Tomorrowland

Cast: Britt Robertson, George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Raffey Cassidy, Thomas Robinson, Tim McGraw, Kathryn Hahn, Keegan-Michael Key

Director: Brad Bird

Writers: Damon Lindelof, Brad Bird


One of the biggest complaints about Hollywood these days is that there aren’t any more original ideas. According to the Box Office takings for 2015 so far, all ten of the highest grossing films of the year worldwide are sequels, remakes and adaptations. The highest grossing film with an original story, in 13th place (symbolic or what?), is the lacklustre Jupiter Ascending, a film that barely managed to secure a profit. Therefore it is unsurprising that Hollywood continues to produce films based on ideas that have already seen much success in the past, given that original films have proven to be risky moves that do not always pay off. The modest performance of Tomorrowland this past week suggests that audiences have not taken to it and that the trend is therefore set to continue. Even though it isn’t strictly an original story, it did not have a plot or characters to which the audience had already formed an established connection and was therefore a risky move on Disney’s part. I for one think it is a shame that Tomorrowland has not taken off with audiences because I thought it was a breath of fresh air and enjoyed it a great deal.

Tomorrowland is the story of Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), a bright, plucky daughter of an engineer who remains largely optimistic in an increasingly dreary and pessimistic world. Whereas others around her are resigned to how morbid and hopeless the world has become, Casey remains steadfast in viewing these troubles as problems that can and should be solved. She comes across a strange pin that, upon being touched, immediately transports her to another world. It is a magnificent world of scientific wonderments, such as jet packs and holograms, and provides Casey with a living representation of hope and of a better future. She resolves to find out more about this world and sets out on a path that leads her into the company of Frank Walker (George Clooney), a brilliant scientist who has lost his enthusiasm, and Athena (Raffey Cassidy), a mysterious young girl whose answers only lead to more questions. Together they set out on an adventure to find Tomorrowland and to save the world and its future from a foreboding and imminent danger.

What I really enjoyed about this film was that watching it was really like going on an adventure. My unfamiliarity with the story and its characters meant that following Casey in her quest to uncover the truth about Tomorrowland was like setting out on a journey of discovery. I was fascinated with the mystery behind this world and wanted to learn more. The mystery itself is well crafted and is uncovered at just the right pace while still allowing room for good action and fun interactions between the characters. The three main characters are fun and compelling in their own ways and share an interesting dynamic between them. Casey is the optimist of the group and is an enjoyably quirky character who adds much heart to the film. Frank is the pessimist who has lost all faith in humanity but detects a glimmer of hope in Casey’s arrival. Athena is a realist whose spirited and idealistic disposition comes as a surprise given what is revealed about her character. The world that Brad Bird has created is visually stunning (in fact, I’m almost surprised he didn’t make the film in 3D) and invokes a sense of wonder and amazement from the audience. I was thoroughly absorbed.

However I do have one major gripe with this film which occurs in the third act. As the characters learn more about Tomorrowland and the nature of the threat they have to face, the film starts to deliver a message that I felt was pretty forced. I can’t really get into it because spoilers, but the delivery of this message was very blatant and sort of broke the illusion for me. Although I can understand why the writers felt the need to include it and appreciate that it it is an important and a serious message, especially considering that this is a kid’s film, I do think the same message could have been delivered with more subtlety. The way they kept trying to hammer it in drew me out of the film and disrupted my viewing experience of it. I don’t know whether this is something that would bother the rest of the audience but, for me, it was quite a glaring problem that I wasn’t able to ignore.

On the whole Tomorrowland is a very fun and enjoyable family film that deserves a much better reception than the one it has thus far received. The originality is very refreshing for a blockbuster of its size, the story and the characters that it offers are entertaining enough to provide a satisfying experience for the audience, and the world that Brad Bird creates is astonishing to behold. I entreat anyone who is unsure about this film to go and watch it. It is films like this which show that originality is not dead in Hollywood and I sincerely hope that the audience will embrace this film so that we may get others like it.

★★★★

Mad Max: Fury Road

Cast: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whitley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee, Courtney Eaton

Director: George Miller

Writers: George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, Nico Lathouris


A week ago I had never watched any of the Mad Max films. When I saw that this film was coming out it was my understanding that, as far as story and continuity goes, I wouldn’t really need to watch them. However when I decided to go and see it, I thought I’d watch them anyway because I wanted to get a sense of how a Mad Max film should (and shouldn’t) be done. My impression of the Mad Max films is that they are fun, violent, and over-the-top films that don’t take themselves too seriously and therefore shouldn’t be taken as such by the audience. The characters were badass, the post-apocalyptic atmosphere was brilliant and the incredibly thrilling car chases were always the best parts of the films. The first two films knew exactly what kind of films they wanted to be and they delivered themselves perfectly. I didn’t think the third one was a bad film per se, but it wasn’t a Mad Max film. The few actions scenes that were included were downplayed and softened to make it more accessible for a PG-13 audience, the story felt very out of place and out of character, and on the whole it was too light-hearted for the ruthless and desolate world of the Mad Max universe. It is often the case that when a director works on a franchise for too long, they often end up getting carried away with it and distorting it until they forget how they actually did it in the first place (George Lucas and Peter Jackson being primary examples). Thankfully this isn’t the case with George Miller this time around. With Fury Road Miller has created a film that embraces the new technology now available to him while still remaining true to the spirit of the original films.

