film review – Divergent (12A)

“The future belongs to those who know where they belong”

This film is based in a futuristic walled up California where people are divided up into groups or ‘factions’, according to a test to determine their personality type: Abnegation (selfless); Amity (peaceful); Candor (honest); Dauntless (brave); and Erudite (intelligent).

At the ‘choosing ceremony’ they get the chance to join any of the factions regardless of their test results, but once the decision is made it cannot be changed.  Complete loyalty to their chosen faction is expected – ‘faction before blood!’  It is believed that this system will keep the peace after a brutal war 100 years ago.

The story begins when Beatrice (Tris), and her brother Caleb, who belong to the Abnegation faction, are preparing for the choosing ceremony.

With a running time of 143 minutes, Divergent is quite long but is fast paced and didn’t feel that long.  Whilst I enjoyed the film, I was unable to get past the similarity to ‘The Hunger Games’!  Prior to writing this review I checked which book was published first – The Hunger Games 2008, Divergent 2011.  It is perhaps unfortunate that Shailene Woodley who plays Tris, bears such a resemblance to Jennifer Lawrence who played the lead in The Hunger Games.  Fans of The Hunger Games will either enjoy it for the similarities, or dislike it because of them.  I enjoyed it, but suspected plagiarism!

See it if you liked: The Hunger Games

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Film review – Noah 12A

“Fire consumes, water cleanses”

This could well turn out to be the shortest review I have ever written!… The reason I’m bothering to write it, is to warn people.  Don’t waste your money, but more importantly, don’t waste the 2 hours and 18 minutes of your life – yes, it’s that bad!

Filled with a host of well know actors, this does nothing at all to help the film.  It was always going to be a challenge to make a film of the Noah biblical story, if they stuck to just telling the story, it may’ve been watchable.  However it is filled with subliminal style images of snakes and apples flashing up at completely unrelated moments, some sequences contain editing so fast it made me feel quite ill.  This was used to illustrate the 7 day creation, whilst the idea is okay, the editing is just way too fast!  There are a couple of conversations shot with the characters as small silhouettes on the horizon – I have no idea why this was done.

I think the producers thought if we chuck some big names in the cast and use as many special effects as possible, it’ll be a success…  They were very wrong!

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Dallas Buyers Club (15)

“I prefer to die with my boots on!”

Dallas Buyers Club is based on a true story about a man who challenged the American drug regulatory body (FDA), after discovering he had the AIDS virus and being told to get his affairs in order as he only had 30 days left to live.

I must admit to knowing absolutely nothing about this film prior to seeing it!  I think this was an advantage – I went with an open mind, not knowing what to expect.  When I mentioned to a friend I was going to see it, they commented that it was meant to be a good film, but too ‘heavy a subject matter’ for their taste.  While true that any film dealing with this subject matter is unlikely to be jolly, I found it a lot more palatable than Tom Hanks in Philadelphia.  The focus of the film is not on people dying, but people who love life and want to carry on living!

Matthew McConaughey plays Ron Woodroof who is an electrician with a passion for rodeo.  Generally films set out to get the audience to like the main protagonist.  This is certainly not the case in Dallas Buyers Club, it does not pull any punches about the kind of man Woodroof is.  He enjoys many vices, is bigoted and extremely homophobic.  At first he refuses to believe he is HIV positive, purely on the grounds that he is ‘straight’!  It is only after doing his own research that he comes to accept his lifestyle fits the profile of people at risk from catching the HIV virus.

Desperate to live, Ron carries on his research after AZT which is still in the trial stages makes him ill.  What unfolds is a fascinating and at times unnerving story of the battle between Ron and the FDA, in an attempted to be allowed to import the natural, safe remedy that is literally keeping him and many others alive.

If the film doesn’t appeal to you, give it a chance for the excellent performances and educational true story. The Oscars received are deserved, particularly the one given to Jared Leto for best supporting actor, who plays Ron’s unlikely business partner ‘Rayon’.

See it if you liked: Erin Brockovich

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Film review – I, Frankenstein (12A)

“You’re only a monster if you behave like a monster!”

‘I, Frankenstein is based on the graphic novel by Kevin Grevioux.  The most notable thing about the film is that it retains the feel of a graphic novel with extensive use of computer generated imagery.  While some have been quick to criticise the cgi I think it works when you remember it is based on a graphic novel.

Unlike most Frankenstein tales, I Frankenstein is not about Frankenstein trying to create his creature, but the life of the creature (or Adam as he is named), after he is created and is alone in the world.  Early in the story he is captured by what turns out to be an order of gargoyles!  It is explained that far from being decorative statues, gargoyles are actually part of an army formed by the archangel Michael to capture the demons released by Satan when he fell from heaven.

Adam finds himself caught up in the war between the gargoyles and demons, with the obligatory pretty scientist also getting caught up in the conflict.  This isn’t original in anyway, it’s clear to see the influences of other stories!  I still enjoyed all of the very gothic imagery as well as the feel of the film.  It’s not a ‘must see at the cinema film’, but if it was on television I would watch it again.

