HISTORY OF X-MEN IN GAMING – PART ONE

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The X-Men made their first grand appearance on comic book stands way back in September 1963, and since then they’ve taken over the world by storm with some of the most significant characters and stories that the industry has ever witnessed.

It spawned successful action figure lines, several animated cartoon series and even a huge movie franchise that has led to box-office hits and unfortunately some of the worst superhero offerings that the genre has ever known. Here’s looking at you, Wolverine.

They’ve had it all, but for a long time, they’ve also made numerous appearances in the video game business. From arcade machines to mobile phones, the mutants have made an impact in the gaming industry. Due to my love of the uncanny mutants, I decided to tackle the long and arduous task of analysing and briefly reviewing almost every X-Men video game ever created.

I must be mad, right? Perhaps, but I’ve had the pleasure of growing up amongst some of these X-Men titles, and we’ve had quite the veritable cornucopia of mutants in video games. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the X-Men’s first ever foray into the strange and unique world of video games, with The Uncanny X-Men, on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

THE UNCANNY X-MEN – NES

It was the summer of 1989 when the X-Men first appeared on our tiny CRT television sets, and their first outing was rough. Released in the same year when the animated series pilot aired (Pryde of the X-Men), Uncanny X-Men was a multiplayer game that was published by LJN. A well-known American toy manufacturer and game publisher, LJN had produced several lines of Thundercats and WWF action figures and playsets.

Strangely enough, there is no record of the development team behind the game. Presumably, it was developed in Japan and then shipped to American audiences only. The title screen showcases several different playable characters, but that’s where the excitement begins and ends. Unfortunately, as it turns out, The Uncanny X-Men game is utter garbage.

The level design in the game is non-existent, and the game is slow and downright clunky. Enemies consist of floating blocks, robotic caterpillars and mysterious little orbs. The sprites naturally fit for a game developed in 1989, but then there’s no excuse for Cyclops resembling the Mad Titan, Thanos.

If you had no friends back in 1989, the game assists you with an AI character, which does nothing to help the player. I guess you can’t complain too much, because back then the concept of AI in video games was stuck in the Savage Land, but this adds to the misery of playing the game.

Perhaps this was just a pure cash grab for the upcoming mutant phenomenon, as this game is just a miserable reminder of how some licensed games were back then. Do not waste any time tracking down the first ever X-Men game. It’s mind-numbingly boring, and your ears will be pained by the horrible screeching sound of Cyclops’ optic blasts, too. You don’t need that in your life.

X-MEN: MADNESS IN MURDERWORLD

From the second gamers load up X-Men: Madness in Murderworld, they’re treated to a sweet little title screen and carnival music! Yes, it appears that some more care was taken with this Commodore 64 and DOS video game, which was developed and published by Paragon Software way back in 1989.

Recurring comic book villain Arcade (imagine Jigsaw – but a bit nicer) takes centre stage in the game, as he’s somehow miraculously managed to kidnap the leader of the X-Men, Professor Charles Xavier! It’s up the player to use their wits and expertise to save good ol’ Chuck, with the small team of Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Cyclops and…Dazzler!

Madness in Murderworld is a side-scrolling, awkward little video game which is extremely unforgiving. If gamers aren’t up to the task, losing a life means permanently losing a vital member of the X-Men! Of course, they would probably turn up again in the comics after dying, but this isn’t the point here. It’s life or death.

Combat in Murderworld isn’t fun, not even in the slightest. Engaging with an enemy is a headache, as players can only select specific mutant abilities by pausing the game. I was immediately thrown against a mutant-killing robotic Sentinel, and let’s say; it was a sad day for the mutants. The control panel for the game is a mess, and players will fumble over them continuously.

There are many different areas that the X-Men have to traverse through to find Charles Xavier, and in all honesty, at least there’s some sort of narrative here. There’s a decent enough range of characters to use, but it’s just too difficult and awkward to play. Paragon Software must have seen some success with the game though, as they attempted to improve on this formula with a sequel exactly one year later…

X-MEN II: THE FALL OF THE MUTANTS

The second game from Paragon Studios, Fall of the Mutants, was released in 1990 and was loosely based on the comic book story of the same name, by Chris Claremont. This time around, they had dramatically increased the roster, including Rogue, Psylocke, Havok and even Longshot, amongst others.

The game begins with an introduction from Uatu the Watcher, who was always synonymous with significant events in the Marvel comic book universe. After his brief introduction, Uatu lets you pick five different mutants for the game, and three different areas to choose from. You can visit Dallas, the Ice Age and the Galleria where you can fight the likes of dinosaurs, demons and…the Viet Cong.

