Movie Review – Ride Along (2014)

Director: Tim Story

Stars: Ice Cube, Kevin Hart, John Leguizamo, Bruce McGill, Tika Sumpter, Bryan Callen

Ben (Hart) is a Platinum-level gamer who hopes to become a police officer one day. He’s in a loving relationship with Angela (Sumpter) but is holding off on a proposal until he feels he can support her properly. But when he finally feels ready and asks her brother, James, (Ice Cube) for his blessing, the detective takes Ben on a ride along in the hope that he’ll realize he’s not cut out for the life of a cop. However, they inadvertently get mixed up in a case that James has been working on for a while, and Ben finally has a chance to prove himself worthy.

I usually enjoy Kevin Hart and Ice Cube has proved adept at performing gruff characters in the Jump Street movies. You’d think it would be an ideal pairing but despite the energy Hart puts into the role there’s a spark lacking. It doesn’t quite gel and it doesn’t bring anything new to the buddy-cop genre. The first half of the film deals with Ben being put into awkward situations while James sniggers in the background, but these mostly come over as awkward rather than humourous. Once the plot kicks in the film livens up, but it’s too little too late and the course is predictable. Even though it’s a new film it does feel like something I had seen a hundred times before.

It also suffers from a common problem in that Angela is less of a character and more of a plot point. She never really does anything to advance the story and is there purely as the focus of the conflict between the two male leads.

I did leave off one cast member because his appearance was a surprise, at least to me, so if you are actually inclined to watch Ride Along then at least you’ll have that to look forward to, although it doesn’t make up for the rest of this forgettable film. There’s even a quasi-hint at a deeper plot beyond the one we’re presented but it’s never developed so I can’t even call it sequel-bait. There aren’t many surprises contained within the film but it doesn’t make up for it with strong character work. The jokes feel played out and there’s just nothing fresh about it at all.

Ride Along is a one-note comedy with smatterings of amusement but there’s nothing to elevate it beyond an average level, and even that’s a stretch. The best moments are in the trailer so I can’t recommend this one at all. If you like buddy cop movies there are plenty more to choose from, and there’s nothing about this film that does anything differently.

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Movie Review – Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)

Director: Kelly Asbury

Stars: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Michael Caine, Julie Walters, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Maggie Smith, Jim Cummings, Stephen Merchant, Patrick Stewart, Hulk Hogan, Richard Wilson

It’s Romeo and Juliet but with Gnomes. A Ms. Capulet and a Mr. Montague live next door to one another, and their gnomes (and other garden ornaments) take on the neighbours’ rivalry. The Capulets are red and the Montagues are blue, and they have a fierce vendetta that escalates dramatically when Gnomeo falls in love with Juliet. Can their love escape the tragic fate that befell their Shakespearean counterparts?

I’d actually been wanting to watch this movie for a while. I have a fondness for puns and the whole idea of doing Romeo & Juliet with gnomes is so bizarre that it had me intrigued. There are some liberties taken with the story of course, there’s no Mercutio for example, and it is a family film so it can’t get too tragic, but on the whole I think it stayed true to the source material. The gnomes and the rules of their world were charming and despite it being a family film there were a few brutal moments that had me wincing.

I liked the romance between the titular characters, but there were a few subplots that proved interesting as well, like the harrowing backstory of a plastic flamingo or the sheer destruction that a $10,000 lawnmower promises. There’s always something going on and as the film is only around 75 minutes there’s a lot packed in. As such it does feel rushed at certain points, and there are a few moments where I’m not sure the timeline matches up with regards to how far certain characters have to travel, but it doesn’t distract from the film too much.

There’s also a deeper concept of how our actions and attitude can reflect upon the world. After all, the gnomes only hate each other because it is the behaviour they perceive from their human owners, and it reflects the idea that hate is taught rather than it being innate to our beings. Once the gnomes take the time to realize their similarities they see that they’re not so different after all, and although the message is subtle I hope that it filters through to the people watching the movie.

