“We chose to die on our feet, rather than live on our knees…” 300: Rise of an Empire.

I didn’t think I would get to see 300: Rise of an Empire at the cinema, but the opportunity arose last night and I need a sufficient reason to procrastinate from my essay about ‘Project Management in a Digital Age’… zzzzz. I hadn’t heard or read great things about this sequel so I went in with my expectations low, I think this was an excellent strategy as what followed came as a pleasant surprise.

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Well I use the word ‘pleasant’ loosely. True to some of Zack Snyder’s previous work such as 300, Sucker Punch and Watchmen , this film is dark, gritty, and bloody. What I didn’t realise is that the story line of this sequel actually runs in parallel for the most part with it’s predecessor. What do we call that? It isn’t technically a prequel, or a sequel… a paraquel? Now I’m just making up words… But it did become a lot more intriguing once I saw where the story was heading.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire-Xerxes

Themistocles is an Athenian General who leads the charge against the Persian army lead by ‘god-king’ Xerxes from 300 (2008). We get to see how Xerxes became the powerful force he is, and what or who drove him to his madness. The story moves along a timeline from before the 300 Spartans set off to face the Persian Army, to what happens after their epic sacrifice. A much bigger story line in this film and with it, a lot more fighting and slow motion blood splatter. Although the story line was much broader for this film, there was something lacking in the way the characters were portrayed. When important characters are killed in 300 I shed a tear, I feel their pain. When characters die in Rise of an Empire, I think I actually laughed out of sheer awkwardness. There was no connection for me there and that is what lets the film down essentially.

300 - Themistocles

Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic characters. In particular Eva Green as Artemisia, the twisted soul of a Greek turned loyal Persian who plays puppet master with Xerxes. She is INTENSE! The complexity of her character, the outfits, and her air of madness really gripped me into the story more than any of the speeches Themistocles gave to his army… Sullivan Stapleton plays this leading man, and for me he was quite dull, especially next to such a powerful female role. I understand that the Athenians were more diplomatic than the Spartans and technically they are not warriors, but I couldn’t help feeling disappointed with their lack of presence.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUM

I don’t think it helped that the Athenian army all had varied accents which weren’t well hidden. (Yes I know Gerard Butler’s Scottish Spartan set the tone there, but he has such a gruffly voice it worked). General Themistocles is Australian, we also have a Scot, a New Zealander, a Derbyshire lad, and a Brummy to name a few. It took me out of the illusion every time another accent was introduced. I would say the well spoken English accent works for the old style dialogue, much like Eva Green and Lena Heady, who is back as Queen Gorgo and really gets her rage on this time.

300 - Queen Gorgo

The cinematography is pretty breath taking in some scenes. The epic battles on the sea are worth seeing if nothing else. A little over kill on the slow motion and the endless amount of blood that seemed to pour out of people. But otherwise, it was really quite beautifully shot and I can see that it would have been great in 3D. The sound track is pretty rousing too!

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My POV in the end, I enjoyed 300: Rise of an Empire much more than I anticipated but I am still not raving about it. 300 is a legendary film which can’t be matched in my eyes. The sequel is worth a watch, and I will probably watch it again – but it doesn’t raise the bar very high in terms of character development and compelling relationships between them. Like swords and blood?? Well then, sir this film is for you!!

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“We are only here briefly, and in this moment I want to allow myself joy” Her, 2013.

Interesting that your blog views peak over the Oscar’s period, I feel like I should rate my reviews on ‘most likely to win an award’. Personally I think some of the best films don’t even get a look in, but hey, I’m just an average Joe public audience member…

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‘Her’ won Best Original Screenplay for writer and director Spike Jonze last night. I think this is quite an apt award as the redeeming feature of this film is its script. Joaquin Phoenix gives an intense performance as Theodore, a writer of sorts who falls in love with his new ‘intuitive’ operating system, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. A strange concept but one that isn’t too outrageous I guess.

