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Fantasy

Yes they look innocent but wait until they do the ‘internal bleeding’ dance by jumping up and down on the dying bodies of their enemies.

An strange mixture of fairytale, realism, innocence and violence. This fantasy-drama tells the story of teenagers Violet (Alexia Kepel) and Daisy (Sairose Ronan) who work together for their boss as contract killers number 8 and 9 respectively. The lower the number the more people they have killed.

However their next job is an unusual one, they need the payment to be able to buy the new Barbie Sunday dresses (every girl wants one apparently) but the man they have been sent to kill (James Gandolfini) seems to want to be killed. It confuses them and they want to find out why.  Even more confusing he’s nice to them and bakes them cookies.

There are worse complications: killers from a rival crew have also been sent to kill him and will be arriving soon, and ominously the lethal killer No.1 is lurking nearby to make sure they get the job done.

An enjoyable film, well acted and different enough from the norm to be interesting and the naivety of the girls often sets up some unexpected events. I did feel there could have been a bit more to it though. There’s a lot of set-up and then it just ends. It also seems to be aching to tell you something more about Violet’s previous partner Rose, but never actually does, leaving you to guess. Having said that each of the main protagonists discovers something about themselves that they didn’t know before, and has changed in some way by the time the films ends.

6/10

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Superman (Henry Cavill) looks on as Faora (Ayelet Zurer), General Zod’s deputy, helps hostage Lois Lane (Amy Adams) with her breathing mask.

This is a difficult film to review. It begins well, with realistic characters, and an interesting storyline. Superman’s boyhood is neatly told through flashbacks – which means we don’t have to sit through that familiar set-up again. The standard superhero geek powertrip at highschool is also refreshingly avoided – Clark knows he must avoid showing his powers so that they can remain a secret. His father (Jonathan Kent here played by Kevin Costner) has drilled it into him that if people find out about his powers, then they will fear him and want to take him away. The action itself then begins slowly and builds up well. Clark is now an adult and General Zod (Michael Shannon) – a criminal from Kypton begins an invasion of the Earth. Things are still fairly realistic at this point, however by the end of the film all sense of grounded-ness is gone, and half your belief with it as Superman and General Zod look like exactly like the 2 animated CGI men they are while having a fist fight high above the Earth.

So General Zod? Cleverly Zack Snyder (the director) realises we probably wouldn’t take kindly to just an origins story especially after the long-running Smallville, Superman Returns and also that Lois and Clark series in the early 90’s. This film is an amalgamation of both Superman 1 and 2. Superman 2 being the best Superman film of course.

I liked that Synder has taken his own approach here and hasn’t stuck too closely to the comics, however some of his constructs end up being more unbelievable that the original film. (You may remember Superman flying round the Earth to turn back time at the end of the first film – and have then wondered why he doesn’t just do this every time a tragedy happens? Interesting Fact : he was originally going to do this again at the end of the original abandoned Superman 2 ). Here Superman’s powers somehow come from the reduced gravity on Earth and our young sun. O…kay… and although it takes Clark years to master them, General Zod is able to learn to fly and direct even more impressive laser beams from his eyes than Superman can, all within the space of a few minutes.The only explanation given is that Zod has trained in the military and so finds it easier to learn stuff. Hmm…

It has a good sense of realism at other times though, for example Clark (Superman) frequently doubts himself and struggles to come to terms with his ‘otherness’ (Just as you would be if you knew one day you would be the most powerful man on the planet). And then as the real action starts, the tension is built well and builds until sadly things go too far and then everything – story, realism, groundedness seem to take a back seat, and eventually even the special effects begin to break down in the pumped up final action sequence.

The best Superman film since Superman II but is spoilt by an over-the-top ending section. 7/10

The men of Gondor led by Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) ride forwards to confront Sauron in Mordor.

Making film versions of each of the books was always going to be a difficult task. Overall Peter Jackson hasn’t done badly but there are some shortcomings. His films manage to capture most of the dark of the original stories – but little of the light and the good times (there is no Tom Bombadil for example). However having seen the rather  too long opening tea-party scene in The Hobbit maybe that’s not a bad thing.

