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Well, well...let's tell an old story anew - that's what this film intends to do, as we learn via the rather intrusive constantly annoying voice-over (too much narration). Trailers for this film led me to believe it would be quite a dark retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, and even when it began rather lightheartedly, bright and cheerful, I thought surely the darkness would eventually come. So it was somewhat disappointing that this interpretation never *did* actually get all that dark (although there are some dark moments). Angelina Jolie, without a doubt, MAKES this film. She's so good in it that you forget you're watching Angelina Jolie, rather you're just watching the character of Maleficent herself. This retelling of Sleeping Beauty twists events around to show things from *her* perspective. Jolie, as obvious as it may sound, is magnificent in the role. The evil smile (combined with the words "There is evil in this world, hatred and revenge..." followed by her fake pout and "...oh.") before letting out an evil laugh at the end of one of the first trailers released showed how perfect for the iconic role Angelina was. Her chilling laugh/eerie smile are really something to behold. She looks dangerous, beautiful and evil all at once with her horns, glowing eyes, raised cheekbones (which you just can't stop looking at), long black cloak, high collar and staff. We have Jolie to be thankful for that, as apparently she insisted on maintaining the scary/menacing look of the animated incarnation.
We first meet young Maleficent, played by Isobelle Molloy, as a fairy who greets the many varied inhabitants in her forest of a morning cheerily whilst flying about. Molloy does a good job of playing the character before she changes. What brings about the personality shift is her encounter with young Stefan. They quickly become friends, but he eventually leaves and doesn't return until Maleficent is Angelina Jolie size, now an extremely powerful freedom fighter type who speaks/fights for the magical things of her world against man. It is here where she suffers a ruthless betrayal, as grown-up Stefan (Sharlto Copley, adopting a dubious Scottish accent) slips her a sleeping potion, under the guise of friendship, only to cut off/steal her beloved wings and take them back to the King who wanted her dead. While one could interpret Stefan's actions as him trying to save her life the only way he knew how, he clearly intended to kill her, but was just too weak-stomached to go through with it/chickened out at the last minute. Angelina is heartbreaking in the scene where Maleficent discovers a part of her has been taken. You can't help but feel for her from this point on. Here her character is fleshed out, we are given context to her 'evil' and she is presented as not so much a straight-up villain, but instead someone we can sympathise with. While this might upset some, the movie is its own unique spin on the tale, allowing for more depth.
Jolie herself admitted her look scared kids on the set and that her daughter, Vivienne, was the only one NOT scared of her, so it makes sense she was chosen to play young Aurora. It definitely helps. The scene between her and her off-screen mother is certainly a memorable one. One of the best aspects of Angie's performance is her deadpan delivery of lines. Maleficent's attitude towards Aurora (whom she calls 'beastie') as an infant, and later as a child, makes for some darkly amusing comments from her - which is needed, given how bright/chipper Aurora's character is once she's grown up to be Elle Fanning. There's not a whole lot to her character, but she plays the part of the naive innocent princess well (there's a funny moment where she thinks Maleficent is her fairy godmother). Despite her cursing Aurora on her christening to prick her finger and fall into a death-like sleep, Maleficent finds herself softening towards her target as she gets to know her (going so far as attempting to revoke her curse). When she's not tugging Sleeping Beauty through the air like a balloon on an invisible string, she's getting into mud-slinging fights with her and other forest critters. Speaking of, the creatures designed for the movie are quite creative-looking and add to the sense of wonder. Maleficent's trusty crow sidekick, Diaval, who she changes into a man (as well as a wolf, horse and dragon) is an interesting character, as played by Sam Riley. They have a fun dynamic, and he serves as a sort of 'conscience' for her. He's even better at taking care of infant Aurora than the three exceedingly annoying fairies/pixies who are tasked with keeping her safe. The less said about them, the better.
Aurora and Prince Phillip's 'love story' isn't really much of one. They share a single scene together, then their next encounter is him kissing her to wake her from her cursed sleep at the behest of the annoying trio. At least he voices some reservations about kissing a girl in her sleep he hardly knows, but once he does kiss her, it doesn't work anyway. No, it's Maleficent's maternal bond/friendship with Aurora that does it. Like the movie as a whole, things don't end how you might expect, though I was happy with how they did. The movie looks great, the score is suitably moody, and best of all, it's not drawn-out/overlong. Make sure to stay for Lana Del Rey's haunting new version of 'Once Upon a Dream'. Her voice suits this film perfectly. It's as if Jolie (as Maleficent) herself is singing the song. Like the movie, it feels as if it's from Maleficent's point of view, therefore reflecting her darker/sinister intentions. Again we have Jolie to thank, as she picked Del Rey herself to sing a version of the 1959 Sleeping Beauty's 'Once Upon a Dream' for the film. It'll give you chills/goosebumps for sure.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Katniss Everdeen vs. Tyrion Lannister...
That's what it all really comes down to in the end. Will she shoot him or not? Come on, it's Tyrion! No one could shoot him, not even the stone-cold assassin Raven's turned into. The reason why she WANTS to has something to do with Boliver Trask (Peter Dinklage) building machines called Sentinels from Mystique's DNA that allows them to adapt to any attack and therefore be unbeatable in the future. So Wolverine gets sent back to the 70's to prevent Trask from being assassinated so the future won't turn out so bleak for mutants and mutant supporters alike. In the immortal words of David Tennant's Doctor: it's a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey...stuff. Original director of the first two X-movies, Bryan Singer, knows what this franchise is all about. It's not only nice to welcome back the original X-movie theme/DNA strand opening credits/Cerebro door closing bit, but also he who kick-started all this. Oh, what could have been if he had done the third movie. Speaking of, this film (to the gratefulness of many) remedies a good chunk of what transpired in The Last Stand and made so many unhappy. But don't fret, Singer has said he's not erasing the past movies and he believes in "multiverses".
