Tag Archives: 2016

New Years Resolution

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As mentioned in my last post, 2016 was not a great year. We lost many beloved celebrities, saw a ridiculous, allegedly corrupt, billionaire become President-elect (I’m still half trying to wake up from that nightmare), and the UK left the EU (which we still have not even started experiencing the fallout from).

As last year left me disgruntled and extremely deflated, I decided that I was going to take charge in 2017, and make this THE year. The year of reflection, the year of growth and the year of change. I am hoping that 2017 will be the gentle (and much needed) cathartic to calm the pain and stress of the unintentional and unwarranted hangover of 2016.

Now at the beginning of last year, I set my aims high by declaring that I would make lots of New Years Resolutions, and stick to these. I, ashamedly, have not followed through on a single one of these. I quit learning Spanish after my first lesson, I gained weight, I have not become more ‘cultured’ nor confident. Therefore, this year I set myself goals I knew I could achieve (to buoy myself, gain my desired confidence, then aim higher next year). Consequently, (as we are now half way through the first month of the year), I have decided to reflect on my aims of 2017 that I set out a little over 2 weeks ago.

My first resolution is that I want to read 50 books, and my second is to watch 100 new movies (ones that I have never watched before) within the year. The below link (to an Independent article) is perfect, as it combines both of these desires. It outlines 29 novels which have been adapted into film, due to be released later this year. As I have not read any of those listed, I cannot wait to read and watch some of the classics (including Murder on the Orient Express) and popular modern books, by authors like Stephen King (including It and The Dark Tower), that I have been holding off on reading. These release dates will definitely give me a drive to read them before they’re released.

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/movie-book-adaptions-to-read-a7524471.html

Some of my favourite movies in the world are based on books! These include; the Harry Potter franchise, The Godfather trilogy, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Great Gatsby and Gone Girl. This article made me realise how fantastic both mediums are, and made me so optimistic about my New Years Resolutions. To add to this list, I cannot wait to see the new ‘Blade Runner’ (1982) film (‘Blade Runner 2049’ (2017)). I watched the original last night for the first time (which is based on a book called Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and it made me realise that I am definitely becoming a fan of the sci-fi genre (which I never used to like). This has a lot to do with it being an 80s film (I love this period of film-making), and the fact that the protagonist is Harrison Ford (what a babe), as well as the incredible use of light (Ridley Scott is a visionary). I hope the sequel is as good!

Ultimately, from the above mentioned link, 2017 looks like it’s going to be a healthy, productive year. So far I have read 4 books, watched 9 films, and am highly optimistic about the future of film.

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My Favourite Films of the Year

Last year was been shit. In fact it was dog shit.

However, there were some absolute bangers released (both in terms of film and music). These are my favourite 10 films of 2016 (listed in no particular order/of the films I have seen – there are so many left on my ‘to watch’ list that I am sure are amazing too).

  1. Deadpooldeadpool.jpgDirected by:
    Tim Miller

    Written by:
    Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick

    Starring:
    – Ryan Reynolds
    – Morena Baccarin
    – Ed Skrein
    – Stefan Kapicic
    – Brianna Hildebrand
    – Karan Soni

    Genre:
    Romantic comedy/Sci-Fi/Superhero movie

    Synopsis:
    Wade (Ryan Reynolds) creates the alter-ego Deadpool after being subjected to a rogue experiment (which he turns to after discovering he has incurable cancer) that leaves him with accelerated healing powers and a quest for revenge for being disfigured.

    Why I loved it:
    This film is hilarious. It has a dry, quick script which is cutting. It’s a film that takes the mick out of its own genre, and is not afraid to subvert it at the same time. It’s a mixture of the humour of ‘Ant Man’ (2015) combined with the comic book style narratives of ‘Zombieland’ (2009) and ‘Kick-Ass’ (2010) (but less naivety and more sass). Even if (like me) you’re not totally convinced by superhero films as a genre, you’ll love this one.

  2. Green Room
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    Written and Directed by:
    Jeremy Saulnier

    Starring:
    – Anton Yelchin
    – Joe Cole
    – Alia Shawkat
    – Callum Turner
    – David W. Thompson
    – Mark Webber
    – Patrick Stewart

    Genre:
    Horror/Thriller

    Synopsis:
    A band on tour play an off-road gig in a secluded part of the American Pacific Northwest, and accidentally witness a horrific violent act. Consequently, they unintentionally become the targets of a terrifying gang of skinheads (who own the bar they have played in), and so have to try and escape as the skinheads attempt to cover all evidence of the crime.

