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.

Gravity (Out November 7th, 2013)

He’s been there once and he enjoyed it so much that he has decided to return. That is right, George Clooney is back on the big screen this autumn — in space. Unlike Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 film Solaris starring Clooney, Gravity is a brand new script written and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, his first film in seven years.

Set in space, Gravity follows the progress of astronaut Matt Kowalsky (Clooney) — a veteran serving his last mission — and medical engineer Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) — a rookie on her first Space Shuttle outing. The film is set for release on October 4th in the Unites States, therefore we do not know much about the plot at the time of writing other that what is shown in the recently unveiled teaser trailer (below): whilst carrying out a spacewalk — activities conducted by an astronaut outside his/her spacecraft — Kowalsky and Stone’s shuttle explodes leaving both space inhabitants stranded.

There have been countless films creates depicting helpless individuals trapped in space — either on a planet or in a shuttle. Recently, Apollo 18 graced our screens: a fictional portrayal of events after the cancelled Apollo 18 mission. Before that, Duncan Jones’ impeccable debut film Moon starring Sam Rockwell carried the mystique and tension of the stuck in space scenario. Going even further back, Event Horizon, Silent Running and Alien are all examples that the stranded in space genre — although still intriguing — is not a new one.

“Ten across, four letters, ‘to unveil one’s buttocks’ — any ideas?”

However, the commonality between all of the aforementioned films with which Gravity does not appear to share is that the helpless characters were trapped in a spaceship or on a planet, whereas Cuarón has delivered Clooney and Bullock to us suspended and floating in space. All signs point towards this being the case for the vast majority of the motion picture, which is something I personally have not seen before.

The trailer offers very little in the way of plot development, but a whole lot in regards to visuals, which are simply stunning. This should not come as a surprise to those who have seen Cuarón’s last outing in the director’s chair, Children of Men, which encapsulated and illustrated a dystopian Earth both effortlessly and beautifully. He was also the mastermind behind the highly regarded third act in the Harry Potter film franchise: Prisoner of Azkaban.

Alfonso Cuaron
“This is so heavy, stupid gravity!”

With a similar budget to Children of Men (Children of Men came in at around $76 million and Gravity has hit the $80 million mark) and with two very accomplished and impressive actors at the helm (albeit after a number of cast changes — Robert Downey Jr and Natalie Portman were once the leading candidates), Gravity has the potential to blow audiences away. Having originally been scheduled for a 2012 release and been pushed back a year to 2013, I think it is about time the Gravity shuttle was grounded so that we can all witness Alfonso Cuarón at work once again.

The Summer of Sci-Fi

Okay, I will admit it: only fairly recently have I jumped on the sci-fi bandwagon. I have always enjoyed the odd science fiction film, but I used to be much more of a drama or comedy guy. Not anymore. Over the past two years, I have really begun to develop an admiration — through intrigue and awe — for science fiction. I think it started around the time Ridley Scott’s Prometheus was announced. Having never watched the Alien films (I have now) I was surprised that Prometheus had grabbed my attention as much as it did. The plot sounded interesting, the poster looked ominous, the actors lined up were of a very high calibre. Then the trailer arrived and I was completely sold. The mood set in the trailer was outstanding — total atmospheric eeriness. In terms of the film itself, I went to the cinema to see the day it came out and, in my opinion, it lived up to the hype. Perhaps having not seen any of the Alien films beforehand I went in with a different mindset to those who had seen them — I was not expecting a lot of Alien-related content because I didn’t really know what Alien-related content would look like.

But I digress. This summer — and beyond — we have the pleasure of being offered a significant number of science fiction films in cinemas. Having just finished my exams at university, I have only been afforded the chance to go to the cinema once in the last few weeks and that was to see Iron Man 3. But now that I am off university and free to do what I like for five months, the cinema beckons along with the upcoming sci-fi films. Up first, at the end of March The Host was released in cinemas, starring Saoirse Ronan, and having been panned more or less by critics — holding a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes — it has performed pretty well at the box office. Up next, the highly anticipated Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise. I regret not seeing this film in cinema as, at least for an hour, it harps back to classic sci-fi films like Silent Running and Total Recall according to Mark Kermode of Mayo and Kermode’s Film Reviews on BBC 5 Live. Other reviews have been moderate to favourable and the film has grossed over $200 million dollars. Of course, the biggest and most looked forward to science fiction film of the summer has to be Star Trek: Into Darkness (which I plan to do a blog post on soon, watch this space).

Following that are films such as The Purge (2013) starring Lena Heady and This Is the End (2013) with an ensemble of comedy stars. In July, Pacific Rim hits cinemas — perhaps literally going by the trailers. Billed as Giant robots vs. Giant monsters, Pacific Rim has a tough job in ensuring it does not just become a film where, well, giant robots hit giant monsters. The well-publicised Elysium begins screening towards the end of August — a futuristic take on current political issues, helmed by Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Before the summer ends, The World’s End (hopefully not) will complete Edgar Wright’s “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy” and again it boasts the funny duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Even after summer, the science fiction fountain keeps flowing with the likes of Riddick, Ender’s Game and the second part of The Hunger Games franchise — Catching Fire.

