“Every gun makes its own tune….”
How to make a solid sequel…
The first How To Train Your Dragon movie was not only a huge commercial success but also a hit with the critics as well (It currently sits at #150 in the IMDB top 250 films of all time after receiving two Oscar nominations).
When making a sequel however Dreamworks had every reason to be wary after rival studio Pixar put out the disappointing Cars 2 and the patchy Monsters University. Luckily Dreamworks made a number of solid decisions with How To Train Your Dragon 2. Keeping the original cast and director on board was important and bringing in Cate Blanchett and Kit ‘you know nothing’ Harrington didn’t hurt either. Secondly the decision to make this second instalment the second part of a trilogy gives director Dean DeBlois breathing space to expand the characters and the world that they
The main obstacle then in the face of cautious optimism was the general premise. Baring in mind the dragon training promised in the title was delivered in the first film, it was vitally important that the sequel was not a retread of the first story. This is mostly done successfully with the introduction of a couple of key characters as well as vital plot points ensuring that How To Train Your Dragon 2 is not just a stepping stone to the final film in the trilogy but an enjoyable spectacle in its own right.
Dreamworks will always be viewed as inferior to Pixar but they have still put out some of the most beloved animated films of all time and How To Train Your Dragon 2 sits nicely amongst the Kung Fu Panda, Shrek and Madagascar franchises.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy talk. And talk. And then talk some more. For 105 minutes.
Before Sunrise seems to be hugely critically acclaimed as its placing in the hallowed IMDB top 250 will attest to but I don’t get what all the fuss is about to be honest. As with another film I didn’t ‘get’ Lost in Translation, there seems to be a lot of people who feel some kind of profound connection to Before Sunrise that I just don’t see.
Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy bump into each other on a train to Paris and end up spending the day together in Vienna. Lots of long and philosophical dialogue ensues in the vein of Cameron Crowe or Kevin Smith at his best. While the chemistry between Hawke and Delpy is both tangible and undeniable there isn’t enough character development or plotting to keep things interesting and that prevented me from feeling invested in the characters.
The soundtrack is forgettable which is disappointing for a Linklater film as normally he does well in that aspect of things. It is safe to say that Before Sunrise is much closer to Boyhood than it is to School of Rock or Dazed and Confused when speaking in terms of Linklater’s output as it is a character study where not much happens. The difference between Linklater’s recent Oscar nominee Boyhood and Before Sunrise I suppose is a matter of opinion, I connected to Boyhood completely even though not a great deal happens but I was disinterested in the outcome here.
Some people obviously love this film but it didn’t really do anything for me.
IMDB TOP 250 #212
Dreamworks jewel in the crown.
Despite enjoying huge commercial success with the Shrek and Madagascar franchises plus box office hits like Monsters vs. Aliens, Dreamworks animation still has to hide their envious glances towards Pixar as they have have tied massive profits with universal critical acclaim and adoration.
While Shrek is a decent film and there have been a couple of others on the Dreamworks roster that I have enjoyed, How To Train Your Dragon is the first film that I have loved as much as some of Pixar’s output. In Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, T.J. Miller, Kristen Wiig and Christopher ‘McLovin’ Mintz-Plasse director Dean DeBlois has assembled some of the finest comic actors currently working today with Gerard Butler adding his gruff, more dramatic voice to sweeten the pot.
The beauty of Pixar is the emotional attachment they make you feel about futuristic robots or lost clownfish and I can safely say I was with Toothless the dragon all the way through this movie and it’s hard not to root for any character played by Baruchel.
Dreamworks output before and after How To Train Your Dragon has been patchy and inconsistent but this is a film to rival anything that either Disney or Pixar have released. Don’t wait five years to see it like I did.
IMDB TOP 250 #150
Brilliant film featuring a nine minute drum solo (no really).
Whiplash has gone straight into the IMDB top 250 at #38 and has been nominated for five Oscars despite being one of the lowest grossing best picture nominees ever. I can safely say Whiplash lives up to the hype.
On my blog back in March of last year after watching Miles Teller in The Spectacular Now and Rabbit Hole I said he was ‘definitely one to watch for the future’ (this might sound like showing off but I am only right about stuff once or twice a year so fuck you guys). In Whiplash Teller is a revelation. He is a whirlwind, with the intensity of Ed Norton and the passion of Di Caprio. It is a scandal that he hasn’t been nominated for best actor at this year Oscars but he WILL be nominated in years to come.
The supporting cast is fine but Whiplash is totally a two man show. The tension between Teller and almost equally astounding J. K. Simmons is palpable. Teller is in every scene but when paired with Simmons it feels like they don’t even come up for air.
This was clearly a passion project for rookie director Damien Chazelle and he also takes plenty of risks which only makes Whiplash more satisfying as both a piece of art (and it is art) and as a massive success.
I was sucked in, I was invested in the characters and Whiplash grabbed hold of me from start to finish. The friction and understanding between Simmons and Teller makes Whiplash a must watch. No excuses.
IMDB TOP 250 #38
WON 3 OSCARS (5 NOMINATIONS)
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR – JK SIMMONS
BEST SOUND MIXING
BEST FILM EDITING
Cute kid becomes beautiful man.
