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All aboard with Sylvester and Tweety, 30 July 2014

As someone who does enjoy the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons better than most and who doesn't have a problem with Tweety, All a Bir-r-r-rd was very easy to like. It is very formulaic with a set-up that has been seen many times with Sylvster and Tweety(in a way though you can deem their cartoons as a formula series) and Tweety's final line is not that funny and is easily the cartoon's worst line. However, All a Bir-r-r-rd has some very colourful animation, with very bright colours and smooth drawings. The music is bouncy and brings real character to the action and chase scenes, together with lush orchestration and clever use of existing and familiar tunes. The dialogue is witty and raises a laugh more than once, the cartoon's crisply paced and the gags do feel fresh rather than tired and don't feel repetitive in the slightest, although Tweety pulls the train cord more than once what happens to Sylvester is different each time. It's the interaction between Sylvester and the bulldog that provides the cartoon's funniest moments, and All a Bir-r-r-rd has some violence but never in a sadistic way though enough to allow us to feel empathy for Sylvester, something that the Sylvester and Tweety cartoons were always great at doing. The characters work really well together, Tweety is cute but not in a forced way and while not as anarchic as he was in some of his earlier cartoons there are shades of that and the conductor has some amusing lines. But they are outshone by the bulldog and especially Sylvester, the bulldog works wonders with Sylvester and is a brutish but funny foil, while Sylvester provides and takes the laughs brilliantly- a lot of the time his facial expressions are on par with the gags in terms of entertainment value- and we are sympathetic towards him as well. In conclusion, entertaining and colourful. 8/10 Bethany Cox

Impressive spectacle but overstuffed and empty, 30 July 2014

Both Amazing Spider-Man films get a lot of hate, and while for me they weren't as bad as all that(if anything personally they were moderately enjoyable films) I do agree with a lot of the criticisms for both. Some say the sequel is better, personally the first while being very over-familiar and unevenly paced and with a severely underdeveloped villain the first was a little better but still fell far short. There are good things about the sequel. Once again it is very stylishly made and the special effects are better this time round, while the action sequences provide some thrills. The chemistry between Peter and Gwen is still sweet, Peter at the grave is actually quite moving and the closest the film ever gets to having any emotional impact and some of the acting is good. Andrew Garfield's performance is much better here, he doesn't ever quite capture Spider-Man's vulnerability but he is much less smug and tones down the quirkiness. Emma Stone is a charming and very likable Gwen, Sally Field gives seasoned support as Aunt May although she doesn't have much to do and Dane DeHaan does a great job showing Harry Osborn's slow descent into fear and loneliness. However, Jamie Foxx despite looking really cool doesn't do anything with Electro and looks lost and Paul Giamatti is completely wasted and gives a rare bad performance. The script and the way the characters are written don't help, the script is very thinly sketched and tries to balance comedy and pathos and does so awkwardly, to the extent the comedy feels overly-broad and out of place and the pathos apart from one part is non-existent literally. And the film does suffer from too many characters and most of them with little development, with the two leads the most interesting characters. There are two too many villains(the same problem that Spider-Man 3 had) and none of them developed very well, Osborn/Green Goblin just about musters due to DeHaan but his development still feels rushed and some of his actions out of the blue, the villain also deserved a much better resurrection which was cheaply done. Like Lizard in the first film Electro is very one-dimensional with no motivation, or shall we say no obvious one, and Rhino feels like a just-there-for-the-sake-of-it character. The story doesn't suffer from being over-familiar like the first Amazing Spider-Man but it does suffer from a very sprawling structure and a lot of it feels over-stuffed and plodding. The music has its moments and does fit better than James Horner's for the first Amazing Spider Man but it does lack pace and one of those pleasant-to-listen-to-but-easily-forgettable scores, three composers are credited and the score sometimes sounds like that is the case. All in all, moderately enjoyable and visually impressive, and Garfield is much more at ease here, but it does suffer from trying to do too much and feels empty and emotionally-lacking. 5/10 Bethany

Very good Woody Allen film, 30 July 2014

Maybe not among his best films but is definitely among the better ones since Husbands and Wives. There are a few shortcomings here and there, the film does lose its momentum at times, there is a lack of chemistry between Allen and Helena Bonham-Carter, Bonham-Carter is a little stiff with an accent that can falter and while the Greek chorus is a great idea and are a lot of fun and at least serve a purpose sometimes it did feel like they were being overused. However, Mighty Aphrodite is a beautiful film to look at with sumptuous settings and cinematography and fitting costumes(apart from the slightly dishcloth-like ones for the Greek Chorus), not surprising as nearly all Allen's films are very well-made with some having some interesting images. The music is also very catchy while the script- very Woody Allen in style- is snappy and has a perfect balance of bawdy comedy that provides a lot of laughs and tragic drama which gives the film heart and poignancy. The story does a very good job at this also, it's fun and good-natured but it doesn't undermine the tragedy one bit. And it does fine with developing its characters who are neurotic(a deliberate choice that is often done by Allen, anyone who has seen an Allen film before should have no problem with this) but real and well-rounded. Woody Allen directs assuredly and gives a performance that shows great comic timing and is somewhat charming. He is well-matched by Mira Sorvino who has never been better and for me gave the best performance of the film, the chemistry between them was believable. The supporting cast are equally great, especially F. Murray Abraham and Jack Warden. Overall, while not among the finest from Allen Mighty Aphrodite is still a very good film and well worth the viewing. 8/10 Bethany Cox

