Top 20 Films of 2016

It’s been a long time coming, but here are the Top 20 Films of 2016! This year has served up some truly great cinematic treats, whilst others may have left a sour taste for days, if not weeks. Blockbusters have yet again seen a boom, and Warner Bros still haven’t managed to find their footing since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Still, plenty of people paid money to be disappointed, as both Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman displayed.

Disney really took over the box-office this year, with at least five of the top ten box-office earners all being Disney titles. Also, a staggeringly large amount of people paid to see The Secret Lives of Pets. Some cinemagoers even praised it. There’s a strong possibility they walked into a screening of Zootropolis and assumed that was the same film.

Regardless of box-office numbers, a lot of films flew under the radar for many. A few films in this list had terribly limited releases, so they suffered from a lack of exposure. If anything, this list is here to help that. Also, all films listed are based on UK theatrical releases alone. No exceptions are made to festival screenings, or even films that somehow weren’t even released in the UK. Here’s looking at you, Anno’s Godzilla (do check it out, it’s great).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list.

20: Welcome to Leith

Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, this documentary focuses on the small North Dakota town of Leith and its unwelcome guests. With a population of roughly 16 people, the small community is threatened by the appearance of white supremacist Craig Cobb, who attempts to build his very own Neo-Nazi community within Leith.

A truly uncomfortable watch, Welcome to Leith provides a fascinating insight into an ugly part of society, which is highlighted with some extremely close interactions with everyone involved. It’s raw, attention-grabbing some truly captivating and scary viewing.

fb

19: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts is the first of many spin-offs from the Harry Potter franchise. Set in the 1920s, British ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander finds himself stuck in New York, right in the midst of the secret wizarding world. As it turns out, not all is right behind the scenes of New York’s cobbled streets, as Newt befriends part of the community to help thwart the looming dark presence of evil.

Fantastic Beasts is a pleasant return to the wizarding world, as David Yates manages to recapture some of the wondrous visuals and charismatic characters that the franchise is renowned for. It really comes as no surprise,  as Yates filmography does already consist of four of the Harry Potter films.

It’s a telling sign that this is J.K. Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting also, as the script still feels like it is part of the same universe. The story may be a little straightforward, but the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell are truly exceptional. It’s a real pleasure to see Colin Farrell in such a role, which we deserve to see more of.

One of the reveals in the film may leave a sour taste for some viewers, as will the proposition of four more sequels, but David Yates Fantastic Beasts feels like a warm, welcome return to a home that many have missed for some while now.

dp

18: Deadpool

It’s a weird feeling, but for the first time in years, Fox Studios surprised cinemagoers this year by producing an R-rated, enjoyable superhero film that was nothing like their back catalogue of tired mutant movies.

Deadpool had been stuck in developmental hell for years, but with the help of Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller, the film was finally released in spring to a roaring response. It quickly became the highest grossing R-rated film of all time (when unadjusted for inflation), receiving critical acclaim from almost all major critics.

The plot is simple enough. Hired mercenary Wade Wilson attempts to cure his body of cancer with the aid of an experimental procedure, which leaves him disfigured and without the love of his life. Swearing revenge on who ruined his life, Deadpool tries to put together the missing pieces of his personal puzzle.

Thanks to constant pushing from Ryan Reynolds, his role as Deadpool is now synonymous with the actor. Deadpool is hysterical, tightly put together and is unfortunately now set to possibly disappoint cinemagoers with its countless sequels and spin-offs, because that’s the Fox Studios way.

kubo

17: Kubo and the Two Strings

Possibly one of the greatest achievements in 3D stop-motion capture, Kubo and the Two Strings is the tale of a young, gifted boy who attempts to locate a mystical piece of armour to aid his fight against vengeful spirits.

It’s the fourth film from Laika, who have cemented themselves as one of the best animation studios specialising in cinema today. Kubo and the Two Strings features the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Ralph Fiennes, to name a few. McConaughey is one of the stand-out voices in the film, whose work as the comical beetle provides some of the funniest scenes throughout.

Kubo and the Two Strings’ script might not necessarily be its strongest suit, but the sheer amount of talent showcased with the animation means the film truly needs to be seen to be believed, as scenes are exquisitely brought to life. The storyline is typically dark in places, but then that’s part of Laika’s traditional storytelling appeal.

Unfortunately, the film fell under the radar for some this year, with the lowest opening yet for a Laika production. However, it is still one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of the year, and it’s never too late to seek out this magical tale of mystery, action and drama.

zoo

16: Zootropolis/Zootopia

Renamed Zootropolis for a UK wide release, Disney’s 55th animated feature was a surprising entry this year. Directed by both Byron Howard and Rich Moore, Zootropolis focuses on the young Judy Hopps, a young, optimistic police officer who starts her career in an urban utopia.

During the first days of her career as a member of the force, she finds herself in an unlikely partnership with the con artist Nick Wilde, as they both try to uncover the disappearance of several animals. Disney picked the ideal voice actors for both characters too, as Jason Bateman channels Wilde perfectly, alongside Ginnifer Goodwin as Hopps.

Zootropolis managed to successfully tell a story about speciesism amongst animals themselves, whilst managing to feature memorable characters and some entertaining scenes, for all ages. Whereas other studios completely failed this year with their cutesy animals (here’s looking at you Illumination Entertainment), Zootropolis completely knocked it out of the park.

It may come as no surprise that director Rich Moore previously directed some of the best ever episodes of The Simpsons, including Marge Vs. The Monorail, Cape Feare and Homer’s Night Out, to name a few. That comedic talent is clearly witnessed in Zootropolis. Zootropolis is brimming with charm, and per the typical Disney standard nowadays, the animation is flawless.

nc

15: The Nice Guys

Unsurprisingly, The Nice Guys features all the trademarks of a Shane Black movie; a murder mystery, an unusual mismatched pair of protagonists and of course, attractive women. Thankfully, The Nice Guys also follows the same standard of Black’s previous films, and here his formula is perfected.

The film features Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the two main leads, two detectives who conduct their work very differently. Somehow assigned to the same case, both detectives are in search of a missing teenager.

The script is rife with witty dialogue, and the plot takes some interesting and surprising developments, keeping viewers on their toes throughout. It’s a role that Crowe has desperately needed for some time, as it showcases a range we’ve not seen enough of.

It’s a great little movie, and the 70s setting really helps to reinforce Shane Black’s vision. Regardless of what some may think about Black’s work on Iron Man 3, it’s evident that he’s a gifted writer and director. Here’s to his next film, the sequel to Predator, where the alien has to inevitably team up with an unlikely buddy to solve the mystery of the missing porn actress.

mo

14: Moana

Yet another animated entry for the 2016 list, Moana is Disney’s 56th animated feature film directed by both Ron Clements and John Musker. Renowned for their work on some of Disney’s greatest films, such as Little Mermaid and Aladdin, it comes as no surprise that Moana is just as enjoyable as their previous efforts.

Moana looks absolutely beautiful, and it may possess some of the best songs from Disney in years. Starring Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson as Maui and Auli’I Cravalho as the main lead, Moana, the film follows her journey to put a stop to the curse that threatens her home and livelihood.

It’s also a breath of fresh air too, as Moana features absolutely no love interests whatsoever. The film is peppered with a wide variety of scenes, consisting of Mad Max inspired action sequences and a visually striking underwater scene featuring one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement.

The animation in Moana reminds viewers of just how far cinema has come since the days of Toy Story. It’s beautifully animated, tightly put together and it ultimately boasts some of that traditional Disney magic.

rev

 

13: The Revenant

There’s no denying it; The Revenant is a technical masterpiece. Set in 1823, director Alejandro Iñárritu based his film on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, which describes the life of American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Winning 3 Academy Awards earlier this year, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the protagonist Glass, and Tom Hardy as the main antagonist, John Fitzgerald. Left for dead after being badly mauled by a bear, Hugh Glass has to fend for himself as he undertakes the arduous task of returning home.

Filmed using natural light and under severe weather conditions, The Revenant is a testament to how skilled Iñárritu is with his craft. Scenes are stunningly composed, as the film portrays just how unforgivable life was back then. Whilst Leonardo was recognised for his performance as Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy’s role as John Fitzgerald is arguably much stronger, as Hardy truly embodies the character of Fitzgerald.

The Revenant is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, and it does deserve every accolade it’s received so far. After Birdman and now The Revenant, people are more than excited for Iñárritu’s next project.

room

12: Room

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room boasts Brie Larson’s most captivating performance yet. Based on the book of the same name, Larson plays as Joy Newsome, who has been held captive with her 5-year old son for years. The film follows their attempts at escaping, and how they cope with the outside world.

Room is essentially split into two chapters, with each one showcasing the acting abilities of Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who has a spectacular performance as the young son, who acts completely unaware of their harrowing situation. Tremblay’s character feels real, and there’s a real sense of a relationship between mother and son here, which is a welcome surprise concerning younger actors.

