Tuesday, 30 December 2014

20 Most Anticipated Films of 2015

1) The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Writer/director Joss Whedon blew my mind with the first Avengers film so I am expecting to be equally amazed with the sequel. The main cast including Robert Downey Jr, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans are returning, as well as new faces including Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and James Spader as Ultron.

2) Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
If you are not excited about the new Star Wars film, I do not want to talk to you. The sneak-peak trailer is enticing, some of the cast from the original trilogy are back and there are new cast-members including Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver. Basically, geeks everywhere are rejoicing. Please do not disappoint us, Disney.



3) Jurassic World
I am a little bit obsessed with dinosaurs and Jurassic Park remains one of the best films I have ever seen visually and in terms of its narrative. The trailer for this reboot has intrigued me and Chris Pratt has been on a roll lately so I am thrilled to see this film.

4) Pan
Garrett Hedlund and Hugh Jackman are two of my favourite actors so it should be great to see them together in this Peter Pan story. The trailer is captivating and while director Joe Wright can hit-and-miss at times (everything he has done with Keira Knightley has been dreadful, but Hanna was awesome) I am hoping to find enjoyment in this tale.



5) Terminator: Genisys
Do we need another Terminator film? Not really. Will we all flock to see this film anyway? Yes, probably. Arnie is back and this time the cast also includes Jai Courtney and Emilia Clarke. Director Alan Taylor has made a successful leap from television to film (Game of Thrones to Thor: The Dark World) so the film should be in decent hands.

6) Ant-Man
So much hype and controversy surrounding this film already after a change in directors, but with Paul Rudd in the lead you can expect to be thoroughly entertained. It will be interesting to see how closely it follows the comics.



7) The Man From UNCLE
I am a massive fan of Henry Cavill so I will see anything he is in. Director Guy Ritchie has not produced anything since 2011's Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows but he has assembled a fine cast including Armie Hammer and Hugh Grant. This should be a funny action adventure.

8) Entourage
I loved the television show. Ari Gold, played by Jeremy Piven, is one of the most entertaining characters we have ever seen on television. The trailer for the film did not excite me when it was released recently, but I still hope the story and characters can make a successful transition from television to film.



9) Mad Max: Fury Road
It is great to see this character and story given a new life. I expect Tom Hardy to be his usual brilliant self in this latest instalment. This post-apocalyptic franchise is clearly a passion project for director George Miller.

10) Insurgent
The Divergent series is probably my favourite of all the young adult novels that have become so popular in the past decade. I could not put the books down and the first film was a great start. I have high hopes for the sequel.



11) The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part II
I loved the books but the last film certainly felt like it was cut short so part two should be a fitting conclusion to the heroic tale.

12) Magic Mike XXL
Channing Tatum, Joe Manganiello and Matt Bomer will probably spend most of the film stripping. What more do we need?

13) Inherent Vice
This film, which is based on a novel, is getting a lot of buzz in the United States. It stars Joaquin Phoenix and Josh Brolin.

14) The Hateful Eight
Quentin Tarantino. That is the only incentive I need. There was a lot of controversy about a leaked script but that is in the past now. I try to know as little as possible about a Tarantino film before I see it. All I know is it is a western about bounty hunters and that is all I need to know for now.

15) Fifty Shades of Grey
I read the books and did not enjoy them – it was more of an exercise is perseverance to finish the trilogy – but there is so much hype surrounding the film, I cannot help but be curious.



16) The Longest Ride
Readers of my blog should know by now that I am a Nicholas Sparks fan and this novel was so sweet. I am hopeful that this film adaptation will be good, with Scott Eastwood in the lead role.

17) Spectre
Social media almost broke down when details about the latest James Bond film were announced. The previous instalment was very impressive, so I expect the same of this one. Director Sam Mendes and leading man Daniel Craig are back, along with new cast-members including Christoph Waltz and Ralph Fiennes.

18) Chappie
Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver star in this Neill Blomkamp film about robots. Looks action-packed.

19) Tomorrowland
It is science fiction and it has George Clooney in it. I barely know much more about it, but it does not even matter.

20) In The Heart of the Sea
Ron Howard has directed this film starring Chris Hemsworth so soon after working with him on Rush. This looks like it will be a visual spectacle. 


What films are you looking forward to seeing in 2015?

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Best and Worst Films of 2014

It has been yet another great year for film and while I saw more than 100 new releases, there were so many more that I missed. My lists are based on the Australian release schedule.

Here is my list of the 10 best films of 2014:

10) Inside Llewyn Davis

This Joel and Ethan Coen film is a road trip story with a difference. It chronicles the life of a musician in the 1960s and has great performances from Oscar Isaac, Garrett Hedlund and Carey Mulligan. The film is a fascinating character study about an anti-hero dreaming of success in the music industry.

