Monday, 30 June 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2

Dreamworks Animation has usually been a cut below Pixar and Disney. It is a sad truth because their films tend to be much more fun, but they often lack that emotional depth and very rarely can they compete with what Pixar would offer. Even if they do make a good standalone film they go too far by adding too many sequels such as Shrek. So when they announced that plans were being made to produce a sequel of How to Train Your Dragon, I was very sceptical. The first was an unusually emotional film based upon an unlikely friendship and the pressure of following in the footsteps of those around you.
The second film, even more surprisingly, echoes those themes as well as introducing new elements, resulting in an equal, if not better, effort than its predecessor. As the young Viking Hiccup continues to explore the world with his dragon Toothless, he discovers a much larger conflict brewing between humans and dragons, with him right at the centre. On top of gaining more critical acclaim the film will undoubtedly help bring in more income for a hit starved studio.
Starting with the strongest aspect of the film, the themes, it is obvious that a lot of thought has been put into making sure that the characters are still human and relatable. They can all convey and shadow the aspects of war, responsibility and family that were present in the first and emphasised more for this instalment. Like most sequels it is a little darker, but loses none of the fun, imagination and flamboyancy of the original. It also opens up a world of possibilities for a very successful film franchise. There is already a wide mythology behind the series, and if all of the upcoming films could be as well-crafted as the first two, we could have a genuinely epic fantasy animation saga.
But focussing on this particular film alone, the tone is decidedly more serious. It confronts all of the issues raised head on rather than just skirting around them. The unlikely friendship that was established in the first film is now put to a greater challenge after being introduced to a much wider world. As well as this it echoes the theme of responsibility on a much stronger tone this time. Before the responsibility aspect was overwhelmed by the morality of what the characters were doing and more about freewill over what others believe in. This one holds a more inevitable fate for our protagonist, but I won’t spoil anything.
The film is also visually stunning, and I mean really stunning. Some dragon battle scenes feel more like a scene from Lord of the Rings rather than an animated film. The heart-warming element of the first film is cast aside slightly to take the franchise to the next level. Like it’s central characters, the film has grown up a lot and if there is any problem with it, they have made things very difficult for the next part. Some of the charm might be lost as well, and there is a tiny danger of the rapid growth being too much of a step forward. However I need to focus on this film alone, and it is very successful, being just as action packed and emotional as the first film. If you are looking for an animated summer fun-filled-festival, with a serious note as well, head straight to How to Train Your Dragon 2.   

Sunday, 29 June 2014

X-Men: The Franchise So Far...(Part 1)

I had promised in my review of Days of Future Past that I would do an overview of the entire X-Men franchise. Having just released his most recent instalment, Bryan Singer is set to return for X-Men: Apocalypse, but we will have to wait a while for film number eight, and now that the excitement and hype from number seven has dies down a little, this seems to be as good an opportunity as ever to examine all the ups and downs of this landmark film series.
Many people give credit to The Dark Knight for making superhero films darker and more realistic, which in many ways it of course did. However, when you look back at the original X-Men film it is a big step forward from campier comic films such as the old Batman and Superman series’. Think about it carefully, the film opens during the Holocaust, quite a dark setting for a film based on characters from a comic read by children. The film also pokes fun at the old setup in the comic, remember the ‘Yellow Spandex’ conversation between Wolverine and Cyclops. Furthermore, Bryan Singer was not even a fan of the X-Men comics, but he was still fascinated enough by the potential of struggles for equality. In the end that’s all that X-Men was, it translated real issues and made them appealing to a mass audience, it was conceived in the sixties, racial equality was a very prominent issue at the time.
Anyway, to the actual film, the plot introduces us into the conflict between the X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants. That is basically all you need to know if for some reason you have not yet seen this film and want information about it. Two teams of people with exceptional abilities, each with very different ideologies. It grabbed the attention of the viewers with an interesting setup, and even though we had to wait a while for any action, it was still interesting to watch. As a standalone film it might be viewed in quite a harsh light, but as a setup to a franchise it is the best any studio could hope for.
Then we were treated to X-Men 2, or X2. This is without a doubt still the most popular film of the first trilogy. In this instalment the cast that we witnessed battling in the last film must now put their differences aside to face a common enemy who threatens to wipe out mutant-kind. Looking back many of you will probably be thinking, ‘God, this was a lot like Days of Future Past, just without the time travel’. In many ways that is true, no wonder they have been compared so often since the newer films release. But putting that aside, like all great sequels this was darker and more mature than the first film. X2 also strongly demonstrated the themes prejudice and discrimination, acting as a strong contender for one of the greatest Marvel films of all time.
Sadly, things could not improve for the sequel, The Last Stand.  At the time this was thought to be the last film in the series, as it was set to conclude the trilogy. To be honest though, I maintain it was still far from terrible, it just could not live up to the hype created by the success of the first two. A controversial mutant cure is discovered which leads Magneto to finally take direct action against humanity. On the face of it this plot had great potential, there were some elements of the film that worked very well, such as the small signs of each character facing a personal dilemma over whether or not to take the cure. The action was good as well, and it still felt like a climax to the story that had been building up for a while.
However, there were still problems. Brett Ratner should really have stuck closer to the Dark Phoenix storyline as it was very well known and expertly done in the comics. Speaking of Brett Ratner by the way, he is only half the director that Bryan Singer was. The man who brought us The Usual Suspects was sorely missed under the rather shambolic direction of Ratner. There should have been a lot more emotional depth as well, it was not as if there was no time left, and the film was half an hour shorter than the previous instalment. Many people argued against killing off a lot of characters, but actually I did not mind that. It is the unspoken rule of trilogies that you have to kill off some main characters in the third film.
I would not worry that much about it wither, because things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. Part two will be posted soon.


