CBF’s Genre Toppers: Superhero

Superhero films, much like any other genre, have been around for decades — dating back to around the Second World War and even further according to some accounts. However it has only really been since the turn of the 21st century that superhero films have found their place in the cinema, where they are now some of the most successful films ever made, both critically and commercially.

The following are five of my favourite superhero films, all of which, unsurprisingly, were produced in the last decade.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

“So where’s the nearest Subway?” “Dude, it’s 1942.”

Released in 2011 as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and one of the prequels to The Avengers, Captain America: The First Avenger stars Chris Evans as Steve Rodgers, a small man who is transformed into a super-soldier known as Captain America in order to aid the war effort (the film is set during the Second World War — which now has two mentions already in this post!). With the assistance of Hayley Atwell and Tommy Lee Jones, Captain America must prevent Hitler’s Head of Arms — played by Hugo Weaving — from acquiring unlimited energy to fuel masses of highly volatile weaponry.

Although not the most entertaining Avenger — we’ll see him later — Captain America, at least in my eyes, is the most interesting. Unlike the other films under the Marvel umbrella, Captain America: The First Avenger is set in the past which clearly gives it a distinction the other films do not have. Director Joe Johnston administers a much-needed injection of colour and vibrancy to the Captain America franchise, utilising the war setting magnificently, attaching emotion to the film and endowing depth to each individual character. As opposed to other superhero films, for example Thor, the plot is not cut-and-dry and the nostalgic setting combined with very worthy performances from the cast amounts to an entertaining film.

Captain America: The First Avenger is underrated in my opinion — there is enough action, depth and freshness for it to be placed up there among the best superhero films of recent years.

The Avengers (2012)

What is a best-of list without the biggest superhero film of all time? Having been brooding around and popping up throughout each of its predecessors, The Avengers finally hit screens in the summer of 2012 and blew every other superhero film out of the water financially. Directed by sci-fi mastermind Joss Whedon and stuffed full of all the usual Marvel superheroes (Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk and so on), The Avengers follows, well… the Avengers on their quest to stop the evil Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and his army of monsters from forcing the Earth under his control.

When I went to see this film, I experienced it in 3D and with moving chairs and all sorts. While the 3D was disappointing, the whole moving chairs phenomenon really added to what is a film full of massive set-pieces (New York, for one) and action sequences. Whereas Captain America beforehand was a little tentative in regards to action and more focused on the story of one man, The Avengers is all about running, jumping, flying, exploding, crashing, banging and comedy. Whedon prevails through the daunting task of getting all of the characters enough screen time to warrant their appearance in the film, as everyone from Iron Man to Phil Coulson to Black Widow plays an essential role. Collectively, the performances from the cast are humorous and serious when need-be (mainly humorous though), but the stand out actor in this film is Mark Ruffalo, who is outstanding and by far the best Hulk yet.

Overall, The Avengers amounts to just about everything you expect when you go to see a superhero film at the cinema. It is extremely fun.

Watchmen (2009)

“I’m telling you, i am the Batman.”

After the publication of the comic and years of development issues, Watchmen finally graced cinema screens in 2009 under the guidance of Zack Snyder. Starring an ensemble cast consisting of the likes of Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley and Malin Akerman, the plot is set in an alternative Cold War timeline in 1985, where a group of retired vigilantes are the targets of a conspiracy in the United States, forcing them to band together one more time to uncover and expose the shifty goings-on.

Not long removed from his bloody, visual epic 300, Zack Snyder carries some familiar elements with him in the creation of Watchmen: it is one of the most violent films the superhero genre has seen (in that sense, it stays truer to the comic) and is also one of the most visually intriguing, feeling like you are genuinely watching a graphic novel play out on-screen. When it was released the film divided opinion among audiences, with some critics proclaiming that it is too close to the source material and thus the plot is too contrived and thus unable to breathe. Others appreciated the true nature of the film and that it did not shy away from the violence depicted in the graphic novel, which many superhero films tend to do in order to reach a wider audience (in terms of cinema, an 18 certificate alienates a large percentage of the potential audience a film may acquire had that film received a 15 rating). For me, having never read the Watchmen graphic novel, the film is a success and the characters — although blotchy in places — are encapsulating, particularly Rorschach who is portrayed sublimely by Jackie Earle Haley.