9) Her

I do not care how odd Joaquin Phoenix is, he is a phenomenal actor and he carries Spike Jonze's romantic film so well. Her is thought-provoking and moving. Its message about our reliance on technology will linger with you for a long time after seeing it.



8) The Grand Budapest Hotel

I absolutely adored every minute of this whimsical Wes Anderson film about the adventures of a concierge and a lobby boy between the World Wars. It is very funny and quirky, and has a large cast of talented actors in small but memorable roles. Ralph Fiennes is so charismatic and delightful to watch.

7) 12 Years A Slave

I have a controversial opinion about this film. I did not think it should have won best picture at the Academy Awards and I did not think its story was particularly unique. That being said, it is still very well made, has some great performances, especially by Lupita Nyong'o and Michael Fassbender, and has a powerful message about slavery and humanity.



6) Bad Neighbours

Yes, I am putting a comedy on my list, because it is hilarious and we all need some laughs to balance out the drama. This film will not win Oscars, but it is the best kind of escapism. Bad Neighbours is about a couple with a baby trying to deal with a house next door full of partying college boys. Seth Rogen and Zac Efron were brilliant but it was Rose Byrne who stole many scenes as a smart and ridiculously funny leading lady.

5) Guardians of the Galaxy

Chris Pratt is amusing and entertaining, while Zoe Saldana presented a strong woman on the big screen. Director/co-writer James Gunn took some very different Marvel characters and gave us absolute gold. A fantastic soundtrack of 70's and 80's music too.



4) Nymphomaniac: Volume I and II

This film said so much about sex, relationships, eroticism and love. It chronicles the sexually adventurous life of a woman who talks about her experiences with a man after he saves her from a beating in the street. Great performances, especially from Charlotte Gainsbourg and Stellan Skarsgard. Be warned, the film has some borderline pornographic scenes, particularly in volume II. Writer/director Lars von Trier has always pushed the boundaries and this is probably his most confronting film yet.

3) Gone Girl

I was obsessed with Gillian Flynn's novel and the film was almost flawless. Director David Fincher added his signature darkness to this already brooding psychological thriller and Rosamund Pike was a revelation in the leading role. Ben Affleck was also exactly how I imagined the male lead to be. You will certainly walk away from this film questioning how well you know the people in your life.



2) X-Men: Days of Future Past

This is what a superhero action film is supposed to be. With a cast including Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence and so many more, this is definitely the ensemble of the year. Bryan Singer, who directed the first two films in the original trilogy, returned for this project, while writer Simon Kinberg did a great job of adapting the comic with some tweaks to mould the two X-Men eras together perfectly. I cannot wait for the next film in the franchise.

1) Wolf of Wall Street

A great book, an equally fantastic film from legendary director Martin Scorsese. It is an unbelievable true story about Jordan Belfort's debauched lifestyle of drugs, sex and corruption. The film was absolutely hilarious, as well as having an important moral lesson. I still believe Leonardo DiCaprio should have won a best actor Oscar for his performance.




Honourable mentions:

- Boyhood
It was an innovative idea to make a film using the same actors over 12 years. It is also a very good coming of age story.

- Saving Mr Banks
I am probably in the minority here, but Emma Thompson blew me away and made me cry in this film about Walt Disney and Mary Poppins.

- Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal is creepy and dark in this thriller, which says a lot about the possible terrifying future of journalism.

- The Book Thief
It was always going to be difficult to adapt the novel, but the film did not lose any of its heart and remained a tear-jerker.

- Fury
A fantastic film about war and brotherhood. Controversy around the so-called "rape" scene should not deter you.

- Begin Again
Mark Ruffalo should be in everything. This film is so uplifting and sweet, while also making a statement about the music industry.





I am happy to say that I managed to notice some terrible films coming from a mile away and did not even bother seeing many of them. But there are always some that slip past the keeper.

Here is my list of the five worst films of 2014:

5) Grace of Monaco
Poor Nicole Kidman had so little to work with, such a terrible script.

4) A Most Wanted Man
This is definitely my most controversial choice on this list. I was bored throughout the whole film and even the "twists" along the way were unsatisfying.

3) Serena
What was Jennifer Lawrence thinking? I want to forget this film ever existed.

2) Blended
I think it is well and truly time we all give up on Adam Sandler ever producing a half-decent comedy ever again.

1) Winter's Tale
I had so much hope for this film but it went off the tracks so many times. Such a mess.


What are your best and worst films of 2014?