The first half of the film acts a tense thriller, whereas the second provides a more sober, emotional hook. Abrahamson has provided cinemagoers with a unique story of survival of love this year, which is not to be missed.

cw

11:  Captain America: Civil War

It should come as no surprise to see that Civil War makes it into the top 20 this year, due to directors Joe and Anthony Russo returning to the Captain America franchise for one of the biggest events in comic book history. The second highest grossing film of the year (after Finding Dory), Civil War managed to juggle over a dozen characters, whilst presenting a thought-provoking story and phenomenal action.

There are many layers to Civil War’s story, but the main focus is the decision from the United Nations to oversee and control the Avengers, in response to their emergence correlating with major disasters. Creating a divide within the team, an international incident involving Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes adds tension and further division amongst close allies.

Civil War had a lot of elements that could have gone wrong; a complex idea, dozens of characters, the introduction of Spider-man, and even Ant-Man’s inevitable change into Giant Man. However, the Russo brothers accomplished all of that, therefore making comic book fans dreams come true. Characters were well balanced, Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-man was the greatest yet, and the film even ended on a surprisingly dour note.

In some ways, Civil War felt like Star Wars’ Empire Strikes Back, as it established new characters whilst developing old fan favourites. It was an incredibly put together film, providing Warner Bros yet another example of how to produce a superhero blockbuster. Maybe they’ll get it one day.

arriv

10: Arrival

In the past few years, director Denis Villeneuve has proved his work as a skilful director. His past films, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario have had Villeneuve tackling all sorts of genres, but Arrival is his first attempt at science fiction, and arguably his best directorial piece yet.

Based on a short story, Arrival stars Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks, who is hired by the U.S. army to help discover why 12 extra-terrestrial ships have landed on Earth. Joined by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly, both Louise and Ian decipher the alien messages in a race against other nations who are unsure of how to act towards these possibly hostile invaders.

Arrival is a surprisingly smart and sophisticated science fiction film, and it succeeds where 2014’s Interstellar miserably failed. The film challenges the usual format of sci-fi feature films, with a strong focus on philosophy and language. It is much more reserved than typical alien invasion films, and that, in turn, makes it a welcome breath of fresh air.

Adams is at her very best here, and Villeneuve is slowly turning into a director to follow very closely, especially considering he’s at the helm of the next Blade Runner.

noc

9: Nocturnal Animals

Despite the unnecessary first five minutes, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is an intense, stunning and titillating piece of filmmaking. The film is interwoven into two storylines, with Amy Adams starring in one role and Jake Gyllenhaal in two. In the film, Adams is Susan Morrow, a successful art gallery owner who receives a manuscript written by her estranged ex-husband, Edward.

Devoted to her, this twisted novel she reads is brought to life with the use of several actors; Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As she’s consumed by the book, the story is interlaced with flashbacks of her relationship with Edward.

The layered script is flawless, allowing for some great roles to be played by both Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. Jake Gyllenhaal is on form as he usually is, but the combination of personating two characters is the icing on the cake for fans of his exceptional work.

It cannot be understated how well composed some of the scenes are, but then Tom Ford has a keen eye for cinematography. His previous film, A Single Man, presented viewers with a thirst for more, and hopefully Nocturnal Animals will set a trend for the gifted filmmaker.

8

8: The Hateful Eight

The second Western in a row by renowned director Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight concerns eight strangers who seek refuge at a haberdashery from a deadly blizzard. Each with their own unique background, these strangers may have their own nefarious plans that involve the bounty hunter and his prisoner.

There’s a varied selection of actors in The Hateful Eight who have appeared in Tarantino’s films before, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and even Zoë Bell to name a few, and they’re all on form here.

Of course, The Hateful Eight could be considered typical Tarantino exploitation schlock, but that’s part of the appeal. Tarantino’s characters are often outrageous, especially in the case of Jackson’s character Marquis, and the script is laden with sharp, snappy dialogue. It has all of Tarantino’s staples all over it, and there’s simply nothing wrong with that.

As is the norm with Tarantino and his love for cinema, The Hateful Eight was shot on film. However, his use 70mm film caused a flurry of disagreements between UK cinemas and the distributor. Making at least half of what Django Unchained made at the box office, The Hateful Eight was surrounded by controversy, the new Star Wars, and an obscene amount of pirating. Still, it was another great addition to Tarantino’s filmography, and it’s not to be scoffed at.

swis

7: Swiss Army Man

Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Swiss Army Man proved to be one of the weirdest entries in UK cinemas this year. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as a suicidal misfit, Swiss Army Man

Even as a dead man, Daniel Radcliffe can still act, and his relationship with Paul Dano’s Hank is unusual and charming. Acting as a Swiss army ‘man’, Hank utilises the cadaver of Radcliffe in weird and wonderful ways to survive in the wilderness.

It’s hard to define Swiss Army Man in a specific genre of film. It’s not an action or adventure, or really a coming-of-age drama. It’s unlike any other indie film that has been showcased this year, and despite its weird content, it’s strangely delightful and full of heart. Also, it has Paul Dano recreating the Jurassic Park theme to a gawping, dead flatulent Radcliffe, so what more could cinemagoers ask for?

every

6: Everybody Wants Some!!

No matter what decade it is, director Richard Linklater manages to capture it perfectly within his pictures. His latest, the 2016 comedy set the eighties, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a selection of college baseball players who are interested in two things; baseball and women.

Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t follow standard storytelling conventions. It throws viewers straight into the eighties, as it showcases what life was like back then with a carefully put together ensemble cast. Each character feels real, as they have their own identity and background, and they’re all perfectly portrayed.

Linklater’s films are like marmite for some people but do not be mistaken as this film is the ultimate frat boy comedy, and it feels like it was ripped right out of the era it is attempting to recreate. The main character Jake Bradford, is played exceptionally well by past Glee member, Blake Jenner. His function is important, as the lead role gets a taste of what the eighties were made of.

It boasts a superb soundtrack, and one standout scene involves five of the baseball players rapping to The Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, all before attempting – and failing miserably – to pick up women outside their dorm rooms. Everybody Wants Some!! is a nuanced, appealing little picture, and we should all be so thankful to have Linklater as a director.

gr

5: Green Room

Visceral, suspenseful and downright sickening, director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room was one of the best horror movies of the year. Appearing out of nowhere, this horror film starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, told the story of how one punk band becomes a target after witnessing a murder at a Neo-Nazi bar.

Trapped in the green room after witnessing a stabbing, they’re held hostage by Darcy Banker, the leader of the local group of skinheads. Played by Patrick Stewart, Darcy is a force to be reckoned with as he will stop at nothing to ensure that the police aren’t involved.

Green Room is unapologetic as the tense showdown kicks into gear, harking back to an earlier age of brutal exploitation films that always left no one unscathed. It’s taut, well-acted and surprisingly unforgivable, as the thrills keep coming.

Nobody ever expected Patrick Stewart to play such a role, and it helps add that extra layer of menace to his role. Of course, this is also one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles that he got to act before his untimely death this year. He’s one of the best parts about Green Room, and it’s a pleasure to see him star in such an unrepentant and thrilling movie. Viewers will be left in shock at the demise of some characters, and at some of the lines uttered by Stewart’s mouth.

train

4: Train to Busan

Let’s be honest here. There hasn’t been a decent zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead, except for the Spanish horror films, REC and REC2. Thankfully though, that changed this year with the South Korean film, Train to Busan. Heavily pushed for an international release, Train to Busan is directed by Yeon Sang-ho, starring Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-Seok.

Gong Yoo plays the lead role as Seok-Woo, a divorced workaholic who takes his daughter to see her mother in Busan. They board the Korea Train Express, and as their train departs from the station, a convulsing, sick woman boards the train. As it turns out, she’s been infected with a zombie plague – and she’s not the only one.

Train to Busan is a pure survival horror, which takes place prominently on board a train. The confines of the train really push the survival aspect of the film, and the film is bolstered with some strong storytelling, that has a heavy reliance on relationships, selfishness and sheer horror.

There’s clearly a social commentary that is touched upon throughout the film, which is mixed into horrifying action sequences. Viewers will be left rooting for the main cast, whilst managing pure hatred for one of the minor characters. Train to Busan has some great performances, some solid zombie action and make-up, and it should come as no surprise that the film is now the highest-grossing Asian film of all time in China. It’s unique, action-packed and emotional. Not to be missed.

10

3:  10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, 10 Cloverfield Lane sports one of John Goodman’s most captivating performances of his entire career. Alongside Goodman who plays the questionable Howard Stambler, the film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle and John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmett.

After a traumatic car crash, Michelle finds herself locked up in a cell inside Howard Stambler’s underground bunker. Despite Howard reassuring her that he’s helping her recuperate and that the US is under attack from an unknown military force, things don’t appear to be totally above-board. Is Howard who he says he is? Has there been an invasion? And who is Emmett?