The idea of an intelligent operating system which evolves through it’s experiences is an interesting one. But for me it raises too many questions outside of the immediate story line to be a believable scenario. For example, Samantha, (the OS in question) develops feelings, has her own opinions and can influence a persons behavior… my mind was racing with questions such as, would they have human rights, should they be paid some how, can you shut them down without raising some serious ethical concerns… Also the way in which the technology is used had me doubting it’s popularity as every thing is voice activated – I personally don’t think that would catch on, as technology trends go, I think the less talking out loud the better?

HER

In terms of plot, Theodore is suffering after a break-up and seems particularly vulnerable when Samantha the OS comes into his life. His connection to the technology was understandable, if you have ever seen ‘Catfish’ then you’ll know falling in love virtually without ever meeting face to face is common even today. But the way the story progressed into calling each other ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ and this being a relatively natural occurrence raised an eyebrow for me.

I enjoyed Phoenix and his friendship with Amy (played by Amy Adams) but I felt she was under used, Adams was effortless as usual though and I liked her character. I understood her friendship with a female OS much more than the relationship between Samantha and Theodore. He has little interaction with anyone other than Samantha though, but I wasn’t completely bored of it like you might expect.

her - amy adams

The saving grace is the script, the film is full of beautiful phrases and mini speeches, as the characters question the world around them and the emotions they are experiencing. For a man who claims to be introvert and struggles with sharing his emotions, he speaks very poetically about them a lot of the time, a contradiction in his character for me. But none the less some excellent dialogue between Phoenix and Johansson which pull the film along at a steady pace.

Her

With more events, and less awkward virtual sex scenes this film would have been much more enjoyable. I enjoyed Robot and Frank (2012) much better which has a similar angle, but I can see why the successful director and high profile leads dragged this one up to Oscar worthy (although I’m not sure I agree with it).

My POV, an interesting concept but not a lot more than a man seemingly talking poetically to himself for 2 hours. I wont be seeing it again and I wouldn’t suggest a trip to the big screen (unless you find mind boggelingly awkwardness a fun factor…). Should have seen Lego Movie instead…

“Dead or alive, you’re coming with me!” RoboCop.

You might think that being an avid fan of Predator that I must have watched all the classic 80′s movies… Well I only got around to watching 1987′s RoboCop earlier last year and I really enjoyed it. It was more gritty than I expected and I thought their ‘future’ was pretty accurate really. I can see how hardcore fans of the original RoboCop might not enjoy the 2014 adaptation, but I think it is fair to say I can be objective with my review!

robocop poster

RoboCop is set in 2028 Detroit, (not that far in the future really considering their advancement in weaponry) where OmniCorp already have robots on the ground in several countries, but have failed to have them approved for US soil. There is some stigma about robots not knowing what it is to be human… ergo RoboCop is born. We know the story!! However, director José Padilha takes us in a slightly different direction, the details of which I wont divulge for those who are yet to see it of course!

robocop2014-6I enjoyed Joel Kinnaman as the man himself Alex Murphy, I liked that he is quite conventional and they didn’t use a well known actor who could have taken away from the role itself. Plus I thought his performance was good as he slips back and forth from robot to human personas. The relationship with his partner played by Michael Williams felt authentic but was perhaps under used. I would have enjoyed a bit more buddy cop action.

One character I didn’t care for was Abbie Cornish as Murphy’s wife – fair play to her for getting the gig but I find her really mundane, she can cry so…guess she did a good job there. Thinking about it the female species doesn’t come off great in this film, on the other side of the table we have OmniCorp bitch played by Jennifer Ehle, some one I recognised but I couldn’t for the life of me remember where from – you will have to IMDB her for yourself! She is NOT a likeable character. Aimee Garcia brings it back a little for the girls though as the Doctors assistant and comes into her own a little more toward the end.

