Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Best and Worst of June 2015

As the largest blockbusters of summer begin to pass by we find ourselves braced for the last outpour. But before that there are still a lot of things to get excited for and a great variety of films coming out in June, from documentaries, summer blockbusters and animated favourites. When all is said and done June is often regarded as the worst month of the summer period, just after the big opener and before the heavy finale. But this year it’s been pretty good.
3: Jurassic World
The original Jurassic Park is perhaps the ultimate summer blockbuster, like that other film by Steven Spielberg alongside that other film by Steven Spielberg. But regardless of the faults this one has it undoubtedly makes for a fun viewing experience, becoming a fantastic blockbuster that is not only climbing the ladder of highest grossing movies of all time, but making a sequel a sure thing. Whether that’s a good thing or not is yet to be seen, but for now the amazing effects, stunning set pieces, sense of wonder and amazement are reasons why Jurassic World is pure popcorn fun. That and the T-Rex.
2: Electric Boogaloo; The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films
Not to be harsh, but this may be the only time that the word Cannon has appeared on a ‘best of’ list. Who would have thought that cheap, dated, rushed and by modern blockbuster standards almost unbearable films make such an interesting documentary. The story of how two brothers earned and then lost millions of dollars through the medium of film and the frantic, frenzied and financially destructive world that is undoubtedly a product of the time and though some of you may certainly be sad that the Cannon Studios empire is no more, this film points out that it was a great ride while it lasted.
1: Inside Out
It’s Pixar. Oh you wanted more, well what about the fact that the imagination and creativity is unparalleled. The concept and story is about as emotionally compelling as it could possibly be and the voice cast is fantastic. There’s wondrous animation and attention to detail that simply defies belief. This represents a great return to form for Pixar, I can’t really write that much about it because the best way to experience this film is to watch it. But I can promise you that Inside Out is undoubtedly an animated classic in the making. Also, advice to Pixar executives, try to find some more space in that awards cabinet, about an Oscar sized space.
And the worst…
Accidental Love

What was once, many, many, many years ago a David O Russell film has now become a soulless rom com that not only acts as a stain on the career of Jake Gyllenhaal (especially this close to the release of Southpaw) but a stain on film in general this year. This is the cinematic equivalent of Frankenstein, apart from the actual film Frankenstein… anyway, a reanimated corpse of a film assembled from various body parts and given a psychotic and monstrous personality. I would have to watch Nightcrawler a lot to try and recover, that was my number 1 film last year right, with the same guy as this?

Journal of Whills: Part 7 - The Phantom Menace Review

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This is where things get complicated. I thought as well as exploring the themes and characters of the Star Wars films and especially recognising why they are great. But this involves looking at every aspect of this series, not pretending that something doesn’t exist. So without further ado, here is a review of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
In reality, it’s hard to imagine any film living up to the hype of the Phantom Menace. There’s so much excitement surrounding the idea of another Star wars film today but back at that point it was twice as high as it is this time. The reason for it being half as much today, mainly because of the Phantom Menace. Fans are wiser and are more fearful of a bad Star Wars film and what it can do to a person, I’ve seen people be sceptical about every film they are ever going to see because the tension and apprehension for this film followed by what had to be a soul destroying let down, especially if you camped out for as much as a month to see it.
The Phantom Menace just isn’t the same as the first three movies. The last article of this series focussed on Lucas’ expertise use of special effects but in this one he just green screened everything, sometimes building sets specifically to match the eye-height of the actor, where the unfinished scenery wasn’t visible. A move like that naturally limits your flexibility with your own story, and many of the best moments of the original trilogy came from improvising on the day due to difficulties on reality. Worse still the big budget CGI simply doesn’t hold up as well, already the Phantom Menace looks quite dated as opposed to the timeless appeal of the original.
As well as this these green screen shots don’t really inspire good acting. There was a reason to get excited for the Phantom Menace as from a distance it appeared to have the perfect cast, accomplished actors who were clearly not chosen merely as a big name, or so we thought. There was Lim Neeson, Oscar nominee (Schindler’s List), Ewan McGregor, rising young star on the British indie scene (Trainspotting), Natalie Portman, another rising star who had proven to handle herself among high profile stars (Heat). This is a good cast, but when you’re experimenting so drastically with technology that has yet to be proven or shown to be successful, and does not result in great acting performances then you have a serious problem on your hands. Today we emphasise the importance of practical effects over CGI because of Phantom Menace, because it acts as proof of what happens when you green-screen everything.
There’s also a definitive lack of a main protagonist. Is it Obi-Wan, it should be as he’s the character we already have a loose connection with and will act as the main link between this trilogy and the next. Actually it would make more sense for Obi-Wan to be the main character as you have one trilogy focussing on Anakin’s mentor, another on his son and then with Anakin himself acting as an overarching theme for the whole series. But instead the main protagonist is Qui-Gon, which makes no sense as he has no major development, he wants Anakin to be trained, then he dies. That’s it, he never changes his opinion nor does he go on any development of any kind.
Prequels always have a difficult time building suspense and making you fear as you already know roughly what characters are going to make it to the end. Even when you’re caught up in the action you actually aren’t because the Jedi are raised to superhero abilities against lifeless battle droids. Though the Stormtroopers missed a lot they were still menacing. Also, even if you knew a character was going to die if there’s a genuine emotional attachment you can still feel pain when they bite the dust.
Don’t even get me started on how underdeveloped a young Anakin Skywalker is, not helped by the bad acting. There’s a humourless and witless Yoda surrounded by a group of what appear to be elitist Jedi and even more boring senate meetings. Worse still are the needless details that no one asked for like Medi… medi… I can’t even say it.
Look not everything about this film is bad, in fact it’s probably about 60/40 on the scale of bad and good. There’s the cool duel with Darth Maul and to be honest cool is the only way you can describe it, not emotional or action packed or thrilling, just cool. There’s that amazing John Williams score, the pod race is decent (though recently it was pointed out to me that half the shots are from exactly the same viewpoint, on the right hand side going from left to right. But I guess it still looks decent but now that I know it it’s hard to ignore it). It is not bad in the same way that Batman and Robin is bad or Battlefield Earth is bad. But it is undoubtedly disappointing.
Result: 4/10