As a long-time fan of Doctor Who, I was naturally interested to see what Amy Pond- I mean, Karen Gillian, is doing after leaving the TARDIS. A psychological horror film is not a massive step forward for her, having done tamer and shorter versions of it for Television. As well as this, the director Mike Flannigan is no stranger to this style of film. His troll abduction story Absentia that was a straight to DVD release was met with positive reviews and this feature length film is, in many ways, an expansion of his 2006 short film Oculus Chapter 3: The Man with the Plan.
So the key players are close enough to their comfort zones, and this recent newfound interest in mystical horrors ensures a wide market for any new competitors. The film is about two children who survive an encounter with a haunted mirror, but it takes the lives of their parents, eleven years later they return to their old home to document their struggle against the evil object. The whole, haunted mirror element translates very well onto the modern screen. With newer cinematographic techniques they can easily and effectively convey the offbeat and paranoid sensibilities that the plot is supposed to create for the main characters.
The unusual structure of the film also helps to create this effect. It is remarkable how much terror Flannigan presents is spectacular considering that nearly all of the film takes place in just one location in different time periods. The first encounter with the horrific object is intertwined with their present day encounter to keep the viewer guessing even though one story reflects the other.
These siblings are certainly interesting characters as well, going in very different directions to try and cope with their traumatic childhood encounter. It makes them very believable as brother and sister, and both are individual despite still sharing a common link. Kaylie (Gillian) has become controlling and obsessed with the mystical mirror, with e deep vengeful desire. In contrast, her brother Tim (Brenton Thwaties) is in stern denial, having endured years of therapy to convince himself that what occurred was just in his head, and is understandably reluctant to go back. Their development is just as intriguing, but I’ve already given away more than I wanted to, so I will leave it to you to discover how much they change.
This is quite a small time horror production, so do not expect massive amounts of blood and gore. It is much more about the subtle fear and paranoia that is shown throughout. As well as this Oculus could be the first chapter in a new horror franchise for fans of the genre. That being said, if it is a standalone film then personally I’ll be just as satisfied for two reasons. Firstly this is a strong film and there is no great need for all of the loose ends to be tied up, no one wants to see the popularity degraded by too many weaker sequels.
Secondly, Flannigan has proven to be a good director with such a limited scenario. He might return to direct sequels, but part of me wants to see different projects come out so he can demonstrate any more skills in film making he may possess. He is certainly a director to watch out for.
Result: 7.2/10    


