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Two Hours of Fantasy That Has Something to Say About Reality
Loosely based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty explores the idyllic fantasies of its titular protagonist, as he attempts to escape the mundane motions of his daily routine employment at Life Magazine. When Mitty (Ben Stiller) discovers that photojournalist Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn) has misplaced negative 25, intended for the cover of the final print of the publication, he sets out on a larger-than-Life journey to locate the missing photograph, while reducing his need for daydreams as he discovers that not even his wildest fantasies are a match for an adventurous reality.
In addition to starring, Stiller also takes on directing duty, and does a mostly wonderful job of collaborating with writer Steven Conrad in adapting Thurber's classic tale of a man's yearning for more out of life.
A fantasy adventure with glimpses of comedy, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is, in one word, pleasant. Envision a pyramid of qualities; the film's dreamlike sequences comfortably and rightfully sit atop its magnitude of highlights. With the lines between fantasy and reality often being blurred in Mitty's zoned out state of paralysis, he invites us into his crazy, hazy, even mazy lapses into daydreams of romanticism, adventure and pleasure.
Why are The Secret Life of Walter Mitty's fantasy sequences so successful? Because of their relation to our own imaginations: the things we wish we could say but don't; the places we wish we could go but won't. The film's fantasy references are inspired by popular movies such as The Matrix, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Harry Potter and pretty much every superhero film ever. This hilarious and creative approach to Mitty's fantasies offers an insightful look into how uninsightful our own imaginations can be, as they crave originality but settle for what has been imagined before.
Perhaps a slight disappointment to Mitty's on screen daydreams is their quantity. While Thurber's short story is dominated by the character's constant drift into his fantasy worlds, Stiller's adaptation favours reality and narrative over fantasy and themes. The film's aforementioned highlights are too few and far between throughout the 114 minute feature. Thus, it may have been Beneficial for Stiller to lengthen the film slightly in order to incorporate more of Mitty's fantasies, which would have better established his dissatisfaction with life.
Despite this, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty does have a story investing and intriguing enough for it not to be the film's demise. The secrecy behind negative 25 drives the film along, with love interest Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) also spurring Mitty on in the passenger's seat, inspiring the anxious and rigid dreamer to take his unpredictable ride and become the person he desires to be.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is refreshing in its lack of reliance on dialogue. Instead, the film's beautiful soundtrack and score, cinematography in exceptional landscapes and even the quietness of Mitty, tells us pretty much everything we need to know. The Secret Life of Walter Mitty consists of visual wonderment, with superbly selected and composed music to harmonise the scenery, complementing each other as they stroll hand in hand through Mitty's perfectly paced journey.
"Life is about courage and going into the unknown." If you fail to relate to Mitty's early illusory state, cautiousness and absence of courage, then you probably live a somewhat audacious lifestyle, in which case good for you! For the rest of us, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a relatable, pleasant and semi-inspirational modernisation of Thurber's story.
Just as the film's concluding third appears to have little payoff considering its memorable opening two, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty wraps up with a revitalising, picture-perfect moment, fulfilling enough to make cinema-goers reconsider 2013's most impressive movies.
In spite of its imperfections in almost keeping Mitty's secret life somewhat of a secret from the audience at times, and preferencing the film's plot over his fantasies, this adaptation is nonetheless a satisfying, fun, visually and audibly pleasing present for the holiday season. Not even Walter Mitty would fantasise about battling you through the streets of Manhattan if you waited for The Secret Life of his on DVD or Netflix, but this delightful film is definitely worth the time and box office cost if you find yourself looking for inspiration for your own imagination.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Not Thorful, But Not Thorsome Either
Thor: The Dark World expands on the beloved Marvel Cinematic Universe, quite literally, this time with one of the least exciting Avengers taking the spotlight for Hammertime.
Despite the devoted fan-base of this incredible world of Marvel superheroes, you can't help but feel that Thor: The Dark World is the first instalment in the franchise to feel most contrived and out of place. Yet, this sequel is still a mild improvement on its predecessor, though together they combine for the weakest in the series of superhero films, even though Thor is probably the strongest out of the bunch. The film finds Thor doing his thing in Asgard, before his lady love Jane Foster conveniently stumbles upon a weapon known as the Aether, which the Dark Elf Malekith intends to use to destroy the universe. Asleep yet?