Trachtenberg’s film is a tremendous, nail-biting display of tense drama and John Goodman’s jaw-dropping performance. It’s simply engrossing from start to finish, with some terrific cinematography that’s even on display in a confined bunker.

Of course, because it was a Bad Robot production, there was a strong viral marketing campaign that attracted a lot of fans. It was slightly different to the last one, but tonnes of fun whenever a new clue turned up. However, not much else can be said about the film, as spoilers need to be avoided for total enjoyment. That’s not a detriment to the film, but just a necessary precaution.

ww

2: The Witch

The directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch follows a Puritan family who has a tragedy involving their youngest. Set in 17th century New England, the youngest child Samuel mysteriously vanishes during the eldest daughters care. What follows after that, is the emergence of a witch in the woods, who sets to dismantle the family in wicked ways.

The Witch, which is stylised as ‘The VVitch’ is inspired by old folklore and witch trials, which occurred for years in New England. It’s the most impressive debut by a writer and director this year, As Eggers has provided cinemagoers with a true horror masterpiece.

The genre relies all too often on found footage or jump-scares nowadays, but The Witch succeeds by having a genuinely creepy vibe to it, that’ll send shivers down spines. The period of time is perfectly captured, down to the authentic language, clothing and of course, the devout religiousness of families back then.

Some audiences may dislike its slow pace, but it constantly builds tension that can be felt by the viewers, as the family are torn apart by the evil that surrounds them. It closely follows the horrifying folklore it is loosely based on, as it finally ends in one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in cinema.

It’s always a pleasant change to see the genre mixed up by films like this, as it waves goodbye to tired conventions and tropes. The Witch is deeply unsettling at times, it is exquisitely shot and it will probably be greeted by a furore of horror fans which will simply dismiss it. Don’t. It’s a truly thought-provoking piece of work.

1: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker is a bad egg. He lives the skux life, and there is no hope. That is until he is taken in by foster mother Bella and her husband, Hec. Ricky’s life is then turned around for the better, up until his foster mother suddenly passes away. After he runs away from his new home and the child welfare services, Ricky and Hec soon become part of a manhunt in the New Zealand bush.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is dripping with charm, humour and two solid lead performances, by the young Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and everyone’s favourite onscreen palaeontologist, Sam Neil as the cantankerous Hec. If ever New Zealand needed an advertisement for their beautiful landscapes or even a new national anthem, they need to look no further than this flick.

Waititi was responsible for directing one of the funniest films of 2014, What We Do in the Shadows, and also has screenwriting credits for this year’s Moana, and furthermore is currently adding the finishing touches to Thor: Ragnarok. He is without a doubt, one of the most talented directors working today.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s script is simple enough, and it is littered with dialogue that will be quoted for years to come. Ricky and Hec attempt to get along with each other in the bush, whilst encountering a number of dangerous hazards and weirdos, and their relationship is a touching one that evolves during the movie.

It’s a nice treat to see Sam Neil in a lead role again, and he’s utilised properly for the first time in years. Julian Dennison’s performance as Ricky Baker is a breakout role for the young actor too, and he’s sure to stick around for some time. It’d be criminal not to have Dennison in any other film, especially with his comedic timing.

There just isn’t any other movie this year that leaves viewers with such a warm feeling, as Hunt for the Wilderpeople is set to be a poignant and hilarious classic. A solid cast, beautiful cinematography and an annoyingly catchy soundtrack make this film the best movie of the year, if not the past few years. It’s very easy to return to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, to revel in its unique characters, the scenery and touching story. But that’s enough adjectives for this review. One’s enough. It’s simply majestical.

 

X-Men: Apocalypse – Review

Untitled-1

Another tired entry into Fox’s mutant money-maker, Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Apocalypse simply reminds us why Marvel Studios formula works so well. After defeating Magneto and squaring off against robotic killing machines, the X-Men now have to unite to defeat the world’s first ever mutant, the deadly Apocalypse.

Bryan Singer’s fourth X-Men film stars most of the cast from previous films, but this time round there are some fresh faces thrown into the mix. A young Jean Grey (Sophie Turner), Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan), and Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) all appear as new recruits, along with the arrival of the ancient Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac).

Unfortunately for Fox, their source material for Apocalypse isn’t necessarily strong. First appearing in X-Factor way back in 1986, the imposing adversary received poor treatment in the comic books over the years. Regardless of his strong origins, it wasn’t long before he became a complete joke, and Marvel’s pure product of the 90s, ‘Age of Apocalypse’, didn’t help matters.

Untitled-2

Since his incarnation, Apocalypse has been regarded as the main arch-enemy of the X-Men, despite having some of the weakest storylines in the books. The concept has always been interesting, but the execution lacking. The last attempt to make something out of Apocalypse probably appeared in the animation X-Men Evolution, and the video game, X-Men Legends II.

So, it’s a damn shame to see that such a mishandled character is given to one of the most talented actors of this generation, Oscar Isaac. Renowned for his incredible work in Ex Machina and A Most Violent Year, actor Oscar Isaac is completely wasted as Apocalypse, becoming the weakest villain in the X-Men movies to date.

The problem with X-Men: Apocalypse‘s main antagonist is that he casually strolls into the 80s without any real motivation. Locked away for thousands of years, he awakes from his slumber and demands that the planet belongs to him and his species. With little to no backstory whatsoever, we simply end up not caring what his intentions are. We’ve seen it all before.

Also bearing a striking resemblance to Ivan Ooze, this Apocalypse cheaply gains his Four Horsemen in a mere matter of moments, leaving no room for exposition for any mutant whose name isn’t Magneto. Once his Four Horsemen finally get into action, they’re treated like an afterthought.

Untitled-3

The Four Horsemen in the comics used to be a ruthless group of individuals, and these transformations used to have severe ramifications for some heroes. Angel’s transformation into Archangel, for instance, is an interesting plot point and provides a great dynamic for the team. In X-Men: Apocalypse however, Archangel is essentially a mutant with no real impact or character. Oh, he drinks a lot? Better make him evil.

As a whole, the film essentially suffers from its wafer-thin plot, which relies too heavily on just a small handful of blasé characters. It is unforgivable that Jubilee appears for such a short amount of time, whereas Jennifer Lawrence manages to phone it in as Mystique for the majority of the film.

Looking back at the X-Men franchise, Fox’s handling of Mystique has progressively worsened as the films have been released. For a mutant that was once proud in showing her true identity, it’s a shame to see Mystique disguised as a normal homo-sapien throughout X-Men: Apocalypse.

Untitled-4

Jennifer Lawrence reportedly disliked the make-up process for Mystique, which explains some things, but it doesn’t excuse how lazy her acting is throughout the film, especially during the final act. The Oscar award-winning actress may have that star power to pull people in, but having her as the main focus in this new trilogy lessens the importance of others.

X-Men: Apocalypse pointlessly involves destruction on a massive scale, which would make even Zack Snyder blush. Thousands, if not millions of people die in the wanton destruction caused by Magneto and Apocalypse, but there’s absolutely no weight to it whatsoever. This poorly put together sequence has literally zero ramifications, and it involves some of the most average CGI seen in the genre today.

It’s at this very point in the film, where all care is thrown out of the window. Perhaps cinemagoers have been treated too well by Marvel Studios, but films such as Captain America: Civil War break free from the norm. They help transgress the superhero genre with new storylines and ambitious filmmaking, whereas X-Men: Apocalypse copies the same old formula which has been dished out for 16 long years. Nothing’s new and remarkable here, and that’s why it fails.

We’re at this point now where the superhero film as a whole either fades away or evolves into something else. Marvel Studios have arguably accomplished this transformation by allowing their films to encroach upon other genres, but other films such as Batman vs. Superman and X-Men: Apocalypse do no favours by becoming pure box-office garbage.

Perhaps it is time for Fox to find new blood because Singer has yet to really push the X-Men into the right direction. Deadpool easily managed to find the right balance of action and humour, and it even featured a nice X-Men uniform. Here, the boring and bland leather outfits make yet another appearance, and it’s a telling sign that it’s time to move on.

giphy

However, despite these criticisms, it isn’t the worst entry in the franchise so far, but it’s certainly not far off. There are some great little moments during the film, such as Quicksilver’s phenomenal scene which is accompanied by Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams. There’s also one cameo that will appease some fans, but others may be put off it. Either way, it’s a nice inclusion to such a muddled film.

The potential is there in X-Men: Apocalypse, but it is squandered by too many inane decisions and lazy writing. The CGI is some of the worst seen in the franchise to date, and the horrible outfits need to go already. The new additions, such as Quicksilver, show that fresh ideas are desperately needed.

giphy (1)

Oddly enough, there’s a scene in the film where Jean Grey leaves the cinema with her friends, after watching Return of the Jedi. She remarks on how the third film in a trilogy is usually the worst, and despite this being a clear dig towards Brett Ratner’s abysmal X3, Bryan Singer should probably realise that this is by far his worst entry to date.

