Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Top Films of 2013

Here it is, my official Top 10 films of 2013 list. I've been through the FDA's list of every film with a UK release date this year, taken the ones I've seen and compiled my favourites. It's been a GREAT year for cinema, and there are plenty of excellent films that didn't make the cut

Firstly a few honourable mentions which were truly excellent but narrowly just missed out on the list: Behind The Candelabra, Star Trek Into Darkness, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, and Wreck-It Ralph.

That being said onto the Top 10, in ascending order:

10) Despicable Me 2 - Fantastic family fun, with lines that I'm still quoting six months later. This built on the success of the first movie and took it to new exciting places (much more than the standard animation sequel "lets just retread the first movie again but turn it up to 11).

9) The Impossible - Great performances and some of the best sound and visual effects work you will see in a cinema. Not for the faint hearted, and a truly exhausting watch, this film had me on the edge of my seat through to its conclusion

8) Les Miserables - I think enough has been said on the excellence that is Les Mis, so I'll just let the film do the talking.

7) Captain Philips - It's not just Tom Hanks but also the supporting cast that play a huge role in making Paul Greengrass' latest epic so thrilling. Knowing little of the true story going into the film I was rapt from start to finish.

6) About Time - Sometimes, a good old fashioned, non-cynical, completely rose tinted Richard Curtis romcom is exactly what the doctor ordered, and this is one of his better ones. While its time travel rules are set up and then promptly blown to smithereens, it is a movie with immense heart and that what brings it so far up the top 10.

5) Blue Jasmine - Cate Blanchett's Jasmine is going to win her awards come Oscar season. It is that simple, and if for nothing but her completely unhinged performance in the lead role this film would be worth the price of admission. When you add a stellar performance from Sally Hawkins in the supporting role though, this movie becomes something seriously special.

4) Saving Mr Banks - Practically perfect in every way. Its an obvious joke, but it's true.

3) Side Effects - For a long time my film of the year, Side Effects is a truly strange and powerful psycho-thriller. With a surprise around every turn, you are truly never sure who is telling the truth, and when the final reveal comes, it is genuinely surprising.

2) Gravity - Alfonso Cuaron has created a visual masterpiece with Gravity akin to any work of art. His incredible vision of space, with our two lone heroes floating in the void is incredible. This is a movie which demands to be seen in a cinema, which in this age of iPhone viewing is something commendable, as anything which gives the paying audience something they can truly sink their eyes into in such a fantastic fashion deserves to be seen.

1) The Way Way Back - I'm not sure what I liked most about The Way Way Back, the coming of age story which sees shy young Duncan find his feet in the big wide world, and find friends in Sam Rockwell's Owen. As children we all had adults we idolised above all others and who in our eyes could do no wrong, and The Way Way Back encompasses that in a beautiful way. Its a film which just stood head and shoulders above the rest and which I implore you to seek out if you haven't already.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Review: Gravity

With Gravity Alfonso Cuaron has perfectly formed a 90minute epic which will go down as not only the best film of 2013 but probably the best horror film - certainly the most terrifying - that has been released for many years.

From the opening vista over earth to the final denouement want everybody in the audience gasped with relief along with the central character, the film is a thrill ride which does not let up. Just when you think the characters may finally escape their fate one more obstacle is stuck in their way.

Sandra Bullock gives the performance of a lifetime as Dr Ryan Stone, and it is a character sure to earn her plaudits come Oscar season. Her fear is genuinely palpable, and as has already been intimated: you genuinely find yourself holding your breath along with her as the oxygen tank begins to run low. 

You are so enthralled by her situation that you cannot help but be swept up into her reality, and this is where the IMAX 3D really comes into it's own. The blank expanse of space is perfectly realised, and as you see each of the characters drift through it, the camera constantly moving along with them, you feel like you are the final astronaut, lost along with them in the never ending dark.

Much has been said and written about Cuaron practically inventing his own camera rig to allow the free form camera movements, and it must be said that this pays off completely. You truly have that feeling of drifting in an antigravity environment, and the idea that this was created in a studio shows an amazing technological advancement.

Between Bullock and Clooney's superb performances we see humanity take a deep look into the void and abyss, as we realise our own mortality and look to defend it no matter what adversity comes our way.

For what was a completely packed out 500 seat auditorium there was not a mobile phone or even hardly so much as a popcorn rustle for the duration, as everyone sat rapt at the images and the sounds coming for the screen.

Lastly let it be said: Cuaron understands the power of silence, and it is in the moments of complete mute that the audience and the characters can reflect and allow the horror of the situation to wash over them.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough, and I really implore anyone who can to see this movie in IMAX as the truly superior visuals and sound were practically invented for this film.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Breaking Bad Series Finale Predictions

Tonight will see the very final episode of Breaking Bad air in the US, with the episode set to appear on Netflix this side of the pond by tomorrow morning, so the final fix is not that far away, so it's time to get my thoughts and predictions down. Obviously it goes without saying that this will involve spoilers for every episode but the finale, up to and including Granite Slate, so if you don't want to know, look away now. Otherwise: read on below the fold.