Your end goal? To rescue Storm and the man with the cheapest mutant ability, in the history of the X-Men, Forge. No seriously, he can make machines with his mutant gene because of comic book logic.

Fall of the Mutants allows for gamers to explore a top-down map, where mutants can utilise their powers to get through obstacles, and also get handpicked for certain fights. The fight sequences are similar to the previous game in the series, but this time around, it’s a little more fluid. The backgrounds have a bit more detail for them, which is also welcome.

Again, for the nineties, it wasn’t that terrible a game. It’s a definite improvement on Murderworld, and Paragon Studios paved the way for some of the most popular franchises we play today, such as X-Com and Civilisation, which was brought forth by the acquisition from developers and publisher MicroProse. However, nothing had compared to the next X-Men game, which ended up emptying the wallets of comic book readers in arcades all over the world.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

I Find Your Lack of Women Disturbing, Disney Store.

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Around this time last year, Disney Store came under fire due to the severe lack of Gamora merchandise in the Guardians of the Galaxy range. All of their clothing featured most of the members of Marvel’s superhero team, but Zoe Saldana’s ass-kicking alien was nowhere to be seen.

Despite complaints, Disney hardly bothered to handle the situation. They made no changes to their existing range, and they failed to listen yet again when Marvel’s Age of Ultron hit cinemas. The Black Widow, played by Scarlett Johansson, was lost in the shuffle of muscled men and robots.

A recent campaign sparked interest online in regards to this issue, with the focus shifting towards the confusing lack of Princess Leia products in store. With Leia being regarded as one of the strongest female characters in sci-fi, her absence from Disney Stores seemed baffling.

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Due to this backlash spreading like wildfire over social media, Disney had no option but to respond to this criticism. They vowed to produce more products featuring Leia, hoping to diversify their selection of ‘boy’ toys, such as Jedi dress-up costumes, toys and various other items.

Whether or not this change will happen remains to be seen, but this problem has infringed on the recent television series, Star Wars: Rebels. Set before the events of A New Hope, Rebels has been a pure treat for SW fans. Viewers of all ages have engaged with the varied selection of individuals, and Disney has yet again stifled customers with what’s on offer.

Rebels’ range of goods in Disney Store varies from articulated figures to beach towels, and yet, Disney’s blatant ignorance means that two of the best female characters in the show – the adept pilot Twi’lek Hera and weapons expert Sabine – are nowhere to be found.

It’s inexcusable really, as to why a beach towel would consist of three males and a droid, completely disregarding two females who have their own separate identities. On a beach towel, of all things.

A beach towel.

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Fans of collectible figurines don’t fare too well either, with Sabine and Hera only found in a two-pack range of figures. In a line consisting of Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker (who isn’t even in the first season), it’s really confusing to see why Sabine and Hera have been lumped in with a Stormtrooper each. Are they not important enough to have their own toy?

Perhaps Disney bought Marvel and Star Wars to cater towards the young male audience, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of females in their Star Wars and Marvel lines. In doing so, Disney Stores are potentially losing business from boys and girls, and collectors themselves. Here’s a surprising fact for Disney and Hasbro; boys can desire characters such as Black Widow and Princess Leia to play with, and girls shouldn’t be stuck with such a pitiful amount.

Investigating further into the Star Wars franchise and the representation of women (or lack thereof) is another discussion entirely, but why is it that girls are stuck with Princess Leia in her slave costume too? A quick search online supports this issue for parents, when their child is confused as to why they can’t have the original Princess Leia in stores. Perhaps if more female figures were available, there wouldn’t be this problem.

In a world which has come to embrace geek culture, more and more children are being brought up as comic book readers and fans of sci-fi. A change needs to happen now to cater towards this lost audience, and Disney/Hasbro are not helping effect this change in a positive way whatsoever.

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To put it one way, it isn’t really hard to design products that could appeal to any gender. SW: Rebels has a plethora of new characters and vehicles, mostly inspired by Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars concepts from the 70s. Hera is the main pilot of the Ghost in Rebels, and Disney and Hasbro could easily produce that vehicle with Hera included. Toys aren’t rocket science.

The shelves of Disney Stores have an assortment of Disney Princess costumes, but where is Sabine’s Mandalorian armour? Not all girls want to be a damsel in distress, and hell, boys could even armour up as Sabine. Boba Fett was a Mandalorian, after all.

This may seem like the small complaints of a random animated television series, but there’s a much bigger problem here. Star Wars: Rebels garners at least a million viewers per episode worldwide, with the one-hour special reaching 6.5 million people alone. It’s not as if Rebels is unheard of, and it’s not just Rebels which has been effected by Disney’s poor judgement.