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Film review – 12 Years a Slave (15)

“I don’t want to survive, I want to live!”

’12 Years a Slave’ is the true story of how Solomon Northup was sold into slavery and is based on the book he co-wrote with David Wilson which was published in 1853.  Solomon (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor), is tricked by two men who claim they wish to hire him as a musician for two weeks after hearing him play the violin.

Although Lincoln was a well made film, the majority of it was set in the house of representatives, was very dry, at times tedious and did not give any real indication of what life as a slave was like. You could argue that was not the purpose of Lincoln, if you asked me which film has the most impact, it is definitely 12 Years a Slave.

One of the things that makes this film so powerful is that we are shown the stark contrast between how Solomon is treat when he is a free man living in New York with his family, compared to the treatment he receives after being sold as a slave.

The film gives an unnerving depiction of how the slave owners or ‘masters’ first broke a person’s spirit and then carried on with brainwashing, even twisting quotations from the bible to use as ‘proof’ that their lives and treatment as slaves was legitimate.
Solomon learns the hard way to go along with what is expected.  On a number of occasions I found this film very harrowing to watch.  That said, please don’t let that put you off…. Sadly, not everything in life is pleasant, but some stories are too important not to be told and this is one of them.

It is difficult to find fault with this film, (and I’m normally very good at finding faults in films)!  There is a well known cast, who all give a quality performance.  They are not simply there to put ‘bums on seats’ as is often the case with some films. Technically, the film has been well produced.  It is crisp in appearance, the long takes combined with the attention to detail in the editing, all combine to make the film feel very real and draw you in, without trying to be ‘clever’ for the sake of it!

It is worth making the effort to see this one at the cinema if you possibly can.

See it if you liked: Django Unchained

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (12A)

“Why are there dwarfs coming out of the toilet?…
Will they bring us luck?!”

So here it is, the second in the trilogy of films based on the book The Hobbit.  The Desolation of Smaug.  As I said at the start of my review of The Hobbit, I am writing this review from the perspective of a non Tolkien enthusiast, who hasn’t read any of the books!

The film opens with a scene featuring Gandalf and Thorin in a bar at the edge of Bree.  (This is prior to the start of the quest). Gandalf is persuading Thorin to take on the challenge, venture into Smaug’s cave and reclaim the land and riches that rightfully belong to the dwarfs.

In the next scene we jump forward 12 months to where the last film ended.  People who crave action will not be left wanting, it is action packed from start to finish, with the very scary looking orcs being ever-present. Elves also feature prominently and I think ‘Tauriel’ (played by Evangeline Lilly) is probably both my favourite character and performance in the film.  Her strength of character is not dissimilar to Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.

As with ‘An Unexpected Journey’ the cinematography is at times breathtaking and the soundtrack mesmerising.

The main criticism, particularly from a purist viewpoint, is that the story is not at all faithful to the book.  (So my father tells me)!  This wasn’t really an issue for me, but I imagine it will irritate a lot of fans.  There are a number of scenes featuring characters who do not appear until the Lord of the Rings.

There has been some criticism of the special effects, I can’t say I noticed any that were especially bad.  In fact I thought ‘Smaug’ was stunning!  I saw the 3D version, which was fine, not overdone, but also not really needed.  You won’t lose out by watching it in 2D.

This is definitely a film to see at the cinema if at all possible.  It doesn’t feel as long as the running time of 2 hours and 41 minutes suggests.  A word of warning though, it does end rather abruptly and you will be left wanting more!

See it if you liked: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

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Film review – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Fear only works when they don’t have hope.  Right now Katniss Everdeen is giving them hope”.

Whilst I will try to be objective in writing this review.  I feel it is important to begin by saying I am a big fan of The Hunger Games.  I first film blew me away.  I immediately went out and read the books, (and I hadn’t read a book in years)!  So I went along to watch the second Hunger Games film with a huge amount of anticipation and expectation.

Catching Fire is directed by Francis Lawrence.  When I heard the director had changed, I was concerned the feel and tone of the film would alter from the first one.  However my fears were unfounded.  The ambience of the sets that worked so well in the first film remain and are just as effective – you have the grey/blue tones of the outlying poorer districts in comparison to the fluorescent pink of the rich Capitol.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story…  The Hunger Games is set in the fictional country of Panem.  There are 12 district which are controlled in a dictatorship style by district 1, ‘The Capitol’.  By way of a punishment for a rebellion against the dictatorship of The Capitol, 75 years ago, each year a young male and female from each district must fight to the death in a televised event.

Catching Fire begins where Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark are about to embark on their mandatory victory tour, having won the 74th Hunger Games.

Catching Fire (the book), felt very much like the ‘middle of the story’.  To be fair, it is, but the book felt too much like the middle of the story!  I am happy to say, whilst the film remains very faithful to the book, it also bring the story to life better than the book did…. (Perhaps I have a poor imagination, but other people have made similar comments about the book).