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

WRITTEN BY: Peter Jackson
DIRECTED BY: Peter Jackson
STARRING: Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ian McKellen, Luke Evans, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly
RATING: 3 stars

In the final instalment of the Hobbit films, we see the final chapters of J. R. R. Tolkien's book brought to the screen. The problem, which was established in the original film and remains true to the end, is that we do not need three films to tell the story and it would have packed a far stronger punch had it been condensed into one, or maybe two, films. Due to the nature of what happens in those final chapters, Bilbo (Martin Freeman) is not in the film enough because it is focussed so much on a battle involving various characters who are all given way too much screen time. True Hobbit fans could talk your ear off whining about the changes made to suit the film including additional characters and scenes. But those fans and people unfamiliar with the book can still find some enjoyment in the series. Like its predecessors, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is visually spectacular and for many, that it all that matters. 



Friday, 19 December 2014

Unbroken

WRITTEN BY: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
DIRECTED BY: Angelina Jolie
STARRING: Jack O'Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock
RATING: 4 stars

Much has been said about Unbroken because it is Angelina Jolie's second attempt at directing a feature film and she was very close to the subject of the film, former Olympian and prisoner of war Louie Zamperini, before he died. Throughout her extensive publicity for the film, Jolie has been outspoken about her hero worship of Louie, so it is clear that the film is a passion project for her. Unfortunately, while his story is remarkable, it is not a drastically different prisoner of war experience than we have seen before. In fact, there have been many films in recent years that explore similar themes of forgiveness rather than revenge, such as The Railway Man. Nonetheless, Unbroken has some added intrigue because of who Louie was before he became a prisoner of war. Ultimately, Unbroken is a well-made film with breathtaking cinematography and a near-perfect cast. It just lacks some originality.

Louie (Jack O’Connell) is a troubled child but finds success as a runner, eventually representing the United States at the Olympics in Germany during Adolf Hitler's reign. Louie later joins World War II, but after a plane crash, he is left stranded on a life boat with only a few survivors. After a gruelling experience in the middle of nowhere, Louie finds himself in a Japanese prison camp where he is singled out because of his athletic fame and must overcome more obstacles to survive.

The film is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book and has been worked on by four screenwriters including Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, but it does not feel like it has been overworked with too many ideas. In fact, Jolie does a good job of reining everything in. That being said, the film is a little too long and some of the longer takes could have been trimmed without losing effect.

O'Connell gives a brave performance and carries the film wonderfully. He is supported by a cast of strong actors including Garrett Hedlund who portrays a commander in the war camp who mentors Louie, as well as Domhall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock who present soldiers reacting very differently to their plight after the plane crash as they endure extreme thirst and hunger. Many of the cast members lost considerable weight to portray their characters and they all worked well together. Miyavi also appears in his first acting role and has some difficult moments on screen playing such a hard and vicious Japanese man running the prison.

Jolie has repeatedly said in the press that Unbroken is less about war, and more about the human spirit and forgiveness. Indeed, it is that powerful message that audiences can take home after seeing this film. 






Thursday, 18 December 2014

The Water Diviner

WRITTEN BY: Andrew Knight, Andrew Anastasios
DIRECTED BY: Russell Crowe
STARRING: Russell Crowe, Olga Kurylenko, Jai Courtney, Yilmaz Erdogan,
Cem Yilmaz
RATING: 3.5 stars

The Anzac spirit was born out of the battle at Gallipoli during World War I, so it is great to see a film pay homage to Australia's war heroes on the 100th anniversary. What is so important about The Water Diviner, written by Andrew Knight and Andrew Anastasios, is that it also includes the tragedy of war from the Turkish point of view. There are facts and figures spread throughout the film in a subtle way to make audiences realise (in case the point had not been drilled into every Australian enough at school) that the battle at Gallipoli was an amazing story worth retelling time and time again for both sides. The Anzacs fought against all odds in rough terrain and the Turkish held their ground strongly. Thousands of Australians died, but so many more Turkish soldiers died on that land. The Water Diviner takes that momentous battle and focuses on one man and his journey to find his three sons who were lost to him at Anzac Cove. Any film that highlights the devastating and inspiring story of the Anzacs is worth seeing.

Connor (Russell Crowe) is a simple country man with three sons and a wife. But when his boys leave home to fight in Gallipoli during World War I, his whole life changes. Believing their sons have died in the war, Connor and his wife struggle to move on. So after the war ends and the recovery of bodies begins, Connor makes the journey to Turkey to find his sons' remains. He enlists the help of several people along the way including Ayshe (Olga Kurylenko) who runs a small hotel and her son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades). The pair are also in denial about their personal loss in the war.