Monday, 29 June 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 6 - Special Effects

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When it comes to special effects, Star Wars was about as ground-breaking as it possibly is for a film to be. Just to clarify, special effects do not mean CGI and green screens, they mean sound effects, use of models and production design. All three are used to make the Star Wars universe just a bit more special and increase the wonder of that universe. Here are just a few of the best elements of special effects.
Though it may not seem like it, practically every frame of Star Wars has some kind of effect in it. Whether it be through a painted matt background, a stop motion device or an animated colour spectrum the use of classic Hollywood techniques mixed with innovative designs and high tech methods. The elaborate creatures and puppetry are utilized to great effect. As I previously said, if Frank Oz had failed at bringing the creation of Yoda to life through his models and puppet skills, the entire series would lose a lot of its emotional and philosophical weight.
You’d be lucky to find a scene in which one actor wasn’t wearing some kind of prosthetic makeup or some kind of model or a stop motion creation of some kind. But for all the shtick Hamill and Fisher get from some of the harsher (but weirdly more devout fans, see Part 1 for details), they react perfectly to everything that is put in front of them, making the constructions even more believable. Furthermore the levels of production, with potentially one character in an elaborate costume, another in heavy makeup, a couple of animatronic puppets combined with a physical set and a painted background set against a real environment with stop motion models running around at the same time. It was all blended together seamlessly to form a tapestry of a universe.
Through pioneering techniques Lucas and his team not only made a marvel of cinematic viewing with the Star wars films themselves, but changed the entire moviemaking culture as a whole. Special effects became an appeal on their own. Big blockbuster visual feasts like Gravity and Avatar (despite their many flaws) rely mostly on the proven entertainment factor from pure visual cinema.
Then you have the sound of Star Wars. I could get into the various methods that gave birth to those sounds that have come to define each vehicle, each weapon, each character. Once again it proves the iconography of Star Wars, ask anyone, even someone who hasn’t seen the movies ‘What’s your best Darth Vader impression?’ and apart from being confronted with a confused and possibly frightened stranger they will probably hold their hands over their mouth and make that ‘brrrr-baaap’ noise. Look at that first Force Awakens Trailer. When that TIE Fighter first appeared it was just for a second and  maybe we might not have been sure it was a TIE Fighter on first viewing without a pause button (some people are in that scenario, I assume) but then there’s that high pitched, mechanical screech that we all associate with it. Even the non-Star Wars fans will recognise the sound from being a part of Star Wars. The sounds give a weight to every object, a ruthlessness to every weapon, an connotation for every iconic characters. It just feels, or rather sounds right.
With the drastic increase of CGI effects (some of which were even used to shamefully add to certain scenes within the original trilogy) practical effects are becoming rarer and less common. In fact some filmmakers like George Miller and JJ Abrams pride themselves on their use of practical effects. This was all set in stone by those original Star Wars films and as a result they still hold up, they are still timeless and still amazing.  

Inside Out

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"I'm Joy, this is Sadness, that's Anger, this is Disgust, and that's Fear. We're Riley's emotions."

