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Matt (Josh Whitehouse) is pumped for soul.

It’s 70’s Britain and in the North of England a new sub-culture is being born :  Northern Soul – where teenagers dance to the latest US Soul records. The basic dance step looks a bit like Bruce Lee’s fighting-stance, where he gracefully jigs from foot to the other. Flourishes include spins, kicks and semi-breakdance moves.

This is the era before the internet and where communcation with the US is both expensive and difficult. For this reason sometimes the kids don’t even know the names of the records they are dancing to. The DJ’s all have ‘cover-ups’ – vinyl records with their label covered up, so that other DJs can’t find out what they are.

John (Elliot James Langridge ) is an introverted school boy who secretly fancies a nurse (Antonia Thomas) he sees on the bus each day. An encounter with older Northern-Soul dancing Matt (Josh Whitehouse) starts to bring him out of himself and give him more confidence. He gets into the ‘scene’ and learns the dances. John and Matt’s dream is to start their own club-night and to earn enough money to go the States to buy all the latest records.

Thankfully this isn’t  “Step Up : Northern Soul”. It’s not a dance show-off film. John and Matt are both good but not spectacular dancers. It has a decent script and a story that takes in drug-abuse, fights, deaths of friends, euphoric highs and crushing disappointments. The soundtrack is superb and is packed full of soul dance classics. It’s probably true however that outside the context of the film many of the songs just won’t sound as good.

Negatives: Although impressively edgy for a dance film, the overall story arc is a still a little formulaic. It’s also fair to say that while good, the story does come second place to the music and authentic depiction of the Northern Soul ‘scene’.

An interesting and eventful (and privately funded) film about a subculture 70% of people will never have heard of. Worth a watch. 7/10

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It’s a good thing Thermistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) remembered to shave his chest and legs before going into battle…

The Persians led by the “God-King” Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) have invaded Greece with a huge army. The defending Athenian and Spartan warriors have spent a worrying amount of time shaving their body hair. Yes it’s the sequel to 300, there are more greased hairless gym-pumped chests but where 300 could be described as homoerotic this is just cheesy gay porn.

The original film was an enjoyable mish-mash of testosterone, slow-motion action sequences and set pieces that became internet memes (“This is Sparta, Hear me roar!” etc). It even spawned the the spoof film Meet The Spartans (2008). Rise of an Empire isn’t exactly a a prequel or a sequel though. It’s more an ‘equal’ – since events take place both before, after and at the same time as the original 300. Instead of Spartans however, this time the focus is on the Athenians and instead of land battles, all the battles are at sea.

By their nature boats aren’t very manoeuvrable, so things have to be spiced up with them ramming each other with precision strikes, suicide bomber attacks and the much larger Persian navy being led into obvious traps by the Greeks. The leader of the Athenians, Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton) even somehow manages to ride a horse into battle while at sea – which is impressive.

The chief enemy this time is not Xerxes but the Persian naval commander and master swordswoman Artemisia (Eva Green): “Her beauty is only matched by her devotion to her king” according to the very cheesy voiceover. There is a strange, aggressive and almost at-a-distance sex scene between her and Themistocles which presumably is to provide counterbalance to all the man-on-man action going on elsewhere. There are Spartans are in this film but they are now led by the annoyingly over-earnest Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey).  Equally annoying are the over-the-top blood spurts that seem to issue forth every time a sword even partially strikes home. I presume these were added for the 3D effect in movie theaters but they often give the impression that you are watching a video game.

Hopefully the next film will be back with (non-irritating) Spartans and set on land. Over the top, historically dubious, cheesy, often over-earnest and not as fun or enjoyable as 300. 5/10

This is very unfair : Russell Crowe faces off against a gladiator and a tiger. They need a T-Rex to even things up…

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this and I felt like watching it again. It feels a bit pointless reviewing it, because who hasn’t already seen this? Even beleaguered girlfriends were dragged to the cinema to watch it at the time.

I saw it first at the cinema and the impact it made back then was huge. A truly inspiring story of a disgraced Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Russell Crowe) – although really he was the victim of the scheming of Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix), the new Roman Emperor. Maximus is left for dead, sees his family killed, is sold into slavery and then becomes a gladiator. As part of a gladiatorial troupe he then returns to Rome where he may or may not get his revenge.

