You may have noticed from my silence for about, oh, seven months that I haven't been very good at blogging this year. Come to think of it, I haven't been very good at watching films, either. So as it's the time of year when everyone churns out list after list, I'm doing the same in a slightly different way by looking at all the films I missed during 2014. The best film of the year is 12 Years a Slave, by the way.
10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
10. The Grand Budapest Hotel
I have a real love/hate relationship with Wes Anderson. On one hand, I love that he has a very distinct style, but on the other, I sometimes hate that style. However when I saw Ralph Fiennes with his little 'tasche, Tilda Swinton with her old face and Bill Murray as Bill Murray, I instantly became interested. The sweary dialogue that seeped through before the release date and the wonderfully garish colours colliding all over the place also made me think this may be the Wes Anderson movie for me. And yet, I didn't see it. I should probably mention that I began watching it a few months back on DVD but fell asleep because I sometimes find it difficult to stay awake during films, which is a great skill to have when you're paid to review films.
GAYS! They're great aren't they? How fucking wonderful of them to support the miners' strike in 1984 when they had their own problems to deal with. To be honest, when this was released in September it looked just a tad corny and therefore not worth me paying £8 for at my local (or £5 if I'm in Peckham), but since then I've seen the error of my ways and realise I should've sought it out because not only is it getting showered with accolades (including BIFA's Best British Independent Film award), it apparently features Dominic West dancing energetically to disco. Why the fuck didn't they put that on the poster?
Depending on who you speak to, Lucy is either amazing or utter shit, but the fact it has polarised so many (while earning shitloads at the box office) is enough to entice me. Sure, this felt like a huge step back in ScarJo's career after the critically acclaimed Her (more on that later) and fucking creepy Under The Skin, but at least now she can storm into Kevin Feige's office and ask why the fuck Black Widow isn't getting her own film. I have a thing for mental films that make no bloody sense and this is supposed to be batshit crazy, so I'll be first in line when it's on Netflix and I have nothing better to do.
7. Dallas Buyers Club
Now dropping weight is a legitimate shortcut to getting attention and awards, I'm mighty bored by films featuring malnourished stars before I've even seen them. Especially when that weight loss and performance stands in the way of Leonardo DiCaprio getting an Oscar, but I'm still up for seeing skeletal McConaughey and sassy Jared Leto do stuff before the inevitable sad ending where they both die. They both die, right? I'm guessing they die.
It's genuinely terrifying to see Hollywood work their way through beloved toys, books and cartoons of our youth, and even though I don't give a monkeys about a Peruvian bear, the reaction to this film has stunned me. The weekend of the press screening I saw my Twitter feed explode with praise from the most miserable bastards and many genuinely proclaimed it one of the best films of the year. Critics and audiences love it, and it's one of those films so universally loved I feel like I've missed out on something.
I like food.
4. The Imitation Game
2014 is the year I finally got Benedict Cumberbatch. Sure, I fully appreciated his reading of R. Kelly's 'Genius' and his Chewbacca ain't bad, but I still didn't get the insane fandom surrounding Pamela Parry's son. But after blitzing through every episode of Sherlock, repeated viewings of this, and the fact he has Tom Hiddleston's phone number, I've grown rather fond of the man my mum calls 'Benadryl'. So why didn't I see his big movie of 2014? Maybe because it seems like a bit of a history lesson. Maybe because I'm incredibly picky when it comes to what I pay to see. Or maybe I had something better to do the weekend it came out, like sleep. Either way, I better watch this quickly if I want to get involved with the inevitable arguments during awards season. That's the best part!
I have yet to hear a bad word about this. And, y'know, moustaches.
Jake Gyllenhaal's career has been really interesting to watch. As I've grown up, I've seen him go from emo god to almost-Spidey via dodgy blockbusters and tragic romances, and he obviously needed to give his career a tune up after the disastrous year that was 2010. Enter Nightcrawler: annoyingly not a biopic of a blue mutant but a neo-noir about a Travis Bickle-like amateur crime journalist/weirdo. It's written by Dan Gilroy and stars Bill Paxton, so I can only hang my head in shame for not catching it at the cinema.
1. The Guest
I can't remember the last time I've been so eager to see a film. I saw posters for this all over buses and magazines but ignored them because who pays attention to posters on buses anyway? It only came to my attention once the deafening praise clogged my ears and friends began telling me that I would love it because it features everything I love in the world, including gorgeous topless men.
But as this is a pretty small film starring someone who drove into a tree in Downton Abbey (Feel free to add Dan Stevens to my list of favourite actors, right between Hiddles and McAvoy.) and made $285,845 across the pond, just as I began to start trawling London cinemas for it, it upped and disappeared like Dan's clothes. Luckily we live in a world where films are released on DVD and Blu-ray about ten minutes after leaving cinemas so I don't think it'll take me long to scratch this one of my must-watch list.