In Fury Road Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) is captured by the War Boys, a deranged cult led by the vicious Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) and is consigned to being a ‘blood bag’ for War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult). Max sees his chance to escape when he commandeers the War Rig driven by Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) in her attempt to save the Wives, a group of beautiful and fertile young women who have been subjected as sex slaves, from the captivity of the cult. Max and Furiosa both grow to understand that their best chance of survival and escape is to work together to escape the wrath of Immortan Joe and his army as they determinedly pursue them. What ensues is effectively a two-hour chase scene as the crew of the War Rig struggle to evade and fight off the cohorts that hunt them, all the while dealing with the hostilities that arise between them.

This film delivers everything that an audience could ever want from a Mad Max film. Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the titular character is sufficiently callous, understated and intimidating. What makes Max an interesting character is that he was good man long before the nuclear war destroyed this world, but has been damaged and impaired by the harsh brutalities of this new world of anarchy and violence into a shell of a man who relies solely on his instinct to survive. His merciless and indifferent nature, coupled with the faint traces of his former self beneath it all, makes him a compelling figure and an overall badass protagonist. Furiosa is every bit as strong, as vicious and as resolute as Max is in her quest to save the Wives from a life of brutality and misery. For her the quest to survive extends to more than just staying alive. It is about retaining one’s humanity and creating a better world from the ashes of the old one. She serves as the film’s heart in her search for a glimmer of hope in this dark and barren world.

As well as compelling characters and an interesting yet unspoken discussion on the theme of survival Fury Road also delivers on mindless, over-the-top violence, another staple of the Mad Max universe. The tension in the chase scenes is palpable and provides an exhilarating experience for the viewer. The fact that the entire story is centred on a single chase means that the tension remains throughout the course of the film, even in the quieter scenes. The film is absolutely packed with blazing guns, roaring engines and fiery explosions, but never loses track nor gets carried away with them. The action is just as intense and just as ridiculous as it needs to be for an entertaining, adrenaline fuelling, and radical sci-fi film. Miller is also able to be creative with the action by employing practical effects whenever possible and allowing the characters and their devices to be as insane and ridiculous as possible. I have no idea why the War Boys have a car with them in which a guitar player shreds throughout the entire chase, but it is awesome nonetheless!

Like two of its three predecessors, Fury Road knows exactly what kind of film it wants to be and delivers exactly what it promises. It is packed with entertaining and memorable characters with strongly defined personalities; it boasts of excellent production that helps create a living, breathing world with an engrossing atmosphere; and it utilises awesome, exaggerated action sequences that make for an exciting, spine-tingling viewing experience. Fans of the original trilogy should be satisfied with Miller’s latest offering and newcomers to the Mad Max universe are in for a treat.

★★★★★

Far from the Madding Crowd

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Writer: David Nicholls


Reviewing an adaptation of a famous novel is always a bit weird, especially if it’s a classic. As someone who has never read Thomas Hardy’s novel and who has never watched any of its previous adaptations, I find myself in an uncertain position. On the one hand I was able to watch this film without any preconceived notions and therefore should be able to judge it based on its own merits. On the other hand reading the original source material would doubtless have provided me with an insight into what kind of film Vinterberg and Nicholls were trying to make. I’m not sure which would be worse; reviewing this film without enlightening myself on the actual themes and ideals it is trying to capture, or holding this film to a standard set by the source material rather than by its own standards. Is it fair for me to criticise Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for missing the point of Fitzgerald’s novel even if not everyone in the audience will have necessarily read it? Am I a hypocrite if I say that the books don’t matter when reviewing something like the Harry Potter series but then say that they do when reviewing a film like Jane Eyre? Am I expected to familiarise myself with the themes, story and characters of Madame Bovary in order to develop an informed judgement of Sophie Barthes’ upcoming adaptation? I’m not sure if there is a simple answer to these questions. The question of the adaptation has always seemed like a grey area to me so I think I’ll have to proceed cautiously, share my own personal experience of this film, and hope that my ignorance does not prove to be a burden.