The soundtrack is almost exclusively made up of Elton John songs, and he is listed as a producer as well. I’m not entirely sure why this is, but I do love Elton John’s music so the songs add an extra element to the film and it puts it on another level to films like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

I liked all the wordplay in the script and I found myself giggling quite often. I think this is a film that a great many people could enjoy. Children will like the animation and lively nature of the comedy while adults will get a kick out of the references to the original play. I’d actually like to see more Shakespeare plays get adapted in this way, but if all we get is Gnomeo & Juliet it’s still worth it. It actually made me want to go back and re-watch Baz Luhrmann’s version as well.

Top Ten Best Movies 2014

It’s that time of year again! I posted my worst of the year list yesterday so feel free to go and  check that out. I’m going to repeat my criteria for what qualifies for this list here though. I’m not counting films that were re-released, only those that were in UK cinemas this year. So there may be one film that was technically released at the end of 2013, but I did not see it until 2014. Also, I haven’t seen every film that was released so I can only go by what I saw. I’m going to go through my list and then at the end I’ll talk about some of the films that narrowly missed out. I’ve reviewed all of these films too, so if you want to see a more in-depth discussion then you can go to my movie review page and check them out there.

#10 – Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom

This is one that was released early on in the year and it just made the list, beating out a couple of other strong contenders. The thing that set it apart is that as well as being a good film it actually shed light on a period that I knew little about. I went with a friend, I’m in my late twenties and she’s in her early twenties. For both of us we’ve only known Mandela as the political leader, and although we’ve known about Apartheid it’s not something that has been explained in detail. I never knew about the role Winnie Mandela played, for example. So as well as being entertained by the film I was educated as well, and for that reason it made it on my list.

#9 – Nightcrawler

This is an absolutely absorbing film. I was engrossed from beginning to end. Gyllenhaal is captivating in his role and it’s one where at the beginning I sympathised with him and wanted him to succeed, but as the film progress I started to realize just how creepy and unhinged he is. It’s a very tense, gripping film that also leaves you feeling a little unsettled. In addition to this it had some commentary about how the news is presented to us and how the angle of the story can affect our perception of events.

#8 – Before I go to Sleep

When I saw the trailer I wasn’t too impressed. It seemed fairly standard and the trailer felt long, like it gave too much away. A couple of friends had read the book and urged me to go and see it, and I like Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth anyway so I figured I had nothing to lose, and I am glad I did because this film is great. At the time of writing I’ve seen just over 2700 films, and when you’ve seen that many you start to see certain patterns in films and things become easier to predict. This one took me by surprise and I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen. Incredibly tense, paced perfectly, the performances were pitch perfect and it’s just fantastic.

#7 – Fury

I’m a bit of a sucker for war films but this is one of the better ones of recent years. Tank warfare is something that hasn’t been explored too often so it had a different perspective than a typical war movie. The actors had good chemistry and the atmosphere was brutal. It was so good that I felt immersed in the film, almost as if I was right there with them. I felt like it captured the essence of all the best war films.

#6 – What If

Romantic comedies are a favourite genre of mine and I particularly enjoy those which play around with the usual formula a bit. In this one Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan had such great chemistry together, but I liked how she wasn’t just there to be something for him to try and get. Both of them felt like characters in their own right. I also appreciated how her boyfriend wasn’t made out to be a complete jerk, rather it was just that circumstances changed, which made the situation messier. It felt authentic and it’s just one of those films that just works.

#5 – Edge of Tomorrow

I’m a huge fan of Tom Cruise and I think when he does sci-fi it usually leads to an enjoyable film. This one felt inventive and I loved how it felt like a video game. Watching all the different ways to die was amusing but I liked the general concepts and the effects of the aliens, who really did feel alien. Hugely enjoyable film.

#4 – American Hustle

This was technically released in 2013 but I saw it in January of 2014 so I’m counting it as eligible. As soon as I finished watching it I declared that it was going to be in my top ten of the year, although I wasn’t prepared for just how many great films would come out. David O. Russell is becoming one of my favourite directors. I love the way he blends in different genres. His films flow beautifully and all of the cast were on top form. It was such a blast to watch.

#3 – Interstellar

The trailer for this was very misleading and didn’t help to sell the film. I was enraptured by it. My eyes were welling up at various parts of the movie and even though I found some of it to be predictable this felt like a love letter to humanity’s curiosity and need to explore. Spiritually it felt in the same vein as Star Trek and it struck all the right notes with me. I didn’t expect it to affect me so strongly but I felt my soul swell while watching this.