Crowe's feature film directorial debut has some obvious problems, including some very lame moments in the story and an embarrassing use of slow-motion. Also, some of the characters cast as Turkish are clearly not even close to resembling the race, so it is a bit jarring at times. However, the two lead Turkish male characters are Turkish actors and they are brilliant. Yilmaz Erdogan plays Major Hasan who is both likeable but also realistically harsh at times as the story slowly reveals his background and connection to Connor. Meanwhile, Cem Yilmaz portrays a far more hardened man in Jemal who is more deeply disturbed by his experiences during the war. Crowe's acting is also very good and he has good chemistry with Kurylenko who is much more than a pretty face. Additionally, Georgiades is an adorable choice for Orhan in just his second acting role. Jai Courtney appears as the man leading the recovery of the remains and he too gives a solid performance. The cinematography is also gorgeous and depicts Turkey well.

While The Water Diviner certainly has issues, its heart is totally in the right place.





Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Wild

WRITTEN BY: Nick Hornby
DIRECTED BY: Jean-Marc Vallée
STARRING: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski
RATING: 4 stars

Whenever a film explores a person's inner struggles and journey of self-discovery, we often see a lot of the same themes and ideas coming across. However, that does not make these films any less interesting to watch. Who does not love a story about a person overcoming personal tragedy and learning about who they are? In Wild, which is based on Cheryl Strayed's memoir, we get a great performance from Reese Witherspoon who carries most of the film on her own. It also has a poignant moral to the story and there are some very tense scenes to keep you on the edge of your seat, including several run-ins with men in which the audience's fear grows that she may be raped. The drama is also balanced out with some well-timed comedic moments.

With a script penned by Nick Hornby, Wild chronicles Cheryl's (Witherspoon) solo 1100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail in an attempt to refresh her life and get away from the bad choices and personal tragedies in her past. As her travels progress, the audience is shown a series of flashbacks to moments in Cheryl's life that have led her to taking this hike - and some of the decisions she has made are surprising.

Aside from Witherspoon's stellar performance, Thomas Sadoski appears as her forgiving ex-husband, who unfortunately seems a little too saintly despite displaying some bitterness. He did not feel like a believable character considering everything she puts him through. Laura Dern is more convincing as Cheryl's self-destructive mother who is also incredibly sweet and sad. Somehow the fact that Dern is not old enough to be Witherspoon's mother does not hinder either of their performances or the story.

Ultimately, Wild is a good, if not particularly unique, film. It just would have had a stronger impact if it had been about 20 minutes shorter. 


Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Boyhood

WRITTEN BY: Richard Linklater
DIRECTED BY: Richard Linklater
STARRING: Ella Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke, Lorelai Linklater
RATING: 4 stars

Boyhood is definitely one of the most unique films of 2014 because it was filmed over 12 years with the lead role going to a young boy who grows up over that period on screen. It is a brave move by director Richard Linklater to persevere with the idea over so many years and it is even more exceptional that such an idea received any funding at all. Of course, it is still a small budget film and its leading actors were not at the top of their game when they signed on for the film. 

Mason (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater) live with their mother (Patricia Arquette) and spend every second weekend with their father (Ethan Hawke). Over the years, we see them grow up and experience different things in life including domestic violence, schooling woes, hobbies, sex, drugs and family bonding.

The entire cast is convincing and that helps ground the film. Boyhood will certainly go down as a ground-breaking film because of its structure, but it is also a captivating story.



Tuesday, 9 December 2014

The Captive

WRITTEN BY: Atom Egoyan
DIRECTED BY: Atom Egoyan
STARRING: Ryan Reynolds, Rosario Dawson, Scott Speedman, Mireille Enos, Kevin Durand
RATING: 3.5 stars

The Captive reminded me a little bit of Prisoners with its theme of kidnapping - it just was not as good. However, it does have an interesting take on the abduction story and is quite fascinating in its study of humanity including how we deal with grief, child pornography rings and the way we portray our lives online. Writer/director Atom Egoyan does a great job of creatively jumping back and forth in the timeline to add intrigue. Just make sure you pay attention, or you will get confused.

On the way home from skating practice, Matthew (Ryan Reynolds) and his daughter Cass (Peyton Kennedy) stop briefly at a roadside diner. Matthew leaves Cass lying down in the backseat and goes inside for a few minutes, but when he returns, she is gone. Eight years later, Matthew and his wife Tina (Mireille Enos) are still struggling to move on. Detectives Nicole Dunlop (Rosario Dawson) and Jeff Cornwall (Scott Speedman) are not giving up on the case either after strange clues start to appear that suggest Cass, now aged 17 (Alexia Fast), is still alive.