UPDATE: About four hours after writing this I relented and watched The Guest. It's utter and complete tosh and I still have no idea what it was actually about or how "David" turned himself into a terminator in a hot body, but it's so endearingly aware of how shite it is it's impossible not to love.
“You think you know the story of Hercules?”, says Ian McShane via clunky voiceover, leading us to believe that this will be a new take on the demigod. However anyone who’s seen the classic ‘90s TV show, Disney’s animated feature or is even vaguely aware of Greek mythology will already know the story quite well. But unlike other incarnations this one sees a woman’s unsupported bosom nearly fall out of her dress and a man almost impaled in his genitals, so perhaps this is a new take.
After his backstory is explained in three minutes (story < violence), Hercules (Dwayne Johnson) is approached the unfortunately-named Ergenia (Rebecca ‘not the X-Factor one’ Ferguson) to help her father defeat a warlord. He only agrees to do so after she promises to pay him and his bunch of misfits his weight in gold, so immediately Hercules isn’t the noblest of heroes. But underneath his stonking physique lies some issues as he’s routinely tortured by visions and nightmares about his past, and even he is confused by the legendary tales that precede him.
But every member of his team has their own story too, but instead of making them three-dimensional characters they’re summed up in short statements when introduced to people. At one point Aksel Hennie’s Tydeus frightens the young heir to the throne in a scene that only exists so Hercules can tell us he was tortured as a child, because apparently him tasting the blood of a corpse doesn’t make it abundantly clear that this man has issues. The only one who has any kind of development is Herc’s incredibly annoying nephew Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) who begs to be part of the action then does nothing but scream for his uncle when bald, tattooed crazies with spears come running at him. Get lost Scrappy-Doo, you’re useless.
The one thing you can’t fault with Ratner is that he knows what the people want and along with watching The Rock have a chat with Lovejoy, it’s the battle scenes. Bar the unnecessary 3D each one is perfectly staged and choreographed and is just violent enough to make up for the lack of blood. It’s obvious this whole film is Ratner’s fantasy movie but the action sequences, with its Chariots of Fire touches and leftover masks from Gladiator, is where he runs riot.
It should be mentioned that while the lone female warrior in the film struts around a leather crop top and matching mini skirt when she should be wearing armour, the perv-o-meter really goes off the chart when Johnson is front and centre. Each pan across his body is slow and lingering, and even when he’s covered in dust he still glistens; supermodel Irina Shayk may flash her thong for the boys, but this is pec porn of the highest order.
Dwayne Johnson has already proved he can stretch his natural charisma and screen presence to everything from brainless action (Fast & Furious series) to comedies (The Other Guys) and he makes a perfectly fine Hercules in a perfectly watchable film, and given Ratner’s recent output that’s more than we could've hoped for.
(This review was originally published by Virgin Media movies)
I wonder what could ruin this peaceful and seemingly happy existence for the now free apes? Humans, of course. One of them encounters Blue Eyes and Ash, the sons of Caesar and his pal Rocket, and panics, shooting Ash and kicking off issues again with apes and humans. But one guy believes they can co-exist after fixing a dam in ape territory that will provide long-term energy for what used to be San Francisco so he goes in and gains Caesar's trust before the other one who's already shot Ash cocks up again. Long story short, things get messy and a war breaks out between humans and apes that involves Koba, Caesar's number one dude, jumping through fire on a horse while brandishing a damn uzi. I'm not joking.
Did you notice I haven't mentioned any of the human people's names? That's because they don't matter and could easily be summed up in general terms: the good guy, the untrusting guy, the black guy, the woman, the latin guy who disappears after the first act, the damaged teen who expresses himself through drawings, and Gary Oldman. ROTPOTA was all about how Caesar became leader of the apes but maintained the love he has for Will (James Franco), and that's still there, but while he had Will in the first film, his relationship with - OK, I'll give him a name - Malcolm isn't as effective because we have no idea who Malcolm is. The screenwriters honestly think we'll give a shit about him just by mentioning the fact that he lost his wife to the virus. Everyone lost someone to the virus - what else you got?
Thin human characters aside, DOTPOTA is exciting and massively watchable, and that's really all to the effects and the people in the onesies covered with balls. I'm not going to weigh in on the argument that Andy Serkis and actors like him deserve awards because I can't be bothered, but he carries the film and thoroughly deserves top billing. Thanks to ROTPOTA being surprisingly good, DOTPOTA feels slightly disappointing, but a bunch of bland humans aren't enough to drag down the whole film that's still one of the strongest offerings from this year's blockbuster season so far.
Invites for footage preview presentations are usually go ignored because when I watch a film I like to watch the entire film, not 5 minutes out of context. However I recanted on this when one popped in my inbox that not only promised footage clips and food (it didn't promise food but it was in the morning so I put two and two together), but an appearance from The Rock himself. And Brett Ratner.