An inspiring tribute to one of the greatest cellists that ever lived, 29 July 2014

As a cellist myself(a second instrument though with singing the first) and as a big admirer of Jacqueline du Pre, Remembering Jacqueline du Pre was a beautiful tribute to her and cellists will find it inspiring. The documentary looks good and the footage is preserved well, the only reservation being the camera focusing too much on du Pre and not enough on the other instrumentalists during The Trout segment. There are no complaints whatsoever about the music, particularly fitting was the Elgar Cello Concerto(which she is famous for and for good reason, when people including me think of this concerto du Pre immediately comes to mind). The Ghost Trio rendition was musically really interesting, The Trout rehearsal segment was really entertaining and one of the best scenes that really showed off her personality. Seeing her swapping instruments and playing the violin like a cello with Perlman playing her cello was hilarious, and seeing her play the piano was a lovely surprise. Some might say the footage of her rehearsing the Brahms with husband Daniel Barenboim in the recording studio is throwaway stuff, I found it very touching, both the piece and the way she played it. And her personality is something that you see a lot of, she came across as very likable and a lot of fun to be around while also having the impeccable artistry and diligence that she had. Seeing the likes of Perlman, Barenboim and Mehta were delightful to spot, Sir John Barbirolli and William Pleeth make interesting contributions and Christopher Nupen is an engaging narrator who clearly knows his stuff and loves talking about it. Overall, beautiful and inspiring tribute to a great cellist and musician whose career was cut tragically short by multiple sclerosis and her ultimely death at just aged 42. 10/10 Bethany Cox

A terrific show and works really well as a spin-off, 29 July 2014

How to Train Your Dragon was a wonderful film, animated or otherwise, DreamWorks' best since The Prince of Egypt and one of the best animated films of the 2000s. The sequel was great and almost as good with even better animation, a darker tone and a good amount of depth to the characters, though Hiccup and Toothless' friendship was done a little better in the first(which I also preferred for its simplicity). Dragons: Riders of Berk compliments How to Train Your Dragon very well indeed and is a terrific show in its own right, though understandably not quite as good. The animation may not be as incredible as that in How to Train Your Dragon and the sequel, but that's inevitable because this is a TV show and they feature-length films. That is not knocking the animation though, because the animation still has much beauty and detail with all movements nice and smooth, and the flying sequences and action still exhilarate, Dragons: Riders of Berk is for me one of the best-looking computer-animated shows out there and it's also true to the style of that of the film. The music has parts where it's rousing and others where it's sensitive depending on the mood, it's fitting, it has a pace and most of all it's memorable. The use of some of the themes from the film was welcome too. Dragons: Riders of Berk has great writing, the show is very thoughtfully written with some jokes that are actually funny and balance well with the emotional and suspenseful parts. Like the film the show gives us plenty of time to get to know the characters and relate to them just as well as we did in the film. Hiccup and Toothless' friendship is genuinely endearing. The story lines are always easy to follow and maintain the simplicity of the tone/spirit of the film, which will please fans, the comedy doesn't feel at odds with anything else and the conflict is convincing while never getting too dark. With how the characters interact and how you really feel the friendship of Hiccup and Toothless the show definitely has heart as well. As said the characters are still engaging, I've always loved how Toothless is so lovable and touches and warms the heart without even speaking, and most of the voice actors return and do typically fine jobs, even the new voice of Stoick courtesy of Chris Noth (although Gerard Butler's voice suits the character far more). Alvin is a fun adversary with a good amount of menace about him and Mark Hamill's voice fits perfectly. All in all, terrific show, the films are a little better but compared to most animated shows now and other shows airing on Cartoon Network Dragons: Riders of Berk compares more than favourably. 9/10 Bethany Cox