Pixar is the king of animation today, or at least it was. But recently some cracks have started to appear in the armour, being absent from 2014 all together, losing out both critically and commercially to Disney’s Frozen in 2013 and making Cars 2 in 2012. But with the acclaimed director of Monsters Inc and Up, Pete Docter, returning to direct this major emotion picture, are the animation giants about to make a comeback?
Riley’s life takes an even more tremulous route when she is suddenly uprooted and moved as her father takes a new job in San Francisco. Guided by her emotions Fear, Anger, Joy, Sadness and Disgust she struggles to adjust to her new life. Worse still the emotions in her head are starting to have turmoil of their own.
You’ve probably heard this from about a million people already, but Inside Out is Pixar’s best film since Toy Story 3, and though that is only five years ago it just shows the strength of their work, and overall I would probably rank this film around the fifth position overall, yes it really is that good. So what works with Inside Out, well for a start it is wonderfully inventive, it’s not just another sequel like Cars 2 or Monsters University or something that has already been done a million times like Brave. This is an extremely inventive, imaginative, clever and intelligent story that just feels original. Though I’m sure some have pondered this idea before of personifying emotions Pixar’s anatomy of the human mind here and the detail they display while doing it is astounding.
Few film in recent memory have managed to conduct a study of the mind as complex as this. Yes we probably don’t really have yellow sentient beings that represent emotions (one of which voiced by Amy Poheler) telling us what to do. But in terms of seeing the conflict between each motivation and emotion, the way that people are influenced by memories and the power of escapism held within one’s own imagination are all addressed and excellently portrayed.
This is also a deeply layered film. The character of Riley could have simply become a template, a base, a model from which events could have played out like some kind of vessel rather than a living person. But instead there are many complex levels to her character and rather than it feel as if the emotions in her head are running inside her, they feels as if they are genuinely a part of her. The result is an incredibly mature film, for a kid’s films at least. There was no moment in this film that felt like it had been made for children but at the same time there was nothing to put children off. It is the complete definition of a family film, something that defies any age limit and instead makes itself universally relatable and recognisable.
Like Pixar’s best films, for any kid that watches this today, you’ll laugh and be entertained, but at the same time I think it will take a larger meaning for those children as they get older and re-watch it. Look at the Toy Story Trilogy, Finding Nemo or The Incredibles, those kind are simply pleasurable adventures as a child, but as an adult you can see the detail and depth these animations use to explore the human experience and the sentiments they practise.
Now of course this is very deep and philosophical, famously not a good time for kids. But believe me when I say that Inside Out is a wonder to watch. The humour is generated from the imagination behind the world that Pixar create here, and the chemistry and interactions between the various emotions. This could also be the next Pixar film to truly break into pop culture the same way that other animated classics. And of course it’s Pixar so you know the animation is stunningly beautiful and you know that you’re likely to cry at some point.
A universally enjoyable film in every sense of the word, a genius of movie making.
Result: 10/10

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 5 - The Influences of George Lucas

Star Wars may seem like an amazing, original, epic piece of storytelling that came out of nowhere, but like many great works, its creator sought influence from a number of sources. Whether he was consciously doing it at the time or just writing with whatever came to his mind, it’s fairly easy to draw some parallels between George Lucas’ favourite films and the creation that became Star Wars as we know it today.
Flash Gordon Series: Famously Lucas sought to buy the rights to the comic serial he devoured as a nerdy teenager as a base from which to build his whole universe. Of course, ironically, it wasn’t until a resurgence is science fiction popularity that was initiated by Star Wars saw the famed all American space hero return in 1980 so Lucas was forced to start from scratch as he began to write. But that didn’t stop him from borrowing elements of it such as the famous opening crawl and the screen wipes as scene transitions. As well as this, the whole concept of a space fantasy, opera kind of thing was to try and establish a modern myth, substituting magic for technology.
2001: A Space Odyssey: That huge sweeping shot in outer space that begins the entire Star wars saga is reminiscent of the large scale, awe inspiring models used in Stanley Kubrick’s own work of science fiction. It was the technical leaps and effects that 2001 demonstrated that made the vision of Lucas possible. Everything from the giant Star Destroyer, the Death Star and the X-Wing attack to the Millennium Falcon just feels real and weighted, as if it really is propelling itself through outer space.
The Hidden Fortress: Lucas had admired the works of Akira Kurosawa for many years and has often proclaimed that his most beloved film from the Japanese director is his 1958 Hidden Fortress. Putting aside the specific similarities, you have the whole Jedi culture soaked in Samurai teachings of patience, discipline and complex swordplay and duels. In particular though, this flick sees two humble peasants entrusted with carrying secret documents that will assist a certain Rebel army, sound familiar.
The Searchers: Lucas had always loved the classic era westerns, it’s safe to say that the Spaghetti style may also have influenced his marauding, criminal, lone gunman world that spawned the likes Han Solo, Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. But even when it comes to our favourite, supposed incorruptible hero we can see the effect. In John Ford’s western masterpiece our protagonist is set on his journey when he returns to his desert home to find his family murdered.
The Wizard of Oz: Putting aside the world of wonder and whimsy set against a darker background that star wars shares, a good vs evil scenario and your classic band of pals who at one point have to rescue a fair maiden and thwart and an evil-doer, there’s still that basic concept of a young farmhand being whisked away to a world of adventure filled with mechanical men, heartless helpers and their hairy sidekick.
Lawrence of Arabia: Just look at that binary sunset shot, and then look me in the eye and try to tell me that Lucas was never inspired by Lean and his desert epic. Those long, sweeping shots capture the human emotion amongst the epic landscape and setting up an inexperienced youngster to the harsh realities of an actual adventure. Even George’s best pal Steven Spielberg has openly proclaimed this as his favourite film of all time, and one would think that they share similar tastes.
Metropolis: Many small elements of Fritz Lang’s nightmarish vision of the future are incorporated into Star Wars. It would be more noticeable for the city planets included in the prequels and the oppressed people are also visible in Lucas’ debut THX1138. But there are also powerful governments and oppressed workers in star Wars, there’s a prosthetic robotic hand and early C3-P0 concept art will reveal a clear influence from the Maria robot double.
The Dam Busters: The first rough cut of Star wars actually included footage from the Dam Busters in the place of X-Wings and TIE Fighters. But not only were camera angles, dogfight sequences and flight patterns adopted from the 1955 war film, certain lines of dialogue were put straight into the mouths of Rebel Pilots such as ‘Look at the size of that thing’.