#2 – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I love superheroes and of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe Captain America is my favourite. This one had everything, it kept the wholesome core of Captain America’s character but the whole movie had an edge to it. The twist took me completely by surprise and it had me and my friends talking for ages. The action sequences were dynamic and it was just an incredible move that took the MCU in a whole new direction. But even as a standalone movie it works really well and stays true to the character, which is an important thing I look for in my superhero movies.

#1 – X-Men: Days of Future Past

Yes, as soon as I finished watching this I pretty much knew it was going to be my favourite film of the year. I feel like X-Men have been lost in the shuffle and DOFP wasn’t talked about as much as Cap 2, Spider-Man or Guardians of the Galaxy. But I love this film so much. I love how the two timelines work together. The future looks dark and depressing, and we get to see them suffer brutal deaths, which is something that you don’t usually get to see in superhero films. It reminded me of the Order 66 montage in Revenge of the Sith but ramped up a few levels. Fassbender is amazing as Magneto. I just love watching him. And then you have Jackman, Lawrence, McAvoy, Hoult, Stewart…man, there’s so much talent packed into this film. Despite all of those people it’s probably Quicksilver who steals the show, and who could have predicted that?! It was such an ambitious film that could easily have fallen apart but it held together and made it to the top of the list.

Since my top two films were comic book movies you might be wondering why Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t make the list, especially because it beat out both of them in the box office. I did consider putting it on because I enjoyed it a lot and it was the toughest decision to leave it out but when I looked at it as a whole the two big flaws pulled it down. I didn’t like that the villain had little motivation, but the biggest one was the false tension at the climax. I hate it when films have a character do something dramatic when we all know that it’s not going to stick. It feels like it’s a manipulative effort to force an emotional reaction and it strips the moment of any drama or tension, so as much as I enjoyed it I couldn’t quite put it above the others, but it was very close.

Other films that came close were How To Train Your Dragon 2The Fault in Our Stars22 Jump Street, and Paddington. It was a tough list to put together because I enjoy all of these films and overall I think it was a pretty good year for movies. I mentioned at the top that it was a blockbuster-heavy year but now I’m thinking about next year and that might be even more filled with big releases. We’ll have to wait and see whether they live up to the hype.

So those are my favourite films of the year. Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments!

Top Ten Worst Movies 2014

It’s getting towards the end of the year so this is when we all look back at the past 12 months and try to sum up the happenings of the year in top ten lists! I will be posting a top ten best movies of the year tomorrow, so look out for that as well, but I thought I’d get the dregs out of the way before I did that. I’ll start with my criteria – I’m only counting new films that were released in the UK this year. If they came out at the tail end of 2013 and were still in cinemas when 2014 started that is acceptable to me (as long as I didn’t include them on the previous year’s list). Also, I haven’t seen every movie released so take this with a grain of salt. These are just my preferences and if any of you happen to like these movies that’s fine and I’m glad somebody can find enjoyment in them. Furthermore, I don’t tend to go see movies that I have a good feeling will be horrible, so if they don’t interest me then I’m not going to waste my time (an example of this would be Tammy) so I’m sure there are really bad films that won’t appear on this list because I haven’t seen them, you could take this list as a ‘most disappointed of 2014’ if you wish. I’ll go through my list and then I’ll mention some films that missed out.

If you want a deeper review then you can check out my reviews by going to the ‘Movie Reviews’ page.

#10 – Need for Speed

This was a jumbled film that had good action scenes but the story was all over the place. The structure and pacing was off and it wasn’t that memorable. I remember that it dragged on quite a bit towards the end and you could tell it was trying too hard to capture the formula of the Fast & Furious franchise. A forgettable film, and one of the worst sins in my opinion is for a film to be boring. Which leads nicely into my number nine.

#9 – Transcendance

This was supposed to a be a landmark film that got deeply into the nature of artificial intelligence and how it could impact our lives and the way we think about identity. Instead, it was a plodding film that just kind of existed. I didn’t feel any tension and a few of the concepts weren’t explained clearly enough. It was slow and I didn’t feel invested at all. Once the film had ended I didn’t feel inclined to spend any time thinking about it, and that’s a big sin considering the subject.