Robocop

Speaking of the doctor, a great role for Gary Oldman here, effortless as ever. I enjoyed his emotional turmoil and wrestle with the moral high ground, made for a good final act. Plus Michael Keaton as OmniCorp boss plays a good role, just charismatic enough to get away with it but shows his true colours in the end, good old stereotype for you in that one. I didn’t really understand the casting of main ‘bad guy’ Antoine Vallon, played by Patrick Garrow – he is a something and nothing for me – not a scratch on the villain of the original which is such a key part of the story it let the film down for me. You know who would have made the better bad guy is Jackie Earle Haley who plays a hard core military man brought in to train up the ‘tin man’. We all know he can pull off creepy and menacing from his portrayal of Rorschach in Watchmen. Might have been the better choice here?!

RoboCop-2014-oped-gary-Oldman-Michael-Keaton

What do I know… I thought the story was well told, the use of Samuel L Jackson as a TV host taking us through the media journey was a nice touch, I didn’t much care for his delivery but I don’t enjoy those type of American style chat shows anyway. It was of course exaggerated to make a point (I hope), so it served its purpose. I also thought the way RoboCop himself worked by using CCTV, mobile data, scanning and all the fancy gadgets was really well done and scored a point over the original for that.

robocop-wallpaper-samuel-l-jackson

It has just occurred to me that I have barely touched on actual ROBOCOP?! The suit looked pretty awesome to be fair, and I loved the way he moved – of course with the help of modern special effects this felt a lot more realistic than the original. The fight scenes are few and far between but oh my does he KICK BUTT when he gets going. Two scenes to mention, the fire fight in the dark, and the taking down of the drones were AWESOME. Unfortunately, a little more fighting and a little less emotional turmoil could have pulled this film from a 6.7 on IMDB to an 8 at least. Plus cut 15 minutes off the running time and you’ve got yourself a winner!

Joel Kinnaman

My POV, this film is worth a watch. If you are a MEGA fan of the original you will probably hate it for the way it mixes up the story and the characters journey – but for an objective viewer like myself, I had fun watching it and will probably watch it on DVD again!

 

 

“That’d be the last mother-fucker you ever popped” Out of the Furnace.

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I was intrigued about Out of the Furnace having recently seen Christian Bale’s top performance in American Hustle, and loving Cassey Affleck from Ain’t Them Bodies Saints last year. I wasn’t quite prepared for what I witnessed though, especially as the plan was to go to the cinema, have a meal and go out for drinks with the girls – turned out to be a bit of a mood killer…

Film Title: Out of the Furnace

Bale and Affleck play brothers Russell and Rodney Baze, both struggling to lead simple lives after experiencing quite different but none the less traumatic periods. The younger of the two, Rodney, get’s himself mixed up with all round bad guy Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson) and when he mysteriously goes missing the seemingly quiet Russell takes matters into his own hands.

I would like to start with exclaiming how bloody impressed I was with the acting in this film. Oh my goodness, Bale was breath taking, despite what I have read I thought the chemistry between him and Affleck was really authentic. Nailed the awkward yet emotional brotherly love for sure. He had me absolutely hooked on his character from start to end, plus I kept thinking … I need to meet a man like that! (I am cringing at myself for admitting to this fact).

Out-of-the-Furnace-2013

Harrelson plays an excellent villain as always, he is so menacing. I think they could have given him contacts though, those baby blues can distract from the crazy sometimes. None-the-less a riveting performance with a character that sets the tone of the film in the very first scene. Some intense stuff right there.

Out-of-the-Furnace-2013Woody-Harrelson-and-Christian-Bale

Sam Shepard and Willem Dafoe deserve a mention for playing the much needed slightly less intense characters, the trusty Uncle (Shepard) and ‘friend’ (Dafoe). Although I think they could have been used a little more in the third act.

A surprise for me was that I enjoyed Forest Whitaker in this film! I actually believed in his character for a change and found him compelling, I couldn’t get my head around his connection with Zoe Saldana’s character though. But a solid, emotional performance from Saldana too.

out-of-the-furnace-(2013) still-of-christian-bale-and-zoe-saldana

The pace of the film was good, I was on the edge of my seat totally engaged in the relationships and spiralling story line. Up until about the time Russell start seeking his revenge… it does unfortunately fall a little flat. This was probably heightened by the fact I was desperate for the loo and kept thinking something was going to happen, but then it didn’t… When I arrived back from the loo to discover nothing new had happened I could sit and enjoy the movie again – what followed was an intense and exciting finale which I thought was extremely well done and incredibly touching.

out-of-the-furnace

Despite it’s little flaws in pacing and perhaps predictable characters, I was completely sucked in and that is what I look for in a film. The raw emotion that oozed out of the leads was intense, and I was taken on the journey as well.