So there are a few more of my ramblings on Star Wars, if you want to express some of yours leave a comment below and don’t forget to recommend Film Fanatic on Google using the icon at the top of the page, find me on Twitter with @JoshuaPrice97. Until next time. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 4 - The Force

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The moment when Obi Wan explains to Luke what the Force is there’s a definite sense of awe and wonder as the viewer slowly begins to realise what this seemingly random series of space adventures might mean. The theme and motif of the Force ties the entire Star wars universe together, acting as an omnipresent element that can be manipulated by both the Jedi and the Sith.
It justifies the powers and skills of a Jedi and is explored to a greater extent as the series progresses. In A New Hope we discover that it acts as a source of guidance that allows you to… aim well I guess. But in Empire Strikes back we discover its true extent and how it can embody the supposedly meakest of creatures and provide them with limitless power. As long as one can channel it and find the focus to control it you can do anything, proven by Yoda lifting the giant X-Wing from the swamp after informing Luke that he must ‘Do, or do not. There is no try’. In Return of the Jedi was discover how much influence the dark side of the force holds, its temptations and its dangers. The prequels give us more of how the force can be used by a Jedi at the height of their power. With each film we discover something new and there is no moment where the force is not an omnipotent influence to each character and the feats they accomplish.
The fact that the Force is created by life rather than being the creator of life is essential to several other themes that run through Star Wars. Clearly Lucas loves the idea of a big universe containing a small world feel. The figure heads of both the Empire and Rebel Alliance happen to b father and son, not to mention that his mentor used to do the same for the other as well, and his robot friends who used to go on adventures with his dad and his other friend the smuggler seeks refuge on a distant cloud city that is under the leadership of a fellow gambler. You get the idea, when you think about it these elements might be torn apart as massive coincidences but under the knowledge that in this universe all living things are connected by an energy field that surrounds and binds, as well as having some sense of morality, it becomes not just more plausible, it almost seems logical. Or as logical as a mysterious magic source can be.
Though the Force is neither integral nor absent from the events and action within Star Wars, it remains ultimately mysterious. Yes it does. No mention of Mediclorians. The Force is still partly unknown and rather than explore its details it remains appealing and awe inspiring by acting as more of a general part of life that resides within all living things and is not only capable of being used by them, but is generated by them. It seems to give everyone a place within the universe and creates a sense of purpose. Perhaps that’s why for some people the philosophies like this that lie within Star Wars transcend the screen and script.  

Accidental Love

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"The nail could actually cause her moments of wrath, rage and anger."