#8 – Transformers 4: Age of Extinction

After Transformers 3 I said to my friends that I wasn’t going to go see the following one in cinemas unless Dinobots were involved. Damn you Michael Bay. It actually wasn’t without merit, I like Mark Wahlberg and it’s always (mostly) fun to see Optimus strut his stuff. But the film is such a mess, with three plots that don’t make complete sense when examined properly. It’s far too long for what it is and there’s a bizarre scene where one of the characters carries around a card to justify his relationship with a girl who is technically underage. Why even include that? Ugh. And then of course the Dinobots were in it for all of five minutes! I expect news of the fifth one will be coming soon but I’m really not interested. Even if they announce that it’s going to take place on Cybertron and will involve Unicron I’m not going to be sucked in again.

#7 – Horrible Bosses 2

This is a weird one and honestly I wasn’t sure where to place it on the list because honestly I did enjoy it quite a bit. However, there were moments of juvenile sexism that basically ruined the film for me. There were points where I was actually uncomfortable and I’m not sure how some of what made it onto the screen made it through the creative process. It left me with a sour taste in my mouth so I put it at seven but it could have been higher. The sexist remarks tanked it completely.

#6 – 12 Years a Slave

This is probably going to be the one that most people disagree with on this list, especially since it got a lot of critical acclaim and was rewarded at a lot of award shows. I found it utterly boring though, and while I was watching it my attention was drifting. It just seemed like it kept hammering home the message that slavery is bad without actually letting the story breathe, so I always felt like it was lecturing me.

#5 – Sex Tape

The trailers for this didn’t look promising but sometimes trailers aren’t reliable, and I like Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel so I figured it couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong, so very, very wrong. The jokes weren’t funny, the script was bad, and from looking at the trailer you could tell that they changed the ending. I can’t give a good reason why anyone should want to watch this.

#4 – Maleficent

I love Disney, I used to work at Disney. I love new spins on familiar tales. Maleficent should have been good but a lot of it made no sense. It was filled with bad acting and the structure was horrendous. There are so many time jumps that I lost track of them all, and I can count the good parts of the film on one hand. I was really disappointed in this because nothing about it worked, aside from Jolie’s performance.

#3 – A Million Ways to Die in the West

Ted was awesome. This was not. It felt indulgent and pretty much all of the jokes fell flat. I think the main problem is that MacFarlane tried to be too clever, and I think he wanted to paint the character he played as somehow removed from the world he presented. It didn’t work and he came across as smug. A few of the jokes landed but they were few and far between, and it would seem that MacFarlane is better served staying behind the camera.

#2 – Noah

Oh sheesh, I talked a bit about boring films earlier but this one was the worst. It even sent my friend to sleep! I don’t know who this film was made for because I don’t see atheists liking it and I don’t see theists enjoying it either. I found myself siding with the antagonist mostly and there were a lot of logical gaps that it didn’t try filling in. Like, um, how are they going to repopulate the Earth? This film is a pointless exercise in monotony.

#1 – Walking on Sunshine

Fun story, I went on a date and there were three films to choose from; this one, The Fault in Our Stars, and How to Train Your Dragon 2. I tried to persuade my date to see one of the latter two but no, she was desperate to see Walking on Sunshine. I like Mamma Mia! so I didn’t think it would be too bad, and I’m a fan of Leona Lewis so at least I’d enjoy hearing her sing. Oh, wait, hang on, THE ONLY ACTUAL SINGER IN THE CAST SANG ONE LINE!!

Ridiculous. The charm of Mamma Mia! is that it had actual movie stars singing the songs, so even though Pierce Brosnan is a bad singer it’s still Pierce Brosnan. Walking on Sunshine boasts no such stars, so you’re left watching a bunch of unfamiliar people sing badly in a completely by-the-numbers plot. It’s a cynical film made to cash in on people thinking, ‘oh well, it’s just a bit of fun isn’t it.’ No, producers should not be allowed to get away with this rubbish. There’s no attempt at all to make a decent film and that is inexcusable. It’s without merit and it’s not just the worst film of 2014 but one of the worst films I have ever seen. I would rather walk on the sun than watch this again, at least the pain would be over more quickly.