I guess the reasoning behind this blog post is to not only give you an insight into how I got into science fiction, but also encapsulate how much the genre dominates our cinemas. Back in the 1970s and 80s — when I was not alive — sci-fi films were at the forefront of cinema: films like Blade Runner, Silent Running, The Terminator, and even before then Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps now, in 2013, science fiction is on a parabolic rise and hitting a return to form. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is simply an easier way for filmmakers to grab an audience’s attention with awesome visuals. But why can’t it be both? I for one am very much looking forward to this summer and am excited to get stuck into some sci-fi — are you?

Iron Man 3 (2013)

★★★

Director: Shane Black

Release Date: April 25th, 2013 (UK); May 3rd, 2013 (US)

Genre: Superhero

Starring: Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Kingsley, Guy Pearce

The third instalment in the Iron Man franchise takes place sometime after the events of The Avengers. Tony Stark/Iron Man (Downey Jr) finds himself suffering from nightmares and panic attacks as a result of his experiences in New York with the Avengers. An increasingly apprehensive ‘Pepper’ Potts (Paltrow), Stark’s girlfriend and CEO of Stark Industries, struggles to maintain Stark’s attention due to his obsession with building countless Iron Man suits. Meanwhile, a series of bombings orchestrated by an uncontrollable and decisive terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) has left the world in panic. Stark must find a way juggle his personal life with Pepper, whilst protecting her, with fighting back against the Mandarin and the path of destruction he has left behind.

The very first thing I would like to say about this film is that — despite its shortcomings — it is very entertaining. Shane Black has recaptured the fireworks that Iron Man 2 had lost, providing a fast-paced plot. The huge set pieces such as the plane (shown in the trailer) and the dock sequence are hugely impressive, with engrossing action that never at any point lost my attention. As a matter of fact, the action in this film is equally as good as the action on display in Iron Man. Shane Black obviously not only has an eye for amazing visuals, but also an ear for wit as Iron Man 3 produces the best comedy of the three films — primarily from the on form Downey Jr, displaying his usual acting tendencies. The success of the witty, smart script is most likely a product of Black’s work with Downey Jr in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The cast are also solid, with actors such as the dependable Don Cheadle contributing genuine performances.

“I must be losing my mind.”

Having said all of that, I do not believe that Iron Man 3 quite met the lofty heights of Iron Man. The plot, while fun and entertaining, was not as intriguing, and any intrigue it did have in the first half of the film was lost after a key plot development that I will discuss in the spoilers section of this review. The most disappointing aspect of this film for me though, was the misuse of two of its characters. Rebecca Hall — who plays former love interest of Stark and botanist, Maya Hansen — undergoes more attitude changes than Jack Nicholson in The Shining! Whilst she plays the role absolutely fine, the role itself is flawed and might have benefited from a little more screen time, or, in a perfect world, more development.

SPOILERS FOLLOW

I have seen many character twists in numerous different films in my fairly short existence, but I cannot remember being more disappointed than by the development of Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin in Iron Man 3. For an hour or so, the Mandarin is depicted as a merciless, creepy, fearful villain — perhaps the best villain of the Iron Man franchise so far. Then, out of nowhere, we discover he is merely an actor (how ironic) hired by Guy Pearce’s Aldrich Killian to be the face of a new terrorist plot — shielding Killian from any suspicion and allowing him to develop and undertake a plan to capture Pepper Potts and inject her with his Extremis virus (which regenerates body parts) in order to gain Stark’s attention and force him to fix the faults in the virus — or risk losing Potts. Killian is a decent, sly villain however he is nothing compared to the Mandarin and the potential Shane Black had created with that character in the film’s opening hour. I would have much preferred it if Killian turned out to be a sidekick to the Mandarin and not the actual Mandarin himself.

“I am the Batman.”

Finally, the last few scenes were also slightly problematic to me. We are to understand that after all off the ordeals Stark and Potts have gone through, that Stark is now putting Iron Man on the back-burner (which obviously cannot be true anyway) to rekindle his relationship with Potts. But then, after having the shrapnel removed from his heart and after destroying his Iron Man costumes, Stark visits the location of his former home and collects part of the machinery controlled by JARVIS — perhaps indicating that he is not done with Iron Man. Where the problem lies for me is that if he did plan on recovering such machinery (the same machinery he uses to create Iron Man suits) why did he destroy all of his Iron Man suits in the first place?

SPOILERS FINISHED

Despite its shortcomings, Shane Black succeeds in creating a fun, entertaining and hugely enjoyable third part to the Iron Man franchise which is funniest instalment to date.