Spider-Man is not too amazing this time round, 28 July 2014

That said though, from personal opinion The Amazing Spider-Man was not a bad film, or at least nowhere near as bad as has been said(again personal opinion), but it doesn't live up to its name. For me, the first two Sam Raimi Spider-Man films are better, and while Spider-Man did plod and had too many villains all but one of which were underused personally it wasn't that bad. The Amazing Spider-Man did have things to like, it is very stylishly made and has some very impressive special effects, even if the Lizard takes some getting used to. The action sequences- of which there are a lot in the second half- mostly are exciting with some cool stunts(the one exception is the climax which seemed like it was played and written too safe) and very creative use of Spider-Man's powers, and there are some parts in the story that work, the dynamic between Peter and Uncle Ben is really quite emotionally powerful, the romance between Peter and Gwen is somewhat sweet and the part where Spider-Man saves the little boy is tense and heart-felt. It was also very intriguing with the mystery of Peter's parents which was done quite well. The performances on the whole are also good, Sally Field and especially Martin Sheen are great as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, and Emma Stone is a charming and amusing Gwen. Rhys Ifans does bring some creepiness to Curt Connors/The Lizard if not the tragedy(the writing didn't help him though) and Denis Leary is delightful in how churlish he is. On the whole too there is some good chemistry between the actors. I never really warmed to Andrew Garfield though, he did seem too quirky for Peter complete with some forced humour and wasn't enough of a nerd, he wasn't a whole lot better as Spider-Man either, he had charisma but did come across as rather smug and not brooding enough for such a serious tone to the story here. Irrfan Kahn's performance and his character is little more than an extended cameo, not very much to work with and Kahn does little with it. The story does have its fair share of well-done moments but does suffer from an over-familiarity that feels like a more seriously toned rehash and uneven pacing, sluggish in the first half and while much better rushed in some of the second half. The script is never terrible nor is it ever exceptional, there are sweet and emotional moments as well as tense ones but too much of the humour is forced and it interferes with the serious tone. James Horner's score is nowhere near among his best, some of it pedestrian, some of it over-the-top, neither of which Danny Elfman's scoring had. And the film really rushed Connors'/Lizard's character arc, there was real potential for him to be a multi-layered character but here he came across as a one-dimensional villain with no real motivation. Overall, watchable but not close to being amazing. 5.5/10 Bethany Cox

Zombie mayhem but without any scares or fun, 28 July 2014

With the exception of some lovely Snowdonia locations and a couple of decent costumes, while not the worst zombie movie out there(Vampegeddon, Zombie Night and Dead Men Walking for examples are far worse) Knight of the Dead is a disaster. The special effects are wisely sparsely used but that wasn't an excuse for them to be as cheap as they were- yes even for the budget the movie had, they looked hastily slapped together and made-at-last-minute quality. The gore and decapitations looked silly and felt excessive at times, and there is no better news about the photography and lighting, which takes bleak to extremes to the extent some of the action is not easy to see and there is the very odd effect of the zombies' heads looking like they were floating like balloons. Aside from a couple of the costumes(not all, others did look fancy-dress remains), there was very little sense of the medieval atmosphere or atmosphere in general. The script certainly sounds like a rough draft and has so much cheese it makes the eyes roll. Again it doesn't very little like how medieval speak, a lot of it is very bad modern talk that fails to make sense. The characters are basically archetypes lacking in any kind of personality and development, plus they annoy with how nonsensical a lot of their actions are, and the acting is very going-through-the-motions and mannequin-like from the whole cast with no spontaneity or enthusiasm whatsoever. The worst thing to me was the story, which is so thin it's barely there and it's made worse by a pace that begs for a steroid shot of a very large dosage, some slower-paced scenes barely even move. The scenes with the zombies are very under-populated, the horror is cheaply done and predictable that they are no scares, the movie is far too dull to be fun and it is difficult to be excited when everything just seems so half-hearted. To me as well, the medieval vibe and the use of zombies had a very two different movies feel which was really jarring. To conclude, not the worst zombie movie out there but apart from two halfway-decent things is a disaster. 2/10 Bethany Cox

Just fascinating and truly inspiring, 28 July 2014

A wonderful documentary that can easily be seen more than once without a problem, and it is almost perfect. Much more definitely could have been said about the immense influences of Paganini and Heifetz and their significant contributions to violin playing, they're mentioned but could have been elaborated upon. And there could have been a little less of Yehudi Menuhin, though the latter is understandable considering how close to his death the documentary was shot and you could see it as some kind of tribute. The Art of Violin is nicely shot though with the footage remarkably clear and well-incorporated. The music of course is so great that you'd run out of superlatives, and while there are omissions(inevitable) and a few of the excerpts are brief the violinists that are included will delight any professional or aspiring violinists or lovers of the instrument. The clips- some rare- that are particularly great are the ones for Oistrakh's Shostakovich cadenza, Neveu's moving rendition of Poeme by Chausson, Heifetz who is blistering yet expressive, Milstein whose clip shows off his clean and precise articulation beautifully, Elman whose beautiful tone is not hindered in the slightest and of course Menuhin who particularly in the Chaconne plays with great expression. Other delights are the montage of different violinists playing the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto and the discussion of the two different types of violin. The clips allow us to see the different techniques up close too, like with Grimaux's vibrato, Heifetz's speed of the bow and how disciplined Milstein was about fingering, something that was done far better here than in the Art of Piano documentary(which was still very good). The commentaries on the most part are very enlightening, Hilary Hahn is not always very fluid but Perlman makes a great point about how demanding the violin is to play and the mechanics of it, I could listen to Menuhin and Ida Haendel for hours and just loved what was said of Neveu and Haendel's thoughts on technique and individuality(something that any violinist should learn from) and Gitlils has a quite endearing light-hearted approach. All in all, inspirational and fascinating. 9/10 Bethany Cox