Despite some strong additions to the film, such as Scott Summers and Jean Grey, X-Men: Apocalypse is a terribly average film. At a time where we should be expecting fresh and exciting filmmaking within the genre, we receive X-Men: Apocalypse instead. The news of yet another X-Men film set in the 90s should be exciting, but quite frankly, it now isn’t.

Kingsman: The Secret Service – Review

kss1

Kingsman: The Secret Service is Matthew Vaughn’s latest pairing with comic book writer Mark Millar, which tells the story of how one secret spy agency recruits a promising, yet troubled youth. Facing one of their deadliest threats yet, the organisation has to utilise its brains, gadgets and new recruits to save the world.

The film boasts a fine selection of actors, with some of the most recognisable British faces in cinema today: Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine. Firth plays one of the more important roles in the film as Harry Heart, who sees potential in the newcomer ‘Eggsy’, played by Taron Egerton.

The director Matthew Vaughn has worked with writer Mark Millar in the past, having provided cinemagoers with the enjoyable superhero romp Kick-Ass. However, it is truly thanks to the talents of screenwriter Jane Goldman (Kick-Ass, X-Men Days of Future Past), who manages to turn the source material into something really special.

Her script really succeeds in setting the film apart from other spy comedies – such as the abysmal Johnny English films – by injecting some unique comedy and allowing for some great character performances. Colin Firth for example, can no longer be considered a typecast actor. In Kingsman: The Secret Service, he is provided with a role that has impeccable comic timing, fisticuffs and the ability to use an umbrella like never before.

kss

For some, Samuel L. Jackson’s appearance in the movie might be unwelcome, but he perfectly fits into the role of the maniacal villain Valentine. His plot to change the world is slightly ridiculous, but it’s the typical modus operandi for a spy villain. The film realises how absurd the entire plot is though, and it unashamedly embraces it to full effect.

Hopefully the newcomer and charismatic Taron Egerton will be picked up some future roles. He’s a believable lead and he perfectly portrays the disparate youth of Britain today. Vaughn was able to get Daniel Craig noticed for the role of James Bond, so here’s hoping it works out for Egerton too. He is undoubtedly the breakout star of the film.

The director has often managed to push the boundaries of the certificates given to him, and Kingsman: The Secret Service is no exception to that. With the excessive use of body parts, explosions and an array of guns, it’s a wonder as to why the BBFC thought an 18-rating wasn’t necessary. Nonetheless, a 15-rating will surely (and hopefully) bring in more money.

kss2

Matthew Vaughn has a keen eye for action, and it is displayed lavishly throughout the film. A few action sequences may not benefit from the editing and the camerawork, but the church sequence is a stand-out moment which will really surprise those who are fond of Mr Darcy. Vaughn brings in his trademark style for Kingsman: The Secret Service, and it’s a pure visual treat from start to finish.

It is a wonderful cocktail of James Bond 007 movies and comic violence, as it shakes up the genre for a wider audience, by allowing a certain degree of fun and charm. It is blissfully self-aware, hilarious and slick, therefore becoming Vaughn’s best piece of filmmaking to date.

Kingsman: The Secret Service is a fantastic way to kick off 2015, and it yet again proves that British filmmakers are the best at what they do. It is definitely worth the ticket price, and then some.

Guardians Of The Galaxy, Biggest Blockbuster of the Year?

gotg7

The tenth instalment in the Marvel cinematic universe, Guardians of the Galaxy, opens in theatres worldwide August 1st. Directed by James Gunn, it is without a doubt the most ambitious project Marvel Studios have ever undertaken and is set to expand the their cinematic universe like never before, opening the sandbox into the vast reaches of space.

Rising star Chris Pratt plays Peter Quill, an American pilot who finds himself embroiled in an intergalactic manhunt after stealing a coveted orb of great power. As he hunted by the deadly Ronan the Accuser, he is joined by some of the most unique characters in comics today; Drax the Destroyer, Gamora the assassin, the anthropomorphic gun-toting Rocket Raccoon and a talking tree named Groot.

With a bit of luck, Guardians of the Galaxy could be the biggest blockbuster movie event of 2014. Marvel Studios have cleverly formulated an exciting mixture of talent for the movie, and they’ll surely waste no time in promoting this new and daring extension to their franchise.

It’s a thrilling time to be a fan right now, as Guardians of the Galaxy is set to change the Marvel universe is extraordinary ways. Heck, it may even turn out to be one of the best superhero movies since The Avengers. Brave words perhaps, but here are 7 reasons why that might be true…

7. James Gunn

gotg2

James Gunn may seem like a bit of a left-field choice for such a huge sci-fi epic, but considering most of his previous work, it’s apparent that Marvel may have made the right decision in selecting their desired director.

When James Gunn’s directorial debut, Slither, arrived in cinemas it was evident that Gunn was a director who could equally handle comedy and horror all in one magnificent blend. Whilst horror fans greatly enjoyed his b-movie horror, it took four years until Gunn provided cinema-goers with one of the most esoteric superhero movies to date: Super.

The movie divided critics when it came out, and that could be partly due to Gunn’s subversive and arguably inimitable approach to the movie. However, there’s no doubt that Super was strangely entertaining to some, as Gunn proved he was capable of producing a truly absurd superhero piece, which had never been seen before.

James Gunn possesses a unique ability to provide cinema-goers with something that’s a little bit different and more importantly, daring. His older work on the Troma films can attest to this, because they’re truly surrealistic in nature.

It’s evident that Gunn has a decent amount of experience with working on the weird and the wonderful, and Guardians of the Galaxy is sure to be no exception. Just look at his previous work (and maybe, excuse his screenplay for Scooby Doo), and you’ll be assured that Guardians of the Galaxy will truly be a unique movie.

6. Chris Pratt (Star-lord)

gotg5

Amicable, funny and even attractive, Chris Pratt is on the cusp of becoming a huge star. He’s got the entire package really, and he’s set to finally explode this year. Having played the lead role in The Lego Movie, Chris Pratt will be playing the main character in Guardians of the Galaxy as the cocky outlaw, Star-lord.

Since Star-lord has been brought back into the comic book universe, the character has become a fan-favourite, which is all thanks to his design and effortlessly cool charismatic attitude. Armed with his two Kree sub-machine guns, Star-lord is a master tactician and is also proficient in close quarter combat, making him the perfect leader for the cosmic team.

Having Chris Pratt play the lead role of Star-lord makes perfect sense, because the actor oozes pure charisma. He’s been gravely miscast in the past, but Pratt has recently landed some incredible roles as of late, and he’s displayed brilliant comic timing in NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Pratt has it in him to become a megastar, as he’s proved his worth in Moneyball, Zero Dark Thirty and The Lego Movie.

There’s an interesting dynamic to the character of Star-lord, and there’s no doubt that Chris Pratt will capture the cunning and charm of the individual. In the footage seen already he’s giving off that sexy rogue impression, which is sure to be a hit with a few people.

5. The Source Material

gotg6

Marvel’s comic book series under the same name is currently being written by award-winning writer Brian Michael Bendis, but Guardians of the Galaxy was properly revived in 2008, thanks to the perfect sci-fi writing duo of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.

Abnett and Lanning changed the face of the Marvel cosmic universe, and they introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy soon after the epic Annihilation: Conquest series. Fans were treated to 25 glorious issues of the Guardians, as the team established a base of operations in a severed Celestial head, befriended a telepathic Russian dog called Cosmo, and battled against the likes of the deadly Thanos.

The movie looks like it will be borrowing most of its ideas and concepts from Abnett and Lanning’s run on the title, which is good news. Whilst the 2008 series suffered from a lack of sales, Bendis’ current run on the title has become one of the best-selling comics for Marvel – and truth be told, he has managed to revitalise the team in an effectual manner.

The source material for the movie is solid, and Abnett and Lanning provided the great groundwork for the team which we’ll be seeing in this movie. Bendis’ run is also commendable, and he’s helped get the team into the spotlight.

If you haven’t read any of these comics yet, then do so. If the movie turns out to be anything like Abnett and Lanning’s run, we’re in for a huge treat.

4. The Cast

gotg1

Guardians of the Galaxy boasts one of the most incredible casts of the year, as Marvel have once again managed to pull their usual trick of hiring the best possible actors for their respective roles. They’ve really hit the sweet spot for a variety of geeks, with the cast including Dr Who’s Karen Gillan, Star Trek’s Zoe Saldana, and even the WWE’s Dave Bautista (Boo-tista).

However, along with Chris Pratt, the astonishing ensemble doesn’t stop there. There’s a whole bunch of Oscar nominated actors that will appear throughout the movie, such as Benicio del Toro, Glenn Close and Djimon Hounsou. Seriously, Marvel aren’t playing around with this space epic.

For the stranger roles in the movie, the appropriate voice actors have been cast remarkably well. Bradley Cooper is voicing the expert marksman Rocket Raccoon, and Vin Diesel is voicing the tree-like humanoid, Groot. Vin Diesel is an inspired choice too, because he brought to life the Iron Giant, in Brad Bird’s much-loved animation of the same name.