Negativity aside, Thor: The Dark World is a mostly enjoyable comic-book flick with some superb action, actors and, I can't think of another word that begins with 'a' so, humour.
For an incredibly cheesy character, Chris Hemsworth still has the oh my demigod factor to bring a great balance of confidence, charisma and physicality to the role of Thor. This can be said of all of the Asgardians, including Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Tom Hiddleston's fan- favourite portrayal of Loki. While narratively Thor: The Dark World is predominantly yawn-inspiring, the presence of Hiddleston's Loki compensates as fans are genuinely interested to see his current personality and relationship with Thor following the events of The Avengers in 2012.
It is the human characters that are the dull, annoyingly cheesy and unnecessary obstacles that often get in the way of the overall pleasant 112 minute sequel. Notably, Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is used as a pathetic damsel in distress signal masquerading as a character with any significance, while Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) is pretty much the idiotic joke machine waiting for her cue. These characters, along with the contrived villain Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) are really the Aether to what could have been a very promising second outing for Thor. With no disrespect to these actors whom deliver fine performances, it is their characters that suppress absolute enjoyment of Thor: The Dark World.
Apologies for this tennis match I am having with myself in complementing and then hammering Thor: The Dark World's qualities; still I'll continue to play. More positively, the film is possibly the greatest comedic achievement for the superhero squadron on screen to date. One moment had the audience in an uproar of laughter; those that have seen it will know the moment, and those that are yet to see the film will know when they bear witness to its hilarity. Even during other scenes where the humour feels slightly inappropriate given the circumstances, you'll easily yield with laughter, or at the minimum, a low-key grin.
It's almost superfluous today to commend a modern blockbuster for its CGI quality. However due to its stark visual improvement over its 2011 predecessor, Thor: The Dark World is certainly worth mentioning as an aesthetically potent force which makes the movie a Thorful lot of fun!
Whilst the Thorsome Asgardian actors, humour and visual effects are enough to keep Marvel fans entertained for two short hands around the clock, it doesn't take too long to realise that Thor: The Dark World is probably the most forgettable and forced in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, though by no means the first for Marvel (I'm looking at you 'Amazing' Spider-Man). Thor's lack of character development since the end of Thor, along with the villain out of nowhere and no care Malekith make this sequel feel pretty purposeless in the grander scheme of things. And that's not even mentioning Jane Foster: Marvel's version of Daphne from Scooby-Doo, except more pointless, boring, unconvincing and no fun for anyone.
After a Thortless and needlessly dull opening 45 minutes, Thor: The Dark World has plenty of surprises along the way to amuse the fandom inside of devotees, that'll shadow its flaws until you really start to think about the film, but it's some fun while it lasts.
Captain Phillips (2013)
A Story So Compelling, it is More Than Worth Telling
A story so compelling and worth telling, Captain Phillips is the biographical account of one Captain Richard Phillips' actions in response to a hijacking by Somali pirates on his cargo ship in 2009. Despite accusations of the film's depiction of real events as misleading, as a standalone piece, Paul Greengrass' thrilling direction and Tom Hanks' phenomenal performance combine for one of 2013's most surprising, intense and breathtaking cinematic offerings.
The less you know about the factual events going into Captain Phillips, the more enhanced the experience of seeing a recreation of others' experiences will be, due to the surprising turns and uncertainty of the film's climactic moments.
The severe intensity and feeling of insecurity shroud your senses throughout the 134 minute duration of Captain Phillips. Like watching Breaking Bad, the sensations that the film evokes in you are indescribable, plentiful and so miscellaneous, causing you to become a servant to Greengrass' masterful filmmaking. This is how a biographical drama should feel: real, regardless of the fact that most watching will never experience the actions represented on screen.
An area in which the film arguably lacks is in its treatment of the sensitivity of piracy as less of a one-dimensional issue as it can often be perceived. While the themes around the social issues of Somali piracy are present, they are not entrenched into the narrative as the most memorable aspect of the film. More so, the film emphasises and brings attention to piracy more broadly as a global issue to be taken seriously. Prior to the intense hijacking sequences, Hanks, as Phillips, is consistently undermined in his concerns about the threat of piracy upon the MV Maersk Alabama, until of course the ship is successfully boarded by the four pirates. Captain Phillips favours thriller over drama, intensity over the propensity of piracy for many, but this by no means is a downfall for the film, just an observation I've spent too long writing about so let's move on.