The protagonist of Far from the Madding Crowd is Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), the headstrong farmer with a fierce will who prides herself on her self-reliance and independence. When she inherits a wealthy and prosperous farm, she shows absolutely no intention of settling down to enjoy a life of comfort and leisure. She instead intends to remain in the thick of it and run her farm herself. Over the course of the film she attracts the attention of three vastly different suitors who offer three vastly different lives for her. There is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the humble sheep farmer who promises her a quiet but fulfilling life; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the wealthy landowner who promises her a life of security and comfort; and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), the handsome sergeant who promises her a life of excitement and adventure. Bathsheba is a woman who has never dreamed of settling down and has no desire to be tamed by a husband. However the advances of these three men awaken feelings of passion and ambivalence within her as she is faced with the agonies of choice and of her own conflicted feelings.

Carey Mulligan was born to do period dramas and is on top form as the indomitable Bathsheba. She brings a lot of spirit to the role of a woman who defies the conventions of what a Victorian woman was expected to be. Bathsheba refuses to define or measure herself by other peoples’ standards, she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and she harbours a passionate and spirited nature that cannot be tempered. However her pride proves to be as much of a weakness as it is a strength as she finds herself unprepared for the effects that falling in love would prove to have on her will and judgement. Over the course of her romantic journey she does make mistakes and she does get hurt, but through it all she never allows these adversities to defeat her. Her character displays a strong sense of resilience and determination as she grows and learns more about herself and about the nature of love.

The three men of Bathsheba’s life are all portrayed impeccably by their actors and each one of them forms a compelling bond with her. Oak is a humble, soft-spoken man with a quiet dignity about him. He is the one out of the suitors who is most like Bathsheba and who understands her best, but he also understands that she is of a higher and nobler class than him and has resigned himself to the prospect of being nothing more than her faithful farmhand. Boldwood is a reclusive man who at first appears devoid of feeling. The beauty and kindness of Bathsheba awakens a romantic temperament that he had either lost or repressed long ago and he becomes determined to win her heart. Troy is a dashing, reckless soldier with a wild and enflamed passion that he directs towards Bathsheba. She finds herself attracted to his confidence and his daring nature and finds the danger he poses to be exhilarating. All three men bring out different sides of Bathsheba that conflict with one another as she attempts to make sense of her emotions.

The nature of love is discussed and explored by Bathsheba as she attempts to discover what exactly it is she wants. Falling in love was a prospect that she never intended to happen to her and she soon finds herself doubting and questioning her own judgement and feelings. What could easily have been a feeble tale of a woman discovering that she needs a man in her life to make her happy instead depicts a fascinating and emotional journey of romance, passion and self-discovery. As Bathsheba endures the pains, hardships and heartbreaks of love, she finds within herself the will to survive and persevere. I still don’t know whether that was the idea behind Hardy’s novel, but regardless it made for an enjoyable and emotional film with strong performances, beautiful music and stunning cinematography.

★★★★★

Top 10 Superhero Films

After watching Avengers: Age of Ultron and three episodes of Daredevil I’ve found myself in a superhero mood and thought I’d compile this list. The superhero genre has scaled to such incredible heights over the last decade and a half that it is almost hard to believe there was once a time when these kinds of films were not held in high regard. There was actually a time when any film with a superhero was considered a joke and box-office poison. Now superhero films are everywhere. Today the superhero genre is one that audiences are taking seriously and that has seen a lot of success and praise. These films are now being made by talented filmmakers who actually care about the source material and who put in the work and the effort to ensure that the result does them justice. What follows is a list of my 10 personal favourite films within this genre.

 

 10. Watchmen (2009)

Watchmen film

A vastly underrated film in my opinion, I think that the main trouble with Watchmen is that it didn’t really find its audience. Those who had read Alan Moore’s seminal book about an alternate history where superheroes are a driving force in the Cold War were unsure whether it could even be translated to film while those who hadn’t were perhaps put off by their unfamiliarity with the story and the lack of star-power. As someone who has read the book, I think that the film Snyder gave us is the best that any of us could have ever hoped for. I’m scratching my head trying to work out what he could possibly have done differently. His faithfulness to the source material is unquestionable as can be seen in his painstaking recreations of Gibbons’ visuals, the film is in keeping with Moore’s dark and gritty tone and the translation of the story and characters to the big screen is simply astonishing.

 9. X-Men: First Class (2011)

X-Men First Class film

This was a tough call and I’m sure there are a lot of people who prefer X2 or Days of Future Past to this one, but I had to go with First Class. It actually kind of annoys me that this is my favourite of the X-Men films because it barely has any of my favourite X-Men in it. However I had to go with it because it is such a good film. McAvoy and Fassbender are perfectly cast as the younger versions of Professor X and Magneto and the story of their shared past is such a compelling one. In addition it has a great story, the characters who are in it are well-used and the 1960s setting is fantastic. At a time when the X-Men series was struggling, following its two prior failures, Vaughn’s decision to reinvent the franchise by going right back to the beginning was a bold one and it worked out brilliantly. It was smart, it was fun and it saved the franchise. It also has one of the best cameos in any film ever.

