Lego Movie (2014)

Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy

Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Writers: Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller

Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Liam Neeson, Will Ferrell

Rating: ★★★★½

The Lego Movie is all about reconnecting to the creative, imaginative, fun and happy childlike mind-set you were in as kid when playing with one of the world’s most famous franchises. It’s an absolutely hilarious film the crafting being complete genius, making for a hundred minutes of laughs and reminiscing. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously and that is what makes for such a great and entertaining watch, alongside some brilliant film references, famous voices, and a well-thought and written concept and ending making for one of the most surprisingly good films I’ve seen in recent years.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is just an ordinary construction worker, following the instruction manual just like every other Lego mini-figure living in a whole world made from Lego bricks, blocks and bits. After his work-shift Emmet spots something strange but before he knows, he is kidnapped and taken away by Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), under the order of Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Emmet is seconds away from being melted into a tiny block of plastic when he gets rescued by WildStyle (Elizabeth Banks) who enlightens Emmet about him being the prophesied “Special”, the only person who can save the Lego Universe from the evil tyrant Lord Business. As Emmet goes on an adventure to save the universe he must both learn how to use his special gift whilst defeating and avoiding the traps of Lord Business.

The story is fun and entertaining, as Emmet adventures on through his mission he meets all kinds of people from batman, superman, and green lantern, to even a repressive happy pink unicorn. Eventually the film fizzles out to an ending which reminded me of the much famous Star Wars, the ending rounds of the film very nicely whilst showing of some brilliant thoughts and film-writing.  Lego Movie gives off a very nice message, for me it was all about being free to create what you want and to be what you want in life, doing what makes you happy without following the instruction manual.

The characters were all fantastic, all being hilarious, well written and well voiced by some famous names. Emmet was fun and well written; although Pratt voice didn’t jump out too much I felt overall it worked well. Liam Neeson as Good Cop/Bad Cop was by far my favourite; it was outrageously funny and genius. As his faced changed from good to bad or from raised eyebrows to angry, I couldn’t help but laugh whilst Neeson’s voice couldn’t have been more fitting. Writers and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, comical geniuses in my eyes, deserve a lot credit for what they have made, whilst fellow writers Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman shouldn’t be forgotten.

The way in which Lego Movie has been made is film craft and animation at its finest, not a detail missed and this only increased my admiration. The water scenes were for me most impressive, with each splash being a handful of blue little bricks thrown up into the air. Every block and Lego-made character brought back memory after memory of childhood fun, and it amazes me how all this came across on a big screen.

It’s hard to find things I disliked about Lego Movie, it had everything from humour  to great visuals however I found its theme song, “Everything is Awesome” one of the most annoying aspects and one of, if not the, most annoying film song I have heard for a long while despite it being ridiculously catchy. It brought a very silly aspect to this film with it also reminding me how this is a kid film, despite its appeal to the older viewers, this was also something it seemed to dodge and avoid throughout but couldn’t for a few frustratingly catchy scenes.

Lego Movie I’m sure will be remembered for a long while by both children and adults alike, not only for its song but for a fun-filled film which relights childhood feelings making it too hard not to enjoy. Written and directed greatly, a host of well-known voices and an overall concept which aims to please makes Lego Movie a surprisingly enjoyable film and one of the biggest and surprising releases this year so far. It is a must-see entertaining watch which won’t disappoint!

 

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(3D) Pompeii (2014)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Drama

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson

Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland

Rating:★★½

Pompeii, the ancient and historic city destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D, and now a blockbuster disaster film adaption which cost more than more than $100million, a huge sum of money most definitely wasted. Pompeii looked be a very good action release focusing on the historic events; however what was achieved was a mixture between very bad marketing, execution and disappointment, despite some promising potential.

Milo (Kit Harington) as a young boy was left to witness his fellow people, friends, and family killed and beheaded by the invading and domineering Romans. Now he is a slave turned invincible gladiator, used for entertainment by those very romans he witnessed as a kid. Milo now fighting within Pompeii, as the romans visit the small coastal town, finds himself in a love affair with Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the wealthy leader of Pompeii and the man getting involved with the corrupt Roman Senator who looks to marry his daughter. As Milo battles within the arena and the ever falling Cassia looking on with fear, Mount Vesuvius erupts, causing a huge rumble and shooting lava crashing onto the city of Pompeii. Milo must fight his way out of the arena, save his true love and try and survive Mount Vesuvius eruption as Pompeii crumbles around him.