Visceral and ambitious, Watchmen successfully offers a different perspective on the superhero genre in the 21st century.

Iron Man (2008)

“I need to pee again.”

The first instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Iron Man, hit cinemas in 2008 to widespread critical acclaim. Directed by Jon Favreau and starring Robert Downey Jr as extravagant billionaire Tony Stark, the film follows Stark’s unavoidable creation and eventual utilisation of the Iron Man suit, along with his new-found philosophy to use the suit against evil.

Iron Man is as close to a perfect superhero film as you can get, without actually being perfect: a charismatic lead, a simple-yet-effective plot, a smart and witty script and entertaining action. Unfortunately its only downfall is a significant one — the villain. Jeff Bridges does a fine job as the sleazy, egotistical partner-turned-adversary to Iron Man, but the character itself is not very interesting and is flawed in places. Regardless, the focus of the film is on Robert Downey Jr and his portrayal of the title character. Downey delivers a cocky, effortless and witty performance, yet still provides enough humanity and emotion to make the audience sympathise with an otherwise pretty obnoxious billionaire. Supporting characters like Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Lt. Colonel James Rhodes (Terrence Howard) offer the extra support Stark requires in order to achieve the correct balance between overly brash, and sentimental. The two Iron Man sequels are not quite as good as their predecessor, but it would be a mean feat to achieve such status again.

The first offering from Marvel and by far the best, Iron Man almost has the correct concoction of elements to create the perfect superhero film.

The Dark Knight (2008)

“This isn’t awkward at all.”

Although I have The Dark Knight stated above as my favourite superhero film of all time, the trilogy as a whole should be at the summit. The only reason they are not is because this post would probably become a bit repetitive and boring. It would be like watching Saw 4 and then realising Saw 5 is on its way. So while much of the focus here will be on The Dark Knight, I am really including Batman Begins and The Dark Knights Rises as my top superhero films of all time too.

Directed by the majestic Christopher Nolan and released in 2008, The Dark Knight stars Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman and follows on from the events in Batman Begins. Wayne (as Batman), teaming with police lieutenant James Gordon (Gary Oldman) and district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), take down an unrivalled number of criminals and bring them to justice. This causes The Joker (Heath Ledger) to devise a plot aiming to bring Gotham to its knees and reduce its heroes to nothing more than the level of The Joker himself.

I mentioned just a moment ago that Iron Man comes so close to being the perfect superhero film. For me, The Dark Knight fills that spot. Everything about this film hits the bullseye. From the dark, unnerving atmosphere to the themes embroidered into the plot to the incomparable performance from the late Heath Ledger as The Joker (a performance that earned him an Academy Award in 2009). Ledger’s Joker is unpredictable, viscous and intelligent, and is arguably the greatest villain of all time in a superhero film (you will get no argument from me though). Although Ledger steals the show, Christian Bale more than holds his own as Batman — cool and stylish on the outside, but unsure and under pressure on the inside. The two bounce off of each other with immaculate chemistry. The sheer volume of characters in the film has been questioned by viewers (such as the need for Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent), but for me every character plays an essential part to the story — incidentally, Maggie Gyllenhaal is far more suited to playing Rachel Dawes than Katie Holmes was in Batman Begins. Hans Zimmer once again provides the haunting soundtrack, which adds more substance to the already eerie atmosphere.

A film about values and hope, The Dark Knight is not just a great superhero film, it is an outstanding piece of cinema. The Dark Knight is the superhero film we needed, but probably not the superhero film we deserved. Sorry, I just could not help myself.

