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NOTE: This list is based on films that were released in Ireland in 2013.
Now that's what I call a show
Foals have had a great year. The Oxfordshire quintet scored their biggest hit yet with single 'My Number', their third album 'Holy Fire' made it to number two on the U.K. album charts (being held off the top spot by the 'Les Misérables' soundtrack), the album, in turn, was nominated for the Mercury Prize, they won Best Live Act at the Q Awards and their biggest indoor gig to date, in London's Royal Albert Hall sold out in minutes and went on to garner great reviews. With this Dave Ma directed concert film (the band's first) it's easy to see why, as the band put on a show so good you'll wish you there.
Nick Wheeler's visuals are often striking and always pop as the lightshow brightens up the expansive dome, while the sound design is impeccable. Dave Ma's direction is superb, capturing the unbreakable energy of the live performance, as Yannis Philippakis and co. thrive onstage, forming a formidable live unit where each band member is integral. Additionally, we also get a number of insightful glimpses into their behind-the-scenes behaviour, as they muck about backstage, rehearse and discuss their attitude towards making music.
Everyone in the audience looks delighted to be there, with many completely losing themselves in the music and even sitting in front of your TV, there's a good chance you will too. This is an immersive, explosive and intense concert film that will leave you wanting more and a Foals ticket.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Marvel are everywhere at the moment. In the past two-and-a-half years we've had 'Thor', 'X-Men: First Class', 'Captain America: The First Avenger', 'The Avengers', 'The Amazing Spiderman', 'Iron Man 3', 'The Wolverine' and now, 'Thor: The Dark World'. There are also four more Marvel movies to follow next year 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier', 'The Amazing Spiderman 2', 'X-Men: Days of Future Past' and 'Guardians of the Galaxy'. This could seem like overkill, except all of the aforementioned movies already released have been good and some great. Which now brings us to Thor's third big screen outing how does it compare to slew of Marvel movies around today? Very favourably.
Following the chaotic events that rocked New York in 'The Avengers', Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) are back in Asgard, with the latter being imprisoned for his crimes. The Nine Realms appear to be in order, but an ancient race is on a vengeful path The Dark Elves, led by the villainous Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). Upon discovering a portal between Asgard and Earth, scientist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) accidentally reawakens them and they set their sights on Thor's homeworld.
In stark contrasts to the recent DC films (except 'Green Lantern', but let's forget that ever happened), Marvel Studios' movies are unadulterated fun. 'Iron Man 3' and 'The Avengers' set the bar high for the level of sheer fun and Thor's latest continues along this path. It's also leaner than every other recent action blockbuster and all the better for it, as e.g. by the time the 30 minute climactic battle in 'Man of Steel' begins, the end credits start rolling on 'Thor: The Dark World'. Additionally, the action sequences are terrific and exhilarating, while the comedy is properly funny and occasionally hilarious. There's also an unexpected cameo from a Marvel regular that is one of the most joyous things I've seen all year. Alan Taylor uses his experience from the brilliant 'Game of Thrones' to great effect when approaching the fantasy worlds. As per usual, Tom Hiddleston is a delight to watch, lighting up the screen whenever he appears, while Hemsworth is efficient and the rest of the cast are solid. There are flaws one or two plot strands disappear and some roles are underwritten. However, 'Thor: The Dark World' may not be a profound classic, but it is gloriously entertaining from start to finish and a very worthy addition to the ever-expanding Marvel canon.
Also, make sure to stay for the entire ends credits, as we got, not one, but two post-credit sequences, which I won't spoil, but I will say that one of them offers an excitingly weird glimpse into a future Marvel movie.
Shut Up and Play the Hits (2012)
Time to say goodbye
"Hey", Steve Albini wrote, "breaking up is an idea that occurred to far too few groups". However, it's definitely an idea that occurred to LCD Soundsystem, as frontman James Murphy decided to disband the group, not long after their third album was released, despite the fact that they were now at the peak of their fame and acclaim. Nothing bad had happened there were no bust-ups between members, drug troubles or any other music clichés Murphy simply wanted to wave goodbye to his dance-punk creation and respect should be given to him for that. He chose to go out with a bang, by staging the group's largest gig to date on the 2nd April 2011, in New York's Madison Square Garden to a crowd of nearly 20,000. That gig is chronicled in this excellent Will Lovelace-and-David Southern-directed documentary. The live footage on display here is superb, with an Arcade Fire-featuring rendition of 'North American Scum' and the emotional climactic performance of 'New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down' proving to be highlights.