Friday, 27 June 2014

The Lion King: 20 Years On

One of Disney’s most popular films of the past five decades, The Lion King is (near-as-makes-no-difference) 20 years old now. It makes me feel very old to think that it has been that long since we were first mesmerized by that spectacular ‘Circle of Life’ opening sequence. But at the same time it feels as if it should have been much older. I doubt very much that I am the only person who finds it odd that at one stage when you thought of Disney you did not think of this film. Today it is probably more heavily associated with the company than any other animated film.
You find that nearly everyone who has seen this film remembers one part of it, whether it be the songs, the characters or the stunning animation, there is one part of this film that everyone can call to their memory. Whatever that part is for you, I want to try and remind you of the film as a whole. Today it is set as a standard that any Disney film should appeal to both children and adults, in many ways the Lion King cemented that standard after Disney perfected it with Beauty and the Beast, and then doing the very same with this film. Not only does it explore themes such as death, guilt, revenge and responsibility that until that point Disney had rarely tread around. It also seamlessly blends it with the humour and the visuals to create something that is entertaining to everyone.
The big emotional moments of this film are not left out either. The characters all react in a very human way to these events around them. They dispatch with the usual Disney cliché of heroes and villains simply being born that way. It is shown perfectly by Scar, driven mad by jealousy over his brother, and Simba trying to hide from his own fate and needing enough courage to step up and confront his own demons. This formula has proven to be highly successful, not only does it show a flare of more mature filmmaking that adults will admire, but it makes it more believable and more relatable for children. These characters are not just pictures on a screen any more, they feel like real personalities.
It is also impossible not to admire the scope of the animation. Every shot seems beautifully crafted and set perfectly to the mood and atmosphere. I can give you one example of this, I have already remarked about the opening sequence of the film, the stunning imagery and the symbolism that is worked into every frame. One can only imagine how difficult it would be to animate such a sequence. Not only do Disney do this once they do it again at the end purely to demonstrate the theme shown in the song that resonates over the picture, ‘The Circle of Life’.

There are limitless things to write about this film in terms of its influence and what it meant or the Disney company, the themes and elements as well as the fact that it draws several inspirations from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But all of these things have been said countless times. Instead I shall simply close by saying this, The Lion King proved to be a glorious triumph, and still is today. It deserves its heritage and to be repeatedly referenced in popular culture. It set the bar for all Disney films to follow and expertly presents emotional struggles. It is a film that Disney can take pride in.        

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Fault In Our Stars

The teenage romantic drama, this is hardly an empty market. Over the last decade there has been no shortage of them, which is why it will take a lot for any films of the genre to stand out. Regrettably The Fault In Our Stars suffers from the fact that this is a story that has been done before, there are certain elements that seem fairly easy to predict.
However, there are several twists in this story that help to keep the plot one step ahead of the viewer’s own guesses. At a support group teenage cancer sufferer Hazel (Shailene Woodley) meets and falls for Gus, a teenager who also suffers from the disease and has lost his leg as a result (Ansel Elgort). The two begin to bond over their desire to meet an author of Hazel’s favorite book.
Already it’s obvious that there are a few new refreshing elements that make sure that the film does not follow a formulaic route. For example, this film is far from a story about a teenage girl coping with death. That is a large element of the plot, but is also includes a nice amount of comedy. It treats the viewer to humor rather than self-pity, and respects their intelligence enough to avoid the usual cliche that seem to come as standard with these kind of films.
The acting perfectly matches the tone of the film. This young and impressively talented cast perfectly convey all of the emotions that the viewer needs to experience on their behalf. They can be comedic whenever it is necessary and dramatic likewise. The chemistry between Woodley and Elgort makes the characters relationship easily believable. The writing also assists this essential part of the story. The both seem resilient to their situation, but it does not stretch to unimaginable levels. You really believe that if it was not for the cancer, they would be ordinary teenagers.
Whether people still remember this film in six months is doubtful, not to sound cruel but it will take a much larger audience than what it has earned so far to stay in our minds. I have no doubt that it will be open for numerous awards, but beyond that I can’t really make a good prediction as to whether or not it will be remembered. But for now at least, teenagers can turn to this sweet and delicate, yet powerfully emotional film. If you are a fan of traditional tearjerkers but feel ready for something a little new at the same time, look no further. 
Result: 7.2/10     