Disney needs to shape up with their merchandising, because after the criticisms regarding Guardians of the Galaxy, Age of Ultron and Star Wars, they’ll soon lose out in more potential purchases from fans. There’s more to life than princesses and handsome men, and once in a while someone might want to be the fiercest woman ever seen in the Star Wars universe.

 

Ant-man – Film Review

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The twelfth instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Ant-man, had an interesting and unsettling turn of events in May 2014. For three years, British filmmaker Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), worked with Marvel Studios as director, to help conceptualise and bring Ant-Man – a size-altering burglar – onto the big screen.

Despite Kevin Feige stating that they had their perfect director for the project, Edgar Wright and Marvel Studios abruptly split, citing creative differences. The script had been written by Wright and Joe Cornish, but the film was handed over towards Peyton Reed. Ant-man truly had a chance to transgress the superhero genre but instead we were now being treated to the same director of The Break Up and Bring it On.

Nonetheless, it appeared that all the other pieces of Ant-man were put together nicely. Paul Rudd was cast alongside Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly, and it seemed that Rudd might just be the perfect choice for the hapless cat burglar, Scott Lang. The film also retained the original script from Joe Cornish and Wright, and it can be argued that Marvel Studios haven’t necessarily made a bad film yet (Iron Man 3 was superb, ingrates).

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As it turns out, Marvel Studios have managed to have another hit on their hands. Regardless of Wright’s departure, Peyton Reed and Marvel have produced one of the finest instalments in the MCU yet. There are a number of reasons for this, but after the average Age of Ultron (which felt like a yet another step towards a bigger event), Ant-man feels like its own movie.

It doesn’t transcend the superhero genre, but it perfectly mixes comedy and action into one delightful mix. Edgar Wright’s imprint has been left here, and that’s a telling sign with the final fight sequence, which holds the medal for one of the funniest moments in the entire MCU.

As if anyone had any doubts, Paul Rudd effortlessly plays the character of Scott Lang. He’s not the most empathetic character ever, but his love for his daughter, charisma and technique all make for an interesting lead. Evangeline Lilly also shakes off any bad memories of her past career as Hope, the daughter to Michael Douglas’ character, Hank Pym.

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One of Ant-man’s key strengths is its storytelling. Exchanging floating islands of death for a more character driven storyline, Ant-man proves that sometimes less is more. Providing a tighter focus on family relationships, Ant-man feels like it has more weight to it. The stakes are high, but it’s not done in an obnoxious manner. The story progresses seamlessly throughout, as the two-hour running length smoothly passes by.

Thankfully, the CGI is almost flawless. Everyone remembers Honey I Shrunk the Kids and its great set pieces, but Ant-man is on another level. Utilising different sizes in a blink of an eye, Ant-man somehow manages to pull it off perfectly. It doesn’t appear as being unbelievable, even when Ant-man is riding his favourite flying ant. That’s commendable.

Whether Ant-man clicks with some audiences’ remains to be seen, but for fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, they’re really in for a treat. It might just be the most fun had with a Marvel movie since Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a welcome change. Too many superhero movies nowadays are downtrodden and laden with darkness and drama, so it’s a pleasure to see Ant-man provides something different.

What’s next for Ant-man? His team up with The Avengers is inevitable, and here’s hoping they flesh out Scott and Hope’s characters even further. They’re the most interesting bunch in the MCU, and they can easily hold their own. Ant-man succeeds at being a breath of fresh air, which is rife with comedy, action and ants.

Reviewing Daredevil and the future of Netflix

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Back in 2013, Netflix announced an exciting new deal with Marvel Studios to produce a selection of live action series based on some of the best characters from Marvel’s comic books. Situated in the established Marvel cinematic universe, Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones were signed to receive 13 episodes per season, before culminating in a team-up, The Defenders.

The first of these series was scheduled to be Daredevil, a superhero crime drama by showrunner Drew Goddard (The Cabin in the Woods). The show would focus on the blind lawyer known as Matt Murdock, who tackles crime in and outside of the courtroom in Hell’s Kitchen. With his superhuman senses, he attempts to make his city a better place.

The character of Daredevil is synonymous with having some of the best talent in comic book history, and he boasts some of Marvel’s finest work to date. From Frank Miller’s ground-breaking masterpiece, to Bendis/Brubaker’s captivating run and Waid/Samnee’s recent reinvigoration, Daredevil has had it all.