After a beginning, where a handful of new X-Men characters who we don't give a fig about die, we learn it's a total "psyche!" moment and they're all good. This happens again near the end of the movie. It really doesn't have much effect, as all the new mutants are forgettable and the only ones we care about are from the previous films. Stewart and McKellen are what really grounds these future scenes. More of Ellen Page as Kitty Pryde, complete with potty mouth, is welcome after she was underutilized in Last Stand, but she's more just a means to an end here. It's Logan who gets to do all the time travel. His visit to the 70's allows for some nice/funny moments acknowledging the era he's in (lava lamps, water beds, the music!). Things are much more interesting in the past, with McAvoy as young Charles, Fassbender as young Erik and JLaw as young Mystique (sadly, she only really shares one moment with Hank/Beast). These actors are what made First Class so enjoyable/successful, so it's a good thing we spend the bulk of the movie with them.
McAvoy brings so many depths to Charles (who has found a serum that allows him to walk, but doing so takes away his abilities). He and Jackman play well off each other, and Charles gets to repay Logan for his telling him to eff off in the last movie. Fassy, meanwhile, plays a much more angrier Magneto here. So much so that he's willing to kill Mystique, the one whom he brought over to his side last movie. What scenes the two of them share are really good, it's just a shame they were opposing each other. No disrespect to Rebecca Romijn, who was a welcome cameo in First Class and did a decent in the previous movies, but Jennifer Lawrence imbues her character with so much more nuance. One can understand her motivations/conflict, and the big moment between her and Trask has suitable weight to it, given what's at stake. Not to mention she's picked up a slew of kick-arse moves that she uses to take down large numbers of enemies all at once. Her fight scenes are some of the stand-outs in the film - they're so imaginative/creative and never boring. Describing her as quite flexible/bendy is an understatement.
Jackman, as always, is easily likable in his most recognised role. He's gotten playing Logan down to an art by now. Despite the lack of 'snikt!' (as his past self's bone claws are adamantium-less), he still kicks a fair amount of arse. He shares some good scenes with Xavier, Lehnsherr and Hank. The past cast certainly elevates the movie. New character Peter/Quicksilver is mostly played for some funny visuals, though he does come in handy with his super speed. However, the scene in X2 when Nightcrawler attacks the White House remains the better of the two. Judging by my audience's reaction, this Quicksilver may indeed prove a hit with film goers, though I personally am more looking forward to seeing what Whedon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson do with the character in Avengers 2. I imagine/am hoping he'll have more character depth. Dinklage, who we all love, naturally makes the most of his role and does not feel like some cartoonish villain or anything.
The most note-worthy thing, cast-wise, is all the cameos we get of characters long-thought lost. It's an emotional/highly effective moment when we see Famke Janssen's Jean again (no longer the Phoenix), James Marsden's Scott (who's still got that great dynamic with Logan) and Anna Paquin's Rogue. While the first two prove that the events which made so many mad in The Last Stand have been corrected, the last one is a bit of a shame only because of how minuscule her screen time is. Sadly, Paquin's Rogue has always been criminally underused and (especially in Last Stand) done a disservice by the writing, but at least she and Bobby/Iceman (who finally does some ice-ramp forming/surfing in this film) get a happy ending. Actually, it seems almost everyone gets one, more or less (except for the poor X-Jet, which gets destroyed every movie), while the very end promises interesting things to come. While it's a shame Matthew Vaughn, who directed First Class (which I thought rejuvenated the series after it had gone stale), declined directing this one, Singer does a good job of bringing back the positive memories of the first two films. While I do prefer First Class and feel this film had some unnecessary characters/got a bit muddled, the good mostly outweighs the bad. This is an X-Men sequel right up there with X2 on the successful scale and should make most X-fans happy.
Uh, folks, we're experiencing some moderate Godzilla-related turbulence...
After the pretty-much-universally-panned Matthew Broderick movie, which featured basically just a giant iguana running amok, a proper version was sorely needed. Trailers for this new film looked promising, especially the halo jump sequence - which is still one of the best bits of the movie. With expectations so high, there was bound to be slight disappointment. However, the good news is that this movie succeeds where the last one failed miserably. First, and most importantly, this Godzilla actually LOOKS like Godzilla. All the most important parts of what make him iconic are present here, including his roar/scream, 'atomic breath' and arse-kicking of other monsters. After a somewhat eerie opening, shot old-style (with, thankfully, not an iguana in sight), we jump ahead, focusing on Bryan Cranston's Joe Brody, his wife and their son. This section of the film is rather slow/plodding, though obviously it sets things up. We then jump ahead again 15 years and his son, Ford, is now Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who is married to Elle, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Is it weird that they'll be playing brother and sister in Avengers 2? Maybe, but here they are a loving husband and wife and have a kid of their own. I know Bryan Cranston has his many fans, and he makes the most of his role, but the film doesn't actually get going until after his exit and we are introduced to a creature, that looks somewhat like the monster from Cloverfield, called a M.U.T.O. (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). Things quickly pick up and the action begins, as we get not just one, but TWO of these spindly-legged nasties. When the big guy eventually turns up to show these punk-arse Mutos who is the King of the Monsters, it's a glorious moment.
