Monday 24 December 2012

Review: Life of Pi

I've never been to see a film before in the hope that it would be completely and utterly average, but I did for Life of Pi, just for the sake of the cheap gag of giving the film 3.14 out of 5. Unfortunately for me however, the film was simply wonderful!

Based on the novel of the same name, director Ang Lee's Life of Pi tells the remarkable story of Pi (Suraj Sharma), a young man whose family owns a zoo in India. When the family decide to move the zoo around the world, a disastrous storm that hits their ship leaves young Pi stranded overboard in a small life boat, all alone. Or so he thought, and as the realisation hits that a tiger is also aboard the boat, Pi's difficult challenge to survive becomes that little bit less likely...

Life of Pi: That film with the tiger in a boat!

Undoubtedly you will be aware of Life of Pi as to say that the marketing campaign for it has been extensive would be an understatement - the film is everywhere! Adverts have been playing on TV for weeks, just about every film for the last half of the year has had the trailer attached to it, most of the buses driving around the country are plasters with posters, and even the film itself starts with a small advert telling the audience to spread the word after experiencing what they defined as 'the phenomenon' via facebook and #lifeofpi! The marketing truly has been remarkable for this film, and it's easy to understand why; two words - 'The Hobbit.' With such a big franchise film released just one week earlier, a film like this is easy to miss; but quite frankly it really shouldn't be.

One of the quotes that you will have probably seen written everywhere on all of the advertising calls the film 'the next Avatar,' and it's not difficult to see why. The visual effect are nothing short of breathtakingly beautiful, with a lot of the film implementing a largely CGI environment flawlessly. One problem that I often find with films that depend on the use of CGI too heavily is that I can become very aware that it is in fact just a load of computer graphics as the technology tends to age quickly and stick out like a sore thumb, losing a sense of attachment and taking me out of the film as it reminds me that I am watching just that - a film. This is often a very big off-put for me, yet the CGI used in Life of Pi, bar a few animals that did look like computer animations, was flawless. The almost fantasy-like world created by the special effects team is nothing short of breathtaking, and a well deserved pat on the back is certainly in order. But it's not all about impressive CGI effects - who really goes to a film for that!? The effects in Life of Pi are so beautiful however that they actually made me more engaged within the world of the film. Particular shots are so incredibly beautiful that they created a strong emotional response just looking at them. The film is like a piece of art work; not an art film, it's still very much a mainstream piece, but it really is breathtaking to look at - and although it hasn't been released in IMAX, this would have been the perfect film for it.

 One of my favourite shots from the beautiful film: Life of Pi.

But perhaps more importantly, let us not forget the tiger! As Pi and the comically named tiger (I shan't spoil the gag for those who don't know) are essentially the two leading characters, it is important that the tiger is created well with the CGI (for obvious reasons using a real tiger was out of the question) so that the audience can experience an emotional response to the relationship and peril that the film explores. What comes as a result is perhaps the most convincing piece of CGI that I have ever seen in film. The tiger is brought to life so well, that I actually forgot that it was CGI, and although I knew that it obviously was, I even at times had to question whether or not they actually used a real tiger. If the film wins anything this awards season, it'll certainly be for these technical achievements.

The story itself is like a spiritual version of Cast Away on a life boat with a tiger! That may not be what they'll print on the posters, but who doesn't want to see that film!? Pi's story is extraordinary - the film is engaging, captivating, magical and moving - it's nothing short of wonderful. It isn't based on any true events, but a big theme of the film asks the question of just how much can you believe, and what you should believe, bringing in big ideas, themes and questions about spirituality and religion. Life of Pi is very much at its heart a spiritual coming of age tale about a boy, confused by the many different religions and their multiple ideas and teachings, becoming a man and finding the answers that he is searching for. Perhaps that isn't your thing, and if it isn't then you still have a tiger in a boat, but for those who care to look a little deeper, the film will give you a fair bit to think about. This is where it suddenly loses the 'next Avatar' title, by becoming something far greater than just pretty special effects.

Pi (Suraj Sharma) has a spiritual search for his maker in Life of Pi.

The effects are extraordinary, the story is captivating, and the film is well paced and at a good length (it's not too short, it's not too long, it ends exactly when it needs to), but I do have one nagging problem with the film in amongst all of this praise. Life of Pi has been released in 3D (as I'm sure will come as no shock to you), with the advertisements for it putting a lot of emphasis on that fact to make you go and see it for a higher premium (hence 'the next Avatar' quote). However I chose to see it in 2D in order to appreciate the great attention to detail and vivid colour that the film clearly boasts but would lose a lot of behind a pair of 3D glasses. As I was happily watching the film, mid way through the aspect ratio suddenly changed from filling the entire screen to wide-screen letterbox for one particular sequence, then again later to an even smaller size from another shot. Whilst Ang Lee replied in an interview on that he chose to do this because "I've always wanted to do that... since film school, and no one allowed me to," I just feel that it is a bad move (although fair play to the guy for giving it a shot). What it does, perhaps even more so for 2D audiences, is to take you out of the film. The sudden change of the aspect ratio makes you question whether perhaps something has gone wrong with the projector as it's so abnormal and sudden, thereby reminding you that it's only a film and taking you out of the moment as a result. It's nothing more than a cheap 3D gimmick (in this case to make something look like it is jumping out of the screen), and personally I couldn't care less about it - hence watching the film in 2D. No-one else does Mr. Lee, and perhaps for good reason too; why bring an imperfection to such a wonderful film?