However, 'Shut Up and Play the Hits' isn't strictly a concert movie, as it also features some backstage footage, an interview recorded a week before the gig and clips of Murphy rambling around New York, often with his little bulldog in tow. This may sound boring when compared to the palpable energy of the concert footage, but these intercuts are anything but. They're revealing and engaging as we are given a glimpse of Murphy leading up to the final gig and the day after it. In particular, the interview is the most interesting with Murphy offering an overview of LCD Soundsystem and refreshingly frank responses to the questions he is asked.
This film isn't just for LCD Soundsystem aficionados; it's one for anyone who enjoys music documentaries. And if you are a fan of James Murphy, I struggle to imagine any reason why you wouldn't like this. Its offstage clips are poignant, while its beautifully shot concert footage is absorbing. If this truly is the end of the group, then this is a terrific way to say farewell.
Bad Grandpa (2013)
The 'Jackass' crew have been around for a while now, but they're showing no signs of hanging it up, and are now back on our cinema screens with their latest offering 'Bad Grandpa' Johnny Knoxville's first solo 'Jackass' outing. Following in the 'Borat' mould of playing pranks on the unsuspecting public, the movie sees Knoxville disguise himself as the titular grandpa the lecherous Irving Zisman, who embarks on a road trip with his nine-year-old grandson, Billy, played impressively by Jackson Nicoll, who often out-acts Knoxville when it comes to the comedy. The gags are mildly amusing, as the mischievous pair get up to all sorts of hijinks (one of which owes more than a bit to 'Little Miss Sunshine'), with the 'ladies night' scene and the diner sequence standing out. Additionally, the public's reactions to the pranks are often funnier than the pranks themselves.
Escape Plan (2013)
Does what it says on the tin
Arnie and Sly are together at last. 'Escape Plan', the latest movie from Mikael Hăfström, is notable for being the first major on screen pairing of Schwarzenegger and Stallone, after brief cameos in 'The Expendables' series.
Here, Stallone plays Ray Breslin, a professional jailbird, who after breaking out of every prison designed by man, is sent to a prison designed especially for him to see if he can break out. Unfortunately, Breslin soon realises that this isn't a job he has been genuinely abandoned in a prison that is "off the grid". To get out, he must team up with Schwarzenegger and come up with an escape plan.
There is action and one-liners aplenty. Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson plays the stereotypical black sidekick. Vinnie Jones plays the same person he's been playing for years. Jim Caviezel plays the ridiculous villain who paints butterflies in his downtime. And Sam Neill appears to be wondering where he is and how he got there. But even with perfunctory direction from Hăfström, 'Escape Plan' makes no pretensions about what it is and says what it does on the tin it's a delightfully fun and thoroughly enjoyable slab of 'geri-action'.
Very twisted and very good
"I was disgusted and wanted to take a shower with a steel brush." That was how Matthew McConaughey said he felt after reading the script for 'Killer Joe' for the first time. 'Filth', the latest Irvine Welsh adaptation, may provoke a similar response in many viewers, because it is very dark and twisted, with a main character that is homophobic, racist, sexist, misanthropic and misogynistic, rivalling and possibly surpassing Harvey Keitel in Abel Ferrara's 'Bad Lieutenant' as the most despicable on screen cop.
The cop in question is Inspector Bruce Robertson, played magnificently by James McAvoy. After having appeared in 'Welcome to the Punch' and 'Trance' earlier this year, playing two good guys, McAvoy does the opposite, taking on the role of someone steeped in depravity and corruption. Subsequently, he delivers not only his best performance of the year with 'Filth', but also the best performance of his career. Thanks to McAvoy, I ended up sympathising and empathising with Bruce, even though I shouldn't. He is strongly supported by the always- watchable likes of Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan and Shirley Henderson, while Jim Broadbent is delightfully delirious as the psychiatrist that Bruce regularly encounters in his visions.