My POV then, an emotional but fantastic film worthy of more than 7/10 on IMDB I might add. Looking forward to more of Scott Cooper’s direction – and must remember to try Crazy Heart!

“Everything you touch turns to shit!” Inside Llewyn Davis.

After films such as ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ and ‘Burn After Reading’ I was looking forward to Inside Llewyn Davis tremendously. The Coen brothers are great at making an entertaining film out of very little story line… So forgive me for the review that follows because this film did not cut the mustard.

inside_llewyn_davis_ver2The story of a struggling musician in New York, named ‘Inside’ Llewyn Davis, I assumed this might be a great story of rising fame, perhaps he gets into some hilarious hi-jinx, maybe it’s an in depth character study about how this man came to be a musician, his inspirations?… perhaps something happens, anything really. This was my thought process through the entirety of the film, just when you think something might happen, the opportunity drifts by and there are more shots of melancholy faces with a hazy filter on the lens. The repetition of very quiet scenes cutting to unnecessarily loud train journeys were probably a bid to keep the audience awake.

 

 

 

On the other hand it’s got a few big names in it, surely they must have brought something to the film? Justin Timberlake may as well have been an extra, Carey Mulligan was good but her character is not likeable, my favourite part was played by Ethan Phillips and that’s purely because he is Neelix in Star Trek Voyager. John Goodman brought the only laughs out of me but even then his part was too short to have any significance. I think that is what this film lacks, any kind of significance.

Inside-Llewyn-Davis Cat

Maybe I am being a little harsh, surely the titular character has some redeeming characteristics that draw you in to his life? Well it turns out Davis isn’t nice or a good guy, and I was not invested in his journey at all. I didn’t care if he failed or succeeded. This isn’t any reflection on the actor Oscar Isaac, he played the part very well and he has a beautiful voice, clearly a talented man. I did enjoy the music, but oh my was I depressed when I left the cinema.

Did I fall asleep and miss the point, maybe I am just in a bad mood and didn’t receive the film as well as I should have (although I had two friends with me that were checking their watches). I am confused by the rave reviews and high scores on popular review sights (7.9 on IMDB and a shocking 94% on Rotten Tomatoes?!) but I am pretty convinced the pull of the Coen brothers has something to do with that.

Inside-Llewyn-Davis

I am sure I will be ‘corrected’ by those that don’t agree (seemingly all other reviewers), but I did not rate this film. My POV, good music, nice cinematography, fine direction, incredibly boring story, uninteresting characters… swerve it.

My Reel POV’s Top 10 of 2013.

A little slow on the uptake but I finally have time for a quick look at the films I enjoyed most in 2013.

Bear in mind these are not the films that I deem Oscar worthy or I am claiming they are technically the best films I saw in 2013, they are purely what I enjoyed and had the most fun with this year. After all, I am no expert! (Links will take you to my previous full review).

Without further-ado, from 10 to 1 here are my Top 10 Films of 2013.

Number 10 – This Is The End

This-Is-The-End-Poster

An absolutely absurd movie yet I couldn’t help but laugh all the way through. I loved all of these actors coming together and exaggerating their characters to the point of hilarity. If there hadn’t been SO MUCH cock in this film it might have scored higher. But I have to give it credit for making me actually clap my hands with excitement in the finale. Got this on DVD and sure it will be viewed many times in years to come… now if only I can find a friend who agrees with me…

 

 

 

 

 

Number 9 – Trance

Trance

I really enjoyed Danny Boyle’s Trance and thought James McAvoy was excellent. The twists and turns of the film really had me hooked and I have definitely thought about it since. I am not sure it’s a film that lends itself to multiple viewing, but will watch it again when I get the chance. Deserving of a Top 10 place in my brain!