 

Okay, so now for a few honourable mentions. These films are great too:

Batman (1966) — A feature-length film inspired by the Batman television series, Batman: The Movie takes more of a comedy angle than a violent one, with Adam West and Burt Ward reprising their roles as Batman and Robin respectively. Comical, over-the-top fun.

The Incredibles (2004) — The only animated film on the list, The Incredibles achieved universal acclaim from critics and audiences alike after its release. An entertainment-fest about a family of superheroes out to save the world.

Kick-Ass (2010) — Right from the opening scene (poor kid) all the way to the closing dialogue, Kick-Ass is a hilarious superhero comedy for an older audience. Nicholas Cage is actually good in this film. Just about.

Thor (2011) — A few eyebrows may have been raised when the director of Hamlet and Henry V was announced as the man at the helm of the superhero film, Thor, but Kenneth Branagh answered any questions by providing a flashy, amusing and solid re-introduction to the Thor character.

X-Men: First Class (2011) — This was pretty close to getting into my top five. Not only is the film encapsulating, energetic and youthful, it is also extraordinarily performed — particularly James McAvoy as Professor X and Michael Fassbender as Magneto.

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CBF’s Genre Toppers: Horror

Horror is a vast genre that encompasses a wide variety of sub-topics and thus it is difficult to whittle down such a large volume of films to a few personal favourites. Therefore, rather than pick five horror films of similar ilk, I have decided to select five different styles of horror film. Of the five, some will have similar characteristics, whilst others will not — that is just the nature of horror — but this way I have at least attempted to vary each pick.

I would also like to mention that I’m fairly new to the horror craze having not really been attracted to the genre before 2010. But everything is well now, I have seen the light. Or dark, I guess.

Eden Lake (2008)

Eden Lake is a British horror film released in 2008 starring Kelly Reilly and Michael Fassbender as a couple seeking a peaceful, idyllic retreat. After settling in Eden Lake in the English countryside, their hopes for a relaxing break are quickly dashed when a group of unruly, violent youths decide to interfere.

This was filmed and released before Fassbender had really hit the big time and both his performance alongside Kelly Reilly’s (who recently starred in Flight with Denzel Washington) are one of the two reasons behind the success of this film. Not only are their performances convincing — which is often lost in horror — they are also harrowing, and this correlates nicely with the second proponent of this film’s success: it really is a horrifying watch. Rather than relying on scares, director James Watkins focuses on realism — even though the events of this film are somewhat rare, their depiction is realistic and they unfortunately do occur. The horror is delivered through the authentic nature of the film and, as a result, it is often an agonising and disturbing watch. Although it is gory at times, the gore is not over the top and did not take my focus away from the film, which again can be a detriment to some horror outings.

This is the kind of horror that gets to me most, when the events happening throughout the film are not illogical or far-fetched, but instead plausible, and that is what Eden Lake is all about.

Saw (2004)

“I’m so hungry — I just want to order a pizza!”

From the realistic to the highly unrealistic, 2004 delivered the beginnings of the gruesome, and eventually repetitive, Saw franchise. Although the Saw films did in the end amount to gore and nothing else, the original Saw — filmed independently before being swept up by Lionsgate — was not only intriguing and encapsulating, it was also smart. That is correct, a smart horror film — they do actually exist.

I do not think I need to outline the plot of Saw as I imagine most people who are reading this are already aware of the premise (two men stuck in a room: how did they get there, who put them there, what have they got in common? and so on). All I will say is that this is a prime example of a horror film that can appeal to both fans of blood and guts and also to those who want more of a challenge when watching a film. It is without doubt a shame that the later additions to the franchise were so disappointing, but at the end of the day those films all stemmed from the success of the first — so I cannot complain really.

Not as gory as the later films, but far more intelligent and gripping, director James Wan has created a genius piece of cinema in regards to Saw.