Hanks' portrayal as the seemingly heroic Captain is not only one of his most memorable, but one of the most unforgettable performances in recent history. It is literal insanity how tremendously the actor clutches us all in to his character's palm, in order to give us an almost POV seat into the tribulations of his character. In addition to the film's perfect pacing, Tom Hanks' portrayal completely makes you lose track of time as your awareness is at one with the film's pace; you go wherever the Captain or Captor Abduwali Muse (brilliantly played by Barkhad Abdi) go. The film's concluding scene alone is a triumph in cinema, in acting and in emotional expression as Hanks delivers a heart-wrenching, throat- lumping and tear-inducing performance, so powerful it almost makes his acting throughout the rest of the film seem like a school play, but not quite...or at all.
Though not executed perfectly, Captain Phillips brings to light the darkness and seriousness of piracy. With a heavier concentration on Richard Phillips and its thriller genre, the biography based on the book by the Captain is a heart-pounding survival film that leaves you sweating, in awe and only able to reclaim your breath once the credits begin to scroll. In spite of the numerous bodily functions the film's wonderful score, masterful direction, talented actors and overall experience have you performing, they are functions worth having. Exhaustingly intense, Captain Phillips is an undoubted contender for the year's most outstanding feature.
Catch It While You Can
Biographical sports drama Rush tracks the strictly competitive rivalry between Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda during the 1970s.
Even before you've arrived at the starting line, there may be understandable scepticism on whether Rush is really a race you wish to run with. However, like Moneyball (2011) before it, I was pleasantly surprised at how investing a story about a sport I know nothing about and care nothing for could be. Cars are useless without people to drive them. Rush is a vehicle painted with a core theme of the professional and personal consequences of fierce rivalry, between it two primary passengers. Formula One racing is just the fuel to push the vehicle to its eventual destination.
It is a story worth telling, both for those who were spectating during the 1970s, and for those like myself who are still taking driving lessons and didn't know the names Niki Lauda or James Hunt until this film existed. Behind Ron Howard's careful direction and sensitivity to the story, Rush invites its audience to witness the depth of competitiveness that Lauda and Hunt travelled through. Its expertly crafted pace, detail and tone complement the (f)actual events also, with Niki Lauda even expressing his positive reaction to the film's look and accuracy.
Despite a 123 minute run, your legs feel motionless. Rush is a timeless tale in two senses: 1. Its great display of the triumphs and pitfalls that competitiveness can have are accessible and applicable throughout history, throughout the modern world, and probably will be throughout the future 2. The film is so engrossing that not once did I question how much time had passed nor how close we were to the end. Rush has enough continuous momentum to take us to the end of the journey without exhausting emissions, as we cruise through seamlessly to the finish line
With its fantastic editing and storytelling techniques to push the story along without making it feel, dare I say...Rushed, Rush masterfully places its two protagonists in lanes so far apart that only their egos are able to fill the empty space. Like Batman and The Joker, Hunt and Lauda are represented as polar opposites whom were almost destined to become competitors, as it is only their mutual rivalry that fuels their motivation to win. Without one competing with such passion, the other wouldn't have the passion to compete at all.
The story is only complemented further by the enthralling performances of Daniel Brühl (Lauda) and Chris Hemsworth (Hunt), in addition to Olivia Wilde's brief yet brilliant supporting role. Rush's arrival at the finish line is as smooth as the ride that Ron Howard takes us along throughout. Thrilling, investing, interesting and well-made flawlessness, is about all one could request of a biopic that centres around such sensitive source-material. Rush is exciting, frightening but most of all the right thing to catch up to in theatres as its release seems to be on its final laps around UK tracks, so rush to see it. Oh dear I wrote it again.
In a World... (2013)
In a World... is, In a Word... Fantastic
The greatest flaw of the written word when encountered by languages' other supreme companion, the spoken word, is the absence of voice. More specifically, the power to speak in an epic manner (like that of voice-over artists in film trailers) is silently nonexistent on paper. Nonetheless, if you get vocally equipped to impersonate legendary voices such as Don LaFontaine, then this review may make slightly more verbal sense.
(*Cue voice) In a world, where actress Lake Bell makes her feature- length writing/directorial debut, one woman peruses her dream of achieving success in the male-dominated profession that is, movie- trailer voice-over artistry.