    Why I loved it:
    I went into the cinema expecting this film to be a tongue-in-cheek, black comedy movie about a band trying to escape a room they become trapped in after witnessing something they should not have. I was pleasantly (or shockingly) surprised to find out that this was in fact a fully fledge horror film about neo-Nazis, and was fully gripped/horrified in equal measures. There is an excellent balance of music, gore and suspense. It was not what I was expecting, and had a resounding impact on me. I loved the style/way it was filmed, and the acting is great. If you like dark, subtle horrors you’ll like this.

     

  3. The Witch
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    Written and Directed by:
    Robert Egger

    Starring:
    – Anya Taylor-Joy
    – Ralph Ineson
    – Kate Dickie
    – Harvey Scrimshaw

    Genre:
    Horror

    Synopsis:
    Set in New England in the 1630s, a family lead a devout Christian life on the edge of a community they have been banished from. One day, their baby disappears from under the eyes of their eldest child, which their younger children blame on the ‘Witch’ that lives in the woods.

    Why I loved it:
    I am a Northerner, so first and foremost, I loved the broad English Northern accents of all the actors. I also love this period of American history, especially the suspicion aroused by devout Christians suspecting that the unusual women of society are all witches. In turn, I liked how the film captured the traditional themes of witchcraft in a subtle, natural way (like the act of becoming possessed). If you like old-school horrors, you’ll love this.

  4. Nocturnal Animals
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    Written and Directed by:
    Tom Ford

    Starring:
    Amy Adams
    – Jake Gyllenhaal
    – Michael Shannon
    – Aaron Taylor-Johnson
    – Isla Fisher
    – Ellie Bamber
    – Arnie Hammer

    Genre:
    Thriller

    Synopsis:
    The Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) writes a novel about his ex wife Susan Morrow (Amy Adam) and dedicates this to her, despite not having spoken to her in years. The name of the book is ‘Nocturnal Animals’ (named after her), and as she reads this ‘devastatingly beautiful’ piece, she sees parallels of her life within the book, through dark and thrilling action.

    Why I loved it:
    I know I said I would not rate these film in any order, but I have to say that this was my favourite film of the year. This is because this film had the most impact on me. The plot is so simple yet so gripping. The cinematography, script and acting are flawless. I left the cinema feeling ill at ease in the best way. If you want a film that will entice and make you leave the cinema feeling a little introspective, then watch this!

  5. My Scientology Movie
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    Written and Directed by:
    John Dower

    Starring:
    – Louis Theroux
    – Rob Alter
    – Tom Cruise
    – Paz de la Huerta
    – Tom De Vocht

    Genre:
    Documentary

    Synopsis:
    This is a documentary about Scientology (a 1950s religion founded by sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard shrouded in mystery and controversy). The investigative journalist Louis Theroux follows Mark Rathburn (a former senior church official), as well as other ex-members, and recreates scenes that these past members have personally experienced. They are unable to gain access to the ‘Churches’ facilities, and so have to recreate these scenes in a studio with hired actors.

    Why I loved it:
    I love Louis Theroux, so am probably a little biased with regards to recommending this. I think he is so engaging, and speaks on a level that anyone and everyone can connect with. Similarly, this topic is fascinating, and highlights (like most American subcultures) all the hypocrisies of this weirdly eccentric scientific based religion. I went to a Q&A session of this, and was blown away by how engaging Louis Theroux is. I know how long it takes to make a good documentary, so although the idea of Scientology has been done (and some may view this as outdated and tired), this was definitely worth the wait. It was eye opening, fascinating, and made me want to learn more about Scientology (and religion/cults in general).

  6. 10 Cloverfield Lane
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    Directed by:

    Dan Trachtenberg

    Written by:
    Josh Campbell, Matthew Steucken and Damien Chazelle
    Starring:
    John Goodman
    – Mary Elizabeth Winstead
    – John Gallagher Jr.

    Genre:
    Thriller/Sci-fi/Action/Horror

    Synopsis:
    Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has an accident when another car hits hers (when she’s distracted from witnessing something flying through the sky), and wakes up locked in a room. She discovers that this is an underground bunker habited by 2 other men. She has to figure out what has happened and / or escape from the unintentional trap she has got herself caught in.

