difficult behind the scenes issues and a bizarre marketing campaign, but now it’s here the whole world can experience the finished product. Is it worth the wait? I think it is. This is a fun and unique entry into the Star Wars saga and well worth a watch.

Read the rest of this entry

How a Skulduggery Pleasant film can work

Posted on

Next month sees the release of Skulduggery Pleasant: Midnight, and I’m naturally very excited. After a year away from my favourite book series, it’s great to return and see what new threats await Skulduggery and Valkyrie. I can also use this opportunity to think about the inevitable film adaptation. At the moment, there really isn’t a major book series that is on the screen, and Skulduggery Pleasant is a perfect series to bring to film. But how would I do it? Well, let’s assume that I control who is going to work on the film and dive straight in-

In terms of behind the scenes, there is one person who is absolutely vital, and that is Derek Landy himself. He once refused a film adaptation of the series because of the poor quality of the script (it had Skulduggery singing. Urgh) and it’s clear that he’ll be heavily involved in the next film attempt. Whilst I don’t think he’ll have time to write it, I think he should remain on as an executive producer- who are actually quite powerful in terms of making a film. He should hold a similar position to JK Rowling for the Harry Potter films and act as an adviser with final say over the production and casting. It is his series after all and I don’t want this to be another Rick Riordan situation where the author has no say in the books. We know what happened then.

This is Greek gods meet Harry Potter! HOW HARD IS THAT TO MESS UP!

Ok, so what studio should have the privilege to have Skulduggery Pleasant as a franchise? Not Disney, they have everything and if they end up with Skulduggery the stupid “Disney pay critics” rubbish will surface and I don’t want this franchise caught up in that. Warner Bros were the ones who tried before and I still think they could pull it off, and I’m not even considering Sony for the obvious fact that they are a terrible company. I don’t know the future of Fox but their poor handling of X-Men films outside of standalones such as Deadpool and Logan and the continued slow death of the Alien franchise makes me uncertain they could manage Skulduggery. Out of the ‘Big Six’, I can see Paramount doing alright with it and Universal could do a great job. They don’t have any major mess ups in terms of franchises (they’ve recovered from Dark Universe) and are doing fine with Jurassic Park. They would deserve Skulduggery Pleasant.

First things first: do not make the first film just to set up sequels. Make the first film good, get an audience, then pitch a sequel. The sequels exist but don’t greenlight the adaptations until the studio are sure they have a successful franchise. That’s the reason why so many franchises fail.

Right, so now we need a director. In my mind, only one director fits Skulduggery Pleasant perfectly, and it’s Guillermo del Toro.

Del Toro is my favourite filmmaker. His films are of the highest quality and always entertain me. Whilst the strength of Pan’s Labyrinth alone should justify why he should make any film, it’s his two Hellboy films that make me want to see his Skulduggery Pleasant. Hellboy is a similar premise done brilliantly, and del Toro is able to make the comic books part of his unique auteur stamp. Hellboy II has action sequences that are similar to scenes in Skulduggery Pleasant, and a franchise based on the fantastical and macabre would be well served under del Toro. I can imagine a darker, more horror based interpretation of the story. There would also be an emphasis on practical effects and stunts, things missing in Hollywood films. Having an award winning filmmaker helm the project would help the studio fund the film too, and hopefully not have too much meddling. Del Toro is also good with casts, and on that subject we turn to casting the principal players. Valkyrie will almost certainly be an open casting for an unknown actor, but Skulduggery Pleasant will probably be a big name who is well loved. Big name? Well loved? How about David Tennant?

One of my favourite Doctors playing one of my favourite characters. Tennant is just perfect for the part. I know he’s not Irish but he’s not English either and had a seamless accent on Doctor Who. I’m pretty sure he can do an accent for Skulduggery too. He can be dramatic, funny and awesome, and if you read any of Skulduggery’s lines in the Tenth Doctor’s manner then you will see why he is an ideal pick. Ideally Skulduggery should be brought to life by amazing motion capture technology. This technique has gone from being a rarity to being used in almost all major films, mostly very well.

Other casting choices I’d like to see happen in future films are John Barrowman, Nathan Fillion or David Harbour as Sanguine, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as Scapegrace and Thrasher, Benedict Cumberbatch as Erskine Ravel, Idris Elba as Ghastley Bespoke, Stephen Fry as Kenspeckle Grouse and Derek Landy himself as Gordon Edgely. The music should be done by Danny Elfman or Marco Beltrami.

I don’t really have any ideas about the rest of the characters, although they should all be Irish or British, unless they are specifically stated to not be (such as Sanguine and Scarab). The cast will probably not be too expensive as the studio will not risk a big budget flop. Have a modest budget as the first book is a mystery with action in so it doesn’t need to be too expensive or full of explosions and CGI.  Release it in September or February, two months that have had proven success in recent times (Deadpool, LEGO Batman, Get Out, It and Black Panther) and also away from competition and the living hell that is non-Marvel blockbusters and the pain of Oscar season. Market it well and use the star power of the behind the scenes crew and- bam! A solid opening weekend, positive word of mouth and loyalty to the book series making both fans and casual audiences happy causes a strong box office. Guillermo del Toro continues to rule Hollywood, David Tennant becomes a major film star and Derek Landy’s books gain a whole new audience. Universal now have a franchise.

Of course, that’s probably not going to happen. Regardless, I think this is the best possible way for a Skulduggery Pleasant film franchise. Derek Landy has stated a film won’t happen until he is fully satisfied with what Hollywood is offering him, so until he is I’m happy with the books. I would love to see this amazing series on the big screen, but I don’t want it being bad either. Of course, a film isn’t the only option- a Sherlock style TV show would work, as would a show on streaming. Whatever happens, I will be there supporting it.