However, he hasn’t had the same luck with movies. The wounds are still sore from Fox’s attempt at Daredevil, which was a cinematic travesty. Despite the fact that the director’s cut was bearable, everyone remembers that park scene. So, Netflix had their work cut out for them to produce something that finally did the character justice.

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Have no fear though, as Netflix qualms any concerns. Casting British actor Charlie Cox (Stardust, Boardwalk Empire) was possibly the best decision they made for the show, as they discovered someone who embodied the charm of Murdock and the vehemence of the horned devil all in one delightful mix.

The same praise can be said for Vincent D’Onofrio (Full Metal Jacket, Law & Order: Criminal Intent), who plays the intimidating crime lord, Wilson Fisk. Known as Kingpin to others, D’Onofrio provides one of the most impressive performances of a comic book villain ever. Alongside these two stars, Daredevil also features Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood) as the vulnerable Karen Page, and Eldren Henson (Mighty Ducks) as Murdock’s friend and associate, Foggy Nelson.

Daredevil manages to seamlessly focus on both aspects of Murdock’s life, with drama and action intertwining with ease. Some fight scenes are brilliantly choreographed, with several sequences that’ll leave jaws agape. One corridor sequence in the second episode – filmed all at once without cuts – is even being commended for its technical achievement.

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It’s worth nothing that Netflix manages to clean the taint that is given to superhero television shows. Due to the high production values of Daredevil, it abolishes any concerns of being likened to cheaper network programmes, such as Arrow or Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. The cinematography is fantastic, with some moments feeling like they were ripped straight from the pages of a comic book.

Whilst Daredevil hasn’t always been a dark and gritty superhero since his creation, Netflix takes inspiration from Frank Miller and Bendis’ take on the character. For those looking for a swashbuckling adventure, you’ll be left slightly disappointed. Whilst this show doesn’t lend itself to the dark ridiculousness of some other comic book heroes, it is still a series littered with murder, human trafficking and suicide. However, there’s a slight sprinkle of comedy, which mostly comes from Foggy Nelson.

Whilst Daredevil is shared within the Marvel cinematic universe, there isn’t a great deal of references towards other events/heroes. The Battle of NY gets mentioned, but that’s about it. Some keen eyed viewers may recognise some small bits in later episodes, but this is really Daredevil’s story. Not having Frogman at all is a bit unforgivable, though.

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References aren’t necessarily essential anyway, as you’re pulled in with an enthralling story and some superb acting. The bar has now been set for other superhero shows, as it’s beautifully shot, perfectly cast and brilliantly crafted. It might just be the television highlight of the year, which is a mighty achievement regarding other shows that have been on recently, such as Better Call Saul.

General feedback has been positive since the release, and it can be safely said that Netflix’s deal with Marvel Studios will be hugely beneficial. Their new model to create their own content has been their best idea yet, and anyone torrenting Netflix’s content is doing a disservice to themselves and the great product provided. Hell, even if you can’t afford the meagre cost, just sign up for free.

The next comic book property lined up is A.K.A. Jessica Jones, which is currently being developed by Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter). This time round, viewers will follow the story of Jessica Jones, played by Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad), who starts up her own detective agency after a tragic end to her superhero career.

The series will be based on Bendis’ Alias, which was the first title to be published under the MAX imprint at the time, allowing it to appeal to an adult audience with R-rated content. It provided Bendis with creative freedom within Marvel, and Jessica Jones soon became an important part the Avengers soon after that.

A.K.A. Jessica Jones will also establish some fan-favourites from Marvel comics, such as Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Patsy Walker ‘Hellcat’ (Rachael Taylor). David Tennant also stars as the evil Killgrave (aka The Purple Man), who might just be one of the most vile villains in Marvel comics. Dr Who fans might be in for a shock with his unique role.

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Following Luke Cage’s introduction, he will be receiving his very own show alongside his team-mate and fellow Hero for Hire, Iron Fist. Each character will be getting the 13 episode treatment too, focusing on Cage’s life as an ex-con with bulletproof skin, and Iron Fist’s life as a millionaire bestowed with awesome mystical powers.

The Defenders will bring all of these characters together for a mini-series, to face their biggest threat yet. Speculation over who they’re facing has begun amongst fans, with ideas ranging from a full invasion from The Hand (evil occult ninjas), to stopping the devastating killing machine known as The Punisher.

With Marvel gaining the rights back for The Punisher, it wouldn’t come as a surprise to see news of Thomas Jane being involved with Netflix any time soon. Despite the critics’ response of the 2004 film, Thomas Jane’s depiction of the Punisher was spot on. Just three years ago, he reprised the role in this incredible short film, ‘Dirty Laundry’:

Whether or not The Defenders decides to utilise The Hand remains to be seen. They’re an integral part of Daredevil’s history, and they are closely linked to his love interest Elektra. Therefore, it might be best to implement them at a later date. Nonetheless, these two theories may not even be included at all. For all we know, it could be Stilt-Man making his own empire.