 

Number 8 – Star Trek Into Darkness

Khan

Benedict Cumberbatch really gave a thrilling performance as Khan in this sequel, and I pretty much fell in love with Zachary Quinto as Spok – which is no mean feat if you have seen him as Sylar in Hero’s! This sequel actually beat it’s predecessor for me so here it is defending it’s Number 8 spot in my Top 10!

 

 

Number 7 – The Way Way Back

TWWB Poster

This film may come as a surprise sitting in the Number 7 spot, but The Way Way Back really surprised me at the time too. Sam Rockwell is just tremendous and it was great seeing Steve Carrell in darker role. Despite going a little slowly in the middle, I felt for these characters and really look forward to seeing it again.

 

 

 

Number 6 – Iron Man 3

Iron Man

 

I thought Iron Man would be higher on my list, but I enjoyed this film for different reasons than anticipated. I found Stark’s vulnerable side compelling and felt Pepper’s character came out of her shell much more. Plus I enjoyed the twist on The Mandarin himself, and we got see plenty of action to boot!

 

 

Number 5 – The Great Gatsby

TheGreatGatsby

Oh Leonadro DiCaprio you just get better and better with every film. The perfect Gatsby having read the source material, and you know what, despite my dislike for Toby Maguire I could just about stick him for the sake of the story. I had fond memories of the book from school, and I love Luhrmann’s style. I thought it was a perfect combination of light, dark, extravagant, subtle, modern and classic. I got the DVD for Christmas and have already re-watched as I am sure I will do again and again.

 

Number 4 – American Hustle

American Hustle cast

 

I can’t criticise O. Russell on his direction here, and unlike most, really enjoyed the story as well as the fantastic characters. Top performances from the whole cast, for me most significantly Jennifer Lawrence and Christian Bale. I can’t wait to see it again and it’s only been a few weeks since I saw it! Deserved of a spot in the Top 5 for sure, and for it’s many Oscar nominations!

Number 3 – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

hunger-games-catching-fire-international-trailer-header

I didn’t get chance to review the new Hunger Games but it would have been a sterling review if I had. The first film did not impress me and I couldn’t understand the hype at the time. But Catching Fire really blew me away, I wasn’t even aware of the running time I just wanted it to continue! Fell head over heels for the whole cast and the story had me transfixed. Cannot wait for the third in the series and I have officially joined the bandwagon!

 

Number 2- Saving Mr. Banks

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What a fantastic story that was told in Saving Mr. Banks, and an absolutely beautiful performance from Emma Thompson. I am surprised she isn’t nominated for an Oscar in all honesty. I found this film really touching and very emotional in happy ways as well as sad. I was really intrigued by P. L. Travers and Walt Disney’s relationship as well as their characters individually. This will definitely be a film I watch again, when I am feeling reflective and a bit melancholy, but for all the right reasons.

 

 

 

 

 

Number 1 – Rush

Rush-Movie

Number 1 film for me of 2013 though is Rush. The story, the characters, the visual experience, all of it was absolutely thrilling and I am so glad their story was told in such a brilliant way. It is on the top of my ‘to buy’ list and I am glad it made it to number 1 in my Top 10 as well as some others I have had the pleasure in reading. Bravo!

 

 

Honourable mentions go to these films which didn’t quite make the cut but none-the-less I still very much enjoyed…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Elysium, Aint Them Bodies Saints, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Thor: The Dark WorldGI Joe: Retaliation, Captain Phillips, Kick-Ass 2 and The Worlds End.

I also saw the following films in 2013 which would have been in the running but technically can’t be counted as they were released at the back end of 2012 boo!

Wreck-It Ralph, Zero Dark Thirty, Seven Psychopaths and Pitch Perfect.

Maybe not a conventional list as Gravity didn’t get a mention, and I haven’t seen 12 Years a Slave or Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. But I am pretty satisfied that 2013 was a good year for film. Excited to see what is in store for 2014!