My Top 10 favourite films- redux

Posted on

Waaaay back in 2013 I did my list of favourite films. Well, I was 12 then and hadn’t seen as many films as I have now, and with my film studies course I have been checking out films I never thought I would see. My new found passion for films has opened my eyes to what truly makes a film great and why I personally love them so much. There’s some films on this new list that were there before, and some which weren’t, including number 1. I regret not being able to stick in my childhood movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, but there was just too much competition. Let’s dive right in with-

10. Alien

This is quite possibly the best paced film in the history of cinema. I’m not a massive horror fan, but combine the slasher genre with the sci-fi genre and you have a winning combination that appeals to me in every way. Everything about this film is masterfully done, with a slow build up that escalates into something utterly insane. The set design and production values are second to none, and this still looks amazing nearly forty years later. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time I watched this, and I only saw it recently. I’m glad I did, as not only has it inspired my recent writings and ideas, but it prepared me for my current film studies unit, where Ridley Scott is one of the auteurs we are studying. He is a master of detail and visuals, and this film has some of the best production design and atmosphere I have ever seen. It’s such a stunning film on a purely visual level.

 

This is a rare film where everything clicks into place. The direction is outstanding, the use of silence is genius, the acting is genuine and believable (the chest-burster scene had real reactions from the cast, who did not know there would be that much blood) and the script is brilliant. On top of being a terrifying sci-fi/horror film, this film throws in social commentary through the android Ash, with the implication that the Company are willing to throw away human lives for the sake of studying the alien and that Ash is willing to do anything to achieve the Company’s goal. It’s subtle and not in your face, leaving the main story focused on the survivors battling an unknown, unstoppable force. The characters are not the most complex but they are relatable and human- Ripley is of course one of the greatest sci-fi heroes ever, female or otherwise. Every other scene tops the last one in intensity and drama and this is why I prefer Alien to basically every other horror film ever (barring John Carpenter films). Ridley Scott approaches jump scares and gore subtly and implies more than shows, barely showing the alien despite the brilliant costume. It’s directing choices like this that allow me to appreciate the film more than just a slasher/horror film, which I’m not a big fan of otherwise. In terms of atmosphere and sheer thrills, very little comes close to this film. I love Aliens (I haven’t seen the other films other than the first two, and I don’t think I’m missing much) and I love some of Ridley Scott’s other films (Blade Runner, Gladiator and The Martian come to mind) but this is his masterpiece. It’s a worthy addition to my favourite films list.

9. The World’s End

If there’s any filmmaker working today who is worthy of the title “film auteur”, it’s Edgar Wright. He is responsible for some of the best and funniest movies I have ever seen, with Baby Driver being one of my favourite films of last year. What I admire most about his films is how he makes movies that are simple and fun on a surface level, but very complex and thematic when you take a closer look at them. You can write whole essays on his films (I did) and in the conclusion to the superlative Three Cornettos Trilogy, Edgar Wright gave the world his absolute best, in my opinion. The World’s End is a perfect combination of laugh out loud comedy with very real and dramatic ideas and themes driving the narrative forward. It’s a film that stays with you long after you finish watching it and I can’t think of a more perfect end to the trilogy.

Let’s start with the ingenious premise. What if a British pub crawl by five friends became a fight for Earth? And what if the friends are too drunk to even notice until halfway through that their hometown has been taken over by robots-that-aren’t-robots/blanks/smashy smashy egg men? And what if the leader of the group is a man-child living in the past, only being able to gain fulfilment in life by completing the pub crawl he started at seventeen? Comedy gold and heavy introspection about personal fulfilment and nostalgia ensues. Everything about the script (written by Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg, who was snubbed for a Best Actor nomination that year) is top-notch. Gary King is a masterpiece of a character and commands the film from beginning to end. He is utterly reliant on nostalgia and the past, believing that the past is better than his life as an adult. In contrast to the rest of the characters, Gary hasn’t moved on, seeing The Golden Mile as the only way to progress. The alien invasion supplements this, as the aliens recreate the town’s past in their plan for domination, and it takes a character as over the top and counter-culture as Gary King to stop them. Even with all the complex themes, the movie is still hilarious and has a strong and engaging mystery plot, coupled with awesome action sequences and a sense of fun. Many fans of the other two films in the Cornetto trilogy see this film as too dark, but for me it’s the perfect way to end the most intelligent comedy series ever made. It’s about moving on from the past and forging a future in a changed world. Edgar Wright has never made a bad film (heck, he’s never even made a good one, they’ve all been amazing) and this is my favourite.

8. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

The. Funniest. Film. Ever. I mean, there’s laugh-a-minute and then there’s Holy Grail. Every joke hits and there’s pretty much every kind of joke imaginable- visual comedy, character humour, puns, innuendo, slapstick and fourth wall breaking. Monty Python are pretty much the crown jewels of British comedy and this film is the epitome of why we Brits are the kings of comedy. Even if you’ve never seen this film, you know at least 75% of the film due to its placement in pop culture. In fact, in Britain Holy Grail is required as part of the English National Curriculum (I’m joking, but I wish it was). How many people don’t know the Black Knight scene off by heart?

The genius of this film is taking the material completely seriously and yet not at all. The problems with the majority of comedy nowadays is how they always mention how silly they are, whilst Monty Python take everything in the film as if it’s normal. The coconuts-as-horses, the Black Knight losing his limbs and the Knights who say Ni are treated perfectly normally and straight. I cannot emphasis how important it is to take comedy material seriously, especially if it’s ridiculous. It sounds weird, but it is vital for comedy to be treated seriously to work. Holy Grail is such a crazy and over the top film that is highly entertaining. It’s Flying Circus with a budget and it’s probably the second best continuation of a TV show in film, the first of which I’ll get to later. My absolute favourite set piece in the film is the utter perfection of the bridge scene, taking in every running gag of the film and it gives every character something funny to do. It’s also a great film to study if you want to know where Terry Gilliam gets his mad genius from in his other films like Brazil and Time Bandits. This isn’t a deep or complex film, it’s just an absolute blast that will never get old.