Triangle (2009)

Another British horror film, Triangle, directed by Christopher Smith and starring Melissa George and Liam Hemsworth, is of psychological descent. Released in 2009, the film follows Melissa George and a group of friends who get caught up in an electrical storm while on a boat trip. Fearing for their lives, they spot an oncoming cruise ship and climb on board… but all is not what it seems.

I had never heard of Triangle before I was recommended it by a friend — it was not commercially successful at all, grossing around a measly £260,000 on its opening weekend. I can only attribute this to a lack of publicity for the film or not enough people knowing about Triangle, because critically it was lauded. Melissa George is tremendous as the lead and the likes of Liam Hemsworth solidly support her. The twist completely caught me off-guard and film as a whole is scary and haunting. Smith manages the psychological aspect of the horror exceptionally well, ensuring the pace of film is upheld and there is no lull in the proceedings.

Daring, thought-provoking and creepy — Triangle exemplifies great psychological horror.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

“I’m here to apply for the vacant lumberjack position.”

Billed as one of the most shocking films ever made when it opened in cinemas in 1974, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre is still as scary and intense in the present day. The film follows a group of friends who find themselves being hunted by a family of maniacal cannibals out in rural Texas. Directed by Tobe Hooper and starring a relatively unknown cast at the time, the film was banned in many countries across the world as it was claimed the film was too difficult for audiences to watch.

Everything about this film is terrifying: the antagonists, the setting, the atmosphere, and the music all adds up to an extremely chilling and unnerving experience. Perhaps the films’ greatest achievement is hardly using any violence whatsoever to create the horror, but rather forcing the audience into an uncomfortable viewing environment as a result of its consistently edgy plot created by a sense of helplessness the characters feel and the predicament we see them in. Then there is also that scene in the minivan with the hitchhiker — what is going on there? This film has a huge upside in that it is timeless. There have been many remakes, sequels and prequels (Texas Chainsaw splattered cinemas back in January of this year) but the original remains the cornerstone of horror in my opinion.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre has gone on to be revered as one of the greatest horror films ever made and rightly so, it is an excruciating horror classic.

Scream (1996)

For me, the best all-round slasher film ever made is the first Scream film. Directed by horror king Wes Craven and starring Neve Campbell, Courtney Cox and David Arquette, the film is set in the fictional town of Woodbury where a series of violent murders have been committed by an unknown assailant dressed all in black with a “Ghostface” mask on.

Scream has it all: scares, laughs, intrigue and cleverness. Released in 1996, it is often credited as the film that revitalised the slasher genre after a massive loss of interest in them throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. Films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend were born out of this re-emergence of slasher horror due to the success of Scream.  The script is witty and jumpy, harping back to old slasher classics like Friday the 13th and Halloween, and even incorporating the ‘rules of horror’ and ‘horror clichés’ in a satirical form. The classic whodunit format plays out both in an engrossing and comedic manner, whilst the cast perform their individual roles very well. One of the greatest upsides of not just Scream, but the franchise as a whole, is the consistency throughout the films. Unlike Saw before where the repetition of plot points became too much as the films progressed, the Scream franchise just about manages to overcome that repetition problem. Although I admit the third instalment gets a little jaded towards the end, the return to Woodbury ten years on in Scream 4 felt fresh — and creepy — once again.

The collective Scream franchise is tremendous in my view, but the first Scream film was a resounding success critically, commercially and in every other way. What else can I say: Scream might just top the horror genre for me.

 

Just before I end I’d like to relay a few honourable mentions:

The Birds (1963) — How can I write a horror blog post without including the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, in some way? The Birds is just that: full of suspense.

The Shining (1980) — Perhaps one of the most iconic images in cinematic history is Jack Nicholson sticking his head through a bathroom door he has just axed apart and exclaiming, “Heeere’s Johnny!”

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) — The ultra-creepy portrayal of Hannibal Lecter by Anthony Hopkins is one of the scariest performances of all time, not to mention Jodie Foster’s exceptional take on a young FBI agent tasked to take advice from Lecter in order to catch another serial killer.