Ang Lee's beautiful adventure Life of Pi is a true spectacle of cinema. It will make you laugh, smile, jump, think, and maybe even cry a little as you watch a stunningly visual piece of modern cinema. Call it 'the next Avatar' if you will, but the film brings a lot more depth than that, and I'm not talking about the cheap 3D gimmicks that slightly dampen what is otherwise a fantastic piece. I'm not sure if it has what it takes to bag the best picture awards come awards season, but of the films released in the build up to it, Life of Pi certainly has a fair shot - but regardless, it's a wonderful family film and my pick of the Christmas Holiday releases this year.

Verdict: 5/5

Life of Pi (certificate PG) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Life of Pi? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Sunday 16 December 2012

Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Fans may have been waiting nearly ten years for The Hobbit to finally be adapted for the big screen, but this prequel to The Lord of the Rings is never late, nor is it early, it has arrived precisely when it meant to - well almost! The road for the filmmakers and the fans has been nearly as long as the one Bilbo Baggins is just about to embark upon himself, with changing directors and studio crises aplenty, but now that it's finally here the big question will be answered: was it all worth the wait?

The first instalment of Peter Jackson's LOTR prequel trilogy, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, sees familiar Hobbit face Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) embark on an adventure with wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) and a group of Dwarves to reclaim an ancient treasure taken from the Dwarves by the dragon Smaug. Along the way, the fellowship must encounter numerous creatures, challenges and threats, as well as a familiar face or two from The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, including a certain motion-captured Gollum (Andy Serkis), who just so happens to be in possession of a certain ring of power! The journey will be long and perilous, and it has only just begun...

Home, Sweet Home.

This one is going to be a bit trickier than most of my reviews, for as you'd probably expect it's difficult to review a film that you've only seen 1/3 of! Of course I did see the whole of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey - I didn't get annoyed and walk out an hour in or anything - but in the grand scheme of things this is just the first of three films that will make up the film adaptation of The Hobbit, and much like The Lord of the Rings Trilogy I expect that the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts. Unlike other great film trilogies, like Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy for instance, the three films form the beginning, middle and end to Bruce Wayne's story, but each film is its own individual piece that can be watched without necessarily needing the others. Whereas in the case of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings the tree parts form just one continuous story, making it difficult to fully appreciate just one of the films as a standalone piece. So for those asking the popular question 'is it as good as The Lord of Rings?' - come back and ask me summer 2014!

As for part one of The Hobbit, fans of Peter Jackson's LOTR trilogy should feel what I felt; a sense of coming home. Returning to the world of Middle-Earth is nothing short of a nostalgic pleasure, jumping back down the Hobbit hole into the shire brought back the warm sense of homeliness established over a decade ago - I was back where I wanted to be, I was back home. Peter Jackson continues his cinematic argument that New Zealand is the most beautiful place in the world, with stunning vistas of wide fields, streams, mountains, forests and the like bringing the adventure well and truly to life. It all seems so familiar, with thanks in part to Peter Jackson returning to the helm to give the a film stylistic consistency with LOTR (whilst I'd have been fascinated to have seen how Guillermo Del Toro would have handled The Hobbit when he was set to direct it, I am glad to see Jackson back for this reason), and also with the return of a number of key members of the original cast too. I shan't give away all of the returning characters for those who don't know, but as you'll probably already be aware Ian McKellen returns in fine form as the lovable wizard Gandalf the Grey, and Andy Serkis steals the entire film with his reprisal of the iconic character Gollum in the best sequence of the entire film. But let us not forget the newer members of the cast too, with Martin Freeman effortlessly bringing life to Bilbo Baggins, and the ensemble of Dwarves forming a similar pleasure to be around too.

Andy Serkis steals the show once again by reprising his 'precious' role as Gollum

However, all is not well down in Middle-Earth. Whilst a Hobbit may be short, The Hobbit is not, in fact just like the epic trilogy that it is a precursor to, An Unexpected Journey is just short of a 3 hour running time. The film is very long, and at a number of points it does take it's time, which is good in some respects as it allows the us to fully explore the characters and plots of the film, but at times it is drawn out far too much to become unnecessary and a little tedious. This is where the maths doesn't quite add up: The Lord of the Rings is 3 books and 1077 pages long, where as The Hobbit is just 1 book and 255 pages long. So if there are 3 LOTR films each approximately 3 hours long, logically there should not be 3 Hobbit films at the same length if the tale is that much shorter. The Hobbit would benefit from a much shorter running time, as the film does not need as much time as the much bigger, more eventful Lord of the Rings Trilogy needs. They may be linked by certain characters, locations and events, but these are two very different stories. The Hobbit is a much more family based tale (with characters like Radagast the Brown and his cute woodland friends illustrating that point precisely), and the question needs to be asked: how many children can sit through such a long film?