Reynolds and Enos are both very good, playing parents dealing with their loss very differently. Enos is particularly emotional, while Reynolds is given a rare opportunity to show off his acting ability displaying frustration and heartache. But it is Dawson who steals every scene she is in, encouraging empathy while also being a gutsy detective. Speedman has some striking moments too as a more hardened detective, and Kevin Durand is super creepy in his unique portrayal of the villainous Mika.

Ultimately, The Captive is worth seeing just because it is an unusual thriller in the way it tells its story and its depiction of the perpetrator's point of view.


Sunday, 7 December 2014

Exodus: Gods and Kings

WRITTEN BY: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian
DIRECTED BY: Ridley Scott
STARRING: Christian Bale, Joel Edgerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul, John Turturro
RATING: 2.5 stars

Moses rising up against Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses to free the slaves after a series of plagues is one of the most well-known Biblical stories, so it is perhaps a little odd that we would get yet another retelling of the story on film. Unlike Noah, which gave audiences a different take on that religious saga, Exodus: Gods and Kings mostly just goes through the motions. It has been directed by stellar film-maker Ridley Scott, so of course, the spectacle factor gets two thumbs up. Unfortunately, the film is far too long and a poor script from Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Jeffrey Caine and Steven Zaillian lets everyone down. I recall watching cartoons of this very same story as a child that only ran for 20 minutes, so I'm not sure why the film needed to be dragged out to 150 minutes. Ultimately, Exodus: Gods and Kings is visually stunning in parts, but that is all it really offers.

Christian Bale is impressive as Moses, seeming effortless in his portrayal of a strong but also vulnerable protagonist. He is abandoned by Ramses (Joel Edgerton) when his Herbrew heritage is revealed and his character arc is long and important as he strives for justice. Meanwhile, Edgerton gets to wear the best regal costumes and throw tantrums, which he must have relished. While he gives a good performance, he looks strange with the Egyptian make-up and it was distracting at times. However, his relationship with his son gives the character depth. Ben Mendelsohn is also entertaining as the slimy Hegep, intent on gaining more power. Minor roles have also been given to distinguished actors including Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Ben Kingsley but they each have so little to work with and that is such a shame. John Turturro also has a small role as Ramses' father and his is one of the more likeable characters.

The film is at its strongest during the epic plague scenes including crocodiles, frogs, maggots, flies and locusts. Some of the images are quite graphic and the sound effects are haunting. The parting of the sea before the wall of water comes crashing down on the chariots is also brilliant, especially in 3D. The depiction of God as a child may cause some controversy, but I think it worked well. In fact, these aspects of the film work so well that had it been better edited to run half an hour shorter, perhaps the film could have been more entertaining overall.


Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Imitation Game

WRITTEN BY: Graham Moore
DIRECTED BY: Morten Tyldum 
STARRING: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, Matthew Goode, Charles Dance
RATING: 4 stars

My initial reaction to The Imitation Game was all positive. It is an intriguing story with a solid cast and a touching tribute to an important man in history. Unfortunately, after doing some research into the truth behind the real story, I realised that the film had taken more than a few liberties with the tale. However, despite the string of inaccuracies, The Imitation Game remains a fascinating and enjoyable film. 

Mathematician Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) applies for a job as a code-breaker for the British government during World War Two. During his interview with Commander Denniston (Charles Dance), Alan reveals he is not there as a patriot, but rather, he wants a chance to solve the world’s most difficult puzzle, the German Enigma. Seeming almost autistic (which he was not in real life) and rudely arrogant, Alan immediately alienates his colleagues, led by the suave and intelligent Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). Alan wants to build a machine that will crack the Enigma so that the Allies can intercept their plans and end the war. He also enlists the help of fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley).

Graham Moore has written the screenplay based on a book by Andrew Hodges. The film jumps back and forth in time depicting the war, Alan's childhood and life after the war when he is investigated for homosexuality, which was a crime in England at the time. The structure works well to provide greater insight into Alan's life. Director Morten Tyldum does a great job of balancing those moments without ruining the flow of the narrative. 

Cumberbatch wonderfully portrays Alan's heartaches and quirky personality. It is one of his best performances to date. Knightley has a vital role as the only really significant female in the film and she has great chemistry with Cumberbatch in their odd romance. Goode is all charisma and Dance is appropriately gruff, while Mark Strong is delightful to watch in a small role as a secret agent. 

The Imitation Game certainly has flaws, but it is such compelling viewing that even if it were an entirely fictitious story, it would be just as enjoyable as knowing that many of the key events and turmoil in the film actually happened.