300: Rise of an Empire

Was anyone really calling out for a sequel to 2007’s 300? Were you watching 300 and thinking “This is all good, but I wonder what the Athenians were doing before, after and during the events of this film?” If so, then this may be the film for you. But will it be as fun as the original?

While King Leonidas and his men are  in battle against Xeres (Rodrigo Santoro) the Athenians try to fight their own battle against the Persians. General Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton), who has history with Xeres, prepares to lead his men in the fight. But will they be more successful than the Spartans?

Considering 300 ended with deaths of the 300 Spartans a sequel was always going to be problematic. So Rise of an Empire tires to be a prequel, sequel and parallel -equal (not a word but go with me) which leaves the narrative in a bit of a mess. And as Gerald Butler’s Leonidas no longer with us this follow-up is missing a male lead with any real presence. Themistocles, and his Athenian soldiers are poor replacements for the Spartans. In fact most of 300: Rise of an Empire retreads 300‘s best bits with more slow-mo fights, rousing speeches, men wearing impractical and barely there fighting gear etc. For the majority of its running time it seems like an unfunny parody of its predecessor.

But there is one shining light to Rise of an Empire, and that is Eva Green. Green plays mad, bad and psychotic Artemisia. She looks like she’s having a whale of a time as the villainous Greek whose diverted to the Persian side and risen to rank of Naval Commander. She’s a crazy breath of fresh air next to the dull Athenians, whether its kissing the lips of a decapitated head, or her interesting take on negotiating a peace treaty, Green is brilliant to watch. Unfortunately the film suffers whenever she’s off the screen. A movie focusing on her would have been much more entertaining.

Rating 2.5/5 – only watch for Eva Green’s brilliantly batty performance in this otherwise disappointing follow-up

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Dracula Untold

Is there really anything about Dracula that hasn’t already been told before? Apparently there is, according to Universal Pictures with the release of Dracula Untold, giving us the origin story (again!) behind fiction’s most famous vampire.

Back in the Middle Ages Vlad (Luke Evans), the Prince of Transylvania comes into conflict with the villainous Sultan of Turkey (Dominic Cooper) when the Sultan demand 1000 boys to join his army, including Vlad’s son. To stop this from happening Vlad seeks out a monster (Charles Dance) he knows is hidden in the caves. The monster offers Vlad the power to stop the Sultan, but the price is a thirst for human blood.

It’s an odd film to review in a way, because as soon as it finished I didn’t know quite what I thought of it. It wasn’t bad but not a conventual good one either. Elements of the film works but it seemed uncertain what type of movie it wants to be. I think I expected the film to be much darker and gorier than what it was. It also felt as though the cast were all acting in different movies. Evans playing it straight and brooding, Charles Dance and Paul Kaye (as  Brother Lucian) seem to have walked in from a Hammer Horror movie, while Vlad’s wife Mirena (Sarah Gadon) has wondered in from some sort of historical romance. Not that necessarily anyone is bad in their roles but it’s a bit jarring when the cast seem to be reading from different scripts. It also takes a while for the film to find its teeth (sorry). Part of me wonders if this movie was on tv or dvd I’d be more forgiving of its flaws.

Its less a case of Dracula Untold but rather Dracula Retold-but slightly differently. Most of us have heard some of the stories of Vlad the Impaler (the real life inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula). Here the film puts Vlad in a more heroic role-because nothing screams good guy more than someone whose early years included impaling people! Although it’s a dubious retelling of history, Vlad is actually a pretty likeable and sympathetic guy, someone who is trying to save his family and his kingdom no matter the price he must pay. Evans is good in his first leading man role, convincing as family man, Prince, warrior and, of course, vampire. His scenes with his son Ingerus (Art Parkingson) are surprisingly good and they have an emotional impact that the film really needs.

The film finds its feet more as it goes along, with some good special effects thrown in. Vlad transforming into bats is particularly effective. However there are several glaring  mistakes where Vlad is standing in direct sunlight without bursting into flame. Some of the fight scenes are also a bit underwhelming, as Vlad is moving so fast you don’t really get much time to look at what he’s doing, especially as the camera starts going all skakey when the action starts.

Universal have intended this film to be the first of several reboots of the Universal Monsters franchise, and a sequel to Dracula Untold is teased at the ending. With the tantalising end scenes I was surprised to find myself actually interested in a further Dracula movie.

Rating 3/5 – uneven but interesting version of everyone’s favourite vampire with a good central performance from Luke Evans

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Gone Girl

A couple of years back it seemed like everyone was reading Gillian Flynn’s thriller Gone Girl. Now adapting her own book for the screenplay, Flynn has teamed up with director David Fincher to bring her novel to the big screen. But can it create even a fraction of the buzz that the novel produced?