There is flaw after flaw with Pompeii’s accuracy along with the writing itself, however my main issue is how we seem to have seen this film a thousand times before and it becomes very cliché. Pompeii reminds me very much of Gladiator, however twisted to make Gladiator a romantic drama, as Milo rides horse-back through flames galloping after his new found “true-love” like an old-Victorian love tale. The film is essentially split into two halves, with the first being my preferable favourite as it focuses on Milo being turned from slave to gladiator and defeating competitor after competitor. However after Milo has fought people, he then has to fight Vesuvius as the second half focuses on its destruction of Pompeii.  I must admit, that despite the obvious flaws, Pompeii is filled with action which can be entertaining but I feel there is such poor execution.

The writing of characters was fairly poor with them being very cliché; Milo is somewhat undefeatable, arrogant and energetic however as an audience we seem to like him. Kit Harrington’s portrayal was fairly average, making most of some very cheesy dialogue and scenes, but it was somewhat downgraded by an adopted husky voice which was very Russell Crowe-like, forcing his role a little too much along with being completely inconsistent. Browning’s Cassia was just above annoying, with clumsy and again cheesy scenes, I didn’t think her character was well matched and realistic of the time period either, with it all seeming very modern. Kiefer Sutherland as Senator Corvus and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as fellow gladiator Atticus were for me my standout performers and characters, despite the somewhat dramatic endings they brought powerful displays which produced a positive reaction.

I saw Pompeii in 3D, a rare thing I do as I still think very few films adapt and produce quality 3D effects, taking full advantage of the technology. The effects were definitely no Gravity reflection; there were promising moments of 3D especially within the first scenes, it seemed to surprise me with its selection of moments, with 3D being used on low keys action scenes and not the big finales where I would have expected it to be seen. Pompeii however did show off a high budget with some good visual effects, with explosions and great believable make-up, with one scene being a highlight as the eruption caused a tsunami and the city of Pompeii is flooded completely. Paul W.S Anderson despite not creating a completely phenomenal release should be pleased with certain moments and aspects of his directing.

Pompeii for me seemed to be let down hugely by marketing, I was expecting a big blockbuster focusing on the eruption of Vesuvius however that moment didn’t arise within the film until after the half-way mark, something the film highlighted completely within advertisement.  Even when the moment came it was short-lived and neglected something the writers must really be kicking themselves about. Instead I was witnessing a love-story, which was very badly combined with action and fighting resulting in a really cheesy end-product. If I were the writers of this film I would be very annoyed, as for me this had huge potential but only brought disappointment.

It would be fair to say that Pompeii is one of the worst films I’ve seen released this year, but it would be definite to say it is one of the cheesiest. Despite a strong potential story and great visual and action quality, Pompeii offers no more than a generic gladiator story with a combination of romance. Although it may look good, Pompeii really isn’t and it even fails at being a remotely guilty pleasure, I’m sure this is something that won’t go down in the history books.

 

 

 

47 Ronin (2013)

Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Director: Carl Rinsch

Writers: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki

Rating: ★★★

47 Ronin is a film which attempts to take a serious concept and liven it up with fantasy elements to appeal to a wider audience.  It is quite simply an average film, one with much potential, but ultimately I found myself slightly disappointed. The craft is great along with some moments of action, whilst everything else is rather respectable but nothing too special including the return of Keanu Reeves to the world of cinema.

Lord Asano (Min Tanaka) of Ako, a small beautiful Japanese village, is hunting in the forest with his men when they find a young boy, a half-breed between demon and human. Asano sees something special in this boy and takes him home to the castle, where he shall live alongside the samurai. Several years later, the young boy is now a man, his name is Ki (Keanu Reeves) but he’s rejected as a samurai and is labelled as “half-breed”, but his fighting skills are superior to any other, defending the village from beasts. Lord Asano invites the Shogun of Japan (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) to Ako to watch a tournament; however when a witch sabotages his fighter and eventually Asano himself, the shogun demands seppuku (Suicide) on Asano to counterbalance his shameful act. Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) of Nagato is given power over Ako by the Shogun, including all the samurai and the princess. Lord Kira, evil and heartless forbids the samurai from Ako and keeps the princess for himself. The banished samurais, who are now just ronins, realise Kira’s plot and set out alongside the half-breed to seek revenge for their fallen master despite it being against the Shogun’s order.