Taylor-Johnson's Ford is a likable enough lead. He does some reuniting- a-kid-with-his parents here, a little toasting of the Muto's spawn there, but he's just a guy who happens to get into the thick of it and does the best he can given the circumstances. Elizabeth Olsen is also good as Elle. She doesn't get to do a whole lot, but she's infinitely better/more likable than any of the female characters in the last movie. She and Taylor-Johnson make a good pair, who you won't come to hate, thankfully. Even the kids in this movie aren't too loathsome (which is quite surprising, given what these types of movies are usually like). The movie is pretty devoid of humour, but there is one amusing moment involving Elle telling her kid to turn off the television when, unbeknown to her, an epic fight is going down on the TV between Godzilla and a Muto. It's probably for the best that this film has a more 'serious' tone and that there's not many 'jokes', especially given the alternative (ie. the last film). Our other main protagonist is Dr. Ichiro Serizawa, played by Ken Watanabe. He does plenty of staring off into the distance and such, but one important thing he does bring to the film is the fact that he knows what we all already know: Godzilla is an *asset* when it comes to fighting other monsters. Serizawa, unlike everyone else, realises it's probably a good idea to sic the big guy onto the Mutos rather than focusing on trying to take him out along with them. And he's right too, of course.
When it comes to the smackdown, Godzilla shows who's boss. Yes, there's a couple of moments where we think he's done for (and you certainly feel for the big guy), but in the end he proves why he is indeed the King of all monsters (his blue flaming kiss o' death is a particularly nice move). There might not be quite as much fighting between the monsters as some may hope, but what we do see is pretty awesome. You do get quite a few good looks at Godzilla, but he's not over-shown. Best of all? Everyone acknowledges at the end that he is indeed the saviour of the city, he doesn't die and he's allowed to return to his life under the sea. The score is quite appropriate for this monster movie, although it might have benefited from having the 'ROAR!' (Cloverfield Overture) which Michael Giacchino wrote as a homage to Japanese monster scores for the film Cloverfield. The music during that movie's end credits was epic, this film's? Slightly less so, though not at all 'bad'. Director, Gareth Edwards, who gave us that little gem of a movie called Monsters, proves he's in his element when dealing with said creatures. He's definitely the guy best suited to staying faithful to the legend that is Godzilla and bringing him to the screen in all his glory. Hail to the King of Monsters! Now all we have to worry about is Mothra...but hopefully he's tied up with Gamera and Rodan at the present time.
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
Never being a fan of the Raimi films, I was amazed how much I liked the first TASM film. It improved greatly on the original cheesetastic first film, and this one continues with that, providing an improved sequel to the original trilogy's (overrated, in my opinion) second film. I'm still preferring Andrew Garfield's Peter Parker/Spider-Man to Maguire's. Yes, this Spider-Man cracks jokes (that are at least actually *funny*), but he's also a likable person who's not so full of himself. He's got his heroic side, but also believable flaws. And thank heavens we're not hit over the head with anvils about how sucky his life is like in SM2. His relationship with Gwen Stacy is still one of the best aspects of these new films. Thanks, in large part, to Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone's effortless chemistry, they make the relationship between their characters so easily likable, whereas with Maguire and Kirsten Dunst...did anybody actually LIKE them together? Another improvement over Dunst's eternal damsel in distress is that Stone's Gwen is actually *helpful* to Spider-Man. Like in the first film, she saves his butt just as much as he saves hers, makes her own choices and doesn't allow him to make them FOR her, further proving why she's such an awesome love interest...which makes what happens near the end all the more powerful. Yes, that big thing concerning Gwen Stacy? It happens, and it's every bit as effective as you'd hope it would be. There's more tragedy packed into that moment than the original films had combined. Although this brutal event sees the end of two of the new franchise's biggest assets (Stone and the Peter/Gwen relationship), it proves too much of an important moment to have gone any other way.
The other big casting benefit is Dane DeHaan, who takes over from James Franco as Peter's old friend Harry Osborn. Although he's only introduced in this film, he and Garfield manage to make their character's history/friendship more believable than Maguire and Franco ever did. There's an easy back and forth between these two, and despite having only a few scenes together, you buy them as old friends. Even Harry's change into the Green Goblin is better handled here. It's not due to a misunderstanding about his father's death or regaining memories after a bump on the noggin that leads him to becoming bad, it's due to his need to save himself and Spider-Man's unwillingness to go along with it. As it turns out, Peter was right not to grant Harry's wish, as once he does get what he wants, he goes from being already kinda creepy-looking to downright impish. Unlike Willem Dafoe's Norman Osborn, there's no costume that looks purchased from a toy store here. This time, we have an actual menacing-looking villain (that, granted, looks a bit like a homicidal leprechaun, but still...an improvement over the last Green Goblin incarnation). His physical transformation is truly horrific in how it's presented. He becomes this ghastly creature and proves to live up to the infamy as Spider-Man's greatest enemy.
Somewhat less effective is Jamie Foxx as gap-toothed Max Dillon. He seems a good-natured enough guy (albeit with occasional violent internal feelings), who appears to be as big a fanboy of Spider-Man as they come. However, one lab accident later involving electric eels and something as simple as his hero forgetting his name for a minute sets him off. Perhaps time would've been better spent more on showing how he went from fanboy to enemy, and less on his nerdiness or ability to create Dubstep on the soundtrack. Is it simply because he NEEDS electricity that he goes all crazy, or is becoming Electro such an ego trip that it causes him to go off the deep end? Foxx is quite good as Max pre-Electro (as much as an adult behaving like he does CAN be), but it feels like a little more motivation was required for Electro. At least he provides some stunning visuals/epic battle scenes with Spider-Man, who (unlike a so-called 'Man of Steel') goes out of his way to save the lives of innocent people when crap is being destroyed in Times Square.