The film sports the best group of actors in cinema this year, and it will help appeal to a diverse selection of cinemagoers. Make no mistake, Marvel clearly know what they’re doing when it comes to casting. They’ve not got it wrong before, so here’s hoping that their track record stays the same.

3. Rocket Raccoon

gotg4

Rocket Raccoon first appeared around 1976, and he was created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen. The character has starred in a few comics since then, including his own miniseries (which featured killer clowns and deadly unicycles) but it wasn’t until 2008 when the anthropomorphic smart-mouthed raccoon entered the spotlight.

He’s a truly unique and great character, and it’s still somewhat bewildering to think that Marvel are going to eventually have him feature prominently in this big blockbuster. It is without a doubt, the biggest gamble they’ve ever taken, as the success of the movie relies on whether or not Rocket Raccoon is accepted by audiences.

Thankfully, the recent footage that’s emerged online has already won over a selection of people, which is reassuring. With Bradley Cooper lending his voice for the role of Rocket, and with James Gunn having the utmost faith in the character, it’s safe to say that this bizarre conception may pay off – and if it does, Rocket Raccoon will be surely become a pop-culture phenomenon.

Of course, to garner interest for the character, Marvel have recently announced a brand new series written and drawn by the talented Skottie Young, which will surely grab the interest of new and old readers alike. Do check out Rocket’s previous appearances too, you won’t be disappointed in this distinctive superhero.

2. The Merchandise

gotg8

Unsurprisingly, Marvel plans to absolutely dominate toy shelves this year with a wide range of Guardians of the Galaxy merchandise. Hasbro aren’t wasting any opportunities here either, as the most recent Toy Fair has revealed that there’s going to be a toy for almost everyone.

Along with a whole range of figures that are popular with toy enthusiasts, fans will be to purchase their very own selection of Nerf products as well, including Rocket Raccoon and Star-lord role-play sets. Yes, it appears that Halloween could well be dominated by the Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a staggering thought.

With Lego owning the license for Marvel as well, three Guardians of the Galaxy sets will be due out later this summer. Star-lord’s ship, the Milano, will be receiving a large set amongst others, which will evidently appeal to a lot of Lego and Marvel fans. We truly live in a wonderful time, because fans will be treated to their very own minifigure of Rocket Raccoon.

The fact that the Guardians of the Galaxy aren’t well known hasn’t dissuaded Marvel in the slightest, as their merchandising will be produced by partners other than Hasbro. They’re really going all out for the movie, including a long line of costumes and apparel. It makes perfect sense though, as they’ll want to get this movie by a lot of people.

1. Marvel’s Track Record

gotg9

Looking back on Marvel Studios history, you can’t help but be amazed by their innate ability to produce genuinely entertaining superhero movies. They haven’t had a major misstep yet, and they’ve arguably changed the genre for the better.

With every casting decision they’ve made, there really hasn’t been a collection of criticism from disgruntled fans. Somehow, they’ve managed an astonishing track record ever since their first movie, Iron Man.

Since then, they’ve gone from strength to strength. The Avengers turned out to be the biggest and best superhero movie to date, and their Phase Two movies have been relatively impressive even after the Avengers milestone.

It’s no secret that there’s a lot riding on Guardians though, as it is set to expand the cinematic universe in ways we’ve not seen before. Marvel will be delving into new and exciting territory here, and it’s the boldest move they’ve ever made.

Nonetheless, concerns over this movie should be quelled. Marvel Studios fully embrace their source material, and they’ve turned most of their comic book properties into quintessential blockbusters. Surely the same will happen for Guardians of the Galaxy.

Realistically, it should be amazing anyway, as it’s one of the most inspiring blends of talent seen in some time. Get ready for Guardians of the Galaxy, because it is going to be one of the biggest movies of the year.

Ooga-chaka.

 

Exploring the Cult of: J-Horrors and Asian Extreme.

Asian extreme films come in the form of Audition, Oldboy and Ringu and are regarded as cult favourites by many. They’ve become so popular, that Hollywood has remade a small selection  of them for a mainstream audience.

In 2001, the label Tartan Asia Extreme was the first company to successfully distribute their films for a Western audience, including hits from their great catalogue for viewing pleasure. Since then, there has been a boom in the interest of J-horror and Asian extreme movies. But why is that?

j-horror1

An article written by Steve Rose in 2002, stated that ‘US horror has had no new ideas since the slasher movies of the 1980s’, and Rose slated a plethora of American horror films, such as Freddy Vs. Jason and Halloween: Resurrection. He attempted to make the point that the genre was ‘squeezed dry’, and that’s pretty evident when you get the umpteenth Texas Chainsaw rehash every year.

To freshen up the genre, Hollywood’s decision was to purchase the rights to several Japanese films, so that they could be remade for their beloved Western audiences. Instead of receiving the generic slasher movie, viewers could now come across brave new ideas, which actually originated in Japan years before. Whilst it was a remedy for the genre, most of these films still tacked on awful casting decisions and severely mistreated the source material (for example: The Eye, featuring Jessica Alba…).

Nonetheless, this soon made Tartan Asia Extreme’s label wholly accessible, and these extreme films and J-horrors were starting to get a new lease of life. Original films were greatly appreciated by Western audiences, therefore creating a cult devotion to the genre. Tetsuo: The Iron Man is a clear example of this, which appears to be a favourite amongst many.

These films generally consist of themes not necessarily found in Hollywood horrors, with unique motifs throughout. The storytelling makes way for such distinctive scenes, such as Oldboy’s infamous one-take hammer brawl through a crowded corridor, or Audition’s cringe-inducing torture scene.

j-horror3

Most of these movies have unique displays throughout, and cultists admire them for the nihilistic moralities, themes of urban alienation and advanced technology. These elements are encapsulated in slightly different elements from Japanese tradition, such as tokusatu (special effects monster genre), and yurei (traditional ghost stories).

There’s a huge appeal for films such as Ringu, which is considered as one of the first J-horror’s to be recognised from a Western audience. Ringu presented a fresh take on horror, with its victims being haunted by modern technology. There’s underlying metaphors here, as the victims disconnection with Japan’s cultural roots is essentially their ultimate downfall.

It’s these new storytelling elements that hold great appeal for cultists, as they get to experience a different kind of culture completely. Throw away the tired zombies or mutants, and make way for new horrors.

j-horror2

One Asian extreme film in particular, Battle Royale, was received with absolute controversy, from both Japan and America. The Japanese parliament even deemed the film to be ‘crude and tasteless, with no redeeming value whatsoever’. Harsh words.

In America, Battle Royale was also banned and limited to film festivals across the country, and this is due to its story and violent themes (students killing each other didn’t exactly reflect well during the same time as the Columbine incident).

During its DVD release, the unfortunate murder of a 12 year-old girl also shocked Japan – known as the ‘Sasebo slashing’, an 11 year-old murdered a fellow classmate, citing Battle Royale as an influence.

All of a sudden, there becomes a massive aura surrounding Battle Royale, and in America it essentially became the equivalent of being a ‘video nasty’, holding great cult appeal for many.

The film also held a mirror towards the problems facing Japanese society, through the means of an ultra-violent fight to the death, set on an abandoned island. It manages exaggerated themes of reality television, as the film employs spectacular violence throughout.

Whilst it was opposed by some critics, it was wholly welcomed by cultists. Only in Japan though, will you find a film that concerns 42 students murdering each other for their own survival.

The father of J-horror is regarded as Takashi Miike, director of Audition and Ichi the Killer. His style is well-known as being hard-hitting, loud, radical and quintessentially cool. Ichi in particular shows a clear representation of violence that can apparently be painful and playful at the same time, and its reputation amongst film-fans is huge.

j-horror4

Miike’s work provides answers towards why J-horrors and Asian extreme films are ‘cult’. Ichi set a new boundary for the portrayal of violence; it was a step up to what had seen before. It evolved the genre into something else entirely. It’s exciting for cultists, to discover something so unlike anything they’ve seen before.

Similar to Battle Royale, the film was dismissed by critics. It’s a cult favourite, because it’s explores the possibilities of cinema, by testing how extreme the content can be. Ichi manages to question the viewer as to why they’re watching such brutal violence, by interacting with audiences (in the same way Michael Haneke’s Funny Games portrayed).

The story concerns Kakihara, a sadomasochist that searches for the ultimate killer, known as Ichi. He believes that Ichi will finally be his true calling and amongst his journey, he creates hell in the criminal underworld. Throughout the film, viewers are treated to lovely scenes of nipple slicing, body slicing, people getting hung on meat hooks, and other general nastiness.

Kakihara’s persona is a well-known one, due to his unique features. His face is scarred, and he even has neat little cuts across his cheeks. In Japanese cinema, it seems that their cult figures are often exaggerated versions of normal characters, such as Sadako (Ringu) and Dae-su Oh (Oldboy).