Outside of the Netflix/Marvel deal, a Punisher series based on Garth Ennis’ MAX run would greatly benefit from the freedom of Netflix’s model. At this point there a few characters they could use, such as Blade, Ghost Rider, Cloak and Dagger, Power Pack, Elektra and Hawkeye.

Whilst it might not be worth touching Blade and Ghost Rider any time soon, it would be criminal to leave Cloak and Dagger without a mini-series at least. If Netflix ever decided to include Hawkeye in any form on television, then they should look no further than the most recent Matt Fraction and Aja/Wu run on the character. The possibilities are endless.

It’s an exciting time to be a Marvel fan, with Netflix now gaining traction with their new television series and Marvel’s films now entering the third phase. Hopefully A.K.A. Jessica Jones is also a hit, and that the rest of the series allows for an extended deal for both parties involved. Either way, the future looks bright for this partnership.

Top 20 Films of 2014

Based on UK theatrical and festival release dates, here are the Top 20 Films of 2014.

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20. Starred Up

Director: David Mackenzie // Link to trailer

When describing Starred Up, it can be defined with one word; visceral. However, it is also violent, realistic and unashamedly British. Rising star Jack O’Connell is Eric Love, a 19 year-old with a short fuse. Due to being too dangerous for a youth offender’s prison, Love is transferred to a different jail, where his father is kept. Through the help of therapy, Love tries to settle in with his new inmates, but the volatile relationship with his estranged father is too much to handle. O’Connell’s performance might be one of the toughest roles of the year, as Starred Up is unquestionably raw, explosive and of all things, not to be sniffed at.


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19. Locke

Director: Steven Knight // Link to trailer

Steven Knight’s Locke follows one tense and emotional evening for Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy), who is a dedicated family man and construction worker. Shot from the confinements of his car (with a few traffic cutaways), Ivan Locke has a secret that will drastically affect his livelihood. Whilst the film’s narrative structure isn’t purely original, it is carried by the weight of the charismatic Tom Hardy, who finally sheds the tough persona we’ve seen in some of his recent work. Locke is a gripping film, and it’s a testament to Tom Hardy’s talent, as he can keep you enthralled and invested in the movie, despite the surroundings. For a brilliant character performance, look no further than this.


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18. Obvious Child

Director: Gillian Robespierre // Link to trailer

Robespierre’s directorial debut managed to impress this year, with a movie that tackles the sensitive subject of abortion with maturity, wit and compassion. As aspiring comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) recovers from an emotional break up, a one-night stand results in an unwanted pregnancy. Suddenly, the twenty-something has to deal with the threat of adulthood looming over her directionless life. It’s a breakthrough performance from Jenny Slate, who is joined with a great cast, superb writing and a movie that surprisingly feels authentic. It’s an inventive take on the genre, and it’s about time a film such as this should feel genuine, as it abolishes stereotypical female leads, all whilst maintaining poignant tone.


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17. Life Itself

Director: Steve James // Link to trailer

Renowned documentarian Steve James recounts the extraordinary life of film reviewer Roger Ebert, with an affectionate and truly personal film. Shot during his last moments, Life Itself explores the wonderful life of Ebert, touching upon several aspects, such as his peculiar relationship with the late Gene Siskel. Life Itself is a fantastic way of recognising and remembering one of the greatest cinematic staples of our time, without being overly sentimental. Roger Ebert’s life is an inspiration to many, and this film ranks as being the best documentary of the year.


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16. The Raid 2

Director: Gareth Evans // Link to trailer

Gareth Evans blew audiences away with his brutal, gut-wrenching Indonesian film; The Raid: Redemption back in 2011, but this year saw the release of its sequel which surpassed the qualities of the first. The Raid 2 follows the skilled Rama, who is set to uncover the corruption within his own police force. Set only moments after the first movie, The Raid 2 dials the action up to eleven, with jaw-dropping fight sequences and outstanding choreography.  If there’s one stand-out character in the action genre this year, it’s the deaf-mute Hammer Girl.