Although I found Sally Field's Aunt May to be an improvement over the last one, those who didn't will be happy to hear she shares some emotional scenes with Garfield's Peter here, which proves she can do more than just nag (although, when she does, it's actually quite amusing). Chris Cooper is only in one scene as the dying Norman Osborn, but he does a lot with a little and we get his history with Harry without resorting to anvils (no screaming "Avenge me!!!" here, thankfully). Felicity Jones as Felicia Hardy also makes the most of what little screen time she has, managing to make her character mysterious/intriguing, with (hopefully) the promise of seeing more of her next time. The film's thrilling opening scene shows what happened to Peter's parents/how important they are to this new trilogy's overarching storyline. The only WTF casting is Paul Giamatti's hammy Russian mobster, Aleksei Sytsevich, who has two brief scenes: an opening car chase and the end, where he pilots a Rhino-shaped armoured suit. He does feel a bit out of place, like a goofy throwback to the original films, but it's far from the "multiple villains" stigma there had been an outcry from fans about.
TASM was an above average set-up film, this one proves a worthy sequel and proper groundwork has properly been laid out for the third. The score, the effects, the direction and the acting are all top notch here. This film shows the consequences of the life Peter leads, but it's not all doom and gloom. There's good humour sprinkled throughout, it's not as overstuffed as people had feared, and we even got a mid-credits scene setting up X-Men: Days of Future Past. Hey, bonus Jennifer Lawrence is always a plus in my book.
Return of the non-jerky Avenger...
The first Captain America movie, like Thor, was one of the better introduction movies. Both had a unique feel about them that set them apart from the yawn-inducing (at least for me) Iron Man movies. I enjoyed Cap 1 being set in the past and felt its ending - which set Cap up for The Avengers - came at the expense of the film. It wasn't given its own proper ending. Maybe it's because I enjoyed the first film SO much, that this new one didn't feel like it quite lived up to it. That's not to say Captain America: The Winter Soldier is *bad* in any way (it's still better than snarky Iron Man), but while the first kept me glued to the screen throughout, I felt there was some slow stretches this time around.
As with Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Chris Evans continues to be very likable as Steve Rogers/Cap (unlike certain other Avengers). He was very noble in the first film, living up to his 'Boy Scout' rep, and still manages to keep the character's best qualities here. Little references to how old he is/what time period he grew up in were highly welcome and provided some nice subtle humour (see? We don't require Tony's "witty" one-liners all the time. One doesn't have to be Tony Snark to bring the funny). Cap also shows how skilled he is at not only Frisbee-ing his shield everywhere, but also hand-to-hand combat, as we see him take down almost a whole ship's crew single-handedly. Also, costume-wise, after finding his costume change in The Avengers to be a step down from his original outfit, it was a welcome surprise to see him back in it near the end of this film (as the one he sports for the majority is rather colourless/only blue & silver). Hayley Atwell, as Peggy Carter in the first film, was one of the best Marvel "love interests", and it's nice to see her share a scene with Steve here. The effects used to age her are some of the best in the film. Truly some of the most convincing aging up ever done in movies (though I'm glad we also got a scene of Peggy as her young self too). Atwell and Evans are a perfect match, and it's a shame they can never regain the romance between them that was unfairly cut short in the first film. Cap also has a nice rapport with Natasha/Black Widow, and anything more than friendship between them is only used as a 'cover'. They make a good team. ScarJo is decent here, though was better in The Avengers (which could be attributed to Whedon bringing it out of her). Also...she should've kept her Avengers hair (which was quite flattering/suited her), as it's SO straight/boring/lifeless in this film.
Anthony Mackie is a welcome addition as the Falcon. His introduction scene and subsequent scenes with Steve make it believable that they grow a fast friendship and loyalty to each other. Revenge's Emily VanCamp does the most with what she's given as Agent 13/Kate (we later learn her real name). She makes her character mysterious, kick-arse and shows chemistry with Evans in a small amount of screen time. Hoping for more of her next time around. Someone I'm hoping for LESS of is Samuel L. Jackson. He already took over the RoboCop remake, and he comes dangerously close to doing the same here. For a while it feels like HE'S the main action star of the film, especially in a chase scene involving him and his talking SUV. And in any scene that *doesn't* feature Nick Fury? They sure talk about him a hell of a lot. Like with Thor in Thor 2, sometimes it doesn't feel like Cap is the focus of his own film here. And really, is the Fury reveal towards the end a surprise to ANYONE? The most interesting thing with him is we finally get to see his bad eye. Least Cobie Smulders gets to be awesome as Maria Hill. More of her, please.
Robert Redford as Pierce was a rather dull villain, I thought. His long talky scene with Cap kinda bored me (and I usually don't mind talky scenes). That's the same with a lot of similar moments in this film. I wasn't bored for a second with Cap 1, but here I felt my mind wandering at times. Sebastian Stan's more effective as an antagonist for Cap. While the first Thor had Loki, a more personal villain for the hero to fight, the sequel didn't. It's the reverse here, with the Cap sequel having the Winter Soldier being Bucky, Steve's close buddy. It makes you invest in them when they're fighting one another. Stan does a lot with a little, and although most probably predicted his reveal, it's still very emotional seeing Steve's reactions to him. The after credits scene promises more of him to come.
There are some ridiculous moments in the film (the mind of Red Skull's henchman, Zola, inside decades-old supercomputers at the secret site of the old army camp, to name just one), but these Marvel films gave up any sense of 'realism' long ago, so it's a moot point. On that subject, at least the mid-credits scene here is thankfully a bit less WTF than Thor 2's, and promises a couple of interesting new characters for Avengers 2. Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch particularly grabbed my attention. The action, although a bit too shaky, is up there on the scale of money well-spent sequences and the art style used for the first part of the end credits sticks with the interesting art style of Thor 2's. I wasn't as into the story of this film like I was the first's, and we were sadly lacking as amazing a sequence as the Star Spangled Man scene from Cap 1, but I did think this was a fairly worthy sequel. I still like Thor 2 better, though.
Catching bunnies and turkeys...