To conclude, it’s obvious J-horrors and Asian extreme films are cult favourites, because they’re essentially different. They blend themes from Japanese culture, such as broken society, myths and traditional ghost stories.

That may not be very important to a Western audience, but thanks to these tales and their oddly unique culture, they reach towards an audience who are tired of the mainstream. It’s fresh material.

j-horror5

Japanese films cross the boundaries of what is acceptable with its blatant exploitation, pushing the envelope to such extremes that cultists long for. It can be said that most cultists find some pleasure in becoming fans of these movies, because they’re the ‘anti-mainstream’, and that’s something a fan can take great pride in.

The cult appeal has waned slightly since 2009, as festivals have reported some audience fatigue with the genre. However, it still has a large devoted cult base, and these films certainly deserve their own recognition.

If you haven’t got round to watching any of the films mentioned, then please do so. They are readily available on demand and in stores. There’s always a special place for Battle Royale, and if viewers do find themselves enjoying the movies, do not hesitate to fork out on some of the collector’s editions.

 

– More cult features on the way, including those discussing Bruce Lee and the greatest cult movie ever made, The Big Lebowski.

Iron Man 3 – The Review

im2

In 2008, Robert Downey Jr. surprised cinemagoers around the world with his perfect portrayal of Tony Stark, in Marvel Studios first major motion picture, Iron Man. Directed by Jon Favreau, the movie was injected with wit, humour and some quintessential comic book action. The film was a huge success – both critically and financially – and it later paved the way for one of the most ambitious movie projects of all time, The Avengers. Fast-forward a year later, and after the box-office smash which was The Avengers, Tony Stark returns to cinemas in Shane Black’s Iron Man 3.

Tony Stark now finds himself in his workshop most nights, in a total state of disrepair after the traumatic events which occurred months earlier in NYC. He is constantly overworking, fixated on building new suits and worried about the very existence of new threatening life-forms. The world as he knows it has been shaken up, but the iron Avenger has yet to face his deadliest enemy to date; the Mandarin.

Regarded as a deadly terrorist and the leader of the Ten Rings, the Mandarin threatens the very safety of the American public. After a very personal attack against Stark, the Iron Man suit is utilised once more to thwart this new mysterious opposition. It is Stark’s most dangerous journey yet, as he comes across the likes of the sinister corporation A.I.M., rival scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) and ‘botanist’ Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall).

im4

The plot of Iron Man 3 lends itself to a mix of storylines that have previously appeared in the comic books, such as Warren Ellis’ renowned Extremis arc, and Matt Fraction’s first arc in The Invincible Iron Man. Of course, as this is Shane Black’s movie, the film is typically set around Christmas. All of the original cast members from the second movie return, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Favreau and Don Cheadle.

The idea of a third Iron Man film without Jon Favreau seemed like a daunting one, but Shane Black is the perfect director for Tony Stark’s fourth outing. The director is recognised for his ingenious action-movie scriptwriting (Lethal Weapon), and he has previously worked with Robert Downey Jr. on the criminally unappreciated Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. Marvel loosened the reins of their most profitable character this time round, and that clearly shows. This is Shane Black’s film, and it’s an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

The screenplay was written by both Drew Pearce and Shane Black, who have managed to create a script with the perfect mix of action, drama and quick-witted humour. Moviegoers will be quoting the film for months to come, which is partly due to Black’s trademark comedy. Whilst the various trailers and countless TV spots suggested a much darker tone for Iron Man 3, it still maintains the light-hearted comedic tone of the two previous films. Of course, Robert Downey Jr. is the perfect Tony Stark, and he’s utilised to a greater extent than ever before due to the script. The snappy one-liners are excellently suited for Downey Jr., whose deliverance will leave audiences laughing throughout.

Some of the set-pieces in Iron Man 3 are grandiose in scale, and a whole bunch of scenes will whet the appetites of even the die-hard Iron Man fans. One particular moment may upset some fans, but it effectively works to the film’s advantage. Nonetheless, the film is rife with plenty of astounding scenes, which are sure to agape jaws across theatres. The ‘barrel of monkeys’ scene in particular, is a tremendous scene and is handled beautifully.

Thankfully, this isn’t Avengers 1.5, which was a concern for many. Iron Man 3 is its own movie, which Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige had promised in the past. One of the true successes of Iron Man 3 is that you won’t be left desiring the appearance of a fellow Avenger. The main characters each have their own respective roles in this movie, and they are fleshed out and moulded well into the storyline.

im3

Ben Kingsley’s role as the Mandarin was greatly anticipated since the news reports confirmed his part, and luckily Kingsley delivers the goods here. He’s an unforgettable villain in the franchise, who will be a major talking point after the film. Guy Pearce’s performance as Killian is also a strong one, with more screen time than many had assumed.

Stark’s close friend James Rhodes also has a more substantial role this time round, as Don Cheadle’s character is finally fleshed out. The exchanges between Rhodes and Stark have a true ‘buddy cop’ feel to them, which is all thanks to Shane Black’s previous experience. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts is finally an important factor this time round, as it  actually feels like she’s Stark’s love interest.

Yet again in a Marvel movie, the CGI is flawless. All of the action sequences have seamless CGI, but as is the case with 3D conversion nowadays, the 3D is just not necessary. Ten minutes into the film and you’ll surely forget it’s even in 3D. Marvel need to stop applying useless post-converted 3D into their films, but unfortunately it provides more money for them.

The score is nothing remarkable, but it still accentuates some of the drama and action throughout. The opening number in the film however is truly a strange, yet hilarious way to begin such a movie.

The finale is an explosive hot-mess, which is a relief. The previous Iron Man movies unfortunately suffer from weak third acts, but Iron Man 3 wraps up the storyline nicely with some pleasant surprises, and an ending which could potentially wrap up Tony Stark’s story completely. The fight scenes are lengthy and choreographed well, and it thankfully differentiates itself from the previous uninspired bouts in the Iron Man franchise.

im1

The after-credits sequence is not to be ruined, but it may not be the material that fans are clamouring for. Nonetheless, it’s still nice of Marvel to continue this trend of post-credits sequences and it’s definitely worth sticking around for.

Iron Man 3 is undoubtedly the best film in the series and it could be regarded as the best Marvel movie to date. Whilst that’s a bold statement to make, Shane Black has managed to create a perfect superhero film for fans and cinemagoers alike. It is equipped with a genius script, some terrific action and Downey Jr.’s best performance of Tony Stark so far. It’s a smart blockbuster, with great spectacle.

Upon writing the review, it appears that even before Iron Man 3‘s American release, it is breaking box-office records. Having been shown in 79% of foreign markets, Iron Man 3 has already grossed an impressive $198 million, which has already surpassed The Avengers‘ $185 million start. It’s set to be one of the biggest summer blockbusters yet.

Is this to be the last Iron Man movie with Robert Downey Jr? It just might be, and whilst the talented actor may return for the second Avengers movie, he has at least left us with this remarkable fourth outing as the genius billionaire playboy philanthropist.

Cult Classics – Re-Animator (1985)

Image

Released in 1985, Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s short and strange tale, ‘Herbert West – Re-Animator’.  A science-fiction horror imbued with comedy, the film stars Jeffrey Combs, Barbara Crampton and Bruce Abbot.  Currently maintaining an impressive score of 95% on reviews aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film was loved by critics and soon after its release, it received a strong cult following.  A fan-favourite amongst many cultists, Re-Animator received two sequels, Bride of Re-Animator (1990) and the Spanish film Beyond Re-Animator (2003).

Re-Animator follows the story of one genius scientist, Herbert West (Combs), who believes he has the correct formula to bring people back from the dead.  He meets the young, impressionable Dan Cain, a colleague at medical school who is currently living with fiancée Megan Halsey (Crampton).  Together, the two med-students put West’s strange practices to the test.  Of course, bringing people back from the dead comes with a few surprises; animalistic, violent re-animated corpses.  Much to the dismay of Megan Halsey, Cain and West give birth to a terrifying set of events.

It’s essentially a modern day Frankenstein story, within the same vein of Sam Raimi’s acclaimed Evil Dead series.  It’s brought to life with some great lead performances, who perfectly work their way around some strikingly bloody scenes.  There’s a moment in the film when you realise Re-Animator isn’t your run-of-the-mill horror, and that’s clear when West and Cain are fighting off a frenzied, zombified cat in a basement.  It’s a ridiculous scene, but Combs and Abbot sell it perfectly.

Image

Of course, one of the main reasons Re-Animator has been such a hit with cultists is thanks to Jeffrey Combs.  Whilst Bruce Abbot and Barbara Crampton – amongst others – bring to the operating table some great acting, it’s down to Combs who leads with a truly memorable character.  He’s a crazed scientist, trying to bring people back from the dead.  He’s attempting to defy the laws of nature, trying to save mankind – but his methods to accomplish this are questionable and unorthodox, to say the least. 