It had been a long time now since I watched The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) so I thought it overdue that I watch the two sequels.

The Two Towers (2002) starts inauspiciously with Aragorn, Gimli (the dwarf) and Legolas (the elf) on a race against time to save Merry and Pippin from the Orcs, who have captured them. There’s a lot of pursuing in this section but not much dialogue or action.

The story only really gets underway properly in the build up to the show-piece battle – The Battle of Helmsdeep. At the same time, the other main story-thread, that of Frodo and Sam continues as they push onward towards Mordor. The ring must be destroyed but every day it’s influence over Frodo is growing stronger and he is getting weaker. Then there’s Gollum of course who offers to show the hobbits the way but who secretly plots to get his ‘precious’ back for himself.

Overall its a good film, although a little over-earnest at times and the acting can be hammy too. Elijah Wood who plays Frodo is a notable culprit and there’s a section (after he has been captured by Faramir) where you see his face continually react to the situation and lets just say it reminded me of school drama class. “Do your shocked face, now do your surprised face, now do your downcast look”. It was exactly like that. I was not over impressed with Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) either. I remember reading an interview saying he read the books in a week before they started shooting and maybe it shows a little in him not always taking or understanding things as seriously as he might. He’s not bad at all but the expressions on his face and eyes were not always convincing for me. Ian Mackellen as Gandalf is a standout in both films, getting seriousness, weight and humour into his role. (Interesting fact – actually 5 people play Gandalf, although he does all the speaking) and perhaps surprisingly Orlando Bloom is very good as Legolas. In almost every other film I have seen him in since – I haven’t been impressed but here the slight woodeness in his acting (Sorry Orlando) works to his advantage. Being an elf he is meant to seem different and to have an otherworldly quality to him, and that he does. He also looks the part, ‘pretty’ with fine features and long blonde hair.

The Return of the King (2003) is overall a better film than The Two Towers.  It has more spectacle, an even bigger battle – this time in Gondor against Sauron’s huge invading army and since it ends the trilogy, it’s also more satisfying. As in the other films, and I know it is quite close to the books in this respect, but Sam and Frodo’s relationship is a little over-the-top times to the point where you almost expect one of Sam’s children at the end of the film to be Frodo’s. Also worth pointing out is that this is one of the few films where once evil has been defeated, it actually carries on for quite a while afterwards to tell the rest of the tale. I quite liked this and although it’s true to the books you can see why most films don’t do this. As Frodo says “How do you pick up the threads of your old life after such an adventure?”. Everything is now a bit of an anti-climax, and the bland smiles as Gandalf and the elfs say goodbye to the hobbits say it all. In times with no evil, there are no interesting stories worth telling.

As a trilogy there is a lot to cram in, and some events are missed out or only given lip-service to but this is to be expected. As I mentioned before it could do with a little more lightness as well as all the darkness. Lord of The Rings has always been as much about shades of grey as well as much as contrasting good and evil. The quality of the acting is up and down but overall Peter Jackson has done a good job. There are impressive special effects too especially in the final film. Scores? The Two Towers 6/10 and The Return of the King 7/10.

Hugo was shown in 3D for it’s theatrical release which meant that  the early films of George Melies were also recreated in 3D…

This is the story of Hugo, a young orphaned boy played by Asa Butterfield. He lives inside the walls of a train station and is searching for parts so that he can fix a mechanical man that he and his late father (Jude Law) had begun to fix. In the process he befriends a young girl called Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), rediscovers early film maker George Melies (Ben Kingsley), learns about his pioneering work in film, and finds himself part of new family. It’s a fairytale directed by Martin Scorsese with a story about the early history of film shoehorned in. It was also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, undeservedly in my opinion, although its not a bad film by any means.

Initially I struggled to get into the story. It feels almost like you are watching a bunch of cartoon characters albeit ones played by humans. It takes a little while before the emotional elements of the film work their magic so that you can become more accepting of these slightly unreal characters. There is lot of light humour, much of it coming from Sacha Baron Cohen’s Inspector Gustave, who has an injured left leg. Although it has to be said many of the humourous elements do feel a little flat and forced. And while it was genuinely interesting to learn about George Melies and his films, there is an educational tone to these sections which makes them feel slightly incongrous when compared with the adventure and fantasy of the main story.