X-Men: Days of Future Past

Possibly the most anticipated film of 2014, based on one of the most famous comics in the world, and aiming to revitalize the franchise, connecting it to its roots and injecting a fresh spin on it at the same time. This is what Days of Future Past, the seventh film in the X-Men film series is expected to do. This is a tall order for any film, and it of course risks falling short and becoming another Last Stand or Origins: Wolverine.
To be brutally honest, the film gets off to a good start long before any of us have seen it. Bryan Singer has returned to take the helm for the first time since X-Men 2. It is very important that people realize how significant this is. Singer managed to ensure the success of the franchise with just two films, something that many franchises have failed to do when faced with a drop in quality for following films. None of the films have really lived up to the critical success of the first two. However fans have remained loyal to the series, waiting for this moment, when the X-Men could finally return to their past days of glory. I could write a lot more about this, but I'm saving it for my view of the entire franchise.
Another aspect of the film that helps it get off to a good start is the fantastic cast. this is another element that I feel is overlooked. Frankly this is one of the most amazing mix of talent I have seen in a film for quite a while. The list includes Hugh Jackman, Ian McKellan, Patrick Stewart, James McAvoy, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender, Peter Dinklage and Ellen Page. If you still do not agree, name one other film where Halle Berry is left with a relatively minor role? (I know it was reduced due to her pregnancy, but it is doubtful that it would have been expanded any further).
Many of you will already have a good idea of the plot, Wolverine travels back in time to try and undo events that will lead to a mass war against Mutant-kind. Te result is a spectacular mix of delicate story telling in the past with Wolverine making step by step progress towards his goal. I say 'delicate' but that does not by any standards mean that the story is dry of action. It wants to maintain a suitable amount of dialogue to help keep this already fairly complicated story flowing, but as this is still a superhero film we want to see plenty of elements of excitement.
Even of this story in the 1970s too calm for you, there is a subplot set in the future in which the remaining X-Men must fight for survival against the Sentient machines that are eradicating them. With the two stories running side by side it would be very easy to be lost in the complex and action packed film. But Singer is able to keep us enthralled without confusing or losing the viewers interest. It is brilliantly balanced to a point where you firmly realize how the two are connected, with one affecting the other. But you can also see them as two separate timelines, it is very easy to distinguish between them which is essential to the plot. You have to be constantly aware of how much is at stake, what failure would mean, and how the future can be changed.
Those of you who can remember the original trilogy scene by scene will easily pinpoint the spectacular Nightcrawler sequence that opened X-Men 2, and the powerful Holocaust scene from X-Men which depicts Magneto's origins.Well the opening sequence to Days of Future Past is a fine mix of both. We are shown in detail the extent of the damage done by the Sentinels, and immediately thrust into a battle between them and our favorite mutants. From there the plot runs smoothly and quick enough to engross us, but it is also slow and calm when it needs to be, just so we can reflect on what has happened, and guess what might happen next.
In a similar style to First Class, Days of Future Past proves that history can be made more fun with mutants, as Singer re-writes and works alongside key events. Some elements of the story fit so well that you have to ask if this entire films was made just so Singer could put these throw-away references into the script.
I am not saying that all of this does not come with a price. With so many characters woven throughout the film is is naturally difficult to give each of them suitable screen time and background. The advantage of having so many prequels is that we already know almost everything about them. But some of the new characters seem interesting enough to deserve just a small view into their past. Trask, the central villain of the film seems to be complex, but without a back-story there is no way to tell if his can be viewed as sympathetic. What made X2 great was the fact that even Stryker was given a tragic story that could make audiences connect with him in a small way. But with Trask there are a lot of questions left unanswered, like where this irrational hatred of mutants originates.
Also, it feels as if more time needs to be spent with McKellan and Stewart in the future. It would be riveting to witness this couple that we have become so used to seeing at each other's throats now united over a common cause. Not to mention the new generation of mutants that are fighting in the future. There are rumors of a spin-off film being planned to feature them, but until then we only have the rather small amount of screen-time in this film in which they were seen in action.
But putting that aside, everything that we have seen is very positive, and if there are more films to be planned then this is a great way to introduce us to so many characters that may be seen in them. Undoubtedly this is the best film of the series since X2, in fact X2 could be the only film of the franchise that surpasses this one. It has renewed the franchise and even though it does leave a lot in the open, those could be stories for another set of films. The best result any X-Men fan could hope for.
Result: 8/10


Hello, and welcome to Film Fanatic. This is a blog that I have set up to discuss something that is very close to me, something that I have been talking about for years. I shall hold you in suspense no longer (although you may already have guessed), this blog is to discuss films.
I should clarify, I am going to offer reviews, comparisons and explanations concerning every film that I think needs to have yet another opinion given to it. I do not just mean new films either, as well as reviewing any new releases I will also take as many opportunities as I can to look back at enduring films. There are many reasons for this, I know a lot of people who have never even heard of classics such as Citizen Kane, or even as recent as Pulp Fiction. I hope that if there is anyone who has never seen or heard of a certain film that I review, I can draw their attention to it and help them to discover these masterpieces. Any remake or sequel that comes out will not be spared from being compared to the original, any franchise will have to endure a thorough look at their past.
If you want to get involved as well leave some comments and let me know if there are any films you want me to review, or if you just completely disagree with my opinion and want to throw an argument at me then please do. I fear I have rambled on for a bit too long now so I'm going to end this introduction quickly. I hope to be posting my first reviews as soon as possible.
See you around, hopefully.