    Why I loved it:
    It just was not what I was expecting. When I read about this sequel to ‘Cloverfield’ (2008), I thought it was going to be just that – a sequel. I thought it was going to be filmed in exactly the same way (with the same handheld style footage), in the same way (an alien invasion where the characters of the movie are trying to escape impending death), and full of actors I only half recognised. Consequently, I was happily surprised that none of this rang true. I loved the original, but am glad that they did not just replicate this, and instead produced something that was different from your run-of -the-mill alien invasion films/was grilling and had a great cast and soundtrack. This was a happy surprise. A lot is captured in this film despite its small setting and sparse cast – very entertaining and one of my favourite films of the year.

  7. A Bigger Splash
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    Directed by:
    Luca Guadagino

    Written by:
    David Kaiganich and Alain Page

    Starring:
    – Tilda Swindon
    – Matthias Schoenaerts
    – Ralph Fiennes
    – Dakota Johnson
    Genre:
    Thriller

    Synopsis:
    Paul De Smedt (Matthias Schoenaerts), an ex drug addicted actor, and Marianne Lane (Tilda Swindon), a singer recovering from a throat operation, take refuge in France. They bump into the Marianne’s old boyfriend (Ralph Fiennes), and so end up putting him and his young, volatile ‘daughter'(Dakota Johnson) up for the weekend. Things turn a rye as tensions (both psychological and sexual) build as the four have to deal with living together.

    Why I loved this:
    I liked the way it was filmed. I was not 100% sure what the film was about before watching it, and could not entirely predict what was going to happen. I liked the style of the film (the setting, costumes, behaviour), as well as the cast. I like the soundtrack, and it just reminded me of a cool 60s film with edge. Both Tilda Swindon and Ralph Fiennes were great (and Matthias Schoenaerts is just so handsome and cool) – another winning film in my eyes. This is based on the film ‘La Piscine’ (1969), which I definitely want to watch.

     

  8. Hail, Caesar!
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    Written and Directed by:
    Joel and Ethan Coen

    Starring:
    – Josh Brolin
    – George Clooney
    – Alden Ehrenreich
    – Ralph Fiennes
    – Scarlett Johansson
    – Tilda Swindon
    – Channing Tatum
    – Jonah Hill

    Genre:
    Black comedy

    Synopsis:
    Set in the 1950s, this film focuses on the Communist writers strike in America in a comical, ironic way. Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a famous actor, is kidnapped by the writers guild, and is held for ransom.

    Why I loved this:
    It was made by the Coen Brothers. The storyline was very slow, and little to nothing happened (except for the above mentioned synopsis). However, not much has to happen in a Coen Brothers’ film for it to be a success. The manner in which they tell stories is just brilliant. They are always composed of grand schemes undermined by the flawed characters that create them. I like this era (1950s McCarthyism, with American film studios at their classiest, sprinkled with a smidge of Communist fear), and it is just captured so well – the unjust contrasts of the era (that arguably still persist today) perfectly captured in this piece.

  9. Finding Dory
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    Directed by:
    Andrew Stanton and Angus MacLane

    Written by:
    Andrew Stanton, Angus MacLane, Victoria Strouse and Bob Peterson

    Starring:
    – Ellen DeGeneres
    – Albert Brooks
    – Ed O’Neill
    – Kaitlin Olson
    – Hayden Rolence
    – Ty Burell
    – Diane Keaton
    – Idris Elba
    – Bill Hader
    – Sigourney Weaver

    Genre:
    Comedy/Animation/Adventure film

    Synopsis:
    A forgetful fish named Dory ( tries to find her real family with the help of 2 other fish, but sadly loses her way.

    Why I loved this:
    This is the second sequel mentioned in this list and, like the first, I was expecting this to be a complete replication of the first film (‘Finding Nemo’ (2003)). However, I was pleasantly surprised that this, again, was not the case. I was terrified that Pixar could not create another film that would hold up to the original, so really did not want them to make this – but am happy that they did. There were obvious parallels between each of these the film (as the original cast are featured/the story is pretty much a continuation of the first), but with a strong cast of new characters, fantastic humour (suitable for all ages), and interesting storyline, this film comes into its own. It was cute and Pixar has definitely done it again – another fantastic animation!

  10. Bridget Jones’ Baby
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    Directed by:
    Sharon Maguire

    Written by:
    Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer and Emma Thompson
    Starring:
    – Renee Zellweger
    – Gemma Jones
    – Jim Broadbent
    – Sally Philips
    – Shirley Henderson
    – Colin Firth
    – Patrick Dempsey

    Genre:
    Comedy/Rom-Com

    Synopsis:
    Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) has a baby, but is unsure who the father of her baby is. There is a 50/50 chance that it is either her ex (Colin Firth) or a one night stand (Patrick Dempsey), and so she has to tackle the situation and deal with the fall out of this.