The film hasn’t dated much, although it occasionally feels a little over earnest in places and at times rushed – but then there is a lot to fit in. There are also many scenes to enjoy which have since become iconic. To give one example : early on in Maximus’ career as a gladiator he enters the arena alone and kills all of the opposition’s gladiators quickly and efficiently, throws down his sword and turns to the subdued crowd and shouts “What’s the matter? Are you not entertained?”. They want to see killing of course but they also want to see a show.

Crowe is superb as Maximus, and in many ways this was his breakthrough performance as a Hollywood leading man. He carries weight in his words and actions, and his emotions are as often expressed by what he does not say as by what he does.

Phoenix is also very impressive as the cowardly, often childlike, yet ruthlessly scheming Commodus. He desires his sister, kills his father and craves absolute power for himself. He is a true movie villain, weak and vulnerable but clever and dangerous.

Many years after it’s release – 13 years now – this is still a great film. At the time it felt almost like a spiritual sequel to the similarly iconic Sparticus. It has the classic moments, the epic sweep, huge action scenes, and the weight to rival that film. If you haven’t seen it for a while you should definitely watch it again. 8/10

Interesting fact: Abraham Lincoln is recognisable by his silhouette alone, a characteristic he shares with other cultural icons such as Mickey Mouse, Homer Simpson, Sonic The Hedgehog and Michael Jackson.

Hmm very worthy,  but surely this is boring? Well the opening section is dark, gloomy and heavy going without much reward. I stopped watching 2 films early before this (Step Up 4 : Miami Heat and The Incredible Burt Wonderstone) and this almost became the third. Stick with it though and things do get much more interesting and emotional as Lincoln struggles to gather support for the 13th Amendment (which abolishes slavery).

Is Daniel Day Lewis any good with an axe? Er.. You are thinking of Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. It is true that the real Lincoln was very handy with an axe in his younger years. This film however is focused on a much later part of his life. He must balance the need to sign a peace agreement with the South (and end the bloody civil war) with his desire to end slavery – which if it happens could stop the South agreeing to peace terms – meaning thousands more dead. It’s a tough and tricky time for him, and there are no vampires!

So is this better film that Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter? You are obsessed with that film. Yes it’s better (2 points better) but that film was more digestible and enjoyable. Daniel Day Lewis is very good as Lincoln, managing to portray him in advanced age especially well. A lot of actors will end up looking like a young man wearing an ‘old man’ outfit. They miss the unsteadiness, and the slower movements of the eyes and body of an older person. A notable bad point about this film however is that Spielberg tries to be clever in the way he shows Abe’s death (it’s not a spoiler to say that Lincoln was shot while watching a play). It’s shown in an indirect way, which means you don’t see Abe being shot at all and as a result you don’t feel much when he dies – which is a shame.

Should I watch this then? It’s very long… There’s no reason why you should. You could easily learn more about Lincoln by reading a couple of pages in a book, and the image of him portrayed here is of a very righteous, clever, almost saintly man. It’s possible he really was like that, although it’s doubtful any man could be. Overall though it’s a good film. It’s just heavy going at times.

Give me the score!

6/10

Hmm, I think I might watch Star Trek Into Darkness instead. It has laser guns..

Okay….

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

Curiously Shakespeare himself (Rafe Spall) is portrayed as an oafish thug, sounding not unlike Russell Brand

This film assumes the theory that William Shakespeare’s plays were written by The Earl of Oxford, Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans) is true. De Vere chooses the poet and playright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) to stage his plays but Johnson gets cold-feet and gives credit for the works to William Shakespeare (an actor in his company). The film is a little disorientating at first, with so many theatrical types, aesthetes, and people with titles to get to know. As well as being confusing it also initially comes across as an unfunny Monty Python film. Get into the meat of the film however and you’ll find it tells a good story, full of betrayal, intrigue and tragedy (much like one of Shakespeare’s plays). As a drama, the pay-off here, instead of action sequences, is seeing De Vere’s plays being performed and the rowsing audience-reaction to them.

De Vere uses his plays as political tools to manipulate the ‘mob’, and this does not go unnoticed by William Cecil (David Thewlis), Queen Elizabeth’s longtime adviser, who moves to put a stop to them. As a result, the film gets some action sequences of its own, and builds to an exciting conclusion. I thought Ifans was surprisingly good as De Vere, but then this might be because I am more used to seeing him portray idiots. A slighty negative point is that the film jumps betweens time periods almost at will and with no warning and there were times when this did catch me out. Overall a good film. 6/10