So there we go! Those were my worst films, most of which were more boring that truly bad, but in some ways that’s worse. Now for a couple that missed out. I did think about putting Godzilla on the list because it barely showed the titular character, but honestly that part at the end where he does the atomic breath blast into his opponent saved it from being above any of the others. The other close one was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles but I did enjoy that one. The story was abysmal but it captured the personalities of the turtles so I had fun watching it.

What were your worst films of the year? Do you agree with my picks? Sound off in the comments!

Movie Review – Magic Mike (2013)

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Stars: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey

Mike (Tatum) is a thirty year old man who has a lot of business interests. While he’s working on a construction site he meets Adam (Pettyfer) and the two of them get along, so Mike introduces Adam to his main source of income – stripping. Adam’s sister, Brooke (Horn) is not a fan of this lifestyle but Mike develops feelings for her, and secretly he wants out of the stripping world so he can pursue his dream and live a normal life.

Magic Mike had a big buzz when it came out but it seems to have faded from the public consciousness ever since then. It’s strange how people react to movies like this. To me, it’s just another movie to watch (although I realize as a film reviewer my perspective is slightly different to that of the average person). My sister actually refused to watch this movie with me because she thought it would be weird watching it with her brother. I think people get too caught up on the stripping when in reality I didn’t think it was that gratuitous and there is a story here.

But the story is rather predictable. The plot beats are familiar and from the first few scenes you can pretty much tell what’s going to happen. I found it a bit odd as well, because for a large part of the film it seemed to be focusing on Adam’s story and Mike faded into the background. I actually think this film would have been better had it been a bit longer and had more of an ensemble film, telling the story of the group of male strippers and how it affected all their lives. Instead, the other performers weren’t developed characters. Even Dallas (McConaughey) didn’t get much development, and it was up to the actors whether their characters were charismatic or not.

One of the main plot points is the romance between Mike and Brooke. I didn’t think Horn was very good in this movie. I didn’t feel any chemistry between the two actors and there wasn’t anything that made me root for them, so I wasn’t invested in it at all. I much preferred the brotherly relationship between Mike and Adam, and how Adam was being introduced to this world. Pettyfer practically stole every scene he was in and did a good job of showing the transformation he went as he got deeper and deeper into the stripping world.

Some of the scenes, especially those set outside the club early on in the film, felt like footage from a hidden camera show. I wasn’t a fan of this as the acting and dialogue felt stilted. The choreography of the stripping routines was impressive and there was a great deal of humour that came from that world. I also liked how the climax of Mike’s story was juxtaposed with the ending in the club, as it provided a fitting ending.

I don’t think Magic Mike is an amazing film but I also don’t think it should be dismissed as simply a film about strippers. I actually like the fact that it explores this world because I can’t remember a film before that has been about male strippers, so it’s something unusual and different. It is an uneven film though so I can’t give it my full recommendation but I do think it is worth checking out as there is some substance behind the flash.

A London Scavenger Hunt – In the Hidden City Review

I meet up with some friends in London more than a few times of year, and this has happened over the past, gosh, six years I think. Although London is a great place filled with lots of things to do we have exhausted many of the major activities. When arranging our Christmas meetup I came across Hidden City, a company that organizes scavenger hunts in various cities around England. Initially I wanted to do the special Christmas one, the Enchanted Mirror but it unfortunately it was sold out on the day that I was visiting. Instead, we did the City Lights Evening Trail.

It costs £20 per team, and there’s not a limit of how many people are in the team. One person registers on the website and gets a message from the company. You have 28 days to begin your hunt, and all you have to do is go to the starting location provided and text ‘Start’ to the number and you will receive your first clue. Our hunt consisted of 15 clues, and there’s a leaderboard on the website that shows how much time people take to complete the hunt. The clues are all sent by text and you can even send them a friend’s number so that they’ll receive the clues as well, which is useful if there are a large number as you won’t be crowding around one phone.