This point extends further into the film's classification of a 12A, with some very dark moments and creatures that may not appropriate for the younger potential audience members. In this sense the film seems confused between deciding what it wants to be: the separate and more family orientated tale of The Hobbit, or the dark and foreboding precursor to The Lord of the Rings. However as I touched upon earlier, it was the prequel nature of the film that made it so enjoyable for me. As you'd expect the film ends on the cliff-hanger of the further journey ahead, and with certain elements of the LOTR trilogy already in place, I left the cinema in anticipatory excitement not only for the next chapter of The Hobbit story, but also to see how this will further lead into the events of The Lord of the Rings. The film ends on an exciting high note that will make the year long wait for The Desolation of Smaug a painful one.

Bilbo and the Dwarves face their greatest challenge yet - the long wait for the sequel!

The film is structured around - as readers of the book may already be familiar with - a series of mini-adventures that Bilbo and the gang encounter on their grand adventure to rescue the lost treasure. My main criticism toward this is that it does feel like something more appropriate for a television mini-series than to a film, with an episodic structure that would work on the smaller screen similar to something like Band of Brothers (with 10 1 hour episodes that make up the whole story) - breaking up the long run-time and making it more accessible to the family audience. It is also worth mentioning with all the hype and controversy surrounding the film being shot at 48 frames per second (rather than the standard 24fps) that I did see the film in 24fps 3D so cannot comment upon this matter, but I have heard several people saying that watching it at 48 gives the film a television feel (as TV is broadcast at a higher frame rate), further adding to that idea. (If I get the chance to view the film at 48fps as I hope to at some point, I shall update this section.)

EDIT: Debate 48. Well I had the opportunity to see the film again the other day in HFR (High Frame Rate) 3D and it's an odd experience I have to say. First of all the fluidity and the sense of higher definition hit me straight away as the Warner Bros. logo flew onto the screen at the very start of the film. However from the very first shots of the film problems very quickly began to appear for me. I personally  found through watching The Hobbit that in some cases the effect of seeing 48fps made things look like they were moving at double speed, in particular dynamic moving shots, close-up shots, short shots, and shots with a lot going on in them. As other people have said it can also give the effect as if you're watching live TV too, and I also felt this, as well as some shots (often unsteady ones) looking like home video footage. For a lot of the film it wasn't too bad, but quite often the same side effects would return to haunt me throughout. Perhaps this was just me, if you saw it at 48fps too then I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below - nonetheless, I've yet to be won over by HFR films...

It has been a long wait for fans of Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Trilogy and readers of J.R.R. Tolkien's classic novel, but finally The Hobbit has arrived. Despite some problems with the film's running time and plots that cause it to drag at times, fans should feel a sense of pleasure in returning to the wonderful visual worlds and inhabitants of Middle-Earth after such a long time. Perhaps not as masterful as the LOTR Trilogy, An Unexpected Journey gets off to a bumpy but promising start for the rest of the films with scene stealing moments with Gollum and a foreboding cliff-hanger, but we'll have to wait until Summer 2014 when the final piece is released before we can see the bigger picture and decide just how good this prequel trilogy really is. One thing is for sure though: this Christmas, it'll be the film that everyone is Tolkien about...

Verdict: 4/5

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen the first instalment of The Hobbit Trilogy? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Saturday 15 December 2012

VOTE NOW! For the 2013 Beyond Infinities...

As the end of 2012 quickly approaches, and the film world is gearing up for the impending awards season, a new awards ceremony is about to arrive. Forget the Oscars, I'm of course talking about The First Annual Beyond Infinity Film Awards - otherwise know as The 2013 Beyond Infinities!* The Beyond Infinities will take place sometime early next January, and will commemorate the achievements in films released in the UK between January 1st and December 31st 2012 (or rather, the ones that I actually managed to see). But until then, I need your help...

I have decided to give you - the beautiful, smart and talented Beyond Infinity Film readers - a chance to get your voice heard for one of the categories. Ooh, how exciting!? The category in question is for Most Anticipated Film of 2013, and there are 10 nominees for you to choose from. Simply scroll down to the poll below, make your choice, and submit it - it couldn't be simpler! You have until Monday 31st December to cast your votes, and then the winner shall be announced on the day of the awards itself (date to be confirmed).

So what are you waiting for? It's time to get voting, and may the best film win...

*Poll Closed. Thank you for voting.*

(*The BIFAs acronym was already taken by the British Independent Film Awards - oops!)

Keep your eyes peeled for the for the First Annual Beyond Infinity Film Awards early next January, where all the award winners will be announced...

Thursday 6 December 2012

Review: End Of Watch

End of Watch follows the story of two L.A. Police officers (Gyllenhaal and Peña) as they face the day to day trials and responsibilities of their job. Whilst the two guys are just carrying out routine, some local criminal gangs have however formed a grudge against the two cops after they stick their nose into their business one time too many, and set out to rid of the duo for good.