To the outside world it would seem like Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) are the perfect married couple. But when Amy disappears on the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, all eyes turn to Nick as the Dunne’s lives are picked upon by the media and the police. Flashbacks show that the Dunne’s had their troubles but did Nick really kill his wife?

With a film that’s themes include the lies and masks people wear in marriage, media intrusion and deception, Gone Girl won’t be anyone’s idea of a feel-good movie. It is not exactly an enjoyable experience. Which I imagine is exactly what Fincher and Flynn wanted to achieve. The film is meant to make you take an uncomforatble look at a marriage that leaves you examining the relationships in your own life. Perhaps not the best film for newly weds or for a first date (although if you’re single this film will probably make you feel quite smug).

Its one of those movies which is hard to describe in too much detail with out giving away certain plot points for the few that haven’t read Flynn’s novel. But what I can say is that Affleck and Pike are perfectly cast in the novel. Affleck’s own media scrutiny over the years make him a smart choice for Nick, you can see Affleck’s contempt for the media’s tactics shining through his performance. It’s also great to see Pike in a leading role rather than the many supporting roles she’s been into over the years. Hopefully this will continue to see her being given more challenging and interesting roles in the future.

Like most of Fincher’s work you won’t necessarily be feeling good after your experience with the Dunne’s but it will definitely give you plenty to think about and discuss with others.

Rating 4/5 – dark, uncomfortable but never dull, basically essential Fincher

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My Kind of Hollywood

As some of you may have read a few weeks ago on this blog, last month I went on holiday to Hollywood with my friend Wendy. I have finally got around to sorting out all my photos and I thought I’d share some on this blog.

Here was the view from my hotel room window-very far in the distance but still there!

Here was the view from my hotel room window-very far in the distance but still there!

Right outside my hotel was Britney Spears so it seemed rude not to have a photo taken.

Right outside my hotel was Britney Spears so it seemed rude not to have a photo taken.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I met 'my fair lady' herself Audrey Hepburn

Then I met ‘my fair lady’ herself Audrey Hepburn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like Frank Sinatra I did it my way

Just like Frank Sinatra I did Hollywood my way

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then I ran into the king of cool Marlon Brando.

Then I ran into the king of cool Marlon Brando.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The highlight of my walk was meeting my namesake Lauren Bacall- the Queen of effortless cool.

The highlight of my walk was meeting my namesake Lauren Bacall- the Queen of effortless cool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then right by my hotel was a premiere for the movie This Is Where I Leave You

Then right by my hotel was a premiere for the movie This Is Where I Leave You, time to try my hand at playing paparazzi and take snaps of celebs!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kathryn Hahn plays the wife of one of the siblings forced to come together when their father dies.

Kathryn Hahn plays the wife of one of the siblings forced to come together when their father dies.

Corey Stoll (handily standing next to himself in the poster) plays one of the fueding siblings.

Corey Stoll (handily standing next to himself in the poster) plays one of the fueding siblings.

Jane Fonda is the matriarch of the family.

Jane Fonda is the matriarch of the family.

Soon to be in the new Star Wars Trilogy Adam Driver was on brooding form

Soon to be in the new Star Wars Trilogy Adam Driver was on brooding form

And because I know how many fans he has here's another shot I managed to take of him (with added paparazzi).

And because I know how many fans he has here’s another shot I managed to take of him (with added paparazzi).

Jason Bateman is the lead in the movie having to deal with a cheating wife and the death of his father.

Jason Bateman is the lead in the movie having to deal with a cheating wife and the death of his father.

Last but not least Tina Fey makes her arrival.

Last but not least Tina Fey makes her arrival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that was some of the highlights of my Hollywood adventure! Hope you all like the photos!

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Odd Thomas (2013)

Novelist Dean Koontz has had many of his books adapted for the screen.  Now his popular book series featuring his character Odd Thomas gets the movie treatment. But does it equal a successful movie?

Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin) is a cook with the power to be able to see the dead. He uses these powers to help murderers go to jail. When a stranger comes to town surrounded by invisible creatures (except to Odd) called bodachs who feed on evil, Odd fears that there will be a massacre only he can prevent.

I’ve never read Koontz Odd Thomas series but I may have to start if they are as good as this. A horror comedy with a bit of romance sounds like a recipe for disaster but Odd Thomas is a great little film. Yelchin – best known as Chekov in the Star Trek reboot-is likeable as the title character. Thomas may be a bit strange, but he’s also funny, adorable and has a touching relationship with his feisty childhood sweetheart Stormy (Addison Timlin). Theres also great support from William Defoe as the local sheriff who is one of the few people privy to Thomas’ special gifts. The special effects are also surprisingly well done with the bodachs looking appropriately creepy.