I was very excited when we began because I love these sorts of things. It also promised to show us a side of London that we hadn’t seen before, which is exactly what we were looking for. Then we received the first clue annnnd erm, yeah. It was a bit challenging for us, although that probably says more about us than the clue! But you are allowed to get hints and skip the question, but if you do so, or you get the question wrong, you will incur a penalty of 10 mins, and this will be added to your final score. I think a major reason we didn’t do as well as we could is because we didn’t have a map of London. A number of clues referred to nearby streets so they’re incredibly difficult if you don’t have an intimate knowledge of the area you’re in or a map. There’s also a lot of walking involved as well, and some people may get annoyed with wandering around trying to figure out a clue, so if you do want to  do this with friends or family then make sure they know what they’re getting themselves in for. We didn’t cover ourselves in glory and we ended up with a final time of over 3 hours, and then another 210 minutes added for our penalty points. Oops (although a few of these were done because people in my party were getting a bit annoyed and just wanted to get on with it).

Occasionally however, we did come across some stumbling blocks that perplexed us. Firstly, some of the clues can be really obtuse and I understand that it must be hard to make sure that it’s neither too easy or too difficult, but there were a couple of clues that were still confusing even after we found out the answer. There were a few times we were unsure as to how far we should walk between clues too, and this led us to going out of our way. Another flaw is that a couple of clues required reading plaques and inscriptions, and this would be fine in the day but in the winter nights come down quickly and even lights from phones aren’t that good when trying to read words on crumbling stones. The biggest frustration was one clue where the part of a monument that the clue was written on wasn’t there anymore! And because the texts are just generated automatically you are unable to tell them this.

But aside from that I enjoyed it a lot. I saw a part of London that I hadn’t seen before and I also got some great views, one of which was a rooftop view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which looked stunning at this time of year as the Christmas tree was standing outside. At times it was perhaps too challenging but ultimately I had a lot of fun, and although it took us to a part of London we hadn’t been to before it wasn’t like it was a completely out of the way place, so at the end we were still central and close to restaurants and bars, which helped us have a nice end to our day in London.

If you like clues and riddles and you want to see a part of these cities that you haven’t seen before then you should look into these hunts. I certainly would like to do another one, and hopefully I’ll get to do one of the more thematic ones next year.

And Now For Something Not Completely Different…Taking Stock and Plans for the Future

For the best part of a year now (could be more or less, I’m a bit hazy when it comes to the passage of time) I’ve been posting daily to this blog. The vast majority of these are movie and book reviews, with the odd game review or miscellaneous post sprinkled in. Since it’s coming up to Christmas and the end of the year I thought I’d just take a brief moment to talk about my blog and how I hope to make it grow in the future.

You may or may not know that I’m actually a writer. I do have books available on Amazon, and you can find more details about these by clicking to the relevant tab at the top of the page. Aside from those I write freelance for a number of clients so I use this blog as my ‘fun’ writing, that is to say the writing that I do to relax. I genuinely enjoy writing reviews and offering my thoughts on a variety of topics. My goal with all the movies, aside from offering my opinions about the big releases, is to champion those obscure movies that fly under the radar, and warn people against boring, rubbish films. I watch a hell of a lot of movies and I like to think I do a good job at bringing attention to a variety of films. The books and other reviews I do are basically to break things up a little bit and offer something different, because I don’t read enough books to make one review per day!

But I just thought I’d throw it out there – if anyone wants to respond and give me a bit of feedback it would be appreciated. Is there anything else you think I could offer with my blog? I’m going to be doing a top 10 of the year after Christmas. I was thinking of doing some more top 10s in the future, as I think they’d be fun to put together (I might do a top 10 worst films of the year as well). I’d also love to do a Q&A type thing as well, although I’m not entirely sure how that would work logistically. I basically want to try and encourage more interaction on my blog, because I’d love to hear what other people think.

One thing I’m considering is to start a podcast, although I have no idea how to go about doing that. But I would like a co-host because I think the dynamic would be much better with two people. If anyone is interested give me a shout and we’ll discuss it, it’s just something I think would be fun, and I’d be able to talk about recent news in the movie world as well as doing a few different things.