Watching the trailer for End of Watch (embedded below) may leave you expecting a fully blown-out action spectacle that focuses of guns, fights, chases and drug gangs more than anything else (which, don’t get me wrong, are most definitely present throughout the film). Yet the film is in fact more than just that. The focus on the film – which forms the driving force and the heart and soul of it all - lies within the idea of the adopted brotherhood between the two police officers. The casting of Gyllenhaal and Peña is a brilliant one, with the actors providing two very good performances as two men who are culturally very different, but are connected by a unique central relationship that comes through the roles and pressures of their job: the strong theme of brotherhood in the service, and the responsibilities of looking after another man's life whilst venturing together into the dangers of the world. The film takes its time to explore this relationship in depth in order to create a moving emotional core as you become very quickly attached to the two men and both the ordinary and extraordinary sides of their lives. This also forms the basis of the element of humour that pulses through the film (which makes scenes of the pair simply driving around the city highlights of the film), and a definite homoerotic undercurrent that brings the film closer to being a buddy movie/bromance than the advertised crime action thriller.

The heart and soul of the film lies in these simpler moments.

Yet as enjoyable as it is to watch the relationship between these two actors develop and respond to the surroundings, the film is more than slightly flawed: it's all over the place!

Stylistically, End of Watch never seems to quite decide what it actually wants to be. The film opens with Gyllenhaal's character breaking the fourth wall by talking to the camera, establishing the idea that the film is being shot by him (with a handheld camcorder and other supporting cameras hidden on shirts and in the car) for a college project in his spare time; promising a found footage film. This idea is extended with the occasional footage from gang members being shot on home video cameras too. It doesn't take long, however, for that notion to unravel as more types of shots that can't possibly have been shot by the characters start to appear through a conventional documentary style approach that creates a mockumentary feel. Then there are moments throughout the film that seem to forget both of these ideas and adopt the standard Hollywood fiction style of shooting. And as if that wasn't enough, certain scenes - especially toward the film's climax - implement POV video game style shots from the firing end of a gun (resembling something that you'd see in a Call of Duty game): confused? Exactly!

The found footage idea provides an interesting concept, that quickly descends into a confused and annoying mess.

All of this goes on to further unravel the realistic approach that the filmmakers clearly intended to achieve with End of Watch. The idea of realism is crucial to the film as it makes the emotional connection that we establish with the two male protagonists even stronger. It is the use of the found footage/mockumentary approach that allows us as the audience to feel closer to the characters and understand them more as we gain full access to the personal lives of fictional beings that are presented as real life people. However, the opposite effect is often evoked as a result of the found footage shots. The fact that we see some of the gang members inexplicably filming their criminal activities through town on a camcorder (the footage of which was obtained how exactly?), and the fact that Gyllenhaal's video project seems to go on for months, if not years, makes you realise through these unrealistic moments that you are in fact just watching a fictional film. To further that point, the POV video game shots in fact undermine the entire point of the film by putting you into the two cops' shoes; placing you into the moment, as opposed to focusing intimately on the relationship between the two cop characters that the film should have achieved instead.

End of Watch promises a police action thriller, surprises and pleases with an intimate character study between two male L.A.P.D cops, but ultimately disappoints with both style and substance that's all over the place. The problem lies within the film's divide between the real and unbelievable; a documentary style built up considerably by found footage shots allow us to get up close and personal within the lives of the characters, but often reminds you that you are merely watching a fictional piece with the unrealistic explanations for the shots found within the narrative. In the end, End of Watch becomes confused with its unrealistic and forced over-the-top action set pieces (put in to please the masses) being placed next to the slower tempo realistic shots which in turn feel unbelievable as a result. Despite an entertaining and emotive performance from two strong leads, End of Watch wants and attempts to be many things, but ultimately suffers for trying to be all of them at the same time.

Verdict: 3/5

End of Watch (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen End of Watch? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Sunday 25 November 2012

Review: Argo

Ben Affleck directs and stars as CIA agent Tony Mendez in his latest film Argo. Based on the true life events surrounding the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, Argo tells the remarkable story of the joint mission between the CIA and the Canadian Government to rescue 6 US diplomats from Iran before they get found by the Iranian militants who are pursuing them after escaping from the attacked embassy. After an intense period of brainstorming, the team realise that no idea is a good idea, and the best worst idea that they have is to set up a fake Hollywood production for a fake sci-fi movie in order to get the stranded Americans out of Iran - but will such an outlandish plan be enough to safely rescue and return the endangered diplomats?

The most remarkable thing about Argo is the story itself; which based on real events is truly unbelievable. This true life element is the real driving force of the entire film. It is therefore important that the film is able to convey a sense of believability so that this comes across as strong as possible, and to a great extent Argo succeeds in doing so. The film itself - despite its fast paced, quick edit trailer - is actually a slow paced thriller that takes its time during the film’s major scenes and doesn’t deviate very far away from the events that actually occurred. Yet this is certainly not to be confused with a criticism of the film (although I did feel that there was a bit of a lull in the film’s second act where my attention began to drift slightly), in fact it was often the slower and less eventful scenes that actually stood out and stayed with me for being incredibly tense. This isn’t a film that appears to have been fictionalised to make it more exciting - there are no major action scenes thrown in to please the masses – this is a film that knows its source material and respects both it and the audience watching. And if there is any doubt in your mind about the film’s validity, moments during the end credit sequence that place screenshots from the film side by side with photos from the actual events show remarkable accuracy and really help to drive the point home.