7. The Empire Strikes Back

Thirty years and seven movies on, and Star Wars still hasn’t topped one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. I have seen this film five times and every time it is a fantastic experience. Everything great about the first film is expanded upon and twisted to create both a perfect continuation and a standalone masterpiece that still holds up. Pushing aside the memes, the iconic twist and the parodies, the film stands as an examination of power, family and good vs evil. This film has been examined and analysed so much I almost feel like summarising it is pointless, but there is so much to this film that I absolutely adore. Right down from the opening Battle of Hoth to the iconic final shot, Empire Strikes Back is perfectly structured and paced. It splits the heroes up and forces all of them to confront new challenges and ideas.

Infinitely darker and introspective than the first, this sequel is all about how to deal with all-oppressive odds. Luke’s journey in this film takes him from a optimistic hero to a broken character who nonetheless breaks through his trauma to continue fighting the Empire. He meets Yoda and finds out that the Force does not define who a person is- the person defines who the person is. A little green man ends up being the driving force of the film’s themes and I cannot emphasise how profound and well written the Dagobath scenes are. The special effects and action scenes add rather than detract from the story and still look amazing, with the majority of the model work still holding up to today’s CGI. John Williams is the MVP of the film for me. How can you not hum the Asteroid theme or The Imperial March? For all the flashy effects and action, the relative lack of plot supplements the highly personal and emotional story being told. It’s about the rights and wrongs of the Force and the negatives of heroism, yet it is also optimistic in its outlook about friendship and the goodness inside everyone. The highlight of the film outside of Yoda is Darth Vader, the greatest movie villain of all time. His cool presence, commanding character and surprising depth and complexity make him a fascinating character to watch, and it’s made all the more brilliant by the still amazing twist. Everything about the movie is building up to that brilliant, genre defining moment which changes everything. Now Luke isn’t just fighting to save the galaxy, he’s fighting to save his father and bring balance to the Force. I don’t think I need to go any further, this movie is iconic and it deserves to be.

(Slight edit here: I thought I scheduled this post for the 7th of May. Turns out it was the 4th. May the Fourth Be With You.)

6. Spider-Man 2

I’ve gushed about this movie before but I think I only scratched the surface on why this movie is a masterpiece. It’s the best comic book film ever made in my opinion, and only The Dark Knight, Logan, Black Panther and Hellboy 2 come close. Sam Raimi took a beloved character and solid foundations with the first film and made a film that’s less about superheroes and more about what it means to grow up, change and be a better person, and he did it with an amazing story combined with astonishing action, humour, respect to the source material and so much more to create the perfect superhero film. Even though this film is over ten years old, I still don’t think the superhero film genre has ever come reached the perfect heights of what was achieved in this film- a perfect blend of comic book action and themes combined with the added benefits of the film medium- acting, directing, special effects, framing of shots and Danny Elfman’s amazing music which all add up for a perfect cinematic experience.

This perfect sequel takes everything about the first film and makes it even better than before. The core premise of the film, and indeed the Spider-Man mythos, is what it means to be a hero and how doing the right thing isn’t always the most desirable. In this film, Peter struggles to balance his normal life with Spider-Man and eventually gives up the latter, causing his life to improve. But the city suffers, crime goes up and Peter realises that he is bringing hope and peace to people as Spider-Man, causing him to return to superhero life. He chooses to be Spider-Man because it’s the right thing to do, even if it isn’t something he absolutely wants. This deep introspection could make for a film that forgets to be a comic book adaptation (for all its merits The Dark Knight isn’t really a comic book film in the same vein this is) but the bright colours, campy nature, moments of humour and the brilliant cheesy heart of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s creation makes Spider-Man 2 a comic book brought to life. Doctor Octopus could very well be my favourite comic book movie villain who is simultaneously sympathetic and delightfully evil. It’s no wonder that this movie won Best Visual Effects at the Oscars as Doc Ock’s tentacles are some of the cleverest and well thought out visual effects I have ever seen. The train scene is the best action scene I have ever seen, the script is complex and yet at the same time simple in its execution. We don’t need to be told Peter’s angst, we’re shown it through the metaphor of him losing his powers and then through the dual plots of Peter abandoning his costume whilst Harry Osborne embraces his father’s. It’s just such a well written and put together film that still holds up after all this time.

5. Jurassic Park

Nothing beats classic Steven Spielberg. Every filmmaker who seeks to make a blockbuster should watch this film to find out why this film is so beloved whilst so many imitators fall. It isn’t about effects or action, it’s focus on story, character and other themes that tie the movie together. Behind the still incredible special effects and iconic scares, Jurassic Park is a cautionary tale about science vs man and the dangers and ramifications of tampering with the natural order of the world. This makes the film so relevant now, as advances in science may make places like Jurassic Park a reality soon. But is it right? The film doesn’t take a side and doesn’t answer the question, leaving it up to the audience to think about the themes at play. It helps that the characters here are far more sympathetic than in the book, allowing their various ideologies to play off each other brilliantly.

But the themes at play are just one of the reasons I love this film. Everyone knows the story and it’s simple but brilliant. The characters are engaging and because the first half focuses on developing them, you really care for them when the dinosaurs attack. Oh, and the dinosaurs. The dinosaurs are the crowning jewel of the whole film, with revolutionary effects by Stan Winston bringing them to life. It’s not just CGI, but amazing practical effects and puppets too. The film still looks amazing to this day. But good effects are nothing without a strong director, but thankfully Spielberg is the master of thrills and spectacle. He builds up the tension of the T-Rex paddock attack and the raptor attack in the third act so perfectly it’s no wonder he is so lauded as a filmmaker. I cannot state how great the structure of this film is, setting up the tone and characters excellently before forcing their personal conflicts against each other when the situation gets serious. Grant has to look after children, Hammond has to come to terms with the consequences of what he’s done and Jeff Goldblum (yes I know his character has a name but he is Jeff Goldblum) has to work with the others and set aside his personal grievances. Hammond in particular is a great character, as his actions are completely understandable. Who wouldn’t want to save species from extinction and exhibit them for the world to see? The audience know he’s wrong, but they understand. It’s subtle character work like this that make this film so much smarter than the average blockbuster. And of course, what mention of Jurassic Park can go ahead without the magnificent John Williams, delivering my personal favourite movie score. A classic theme for a classic film.