The plot is loosely concerned with Bruce attempting to get a promotion, but in reality, this is more of a character piece than a straightforward, plot-driven work; in that respect it's superficially similar to Nicholas Winding Refn's 'Bronson'. What we get are series of vignettes (Bruce goes to Hamburg, Bruce goes to a Christmas party, etc.), a structure that can difficult to get right, but Baird does, as every vignette is good, while aspects of Bruce's complex character are explored. Additionally, 'Filth' contains something that you won't find in any other film this year the sight of David Soul as a taxi driver, bursting into song, singing his hit 'Silver Lady'. 'Filth's boldness makes it not for everyone its comedy is jet black and scathing, while it doesn't shy away from explicitness or the dark depths of McAvoy's character, as he engages in sex, drugs and well, filth, doing everything from upsetting children to playing incredibly mean pranks on his 'friends'. It's also one of the best films of recent months.
The Fifth Estate (2013)
Cumberbatch shines in a dull and only occasionally interesting account of the Wikileaks story
You know what they say you wait for a bus and then two come along at once. After causing a media frenzy in recent years, Julian Assange and his whistleblowing website WikiLeaks have found their way to the big screen this year, twice. Earlier in the year, the documentary 'WikiLeaks: We Steal Secrets' was released to highly positive reviews and a lengthy complaint from Assange himself. Now, we have Bill Condon's dramatic (and according to some, heavily fictionalised) account of the history of the now-infamous website and its founder. Similarly to aforementioned documentary, 'The Fifth Estate' has notably been objected by Assange, who wrote to lead actor Benedict Cumberbatch outlining why he shouldn't take the role or have any part in the film. Despite this, Cumberbatch didn't, instead delivering an excellent and nuanced performance that never feels like an impersonation. On the flipside, Cumberbatch is far-and-away the best thing in the film.
That's not to imply that 'The Fifth Estate' is a bad film by any means, it's just that it's regularly flat and occasionally boring. Many have compared it to David Fincher's 2010 masterpiece 'The Social Network' and the similarities do exist (the foundation of a revolutionary website involving two different people who eventually fall out over said site), but the difference is that this film lacks the spark and most importantly, the compelling dialogue of the latter. When making a film such as this centred on dialogue, it is imperative to make the talk as gripping as possible, but despite trying their best, the conversations here are only sporadically attention-grabbing. Additionally, the sequences set inside the 'cyberspace' feel out-of-place and don't work at all.
The film has good intentions and attempts to raise some interesting questions, as it successfully manages not to show favour to any side of the WikiLeaks argument, even going so as far as questioning the film itself, as we see Cumberbatch's Assange dismissing it in an interview. As well as Cumberbatch, Daniel Brühl is very good as Assange's partner Daniel Domscheit-Berg, while David Thewlis is as usual, a pleasure to watch, here playing the best on screen Guardian journalist since Paddy Considine in 'The Bourne Ultimatum'. Overall though, the film is not as good as its star it's a plodding and unremarkable account of one of the biggest new stories in recent history.
A sombre and slow, but excellent piece of work
Some films create a brilliant sense of atmosphere. 'Prisoners' is one of those films. From the moment it opens, we are greeted with an ice cold atmosphere that continues until the end, reflecting the chilly weather that pervades through the suburban Pennsylvania setting. Roger Deakins' stunning cinematography really helps in crafting this atmosphere, as like the film, it moves at a slow and often languorous pace, occasionally honing in on things that don't necessarily move the plot forward, but add to the mood. Coupled with the superb score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, a feeling of dread is created from the beginning, lingering over ever frame right up until the credits roll.
This dark and chilly atmosphere suits the plot of 'Prisoners' perfectly. During a Thanksgiving gathering involving two families, each one's youngest daughter mysteriously vanishes, nowhere to seen, leaving fathers Franklin Birch (Terrence Howard) and God-fearing, American survivalist Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman) deeply concerned over the fate of their kids. Loner Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) takes on the case and soon arrests Alex Jones (Paul Dano), a guy "with the IQ of 10 year- old", but struggles to find any evidence against him. However, it's not long before a furious Keller takes matters into his own hands.