Other than that I’m still going to post the reviews. I’m still going to watch a lot of movies, at current count I’ve seen just over 2700 so even if I stopped watching movies now there are plenty that I haven’t reviewed. I might start going through my favourite films and reviewing them at some point, because at the moment I review films as I watch them. I want to get more board games reviewed as well because there are a few cool ones I’ve played since I did my last one, it’s just a bit of a pain to set them up for pictures. I’m going to be getting a whole load of books for Christmas as well so you’ll see a lot of book reviews coming in the New Year.

So yes, I just wanted to say thanks for those who read my reviews and I hope you enjoy what I have to offer. If there are any ideas you have for ways to improve my blog please let me know! I know it’s not for a few days yet but I sincerely hope everyone has a merry Christmas (or happy holiday celebration of your choice) and a very good New Year.

Movie Review – Miracle on 34th Street (1947)

Director: George Seaton

Stars: Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Edmund Gwenn, Gene Lockhart, Natalie Wood

When a man who claims to be Kris Kringle starts (Gwenn) working at MACY’s, he attempts to prove to a young girl (Wood) that he is actually Santa Claus. As he gets more publicity and attention, the matter of his identity becomes the focus of a court trial and the matter of whether Santa Claus exists or not is determined once and for all.

It’s surprising that I had never seen Miracle on 34th Street before now, but it is one of the perfect Christmas films. The characters are perfectly cast and I particularly liked how pretty much everyone just assumed that the old man was deluding himself, but because it was harmless they just let him get on with it. I’m one of those people that absolutely loves Christmas so I’m happy to entertain the belief that Santa does actually exist, and I like how the matter was debated here and also how there was the hint of mystery at the end.

One thing I found interesting is how Santa openly told people that he was Santa, when in most films it’s important that people believe with their hearts and not with their eyes. It was actually refreshing and I like the concept that he comes to inspect the state of the world. The convincing of the young girl (Wood) and her mother (O’Hara) did get pushed into the background as the court case took the majority of the focus, but I liked how the film showed how belief in something magic can give us a different outlook on life, and it has one of my all-time favourite quotes that is going to become one of my mottos.

Christmas is not just a day, it’s a frame of mind.’

That’s a quote that resonates with me . In the film not everyone does actually believe in the good of Christmas, but it shows that people can still do good even if its not for completely altruistic reasons. The discussions and reactions of the business owners was both amusing and realistic, and I liked the idea of how they were trying to outdo each other in generosity. The amateur company psychologist is the main antagonist in the film and I was expecting that he would be converted as well by the end of the film. The discussions with the judge and his advisor felt a little out of place because it was strange to think that a judge of such high standing could be so influenced in the midst of a court case by an outsider.

The resolution of the case was heartfelt and amusing, and the idea of having Santa on trial led to some great moments. I know this probably wasn’t implied due to the era in which it was made, but it struck me how the same case could be made against God. So many people decry Santa as not being real and yet one could make the same movie about Jesus/God and, well, it would be interesting to see what reception that movie would get.

I absolutely love this movie and I’m only sorry that I hadn’t seen it before now. It’s an amazing film and definitely one that should be considered for any Christmas movie lists.

Movie Review – Land of the Dead (2005)

Director: George A. Romero

Stars: Simon Baker, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Asia Argento, Robert Joy, Eugene Clark, Joanne Boland, Tony Nappo

Zombies have taken over the world and humans have built a city to keep them safe. However, the city is divided into to parts. In a tall skyscraper live privileged people, while the rest of the population have to deal with living in squalid conditions on the street. Riley (Baker) goes on raids and wants to escape to somewhere with no people and no zombies but Kaufman (Hopper) is in control and he rules with an iron fist. While tensions rises among the living, the dead are starting to develop new skills, and Big Daddy (Clark) begins to learn.