4. Up

To date, this is the best animated film I have ever seen. Pixar are probably the most consistent and enjoyable movie company around  and this is their magnum opus. What seems to be on the surface a kid’s film about an old man and a boy flying off to meet talking dogs and giant birds turns into something immensely mature and thought provoking. It’s about letting go of the past, learning to live life to the full and accepting loss. Not too shabby for a film that also happens to be gut bustingly funny and entertaining for people of all ages. This is such a staggering achievement for animated film that it even got nominated for Best Picture in 2009, and I have to say they made a good call nominating it. Many other Pixar films such as Inside Out, Toy Story, WALL-E and Finding Nemo are excellent, but my favourite will always be Up.

A lot of people talk about how the opening of this film is so good it overshadows the rest of the film. I agree to an extent, but the rest of the film serves as a perfect continuation and without it, the opening scene lacks the added poignancy. Charles Muntz is also criticised as being a weak villain, and while he’s not Pixar’s best one he is still an important part of the film. Carl’s whole life has led to his aim to be like Muntz, and when he finally sets off to Paradise Falls he expects the hero of his childhood to be there. By revealing that Muntz is a murderous psychopath, Carl’s whole journey and struggles become pointless. He questions what his life has led to until Ellie’s message reminds him that he’s had his journey with her and that now he must have another one- with Russel. Everything about this film is tied into this message. By becoming a father figure, Carl becomes to Russel what Muntz never was to Carl, and is also able to have the child he always wanted. Seeing the two leads go from mutual dislike to accepting each other unreservedly is one of the most satisfying character arcs in film history and it’s a joy to see. Despite this film having some incredibly mature and thought provoking themes, this is still a Pixar film, so hilarity will of course ensue. My personal favourite gag involves the lead dog having his voice box broken so he sounds high pitched, as well as the incredible sight of dogs flying mini airplanes being too funny for words. How this film can be so emotionally real and yet be so funny and over the top is beyond me, and a testament to Pete Docter’s skills as a director. I cannot fully explain why this movie is so perfect, it just is, and well worth watching again and again.

3. Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro is my favourite director, and I’m beyond happy that he won the Best Director Oscar this year for The Shape of Water. Pan’s Labyrinth however remains his absolute best film and one of the most complex, unique and imaginative films I have ever seen. There is so much packed into every frame and every detail that it’s impossible to dissect the genius at work here, but what we have is a masterpiece of film making that can be seen as a metaphor for war, a coming of age story, a dark fairy tale or all three. This is a film that makes you think long after it’s finished and I have cherished it since I first saw it. This is a dark and uncompromising film, yet it is also about hope and the power of stories and imagination. In one of the most visually stunning films I’ve ever seen, a brilliant story of corrupted youth and the horrors of war emerges.

The backdrop of the film is Franco’s Spain, after the Civil War is over and the regime has a tight grip over the country. As the monstrous Vidal tries to continue his father’s legacy through his unborn child, Ofelia accepts her quest to ascend to the fairy kingdom. Or does she? Are her fantastical quests just an escape mechanism from the horrors of her stepfather or are they real? I think so, as I believe this is the same fairy kingdom from Hellboy 2. The brilliance of this film is subtext told through the story, as the images and story being told in the fantasy world are an eerie parallel to the world of Vidal. The Pale Man represents Ofelia’s (and del Toro’s) fear and mistrust of authority, the giant frog symbolises Franco sucking the life out of Spain and also serves as a metaphor for Ofelia’s brother killing her mother. The film is about choice and consequences, and also about the corruption of childhood through war. Twisting genre conventions, del Toro presents a fairy tale full of death and misery, and makes the true monster the ever looming shadow of Franco and Captain Vidal instead of the various fantastical creatures. Speaking of those, this movie gained a very worthy Oscar for Best Makeup, and Doug Jones owns the amazing makeup and prosthetic needed for the Pale Man and the Faun. The visuals and effects enhance the story being told, which is beautifully conveyed through the duality of the rebels and Ofelia, both desperate to live up to an ideal that may never come about. There is so much to dissect in this film and I’ve barely covered the vast number of themes and motifs throughout. Just watch it for yourself and revel in the experience.

2. Serenity

Once upon a time an awesome show called Firefly was on TV. Then it got cancelled after 14 episodes due to low ratings. Well, maybe it got low ratings because Fox wouldn’t air the episodes on schedule, mixed up the episode order, didn’t air three episodes and showed the pilot last. Great job guys. The show’s insanely loyal and dedicated fanbase reacted with such outrage at the cancellation that in 2005, Joss Whedon managed to get a feature length film made under Universal, with the hopes that a new movie franchise would form. That didn’t happen either, but that doesn’t stop Serenity from being an amazing film that serves as a brilliant continuation of Firefly as well as being a great standalone film in its own right. I cannot think of a film that speaks to me more personally, and it serves as one of the most satisfying film experiences of all time.

Wanna know who my favourite movie character is? It’s Malcolm Reynolds, the awesome captain of Serenity. He is such a fleshed out and interesting character to see on screen. He has his own set of morals that only he truly understands, and his dedication to taking out the corrupt Alliance sees him take actions that frighten his own crew. Incidentally, if you want to know how to write for a large ensemble, watch Firefly and Serenity. It’s no wonder Joss Whedon was perfect for the Avengers as the crew of Serenity are some of the most interesting and fun gang of characters in fiction. This film takes each character and does something new and interesting with each of them, allowing the team dynamics to play out perfectly. Character development and motivations are done subtly and told visually and through the magnificent dialogue, making this a textbook example of character writing. The film picks up from where the series left off and sees the Alliance track the crew down in an attempt to recapture River Tam (sorry River Song, you’re only the second coolest River) and hide their dark secrets. Helping the Alliance is the Operative, played brilliantly by a pre-fame Chiwetel Ejiofor. One of the coolest film villains, he oozes style and his parallels with Mal are fascinating. There’s the hero who doesn’t see himself as a good guy, and a villain who knows he’s evil. The film is also about overcoming impossible odds and being true to your beliefs. Mal believes in a free world without the controlling Alliance, and he will stick to that belief until the bitter end. Throw in amazing action, dynamic direction and we have the best continuation of a TV show of all time. Watch Firefly, then watch this film. You will not be disappointed.