Affleck's adaptation of 'Where's Wally' was controversial to say the least...

Obviously there is the danger that Argo could become a rather controversial piece considering the heavy Iranian presence – yet the film handles the subject matter very tastefully. Being an American film that follows a mostly American group of people, it is inevitable that the film will come from an American perspective, which is something that is often criticised in certain films (war films in particular) but something that I do not have a problem with – it merely reflects that element of the country and their national cinema, as would any number of other films from around the world. That’s not to say that the film wasn’t without a certain layer of Hollywood Schmaltz from time to time though. What I did however fear could happen was the potential for an unjust depiction of the entire Iranian population by forcing them into being portrayed inappropriately or insultingly as completely unrelatable villains, when actually I didn’t have a problem with that. The Iranians are of course depicted as the opposing side, but never entirely as ‘the bad guys’ though. This may however be because the film does divide its time with another area of the narrative – the Hollywood half of the plot.

What Argo does, and has been heralded by some for doing, is to combine comedy and thriller together into one film. Whilst the political thriller elements of the hostage situation are incredible tense, the scenes set largely in Hollywood as Affleck’s character attempts to stage a fake film production for a fake and very cheesy sci-fi film called ‘Argo’ are in fact the opposite and very funny (particularly so thanks to supporting roles from John Goodman and Alan Arkin). What did let this down however is the fact that the two never really gel together entirely; the film is either slow, tense and brooding in the Iranian sequences, or fast paced, funny and entertaining in the Hollywood sequences. Very rarely did I feel that the film was able to successfully incorporate the two tones together at the same time, which made the film feel almost like two completely different films happening at the same time, resulting in both of them feeling incomplete for being just half a film. This did have a negative effect on my feeling towards the film as a hole, as I never fully felt completely satisfied with the end result; a somewhat mish-mash film that couldn’t seem to decide what it really wanted to be.

Goodman and Arkin toast with their director to stealing the show!

Ben Affleck continues to create a solid directorial oeuvre with his latest film Argo, which tells a rather remarkable story that is partially let down by the film itself. Whilst it is certainly worth a watch to learn about the true events that inspired it - which are both tastefully and accurately brought to the big screen to create a believable, un-Hollywood-ised piece – the film’s unique mix of comedy and tension makes it an enjoyable watch but one that may leave you feeling a little underwhelmed considering the potential that such a film has. A very solid cast provide a very solid watch, but for a film that could have been heading towards awards season gold, it does feel a little under par.

Verdict: 4/5

Argo (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Argo? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Friday 23 November 2012

Review: Silver Linings Playbook

When Crazy Met Crazy...

Quirky indie rom-com Silver Linings Playbook sees Bradley Cooper playing Pat; a man recently freed from a mental hospital after attempting to overcome the undiagnosed bipolar disorder that came to light after catching his wife cheating on him. Living with his parents (played by Jacki Weaver and Robert De Niro), Pat tries to get by in life without letting his illness stop him along the way; but when his world collides with Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) - a young woman also suffering from mental illness after the death of her husband - the two kindle a new friendship that allow each other to overcome their disorders and fit back into the world.

Of course he's wearing a bin bag; it's a quirky rom-com, duh...

This latest film from director David O. Russell is about as bipolar from his previous film The Fighter as Cooper's character is within it; and is also just as much unlikely to win the coveted Oscar awards that it is predicted to be nominated for. That is not to say that the film is bad by any means, it just isn't award winning material, and it won't change your life - which is by no means a criticism! Silver Linings Playbook is a perfectly harmless piece of cinematic rom-com material that will suitably fill the appetite of those who are looking for that sort of film. Yet the often prestigious Weinstein production title and the awards season release do little to push the film into the realms of the extraordinary. This is a film that could see nominations coming its way early next year, but ultimately it's highly unlikely that the film will walk away with any awards at all.

But is that really a problem? No, not at all. Whilst the film isn't a game changer, it is certainly a refreshing release within the genre which adds a respectable layer to the film by dealing with the emotional hardships of two good-looking people suffering from mental illness; as opposed to just the emotional hardships of two good-looking people! Although the film doesn't delve quite as far into dealing with and examining the illnesses as much as I'd have liked it to, the film does tastefully approach them as to not offend anyone; and from time to time effective camera movements cleverly create uncomfortable and claustrophobic moments that allow you to momentarily jump inside the minds of these two lost souls as they try to confront the seemingly overwhelming world surrounding them. It's also important to point out that the film is funny too, and does inject a satisfying sense of humour into a tough subject matter in order to make it a satisfying watch.

Lawrence and Cooper rehearsing for the big dance - yes, it has a big dance too!