Jackman has always been a good actor, despite sometimes being considered to be just a 'movie star', and with this film he gives what is very possibly his best performance to date. He's a magnetic force whenever on screen and is perfectly credible as a devastated father. Another person who is entirely credible in their role is Gyllenhaal. It may be as a result of starring in David Ayer's excellent 'End of Watch', but Gyllenhaal is terrific as Detective Loki, offering a great contrast to the fiery Jackman. He even goes so far as adding an actor's tick, as Loki frequently blinks, signalling his stress and anxiety. Jackman and Gyllenhaal are rounded off by a good supporting cast of Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello and Paul Dano at his creepiest.
At 153 minutes, you could argue that 'Prisoners' is overlong, but its length was one of the best things about it for me, as I became absorbed in the drama. This is a slow film with slow passages; it definitely takes its time getting places, but with such a great sense of atmosphere, length is hardly an issue. This is more than simply a 'kidnap movie' as director Denis Villeneuve attempts to make a serious point about kidnapping, questioning the value of information obtained under duress and the idea of doing things with the right intentions even if it's against the law. Similarly, the characters exist in an area of gray morality, as evidenced by the fact that I sympathized with Keller and Alex. Sure, it's not perfect the end twist feels somewhat generic, consequently jarring with the non-generic approach to the rest of the film. Nonetheless, this is a grimly-atmospheric, well-acted and excellently structured piece of work that has something intelligent to say to say about its subject matter.
Breaking Bad: Felina (2013)
"Guess I got what I deserved"
Well, here it is, after five years spent with Walter White, 'Breaking Bad' has reached its conclusion and now we all have to move on or even go back and re-watch the entire five seasons, which is something I imagine many may do. Firstly, let's get it out of the way is the last ever episode of this brilliant show any good? Yes, absolutely; it's a very satisfying ending, giving the series a sense of closure.
The episode opens with Walt leaving Alaska and returning to Albuquerque. We briefly see the diner scene that was flash-forwarded to in the fifth season's first episode 'Live Free or Die', where Walt shaped his bacon in the style of the numbers 52, as it was his 52nd birthday. Leaving the diner, he drives out to Gretchen and Elliott's lavish home and sneaks inside. After the end of the penultimate Granite State, where Gretchen and Elliott appeared on Charlie Rose, I predicted that Walt would kill the pair, possibly with the ricin. However, he doesn't, instead urging them to take his money to give to his children and if they don't, he will have "two of the best hit men" kill them. It was a nice twist that the two 'dangerous' hit men turned out to be none other than Badger and Skinny Pete, who hadn't been in the series for a number of episodes.
Aside from that scene, there were no real surprises or outright shocks in the finale. But that's not necessarily a bad thing, as it would have much worse if we had been thrown a huge curveball of a twist that would miraculously save Walt by curing his cancer. Lydia was poisoned with the ricin, through an ingenious move by Walt. The gang of neo-Nazis were shot down by Walt's M60 we glimpsed in the flash forward in 'Blood Money', although not in the 'Scarface' style manner that some predicted. Walt killed Jack and Jesse finally got his revenge on the scarily psychopathic Todd by strangling him, and afterwards escaping from his imprisonment in what was one of the episode's most satisfying moments. Walt gave the coordinates to where Hank was buried so that he could receive a proper burial and he also got to see his children one last time, before he died at the end of the episode. You could argue that matters were wrapped up too nicely, but the tying-up of all these plot strands never felt forced.