The premise behind boyhood is that it is filmed over 12 years following a kid called Mason from childhood through to adolescence. This is to simplify what is a truly breathtaking project however, Mason is just a small part in his own story with everyone else in his family being just as integral to the plot and the emotional narrative. The supporting cast are utterly remarkable. Patricia Arquette gives a performance that is equal parts enthusiasm and vulnerability. She totally blew me away all the way though and must surely be nailed on Best Supporting Actress at this years Oscars. Ethan Hawke is superb and the chemistry between the cast is unlike any I have previously seen in any film. The cast assembled every year to film short segments and all that hard work and time spent in each others company leads to a family unit that is at once familiar and totally believable.
Director Richard Linklater has a penchant for sentimentality in his flicks (see Dazed and Confused) and he does lay it on a little thick at times but protagonist Ellar Coltrane does well for a relative newcomer with the more gawky lines and his performance overall is astounding. For Linklater to have the foresight to pick a kid that would become such a natural and charismatic on screen presence is either lucky as hell or a stroke of genius. By the time it came to Mason’s graduation I felt part of the family and I was sad when the film finished even after nearly three hours in their company.
Boyhood is the ultimate triumph in the theory that you don’t need constant plot twists and events to tell a good story. There is nothing remarkable about Mason, his life is the same as a million other young men and women but that is the point. Every human being tells a story that is remarkable in its own way.
IMDB TOP 250 #197
WON 1 OSCAR (6 NOMINATIONS):
Best Supporting Actress – Patricia Arquette
2001: A Space Odyssey meets Gravity to birth really long, never ending film.
Christopher Nolan’s work on the Batman franchise and much loved modern classics Inception and Memento among others ensured that Interstellar would be the most hyped film of the year. Already featuring 8 Oscar nominees and ranking an astonishing #23 on the revered IMDB top 250 have only increased the huge amount of interest in this film. Is Interstellar worthy of the hype? There is definitely a lot to admire here.
The script does not hold back on the science but always holds the audiences hand when things get a bit too technical. McConaughey is very good, particularly in the more harrowing, emotional scenes but he is in danger of being typecast as a Texan oddball talking in hushed tones. As Cooper, McConaughey manages to pull off devastated, doting father and full on action hero in the same role as well as being compellingly intense throughout. Nobody really competes with McConaughey when sharing the screen with him (aside from John Lithgow in earlier scenes) but Jessica Chastain impresses as Coopers daughter Murphy and it is nice to see Casey Affleck in a relatively big role considering recent failures.
The main triumph though in Interstellar is Hans Zimmer’s absolutely jaw dropping score. Some of the more lengthy, boring scenes (of which there are many – more on that later) are still kept engaging by Zimmer’s masterful cacophony and this is actually the only area in which Interstellar is a rival for 2001: A Space Odyssey (beloved by Christopher Nolan – it’s influence looms large throughout the entirety of Interstellar).
So Interstellar deserves all the plaudits then? Not quite for me. Despite the heavy subject matter this is still a movie drenched in Hollywood. Possibly the only film to have more endings than Return of the King, Interstellar feels like it is never going to finish with each new revelation taking impact away from what has preceded it. The constant allusions to love holding the key go from grating to downright ridiculous when Anne Hathaway delivers a soliloquy that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sex and the City movie and some of the more emotional scenes fall a bit too close to being manipulative for my liking.
There are two fundamental problems with Interstellar. Firstly it is far, far too long and as with The Dark Knight Rises the pacing is all wrong. The second half feels rushed with major plot points covered in single scenes whereas large parts of the first half are just flat out boring. Secondly the reason that Inception, Memento and even The Prestige were so good is they kept you guessing. Inception in particular was made magical by its ambiguity and debate still rages around the enigmatic conclusion. Nothing is left to the imagination with Interstellar though as Nolan explains what is happening every step of the way. A very good film for sure but a masterpiece? Definitely not.
IMDB TOP 250 #23
WON 1 OSCAR (5 NOMINATIONS):
Best Visual Effects
The most stellar of stellar casts come together to tell a truly beautiful story about a hotel.
.I have been cantankerously suggesting for a long time that live action directors need to take a look at Pixar for inspiration in terms of imagination and style, I am pleased to say that Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenanbaums, Rushmore etc) has managed to do that with The Grand Budapest Hotel. This film is quite simply one of the most beautiful looking films ever committed to screen. Imagine all the glorious colours of WALL•E brought to life and you are somewhere close.
It is always easy to see a comment about how good one of Andersons films looks and think ‘Yes, yes we know all about that, what is new though?’. Well don’t expect the same old same old from Anderson here. Every shot is absolutely stunning, the colours are enchanting throughout, the score is absolutely perfect. Grand Budapest Hotel feels like a musical without the singing in as much as it is choreographed to perfection. Ralph Fiennes is hilarious and brilliant as the poetic Gustave, all the Anderson regulars do what they do (Arkin, Murray, Owen Wilson, Ed Norton etc etc) Jude Law, Jeff Goldblum and Harvey Keitel are as good as ever. Saoirse Ronan continues to impress and newcomer Tony Revolori is also excellent as the protagonist.
It is hard to compare this film with my other current best film of 2014 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 so I wont bother… just treat yourself and watch them both.
IMDB TOP 250 #185
WON 4 OSCARS (9 NOMINATIONS):
Best Costume Design
Best Makeup and Hair
Best Original Score
Best Production Design