A solid cast do a sufficient job to bring the story to life, with Lawrence coming fresh out of very successful adaptation of The Hunger Games (of which I was reminded as she makes an intertextual quip about Lord of the Flies) stealing the show. Cooper does a satisfying job with a character who - after pissing around in two Hangover films (the third set for release next summer) - allows him to take on a more challenging role, although as the leading man I'd have liked to have seen him challenge the character even further (a fault, albeit, of the script partially). Robert De Niro provides a pleasant presence in the film, although equally disappointing with the film simultaneously reminding us that his glory days are well behind him now. Chris Tucker - who is supposedly being eyed up for the already rumoured Hollywood remake of this year's remarkable French film Untouchable - gives a glimmer of hope for the film with the actor effortless breathing life into his minor supporting character who also suffers from mental illness.

Despite the push for its awards season release date, Silver Linings Playbook is not a film that will set the world on fire, but one that provides a satisfyingly feel good rom-com experience that does delve into a slightly deeper realm by dealing with the challenging issues of mental illness. Yet whilst the film may leave you with a slight smile on your face and skip in your step, it would have been a far more fulfilling experience if it had been ballsy enough to take a much more challenging look into the life of those suffering from mental illness, which in turn would have made the film's pay off much more rewarding. For the fact that it avoids this, the film that could have been extraordinary falls disappointingly short; but Silver Linings Playbook should satisfy those who do like a good bit of feel good romantic fluff and go in expecting just that.

Verdict: 3/5

Silver Linings Playbook (certificate 15) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Silver Linings Playbook? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Saturday 27 October 2012

Review: Skyfall

Welcome Back Mr. Bond.

50 years. 23 films. 007. Skyfall - the newest outing for the world's most iconic secret agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) - marks a landmark achievement in film history, with the franchise spanning over five decades and still going strong; so no pressure then Mr. Bond! In Skyfall, Bond's loyalty to M (Dame Judy Dench) is tested as her past comes back to haunt her. As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.

After 50 years of film history, what is about Bond that makes him so well renowned and enjoyed globally? How is the franchise as relevant today as it was back when Sean Connery first donned the iconic tuxedo in Dr. No? At the centre of each and every Bond film lays the heart and soul of what makes essential mainstream cinema. It's the excitement of escaping into extraordinary world of action and adventure that breaks away from the everyday norm. It's the exotic locations that allow us to see the world's most inspiring locations that we ourselves can't see. It's the glamour and elegance of the expensive cars, gadgets, suits and dresses that allow us to peak into the high life. It's the taboo of having a brief erotic relationship. It's about dreaming of a life that whilst unrealistic isn't entirely implausible, and being able to experience the things that you've always dreamt of. Whilst cinema and the Bond franchise have evolved and changed over time to meet contemporary themes, issues, fears and desires, the essence of every Bond film is timeless, and the pure essence of escapist mainstream cinema. That's why it worked 50 years ago, and that's why it still works today, as the 23rd Bond film Skyfall proves...

Skyfall - celebrating 50 years of 007.

What director Sam Mendes has done with Skyfall, and the reason that it works so well, is take the original formula that made the franchise so iconic, and bring it back to life. Where the last few Daniel Craig Bond films (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) completely reinvented the franchise from scratch, setting them prior to all of the previous Bond films, Skyfall takes this new style and brings it together with the franchise's origins to bridge the divide between the two; returning to and reusing, whilst reinventing and revitalising the franchise. It's modern and relevant, but a Bond film that could have been made 50 years ago. Skyfall uses all of the best bits of the last 22 Bond films and crafts the ultimate Bond film; a love letter and the perfect birthday present to a franchise that has entertained generations of people.

Sam Mendes, newcomer to the Bond family, has proved that he was in fact the right man for the job, by crafting a beautifully shot film in which the cinematography is flawless. Exotic locations such as Turkey, Shanghai, and even London and Scotland are presented spectacularly and are immersed into the plot through incredibly impressive and non-stop action set pieces that make the film an adrenaline pumping romp of a ride. The sets of Shanghai in particular, with their vivid colours and bright lights are truly remarkable and I imagine almost unbeatable on IMAX. With these scenes shot on location, including through the streets and tubes of London, and part of the opening fight which takes place atop an actual moving train through Turkey (no stunt double - fair play Mr. Craig), filming Skyfall is an incredibly impressive technical feat of filmmaking and more than deserves that recognition.

Beautiful cinematography and impressive action set pieces bring London to life - Bond Style.

Daniel Craig leads the cast once again as 007, an actor who I've always enjoyed in the role and this time if anything he actually feels more comfortable and at home in the role than ever before. This time round he's joined by a mostly new and very impressive cast of British talents who make up the rest of the ensemble in this very character driven film. Dame Judy Dench reprises her role as M in her most influential and involving role in a Bond film to date, and one that largely drives the narrative and emotional core of the film. Young talent Ben Whishaw brings the role of Q - 007's gadget specialising quartermaster - back to the franchise, providing a refreshing performance that helps to bring film back to its roots; as too does Ralph Fiennes who plays government official Gareth Mallory.