Perhaps the highlight of the episode was the final encounter and deeply poignant scene between Walt and Jesse, who refused to kill him and exchanged a meaningful look with him, before driving off. Yet even though he saved Jesse, there was no redemption for Walt, he had gone past the point of no return. However, Walt was at his most human in some time in this episode as he gave up on trying to get back into family and now accepted all he had done. "I guess I got what I deserved", was the first line of the song Baby Blue by Badfinger, which played during the final scene, reflecting Walt's emotions as his character development had finally reached its ending. There was definite resolution to this episode there were no loose ends dangling about and there was a sense of conclusion from the moment the episode began. This wasn't a big, explosive episode full of drama that episode aired two weeks previous to this one and the two that have followed it were essentially the epilogue to the story. 'Felina' is not as good as 'Ozymandias', (few things are) but it is still the best ending we could hope for and the best way the series could have ended. 'Breaking Bad' will be missed, but it will also be remembered as one of the best television shows ever. And rightly so.
Breaking Bad (2008)
It is funny when you think back on 'Breaking Bad's early days and how they contrast with the way it is now. For its first two seasons, it was largely a cult show outside the U.S., featuring a fanbase that was passionate but not exactly huge. It was even dropped from UK TV due to poor ratings, never to be picked up again. However, around the time the third season premiered, its popularity began to rise, increasing with each subsequent season, thanks to word-of-mouth, reaching a pinnacle with the fifth season becoming the most-talked-about television series of 2013, as large numbers of people starting catching up with the show. This is undoubtedly due to the quality of the series it is absolutely brilliant. The current success of it can be seen through three recent achievements it entered The Guinness World Book of Records for being the best-reviewed TV show ever, the Writers Guild of America listed it as one of the great TV series ever written and it also walked away with the top prize at this year's Emmys (and chances are, may do next year as well).
One aspect of the series that no one can dispute is the brilliance of its cast. Thanks to Walter White, Bryan Cranston is no longer "that guy who played the dad in Malcolm in the Middle" and has deservedly won three Emmys for his role as Walt because like the show, he is fantastic, especially as he conveys his character's development from being "Mr. Chips" to "Scarface", as creator Vince Gilligan once remarked in his pitch for the series. Meanwhile, Aaron Paul is superb as Jesse, perfectly capturing a range of sides to his character, from being naive to mature to stubborn to introspective. Aside from the concept of how an ordinary man change transform into an entirely different person, at the very heart of 'Breaking Bad' is the tumultuous relationship between Walt and Jesse. It goes up and down like a roller-coaster, yet it gives the show heart even as the pair do desperate things and we, as viewers, can't helped but be deeply engaged with them, as they argue, confide, fight and of course, cook.
However, the other cast members are just as good as the two leads. As crime scene cleaner Mike Ehrmantraut, Jonathan Banks is outstanding (he should've won that Emmy) and Dean Norris is terrific with strong screen presence as Walt's DEA brother-in-law, Hank Schrader. While Anna Gunn and RJ Mitte are both great as Walt's wife and son, as they form a family relationship with Cranston that is never anything but realistic considering the situations he places them in, even if Gunn's character is not the most likable. Bob Odenkirk is a pleasure to watch as Walt and Jesse's metaphor-loving lawyer Saul Goodman, providing some comic relief, especially whenever his bodyguard Huell Babineaux (Lavell Crawford) is around. Special mention should be given to Giancarlo Esposito, who is mesmerising as Gus Fring, the owner of fast food chain, Los Pollos Hermanos.
'Breaking Bad' is one of those series where every episode leaves wanting you more, especially with a number of incredible cliffhangers that Gilligan has left viewers dangling on without spoiling anything, the season five mid-way cliffhanger left me (and many others) desperate to find out what would happen next. It has grown progressively darker over the course of its five seasons, starting out as a black comedy before slowly (and understandably) morphing into something deeper and more serious, while still retaining moments of humour. Similarly, it has also grown increasingly good over its five seasons, being excellent at first before becoming incredible; with the recently-aired fifth season the best of the lot (some of the greatest episodes in the entire series are a few near the end). The key to this show's success is Gilligan, the very man who created it, who has written and directed a multitude of episodes and always manages to brilliantly place the characters in disastrous situations. The quality of the writing, acting and directing (with a special mention to Rian Johnson) on display here is exemplary and on a level that is rarely equalled. If you haven't seen this truly masterful series yet, then you know what you need to do and if you have seen it all, I can't imagine any reason why you wouldn't want to go back and watch it all over again. I know I will.