    Why I loved this:
    I love chick flicks (when they are good), and this one is fantastic. I liked the first film, but was not balled away by the second, so did not know what to expect. I ended up falling in love with this. I could (and have to many people) poke holes in the plot of this film, but in spite of all this, thought it was cute and a great way to reintroduce this character (created by the author Helen Fielding). I liked all the actors involved (even Colin Firth – who I find annoying in anything other than ‘Love Actually’ (2003)). I have put this in my top 10 as I find it hard to find a good chick flick, but when I do, I can watch them over and over again. I have already watched this 4 times, and it has not even been out for a year yet….It’s a goofy, classic.

 

‘Trolls’ (2016) – 6/10

I have been awake for hours. I don’t think I have ever been to the cinema this early. I had an early physio appointment and was trying to kill time before going shopping, so decided to go watch a Christmas showing of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ (1993) at my local cinema. Unfortunately, I was there so early that I was not allowed to go into the screening without a child…. (something I have never heard of before). So instead of watching this, I waited and watched the next film scheduled, which was ‘Trolls’, and was pleasantly surprised.

‘Trolls’ is a new animation musical based on the dolls of the same name (created by Thomas Dam), in which small creatures with fantastic hair called “Trolls” live in a perpetual state of happiness, achieved by singing, dancing and hugging all day long. Large creatures called “Bergens” also exist, who are mean creatures that believe that they can never discover happiness unless they eat Trolls – and so hold an annual festival, called Trollstis, during which each Bergen consumes a Troll. However, the  Trolls, led by their King Peppy (Jeffrey Tambor), manage to escape from this through underground tunnels on the day that the Bergen crown Prince Gristle Jr. (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) was supposed to try first Troll. Consequently, the furious Bergen King Gristle Sr. (John Cleese) banishes his head Chef (Christine Baranski) who was in charge of the Troll preparation.

20 years later, the Troll King’s daughter, the extremely happy pink Troll Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), throws a big party to celebrate the Trolls’ escape, despite the warnings of the grey grumpy Troll Branch (Justin Timberlake) that this will attract the Bergen. Branch’s fears are realised when the banished Chef hears the commotion and captures some of the Trolls. Poppy and a few others  manage to hide, but discovers that none of the other Trolls dare to venture to Bergen Town to rescue their friends. Consequently, Poppy, along with the reluctant help of Branch, has to save the captured Trolls – but are met by many obstacles/have to spread happiness along the way to overcome these (in spite of opposition from Branch).

From first glance, ‘Trolls’ has an extremely strong cast of both main characters and supporting roles, including; Russell Brand, Zooey Deschanel, James Cordon and Gwen Stafani (to name but a few). I read somewhere that Jason Schwartzman (known for his roles in numerous Wes Anderson films like ‘Rushmore’ (1998), and ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ (2014)) was originally down for the main role of Branch, which would have been great, as he is one of my favourite actors. However, I must say that I really enjoyed Justin Timberlake’s performance. There is something about his voice that really suits animations… He also helped produce the music of this film, which is a plus, as the soundtrack is fantastic.

Anna Kendrick is also ok in this film. I’m not a massive fan of her… I did not like her in either ‘Pitch Perfect’ film, ‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’ (2016) or any of the ‘Twilight’ films (there is something annoying in every one of these characters that irritates me). I did, however, really like her in ‘The Accountant’ (2016), so am starting to warm to her. I am hoping that she will start playing more diverse, stronger roles as her career progresses. Her role as Poppy in ‘Trolls’ is really cute (and not over the top), so she captures this optimistic, happy character perfectly.

The best part of this film, for me, is the animation. It’s amazing!!  I was so fastinated by this that I decided to read up on it after leaving the cinema, and discovered that this is the first film from DreamWorks animation since 1998. Considering this, I think they have done a great job. A large portion of this film is stop motion. I read an article that described the techniques used on this film, and discovered that the surroundings were made of felt and the ground of carpet, both of which, like the scrapbook effects, were actually cut and sewn. I really like this hand-made effect, as well as the fibre look, that this creates. I also read that one of the hardest features to capture, in terms of animation, is animating hair, which of course is a crucial element in ‘Trolls’ (as the Trolls use their hair as a superpower). Glitter is also tricky, as having to mirror the reflections of this (pardon the pun), is extremely hard and time consuming. Both directors (Walt Dohrn and Mike Mitchell)  began working in the art department, working on amazing stop motion pictures like Roald Dhal’s adaptation of ‘James and the Giant Peach’ (1996), and animations like the ‘Shrek’ films, so have more than enough experience behind them to have overcome and nailed such a daunting project. They also provide a number of the voices, including Cloud Guy (Walt Dohrn) – my favourite character.