My favourite film of all time is admittedly a bit of a cheat, but I don’t anyone will object to my choice. Before all that though, I’ll just reveal a few of my other favourites that almost made the cut-

The Nightmare Before Christmas

The Thing

Inception

Logan

Brazil

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Pacific Rim

V For Vendetta

Skyfall

Princess Mononoke

Bender’s Big Score (made for TV Futurama film, but it still counts)

And my favourite film of all time is…

  1. The Lord of the Rings- all of them

Told ya this was a cheat. Ever since I finished Return of the King I have considered Peter Jackson’s trilogy to be the best cinematic experience of all time. The behind the scenes of the films are amazing in their own right- Peter Jackson took an “unfilmable” trilogy of highly acclaimed literature and adapted them over three years and an unprecedented level of detail, care and craft that was the most innovative film endeavour ever and managed to transform his country into the number one filming location and proved that filmmakers don’t have to go to Hollywood to be successful. From a director of low budget New Zealand horror films to a director whose smashed the Oscars, Peter Jackson is one of the biggest inspirations to me. The fact that the films are amazing and perfect are of course essential to the reasons why I love them. These aren’t just flashy images on screen, these are epic stories of power, war, corruption, friendship and the triumph of good vs evil. I was tempted to just stick Return of the King here, but that would be a disservice to the other two. The three films are connected, and whilst they are all technically seperate, I cannot treat them individually.

The journey taken in this trilogy is absolutely wonderful. From the Shire to Mount Doom back to the Shire again, every action taken advances the characters and their journeys. My favourite characters are Sam, Gollum and Aragorn. Sam is the trilogy’s human soul, loyal to the end and never letting Frodo down even when the Ring corrupts his friend. He isn’t a fighter or a wizard, he’s just an ordinary person who risks all to save Middle-Earth. In contrast, Aragorn is a king afraid of his destiny, only to embrace it at the end and be the hero he always needed to be. Gollum is a masterpiece of character writing, and how Andy Serkis did not get nominated for Best Supporting Actor I do not know. Gollum is the series’s example of the Ring’s corruption, yet you sympathise with him as it’s clear Sauron’s influence is to blame, not Smeagol. Every character gets an arc and many are improved upon from the books. As far as I can tell, Theoden, Eowyn, Legolas and Gimli did not have much development in the books but in the films they are given satisfying arcs which add to the richness of the films. The majestic music by Howard Shore and the amazing special effects by Weta Workshop are just the icing on the cake for this cinematic masterpiece. Whilst the characters are amazing, it’s the greater themes at play that really make this trilogy stand out, such as the messages of machinery vs man, the loss of hope brought about by war and the overcoming of darkness. The ending of The Two Towers really puts the whole trilogy into perspective, summarising it as a battle of good and how it will always triumph over evil.

It’s scenes like that which made me appreciate the more human and profound approach Jackson took to the story. There is so much to analyse about these films and there’s lots out there and explains why these films succeed where no others do. There’s visual storytelling as the Ring represents a very physical and mental challenge and serves as the ultimate personification of darkness, brilliant dialogue such as Gandalf and Pippin’s conversation in Minas Tirith and everything just clicks together to create cinema gold. The directing is amazing, the cinematography is stunning and New Zealand! Just… New Zealand. Some of the best location work ever seen on film. The action sequences are spellbinding, especially the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. The story is captivating and emotional, eliciting every emotion from awe to hilarity, victory to sadness and ultimately satisfaction. The films are such epics that it’s amazing that there is still time for intimacy and quiet. The trilogy is about ordinary people doing extraordinary things, as it is not the kings or wizards that ultimately save the day, it’s just a couple of hobbits. It’s an inspiring message for everyone. From the opening monologue to the closing door, the Lord of the Rings is actual perfection, and my favourite film of all time.

Well, that took a while. I probably will update this again down the line but that probably won’t be for a while. For now, these ten (OK, twelve) films stand as my personal favourites and are definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already.

Avengers: Infinity War review- The most ambitious film since Return of the King

After 10 years, 18 films, 15 directors and countless heroes, Avengers: Infinity War is finally here. The amount of hype for this film is huge, as we have the culmination of the most ambitious film endeavour since the Lord of the Rings, if not even more ambitious. Does it live up to the hype? In short, with as little spoilers as possible, no.

Oh who am I kidding, yes, yes it does.

Read the rest of this entry

Why I want the DCEU to succeed – and how it can

Yes, I’m doing this a week before Infinity War comes out. Because why not? In all honesty, I think this is a good time to look at the other massive comic book company (I won’t say “rival”, as Marvel and DC love the existence of each other, frequently sharing writers, artists and ideas). DC is the older, prestigious and more interesting neighbour to Marvel, yet for some reason their films have fallen behind the juggernaut that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Why? Warner Bros have all the characters, over 70 years of backstory and some of the most iconic characters in pop culture. How have they messed this up to the point Black Panther outgrossed the Justice League?

Read the rest of this entry

Ready Player One review- Spielberg’s still got it

Of all the filmmakers working today, Steven Spielberg has been fortunate enough to stay relevant and beloved. In a career of over forty years, he has rarely put a foot wrong and still makes films to this day, tackling every genre imaginable and captivating the minds of millions. Everyone has their favourite Spielberg (mine is and will always be Jurassic Park) and his rare ability to effortlessly switch from serious drama to fun spectacle is what makes him a cinema giant. His recent films have mostly been more focused on slower, more mature historical dramas, which is why his return to big budget, spectacle driven film making has been so anticipated. I could not wait for this film to come out, although I was slightly worried that it would just become “Nostalgia- The Movie”. Well, Spielberg made sure it was a lot more than that.