Combs is a well-known figure with cultists – partly due to his appearances in the Star Trek series –  and fans have driven Re-Animator into its current status within cinema.  No stranger to horror and sci-fi conventions, Combs has attended many around the world for his fans.  Of course, the sheer level of gore and ridiculousness that the film contains is also a main reason for its cult, but without Combs, Re-Animator would not be the same film. 

Re-Animator is almost unrivalled with its slapstick horror, later providing audiences with one visual gag that is creepy, funny and downright disgusting all at the same time.  John Naulin, the make-up artist for Re-Animator, reportedly stated that 24 gallons of fake blood were used for the movie, and he faced his biggest challenges with some of the creative designs later used on the film.  That can clearly be noticed, especially towards the last 15 minutes of the movie.  An insane set of events lead to a superb ending, throwing shocks and surprises left, right and centre. 

Image

There is no doubt that Stuart Gordon’s Re-Animator belongs with some of the greats in cult cinema.  It shook the genre up and injected it with some great displays of practical special effects, horror and humour.  It later spawned two sequels, a strong following and even a musical.  This was Stuart Gordon’s first feature film, and it can be argued that the director hasn’t matched this remarkable piece of work yet.  If you’re looking to grab Re-Animator, track down a copy that the BBFC haven’t got their dirty hands all over.  They’ve cut out just under two minutes, which undermines the horrors of one particular character.

“Who’s gonna believe a talking head? Get a job in a sideshow.”

Top 20 Films of 2012

Image

20. Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s latest just makes it into the top 20, with his charming tale of two twelve-year-olds who fall in love.  After making a secret pact, the two lovers run away and are hunted down by the local authorities on the idyllic island of New Penzance.  Featuring an amazing ensemble cast of Bruce Willis, Ed Norton and Bill Murray (of course); Moonrise Kingdom is a touching, sweet tale which easily connects with viewers who have ever experienced that bittersweet young love.  The cinematography, soundtrack and dialogue are quintessentially Wes Anderson, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Image

19. The Amazing Spider-man

The Amazing Spider-man was essentially marmite with critics and audiences worldwide, but it did well enough to warrant a sequel which thankfully still retains its original director, Marc Webb (500 Days of Summer).  It was a reboot that didn’t feel necessary to anyone but the movie studios, but Webb pulled most fans back in with his take on the iconic superhero.  This is partly due to the casting choice and acting of Andrew Garfield, who plays a great Peter Parker and the best Spider-man to date.

Whilst the theatrical cut of the movie left a lot of the origin ‘secrecy’ which was plastered all over the marketing, the storyline was still solid.  The Lizard was a nice fit as an entry level Spider-man rogue, and adding Gwen Stacy into the mix was a perfect choice.  There has been recent news of the addition of Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained) as Electro and Shailene Woodley (The Descendants) as Mary Jane Watson, which are sure signs that the next film will be even more superior.

Image

18. Argo

Ben Affleck has already proved his worth as a director with Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and this year saw the release of his best film to date; Argo.  Based on real events, the film tells the tale of how one CIA agent conjures up an absurd plan to safely transport 6 Americans stuck in revolutionary Iran.  It is up to Affleck’s character to fake a film production with the aid of others, which will then produce false identities for the Americans, hopefully providing a safe passage out of the country.  Filled with some superb acting and a fantastic script, Argo is undoubtedly a tense ride from start to finish.

Image

17. The Descendants

Alexander Payne (Sideways) returned to cinemas earlier this year with the release of The Descendants, a film about Honolulu-based lawyer and family trustee Matt King (George Clooney), who attempts to reconnect with his daughters after his wife is injured in a serious boating incident.  The Descendants deals with some heavy material, but thankfully it isn’t weighed down by it.  It has a certain comedy to it, which feels real.  George Clooney further proves that he’s a great leading man, with this light-hearted, funny and charming little film.

Image

16. Magic Mike

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Contagion), Magic Mike was a nice little surprise this year.  Starring Channing Tatum and Matthew McConaughey, the film focuses around the life of male strippers.  Tatum’s character introduces a workmate to the world of male stripping, and it all inevitably goes downhill from there.  It may seem like a bizarre choice for the top 20, but Soderbergh manages an engaging and ultimately entertaining film.  Tatum oozes with charm, and even McConaughey is tolerable.  Yes, if ever the apocalypse was upon us, this is a clear sign; Matthew McConaughey is actually a fantastic actor.

Well, this year anyway.

Image

15. Killer Joe

Killer Joe was a solid return for William Friedkin, who directed this year’s best dark comedy, starring Emile Hirsch, Matthew McConaughey and Juno Temple.  The script is deliciously macabre, as Chris (Hirsch) learns that his despised mother is worth a lot of money due to a life insurance policy.  To acquire that large sum of money, he hires hit-man ‘Killer Joe’ (McConaughey) to murder her.  Before the fee can be paid though, Joe takes Chris’ sister Dottie (Temple) as sexual collateral.

It’s an odd, dark little story which has some fantastic acting, great comedy and one of the best climaxes to a film this year.  Again, McConaughey is fantastic, and hopefully this will soon become a trend with the always-shirtless actor.

Image

14. Premium Rush

Directed by renowned writer David Koepp (Jurassic ParkPremium Rush tells the story of bicycle messengers in New York, focusing on one specific delivery by favoured cyclist Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).  As he attempts to deliver the package, he is hunted down by corrupt cop Bobby Monday (Michael Shannon), in a set of adrenaline fuelled chases.

Unfortunately, Premium Rush received a fair bit of praise from critics, but a less than impressive box-office take in cinemas.  This is partly due to The Expendables 2 taking over cinemas like a storm, which is frankly an all too familiar feeling (Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World suffered the same fate with the first movie).  It doesn’t have the strongest script, but it makes up for that with some exciting, energetic and truly electric scenes.  Of course, Levitt nails the performance of Wilee, and Shannon brings to the table his usual psychotic and wonderful acting shtick.

Image

13. 21 Jump Street

Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill delivered the goods this year with 21 Jump Street, a comedy based on two underachieving cops who work undercover at a school to bust a drug ring.  Based on the original television series, 21 Jump Street is directed by both Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two directors who had only previously directed Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Of course, 21 Jump Street was a great success at the box-office and received a certified 85% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Tatum and Hill are a solid match up, providing us the funniest drug scene in years.  If this movie is anything to go by, the directors’ next film (LEGO: The Movie) is sure to be a hit.

Image

12. End of Watch

Roger Ebert’s fourth favourite film of 2012, End of Watch stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña as two cops on duty in Los Angeles.  It’s a riveting, dramatic film which manages to grab the viewer with an effective method of telling such a great story.  Utilising the found-footage method, director David Ayer (writer: Training Day) brings an authentic feel for the film, which is exciting, visceral and engrossing.  Make no mistake though; End of Watch is classed as a thriller/drama for a reason.  Ebert did laud this film as the best cop drama in years, and he’s right about that.

Image

11. Chronicle

Chronicle launched writer Max Landis from the realms of the unknown, with director Josh Trank’s incredible found-footage style superhero drama.  The film focuses on three friends who acquire unique superpowers, as they document their journey testing their newfound powers.  Chronicle has been cited as being heavily influenced by Akira and that can be clearly recognised throughout the film, but Chronicle stands on its own feet as a superb, gripping film.  It has a truly explosive finale, which sets the bar for superhero endings.  A sequel is actually in the works, but reportedly FOX aren’t too happy with Landis’ new script.

Image

10. Ruby Sparks

Romantic comedies always work with fresh material, and Ruby Sparks is no exception.  Directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris (Little Miss Sunshine), the film concerns a struggling novelist, Calvin (Paul Dano), who is having difficulties writing new material.  He attempts one new book based on his dreams about a particular imaginary girl.  Named Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan), she has it all; spark, creativity and beauty.  To Calvin’s surprise however, Ruby is materialised in his house as a living, breathing human being.

As Calvin settles down with his newfound imagined love, he soon realises that maybe there is no such thing as a perfect girl.  Heavy stuff, but Ruby Sparks is actually a touching lightweight drama with a great script.  Zoe Kazan is one actress/writer to look out for in the future though, having provided such an amazing role and script for the film.

Image

9. The Dark Knight Rises

One of the most anticipated films of the year, The Dark Knight Rises was Christopher Nolan’s last film with the Batman.  Starring the usual cast of the previous films, The Dark Knight Rises also introduced Tom Hardy as the threatening Bane, and Anne Hathaway as the scene-stealing Catwoman.  There’s no doubt about it, but Tom Hardy’s performance was the best thing about the film (if not one of the best performances of the year).

Set eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has retired to live a secluded life in the Wayne Manor.  A new threat rises in Gotham in the form of Bane, forcing Bruce out of retirement and right back into the Bat-suit.  Nolan delivered with The Dark Knight Rises, which is quite a large achievement considering he was up against the success of his own previous Bat-film.  Nolan’s Bat-swansong was near perfect, as it was matched with some truly astounding scenes.