All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2006) — Though not considered to be anywhere close to one of the best horror films of all time, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this. A group of teens stuck in the middle of nowhere being stalked by a crazy guy — what more do you want?

Funny Games (2007) — I have not seen Haneke’s original Austrian version, only the 2007 US remake. If what I am hearing about the original being better is true, I cannot wait to see it because this is harrowing — but in an impressive way.

The Cabin in the Woods (2012) — This was the closest of the lot to making into my top five, and maybe it should be there. It divides opinion like Marmite, but The Cabin in the Woods is a highly entertaining horror film with an unbelievable twist. I will say no more. Just watch it.

Please feel free to list your top five in the comments section if you wish!

Genre Toppers

Having spent the past few days thinking about different ideas and topics to write about, I have come up with a new ‘feature’, if you will.

Instead of primarily relaying new film announcements or reviewing recent film releases (which I will still do, obviously) I think it is time to write about my some of favourite films that I have had the pleasure of viewing throughout my nineteen years of existence.

However, rather than just creating a generic top ten list, I have decided to focus on particular genres and decipher my favourite films encompassed by each genre. I have yet to decide how many genres I will include, but you can count on the usual ones being in there (drama, horror, sci-fi, action, comedy and so on).

The plan is to lay out five top films in each genre and then give a sort of ‘mini-review’ of each film, basically outlining why I like the film so much.

Watch out for my first genre list which will be available to read either later today or tomorrow, and will be titled something like “CBF’s Genre Toppers: (insert genre)”. CBF stands for Consumed by Film, but you already knew that.

The word ‘genre’ is really getting on my nerves now.

The World’s End (Out July 19th, 2013)

Having just watched it I feel obliged to point you in the direction of the brand new trailer for the latest and final part of Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy, The World’s End.

Starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, who previously worked together with Wright on the hilarious rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead (2004) and wonderfully outlandish action-comedy Hot Fuzz (2007), The World’s End welcomes four new faces to complete a stellar cast: Martin Freeman, Paddy Considine and Eddie Marsan join Pegg and Frost’s characters in a reunion and quest around their old hometown to once again attempt the legendary pub-crawl which ends, coincidentally, with The World’s End pub. Also along for the ride is the terrific Rosamund Pike, who recently starred alongside Tom Cruise in the film adaptation of Lee Child’s 2005 novel One Shot — Jack Reacher.

“Britain’s next new boy-band? There’s only ‘one direction’ we’re going boys — the pub.”

The trailer gives off the same vibes as Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, ensuring that we are in for another treat at the hands of the magnificent Wright, Pegg and Frost. Witty dialogue, intriguing drama, engrossing action, effortless chemistry: it certainly sounds like the customary formula which has produced two great films in the past at the hands of the aforementioned trio.

Hitting cinemas in the UK on July 19th, 2013, The World’s End is a must-see in my opinion, and it looks and sounds like it promises to be another hit for Edgar Wright and the two comical geniuses, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost.

Below is the recently released trailer, enjoy!

Who Should Direct Bond 24?

It’s only been a few months since Skyfall hit cinemas around the world and delighted audiences and critics alike. Sam Mendes, boasting the likes of American Beauty, Road to Perdition and Revolutionary Road, took the helm and directed arguably the best Bond film to date — full of intrigue, emotion and good, old fashion Bond-esque action and gadgetry.

But the question now is: who’s next? With Sam Mendes making it clear that he has no intention to return to direct a Skyfall sequel, the door is wide open and names have been thrown about with reason (and without) ever since. Everyone from the enigmatic and charismatic Quentin Tarantino to Zero Dark Thirty’s Katheryn Bigelow to Britain’s new favourite director Danny Boyle has had their name attached to the franchise.