Some viewers may not enjoy the tone of the movie and find the mix of horror and comedy a bad fix, or that the plot and characters are a bit too quirky. But personally I liked Odd Thomas. It’s a shame that lawsuits and delays prevented this form getting a proper theatrical release meaning any sequels will be unlikely. Still it may well leed to viewers having a look at Koontz’s novels instead.

Rating 4/5 – fun, jumpy and a great central performance from Yelchin

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The Maze Runner

Summer is over and so are most of the big blockbuster films of the summer. Hoping to repeat the success of The Hunger Games and Divergent comes The Maze Runner, adapted from the novel by James Dashner. With an intriguing premise and positive early buzz, can The Maze Runner be the next franchise to watch out for?

Teenager Thomas (Dylan O’ Brien) wakes up in an abandoned place called The Glades, he has no memory of anything apart from his name. His only companions are a group of teenage boys who have been sent there years before Thomas arrived. Every day they try to find a way out of the Glades through the maze that surrounds them. But the maze changes everyday and if they don’t return before night they risk getting stuck with the creatures that hide within the maze. Can Thomas find a way out, discover who he is and why he has been put there?

Yes this may be another adaptation of another popular young adult book series but The Maze Runner doesn’t feel like a poor imitation of The Hunger Games or Divergent. It refreshing to have a male teenage lead for once, especially as O’Brien seems to be a young talent to watch out for. We are thrown straight into the action seeing Thomas waking up in his new surroundings and feel Thomas’ confusion and desire to know more about who placed them in the Glades. He makes for a sympathetic lead among a cast of strong supporting actors most of who are British (always glad to see Brits doing well). Former child actors Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually and Game of Thrones) and Will Poulter (Son of Rambow and We’re The Millers) are great as two of the Gladers Newt and Gally. Poulter in particular is good. Although Gally is technically the antagonist to Thomas, his actions are understandable considering the hostile environment and years of torment he’s had to experience. Aml Almeen is also memorable as Alby the leader of the Gladers.

As with all the best teen adaptations there is a nice dark tone to the film, with hints of Lord of The Flies with the whole young boys left alone idea (not that it goes as dark as that). It also has a good mix of adventure with creepy monsters hunting in the maze as well as the great concept of the Maze itself. Seeing the movie in Imax also made the depth of the maze seem more impressive and completely daunting. There is also a welcome bit of humour to lighten up the film so it does not go too dark.

It disappointing though that the main female, Kaya Scodelario’s Teresa, is underdeveloped and mainly seems there to push the plot forward. And although I liked how the ending teased the next installment some may feel it lacked a definitive ending. But for me this is a franchise that is entertaining and stands out from the other YA pack of the moment. While it’s not quite up to the standard of  The Hunger Games, at least Katniss finally has some worthy competition.

Rating 4/5 – exciting and thrilling, I can’t wait for the sequel already!

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I liked the animated tv series as a kid but the signs for this live action film adaptation were not good. Michael Bay was producing, the pictures of the Turtles looked all wrong and there were reports that the turtles would be aliens. But could TMNT rise above the hate?

April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a reporter for Channel 6 in New York who wants to handle serious news rather than the fluff pieces she’s stuck with. When she witnesses a criminal gang called the Foot Clan involved in illegal activities she see a shadowy figure arrive to take them out. Wanting to find the vigilantes involved she ends up discovering more than she bargained for when the figure she’s hunting for turns out to be…Well I think you can guess the rest.

Despite the negative buzz before its release, I actually found TMNT to be a fun movie. Is it a classic, no. Is it faithful, no. But it was definitely a lot better than what I thought it would be. Thankfully the turtles are not aliens as was feared. The action scenes are fun and even exciting in IMAX 3D. Megan Fox is ok as April O Neil and works well with Will Arnett who plays her camera man Vern. Arnett continues to be the best thing in most of the movies he appears in (as fans of his Batman from The Lego Movie will tell you). He has a lot of the best lines and is, unsurprisingly is very funny.

It won’t be a huge surprise however to hear that this movie is far from perfect. To me the turtles still look wrong, and our four heroes in a half shell vary constantly between amusing and annoying. The turltes rat mentor Splinter is disappointingly underused while the villianous Shredder is given a weird body armour to wear that makes him look like a lame Transformer rip-off except without being able to actually transform. The script often makes April do stupid things for the sake of the plot which makes her come across less like an investigative reporter and more like she has a death wish. Attempts to link April and the turtles backstories is also unsuccessful.

However while its silly I have to admit I did have fun watching it. Even though at times it felt like I wondered into an extended Pizza Hut advert. While I wouldn’t recommend you rush out and see it, if you do find yourself wondering into the cinema it may not be as bad as you feared. Although I’m sure plenty will disagree with me.

Rating 3/5 – silly and ridiculous but also at times, rather fun with it

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