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15. Fury

Director: David Ayer // Link to trailer

Starring a great ensemble cast, Fury is set in Germany during 1945, as the allies make their final push behind enemy lines. A Sherman tank led by the hardened ‘Wardaddy’ (Brad Pitt) is out-classed by the Nazi forces, whose firepower and armoury is vastly superior. Along with the new recruit, Norman Ellison (Logan Lerman), Wardaddy’s crew are exposed to the brutality of the SS. Ayer’s film is an unsentimental take on WWII, which is comprised of grotesque scenes and tense action sequences. Thankfully, the film never reaches the jingoism of other recent war movies (see: Lone Survivor), and it excels with its cast (Shia LeBeouf surprising many), and Ayer’s excellent direction.


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14. Edge of Tomorrow (Live Die Repeat)

Director: Doug Liman // Link to trailer

Now being labelled as ‘Live Die Repeat’, Doug Liman’s science-fiction movie is equally as explosive as it is entertaining. Starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, military officer William Cage (Cruise) gets thrown into an alien warzone, with a seemingly invincible foe. Killed within moments of joining this war, Cage discovers that he’s trapped in a constant time loop, which resets to the preceding day.

Edge of Tomorrow opened to an underwhelming box-office response (perhaps due to the terrible marketing), but Liman’s movie proved to be one the most exciting action flicks of the year, and it further proved that Tom Cruise can be a fantastic lead. It has spectacle, superb concepts and it’s surprisingly funny in places. It’s blockbuster film-making done properly.


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13. The Guest

Director: Adam Wingard // Link to trailer

Adam Wingard’s The Guest is destined to be this year’s biggest cult hit, as it boasts some incredible one-liners, questionable acting, quirky humour and an effortlessly cool synth soundtrack. With an inexcusable US box-office taking of just $280,000, The Guest manages to capture all the classic tropes of 80s thriller/horror movies, with a superb leading role by Downton Abbey’s very own Dan Stevens. It is a pure delight from start to finish, with the final 20 minutes becoming one of the most entertaining and ridiculous sequences of the year. Adam Wingard excels in genre film-making, and The Guest is no exception.


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12. Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Director: Joe Russo and Anthony Russo // Link to trailer

The Russo brothers managed to transcend the superhero genre this year with The Winter Soldier, which was suspenseful and politically relevant. Loosely based on the critically acclaimed series by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, the film focuses on a dark secret from Steve Rogers’ past, along with the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. Full of dazzling visuals and some of the best hand-to-hand combat seen in the superhero genre, Captain America: The Winter Soldier manages to be one of Marvel’s best efforts yet. It takes the genre seriously, whilst managing to entertain and surprise.


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11. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Director: Matt Reeves // Link to trailer

Taking place a decade after the events of the first film, Matt Reeves Apes sequel focuses on Caesar’s nation of evolved apes, who are threatened by the occurrence of a small band of human survivors. The film’s themes are based on trust and survival, as the story has a surprisingly captivating hook. Dawn features some of the best motion capture work to date, which is partly thanks to the talents of renowned actor Andy Serkis and even Toby Kebbell.

The film expands brilliantly on its predecessor, by becoming one of the smartest and most entertaining blockbusters of this year. The CGI is cutting-edge, and whilst it blatantly sets up the third Apes movie, there are no concerns considering Matt Reeves is signed on for the sequel.


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10. Frank

Director: Lenny Abrahamson // Link to trailer

Perhaps the most thought-provoking movie of the year, Frank is an endearing comedy with a memorable performance from Michael Fassbender. The film follows young musician Jon (D.Gleeson), who finds himself joining an avant-garde band; The Soronprfbs. Quite the eclectic mix of people, The Soronprfbs attempt to record an album and tour. Frank touches slightly upon the subject of mental illness, and it does so quite commendably. It’s an unusual and clever movie, and it’ll leave viewers thinking for weeks.


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09. Dallas Buyer’s Club

Director: Jean-Marc Vallée // Link to trailer

Dallas Buyer’s Club is a career best for Matthew McConaughey, starring as the real life Ron Woodroof, whose life was turned upside down during the AIDS epidemic of the 80s. Ostracised by most of his friends after discovering he’s HIV-positive, Ron Woodroof explores alternative treatment for the disease and attempts to best the FDA. The film boasts an incredible performance from McConaughey, along with an eye-opening role from Jared Leto. Dallas Buyer’s Club sports a remarkable story, which manages joy and sorrow into one delightful mix.


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08. The Grand Budapest Hotel

Director: Wes Anderson // Link to trailer

Arguably Wes Anderson’s most accessible movie to date, The Grand Budapest Hotel turned out to be one of the most charming pictures of 2014. Elaborately shot with stunning compositions throughout, The Grand Budapest Hotel recounts the story of the great Gustave H (Ralph Fiennes), the concierge of the famed European hotel, who is framed for a murder he did not commit.