The way I see it, there are three people who I personally would love to see put their spin on Bond. I have not taken into account any possible schedule clashes (Bond 24 is thought to be in line for a 2015 release), this is purely fantasy film booking on my part.

Up first, the most likely candidate for the job — Christopher Nolan.

“I’m looking… and I’m seeing Bond.”

With reports surfacing this week that Chris Nolan is the producers’ primary target for the hot seat, it would be far from surprising if he did end up taking the reins. Nolan is said to be a big fan of Daniel Craig (who is also in line to reprise his role as James Bond) and has in the past expressed interest in the job, seemingly making this a match made in Bond heaven. Nolan, coming off the hugely successful and critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy, would certainly have the name value and clout to obtain as much financial backing as he needed and would also be accustomed to the unrelenting buzz and hype which surrounds the franchise. In terms of his directorial style, I think it is fair to say that Nolan would make an excellent Bond overseer: he often delves into revenge and terrorism with characters who are somewhat flawed and out for vengeance (as with his Dark Knight films), or idealism and deception (the characteristics of his 2006 film, The Prestige). Plus, Nolan has previously stated his belief in shooting using film rather than digital methods, making an alignment with Bond inevitable for nostalgic purposes on its 50th anniversary, right?

Next, fairly inexperienced but very good — Rupert Wyatt.

“One planet down, one to go.”

Formerly a producer, in 2007 Wyatt turned his head to directing when he spent the year creating his first feature film, The Escapist, which premièred at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2008. Admittedly I have yet to see The Escapist, however based on its reception from critics it was a fine outing for Wyatt in his first directorial role. However, my basis for Wyatt being the right man to steer Bond 24 is in his 2011 Planet of the Apes reboot, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, starring James Franco, Freida Pinto and Andy Serkis. Not only did Wyatt successfully create a fresh, vibrant Apes origin story, he did so with style and elegance. Balancing the action with just enough humour and drama was the key to Wyatt receiving the audiences’ admiration and in my opinion he did this and more. Wyatt, although young and perhaps not experienced enough in the view of some in regards to handling such a massive film phenomenon in Bond, would offer a new take on the franchise in the same vein as he did with Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If he gets the nod count me in.

Finally, my wildcard pick — Duncan Jones.

“Bond you say? Pfft, easy.”

I do not recall seeing Duncan Jones’ name mentioned anywhere in relation to Bond 24, which is somewhat surprising to me given not only his small-yet-brilliant film portfolio, but also his enthusiasm towards the industry. Much like Wyatt before, Jones has only directed two feature-length films in his short directorial career, but the two he has bestowed us with thus far are exceedingly good. First, Moon in 2009, starring Sam Rockwell, is a science fiction drama film which was nominated for two BAFTA awards, with Jones winning for Best Outstanding Début. It was showered with praise from critics, and for me was a truly astonishing debut which focused more on emotion and drama to grasp the audience, as opposed to thrills. Instead, the thrills came two years later in the form of Source Code, making it the opposite of Moon in that regard — a compelling and heart-thumping science fiction film which again received vast amounts of acclaim. So where do two science fiction films fit into the Bond mould? Well, two simple sci-fi films is not how I see it. I see two completely different films — one based on ideas, materialism and realism, the other fuelled by a clever, pacy and exhilarating script — both carrying emotional weight and a sense of character attachment (a must-have in a successful Bond film). Duncan Jones is the most promising director in Britain in my eyes, and I would love those eyes to see a Bond film made by him.

Empire magazine recently provided their input in the Bond director situation and outlined 14 potential candidates for the job. Two of my preferred choices made it in, what about yours? Check it out!

Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

★★★★★

Director: J.J. Abrams

Release Date: May 9th, 2013 (UK); May 16th, 2013 (US)

Genre: Science fiction; Action

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch, Zoe Saldana

Following on from Abrams’ 2009 reboot of the Star Trek franchise, Star Trek Into Darkness follows the exploits of Captain James Kirk (Pine) and his crew on the USS Enterprise as they find themselves in a battle to prevent terror from being unleashed by a powerful fellow Starfleet agent who has recently defected, John Harrison (Cumberbatch). With Spock (Quinto) and Uhura (Saldana) having troubles, a domineering Admiral (Peter Weller) monitoring Kirk’s every move, and the biggest threat to Starfleet to date brooding, a seemingly inexperienced Kirk must regain the control and retain the trust of his crew and journey into dangerous territory in order to put an end to the violence.

I think it is safe to say J.J. Abrams is on a role at the moment. Without getting into his television portfolio (which includes the worldwide TV hit Lost), Abrams’ four directorial outputs have ranged from solid to sensational. Beginning with Mission Impossible III — incidentally, Tom Cruise phoned Abrams while the latter was in the middle of shooting one of the final scenes of Lost season one to offer him the job — Abrams served up an action-packed Cruise-fest which was fairly well received financially and in terms of enjoyment.

“I told you guys I was good at musical chairs.”

Up next was his take on Star Trek, a franchise that Abrams has often said he never showed any interest in as a child whereas all of his friends did. Perhaps that benefited the film, as it romped through the Box Office and reinvigorated moviegoers’ love for it. Working with Steven Spielberg had always been a dream for Abrams, and that dream was realised through making the wonderful Super 8 in 2011, another goldmine of adventure and reminiscence.

And now Star Trek Into Darkness. The first thing to say about Into Darkness is that this is a film created not just for long-time Star Trek fans, but also for new admirers (like me). By simultaneously directing an origin story retaining all that has already happened and establishing a brand new ‘parallel timeline’ in the previous instalment, Abrams has given himself and his audience a whole universe to explore vicariously through the crew of the Enterprise. We are thrust into the action straight away this time around (who has time to wait around?) in a riveting and enjoyable sequence full of danger, awesome visuals and witty dialogue — and these characteristics are maintained throughout the whole two hours and seven minutes.

“Hey Zach, look. JJ is doing the dance again.”

Admittedly, having not been a Star Trek fan (or ‘Trekkie’) before Abrams took the reins I am not well versed in the franchise and nor do I wish to pretend that I am (for fear of getting something wrong, mainly). Therefore I did not know of the significance of the different otherworldly beings that the crew encounter or the varying levels of ship on the Admiral’s desk — but the beauty of Abrams filmmaking here is that I did not need to know these things. All that I had to do was pay attention, sit back and enjoy picture. By no means am I saying that Into Darkness is merely a ‘dumb film’ focusing on big thrills and CGI effects to generate income, rather I’m saying the opposite: it is a smart film because it focuses on thrilling the audience and concocting characters to care about. The majority of thinking required from the viewer was required in the first film of the reboot — which Abrams handled supremely well — and this time around the focus seemed to be all about putting on a show for Star Trek fans old and new. And, of course, to successfully further the story of the Enterprise crew while retaining a degree of loyalty to the past.

“I’m in a glass case of emotion.”

Talking about entertaining audiences, Benedict Cumberbatch is cast impeccably well as the evil John Harrison and is the stand out performer. Even though he is used to playing ‘good guys’ like Sherlock Holmes in the self-titled BBC drama, Cumberbatch thrives in this new role, utilising everything from piercingly devilish facial expressions to a demonic-yet-educated voice level to create a tremendous villain to go up against Starfleet. Chris Pine is just as charismatic as he was in the previous film, though a little more serious and contained at the appropriate moments. Zachary Quinto can do no wrong as Spock who he was born to portray, and the likes of Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg and Karl Urban are all effective in their roles, maximising their screen time to create a connection with the audience (when I say “the audience” I really just mean me as I can only speak for myself).

Normally at this point I would give my views on specific parts of the film and write about spoilers, but I really do not think I need to for Star Trek Into Darkness. There was nothing that I significantly disliked about the film and I think all of the main plot points were handled excellently. Moreover, I would genuinely rather not spoil any part of the film because it does not deserve to be spoiled.