The performances remain excellent, (and Woody Harrelson outshines everyone once more as Haymitch).  The sense of unrest and tension in the districts comes across strongly.  The new characters are brilliantly cast, (they are exactly as I had imagined them)!

Catching Fire is far less horrific than the first film, perhaps because the people entering the arena are older.  Yup, they do end up back there!  The trailers give that away, so I’m not spoiling anything.  The fact the action is more subdued allows the politics to come across more and that in itself is horrific.

It is the middle film, and as with the book, ends quite abruptly, so don’t be too disappointed that you’re going to have to wait awhile for the next one!  I didn’t adore Catching Fire as much as The Hunger Games, but thoroughly enjoyed it and it met my high expectations. You could watch this film without having seen The Hunger Games, but you would gain a lot more if you watch The Hunger Games first.

See it if you liked:  The Hunger Games! :)

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Film review – The Butler (12A)

“You hear nothing, you see nothing, you only serve”


The Butler is inspired by the story of Eugene Allen who served as a butler in the White House over a period of 34 years, finally retiring whilst Ronald Reagan was president.  This film uses a lot of ‘poetic license’ with the details of Eugene Allen’s life, the inspired by term is more significant than you would think!

Despite this, The Butler definitely has something to offer.  Cecil Gaines (the fictional character name of the butler played by Forest Whitaker), is present during some major moments of American history, most notably the assassination of president Kennedy.
For me, the most important point depicted in the film was the change in attitude amongst the younger generation of black Americans.  Cecil Gaines was very proud to have gained a job in the White House and on the issue of equality, he was raised to believe it’s just how the world is and you have to make the best of it!   When one of his sons becomes a political activist and a key member of the Black Panther civil rights movement, Cecil reallystruggles to come to terms with the direct action necessary to bring about equality.

The cast boasts a lot of big names, but some performances in particular live up to expectation, Forest Whitaker gives an understated but poignant performance as the butler.  Oprah Winfrey shines as his wife Gloria and John Cusack gives a good portrayal of Richard Nixon.

If you watch looking for faults, there are plenty to be found – I’m no expert on American history, but suspect those who are will have plenty of criticisms.   A lot of the criticism will be around the way in which so many major historical events are just touched upon.  Though in a film running 132 minutes spanning a 34 year time frame, that is all you can really do.  Remember it’s a fictional work and you will enjoy it more.  Not a ‘fantastic’ film, but a good film I enjoyed and found very watchable.

See it if you liked:  Precious, The Help

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Film review – Sunshine on Leith (PG)

“Have you thought about what you’re gonna do when you get out?”

“Most of it involves your sister!”

Sunshine on Leith is based on the hit musical of the same name and directed by Dexter Fletcher.  The story revolves around Ally (played by Kevin Gutherie), and Davy, played by George MacKay.  It follows them as they try to readjust to their life in Edinburgh after having served in Afghanistan. The story unfolds through a combination of dialogue and song.  The songs are all by The Proclaimers and similar to Mamma Mia they fit into the storyline very well.  (Though it is quite easy to guess which song may be coming up)!

The well established cast seem very at home with the singing and put in a strong believable performance.  It is fair to say this is a Scottish Mamma Mia!  Which isn’t a bad think, but it certainly gives you a good idea of what you’re in for.  (Obviously, if you can’t abide The Proclaimers stay well away from the film)!

 

Sunshine on Leith is and sets out to be a ‘feel good’ film.  As such, I found it at times to be almost unbearably ‘cheesy’ in nature!  Though to its credit it does deal with some serious issues, people aren’t always smiling.  Despite the attempts to add balance to the story there are a couple of really corny moments.

I thought it was a well made film, which overall I enjoyed, but I won’t be rushing out to buy it!  If you’re a fan of musicals, you should love it :)

See it if you liked: Mamma Mia, Joyful Noise

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Film review – About Time (12A)

“I never said it could fix everything!”

 About Time is the latest offering from Richard Curtis, (writer and director). His other credits include Notting Hill and Love Actually. In About Time Tim (played by Domhnall Gleeson), is informed by his father on his 21st birthday that the males in their family can time travel!  It has limitations, they can only travel back in time within their own lifetime and Tim soon realises that going back and changing things is not without consequence.

The film has a strong cast, some beautiful scenery and overall is generally very charming with an important, (though predictable), message about life, relationships and the passage of time.  Link to trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T7A810duHvw

Though a watchable film it clearly follows a well established Richard Curtis ‘template’, even down to Domhnall Gleeson clearly playing a Hugh Grant kind of character.  It has moments of humour and humanity, but overall is predictable and not very believable.

People who adore films such as Bridget Jones Diary and Love Actually will no doubt enjoy About Time, others may find it lacks substance.

 See it if you liked: The Time Travellers Wife, Bridget Jones Diary

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