Is where we begin, after a haunting opening image of Katniss Everdeen overlooking water. Then, like in THG, Gale joins her. Even this opening is more interesting than the first film, and things only get better - a word which, if you could only choose one, would best describe this film in relation to the last. Having not read the books, I can only judge these films as movie-going experiences and not as adaptations, but this was definitely a much improved film from the last. Yes, it's longer (not by much), but what makes it work is that it never *feels* like it's taking too long, unlike THG. Even the beginning half proves more interesting, in comparison to the beginning of the last film. The stakes have well and truly been upped, as now it's the survivors of the previous games pitted against each other. Everything just feels more ruthless. Despite a lot of deaths happening offscreen, this film feels much more cutthroat. One scene involving escape from gas-poison fog which causes nasty blisters is particularly heart-pounding.
Jennifer Lawrence, the winner of a completely deserved Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook, continues to prove herself the best person for the job of bringing heroine Katniss Everdeen to life. She is the heart of the film and without her, it'd all fall apart. She gives this film her all, going through a wide range of emotions and really grounding the movie. Her dynamics with all the different characters are unique and she conveys so much with even the slightest of expressions. Those naysayers who doubted her in the beginning won't be going hungry, as they should be eating their words by now. She gives everything's she's got, the emotions she experiences on screen aren't just gut-wrenching for her, but for us too, watching her have to go through them. So much weighs on her shoulders, but she endures. Helping with that is Peeta. Her relationship with him is a complicated one, and Josh Hutcherson is up to the task of getting across just how difficult it is for his character. You can't help but feel for him. Meanwhile, Gale gets a few more scenes than just looking on, appearing sad as he watches Katniss & Peeta play up their fake (or is it?) love for each other for the cameras. There's a whipping scene that's quite brutal - as is a lot of the film.
Seeing Haymitch, Effie and Cinna return is welcome, and not unlike seeing old friends again. Although she's still made up to look like a drag queen, Elizabeth Banks continues to provide a little humour in these otherwise bleak films, but this time also gets to have some actual emotional scenes - which she does with great nuance and they actually pack quite the punch. Haymitch, although still as alcoholic as ever (as the sound of many an empty bottle is heard whenever Katniss goes to see him), is much more than a drunkard mentor. He's quite complex and, like with Cinna, his scenes with Katniss are always enjoyable to watch. Speaking of, Lenny Kravitz's character provides not only some nice small moments with Lawrence, but also gives us some truly amazing outfits for her to wear that aren't just pretty, but provide statements/have meaning in the film. It's horrible to see what happens to him just before Katniss goes up in that tube, and she has mere moments to deal with it before being thrust into unknown territory. The 'game' between Katniss & Snow is also taken up more than a few notches. Donald Sutherland plays a truly loathsome character...which I guess means he's doing his job well. The horrible things he does in Katniss' name make him someone you really want to see her put an arrow through the eye of. Her sister, Prim, gets some more focus as well, which proves important.
We also get some new characters this time around. Philip Seymour Hoffman's Plutarch Heavensbee is far more interesting/complex than Seneca Crane (who he replaces) ever was. Sam Claflin's Finnick and Jena Malone's Johanna are two new intriguing additions. While Finnick starts off seeming like just another surfer boy who likes to walk around shirtless, he winds up being much more than that. While Johanna is a bit annoying to begin with, stripping in an elevator for seemingly no reason (though that scene is totally worth it just for Lawrence's expression alone), and while she is a bit shriek-y at times, she proves quite the ally. Jeffrey Wright's Beetee is also a welcome addition. Everyone else? Eh. Some are okay, others ridiculous (pointed teeth and hissing do not a menacing adversary make), most forgettable or annoying.
What a difference a new director has made. Francis Lawrence has thankfully ditched the shaky cam that plagued the first film and things aren't needlessly queasy this time around. Everything looks much more impressive on screen, from dresses Katniss wears to the special effects and scenery. Also improved is the passing. While things may start out "slow", they never feel plodding. I was actually transfixed by the goings on before we ever got to the action. The score helps. Everything's a vast improvement over the last film. Even the ending, while still a bit strange and rather abrupt, is far superior to the last film's (which really should've ended on Katniss & Peeta, I felt, rather than Snow walking away). This time, the ending has so much meaning behind it. Several characters' fates are left up in the air, but what it really all comes down to is the final expression on Katniss' face. She goes through so many emotions in the space of mere seconds. The final moments really show off Jennifer Lawrence's skill as an actress, and you can't help but think "There's our girl". She is indeed on fire. As is the Mockingjay symbol at the end, which promises even better things to come.
Thor: The Dark World (2013)
Thor and Gotye team up to take down the Ninth Doctor...
Darcy! Jane! Selvig! Mjölnir! The gang's all back. For me, Thor was one of the best superhero movies to come out in recent time. I far preferred it to the overrated Iron Man films and wanted another. So here it is, and while it's not as good as the first one, it's still quite enjoyable. Chris Hemsworth, despite having the less flashy role next to Tom Hiddleston's Loki, is really very good. What made Thor so likable in the first film was that, despite his overconfidence and head-strong nature, he went on a character journey that changed him. He grew as a character and, thanks to Hemsworth's charm, you felt for him. He had lots of great little moments. Then he got royally screwed in The Avengers and was made a mockery of, which did a major disservice to him. This time around, he's back to strutting his stuff and doing what he does best: wielding his mighty hammer like no one else can.