In 2045 (tune in when that year actually happens to see if we have the OASIS. It’s 2018 and we don’t have Jaws 19, replicants or crazy Mexican scientists who look like Patrick Troughton) the world has advanced to the stage where virtual reality is the norm, and the OASIS is where the world’s population to escape the grim real world. The OASIS was built by James Halliday who built the simulation around his childhood nostalgia. After his death, his avatar reveals to the gamers that he has hidden three keys in the OASIS that will lead one gamer to unlock an Easter Egg that will allow them control over the OASIS. Parzival, real name Wade Watts, wants the Egg desperately, and his quest to find it leads him to come into conflict with the sinister Nolan Sorrento and IOU, who want to commercially exploit the OASIS.

First thing first- it’s clear what film will win Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. This film has highly innovative and amazing visual effects that show how Spielberg is the master of innovation. Not content with jump starting the blockbuster and revolutionising CGI, he and his team of effects artists create a fully realised world made entirely of computers that both looks real and does not suffer from uncanny valley like motion capture. The OASIS looks amazing and I have a hunch this is the start of a revolution of technology in film. It’s worth watching this film on the big screen.

Like Jurassic Park before it, this is a very loose adaptation of the book. It’s not completely different, rather it takes the plot and characters and changes them to fit the film format. The references are toned down a lot, which is a good thing. Here, the references are more subtle. There’s the Delorean (I only watched Back to the Future this year so I actually get the reference), DC heroes, Godzilla, even a sneaky Jurassic Park reference (nice one Spielberg) and a great Serenity appearance that I missed but got told was there. My favourite reference is the Holy Hand Grenade from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. I won’t spoil anymore, but it’s a great reference nonetheless.

Despite all the references, the film is still strong even if you don’t understand all of it. The action scenes and dynamic direction make the film hugely entertaining, and despite the characters not being too complex, they serve the functions of the plot well. The third act gets really good and emotional, as Spielberg effortlessly turns the film into something deeper than it appears. The film is also surprisingly funny, especially iRoK, a snarky weapons expert who helps the villains but clearly cannot be bothered with it. The plot is different from the book but very clever, and I loved seeing the characters work everything out through clever investigation. Even though I’ve read the book, I was left guessing as to what was going on and there were several great twists that I didn’t see coming. The film builds and builds to an epic and bonkers final fight. I didn’t get all the references, but my screening did.

There are many interesting questions raised about whether or not nostalgia is good and how people can be corrupted by it. Sorrento is a great villain who isn’t just pure evil- despite his actions you understand who he is as a person. This is juxtaposed with Halliday, who is given a lot of depth for a character who dies before the film begins. I like the central conflict between Parzival and Artemis, as one treats the quest as a game whilst the other is more serious about it. My favourite character in the film is Ogden Morro, played by one of my favourite actors, Simon Pegg. He’s not in the film too much, but his scenes have big impact and are very entertaining.

In conclusion, if you were unsure whether or not to check this film out, I recommend it. Even if you don’t understand all the references or in-jokes the film is entertaining enough in its own right. Spielberg still has his touch and I hope the success of this film will lead him to more innovative blockbusters like this (though not Indiana Jones 5. Please not). If sci fi isn’t your thing I don’t think this will change your mind, but if you are interested in checking this out because of Spielberg then it’s worth it. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Pacific Rim retrospective: Diving into Guillermo del Toro’s original film

In three days time, one of my most anticipated films of the year comes out. Pacific Rim: Uprising is a long time coming, as the first film is one of the few recent original films that deserves a franchise. To celebrate the second film, let’s look back at the original 2013 film, already gone down as a cult classic and an action masterpiece, all brought to life by the masterful skills by Academy-award winning director Guillermo del Toro (it feels so satisfying saying that. Never before have I agreed with the Oscars so much).

The world of this film is expertly constructed. In the opening ten minutes, the audience is told everything they need to know about the backstory of the Kaiju and the Jaegar, with a fully detailed future established before the first action sequence. Every frame is gorgeous and packed with immense detail- as soon as the movie is over you instantly want to return to it, which thankfully we will. What makes this film stand out amongst the crowd of CGI blockbusters is the fact that it feels real and tangible. The Jaegars look real, the Kaiju look real, the world presented is worn down and believable. It’s all down to del Toro’s magnificent eye for production design and attention to detail throughout. His use of colours and practical set design complement the amazing visual effects perfectly. How this did not win at least Best Visual Effects, I do not know. Every creature in this film was designed from the ground up, and it shows.

But it’s not just the visuals and direction that make this film work. The characters are also great. They aren’t the most complex or fleshed out, but it’s the simple characterisation that works. Raleigh Beckett is a character afraid of living up to his brother’s name and afraid of failing. Throughout the film he is told he must help Stacker Pentecost fight the Kaiju, but Raleigh is frequently hiding from doing the right thing.  Through his connection with Mako and the realisation that they must work together, he decides to lead the charge against the Kaiju.  It’s a simple and satisfying arc. Mako Mori is one of del Toro’s best female characters, being fully independent and fleshed out. Her arc is brilliant, as she learns how to use her past as a motivation to keep fighting. Rounding off the best characters is del Toro regular Ron Perlman stealing the show as Hannibal Chau and Idris Elba as Stacker Pentecost, being plain awesome every second he is one screen.

The themes in this film are quite inspiring and meaningful in today’s world. The multi-national characters present a world that has overcome differences to fight a greater threat and it’s a great message about how the human race can work together. Of course, with this being a del Toro film, expect lots of rain, contrasting colours, thing in jars, dissection, water and common themes. Like other del Toro protagonists, Raleigh refuses to be shaped by what society and circumstance dictates them to be and is able to forge his own path through his personal choices. Of course, this is just subtext, and the film is mainly focused on the spectacle of watching giant robots punch giant monsters in the face. The action is incredible- yes, it’s mostly CGI, but it’s done so well and so engaging, thanks to the amazing music, great buildup and stunning landscapes. The gigantic Hong Kong battle works so well because the film already established the characters and the combination of location filming, real sets and meticulous computer effects are mind blowing. I do not know how this battle was made to look so good, but I’m certainly very impressed.