We all know about those rare films that are sent to the graveyard in their post-production and are never seen again. These films are often discarded before production can even begin, such as Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, but once in a while a film is made nearly in its entirety and due to either production issues or financial problems, they’re forgotten. But suppose for a moment, that a film made primarily in 2007 was then revived 8 years after the project began.
Alice (Jessica Biel) has a perfect life until a freak accident leaves her with periods of erratic behaviour. Her fiancé calls off her engagement and she loses her job, only to fall into the arms of congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) and together they launch a campaign for healthcare reform.
This film started off as a David O Russel film called Nail that was supposed to serve as a satire of the modern health care system in America. Think along the lines of Silver Linings Playbook but for physical disadvantages rather than the psychological ones that Bradley Cooper suffered from in that movie. But of course production was postponed and despite the best efforts to revive the project and get it into theatres Russell eventually walked out in 2010 to focus on other projects, knowing that his doomed satire was probably best left to die by this point.
But studio executives disagreed and now the reanimated corpse of Russel’s film now titled Accidental Love is finally fit for viewing. Accept it isn’t because it’s horrible in every conceivable way. Russel dodged a bullet with this one, in fact I feel sorry for the director just because firstly his name is still loosely attached to the monstrosity and secondly to see a project that he must have cared about and been devoted to at some point, one that he knew well enough to abandon rather than try to force it to live on as a figment of what it could have been, had to see it turn into this.
Accidental Love is a mess of a film. Having been sewn together from various pieces of footage seven years ago right up to a few months prior to its release the stitches are clearly visible from a distance. Up close you can see that there are still gaping holes within both the story and character arcs as well as a plot that is completely and utterly unfathomable.
You want to get deep into the films messages and what it is trying to convey then fine. If it is trying to serve as a political satire then there are elements to suggest that it is making the best efforts to do so, there are ridiculous plot elements that may appear to be intended as a mockery of politicians, but when a device like that is then overlooked numerous times, treated as if it’s in normality and then undercut with terrible and heartless rom-com clichés, then it loses its impact slightly. And by slightly I mean totally, I mean like completely out the window of the Empire State Building.
What’s amazing is that the best performance of last year came from Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler (I don’t care what the Oscars say, it was) but here, wow he is either bored out of his mind or, given that it was seven years ago, he has to be the most improved actor in recent memory. One wonders of Russel was glad to be free of it as it looks as if it was doomed from that start.
Where’s Nightcrawler, where’s  Silver Linings Playbook? Why does this film exist? These are questions that no one can really answer when watching Accidental Love.

Result: 1/10 

Monday, 22 June 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 3 - Luke Skywalker

I knew that Luke Skywalker would have to get a spotlight article relatively early on in this project. Whenever people talk about their favourite Star Wars characters, few mention Luke as their number one and I think that is a great shame. He is after all the hero of the story, he sets the events in motion that lead to Obi-Wan stepping up to fight evil once again, inspired by the hope of another who may follow the ways of the force. He convinces Han Solo to care for more than money and return to stand for something more, he brings these two bumbling droids along with him and makes a human once again out of the ultimate symbol of darkness. His character arc is what the entire series pivots on, going from eager adventurer to rebellious disciple and conflicted warrior.
It’s his quest to become a Jedi knight that intrigues the viewer in what the entire Star Wars culture is. As he only hears rumours and diluted stories about the older conflicts he acts as a window for anyone watching, they are essentially viewing the universe through his wide eyes. Of course when we see our hero and window put through difficulties not only do we sense a change in his own personal emotions but the entire galoaxy appears to undergo a tonal change. Following his severe wounding and traumatic knowledge of his true parentage at the hands of Vader the galaxy briefly becomes a dark and almost unpleasant place. But by the end, with his hand restored there is a simultaneous glimmer of hope. Obviously the fact that Han goes missing and Lando and Chewie set out to find him contribute to both changes but all the same, as Luke goes through emotional development, so does the galaxy. This means that all the conflicts and battles are basically a backdrop for his personal struggles.
That iconic image of Luke starring out to the twin suns on the horizon embodies so much about not only his character, but the Star Wars concept in general. It’s mysterious and existential, cosmic and otherworldly while maintaining an idealistic and hopeful quality. But despite this eagerness and motivation to aspire Luke finds himself put at risk by his naivety. But at the same time he feels a sense of loyalty to his uncle, hence his reluctance to leave for Alderran.
Ben Kenobi acts as a figure of guidance who helps Luke grow more as a character. His teaching allow Luke to view the galaxy with more of a patient overtone that allows him to connect with the spiritual elements of world that allow him to begin a path along the force. Han Solo also allows Luke to develop significantly, as his involvement and friendship makes him view the world through a less black and white perspective.
A lot of fans seem to overlook the fact that Luke must eventually move away from these father figures and take independence. He loses Ben, Han and even the metaphorical figure of Anakin as his true identity and fate is revealed. Helped by Yoda, who issues a much harsher method of training than Ben, Luke steps out of the shadows of these guardians and is able to redeem his father by confronting him as an equal rather than a son.
Yoda also provides Luke with an outlook on his motivation and devotion. He also forces him to confront the fact that he is still looking towards the future rather than focussing on his current challenges and responsibilities. He masters his own feelings and gains a more profound awareness of the emotions of others, this allows him to understand and realise that there is still good in his father.
By the time Luke stands over the pyre on which his father’s body burns, whenever I watch it I always like to think of how the character started. Visually and mentally Hamill looks like he has aged the character in so many unique ways. Bearing everything I have said here in mind, watch it again and try to imagine the two different states of Luke Skywalker, starring out into the sunset, and then towards the remains of Darth Vader, with the exact same music playing for both scenes, the transformation may be shocking.  