As for Hiddleston as Loki (who is now sporting long stringy dark hair that makes him look like a pale rocker from the 80's. Or, alternatively, the singer Gotye. Apparently they don't have hair gel in Asgard jail), while I wasn't blown away by him originally, I grew to like him in The Avengers and felt he was also made the butt of a joke in that film at the expense of his character. Now he's back once again, this time to make us wonder if he really *is* someone Thor can trust or is still as bad as ever. Evidently, his popularity is what keeps bringing him back. I can see why he has his fans, and Hiddleston is very good in the role, plus he has great banter with Thor. However, I personally feel it's about time we got a break from him. He shares some good scenes with Thor, Jane Foster gives him a much-deserved slap, and he even gets to have the odd hero moment (one of the best being when he saves Jane, then Thor saves him). We do see how much Thor truly cares for his brother, despite their differences. If only the films could let him go. You know it's all about Loki when the film basically begins/ends with him. It almost doesn't even feel like Thor's film anymore.
I know Natalie Portman's Jane Foster has her haters, but she's actually right up there (along with Captain America's Peggy Carter) as one of my favourite love interests from any superhero film. Although she doesn't have super powers, she's clever and brave. I like that she's an astrophysicist and human. I thought both she and Hemsworth's Thor had nice chemistry in the first film, so I'm glad we got to see more of them together here. Yes, she's angry with him and slaps him - but it's understandable/warranted, given how he left her. To her credit, she doesn't stay mad for long once she learns what happened. With a magical force called the Aether inside of her this time, she proves pivotal to the storyline (gaining some striking blue eyes in the process. The effects used for the Aether are quite dazzling). The other humans are also good. Kat Dennings as Darcy still gets lots of funny moments (no one can say 'Mjölnir' as cutely as she does), while Erik Selvig often being naked or without pants shows the after effects of what was done to him in The Avengers.
Fans of the Warriors Three & Lady Sif may be disappointed. While they didn't have *that* much screen time last time, they still managed to make the most of it and I came to care about them as characters. This time, they may get a bit more screen time, but it's not nearly enough. The real shame is the lack of Jaimie Alexander as kick-arse Sif. Yes, she has her moments, but she could've done with a LOT more. At least she plays a part in the sequence partway through the end credits. Zachary Levi (from TV series Chuck) makes the most of his time replacing Josh Dallas as Fandral. Anthony Hopkins as Odin, I felt, was better and had more presence in the last film. In this one, his character acts like Thor did originally before he grew as a person. The role reversal may be intentional, but I don't think it served Odin's character well. As for Thor's mum...well...at least she proves that she can kick a bit of arse herself, but unfortunately for her...now she's just somebody that Loki used to know (blame Loki's hair for all the Gotye references). At least we see that he *does* care for her, try as he might to hide it.
Whilst the Dark Elves are interesting to look at and have some pretty neat gizmos at their disposal, they aren't particularly memorable. Nor is their leader, Malekith (Christopher Eccleston). The best thing about him is his epic fight with Thor, which takes them back & forth between worlds/different locations. The Frost Giants were better. The movie still has plenty of humour. Scenes such as Thor, Mjölnir & a coat rack, Thor on a train, or the one where Loki shows off his powers and we get an unexpected appearance from that other likable Avenger (Captain America) are just a few of many funny moments throughout. I didn't think I'd miss Kenneth Branagh and his love of tilting the camera diagonally, but I feel he was able to craft a superior film to this one. I also missed the original film's score (which had so much emotion to it). On the plus side, we get some nice eye-catching end credits this time, which are done in a painting style. The mid-credits scene is the most bizarre yet out of all the Marvel films, though don't miss the after-credits scene. Here's an idea: Thor & Captain America in their own buddy movie. Make it happen, Marvel!
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
A Star Trek film that even non-Trekkies can enjoy...
I will say upfront that I am not a Trekkie. Nor had I really watched anything Star Trek related before the 2009 reboot. Folks running around in different coloured shirts and one dude in a chair giving others orders never interested me. Same deal with ST09. I eventually hired it on DVD out of curiosity. I found it alright, but didn't see the big deal everyone was making out of it. So what compelled me to see the sequel at the theatre? Well, for starters, after having re-watched the first film on TV again leading up to the new film's release, I came to find myself liking the film a bit more than I had originally. I still wouldn't praise it as much us everyone else seems to, but I think I was more on board with it second time around. Before this, however, I'd had no intention of seeing Star Trek Into Darkness at the theatre. However, with my newfound appreciation for the first film, not to mention the new one including actors I'm a fan of (Alice Eve and Benedict Cumberbatch), Into Darkness drew my attention where ST09 originally didn't. I know very little about the Trek franchise other than the basics, but it seems these new films have taken into account those who might not be familiar with all that has come previously, and therefore they cater to new fans and old fans alike.
Since all the introduction stuff to the universe/characters/etc was taken care of in ST09, Into Darkness is free to build upon that. Starting with Chris Pine as Captain James T. Kirk (or 'Captain James Tiberius Perfect-Hair', as Scotty calls him). I was put off by Captain Jerk in the first film (especially his treatment of Rachel Nichols' character. Just look at the deleted scenes on the DVD for further evidence), rolled my eyes at how easy things came to him and his overall attitude/the all-too-familiar type of character he seemed to be. While he still has some of that left in him here, he has also grown somewhat. Yes, he still breaks the rules, argues with Spock and gets into fistfights - but he has reason to (especially when it comes to not seeing eye to eye with Spock). The clash of personalities between Kirk and "Pointy" is where the heart of these movies lies. Pine and Zachary Quinto play off each other really well, and at times you can understand Kirk's frustration with the Vulcan. Quinto continues to do a good job playing Spock, even getting to show some actual emotion this time around. Actually...there's quite a LOT of emotional outpouring. Multiple characters shed a tear or two at different points in the film, verging on somewhat of a cry-fest (although most of it is warranted).