When it comes to the Bond girls, Skyfall impressively boasts two; Bérénice Marlohe who portrays the traditional glamorous sex icon in her part as Sévérine, and Naomie Harris who steals a number of scenes as the hard hitting, strong female agent Eve - bringing a nice contrast to the film with both the old and the new representations of women being present as we celebrate 007 in cinema. And of course, perhaps the most important supporting role of all is that of the villain's, who in this case is portrayed superbly by Hispanic actor Javier Bardem who plays Silva. Unlike the disappointing villain in the previous Bond film Quantum of Solace, Bardem's Silva works brilliantly as the unpredictable, haunting, and above all else camp terrorist villain who is as entertaining as he is edgy; a sort of combination of Heath Ledger's Joker (The Dark Knight) and Norman Bates (Psycho), with a little bit of 'the only gay in the village' thrown in for good measure!

Javier Bardem as the camp and villainous Silva.

It's fair to say that there has been an elated sense of national pride in Britain this year, with the Queen's Jubilee early on in the year, then the London Olympics captivating the Summer (at which 007 himself was in attendance), and now you can add a third reason to that list as we celebrate 50 years of 'Bond, James Bond' in the Birthday present tribute that is one of the most entertaining and satisfying films of the year: Skyfall. With a stellar cast of acting talents including a show stealing performance by Javier Bardem, Skyfall is an exciting and entertaining romp that has more laugh out loud moments than some of this year's comedies, a series of incredible action set pieces, impressive and exotic locations, beautifully shot cinematography and a character driven plot that left me shaken and stirred - it was both everything that I wanted it be, and everything that it needed to be. Skyfall travels back to the roots of the franchise to find the heart and soul of the Bond films and in doing so simultaneously discovers the definition and appeal of escapism and mainstream cinema. Skyfall closes an ongoing theme from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, in which Daniel Craig's Bond searches for himself to define who he is and become the man we know and love - ladies and gentlemen, Bond is back!

Verdict: 5/5

Skyfall (certificate 12A) is now showing in cinemas across the UK.

Have you seen Skyfall? Agree or disagree with my review? Leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Trailer Park: Iron Man 3

The Journey to The Avengers 2 Begins...

"Marvel Studios’ Iron Man 3 pits brash-but-brilliant industrialist Tony Stark/Iron Man against an enemy whose reach knows no bounds. When Stark finds his personal world destroyed at his enemy’s hands, he embarks on a harrowing quest to find those responsible. This journey, at every turn, will test his mettle*. With his back against the wall, Stark is left to survive by his own devices, relying on his ingenuity and instincts to protect those closest to him. As he fights his way back, Stark discovers the answer to the question that has secretly haunted him: does the man make the suit or does the suit make the man? Starring Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale with Jon Favreau and Ben Kingsley, Iron Man 3 is directed by Shane Black." (*So much love for the use of this pun in the studio's official synopsis!)

It has only been a few months since Robert Downey Jr. last put on his most famous suit by gracing the big screen in Marvel's mega-franchise Avengers Assemble, and just one year on; he's back! As the synopsis and the new trailer released this morning suggest, this seems to be Tony Stark's most personal challenge yet (don't count on him giving his Avengers pals a quick call for help in this one), setting up a film which should be more along the lines of the original Iron Man and deliberately steering away from Iron Man 2; the overcrowded nature of which didn't know whether it wanted to be an Iron Man sequel or an Avengers prequel - sounds good to me!

It looks like the trailer is confirming the rumours about the use of the comic book's Extremis storyline with Stark and the Suit starting to become one - something which should prove to make an interesting twist and really push the character to the limits; which probably explains those foreboding and bleak, snow-ridden shots at the start and end of the trailer. With Ben Kingsley playing comic book villain the Mandarin - who is already resembling something of a Bane-like terrorist in this trailer - this third instalment looks like it should be a solid addition to the Iron Man franchise, and rather promisingly not unlike certain themes and tones from Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy; with a new director, a new style and a new tone, Iron Man 3 is already looking set to kick off Marvel's Phase 2 plan with a bang as it ventures its way down the long road to The Avengers 2...

What do you think? Check out the new trailer below and leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Iron Man 3 is set for release in cinemas across the UK on April 26th 2013.

Are you looking forward to Tony Stark's third installment, or is this iron starting to rust? Will it be a blockbuster or lacklustre? Leave your comments below!

Sunday 14 October 2012

Review: Frankenweenie

Spoiler Alert: the dog dies...

In the small American town of New-Holland, a lonely young boy called Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan) lives happily with his parents (voices of Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short) and his canine companion Sparky; that is until Sparky is tragically killed in an untimely accident, leaving Victor alone without his best friend. But inspired by his new science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voice of Martin Landau), Victor tests the arguments of nature versus science when he brings his pet dog back to life. With is four-legged friend back, all seems well for Victor, but how will everyone respond to the young boy's actions? And when Victor's classmates are inspired to do the same, could the results turn out to be much more horrific than the inhabitants of New-Holland could ever imagine?...

It's been 7 years since Tim Burton last ventured into stop-motion film making with his 2005 film Corpse Bride, but now he returns to the much-loved medium with Frankenweenie. Adapted from his 1984 short film of the same name, this family horror is a very personal project for Burton; being both something that he's wanted to make for years, and a film that is very close to actually being a biographical piece on Burton's childhood (minus the un-dead dogs and giant monsters of course!). So does it live up to his other stop-motion films? No, not exactly, but it's difficult to compare it to the likes of The Nightmare Before Christmas (perhaps his most iconic work), which has far more of a fantasy feel whilst Frankenweenie, which is set in a more realistic human-inhabited world, feels a lot more contemporary. But let's be fair, that's not really a criticism; it'd take a lot to beat The Nightmare Before Christmas...