Starting out as an amateur vocal coach, the film's protagonist Carol (Bell) battles prejudice, unlikely competitors and 'sexy baby' voices in her aspirations to be heard and eradicate squeaky vocal trends women have adopted. Even with its ambitious yet necessary purpose, In a World... is grounded by its comedic realism and vocal propriety.
In a World... is genuinely hilarious throughout almost every scene. There is something peculiar about observing real world annoyances as opposed to experiencing them. Watching someone awkwardly climb in and out of the backseat of a three-door car is, for some reason, a lot more amusing than attempting the feat yourself. Lake Bell's witty writing, timing and controlled comedy is astonishingly insightful due to its relatable nature, proving how being loud, obnoxious and repetitive is the inferior course for cinematic comedy.
Its realism is really the film's greatest contradiction. In a World... orbits and gravitates towards the world of voice-over artists and the business elements behind it. The film tells its audience of the deceitfulness that can occur in industry to get ahead. It echoes the dishonesty of voice over work itself, as essentially the artists are just pretending that films are great with modified voices when they work. Bell enlightens her audience to the falseness and often harsh reality of being an undervalued artist, by conveying these motifs as modern day issues, with genius, real humour to ensure its eventual light-hearted and grounded purpose.
In a World... articulates the nonlinear path towards silencing prejudice. As Carol's voice breaks through an industry monopolised by males, she realises that the resolution to gender equality can perish and give way to tokenism. In a World... establishes that idealism is achievable through correcting the minor issues ('sexy baby' voices) before the more important feminist battle of universal fairness can be accomplished. Even with its truths of the current state of female representation and tokenistic values in the workplace, In a World... thankfully doesn't force its values down your throat, instead allowing a clear airway for you to express how undeniably likable, enjoyable and cool the film actually is.
In a World... is its own voice. It speaks of the power of the spoken word, of language, communication and how devastating or fantastic it all can be. It verbalises and gives recognition to a visually hidden yet audible industry. It reveals the many talents of Lake Bell and surprising range in Rob Corddry's (Hot Tub Time Machine) acting, whom we usually see in wacky, comically hyperbolic roles. In spite of all its resonance, In a World... is unlikely to be heard or appreciated by a large number, due to its limited release.
(*Cue voice) Witness one of the funniest films in years. Lake Bell has established herself as an excellent writer/director, in her creation of an effortless and pleasant film about the world of voice-over. Stop at nothing to hear, see and experience Lake Bell's In a World... while you still can.
Kick-Ass 2 (2013)
Do Pass, on Kick-Ass 2
Avoiding temptation, I will use my powers to circumvent writing Kick-Ass 2 "Kicks Ass" in this review. This should be made easier by the fact that this sequel to the 2010 original is immensely disappointing and will mostly entertain teenagers who are too young to see it.
Unlike most soul-squashing sequels, Kick-Ass 2's pitfalls cannot be found within the film's narrative...for the most part. Kick-Ass 2 continues the story of its titular character (Dave Lizewski) and Mindy Macready (Hit-Girl) as they deal with the temptations of both vigilantism and 'normal' life in high school. When Colonel Stars and Stripes assembles "Justice Forever", a group of aspiring heroes, Kick- Ass leaps back into the green and yellow spandex, while Hit-Girl decides the school hallways are a more fitting suit for her. Meanwhile, a 'super'villain calling himself The Motherf*cker assembles his own team to take revenge on Kick-Ass and other heroes after the events of the first film, completing the premise.
The premise is promising, and opens up some fun and entertaining altercations throughout Kick-Ass 2. Though predictable, it doesn't force itself not to be, and so is simple enough to follow also. Seeing the formations of opposing hero/villain teams gives the film its super strength and flight that elevates the story higher than almost all other abilities and features the sequel has. The more underwhelming aspects of the story involve Hit-Girl's, or now Mindy's, affliction with high school drama. While Chloë Grace Moretz does a great job in her role, the strikingly odd and alienating Mean Girls similarities feel exploitative of current trends, thus eliminating your enjoyment for the narrative overall.
Kick-Ass 2 doesn't take itself too seriously. The film promises profanity, effortless viewing, blood and entertainment. Unfortunately, the latter of the four falls through the floor and is brutally ravaged under the new direction and writing of Jeff Wadlow. As if the director thought Kick-Ass (2010) was too acoustic, he attempts to amplify and exploit the sequel's predecessor with a messy, jarring and unbalanced 103 minute melody.