The concept is simple but strong with the story surrounding revenge and the ronin taking back their land of Ako from Lord Kira, who plotted the bewitching. It has also been seen many times before, with an unapproved man attempting to save a village and to win the princess from an evil master. However 47 Ronin steer away from simple plots and attempt to dive into fantasy worlds and monsters to gain excitement. The idea of huge, witch crafted beasts somewhat ruin a traditional concept of samurais against shoguns and masters.  It lets down the film for me and somewhat made it hard for me to like it, especially considering my appreciation for classic Japanese film such as Seven Samurai, where in other films Ki would be a farmer or a peasant, he is a demon setting-up a mythical setting and film world. The fantasy carries on as witches, ghosts and spirits enter the film. 47 Ronin then attempts to make matters serious by making the acquisition that the story is based on real life events, something I found ridiculous.

The real action, when arriving, takes place as the ronin invade Lord Kira’s Ako, and it is very good with the scenes looking great and the attack and scene being well-thought out and executed. It then sets up two stand-off fights, which bring entertainment which is much needed as the film beforehand seems to stray at some points.

Keanu Reeves portrayal of Ki is good, however like the rest of the cast and their acting it isn’t anything special and if anything at times it felt very stereotyped and cheesy.  The film did thrive from its visuals, although the concept of beasts and witches were somewhat unneeded it is only fair to say that they looked good and the effects were brilliant. The directing was also creditable and a standout, some shots were very awe inspiring especially in the lead up to the battle, whilst the film was occasionally helped by a number of well-timed and executed scenery shots.

47 Ronin isn’t what I was expecting, and I would have hoped it took a more traditional approach towards portraying a Japanese samurai story.  The film itself looked good and the action when appearing, although somewhat less than what was needed, was great and provided good action and entertainment. The story was well shaped and the simple concept was strong, which essentially draws you in as an audience; however the twists were really unnecessary. 47 Ronin isn’t anything special at all and doesn’t deserves much praise but on the other hand it could have been a whole lot worse.

Frozen (2013)

Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Animation

Directors: Jennifer Lee, Chris Buck

Writers: Hans Christian Andersen, Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris, Dean Wellins

Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Jonathan Groff, Josh Gad

Rating: ★★★★

Frozen wasn’t the type of film I thought I would enjoy, I am not exactly the over joyous lover of princesses or all things singing and dancing unless it’s in the form of Reservoir Dogs. I can see where the appeal is for Disney’s latest phenomenon although I might have not attained it. The story is well structured, funny and has elements for every member of the audience, whilst once again Disney creates visuals that are flawless for the eye to witness. However the aspect that saw box-office storm and audiences flood was its musical twist, which although not too great in my head, was a refreshing, clever touch.

The story surrounds two princesses, sisters Anna and Elsa, tracking them through their childhood then skipping into the future. Anna is the youngest sister, a brave believer but Elsa, the oldest, is a troubled girl with a deep dark secret. Elsa is secretly been blessed as the “snow queen” with a simple and single touch can turn anything, anyone and everything into ice or snow. However when her emotions overflow this secret is exposed and trouble arises as Elsa with her magical icy powers locks their home kingdom of Arendelle in an eternal winter. Anna takes on the epic adventure and decides to look for and bring her now runaway and magical sister back home. Anna is not alone and is teamed up on her mission with newly romanced Kristoff and his loyal reindeer Sven; on a mountain of a mission they encounter everything from mystic trolls to a humorous snowman named Olaf. They soon become close to finding what seems to be a crazed Elsa, but her troubled sister believes her magical ability is only turning her into a monster.

Frozen has a strong story one which is very well structured, as you would expect from Disney. It may involve princesses but really this for me is a story about a real life occurrence involving siblings; Elsa presents the wayward stereotype whilst Anna just wants her attention, respect and love, something common of the younger sibling. It is however sugar coated and covered in funny subplots, typical hidden humour and newly the intervention of singing, to somewhat hide this realistic message. The events which unfold throughout the film are all very good, each fulfilling a purpose, however most didn’t entertain me, perhaps due to me not fitting the height or age of Frozen’s target audience. The character of Olaf however for me is a highlight which shows fully some excellent writing and script work as he brings a host of witty lines which are a little more accessible, for the same reason too Sven and Kristoff provide the same humour. It doesn’t mean however that the two main characters didn’t impress me; I found it very connecting at times with myself buying into both of their sorrow.