That last sentence is going to put a lot of people off, so I’ll start by discussing that aspect of Land of the Dead. It’s an unconventional take on zombies as usually they’re presented as mindless, stagnant beings that have no intelligence of ability to reason. Big Daddy develops awareness and starts to lead his zombie brethren in war against the living, who he has seen gleefully mow down the zombies. At first it struck me as a big of a gimmick, but it’s an interesting concept to explore although I feel that it would be worth of its own film rather than being one of multiple plots. It’s actually moving to see Big Daddy show pain as he watches other zombies crumble under the hail of gunfire, and you get a sense of discovery when he learns to use a gun. It actually reminds me of Caesar in the recent Planet of the Apes films, although Land of the Dead doesn’t offer an explanation as to what sparked this change in Big Daddy, and although it hints that other zombies are going through the same thing they could also simply be following Big Daddy’s lead. Furthermore, at the end it’s hinted that they’re just looking to survive, same as us, but again this position could have been explored more.

The human tension is given more weight thanks to a good cast. Baker, Leguizamo and Hopper are good actors, and Joy takes a forgettable character an imbues him with some charisma. The commentary isn’t subtle but it is relevant, yet it’s not particularly original or scathing either. There was lip service paid to a rebellion being formed but this wasn’t developed much and it felt like I was supposed to empathize with these characters more than I actually did.

There were some set-pieces that I liked and the squelching make-up of the zombies was cool. The deaths were pretty standard for a zombie film but still enjoyable, and the vehicle, Dead Reckoning, was badass.

Overall Land of the Dead attempts to explore some new territory with zombies, but treads over familiar ground with the living. As a result it feels somewhat jumbled and if it wasn’t for Leguizamo I probably wouldn’t have kept engaged. I just think if they wanted to give zombies intelligence they should have run with that as the main plot rather than going over the rich/poor divide that has been depicted so many times. If you like zombies and you want to watch it because you’ve seen the other …of the Dead films then you’ll probably get something out of it, otherwise it’s fairly forgettable.

Movie Review – The Dinosaur Project (2012)

Director: Sid Bennett

Stars: Richard Dillane, Peter Brooke, Matt Kane, Natasha Loring, Stephen Jennings, Andre Weideman, Abena Ayiva

After receiving reports of a strange creature appearing in Congo, famed explorer Jonathan Merchant (Dillane) heads up an expedition to figure out the true nature of the beast, for some suspect that it’s actually descended from a dinosaur (much like the theories for the existence of the Loch Ness Monster). After a tense argument with his son Luke (Kane) they head off, with Luke as a stowaway, and embark upon an adventure that could be their last.

It’s a dinosaur film, folks! Yaaaaay! We all love dinosaurs! But just because a movie has dinosaurs doesn’t make it a good movie. The Dinosaur Project combines dinosaurs with found footage, so that’s instantly going to put off a number of people because some people really hate that genre of film. I don’t mind it and although it suffers from the same failings as other found footage films, where it’s quite convenient that the camera was placed at the correct angle to capture the shot, there are a few neat tricks it employs that are fairly inventive, like one where they strap a camera to a dinosaur’s neck and we see the world from its perspective.

The story isn’t really anything new. There are two main threads of dramatic tension; one is the father-son relations while the other revolves around the jealousy of Jonathan’s partner, because he feels that Jonathan gets all the credit. The former was handled quite well. The latter…not so much. The character descended into over-the-top villainy far too effortlessly for my liking. But I was surprised by this film. It is low-budget but I thought the locations were gorgeous. The acting was so-so, I was disappointed that there wasn’t more wonder displayed when they found the dinosaurs, and it was only Luke who showed any sign of excitement.

When it comes to the dinosaurs I had mixed expectations going in. I knew it was a low-budget film so I didn’t expect anything on the level of Jurassic Park but at the same time they show a T-Rex on the poster. Here’s where I disappoint you, there is no T-Rex in the film. Obviously including it on the poster was a cheap marketing ploy and it’s a shame because it’s going to give an easy reason for people to get frustrated with the film. Also, technically, the dinosaurs in the film are evolved versions of other dinosaurs. Having said that, I quite liked them. There are different types, we’ve got land, air, and sea dinosaurs so I appreciated the different types of dinosaurs and the terrain they occupied. The effects were actually pretty good and I found myself impressed by them.

The Dinosaur Project has a poor rating on IMDB but I found that it exceeded my admittedly low expectations. If you want to satisfy your dino-cravings this isn’t that bad, and while I’m not going to give it a resounding recommendation I’m not going to warn people away from it either.