So those are more of my ramblings on Star wars, I’d love to hear some of yours by leaving a comment below. Find me on Twitter with @JoshuaPrice97 and please recommend Film Fanatic on Google by clicking the icon at the top of the page. Thanks and bye. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Mr Holmes

"That case made me see that human nature was a mystery that logic alone could not illuminate."

Sherlock Holmes is popular again! It may be very unlikely that we’ll ever see another rendition of the Robert Downey Jr series but with Benedict Cumberbatch playing the sociopathic sleuth with excellent style in Steven Moffatt’s intelligent drama series, it should not come as a surprise that we now have another attempt to show some version of the famous detective, but this one is undeniably different from any version we’ve seen on screen so far.
In 1947, after journeying to Japan and witnessing the devastating effects of nuclear warfare back in Sussex an inquisitive young boy begins to question him, an aged Sherlock Holmes (Ian McKellan) recalls the traumatic incident that drove him into retirement.
As a cinema character Holmes dates back almost as far as the invention of cinema itself. What Mr Holmes does rather brilliantly is take a character that we may previously have thought to be exhausted and put a fresh spin on it by, ironically, making him exhausted. McKellan and the script come together to create a nuanced portrayal. It’s easy to imagine Holmes having regrets later in life, and for a man who is renowned for his senses and deduction starts to lose them and finds his entire self rapidly unravelling during his final years as a result.
However, if you recall that other drama we had recently around an academic coping with mental deterioration, Still Alice, then you realise that the entire process could have been more. It’s rather one note in its exploration, taking the sensible road rather than really stretching both McKellan’s talent and the audiences emotions towards the character. Nevertheless his performance is one of quiet dignity and dull flair, conveying the sense of a great man well past his prime. Not just his voice, but his entire posture and stature to his crumbling all contribute to this sense of decline. Combined with some decrepit movement and playful interaction at an older age contrasted with his subversion to only logic and fact at a younger age makes the effect all the more noticeable.
If you are expecting an accurate portrayal of the classic character though you may be disappointed as this is most definitely a far stretch from what we know. Watson is gone, and only seen with a fleeting glimpse and there’s a definite lack of criminal activity. Of course one could view it as more of an analysis of decline. But once again if you look at a film like Still Alice you realise that it only really scratched the surface on that front as well.
Even if you regard the film as a more grown up and mature version of Holmes you would at least expect it to stretch you mental capacities a bit, make you think about the issues raised and the problems faced. But instead it’s no more mentally challenging than any other rendition, perhaps even less so than a couple.
The pace is rather slow, especially when compared to the modern interpretations of Holmes such as the Fincher style thriller feel of Sherlock and the fast paced action of Guy Ritchie’s version. The fact that the story is presented through flashbacks may add a sense of dramatic irony, but also kills some much needed suspense for the main story. You know Holmes survives this last case, you know he declines after and you know it ends in some kind of trauma so you’re not really surprised by the final act. But once again there are moments of enjoyment. Witty and humorous touches are added that give the film an added sense of style and charm. These include Holmes actually living next door to 211B Baker Street to find refuge from his fans.
Stylish, intelligent and moving as it may be, backed up by a remarkable performance from McKellan, Mr Holmes never delves deeply into its own themes or stretches itself in terms of plot or emotion.

Result: 5/10   

Friday, 19 June 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 2 - Good vs Evil

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At the end of the day Star Wars centres around a story of good and evil, it’s one of the things that gives it a certain timeless appeal and makes it relatable and understandable to all ages. You can add complications through the themes of redemption and conspiracy and corruption but when you get down to the core story it is simply the Rebel Alliance, the freedom fighters, the good guys, the definitely-not-in-favour-of-blowing-up-planets-party. Their polar opposite is the Galactic Empire, the dark, shrouded, tyrannical, oppressive, -in-favour-of-blowing-up-planets-with-our-amazing-super-weapon-party who want nothing more than to conquer the galaxy and abuse their ill-gotten power.
The Sith and Jedi represent a great deal about the way good and evil is defined. Both possess amazing gifts and skills, wielding immense power and knowledge of how to use it. But it is the method in which they use it that defines the way in which we view them. The Jedi maintain order and righteousness throughout the galaxy, or as an old hermit across the dune sea put it ‘the guardians of peace and justice’. Speaking of that particular hermit, every Jedi in the original three films is deceptive of their true power based on their physicality. Obi-Wan is an isolated old man who many dismiss as crazy or demented, yet as we see he is proven to be the most useful person to ever have if you get into a bar fight.
This is taken to new extremes in Empire Strikes Back as the small and primitive creature, living in a small mud hut on a swamp planet is the most powerful being in the galaxy. Even Luke, the naïve young farm boy descended from humble mere origins is the most crucial figure of the war to decide the fate of thousands. The Jedi exercise their power without menace or sadism, their lives are devoted to maintain their order through acts that are necessary, not easy or impressive. Many have drawn attention to how Lucas strived to find the best possible puppeteers to give live to the character of Yoda, because if that character was portrayed in any different way or made to look malicious or noticeable compared to his apparent stature, then the entire saga loses a lot of its grandeur and central themes.
As Yoda said to Luke after he remarked that he could not believe that this relatively insignificant being has lifted his X-Wing out of the marsh, ‘that is why you fail’. The Jedi do not exist to control the force, nor do they seek to command it for their own personal gains. The belief behind this act is that the will and strive to accomplish this combined with their mastery of the power is what allows them to wield it. Going back to their physical description, it proves that Jedi seek to live in harmony with what is around them, opting to allow the galaxy to run its own course and only interfere when necessary. One could attribute the Jedi’s downfall to a over involvement with the tribulations of the galaxy during the clone wars.
The Sith on the other hand are always the more physically impressive. Not only do they wield the same immense power, but they have to let everyone know that they do and ensure that they have every opportunity to use it just for the sake of it (hence their tendency to build Death Stars). The Sith fell time and time again before the events of any of the Star wars films due to their constant conflicts with each other, not team players in other words.
If you are knowledgeable of Star Wars history then you’ll know that the Sith resent the Jedi due to their banishment and defeat at the hands of the Knights of the Republic. But their philosophies and ideologies are clashing with the need to be in harmony with the galaxy, and the need to control it.