8. Batman (1989)

Batman film

This one is a classic. Breaking away from the campy tone that defined the Adam West era, this film was a dark and serious take on the Caped Crusader that depicted him as a conflicted, unhinged vigilante. Michael Keaton’s excellent portrayal of Batman is overshadowed only by Jack Nicholson’s crazed performance as the Joker, by the marvellous production design and by the dark, brooding atmosphere that only Tim Burton could bring. This is the film that transcended superhero films beyond the action genre by providing a psychological insight into one of pop culture’s most famous characters.

7. Unbreakable (2000)

Unbreakable film

The only film on this list not based on a comic book or a graphic novel. Made back before Shyamalan became, well… Shyamalan, Unbreakable is a dark, enthralling film that provides an insightful commentary into this genre. It brought a philosophical element into the discussion on the superhero mythology by asking whether becoming a superhero is a matter of choice or of destiny. It questions what it really means to be a superhero and the sort of implications and ramifications that come with such an idea. Unbreakable provides an intelligent deconstruction of the superhero genre and shows that superheroes films aren’t all about action and thrills.

6. V for Vendetta (2005)

V for Vendetta film

I was surprised to find that this isn’t a film often featured on lists of superhero films. Maybe this is because a lot of people don’t consider V to be a superhero (although if Batman and Daredevil count, surely he counts as well). In any case V for Vendetta is an awesome film about a vigilante who, rather than fighting against a bad guy, chooses to fight against an idea as he takes a stance against an Orwellian totalitarian regime in the name of freedom. Hugo Weaving is impeccably cast as the theatrical, morally ambiguous V in a film that provides a unique portrayal of a superhero whose real power is that of an idea. It is well worth watching, even if it does take a lot of divergences from the original graphic novel.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Guardians of the Galaxy film

More of a sci-fi film than a superhero film but still counts regardless. Guardians of the Galaxy was a risky move on Marvel’s part, considering that only devoted comic book fans were at all familiar with these heroes or the world that they inhabit, and so its monumental success is a testament to the characters that made this film as great as it was. There is not a single weak link amongst the five leads as we see them working with and off each other to make what is an incredibly fun and entertaining film. Groot alone makes this film worth watching. (Incidentally it is now my dream to one day see Rocket Raccoon and Tony Stark meet).

4. Superman (1978)

Superman film

Even though I actually like Man of Steel, this film remains far and away my favourite Superman film and Christopher Reeve remains the quintessential Superman. Back before superhero films showed that they could be intelligent, dark, complex and thought provoking, Superman was a fun, uplifting and exciting film that made us all believe that a man could really fly. This film didn’t need to be dark or gritty to be effective, all it needed was spirit and imagination. The iconic hero, the inspirational John Williams score and the thrilling action have ensured that this film remains a classic that still holds up today.

3. Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Spider-Man 2 film

Back when films like Spider-Man, ­X-Men and Blade were bringing the superhero genre back to the big screen and were still experimenting with the format, this was the film that finally perfected it. It has everything that a fun, exciting superhero film needs. It has an iconic hero, an entertaining villain, excellent action, a great sense of humour, and groundbreaking visual effects. Even though I preferred Marc Webb’s take on Spider-Man to Sam Raimi’s and felt that Andrew Garfield was a better Spider-Man than Tobey Maguire, this film nevertheless remains the best Spider-Man film to date and without question one of the best superhero films ever made.

2. The Avengers (2012)

The Avengers film

This was the film that changed everything. After five films over the course of four years building up to this momentous occasion, The Avengers was the film that finally brought these heroes from their different franchises together for the first time. It marked an important step in the evolution of the superhero genre and it was executed to perfection. Not only did these characters work together incredibly well and complement each other perfectly, but The Avengers is also an excellently scripted, well-directed, action-packed film that pitted the Avengers against a villain who remains the best baddie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Whatever doubts the audience may have had about the idea of a shared universe, this was the film that put an end to them once and for all.

1. The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight film

I know that picking this film for the number 1 spot may be a bit of a cliché, but that’s how amazing this film really is. Batman is hands-down my favourite superhero and Christian Bale remains my favourite portrayal of him. Heath Ledger’s Joker is not only the best incarnation of that character, he is one of the greatest film villains of all time. Under Nolan’s direction, The Dark Knight is an intelligent film that explores the nature of chaos and provides an insight into the twisted relationship between Batman and the Joker. It is a thrilling film that gets the blood pumping with its intense action and its dark tone. The Dark Knight is one of those rare films that actually lived up to every single expectation that the audience had and is still just as exhilarating to watch today.