I will end by saying that, regardless if you are a Star Trek fan or a science fiction geek or neither of the two, you should see Abrams’ latest offering. Star Trek Into Darkness is a film for all movie lovers who just want to go the cinema and be engrossed in a tremendous spectacle. It is a testament to J.J. Abrams’ ability in filmmaking that myself who, just like Abrams, was never really into Star Trek before, is now a big fan.

The Following

When I first saw the The Following advertised on Sky Atlantic, I knew I would be hooked. Two intriguing characters pitted against each other in that ‘good versus evil’ format that we are so used to seeing on television and at the cinema these days. In my opinion, the format still works — although it is no longer enough just to have a straight up ‘good guy’ and a straight up ‘bad guy’. As an audience, we have been completely saturated in this genre and modern day television characters cannot just have one layer: they must be like ogres, because as Shrek says, “Ogres have many layers”. Okay, I may have added the “many”. That is what made season one of The Following so compelling and consistently interesting — the main characters (particularly the two leads) were completely multi-dimensional in their thoughts and actions, and as a viewer I had no idea what was coming next.

Ogres + Onions + Layers = The Following. It all makes sense.

The show follows FBI agent Ryan Hardy, played exceptionally well by Kevin Bacon, and his desperate attempts to recapture serial killer Joe Carroll, portrayed wonderfully by James Purefoy, after Carroll’s escape from prison and subsequent unification with his cult of followers. From the outset, these were the two characters that kept me returning to the show each week — as it should be as they are steering the ship. Kevin Bacon is a very accomplished actor (he should probably ditch the EE adverts though as he is entering Go Compare Man territory) and his representation of a worn down, broken — both literally and figuratively — FBI agent who has hunted Carroll for years was spot on. However, the real shining light in season one of The Following was the scary, psychotic and yet fiendishly charismatic serial killer Joe Carroll. This is James Purefoy at his very best, and his very best is exceedingly good. Both Purefoy and Bacon play off of each other with ease, and their chemistry is the driving force behind the shows haunting atmosphere. Even as the surroundings change, the dynamic between the two stays the same.

“Dude, these pages are completely blank.”

As a result of running for fifteen episodes, season one was not over-encumbered with storylines, instead just scratching the surface of what the show can become in the coming seasons. The 15 episodes enabled creator Kevin Williamson to begin to develop effective supporting characters like Carroll’s estranged ex-wife and Hardy’s lover Claire Matthews (played by Natalie Zea) and Jacob Wells, a fairly young and inexperienced member of Carroll’s cult. Other actors who have each added to the show in their own unique way include Shawn Ashmore (of X-Men fame), Annie Parisse, Warren Kole (who is terrific in his role) and Valorie Curry. For me, there is no weak link in the cast thereby avoiding the sometimes detrimental effect that can have towards the likeability of a show in its premier season.

The cast of season one.

Each episode adheres to a consistently high quality set by those prior to it. The use of flashbacks throughout episodes is a very effective method of allowing the audience to understand who each character is and how they got to where they are. In particular, the flashbacks involving Hardy meeting Carroll back when he was a professor of English literature are well done. Time is given to various characters during each episode in order to keep the proceedings fresh and mobile, and enabling the actors to portray their respective characters in the light they wish to.  One of my biggest qualms about television shows is their misuse of actors and in terms of The Following, this is not the case.

Boasting consistently high ratings in the US and with a final episode which ended on an enormous cliff-hanger, The Following looks in good shape as it prepares for its second season. Going forward, the key to this shows success will be its ability to maintain the inescapably hostile atmosphere and creepily poetic dialogue.  If you have not watched season one, I recommend you check it out before season two hits television screens.

The Following Season Two will begin airing sometime at the start of 2014.

The Following Season One is available to pre-order on DVD and Blu-ray.