Wadlow drops the genesis into a tank of thrashing sharks, hoping the messy splashes are enough to mask the abysmal continuation of a franchise that would have been better left unscathed. To reveal my true meaning, which no character in Kick-Ass 2 ever does, the simple and moderately enjoyable plot is surrounded by monotonous humour, senseless motivations and uncomfortable sexual exploits, involving 15 year-old dancers and a supposedly 'funny' scene suggesting rape. Further, the violence feels over-the-top even for over-the-top violence. This makes Kick-Ass 2 difficult to enjoy because the camera is shaking around in unison with your head's attempts to keep up, along with the shakes of disappointment and disbelief.
It appears that the writer/director took the common comic book theme of identity crises far too seriously. There are too many moments of Kick- Ass 2 that feel out of place or imbalanced. Some scenes delve into dark narrative turns that force Kick-Ass to deal with the consequences. Then the following scene will have crudely unfunny moments of abnormal bodily dysfunctions. Unlike the first film, the two tones do not blend well as they are of such extremes that they can hardly see one another as they drift apart.
More positively, Wadlow manages to introduce a few new cool characters to the team. The most notable members include Jim Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes, Donald Faison as Dr. Gravity and Lindy Booth as Night B*tch. Carrey and Faison aren't given an amount of screen time that would justify their characters being embedded into our memories. Nonetheless, they are appreciated when on screen as being some of the only actually funny and enjoyable elements in Kick-Ass 2.
It is two hours of escapism sure, but there are times when the fire escape in the corner of your eye looks more appealing as you feel your head is about to explode. Kick-Ass 2 is essentially a recycled version of the first Kick-Ass film meets Mean Girls; it's the same gift with a new bow on top. Though you may wish to keep the receipt for this one as once unwrapped, you'll have wished you never received it. Kick-Ass 2 most definitely does not Kick A...ny other recent cinematic release from your attention, and I would recommend forgetting this film completely as it fails to bring justice to its significantly superior predecessor.
The Wolverine (2013)
Clawed In From Beginning Until, Almost End
Many had presumed that Marvel's mutated franchise and even their indestructible adamantium machine could not heal after the disappointing releases of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and then X-Men Origins: Wolverine in 2009. Nonetheless, the 2011 prequel X-Men: First Class and this 126 minute journey half way across the world to Japan have managed to mend these wounds. The Wolverine unleashes a fresh, X-citing and much anticipated focus on the character that is not impenetrable from criticism but is pretty much what any Wolverine fan and cinemagoer could have hoped for.
The Wolverine opens with the titular character inexplicably placed in Nagasaki, where he rescues a military officer from the tragic atomic blast during The Second World War. In the present day, following the events of X-Men: The Last Stand, Logan, no longer considering himself the Wolverine, wanders the wilderness in anguish over the deaths of those close to him, which he must deal with eternally due to his curse of immortality.
What sets this film apart from other comic-book adventures corresponds to what makes Wolverine a unique character. The Wolverine sees its anti- hero on a quest for death more so than anything else. He does not seek heroics, recognition, justice or anything good, only the privilege of an end to his everlasting misery by death, which is brought to life tremendously by the film's screenplay and of course the Wolverine himself: Hugh Jackman.
The Wolverine calmly claws you in almost throughout its run in a beastly variety of ways. The Japanese landscapes provides a fresh setting, and makes the film visually interesting even when we are away from the action. Cinematographer Ross Emery captures the really X-traodinarily beautiful Japanese backdrops that are a refreshing change from New York skyscrapers.
While The Wolverine is great to look at when the beast's claws are retracted, the film is equally appealing when a regrettable soul gives Wolverine a reason to unleash the beast within. Notably, a scene involving a moving train is Class 5, stands out most memorably as the strongest amongst the film's action sequences. The final battle, while albeit a little uninteresting due to its loudness and surrender to clichés, can be forgiven due to its eventual satisfactory outcome.
One unfortunate element to the film that is less forgiving however, probably primarily from my own and comic-book fans' perspective, is the disappointing, unintimidating and lacklustre villain in Viper (Svetlana Khodchenkova). The actress is just a little difficult to understand at times, through both voice, and the fact her and the character seem to hold no real motivation or clear threat.