Disney is always showing improvements and amazement in visuals with every new release and Frozen had a number of eye-catching scenes and elements. I found myself somewhat amazed at the things that Elsa was making throughout with her magical ice powers, in particular the ice staircase which eventually led to an entire ice castle. It was visually great but more so inventive and it was easy to see the fun the writers obviously had. The inclusion too of the troll was very good and the animation was simply brilliant.

The flaws I have with Frozen aren’t something the film should be criticised for but it was elements that personally irritated me. Ironically my biggest annoyance with Frozen is something it has had the highest praise for, its musical touch. I didn’t expect singing when I first viewed Frozen so when it appeared I was surprised, however its initial appearance for me was refreshing, but eventually becoming a regular occurrence it did become draining, emphasising slightly the childish feel which in some aspects ruined my experience and connection despite my enjoyment with other children’s animation. My feeling for the music is simply demonstrated by the song “Do you want to build a Snowman”, once first heard it was warming and somewhat pleasant, but after a replay or two it is anything but.

I personally out of the animated films released from last year and of course those in the running for the Oscar, preferred Despicable Me 2 and Monsters University over Disney’s Frozen, but its Oscar for best animated feature was justifiable. I enjoyed many elements, the script, characters, and visuals but ultimately the film was knocked by the musical side and inclusion. However taking my personal taste aside Frozen is a very entertaining and fun film to watch, which should and will most likely win over much of its audience. Although it wasn’t exactly my perfect film type or choice I will still respect and appreciate a brilliantly crafted piece of animation which is essentially worth-while.

 

 

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Action

Director: Peter Jackson

Writers:  Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo Del Toro and J.R.R. Tolkien

Starring: Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen, Orlando Bloom

Rating: ★★★★

The much anticipated sequel and the long awaited second in the Hobbit series, The Desolation of Smaug had very high expectations. It had to capture the fun fantasy world and feeling An Unexpected Journey achieved, alongside living up to the action packed visual entertainment it promised. It is impossible to dislike the Hobbit films or even The Lord of The Rings Trilogy that the current series plays prequels to, in my perspective it’s due to its luring story that you get so attached. I went into the cinema knowing full well I would enjoy this film but yet with an element of anticipation and eagerness to see what was so new and different.

Many have criticised not only the second installation of The Hobbit series but the whole concept itself due to its lack of ability to recreate accurately J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel. However I haven’t read the novel nor looked into how the films make a comparison, I take on The Hobbit series as a set of films and those that are made to recreate the story for greater entertainment.

In An Unexpected Journey we follow Bilbo Baggins’ (Martin Freeman) adventure as the Hobbit burglar on the quest to reclaim former homeland Erebor, with the Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), as they battle the powerful and great Dragon Smaug. After some back-logging we continue the group’s quest once again and straight back into action as they continue to be hunted by the Orcs. Seeking shelter in a skin-changers house, a being that changes from a hairy man to a slightly hairier bear they escape the Orcs briefly. They then head towards a mysterious and dangerous forest alone, due to Gandalf’s personal quest of regaining peace in middle earth. The film then fuels from entertaining battles and action as well as giving important plot development for the latter scenes and the final film.

The Desolation of Smaug also sees the arrival of a few new and entertaining characters as well as the focus being turned on a few that were in the shadows in the previous instalment. Whilst travelling through the forest containing controlling illusions and haunting spiders the Dwarves get captured by on duty Elves, a familiar Legolas (Orlando Bloom) alongside most entertaining and impressive the “she-elf” Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) who take the angered Dwarves back to their Kingdom. There is also much more focus on dwarf Killi (Aidan Turner) who strikes a relationship with the feisty she-elf which also results in striking up more conflict.

Half an hour of Orc bashing and barrel-riding later the focus then turns on another new character, Bard (Luke Evans) who not only plays hero and smuggler for the Dwarves and Bilbo but could play hero for the whole of middle earth after it is revealed he has common enemy with the Dragon Smaug. In the final scenes the focus switches from Bilbo to Gandalf, who battles and fights with a foe whose evil and darkness forebodes a great war. Confronting the Dragon in the meantime Bilbo awakes more evil and danger which puts the whole city in extinction.