As mentioned above, I think that the soundtrack is fantastic. I hate with a passion the auto-tuned style used, but loved the selection of covers and the original songs that were written for this film. Similarly, I like how the songs were used in this film. This is not a traditional musical, in that musical numbers are not buildt up to. Instead because music is so ingrained into the Trolls lifestyle, they use it as a way of communicating and expressing feelings. Consequently, large parts of the script are songs or parts of songs, and are sporadically sung – not introduced as big numbers that all the cast get involved with.

‘Trolls’ is a very uplifting, feel-good movie. The setting created is a very immersive world, and is beautifully animated with vivid colours, and I love that the film has a female protagonist. ‘Trolls’ definitely made me feel happy, and the humour was on point, I am just not sure it was the right time of year or time of day to watch it. It was a rather intense spectacle to be watching so early, and because of the large pallet of colours used, it is definitely more of a summer film. I was not a massive fan of the auto-tune used, but excused this by the strong cover and original songs in the film. In terms of the script I really liked it, but would have liked to have seen more or Cloud Guy. Other than that, if you like animations then you’ll love this.

‘Deadpool 2’ – Teaser Review

Deadpool 2

Release date:
12th January 2018

Directed by:
David Leitch

Written by:
Rob Liefeld, Fabian Nicieza, Rhett Reese, and Paul Wernick

Genre:
Action/superhero film

Cast:
– Ryan Reynolds
Synopsis:
This is the sequel to the 2016 film ‘Deadpool’, a superhero film in which Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds), a former Special Forces operative, develops cancer, takes experimental treatment to try and overcome this, but instead develops accelerated healing powers when an  evil scientist Ajax (Ed Skrein) tortures and disfigures him. The rogue experiment leaves Wade with accelerated healing powers and so he develops the alter ego of Deadpool. With help from 2 X-Men mutant allies called Colossus (Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand), Deadpool uses his new skills to hunt down the man who nearly destroyed his life.

Sadly, this teaser gives nothing away about the sequel for this film, other than the superhero Cable will probably be featured (especially as this character is referenced in the post-credits of ‘Deadpool’).

Reactions:
As this is just a teaser trailer, little can be deduced from this about ‘Deadpool 2’, other than the superhero Cable is more than likely going to make their screen debut. It is also rumoured that Domino (another superhero from this multiverse) is rumoured to be making a  screen debut. Additionally, Wade’s partner Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) might be returning, along with Wade’s sidekick Weasel (T.J Miller).

I have read a couple of articles regarding this film, so can pass a little judgement on this. Firstly, the original ‘Deadpool’ director, Tim Miller, has pulled out of productions for creative differences with Ryan Reynolds (essentially that Miller wanted a mega-budget superhero film, whereas Reynolds wanted an inexpensive raunchy movie, like the first). I feel that if they’re going to make another movie (which I personally don’t think they should), they should stick to a similar style to that which they’ve made before. The reason I feel that they should not make a sequel is that the bar is raised so high from the first film that I worry they won’t be able to meet expectations with a sequel. The humour and fight scenes are on point with the first film, and I worry that they won’t be able to replicate this, and that if they do, it will just be a generic duplication.

Secondly, I read that ‘Deadpool’ took a decade to make, but according to IMDB, the sequel was announced 3 days before the original was released. This shows how successful the movie was. I read that it’s the most successful X-Men movie made, but (as mentioned above) hope that it does not get caught up in its own success and create a never ending series of movies that repeat jokes and undermine the original.

That being said, I do not know much about comic books or superheroes (I am new to this but am keen to learn), but am aware that Cable (the son of an X-Men) stars alongside Deadpool/he often plays the straight man to Deadpool’s antics. I am also aware that Venessa (Deadpool’s girlfriend) has mutant tendencies, and is better known as Copycat (which ‘Deadpool 2’ has the potential to explore). These characters, like the Deadpool plot itself, are part of a bigger X-Men multiverse, so this film has he potential for greatness. Deadpool’s pre-existing humour and style has so much potential too, especially as the  original poked fun at superhero movies, so no doubt the sequel will – which is my kind of superhero film.