It’s the quintessential Wes Anderson movie; offbeat, funny, beautifully shot and wholly sentimental. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a visually engaging movie, and it stands as being one of Anderson’s finest accomplishments to date, in his long list of wonderful and heartfelt movies.


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07. The Wolf of Wall Street

Director: Martin Scorsese // Link to trailer

Based on Jordan Belfort’s memoir of the same name, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street is an incredible piece of work, starring Scorsese’s new go-to actor, Leonardo DiCaprio. Returning to what he’s best at, Scorsese brings forth an R-rated overindulgence of sex, money and drugs. Undoubtedly DiCaprio’s finest role to date, The Wolf of Wall Street also showcased the abilities of Jonah Hill and newcomer Margot Robbie.

Whilst The Wolf of Wall Street isn’t in the same league as Raging Bull, it stands as being Scorsese’s funniest film to date. It’s an outrageous black comedy, which is unabashed and unapologetic with its content, lucidly presenting the depravity of its characters. Jordan Belfort’s corruption is an engaging story, which is superbly written and acted brilliantly. At the age of 72, it appears Scorsese is showing no signs of letting up.


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06. What We Do in the Shadows

Director: Jemaine Clement, Taika Waititi // Link to the first six minutes

Movies within the comedy horror genre have always struggled to get it right, and 2014 has been no exception. The abysmal waste known as A Haunted House 2 was released, and Life After Beth failed to impress despite everyone involved. However, this fresh and unique take on ‘mockumentaries’ and vampires managed to be 2014’s funniest film of the year.

Following four vampires sharing a house in New Zealand, What We Do in the Shadows embraces the mundane issues of normal everyday human life, whilst mixing elements of the undead into the mix. Not only do these vampires pay rent, finish chores and visit nightclubs, they also antagonise the local werewolves, avoid sunlight and deal with the rigorous diet of human blood.

It’s a fantastic premise, and hilarious from start to finish. The casting is simply perfect, with Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clements having one of the funniest and most memorable lines of the movie. What We Do in the Shadows truly is the first great vampire comedy to grace our cinema screens.


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05. Guardians of the Galaxy

Director: James Gunn // Link to trailer

Marvel’s biggest gamble to date, Guardians of the Galaxy took a fairly unknown superhero team and turned into it a box-office success, as it became the 2nd highest grossing movie of 2014. The film follows an unusual team of criminals, who band together to stop Ronan the Accuser from destroying the universe. Despite its generic plot, Guardians of the Galaxy excelled with some of the funniest comedy seen in sci-fi film, a fabulous 80s soundtrack and some of the best casting seen in the genre.

The film boasted a selection of breakthrough characters, who became fan favourites this year, especially the talking alien tree, Groot. Chris Pratt, who also plays the leader Starlord, proved to be the most charismatic leading man of the year.

It was a pleasurable surprise for cinemagoers, as Guardians is arguably Marvel Studios best movie to date. It is the quintessential blockbuster, chock full with awesome CGI, action, comedy and wonderful characters. James Gunn proved he’s a truly capable director, and his sheer attention to detail should be admired. Here’s to the upcoming sequel.


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04. Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher // Link to trailer

Based on the best-selling book by Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl is another outstanding piece of work by director David Fincher. Starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl tells the story of how one man’s wife goes missing, and how he ends up becoming the number one suspect.

It’s an exhilarating piece of filmmaking, and Rosamund Pike managed to surprise everyone with her role as Amy Dunne, which a career best. Gone Girl has Fincher’s trademark fingerprints all over it, as it’s ultimately stylish, dark and character driven. Somehow, Fincher always brings out the best with the actors he works with, and this film is no exception.

It’s an almost perfect thriller, which really kicks into gear after the first hour. A selection of unsettling scenes really set the mood for the final act, which will leave jaws agape. Gone Girl manages to pick apart various subjects, such as the media, the economy and its effect on marriage, and the fatal flaw in any relationship; dishonesty. It’s an inherently smart thriller, with some captivating performances. It might not be Fincher’s best, but it’s still up there.


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03. The Lego Movie

Director: Chris Miller, Phil Lord // Link to trailer

Essentially a feature-length advertisement for the Lego brand, Miller and Lord’s animated masterpiece really resonates with viewers of all ages. The movie follows the hapless Emmet, a construction worker who is mistakenly selected as the prophesied ‘Special’, as it is foretold that he has the gift to thwart the evil and tyrannical Lord Business.