So those are a few more ramblings on Star Wars, let me know some of yours by leaving a comment below or if you think it’s pretentious and ridiculous then let me know that as well. Any particular aspects of Star wars that you want me to look at then once again let me know. Find me on Twitter with @JoshuaPrice97 and don’t forget to recommend Film fanatic on Google by clicking the icon at the top. May the Force be with you.  

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Journal of Whills: Part 1 - Fandom

What is this then? Well basically I love Star Wars, and with the Force Awakens growing ever nearer (we’re actually going to see another Star Wars film before we get to see whether John Snow is dead or not, think about that for a moment) I thought I should write a series of articles to encapsulate why I think it has so much meaning and interpretation, and just what they are.
That is an arduous task certainly, six films, a number of specials, two TV series and an expanded universe that covers over 10,000 years of history. But of course in reality the history of Star Wars is just 38 years over that comparatively short history Star Wars has permeated and influenced our culture beyond any other film series in history. When you look at heralded films Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca only familiar film fans or people who have seen the film could name five characters from them. People who have never even seen Star Wars, or claim to hate it would probably be able to name five and even if they couldn’t you could just give them a list of names and they would almost certainly be able to tell you that they were from Star Wars. Names like Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia, Obi Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca, C3P0 and R2-D2 are likely to ring bells with people who claim to despise Star wars. It makes you wonder, if you think Star wars is bad why can you remember and identify so many characters from it?
But of course I’m not going to talk about people who dislike Star Wars. I’m writing this for the fans and of course you have to ask yourself, what does it mean to be a Star Wars fan? That may be a bit deep or a bit overly complicated as a simple answer would be ‘someone who enjoys the films’. But is that it? One could point to the prequels and how many see them as a disappointment when compared to the originals, but I’ve also seen the apparent worshipers of the first three find every flaw and every plot-hole that there is to find. Others go further and accuse the third film Return of the Jedi as being inferior as well. Is that right though, can you be a fan of a franchise where you dislike at least half of its output? No other fan-base does this, it’s in a way where so many have based their very lives on Star Wars, yet are often the first to point out its shortcomings.
One of my observations when discussing Star wars with friends is that casual fans of the franchise (before I say this I’m not saying that everyone who agrees with the following statements are ‘casual fans’, it’s just a trend I’ve noticed) not only hold return of the Jedi as their favourite of the franchise, but also actually enjoy the prequels. So what is this, why does it happen? Are die hard Star Wars fans just naturally more critical of the way that Carrie Fisher delivers a certain line, or are they naturally more wise and aware of the subject matter. Maybe one test is that you actually understand the reference of the article’s name ‘Journal of Whills’, the original title for George Lucas’ space opera and his chronicling of the universe he wanted to create. See, small things like that are apparently what defines you as a true fan of the franchise. But then again maybe you know the films off by heart but have never even touched an expanded universe novel?
When it comes to a fan-base that inspires such devotion and specific detail Star Wars goes above and beyond. The main question has of course been whether or not The Force Awakens has to potential to top Marvel’s big hitter of 2015, Age of Ultron. Maybe we might have found answers or estimates at the MCU celebration, oh wait there isn’t one. Yet excitement for the Force Awakens has only grown and grown since the Star Wars celebration in Anaheim. It was an amazing spectacle where the fans turned out in their thousands to witness new revelations and reflect upon the old. It’s the only place where you could witness Boba Fett shaking hands with a walking Carbonite block of Han Solo. There were also Stormtroopers dressed as Indiana Jones (brilliantly titled Indiana Clones) or a DJ Trooper, as well as costumes depicting characters that had been unveiled less than 24 hours ago, before Captain Phasma had even been given her name she was walking around and expressing her opinions about a desire to crush the Rebel scum who have robbed the Empire of its glory and power.
As I said before most Star Wars fans will find a lot to criticise about those original films, like why didn’t those officers shoot the escape pod when they knew they were looking for information rather than people and therefore wouldn’t be concerned with whether or not there were any lifeforms on board, and as Family Guy pointed out are they restricted on their laser blasts? But at Anaheim I noticed something very unique, there was no criticism, no bashing any aspects of the films, no hatred of any mistakes that had been made along the way. This was perhaps the purest form of fandom I’ve ever seen, one where everyone was devoted and everyone enjoyed what they were gathering around. Those films had an ability to unite people and allowed them to connect through a common love for the struggle of a couple of Rebels to overthrow an evil Empire.
Star Wars fans can be the most brutal of any devotion. You misquote one essential line of dialogue or mistake one character for another and you will be torn apart, I dare you to walk in to a convention like that and say ‘Dagobah, that was the planet Obi Wan lived on wasn’t it?’ An innocent kid wants his lightsabre signed? Well they’ll probably be trampled by a dozen adults who are just as devoted to it as the children. But at the same time they can be the best fan-base a creator could hope for. The dedication and commitment that fans show time and time again makes it a special experience that can ultimately bring people together and perhaps Star Wars reaches a higher level than simply a movie as a result.
Well I hope you enjoyed my ramblings on Star Wars, leave your own thoughts below in the comments and expect more insane over analysation soon. Find me on Twitter at @JoshuaPrice97 and don’t forget to recommend this site on Google by clicking the icon at the top of the page. Thanks and bye.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Jurassic World