There is so much happening in The Hobbit it does take some working-out and reflection however this is not a criticism but a positive, with much entertainment and action balanced out with important plot developing dialogue it makes the full running time important and worth-while. The action scenes where so varied and different it was refreshing and clever, the opening scene was tense and thrilling whilst “the barrel scene” was comedic. The comedy didn’t stop there as the dialogue included some witty lines especially from Dwarves Killi and Bifur.

Admiration away from the action and script, The Desolation of Smaug as expected and once again provided flawless visuals and effects alongside make-up which I would guess will be nominated for an Oscar. The achievement of creating such terrifying looking Orcs is amazing, whilst the Dragon was stunning. The scene that glorifies The Hobbit’s effects is one of the highlights of the whole film, near the closing scene Smaug dripping with gold breaks free and shakes in the sky scattering gold everywhere, visually looking flawless.

The cast and cameos The Hobbit has is also incredible, with a long list of world famous and popular stars hogging the credits list. This time round most notably Stephen Fry is centre stage playing the role which sees him Master of Laketown whilst we finally hear the voice of Benedict Cumberbatch as Smaug. My favourite performance however comes from Evangeline Lilly playing Tauriel, the “she-elf, she captures such an entertaining and powerful performance which is simply great to watch, another pick for an Oscar.

My only criticisms of The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug are aimed at its frustrating ending and slightly confusing mixed plots that also have very expected climaxes. In general the film was very entertaining and fun to watch, the expectations were met. The entertainment and success achieved from this film were mainly due to the fights and new characters. The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug has now only created a huge amount of anticipation for the finale of the series which is certainly going to be the biggest and the best. Peter Jackson’s second instalment of The Hobbit series is by no means perfect or a classic, but it’s really one you have to see.

 

Into The Wild (2007)

Genre: Adventure, Biography, Drama

Director: Sean Penn
Writers: Sean Penn (screenplay), Jon Krakauer (book)
Staring: Emile Hirsch, Marcia Gay Harden, Vince Vaughn, Kristen Stewart
Rating: ★★★★½
Into The Wild is a film that’s based on a true story and an adaptation of a book, Sean Penn captures every bit of emotion possible creating an inspirational, beautiful, sad and influential film that you will always remember. Words won’t do justice to just how good a storyline this film has, the fact it’s based on a true story just adds to the emotion and wonder. It has a fantastic crew that shows when looking at the film from the technical point of view, it also features a cameo of all star actors and actresses from Vince Vaughn to Kristen Stewart.

Emile Hirsch plays the character of Chris McCandless a young man who has it all, youth, wealth, intelligence but it isn’t what he wants, he just wants to live to be out there. After graduating from Emory University with straight A’s he abandons his old life, his possessions, his car, he gives his complete $24,000 savings to charity and decides to hitchhike his way to Alaska to live in the wild as Alexander The Supertramp. He rebels against his demanding snobby parents (Marcia Gay Harden, William Hurt) and leaves his bewildered sister (Jena Malone). On the way of his great adventure he meets some extraordinary and different characters that shape his new life.

The film skips between Chris in Alaska at the end of his adventure to how he got there and the lessons he learnt and the people he met, finally they meet and the film follows the present day. The characters he meets all vary giving not only Chris advice but you feel the audience life lessons. He meets the characters middle aged “hippy” couple Rainey and Jan (Brain H. Dierker, Catherine Keener) to the likes of an old man Ron (Hal Holbrook) not only is it inspirational and heart warming but the relationships and bonds formed are truly heart warming.

Sean Penn has adapted the book very well, staying close to the original source. He was helped along the way in creating this wonderful film by an excellent crew, credit should be given for a inspirational mood setting soundtrack by the sound department. The acting was outstanding, Emile Hirsch adapted very well not only mentally but physically to play the character of Chris McCandless, for me it’s one of my favourite performances in the last decade. All in all Into The Wild is a must watch film, not only is it a inspirational story but a serious one about a boy who was lost due to his desire to live. It deserves its status as the 165th best film of all time and its many wins and nominations, don’t miss out.