Surprisingly, The Lego Movie stands as being one of the best animated movies in recent years, which is all down to a wonderful mix of talent. It boasted the strongest casting of any film this year too, with 2014’s leading man Chris Pratt, the manliest man Nick Offerman and the acting legend Morgan Freeman, to name some.

It is a beautifully constructed piece of work, and whilst it doesn’t necessarily tread new narrative ground, it still feels fresh and unique. It consists of some great underlying themes, such as conformity and individuality, without it being obnoxiously thrown into the viewer’s face. It manages to appeal to almost everyone, with a heart-warming and thoughtful story, which is brought to life with Miller and Lord’s fantastic direction.


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02. Nightcrawler

Director: Dan Gilroy // Link to trailer

Strikingly cool, Nightcrawler is undoubtedly the best thriller of 2014. Starring a gaunt Jake Gyllenhaal, Dan Gilroy’s movie focuses on the subject of crime journalism, and a group of freelance news crews in LA who sell their shocking footage to bidding news stations. Gyllenhaal’s character, the morally ambiguous and manipulative Lou Bloom, is the actor’s most mesmerising performance yet.

Gilroy’s directorial debut is deliciously twisted with its material and Gyllenhaal flourishes as Lou Bloom, and it’s equal in style as it is substance. It’s satirical in nature and as sharp as a razor, as the script never falters with its disturbing content. Of course, it’s primarily character driven, but it’s aided with a decent cast, and a pure visual feast.

As the film progresses, Nightcrawler does a fantastic job of providing some feeling of discomfort, which can be felt during the devastatingly effect final act. The car chase for example, shows Gilroy’s strengths, as cars frantically speed across the LA streets in a frantic sequence, which results in a killer ending.

It is a career best for Gyllenhaal, who has wowed audiences in the past with Donnie Darko, Zodiac and to a lesser extent, Prisoners. The upcoming film Enemy is also another notch on Gyllenhaal’s fantastic filmography. Nightcrawler deserves to be watched, as it’s a no-nonsense, twisted masterpiece.


01. Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

2014’s best film was Richard Linklater’s ground-breaking triumph, which is unlike anything else that has been in cinemas this year. Filmed over the period of 12 years with the same cast, Boyhood is about how one six-year old, Mason, grows into adulthood. It’s an incredible piece of film history, which intimately documents the human condition.

Alongside the main lead Ellar Coltraine, the film also stars Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette as Mason’s divorced parents, who assist as the ideal vehicles for Mason’s journey. The film touches upon all those fond memories of growing up; the first romance, Harry Potter, leaving school, family issues, that first drink and of course, discovering what you really want from life.

Despite the technical achievements of Boyhood, the film can still be recognised as a coming-of-age film that really hits all the right notes. It can resound remarkably well with someone, with its several tender moments, its drama and ultimately, its humanity. Linklater hit the jackpot with Coltraine too, who really manages to ground the film with his natural performance.

The late Roger Ebert once believed that films are machines that generate empathy. They allow you to understand and connect with the feelings of a specific character, and in Boyhood, Ebert’s statement has never been more significant. You get a glimpse of one young man’s transformation, which would not be as effective if Coltraine was replaced throughout the years.

It’s not often that you get to experience something like Boyhood. It’s remarkably condensed into its 166-minute running length, and during that time we are treated to moments of real life moments. It’s truly ambitious and intelligent, and it is Linklater’s finest work to date. There’s no doubt that Boyhood will be recognised for years to come.

 



 

So there we have it, the top 20 films of 2014. It’s been one hell of a year, and in retrospect there are a few movies which will be remembered for their storytelling and craft for some while. Despite not being in this list, there are a number of other movies that should be recognised, such as the unique horror The Babadook, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and perhaps even the ambitious yet flawed Interstellar. There were a few abominations this year too, such as Ninja Turtles and Tammy, and we have had some unfortunate disappointments. Here’s looking at you, The Hobbit: Battle of the Five Armies.

All in all, 2014 was still a great year for film. For a medium that is supposedly dominated by the superhero genre, it’s interesting to see that there’s at least been some diversity, and almost every single one of those superhero films released in 2014 has been received favourably. Fox’s X-Men: Days of Future Past was a refreshing return to the franchise, and Guardians of the Galaxy dominated the box-office this year. It’s interesting to note that The Amazing Spider-man 2 had a decent take this year, but critics opinion is generally split, so it’s future is still unknown.

2015 is surely set to be an explosive affair too, with the return of several franchises. Jurassic World has a June release, with the new Avengers and Terminator being nearby. Also, there’s that new Star Wars film out in December, if anyone’s heard about it. Having said that, there’s sure to be some amazing films which aren’t massive blockbusters. Here’s to the following year.