How not to do sports with the Pink Panther, 27 July 2014

Of the three Pink Panther cartoons seen so far from 1976, The Pink Pro personally was the best of them. The others being the entertaining but just above average Mystic Pink and Pink Arabee. The backgrounds are rather sparse with want of more colour vibrancy(this was at a point where the purposefully minimal animation in the Pink Panther cartoons was starting to look rushed) and the ending was a touch on the abrupt side, but The Pink Pro is lots of fun all the same. The theme tune has lost none of its deserved timeless classic status and Walter Greene's incidental music never falls into the trap of being repetitive or draggy despite a lot of it being variations of the main theme. All of the gags revolving on all the different sports and how not to do them are very funny, despite the outcome being obvious each time and the archery one while still funny being slightly dragged out, the skiing, sky-diving and water-skiing being the most entertaining. The chemistry between the two characters anchors The Pink Pro and they work great together. Pinky as always is likable, love his eagerness and attempts to be kind, even if his good intentions don't work. We constantly feel sorry for The Little Man and naturally, especially after the sky-diving, and you do feel his reluctance. All in all, fun and very well done Pink Panther cartoon and the best so far of the 1976 batch(don't agree at all with the low rating, though it does look like a case of lack of number of votes). 8/10 Bethany Cox

Not only the best of the X-Men films since X2, but manages to be even better, 27 July 2014

The first X-Men was a good, fun, well-made start to the series, though with a yet-to-find-its-feet feel. That was found with X2, which turned out to be bigger, darker and even better. X-Men The Last Stand I didn't find quite as terrible as its reputed to be but it was very disappointing and a big step-down, it had its moments like the visuals, some good performances and the action but suffered from too much going on, a script that was sorely lacking and too many characters that were largely underdeveloped and out of character. X Men Origins: Wolverine was just as disappointing and with very similar pros and cons to The Last Stand. The Wolverine was a definite improvement but still had a fair share of flaws. And First Class was excellent. I was hugely excited for Days of Future Past because the cast is such a good one and the return of Bryan Singer promised much. And Days of Future Past didn't disappoint at all. It is a visually very stylish film that has an even darker and more audacious feel than the rest of the films in the series, the special effects are of great quality and everything looks very slick. The score is the best since the one for X2 in terms of memorability and how it fits and the script is the sharpest since X2 as well and is probably the best and most well-balanced script of all the X-Men films put together. There's a bit of humour that is subtle and genuinely funny, not feeling overly-broad or overkill, while there are plenty of suspenseful and emotional parts. Bryan Singer makes a triumphant come-back, the action sequences really thrill especially the battle between past and future X-Men to stop annihilation while the drama resonates. Great also was the quietly powerful tete-a-tete between the two Xaviers. There is a fair bit going on and there are a lot of characters, but the solid pacing, chemistry between the characters/actors and how well everything's balanced in the writing makes the story thrilling yet with plenty of space to allow you to feel emotion, and for the amount of characters there are here a vast majority of the characters have real personality and soul(plus they're treated with respect), something which Last Stand and Origins did not do. The cast are spot on, Hugh Jackman is grizzled and charismatic while bringing the subdued quality he brought to The Wolverine and Jennifer Lawrence is surprisingly good as Mystique(blue is definitely not the warmest colour with her), the transformation sequences are as eye-popping as they were in X2. James McAvoy gives one of his better performances here and Michael Fassbender is suave and calculating. As the older versions of Professor X and Magneto, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen make a welcome return, Stewart is cool and McKellen is menacing yet with a sympathetic quality, Magneto is much more than a one-dimensional villain(a mistake Last Stand made and that the first two films did not). Evan Peters is excellent too as Quicksilver, like how Alan Cumming's Nightcrawler almost stole the show in X2 Peters' Quicksilver almost did here, a definite scene stealer. Nicholas Hoult is fine as Beast and is very well made-up, but Kelsey Grammar for me was a touch better, and Halle Berry gives her, by far, best performance of the series(the only time she really made an impression as Storm, who's also developed best). My only complaint for Days of Future Past is the cop-out ending(outside of the action), other than that it was a brilliant film that was not only the best X-Men film since the second but a big contender for the best of the series. 9/10 Bethany Cox

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