The script by del Toro and Travis Beacham is clever and witty. I love how the film gives everybody subplots and actions that move the story along and expand the world. Newt’s trip into the neon drenched streets of Hong Kong is so detailed and Hannibal Chau is so fun I could watch an entire film focused on him. Everyone in this film has a purpose, right down to the other Jaegar pilots. The film is so fun to watch and never takes itself seriously. I’ve heard people complain how this isn’t like del Toro’s other films and how it lacks the depth of his Spanish language films, and I agree. But this isn’t trying to be Pan’s Labyrinth, this is trying to be a love letter to giant monsters and is del Toro’s way of recovering from the turbulent production of the Hobbit and the failure of At the Mountains of Madness getting produced. He would return to his usual style after this, but this stands as his most fun and accessible film, which anyone who has an inherent passion for giant monsters and giant monsters (which is nearly everyone, I guarantee) can enjoy. As I’ve mentioned, this film still has the master of monsters’s regular style, themes and auteur signature present. It may be simple and is at the end of the day a summer blockbuster, but it’s the vivid world, great style and underlying messages that make this stand out amongst the crowd.

So, am I looking forward to the sequel? Of course I am. I have faith that Steven S DeKnight can give us a satisfying sequel. It’s always good to see John Boyega in a leading role and based on the trailers it looks like del Toro’s unique visual style has not been completely lost. I’ve decided to not have the long gap between the first and second film put me off (after all, there was seven years between Alien and Aliens) and instead focus on how the second could improve on the first. It’s great to see an original franchise get recognised, and del Toro’s producer credit will certainly get people watching. How can you turn down an award winner? And no, I will never not be satisfied with saying that. Here’s hoping Uprising can live up to the first.

What are Black Panther’s Oscar chances?

Black Panther is a phenomenon. This isn’t just a superhero film, this is a cultural statement, a message to the world, and easily one of Marvel’s best and most successful films. In just over a month, Infinity War comes out, and it’s a testament to Black Panther that the epic culmination of ten years that involves the Avengers battling Thanos is the one that must be better than the King of Wakanda. Ten years ago, Marvel probably wouldn’t dream of even getting nominated, but Black Panther’s unprecedented success has many people wondering if this is the year the barriers are truly shattered and Black Panther gets recognition from the Oscars. I’m not just talking technical, I’m talking Best Picture here. Could it happen? It’s actually more likely than usual. Let’s look at the case for-

What’s different this time?

The Academy has changed. When Christopher Nolan’s 2008 masterpiece The Dark Knight failed to get a Best Picture nomination despite being hailed as one of the best films of the 21st century, the Academy Awards expanded the Best Picture slot to ten. This has helped films such as District 9, Up, Toy Story 3, Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, Arrival and Get Out to get nominated (all very worthy nominations for great films, may I add.) Whilst there were only nine films this year up for nominations (seriously, couldn’t they have nominated Logan or Blade Runner 2049?) the field is open for a superhero film. So why wasn’t The Winter Soldier, another acclaimed Marvel film, or Wonder Woman, another cultural milestone, or Logan, held up as the best superhero film since 2008, up for grabs? Let’s take a look at those in order-

Fellow MCU film The Winter Soldier has similarities to Black Panther- a more serious tone, relevant themes and a great and engaging plot. However, the issue lies with the franchising. In order to appreciate The Winter Soldier, you have to be aware of Captain America as a character and his arc in both his first film and The Avengers. The film has many supporting characters from the MCU film such as Nick Fury and Black Widow and the plot of the film revolves around events that tie into the wider universe. The film is unquestionably a franchise film, and the Academy don’t tend to go for sequels anyway. Black Panther on the other hand is a standalone film that requires no knowledge of the other Marvel films. Wakanda is a detailed world in and of itself and the film more than holds up as a singular superhero film. This is a key reason why I think it’ll be nominated.

OK, so what about the crown jewel of non-Nolan DC films? Why do I think Black Panther will get nominated over Wonder Woman? Make no mistake, Wonder Woman was a phenomenon as well and has just as much to say as Black Panther does about society both then and now, however there are two factors that Black Panther has over Wonder Woman. Firstly, as much as Wonder Woman is acclaimed, nearly everyone, myself included, agree that the third act where Ares reveals himself and the explosions begin is weaker than the outstanding first two acts. It’s not bad, but kinda cliche, especially when he starts to turn himself into a CGI demon. In contrast, Erik Killmonger is held up as the best part of Black Panther, and the third act does not stumble in the way Wonder Woman’s does. Another factor is the release of Justice League, which had Wonder Woman as a central character. I enjoyed the film, but it was hated by critics and failed at the box office, all the while Academy voters were preparing themselves to vote. Could the failure of Justice League have contributed to Wonder Woman’s Oscar snubs? More than likely. Infinity War  is set to smash all box office records and will almost certainly receive acclaim, and even if Ant-Man 2 isn’t good (which I doubt it will be), that won’t affect Black Panther’s Oscar chances. I think fate is on Wakanda’s side.

This brings us to Logan, the only superhero film to ever be nominated for a screenplay award and one of this year’s major snubs. Yes, a writing award is great but the acting deserved recognition, especially from Patrick Stewart. With that aside, people have been saying that Logan’s inability to get a Best Picture award means Black Panther cannot get one. It’s true that Logan’s wildly different tone and themes from most superhero films made it a prime award nominee, and Black Panther is more in line with the Marvel films and is ostensibly a superhero film, whereas Logan is more of a character driven western, but Black Panther has one thing Logan doesn’t- it has the cultural impact. Logan was widely praised and adored but Black Panther is a phenomenon and has taken the world by storm. It is a hugely important films for many reasons and has something to say about the current state of world politics. It has outgrossed most Best Picture winners combined and has made a massive cultural and social impact. What do The Wizard of Oz, Jaws, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET and Return of the King have in common aside from being blockbusters? They were all massively successful films that became events, which were rewarded with Best Picture nominations. Do the Academy really want to miss out on what is likely to be the biggest cultural event of the year that is causing Infinity War to look small by comparison? It’ll certainly boost the viewing figures.