‘Dunkirk’ – Trailer Review

Dunkirk

Release date:
21st July 2017

Written and Directed by:
Christopher Nolan

Genre:
Action/war film

Cast:
– Tom Hardy
– Cillian Murphy
– Mark Rylance
– Kenneth Branagh
– James D’Arcy
– Fionn Whitehead
-Harry Styles

Synopsis:
This film is based on the WWII Battle of Dunkirk, in which 400,000 British and Allied troops are surrounded on the beaches of Dunkirk in France by German troops.

Reactions:
Earlier this week, the trailer for the new Christopher Nolan film ‘Dunkirk’ was released. This is the new war film documenting the Battle of Dunkirk, an important battle of the Second World War which took place on the beaches of Dunkirk in France between the Allies and Germany. This was the defence and evacuation of British and Allied forces in Europe between the 26th of May and 4th of June 1940.

I must say that I am not that well read up on the background of this film. From first glance, this looks like it has the potential to be a fantastic WWII film. It looks gritty and full of suspense, like a war film should be. It has a sombre feel to it, and could hopefully get across the message of the historic story of Dunkirk in a tasteful way.

The main character (played by Fionn Whitehead) is a relative newcomer to the film business. In spite of this, the rest of the cast is that strong that they will no doubt buoy his performance if he does not deliver (which I am sure he will). Similarly, Christopher Nolan is such an experienced director (with films like ‘The Dark Knight’ (2009) and ‘Interstellar’ (2014) under his belt), so is more than capable of handling such a daunting subject as The Battle of Dunkirk, let alone a war film.

I am really looking forward to seeing ‘Dunkirk’. I like war films (if they focus on the history and gripping scenes, rather than focusing predominantly on the emotion in an overwhelming way that overshadows anything else). I like most of the actors in this film (Tom Hardy is such a strong, diverse actor, as is Cillian Murphy), and the director Christopher Nolan has a flare that makes me consider him to be one of my favourites – both of which will undoubtedly get the story across in a concise yet dramatic way. It will be interesting to see how Harry Styles plays his role. I hope that the focus does not fall completely on him (being a One Direction member) when it comes to this film, as it has so much potential to be a classic war film.

 

‘Snowden’ (2016) – 6/10

Today I watched ‘Snowden’, which is a biographical political film documenting the NSA whistleblower Ed Snowden’s life. This is a German-American produced film directed by Oliver Stone (who directed films like  ‘Platoon’ (1986) and ‘JFK’ (1991), as well as numerous political documentaries), and written by Stone and the cinematographer Kieran Fitzgerald. The narrative is based on the books The Snowden Files by Luke Harding and Time of the Octopus by Anatoly Kucherena.

The film’s plot documents Ed Snowden’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) life between 2004 and 2013. This begins with his days in the U.S. Army, in which he wants to help the Special Forces, but is discharged after an accident, so has to serve his country in other ways. Consequently, Snowden applies to work with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and is hired by Deputy Director Corbin O’Brian (Rhys Ifans) despite him not completely passing his tests, due to the need for extra people in, what O’Brian deems as, these ‘extraordinary times’ (i.e. post 9/11 terrorist threats).

The film then documents Snowden’s career and work leading up to and becoming recruited by the National Security Agency (NSA). His story about working here is intermingled with the story of him becoming a whistleblower, as in 2013 he meets documentarian Laura Poitras (Melissa Leo) and journalist Glenn Greenwald (Zachary Quinto) in Hong Kong, who, along with Ewen MacAskill (Tom Wilkinson), help Snowden release classified information that Snowden has acquired regarding illegal mass surveillance conducted by the NSA, which makes him disillusioned about his past work and the Secret Service in general.

Firstly, I want to say how amazing Joseph Gordon-Levitt is as Ed Snowden. His appearance right down to his voice are impeccable. Up until now, I think I have only ever seen him in rom-coms like ’10 Things I Hate About You’ (1999) and ‘500 Days of Summer’ (2009), in which he usually plays cutesy, ‘nice guys’, who are most often than not too nice. In ‘Snowden’, however, another side of Gordon-Levitt comes into play. He portrays Snowden, who is a highly intelligent human-being, whose morals and ethics are being tested when it comes to his job with the Secret Service. This puts him at odds with wanting to serve his country, and inevitably puts his relationship with his girlfriend Lindsey Mills (Shailene Woodley) on the rocks through the frustrations of not being able to speak about this. I thought his acting was very believable, and could definitely imagine him as Snowden, as he was able to express and communicate across the feelings of isolation and frustration in a seemless fashion. I thought he was very engaging, and look forward to seeing what else Gordon-Levitt has to offer in the future.