In all but name this is a live-action Disney film featuring the now familiar story where the orphaned main character finds himself alone in the world and then through a ‘journey’ and with the help of various characters he meets on the way, is able to find happiness and ultimately a new family. But sadly this isn’t vintage ‘Disney’. The screenplay and dramatic pacing just aren’t good enough and the emotional hooks the film tries to get into you never go deep enough under your skin for you to really care. You were upset when Bambi’s mother died, and no doubt you cared when Simba was left alone after his father’s death, but with Hugo….. not so much.

6/10

Impressive detail here as Abraham’s undead friend Henry (Dominic Cooper) doesn’t cast a shadow

If you are going to make a film where Abraham Lincoln battles vampires you had better make it completely ridiculous and totally kick-ass. They got the first part right since this is certainly ridiculous but unfortunately it’s not in any way ‘kick-ass’. In many ways the movie is based on true historical facts, for example Lincoln (Benjamin Walker) uses a silver coated axe as his weapon of choice to despatch the undead, and I do know that the real Lincoln was himself very proficient with an axe. Just as he did in real life Lincoln campaigns to abolish slavery and he also er…. wears a hat. Ok so my knowledge of Honest Abe has pretty much run out here, but shallow though it is, it was still a lot deeper than most of what follows in the film…

There is a nice emotional set up at the start, (albeit in a B-Movie horror film style) where you are shown the death of Abraham’s mother by a vampire and then introduced to him as an inexperienced and vulnerable young man. The film then introduces some of the key characters such as Henry (Dominic Cooper) who becomes his friend, trainer and mentor and also Abe’s future wife Mary (Mary Elizabeth Winstead).

However the film soon loses both it’s emotional elements and dramatic tension and you know its lost it’s way completely when the death of Lincoln’s own son fails you move you. But by this time the film has long since degenerated into a sequence of meaningless action sequences anyway. It’s also in these action sequences where the film’s internal logic starts to breaks down : Why is Abe’s friend Will suddenly able to wield an axe just as skilfully as him?

In any film, no matter how ridiculous you still need to care for it to work and here I just didn’t.       Sucks a little, but mainly just draining 4/10

Gollum is particularly well realised although some of the dwarves do look like they are wearing facial-prosthetics

The HFR 3D : This is one film I have seen the reviews for, and they were very mixed with a lot of the people complaining about it being over-long or stretched and also many more complaints about the new High Frequency (HFR) 3D making it look ‘too real’ and being headache-inducing. No headaches for me at all, but I agree that the film did look a little hyper-real at times, although this might have been more to do with the fantasy-setting than a problem with the 3D. Overall I found the new HFR 3D effect to be better than the standard 3D effect which could be a little unclear and often struggled to keep up during fast action sequences.

The Film : The film tells the story of Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit) who is employed by a company of dwarves as their ‘burglar’, and along with Gandalf The Grey (again played by Ian Mckellen)  they  seek to reclaim the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from Smaug, a fearsome dragon. Martin Freeman plays the role of Bilbo very well, and the standout scene in the movie features him and Gollum (Andy Serkis) asking each other riddles in an underground cave. Gollum is a very fine piece of CGI, and the 3D works excellently here, managing to bring him to life as a real creature.

The main bad point for me is that this is a book adaptation – actually a quite a faithful one (so far as I can remember the book) but this does mean that too much is crammed into the almost 3 hour running-time (despite this being the first of three films). There is some emotional depth to the film but not enough – you don’t really care much about anyone beyond Bilbo and Gandalf. To be fair early on in the film director Peter Jackson does include quite a few sequences of the dwarves and Bilbo at rest or singing and conversing which does help you to get to know their characters but later in the film it can feel like there are just a lot of action sequences all strung together and not much else. These were enjoyable but at no time did I think ‘wow, that was amazing’! So a good film, quite close to the book, with lots of excitement but a little too long with just has too much crammed in 6/10