Image

8. Skyfall

The 23rd film in the Bond series and the highest grossing Bond to date appeared in cinemas this year, in the form of Sam Mendes’ Skyfall.  There was a point in time when the future of the Bond films wasn’t so clear, due to MGM’s struggle with worrying financial issues.  However, when Mendes was attached to the film after the disappointing Quantum of Solace, he remained as a consultant on the film up until 2010 when production resumed.

Thankfully so, as Skyfall is one of the best Bond films ever made.  It may appear to be held in fairly high praise by almost everyone, but the storyline regarding ‘M’ (Judi Dench) and the threatening Silva (Javier Bardem) made for such an engaging watch, which was matched with this year’s most beautiful cinematography.  The composure of some of the shots used in Skyfall are astonishing, and having the majority of the film set in Britain was a bold and wise choice.

Image

7. The Muppets

Let us not forget that we Brits only received this film in February, whereas it was shown elsewhere the year before.  Nonetheless, Jason Segel injected fresh comedy into The Muppets with a storyline which actually referenced the real life troubles of the brand.  The Muppets aren’t relevant anymore, so it’s time to make them popular again, before evil oil baron Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) can acquire the Muppets studio and drill right into the heart of it.  The film starred Jason Segel and Amy Adams, along with some fantastic cameos throughout.

It’s light-hearted, enjoyable and fun for all ages.  It’s a shame that some of us did forget about the Muppets, but Segel utilised them to their best manner.  If there’s any funnier movie this year, then I highly doubt it.  Life’s a fillet o’ fish!

Image

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Directed by the novelist of the original book, Stephen Chbosky provided cinemagoers with a touching drama about teenage life in the 80s.  The film starred newcomer Logan Lerman as the main character Charlie, who is a struggling introvert in high-school.  He befriends two people, Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Sam (Emma Watson), who he joins on his journey of love, loss and fear.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower holds the award for best soundtrack of the year, with the likes of David Bowie, The Smiths and Dexys Midnight Runners.  It’s an honest story, which isn’t bogged down my ‘tween’ nonsense.  It’s ripe with drug use, sexual exploration and family drama, which is handled in a most delicate manner.  The Perks of Being a Wallflower is one the of best coming-of-age dramas in recent years, which is more than worth your time.

Image

5. The Raid: Redemption

Directed by Welshman Gareth Edwards, this Indonesian film stunned audiences with its unique, visceral and electrifying action.  The plot of The Raid: Redemption is simple.  There’s a tower block which is owned by a vicious drug lord, and it’s up to a select squad of raid officers to take down the enemy once and for all.  Of course, not everything goes to plan so it’s up to the main star (Iko Uwais) of the movie to fight his way through floors of knife wielding, gun-toting goons.

The choreography utilised in the fight scenes is truly like none other, which will leave many viewers cringing or fist-bumping the air.  Mike Shinoda provided his talents for the film’s energetic soundtrack, making everyone forget he’s actually part of Linkin Park.  It’s brutal, intense and it’s an Indonesian film directed by a Welshman.  There’s more to come from talented directed Gareth Edwards, and let’s hope it arrives fairly soon.

Image

4. Dredd 3D

Dredd 3D has a rather straightforward plot; Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and new rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) are enclosed within a 200-storey slum, which is locked down by the infamous drug lord Ma-Ma (Lena Headey), a woman responsible for a deadly new drug on the streets called Slo-Mo.  Both Judges have to utilise all of their training to overcome the insane odds before them, so that they can take down Ma-Ma and make it out in one piece.  Directed by Pete Travis and with renowned scriptwriter Alex Garland and creator John Wagner on consulting duties, Dredd 3D made sure that cinemagoers forgot all about that appalling attempt to adapt Dredd way back in 1995.

Thankfully, Dredd 3D truly embraces its 18-rated certificate.  The action throughout the film is brutal, as Dredd takes no prisoners.  The action scenes are accentuated with an electrifying, grungy soundtrack which is featured throughout pivotal scenes in the film.  These scenes aren’t for the faint of heart though, as criminals are disposed in several grisly different ways.  Dredd fights his way through the tower block with snappy one-liners, which will be quoted long after viewing.  It’s soon set to be a cult classic, and if it hopefully takes off from there, perhaps we can see more of Dredd in the future.

Image

3. The Cabin in the Woods

Directed by Drew Goddard (Cloverfield), and co-written and co-produced with the legendary Joss Whedon (The AvengersBuffy), The Cabin in the Woods was one of the best horror movies seen in recent years.  The film concerns a small selection of teenagers who travel to a remote cabin for a short getaway trip, only to befall the horrors that lurk in the woods.  It may seem like a stereotypical ‘slasher’ movie, but The Cabin in the Woods is so much more.

Discussing the film’s plot in greater detail will spoil too much, and watching any of the trailers is ill-advised.  It is essentially a love-letter for the horror genre, showcasing many of the tropes and definitions of the genre, with a spectacular finale.  The film stars a strong female lead in the form of Dana (Kristen Connolly), which really doesn’t come as any surprise considering Whedon was attached to the film.  The Cabin in the Woods is a pleasant surprise and a genuine treat for lovers of the horror genre.

Image

2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Peter Jackson returned to the world of Middle-earth late this year, with the highly anticipated The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Starring Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins, this was the first instalment in a new trilogy telling the much-loved story of Tolkien’s 1937 novel, The Hobbit.  Bilbo is joined by the likes of Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellan), Thorin (Richard Armitage) and a whole bunch of other dwarves, as they venture towards the Lonely Mountain to reclaim the land from the deadly dragon, Smaug.  On Bilbo’s grand journey, he comes across trolls, orcs and one of cinemas greatest characters, Gollum (Andy Serkis).

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey had a lot riding on it, as it had been 9 years since the release of the last Lord of the Rings film.  One of the highest grossing trilogies of all time, it was a wonder whether or not Jackson could capture the same magic he managed to do so before.

Thankfully though, Jackson pulled it off yet again.  You wouldn’t think so, regarding its 65% score on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, but it appears that most of the complaints are about its running length and the use of HFR (High Frame Rate).  Not exactly valid criticisms of course, because it appeared that the film’s pacing was normal throughout.  It had some fantastic action sequences, and some scenes are just so, so serene.

The characterisations of all the characters are perfect, which makes sense considering Jackson wouldn’t have continued without Martin Freeman as Bilbo.  Returning to Middle-earth is warming and nostalgic, and it’s nice to see there’s a touch more comedy added into the beginning of this trilogy.

Are 48 frames per second the future?  Not really, no.  The 3D holds up throughout the entire film, but HFR makes everything look too real.  Action sequences can suffer from the higher frame rate, whereas Gollum’s introduction and the Goblin King scenes look stunning.  Cinemagoers have been used to 24 frames for decades now, there’s no reason to step up to a new, almost redundant technology.

Nonetheless, The Hobbit: An Expected Journey deserves its second spot on the top 20 due to its many achievements.  The soundtrack is typically great, the cast is perfect and the action sequences are some of the best this year.

Image

1. The Avengers

Was there any doubt?

Just under five years ago, Marvel Studios released a film about one genius billionaire philanthropist,Iron Man.  From that point on Marvel Studios’ plan was clear, they were working their way towardsThe Avengers.  Four films later, and Phase 1 was complete with the release of The Avengers on the 26th April.

Directed by Joss Whedon, The Avengers stars an unlikely group of superheroes who are forced to team-up to defeat the deadly Asgardian trickster, Loki.  The original cast members from their previous films returned, apart from Ed Norton, who left due to creative differences.

Zak Penn and Joss Whedon’s script is the quintessential superhero story, infused with action, comedy and drama.  Whilst it was possible for Tony Stark to completely steal the show, each character received their own respective amount of screen time, which was just enough to showcase their great talents.

Whedon manages to encapsulate the look and feel of an actual comic book, transferring it straight into a blockbuster film.  Explosions felt like they were ripped right out of a double page spread, fight scenes were captured with great imagination, and the Hulk was the perfect portrayal of his comic book counterpart.

ILM’s work on the Hulk was ground-breaking, as he fit right with the other Avengers perfectly.  The same can be said with the other effects used with the film, as the Chitauri forces look lifelike.  The action is structured and presented clearly throughout, which is something Michael Bay should learn from.

The film’s running length doesn’t drag, and that may partly be due to the clever editing skills.  It’s been reported that Whedon cut down at least 30 minutes of footage for the theatrical release, just to make sure everything was streamlined.

Whedon injects his great talent straight into The Avengers and thanks to him moviegoers get an enjoyable, exciting thrill ride.  It is the film of the year, not just for comic book fans, but for general moviegoers alike.  Loki is a wonderful villain, Stark has the best quotes and the Hulk gets the most satisfying action scenes which the character required.

Make no mistake; The Avengers may be the perfect comic book film.  It impresses on so many levels, and the groundwork which was produced to accomplish this film is like none other.  If there’s one thing we can all complain about, it’s that Whedon’s got one hell of a tough job to best himself with the sequel.