Image result for jurassic world

"She's a highly intelligent creature, she will kill anything that moves."

Reviving a franchise after a lengthy hiatus can be a risky move as we’ve seen with Indiana Jones but then again when you look at the recent release of Mad Max: Fury Road proves that it can be highly successful. So when it comes to a colossal revival they don’t come much bigger or literal than Jurassic World, as the entire franchise is about revival. So of course the big question is, have they done it?
John Hammond’s original vision has finally come to fruition years after its inception. Jurassic World is now fully open and operational and in an effort to increase their income a hybrid dinosaur is created to attract an increased interest in the park. But when the experiment escapes with thousands of people trapped on the resort it becomes a race against time to put a stop to this human made, natural predator.
Jurassic World is good. There are flaws and concerns but rest assured, Jurassic World is most definitely good. It’s also fun and that is probably the most important thing for Jurassic World to do. It’s watchable and enjoyable and the effects are amazing. While it’s not quite as good as the original in terms of balancing practical and computer generated effects simultaneously as there’s an overreliance on CGI. But I understand that the effects are much more advanced now and it’s easier to add the detail without the practical side but still I can clearly tell when something is CGI and when it is not.
Of course, I’m not saying that everything needs to be practical. It is a simple fact that most of the time the CGI is used when it’s necessary and it is stunning to behold, and the actors have clearly been homed on how to react to a CGI elements as even if I know what I’m seeing is not real their emotional conveyor system makes me question it. There’s genuine terror and fear when they’re being chased and there’s real amazement when we first gaze at a real dinosaur, just as Sam Neil did back in 1993.
The cast is on top form here, as Chris Pratt’s usual charisma and physicality shine through to make him a real contender as today’s modern and fun blockbuster star (kind of like Harrison Ford in the day, wink, wink). Though Pratt is the most interesting and watchable character by a long way the rest of the cast do a fine job in making the Jurassic World environment seem believable and relatable. Bryce Dallas Howard has more to do than the trailer would make you believe and she’s admirable for all of it. She also has superb chemistry with Pratt as the two very different employees of the park interact and connect.
However not all of the characters are fully fleshed out and others are given too much attention. Adding children to the mix is great as, at the end of the day, a film like this is made to evoke childlike wonder, but they’re given too much exposition and backstory. We understand that they are on the island, it’s an amusement park filled with dinosaurs, we don’t have difficulty understanding why children have gone to see it. The more interesting stories of Pratt and Howard only make it more intolerable.
The first act of the film struggles to gain speed and may depress you if you think that it will set the tone for the rest of the film. But don’t worry it picks up later towards the end and middle and definitely hits the notes of the franchise better than the third one did. It touches on the themes of nature but at the same time is still stuck with a more mid-level thriller kind of story rather than adding any different dimensions or environments as the first two did.
Though it may be lacking in story and character slightly Jurassic World more than makes up for it with its awe-inspiring effects and sheer popcorn fun appeal. The Indominus Rex is awesome as well.

Result: 7/10