Unlike X-Men Origins: Wolverine, this significantly improved 2013 attempt is considerably well, more considerate to the character, with attention to plot, pacing and overall a more focused and consistent tone. The Wolverine dives claws first into the darkness of its protagonist, exploring how Logan's emotional scars cannot heal and are ever present, becoming increasingly burdening over time as he attempts to fix these unfixable wounds that torture him eternally.
It is almost redundant at this stage, 13 years after the first X-Men film was released, to praise Hugh Jackman for his consistently tremendous and irreplaceable portrayal of Logan/Wolverine. Almost, but not quite. Redundancy can be sliced and forgotten because Jackman simply owns the role of the X-Men's most beloved mutant. I have my suspicions that he actually might be the Wolverine, because the actor does not appear to age and is getting increasingly powerful with each performance. Hugh Jackman simply dominates his character, and hopefully will continue to do so for as long as mutantly possible, which in Wolverine's case, should mean forever.
The Wolverine is one best of the X-Men film franchise, with its cool story, fresh setting, great and appropriately slow pace for a broken character, X-citing action scenes and a mostly perfect cast. The Wolverine may be picked last in class when many retrospectively consider 2013's best comic book adaptations. However, the James Mangold film is so far the surprise pick of the pack as it has exceeded expectations and filled any dubious doubts with cinematic satisfaction. While not quite a match for Superman's Steel, Wolverine's adamantium has far surpassed Iron (Man 3) and now has cinema-goers, comic book fans and I, anticipating next year's addition to the mutated series, X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Monsters University (2013)
Pixar Continue to Roar the Loudest
The Incredible, Brave and universally Monstrous animation studio Pixar have undeniably been heard roaring the loudest with their 14 feature films amounting to their reputation at the forefront of motion picture animation, and film in general. The studio's small in number yet great in quality features make it unsurprising that there is a particular expectation for the animators to deliver more masterful art in the present and future. However, most recently Pixar have delved into the past with their first and very highly anticipated prequel, Monsters University.
Monsters, Inc. (2001) brought Pixar into the 21st century by opening doors into an entirely unique universe for audiences of all ages to enter. 12 years later, and the children who grew up with Sully, Mike and the rest of Monstropolis have been invited back to experience a stage in these great characters' lives that many of us also find ourselves in: university.
Monsters University sees Mike Wazowski and James P. Sullivan meet for the first time as they both desire to attain their major from the Scare Program but both have different views on how to pass the class. While Mike operates as the educated, hardworking, fearless yet physically unintimidating scarer, Sully excels fearsomely well at the scaring, but lacks the motivation, courage and book smarts Mike possesses, causing the pair to become rivals.
The writers constructively use the beloved on screen relationship between Mike and Sully to explore their differences in Monsters University, which are ironically everything they need to complete each other as a pair, as classmates, as colleagues and as who knows what if Pixar decide to expand the Monsters franchise further. This prequel justifies itself solely in the exploration of Mike and Sully's match as the perfect scare team; yin and yang embodied on screen.
As if Pixar were not punctual enough with the timely release of Monsters University (MU) for those who grew up with the original, but its setting also plays host to the film's central storyline which follows the MU Scare Games. With the release of this monster movie coinciding with the one year anniversary of the hugely successful London Olympics, Pixar manages to capture a marginal fictionalised element of magic that the 2012 Games accumulated, but a fraction alone is enough to captivate audiences, which Monsters University does indeed.
The parallels between the challenges that the MU fraternities must face and those accomplished last summer are certainly not forced in this prequel, and so make for delightfully relevant entertainment as we see Mike and Sully reluctantly join the same fraternity to fight for their survival in the university's Scare Program, overcoming numerous, humorous obstacles along the way.
Monsters University has a mix of fun features, all contained within a single, fun feature film. Whether you're a toy, bug, monster, fish, superhero, car, rat, robot or most likely just an everyday human, Monsters University will almost definitely delight and satisfy with enough laughs to energise the whole of Monstropolis. Pixar really unhooked the leash in 2013, having changed the tone from Monsters, Inc. whilst still managing to keep the collar on this prequel to ensure it belongs to the 2001 animation. While it lacks the heart and depth of the original, Monsters University surpasses its predecessor with a blend of humour, visual vibrancy and enough universityisms to keep any student mentally reaching out to the screen in relation, as the film reaches out to us in so many ways.