Secondly, cinematically certain scenes in this film were just beautiful. There was a scene in which lights representing how the internet connects people across the world together spread into a diagram, which the camera panned out of whilst the image faded into the iris of an eye. This was flawlessly edited, and was a symbolic moment for a discovery that Snowden makes. Entire scenes like this made the impact of technology, used for surveillance purposes, seem daunting in the beautiful techniques used throughout the film. These special effects enhanced the meaning of the story, of the actual impact that technology and surveillance has on the world, of which most people are seemingly unaware.

In terms of the cast, as mentioned above, I thought that Gordon-Levitt was a perfect choice for Snowden. He did the story justice, as did the 3 main journalists (Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto and Tom Wilkinson). I like the fact that they were not preened and make-up heavy or stylish. It gave the film the documentary look it needed, and helped emphasis that the narrative is based on real events. However, I did not think that Shailene Woodley worked well as playing Lindsley Mills (Snowden’s girlfriend). I thought that she acted well, but for some reason I still associate her with playing teenager and coming-of-age films (like in ‘The Fault in our Stars’ (2014), despite her being 25 years old now… I was not captivated by her performance, and she did not bring enough to the role, which was especially evident against Gordon-Levitt’s strong performance. I feel that she was cast wrong.

Although I enjoyed the film, I felt that the film itself was not quite captivating enough… I could not quite put my finger on what I did not enjoy. I found it was quite long, but on reflection felt that nothing could have been cut, as it would not have made sense otherwise. Similarly, cutting anything would have detracted from the film’s collectic style – parts are told from Snowden’s perspective, others are told from an interview style, and then the present time film is played out – which works well. I liked that real news footage and clips of Snowden are used, which again emphasis that this story is real.

I think the thing I did not enjoy was that this was supposed to be a political thriller, but it just was not gripping enough. I think had certain scenes been more fast-paced, the music made more intense, and a stronger female lead been cast, then this would have given this film the extra ‘umph’ it needed.

Overall, I liked ‘Snowden’. It was a very informative film told in a interesting way (through multiple layers of storytelling). I would definitely see it again, if only to help me digest more of the information that is exposed (as I find America a fascinating place) but would not choose to watch it repeatedly. I think that the film was not gripping enough – the plot, the cinematography and Gordon-Levitt definitely held this film together… also, the ending was a bit cheesy. It was cleverly done, but I am not sure it was necessary. The way the film ended on Snowden’s message of ‘I don’t have to worry about tomorrow because I’m happy with what I’ve done today’ came across like an inspirational laptop ad… I feel that it could have ended without this and just summarised with words detailing what has happened since Snowden has divulged the secrets of the NSA to the general public. ‘Snowden’ had very strong elements, it was just undermined by other factors that, and if different, could have made this into a very engaging political thriller. As it stands, it is just a very interesting film with a strong lead – well done Joseph Gordon-Levitt!!!

‘Office Christmas Party’ (2016) – 5/10

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On Wednesday, I went to see ‘Office Christmas Party’. This is the new comedy directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon, the comedy duo who directed ‘Blades of Glory’ (2007), which is one of my favourite Will Ferrell films. I was so excited to watch this, as I have not seen a Christmas film at the cinema this year yet. Nonetheless, I did have reservations about this film. From the adverts, I was expecting this film to either be ridiculously hilarious, full of brilliantly timed stupid one-liners (like ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ (2010)), or would flounder like the ‘Zoolander’ sequel (like ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’, a second film was not necessary)!

On researching this film, I have found out that there was a solid writing team behind this movie. This included a writing team composed of Jon Lucas and Scott Moor (both of whom worked on ‘The Hangover’ (2009)), and an equally skilled screenwriting team, including Dan Mazer (a comedian who helped write screenplays for films like ‘Ali G Indahouse’ (2002), and ‘Borat’ (2006)). Consequently, I was happily surprised that the jokes in the advert were not the only jokes I found funny in the film – and I think this was mainly due to the strong team mentioned above.