Also warranted? That scream from Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) that everyone seemed to make a big deal of when the trailer was released. She just witnessed something head-crushingly horrific, so I'd say she was justified in her reaction. The other complaint I've heard about her character is regrading the scene of her in her underwear. It lasts for about 5 seconds, people! And I don't recall anyone complaining about Kirk watching Uhura undress in the first film, so why the outcry here? Carol is more than just a blonde bombshell in a Starfleet mini-skirt. While there is clearly the beginnings of something being set up between her and Kirk here, and she doesn't go unnoticed by Bones either (who can blame him?), she also helps save Dr. McCoy, displays smarts and attempts to save everyone else as well. I liked the dynamics set up between her & Kirk, her & Spock, and her & Bones. On the whole, she's a welcome new addition to the cast.
Getting back to the villain. Cumberbatch, who most people would know from his excellent portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series, makes up for the rather lacking villain in the first movie. He lends gravity to this film with his performance. Underwritten, underdeveloped, under-motivated? I didn't think so. I found there to be enough reasoning behind his actions, considering he's the villain (more than we get for some villains, anyway). Cumberbatch is utterly captivating whenever he's on screen. Those of us who've seen him in other things would expect no less.
The rest of the characters all have their individual moments. Apart from the aforementioned dynamic with Dr. Carol Marcus, McCoy also has his amusing metaphors and constant fretting, Chekov and his accent get their moment of heroics (however hard it may be to believe), Sulu gets to sit in the chair for a brief period, and Scotty gets a serious increase in screen time from the first film. Uhura and Spock's relationship woes still hold no interest for me. And apart from fighting with him, she doesn't get to do much else. Although she does put her special knowledge of other languages to good use when she has a face-to-face chat with those of the bumpy-headed kind. She, Spock and Bones also prove pivotal near the end. Kirk, meanwhile, gets to show just how much he's grown as a person.
Lens flares are in full swing, as to be expected from J.J. Abrams (even when there's really no point to them when someone's simply standing still, talking). He knows how to shoot action, though, and the scale of the film/effects on display are quite epic. But what it all boils down to in the end is the characters. If you don't care about them, then the film falls apart. I'm happy to say that you *do* grow to care about them, if you didn't already. Throw in what I imagine to be some nods to classic Trek lore for the fans, and you've got yourself a pretty enjoyable sequel.
Warm Bodies (2013)
Such a heartwarming tale...
Zombie meets girl, zombie eats girl's boyfriend's brains, zombie saves girl from other zombies and romance blooms. It's a romantic comedy, but not as you know it. It's in this unique genre of 'zom-rom-com' that we meet our 'hero'...who just happens to be a zombie. Nicholas Hoult, who I'd only previously seen in X-Men: First Class, plays the part of monosyllabic R perfectly. With only a grunt here or a few words there, he's able to express SO much - all while portraying a pale, scarred, slouching living corpse (also look out for his zombie run and his impressive ability to not blink). Unlike in a lot of films, where the narration gets on your nerves, the voice-over here is part of the film's charm. Hearing what R is thinking lets us know exactly what's going on inside his head, when he's unable to express it verbally. Quite a bit of the film's humour comes from Hoult's dead-pan delivery, as he makes witty comments regarding the slow movement of zombies, his hoodie-wearing indicating that he was probably unemployed and other such wry observations. He has no memory of his past life or his name, only that it started with an 'R' (or "aah", as he puts it).
The film wastes no time in getting to the point. It is when a group of survivors go searching for supplies that R meets Julie (played by terrific Aussie actress, Teresa Palmer, who has been under-utilized in some subpar movies up until now. Hopefully Warm Bodies will be her breakout role in Hollywood and will lead to more films worthy of her talents). Understandably, seeing Teresa Palmer/Julie immediately kick-starts R's long dead heart, but this is not before he feeds on the grey matter of her boyfriend, Perry (and in doing so, absorbs his memories). Julie awakens something inside R. Not just his heartbeat, but feelings/emotions/his humanity as well. To keep her safe, he takes her back to his plane (that he lives on at the airport), which includes a collection of old vinyl records which she admires. Here begins the blossoming relationship between a zombie and a human girl. While some may roll their eyes or sneer at the premise, they would be rather short-sighted/selling this film short. The movie manages to make the story feel very *real* (as 'real' as a film with zombies can be, anyway).
At the centre of the story are the characters of R and Julie, and it's Hoult and Palmer who carry the film. They have great chemistry, and the way their relationship develops is very believable. It's not just a case of "Well, you ate my boyfriend's brains...let's kiss!". Julie is a kick-arse girl who can more than handle herself, as evidenced by her fending off zombies with a weed whacker and shooting them while on the run (and shooting *well*). However, she does show vulnerability and fear, as any sane person would when confronted by R. She also shows smarts, not being all zombie-phobe like her father (John Malkovich), nor trusting R fully from the get-go. She understands that R saved her, but is also determined that she isn't going to remain holed up in a plane forever either. It's nice to see a well-rounded, smart, kick-ass girl in a zombie movie. The montage of these two unlikely lovebirds is really well done. The film has just the right amount of humour sprinkled throughout (like when Julie does her really bad fake zombie impression to go unnoticed by surrounding zombies, which is quite hilarious. It's nice to see Teresa Palmer getting to show off her comedic side. She displays excellent comic timing throughout).
The movie's not without its dark moments, though. The beginning is surprisingly gruesome, considering the film's rating, and there's no shying away from what zombies do best: eat brains (R is shown snacking on his supply of Perry's brains from time to time, for example). There's the perfect blend of light and dark moments, like the scene when R is talking to Julie outside her house which is referencing the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet or when Julie and her friend, Nora (Analeigh Tipton), give R a makeover so he can pass as human while 'Pretty Woman' is played. Even as a zombie, R looked terrified at the thought of getting make-up applied. It's light-hearted moments like this that balance out the darker moments. The choice of music and how it's used throughout the film is also excellent. Speaking of Tipton, she plays the best friend role well, and not at all annoyingly (like some best friend roles tend to be). The other great supporting character is M (Rob Cordrry). He's R's best friend - ie. they share conversations via several grunts and groans. He too eventually regains his memories/humanity and is a great asset to not only R and Julie, but to the film.