Monsters University has many welcome throwbacks (or throw forwards chronologically speaking if you prefer) to Monsters, Inc. that are only supplementary magical moments to the energetic, Monstrously good, nonstop party of animated fun. Monsters University proves that Pixar can graduate to prequels and still remain successful. The studio has just about every metaphorical studious qualification imaginable, and yet their fantastic writers, directors, animators and actors continue to imagine and conceive new, unique artwork. This provides us with excellent family fun, heart-warming stories and allegories, with Monsters University as the latest, and certainly one of the greatest. In all fairness however, most of Pixar's features sit atop their greatest offerings as it is difficult to favour one over the other.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Terrific Rim...at Times.
"We always thought alien life would come from the stars, but it came from deep beneath the sea". In fact, director Guillermo del Toro brought new life to the monster movie genre with the epic and undeniably entertaining Pacific Rim right here on land.
Pacific Rim delivers just about what one might expect from seeing its trailers or even just hearing about it. Guillermo del Toro's vision is complex in its ambition and scale, but simple enough in its high-concept premise. When the Pacific Ocean receives an unwelcome portal between dimensions, alien life invites itself into our world and certainly doesn't wish to remain unnoticed as mass destruction of Earth's infrastructure ensues. In response, the Jaeger Project is born, creating monsters of our own to combat the deadly, in a sense, subterranean species. Del Toro immediately invites us into his multidimensional universe, with the cinema screen acting as the portal where for 131 minutes you are transported on a journey of majestic imagery.
The initial 30 minutes in this new universe, (a universe which is only further enhanced by the third dimension and IMAX experience) is unfortunately spent telling us what we probably already know. There are certain films where you wish you had known less going in as surprises are spoiled by your anticipation and natural assumptions. Pacific Rim differs in no way and in fact could have benefited from more constructive and ambiguous pre-released material as its opening half- hour is more or less an extended version of the trailers. As with most stories however, judgment should really be reserved until its middle and end have executed their purpose.
Pacific Rim is effortlessly enjoyable, tie-in toyable, with monsters and robots readily deployable into battle sequences so convincing and grand, that you look up to the screen as you would these monsters in real life and this makes Del Toro rightly employable.
While the action has you synchronised unbreakably with Del Toro's vision due to the prowess of the CGI, which just feels like I alone, you cannot help but wish for the camera to take a giant step backwards. Although obviously done intentionally, Del Toro leaves the camera awkwardly in between the action at times, and the result is perplexing. With films such as Jaws (1975) and Cloverfield (2008), the devastating creatures are purposefully obscure visually and shown infrequently to heighten the sense of danger and fear of the unknown. Meanwhile, with Jurassic Park (1993) and other similar creature features, we are monstrously engaged and aesthetically informed by being able to see the action and nonhuman characters clearly afar when necessary. Pacific Rim is uncomfortably framed in between this spectrum at times and this unfortunately lessens the visual value and experience of the film overall.
While the battle sequences are the most anticipated, decorated and appropriately stated highlights of Pacific Rim, they are only setpieces to the much bigger war. The primary point of interest away and even importantly within the action is the film's central theme of unification. Seeing the abandonment of international conflicts, petty feuds and meaningless separation between Earth's people holds a great deal of truth to it when faced with a common enemy. Del Toro maintains this theme consistently throughout the feature, with the giant Jaeger robots even requiring a coalition between two pilots emotionally and cerebrally to function capably.
While puny individual Earthlings are thrown in for purposes of making the film grounded and recognisable, it's really the robots and aliens you came to see. Nonetheless, Idris Elba and the brief yet excellent performance of child actress Mana Ashida stand out chiefly even when facing the immeasurable monsters at their doors.
Pacific Rim is quite literally a groundbreaking feat in cinematic excellence because Guillermo del Toro immerses his audience into his world, his galaxy, his universe with relative ease, and the goal to please, which he achieves. While it has its flaws and calculates its fair share of question marks for itself, Pacific Rim is difficult to deny as anything but entertainment. It's simple, it's smashing, its scale is felt with incredible zealous. It's Pacific Rim.