After shamelessly consuming more than a few mini pain au chocolats, I took my seat and was greeted with a wall of cameras, journos and people running around checking their watches. Approximately 20 minutes after the screening was billed Edith Bowman came out and introduced the man responsible for X-Men: The Last Stand. Looking just as you'd expect (Why do rich men always settle for ill-fitting suits?), he wittered on for a bit about his modern take on Hercules; how it's "a family film", it's a role Dwayne Johnson was born to play, it's his dream movie and how he hasn't finished it yet because he's editing three different versions.
Eventually we got to the first set of clips that showed Herc in various scenes of battle that did a good job of showing just how gigantic Johnson has made himself. It's almost obscene. The clips were not in 3D and looked all the better for it; the ones in 3D made an already cartoony film even more cartoonish. Still, the signs are good. Johnson does have the charisma to carry a film like this and the main character has a typical gang of pals who each fulfil a role: funny one, short one, bearded one, woman. The main clip was a large scale battle sequence that featured flipping horses, Katniss Everdeen in a leather mini skirt and Ian McShane being, well, Ian McShane. People erupted into applause and for once it wasn't just because the director was there, it was because it was really good fun. Let's hope the completed film plays to that very clear strength.
Back in Leicester Square, Ratner returned for more rambling. Upon introducing Ingrid Bolsø Berdal, the aforementioned Katniss in leather, he randomly started shouting "We love female empowerment!", obviously forgetting that she spends the majority of her time in next to nothing and barely says a word. Speaking of, Irina Shayk was quite literally sitting pretty, waiting for someone to notice something other than her long legs and her struggle to keep her short skirt down. Finally Edith asked the Russian supermodel a question and she gave an answer so brilliant I wish it was just her and McShane up there.
"I honestly think I was hired to be naked." No chatter about her "craft", no wittering about aspiring to be the next Meryl Streep, just pure unadulterated honestly that backed up almost every clip we saw on her in a thong and not much else. How delightful. Truthfully for a Q&A there was an awful lot of A with almost no Q. Ratner is clearly an excitable guy who loves making movies but we barely heard anything from anyone else and his answers veered wildly. Still, we did get to see John Hurt prance around talking about fabulous sandals for a few minutes. That - and the pastries - was well worth the trip.
Hercules is released in the UK on July 25th
In 2010 DreamWorks' hit-starved animation studio was finally gifted with How To Train Your Dragon, a film that satisfied older audiences as well as the many young fans of Cressida Cowell's best-selling book series. The movie came close to Pixar at its best with a memorable score, top-notch animation and an instantly loveable lead character, and while most sequels usually reek of money-hungry desperation, How To Train Your Dragon 2 not only continues the story of Hiccup and his toothless friend but gives us a totally new one.
Five years after the first film, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) has grown into a young adult with the broader jaw and pathetic attempt at facial hair all young men must endure before becoming a man. While he enjoys his new dragon-friendly home and the freedom his best friend has afforded him, his father Stoick (Gerard Butler) continues to pressure him to become the chief of Berk, a responsibility he's not ready for or interested in.
To escape his father and the looming job, he ventures into uncharted territory and soon discovers a half-destroyed ice fort along with a determined dragon trapper named Eret (Kit Harrington). Eret is under the impression that the people of Berk destroyed their home and is the reason they're under the control of Drago Bludvist (Djimon Hounsou), a determined and all-round insane person with a vendetta against dragons.
While a bad guy disliking dragons for underdeveloped reasons is the main, duller strand of this story, HTTYD2 is about a boy becoming a man in the same way the predecessor was about a boy making a friend. Hiccup can't relate to his brawny and bearded dad and still feels overlooked and lost despite his actions transforming the Viking village he calls home. How lucky then that a figure from his past re-emerges that answers his lingering questions and gives him the confidence he needs to trust his convictions.
Self-discovery is all well and good, but what happened to the laughs? The way Toothless has turned into an attentive puppy who doesn't mix well with others is cute and charming, but apart from one adults-only line that enraged Christian groups across the pond and Cate Blanchett's shocking Irish/Scottish/foreign accent, there's very little humour here. Writer/director Dean DuBlois admirably lets his characters grow into adults along with the audience, yet the overall tone is a tad too serious for a film about animated dragons and Vikings.
Visually the film surpasses its predecessor easily, with cinematographer/visual consultant Roger Deakins going wild with POV shots, swooping pans and more than a few scenes so beautiful that focus on the dialogue easily strays. Likewise, the 3D earns its place and is a set of moving seats away from becoming a theme park simulator ride, even if it is a tad difficult to see who is who in battle sequences.
Feeling a bit longer than its 102 minute running time, HTTYD2 is still a great sequel with a richer story and improved animation. DuBlois said he wanted this film to be his Empire Strikes Back, and while that ambition is seen all over the screen it isn't quite the classic it wants to be. Still, there's enough here to have people coming back for the final part in the trilogy and to keep DreamWorks swimming in money until they can find another project half as interesting and entertaining as this.
(This review was originally published by Virgin Media movies)
(This review was originally published by Virgin Media movies)