This retro poster perfectly encapsulates the B Movie Monster Film style that the film evokes.

What we get as an end result from Frankenweenie is a fantastically fun piece of family entertainment that is at times quite scary considering its market (good on ya Burton, kids do need a few scares too from time to time; something that most studios shy away from) - which is a very important factor as the film itself actually works brilliantly as a pastiche of classic monster movies. It's unbelievable how many classic horror films and monster B movies that the film is able to pay homage to within its 87 minute run time - the obvious of course being Mary Shelley's classic gothic story Frankenstein, upon which the main story is inspired. But then there are nods to Dracula, The Mummy, The Wolfman, The Bride of Frankenstein, Igor, Van Helsing, Gremlins, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Invisible Man, Godzilla, and many, many more - part of the fun is trying to find them all! This genre pastiche is executed superbly throughout the entire film, which itself feels like one of the B movie monster films that it is referencing; thanks to the choice to make the film black and white (a brave and highly commendable choice), the stop-motion animation that I'm a huge supporter of (which feels appropriate concerning the monster characters which were often Ray Harryhousen-esque clay creations in the referenced films), and even the use of font which is not unlike that incredibly clichéd font that you'd likely recognise from all of those old B movie horror films and their trailers and posters.

With a name like 'Weird Girl' it's pretty obvious that her parents hated her...

The story itself is a lot of fun, with a number of uniquely Burton-esque characters who are quirky but somewhat relatable to too. One of the stand out characters who is aptly named 'Weird Girl' got a lot of laughs from me and others in the audience, not only because as her name would suggest she's weird, but also because we all know one person from our school classes who was like her (and if you didn't know anyone like her, then I have some bad news for you...). It's also interesting to watch the film in a double bill with the original live-action short film that Burton made in 1984 (which you can watch here), especially to see how Burton has kept a lot of the original film (including many shots which appear identicle) and adapted it for the feature length version which is roughly triple the run time; I do recommend watching this either before or after seeing the film, consider this your homework class...

It's not something that I usually do in my reviews, but in this case I'd like to talk a little bit about 3D for a change! Usually I avoid the matter in all of my reviews as my opinion on the cheap glasses gimmick is always the same: don't bother! I've never found the cheap effect to ever add anything to any films - only to take away, primarily from your wallet - and I actually think that if the big 3D king Avatar was released today in the midst of the 3D run that people wouldn't actually care about it that much, and that it was only a big deal because it was most people's first digital 3D release (watching it through rose tinted glasses - well, grey polarized glasses); and the 3D films are almost always available to watch in 2D anyway. However I feel compelled to mention 3D in this case because you know what; it actually added something this time around. Yes, you heard that correctly; I just said something positive about the inclusion of 3D in a film!

Can Frankenweenie change the way we see 3D? No, you still need those stupid glasses to see it...

Now let's get this cleared up straight off - the 3D effects still don't work, but funnily enough that's why the 3D does actually work in this case! Confused? Bare with me; Frankenweenie is a huge pastiche to the classic horror and B movie monster flicks that Burton grew up with, many of which through their releases, re-releases and numerous sequels actually used the gimmicky blue and red 3D glasses back in the day. You can probably imagine the cheap style monster movie posters and trailers that I'm talking about, and a great deal of effort is put into the film to make Frankenweenie feel like one of those films that it's paying homage to. With that in mind, the fact that I was watching it darkened, ghosting and with very little 3D effect actually felt appropriate; and considering that the first thing that you see in the film is Victor showing his parents a low-budget 3D monster movie that he had made with his toys and Sparky, the addition of those cheap glasses actually felt like they were intended rather than being a studio forced gimmick - working as a Brechtian alienation device to make you realise that you are in fact watching a film that is just like those old 3D B movies. Having said that, without the glasses you do get that perfect 2D black and white image which is just as good, and you can also really appreciate the little touches that the glasses-led darkening shadows; but ultimately, the 3D actually feels somewhat justified this time around (consider this a one-off though...)

Earlier this year we saw Joss Whedon pay tribute to the modern horror film for adults in The Cabin in the Woods, now Tim Burton has created a lovely companion that is a pastiche to the early horror genre and B Movie Monster films that Burton adored as a child. Frankenweenie is a lovingly crafted stop-motion animation that may not be the next Nightmare Before Christmas, but certainly is up there. A lot of fun and with a scare or two thrown in for good measure, this is a film that everyone can watch and enjoy together as a family (even one that parents and film-lovers might actually enjoy more); and one of the best things I can say about the film is that it actually changed my mind on 3D if only briefly, with the effect - or rather the lack of any significant one - actually adding something to the narrative of Burton's wonderful film!

But then again, 3D is still rubbish...

Verdict: 4/5

Frankenweenie (certificate PG) is released in cinemas across the UK on October 17th 2012.

Is Burton onto another winner here, or is Frankenweenie destined for the dog house? If you've seen it what did you think? Leave your comments below!