“You’re nothing to me until you’re everything” American Hustle.

AMERICAN-HUSTLE-poster

David O. Russell smashed it in 2012 with Silver Linings Playbook (which I reviewed here) and he was back at the end of last year with something a little different, American Hustle. I say it’s a little different in the context that it isn’t a twist on the rom-com, its a twist on the heist movie genre – loosely based on the real events of the ‘Abscam’ plot by the FBI to take down the corrupt members of congress in the 70′s. In this version we focus on 3 central characters, Irving Rosenfeld the con-artist (Christian Bale), Sydeny Prosser, Irving’s mistress and partner in crime (Amy Adams) and Richie DiMaso the twisted FBI agent (Bradley Cooper). Focus also falls on 2 supporting characters, Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld the neurotic wife, and Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito.

American Hustle cast

The introduction to this film had me hooked, Bale’s narration to set up the events that followed was very intriguing and the use of flashbacks to lure you in worked a treat. I enjoyed seeing the characters Irving and Sydney fall in to a whirl wind romance and it introduced them to the film in such a powerful way I american-hustle_bale&adamsfelt immediately connected to them. As well as the direction and editing, Bale and Adam’s performances are brilliant. I have never seen Bale in such a transformational role before and I was VERY impressed by the way he managed to perfectly balance Irving’s dark and vulnerable side to make him the most likable middle aged balding con-man you’ll see on the big screen to date. Adam’s also blew me away with her charm and charisma, something that was completely lacking in her recent role as Lois in Man of Steel. But together, there was a certain warming chemistry that really made their relationship believable.

That is up until Cooper’s FBI Agent DiMaso enters the story, then the fun really begins. DiMaso is an unstable character, much like his character in Silver Linings but not as innocent and not half as likable. Traditionally the FBI would be in the role of ‘good guy’, but DiMaso is so hell bent on achieving fame for bringing down the corrupt congressmen that he will stop at nothing. It makes his character hard to like but makes the story that much more compelling. The scenes in which Cooper and Adam’s share intimate moments with are hard to ignore, as Adam’s proves she can create spine-tingling sexual tension with just about anyone except Superman.
Jennifer LawrenceAs supporting roles go, Lawrence steals the show with her performance as Irving’s neglected wife – taking most of the memorable lines and scenes that will stick in your head after viewing. She is at first
quite unassuming and portrayed as the bimbo Irving keeps at home painting her nails and cleaning the house. As the story continues though she becomes one of the cleverest, most manipulative and fiendish of the whole cast. Her neuroticism is displayed for all to see, and Lawrence plays it flawlessly.

Renner’s role as Mayor Carmine really took me by surprise, I much prefer him in a role such as this as I didn’t find him a very convincing superhero (sorry!). He is their mark to take down the big dogs but his character is where you as the audience really start to question the boundaries between good and bad. That is what makes this story interesting, it isn’t your typical con-artist film, it make the audience (and the characters) question what is morally right and wrong, whether the ‘good guys’ are acting for the wrong reasons, and makes you sympathize with what would traditionally be the ‘bad guys’.

American-HustleJeremy-Renner

So an intriguing story and a compelling cast teamed with an AMAZING sound track and fantastic direction, I really couldn’t rave about this film any more. I have read many reviews that say the plot doesn’t add up to the characters but I have to disagree, I was hooked on the story as well. In David O. Russell’s defense, character study is what he does best and I believe he did a fantastic job of merging a much more complicated story line with the in depth portrayal of the characters too.

My POV then, a must see, whether it be at the cinema or when it is released on DVD. I know I will be buying a copy and am looking forward to seeing it again. It reminded me of the twist on romance we see in Tarantino’s ‘True Romance’ (1993) plus the action and intrigue from films such as ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ (2011) and ‘Argo’ (2013) with an obvious hint of O. Russell’s previous work. Loved it!

Bale is so good he managed to make THIS strangely attractive...

Bale is so good he managed to make THIS strangely attractive…

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