Hey, if this can be nominated for an Oscar over LEGO BATMAN (!), then anything can.

There’s precedent for films like Black Panther being nominated. It’s obviously political so there’s that going for it (although I would like to think it got nominated for its own merits and not just to score points) and has a lot to say about the world currently. The release date isn’t really an issue, as Oscar-bait is slowly dying and more interesting films are taking over. Just this year Get Out, a satirical horror film about race relations released in February won Best Original Screenplay and was nominated for three more including Best Picture. The Best Picture winner is a love story between a fish man and a mute woman and is ostensibly a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro, who specialises in speculative fiction. There is a high chance that Black Panther can not only be nominated, but win. It all depends on what else comes out though, although I guarantee that none will have the cultural impact of Black Panther. Ryan Coogler and Kevin Feige have a winner here- and it’s here to stay. Logan broke the screenplay barrier, now it’s time for the King of Wakanda to take one for the team and ride the Oscar glory.

Black panther review- You’ve never seen a superhero film like this

It’s only February, but Marvel have wasted no time in giving the world the first superhero film of the year, and it’s set a huge bar for the rest of the year. Considering Infinity War is next, you’d think Black Panther would mainly act as an excuse to set it up, but I was surprised at just how different and standalone this film was in relation to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Yes, the awesome intro is there, Stan Lee has his usual hilarious one-liner and there are after credits scenes but for the most part Black Panther is the most unique and out there Marvel film. You’ll never see a blockbuster or superhero film like it. This movie serves as a massive statement to critics who complain about all superhero films being the same- I dare the superhero cynics to find another mainstream blockbuster film that features a mainly black cast which serves as a celebration of African culture whilst also dealing with Shakespearean ideals about loyalty, disillusionment, identity and colonialism, tackles modern day issues such as immigration and inequality, has an utterly unique, Oscar-worthy visual design and world building that presents a fully detailed country with its own laws and customs which also happens to be plain fun (Black Panther 2 won’t count). Until there’s another one, I’m going to assume those critics have no idea what they’re talking about.

 

As the film’s been out in most countries for about a week and it’s been released in America now, I will be spoiling the film, although not massively.

Continuing on from his awesome introduction and arc in Civil War, T’Challa/Black Panther/The coolest character in the MCU returns home to Wakanda to be crowed king. Things are not so easy though, as he soon gets involved in a global plot which revolves around vibranium smuggling, the return of Ulysses Klaw and a threat to the throne of Wakanda. Already the film sets itself apart from the rest of Marvel by having a relativity contained plot- after the awesome action scene in South Korea (Marvel really loves filming there) the rest of the film is set entirely in Wakanda and has very personal stakes. But the uniqueness doesn’t end there, as this is a very thematic and dramatic film a world away from the buddy comedy of Thor: Ragnarok. Through the different tribes of Wakanda, incredibly topical issues are raised that are very relevant for today’s world. T’Challa believes in Wakanda’s isolation as he does not want the resources of his country being taken away by foreign powers like the rest of Africa, but at the same time he rules the most technologically advanced nation on the planet and believes this to be the right way, leaving the rest of the world behind to face their own problems. W’Kabi fears that Wakanda’s involvement in world affairs will bring unneeded immigration and integration, which risks Wakanda being just another country and Killmonger believes that Wakanda should be the leaders of the world and that it is justified, seeing how Western cultures took over Africa during the 19th century and how black people have been treated even now. His motivations make absolute sense. I was very surprised as to how political this movie was, but it wasn’t done in a hamfisted or preachy manner. It enhanced the film and made it a lot more complex than the usual blockbuster.

Speaking of Killmonger, he’s probably the best villain Marvel has ever done. Like Loki, he is a very complex and interesting character who opposes the hero in a far more interesting manner than just being evil. His motivations make total sense, his actions are justified and he gets a complete character arc which is immensely satisfying to watch. There’s also the return of Ulyssess Klaw, who is great fun to watch. The film’s villains are all great and Marvel have definitely improved on this front. This bodes well for Thanos. A great villain is nothing without a great hero, but fortunately Black Panther is an awesome character. He commands the screen every second he is on screen and in his solo film he is perhaps even more well thought out than his amazing introduction in Civil War. He is a hero who doesn’t see himself as one and definetly doesn’t see himself as a superhero, yet his actions and character are all heroic. He’s become one of my favourite Marvel heroes as he isn’t afraid to make mistakes and even do things that antagonise others, as long as it’s in the service of his goals.

The world of Wakanda and the highly unique style this film has is simply amazing. The film combines futuristic technology with African culture, and it’s so interesting to watch. Marvel have successfully made politics interesting- albeit the politics of a fictional nation which seems a lot cooler and a lot more well run than most countries today. That’s kind of the point though, as fear of expanding and helping others is one of the main conflicts of the film. For all the wider themes at play, this is still a comic book film, and the action is amazing. The fighting is very intense and quite different from the usual Marvel action and it reminded me in places of a 12-rated Logan. The final battle is also awesome and the film is never boring, always offering up something new and interesting. The links to the wider MCU are very thin, with only Klaw, minor references to Civil War and a hilarious Martin Freeman as Everett Ross offering wider links to the universe. I appreciate this though, as being bogged down in references would have alienated casual audiences. The standalone nature gives Ryan Coogler to tell his own story and put a unique stamp on Marvel, which he has done immensely well. As much as I am looking forward to Infinity War, I am desperate for a Black Panther sequel to return to this unique world.

In conclusion, I highly reccomend Black Panther, even if you are not a huge superhero fan. It’s different enough to stand on its own and it has a lot to say about race, diversity and building relationships, very relevant in today’s world. It’s one of Marvel’s best films and I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s at least a bit of recognition from next year’s Oscars for this film. Next up, it’s a film ten years in the making- Infinity War. April can’t come soon enough.