Can't say Malkovich nor Julie's boyfriend left much of an impression on me, and the 'villains' of the film are basically just CGI skeletons called 'Boneys' (who are zombies like R until they eventually rip their faces off and become too far gone to regain their humanity). The film is just the right length of time. It's not overlong (which is a blessing these days, given all the films that overstay their welcome), nor is it too short. While the film's pace may seem as slow as a shuffling zombie to some, it is in fact taking the time to properly focus on developing its central characters and doesn't just throw in needless action scenes just for the sake of it. Makes it more believable, and it also makes you care what happens to the characters. I very much enjoyed this movie, and if you ignore the haters, I'm sure you will too. After all, this is a movie that's got everything. It's got humour, heart, brain-eating and Teresa Palmer kicking butt...what more could you want?
Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)
Where's Hansel & Gretel when you need them?...
I admit I hadn't really known much about this movie (such as what the story was about and who was playing who) until recently. Though I did find out before going to see it and, well, I think you'd be better off going into this film knowing very little about it. I've seen numerous complaints about the 'spoiling' of Theodora (Mila Kunis) turning out to be The Wicked Witch of the West, but in hindsight, the signs are all clearly there. Her big floppy hat, for one (which deserves its own credit). Then there's her voice, that you just KNOW is going to turn into that classic evil witchy cackle - which she does plenty of. Lastly, her conversation with her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz - who deserves all the praise she's getting, as she really *does* have fun in the role and is one of the stand-out performances), is about as subtle as a train wreck. Theodora insists she's NOT 'wicked' (a word you'll hear a plenty of throughout the film) and then promptly tosses a fireball. What ultimately turns her evil? Thinking she was the 'one and only' witch for Oz (James Franco), then believing she's but *one* of his 'one and only's, thanks to her sister's deceit. Yes, it's one of THOSE origin stories. I'd actually originally thought Weisz would turn into the Wicked Witch, back when all I knew about the movie was who was starring in it. Then once I read a bit of info about the film, it became clear this wasn't the case. Maybe the movie would have benefited from her being cast in the role? Kunis does a good witch cackle, and certainly looks the part - all greened up, pointy hat and broom-flying - but ultimately, she doesn't really convey that much...well..'wickedness'. Probably the nicest/most subtle touch was her streaking tears burning her cheeks.
Those hoping for an origin story that has lots of depth and substance may find this a bit disappointing. Theodora meets Oz when he crash-lands in the wondrous realm of Oz, and within a very brief amount of time, is already infatuated with him (of course, she believes he really *is* a wizard with actual powers, so that probably has something to do with it). I didn't mind Mila when she was skipping merrily along The Yellow Brick Road, despite her naivety, but there just wasn't enough time spent developing a real solid attachment between her and Oz before she descends into villain territory. Given the overlong runtime of the film, more of it should have been devoted to their burgeoning relationship, I think. It's hard to believe Weisz wasn't Raimi's/the studio's first choice for Evanora, as she plays her perfectly. She and Glinda (Michelle Williams) have quite the witch battle at the end. The real crime here is Evanora's punishment she suffers at the end - as robbing Rachel Weisz of her beauty is just not on! I guess it does set her up to become a future pancake underneath Dorothy's house, though. Williams as Glinda is kind and sweet and floats around in a bubble (though that's apparently just for show) and has a crown that never falls off. She can also take a hit or two and manage to bounce back after Evanora goes all Emperor on her arse, zapping her with green lightning shooting from her fingertips. Williams' Glinda is fine, if not particularly interesting/memorable. The last we see of the two Wicked Witches does suggest that this may be set-up for sequels to come...or, if not, then it serves as simply a prequel to the two already existing 'Oz' films.
Kunis's Theordora utters the words 'how predictable' at one point in the film, and that really could apply to the movie as a whole. It's not exactly a story you haven't seen before. There's Oz, who pretends to be a great magician, but really just uses cheap tricks. When he comes to the Land of Oz, he is of course mistaken for a real wizard. There's the expected self-doubt, then the bit where he makes everyone thinks he really is a coward, only to reveal himself to have turned noble in the end and save everyone. Nothing new to see here. Franco is adequate in the role, though his grin really makes you want to punch him in the face at times. He's also somewhat overshadowed by the witches. At least Oz's career in illusion comes in handy at the end - even if it's a bit hard to believe that such powerful witches are so easily fooled and give in so quickly. Zach Braff is Oz's offsider, both in Kansas and in the Land Of Oz - although, in the latter he is a flying monkey valet. He is intended as the film's main source of comic relief, and he has his moments. While there is some humour in the film, it's not exactly big on laughs. Joey King, meanwhile, does tug at the heartstrings as a girl in a wheelchair who asks Oz to make her walk, when she's seeing his performance. She also provides the voice for China Girl - a wonderfully brought to life creation...that sadly verges on the irritating, personality-wise. So much damn crying! And that must have been some fast-acting glue Oz had on him that he used to put her back together.
Starting the film in black & white and a vintage aspect ratio does help set the tone of the film, plus it creates that nostalgic feel for the classic original film. The visuals are quite stunning, but after a while the novelty wears off. Visuals can't make up for a lacklustre story, and sadly, despite the direction/look of the film and some good performances, Oz the Great and Powerful just doesn't quite live up to its title. In the end, it's good...but not great.