Man of Steel (2013)
Men of Steel
Where to begin? Well this origin story begins as a Superbly Magnificent retelling of one of the most recognisable fictional figures on the planet today. Man of Steel remains consistently loyal to its title, showcasing Clark Kent's perceived misplacement into a world unknown to his abilities, introducing Kal-El as the lost part of this misunderstood Man, who finally Steels the show once a threat to Earth results in his acceptance of his freedom to do right, and become the shining beacon of hope for mankind: Superman.
With Henry Cavill as our nearest, powerful star, and a near unfathomably remarkably talented and irreplaceable cast to play the supporting characters orbiting him constantly, Man of Steel is nothing but awesome to watch from just an acting and characterisation aspect alone. Director Zach Snyder, Writer David S. Goyer and Producer Christopher Nolan, along with the perfect casting of Cavill, all manage to converge the three parts of the protagonist's identity (Clark Kent, Kal-El and Superman) with such delicacy and flawless excellence that makes the titular character, the Man of Steel himself, the highlight in this comic book film. Narrative, visual effects, music and everything else aside, Man of Steel is carried through galaxies because of its tremendously executed character study that cements itself firmly into the realms of other great superhero films including Spider-Man (2002) and Batman Begins (2005). Of course, the existence of a star is meaningless if the satellites orbiting it are not naturally flourishing with life, but oh Man do the supporting characters make gazing upon on screen stars a privilege to be a cinemagoer. Russell Crowe, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Antje Traue and Michael Shannon among others, certainly collaborate as their own glowing constellation, and you cannot help but gape in enjoyment, and in doing so you might attain heat vision with how intensely enchanting the actors are.
Structurally, Man of Steel adopts a fairly unique craft in presenting Clark Kent's craving for a legitimate identity, with flashbacks to expose the routes of his anguish set upon him by his paternal father Jonathon Kent (Costner). These scenes are surprisingly amongst the greatest that the film offers, with Superb character development and emotional depth that has yet to be reached by any other comic book adaptation other than Sam Raimi's Spider-Man. As someone not at all fond of the Superman character before seeing Man of Steel, I was captivated by Snyder's and the cast's ability to provoke such emotion from what I thought would only be an action film, though I could not have been more incorrect, as it is so much more.
The main narrative is by no means unique. Primary villain General Zod of the Kryptonian race, attempts to carry out plans we have seen a number of times before, but his motivation behind this is extremely convincingly elaborated and explored through Shannon's portrayal. Though at times slightly overshadowed by his sidekick Faora (Antje Traue), Shannon is worthy of the title General as it is in his DNA to be so. This is what sets him apart from Cavill's iconic character. Superman's DNA enables the freedom to decide what is right and wrong, but is primarily nurtured by the presence of biological father Jor-El (Crowe) and both Kent parents.
There are honestly too many features to applaud throughout Man of Steel. The film is undoubtedly a masterful work of filmmaking in its aesthetically astounding set-pieces, which while very much overloaded into Man of Steel, are still appropriately contained by the visual prowess of Zach Snyder and the special effects team. Additionally, Hans Zimmer yet again delivers his trademark composition; that trademark being majestic excellence that is simply a pleasure to listen to, with or without the Super images to accompany it on screen. There is almost no escaping the beautiful visuals and sounds that make up this 144 minute feature, not that you would want to miss a second. Watching Man of Steel, you feel like Superman taking his first flight, taking in the incredible sights with an enormous grin of delight in spite of the fright that the experience might not have reached the height of your expectations. Well right from lift off, Man of Steel is a truly thrilling and enjoyable cinematic experience, frame by frame, scene by scene, act to act, Man of Steel is immensely wonderful until you feet get back on the ground and the last credit scrolls out of you vision.
Even though towards the film's conclusion, the title Men of Steel feels more appropriate as seemingly unwanted characters begin to overshadow General Zod and the Man of the hour (well two hours, twenty-four minutes), indeed, Superman Returns (pun intended) and the on screen revival of the character comes to a most satisfactory end. This is a thankful return, as without the core character to standout amongst the features that orbit him, Man of Steel would not have been the phenomenal film that it is. You could pause Man of Steel at almost any moment and witness sensational cinematography. You could close your eyes and just listen to genius Hans Zimmer composition. You could even just walk into the theatre midway through the screening and avoid the character development, and appreciate the jaw-dropping action sequences. Doing any of these would result in substantial enjoyment I can almost assure, but you would also most likely miss out on the Man, who is actually quite Super even without the cape.