When we left our (anti)hero the show was finally caught up to the flashforward. Walter White has left New Hampshire and is on his way to fulfill his destiny, whatever that may be. I honestly believe the machine gun we see in the back of the car in the flashforward will bring an end to Todd and the Nazi Brigade, as Walter makes one final bid to save Jesse but that Walt himself will get caught in the crossfire, dying with at least a shred of redemption having saved his friend, while still getting everything that we all know Heisenberg deserves. Walt will die in Jesse's arms, and Jesse - heartbroken at all that has happened, and disgusted in himself for his part in the deaths of Joan, Andrea, Hank, the kid on the bike and now his father figure, will hand himself into the police to confess once and for all and serve his time - the final shot of the series being Jesse walking into the police station resolutely.

The Nazi's won't be Walter's only kill of the episode though, as lets not forget the more recent flashforward, which saw him fetch the risin poison from the house. As to who will fall victim to that, I think probably Lydia would be the most likely candidate - they go on about her tea almost every time we see her, and I feel like Walt may look to tie up the loose ends by slipping the deadly concoction into her cup when she's distracted. The other outside option would be that he takes out the guy who facilitated his move to New Hampshire, again just because he will think he needs to tie up some loose ends before he goes to face his maker.

So that's what I think is going to happen as far as the central story goes. On the periphery I hope we see Walter Jr and Marie get some kind of closure, as their character's have been through so much, that if anyone is going to get a happy-ish ending (is that even possible anymore) then it should be them. I don't know what form that will take, and as I said, I don't even know if its possible at this stage, as they've both been through too much to ever just adjust to it and live happy lives, but

Skyler meanwhile is going to prison, for a very long time. Walt's phone call when he knew the police were listening brought her something, but with Walt dead (and there is no way he makes it out of the finale alive, no matter who ends up killing him) then the cops are going to make sure someone goes down for Hank's death and everything that surrounded Heisenberg's activities, and its pretty clear that Skyler knew everything - its only going to take a court of law to put her away forever.

Who knows whether my version of events will look anything like what will happen in practice, but one way or another I think at this point it will be nigh on impossible for the finale to not feel both epic and indeed final - Vince Gilligan's story is over, and we can only hope that he doesn't leave some kind of cliffhanger ending with Jesse looking down the barrel of a gun pointed at Walt and then the screen goes black. Because you know...that'd be terrible. This has to end. No Sopranos stuff here!

Gilligan has said on a number of occasions that he wanted to take Mr Chips and make him into Scarface, and he achieved that. By the end of Granite Slate, just as Gretchen opined, Walter White had truly gone. only Heisenberg remained. Now all that remains is for Felina to make some effort at redemption for Walter, to see if he can be resurrected and save Jesse's life one final time before he and Heisenberg bow out of our lives for good.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Review: Movie 43

Over the past couple of years we’ve seen a new genre of movie rise up, in which filmmakers get as many big name stars into a movie, (for the purpose of packing a trailer primarily) as they can, with the hope that in doing so the movie will sell itself, and they needn’t be bothered with frivolous details like plot or character development. Movies like the utterly dreadful Valentines Day, and a movie I have genuinely named my least favourite film of all time (New Years Eve) fit in this category.

This brings us to Movie 43. Produced by Peter Farrelly (one half of the Farrelly Brothers) the film is filled with more stars than you can shake a stick at, from Hugh Jackman to Kate Winslet to Halle Berry, Emma Stone, Stephen Merchant, to Johnny Knoxville and Sean William Scott and what seems like hundreds more.

The “stars” are split into smaller groups, each performing sketches throughout the movie, held together by a central story in which a group of kids search for a banned movie (the titular Movie 43) coming across each sketch on their way deeper and deeper into “the darker corners of the internet”

I should start by saying: this movie isn’t for the faint hearted, as it plays fast and loose with the rules of acceptability (one skit involves Chloe Moretz as a 7th grader who gets her period for her first time in front of her boyfriend and his older brother, and frankly the sequence is just tasteless and disgusting).

I should also preface by saying: while there are some funny skits, overall the film is just dreadful

The three young actors in the main storyline have little to no screen presence to hold the piece together, and of the probably 10 skits (I’ll admit I haven’t counted them, but that probably about right), only 3 were really funny, while the rest simply took their gross out gags too far, and in doing so actually pulled the viewer out of the scene entirely, which is a shame.

Perhaps the one saving grace is a particularly funny sequence with the ever hilarious Stephen Merchant and a surprisingly comedic turn from Halle Berry as they try to one up each other in an impromptu game of Truth Or Dare on their first date. Berry throws herself into it in a way that many of the other stars seemed not to (with several sequences just feeling forced) and it really helped this scene.

This is not a film which is going to stand the test of time by any means and its true home will be in a supermarket’s bargain dvd bin where some unwitting soul will buy it for the cast list. Lets put it this way: when you can tell just by watching it that half the cast didn’t really want to be there, why would you want to be yourself?

EDIT TO ADD: Apparently there are two different versions of the film (one screening either side of the atlantic) where the framing devices are completely different (apparently the US version features Dennis Quaid as a director or something for their framing story, this was NOT in the version I saw)