‘Office Christmas Party’ is a film about just that, a Christmas party. The film begins with Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston), the CEO of Zenotek, threatening to close down her brother Clay’s (T.J. Miller) national branch if they do not exceed their predicted sales target by the end of the quarter – giving them 2 days to turn their figures around. Consequently, Clay, his Chief Technical Officer Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and his genius technician Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) come up with a plan to help save their failing branch. They must rally their co-workers together to host an epic office Christmas party in order to impress a potential client and close a sale to save all their jobs and guarantee everyone’s promised Christmas bonuses. However, things turn for the worst when a colleague opens the party up to the general public, and the party starts getting out of hand.

‘Office Christmas Party’ was consistently funnier than half of me was anticipating it would be. I liked the bond between Clay and Josh (a brotherly bond where they both look out for each other in their own way), the cultural references (especially the Vin Diesel jokes), and the appearance of some of my favourite comedians, like Rob Corddry (as mentioned previously, I love ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’)! Overall the film was very entertaining, and definitely helped psyche me up for Christmas, like a Christmas film should. However, there are a few key factors where the film fell short of being a standout comedy for me.

Jason Bateman (who played Josh) arguably played the same character I have seen him play in most comedy/rom-coms he is featured in. He plays the fall back character (like in the television series ‘Arrested Development’), the loveable guy who could get along better alone, but chooses love and friendship over anything else, in spite of all the unpredictable hard times that may come with this (because he’s such a loveable guy). Nonetheless, I actually liked this. I liked the dynamic between Clay and Josh, and enjoyed what his characters’ traits brought to the table (despite having seen them before) – if it ain’t broke, why fix it?! Similarly, I thought that Jennifer Anniston (who played Carol) was playing a role similar to the role she played in ‘Horrible Bosses’ (2011). In this, she also plays the mean, annoying ‘bitch’ role, but is sexually provocative (as she plays a sex addict), which she does not bring to ‘Office Christmas Party’. In spite of having seen this side to her before, I really liked it. I thought she played the role well, and created a great tension that the film required, when she banned the Christmas party that Clay hosts regardless.

I felt that T.J. Miller was a good choice as a lead character. I liked his voice, his quick comebacks, and his overall demeanour. He plays Clay, a rich kid who dropped out of college and so was given his dad’s branch of Zenotek which unnerves his sister, who is the CEO. Consequently, there is a lot of hostility and rivalry between Clay and Carol, which Miller and Anniston execute brilliantly. He is a loveable idiot, who you cannot help but love.

Overall, I liked the acting, and I must say that from them, Kate McKinnon was my favourite. I did not really like her in ‘Ghostbusters’ (2016) – but then that was more of a reflection of my feelings about this remake, not her. If they are going to remake a classic, then they should think long and hard about which ones to choose (‘Ghostbusters’ (1984), in my opinion, should NOT have been one). I do not care that they got the backing from the original actors/writers, and that it is supposed to help feminism – I like the original because I like the film, not because it is arguably a male dominated film. Instead of recreating a cult blockbuster hit with a female cast, write a completely new film…

Anyway, in terms of the plot of ‘Office Christmas Party’, it was a little predictable, but it literally did what it said on the tin. They had a Christmas office party. Things got out of hand because they partied too hard, but they saved the day. Nonetheless, I applaud the writers’ efforts at trying to expand on this, and construct more of a plot than the audience just watching a bunch of characters get drunk in ridiculous scenarios. I liked that fact that they tried to give it more depth (by focusing on themes like family bonds), and created a Christmas spirit that is arguably required from a Christmas film.

On reflection, I feel that I was more excited by the film being Christmassy than the comedy side of it… As I have said, I was half expecting to be disappointed by this. Personally, I think that I prefer awkward comedies (like Ben Stiller movies), or stupid comedies with ridiculous one-lines (like ‘Borat’ or ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’), and I came out of the cinema noting that this film with neither (other than the fart jokes made by Kate McKinnon – I love toilet humour).  In all fairness, I felt that this Christmas party theme is quite a limited, closed-off theme – once you’ve seen one ridiculous scenario, its hard to top it. Similarly, I actually thought that certain scenes were just gross, and not funny. That being said, I liked the juxtaposition of reindeers, Santa, and Jesus smattered with coke, escorts and drug dealers – I just wanted something punchier/funnier to happen…. Nonetheless, it was a good effort at comedy, but I left the cinema feeling a little dirty (like effect that hangovers usually have on me, without having had the good time of being drunk). It made me feel slightly better and more uplifted than when I walked in (because it’s a Christmas film), but will not stand the test of time in terms of comedy films, and will just fade into the background like so many other comedy films that are churned out at this time of year. Definitely see it if you want a laugh, just don’t expect it to be a loud one.