Category Archives: 2. Reviews

[Review] Wet Hot American Summer

With a name that sounds like something you’d get from the top shelf of a video store, the TV series ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ is the latest Netflix original series to be released.

The 8-parter serves as a prequel to the 2001 film of the same name, capturing the events of day 1 at Camp Firewood, Maine, in the summer of 1981. In turn, the film captures the events of the last day of camp, some eight weeks later.

The TV series boasts an all-star line-up of actors and actresses that featured in the film and returned for the prequel, including Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper and Elizabeth Banks.

With each episode coming in at just under 30 minutes, I’ve watched every episode already, as the series was released in full on 31st July. I’ve also watched the film, which I was unaware of until I started to do a bit of research after watching the first episode.

As a complete newcomer to Camp Firewood and its interesting inhabitants it worked well to watch the TV series first and then the film, appreciating the nods to the film that were included in the TV series.

To put it simply, the TV series perfectly complements the film.

You soon get over any potential awkwardness of thirty and forty-somethings playing teenagers, and with a large variety of characters – from the horny virgin to the computer nerd – the casting is spot on. The actors were, of course, older than the characters they were portraying in the film as well, but you soon get over that too.

The backgrounds of certain characters are revealed in the TV series while favourite characters from the film – I’m thinking of Victor here – are given more airtime. For some characters, like Gene, you are given such a fantastic backstory in the TV series that when you watch him in the film, it just works.

The beauty of the TV series and film is that they also work independently. The film didn’t need a prequel; you meet the characters, experience a day in their lives and then everything gets wrapped up at the end. It’s exactly the same in the TV series.

If you’re looking for a light-hearted comedy that’s in a similar vein as American Pie but a lot more fun and with a much better soundtrack, Wet Hot American Summer and its TV series prequel are definitely worth a watch. They’re also proof that Paul Rudd really hasn’t aged…

PS. I’ve had ‘Jane’ by Jefferson Starship, the TV series and film’s opening theme, on repeat while writing this post. I suggest you do the same so you too can get into the Camp Firewood spirit.

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[Review] Jurassic World

Science fiction has taught us many things over the years, from what the most sophisticated weapon is (a lightsaber) to the most efficient way to travel (teleportation). It’s also told us that designer babies are practically a certainty.

These bespoke children, who inherit selected parts of their parents to allegedly give them the best chance of a long and happy life, won’t be confined to just the human race, though.

“We need more teeth”

These words are spoken towards the end of Jurassic World, when the film reaches its heart-racing climax. However, these words could easily have been the catalyst for the whole film, as Corporate, disappointed when visitor numbers remain static at around the 20,000-mark, seek a solution.

When the ‘more is more’ generation gets tired of seeing an extinct animal brought back to life, not bothering to even glance up from their smartphones when a 20ft Tyrannosaurus Rex devours its prey, it’s down to the men in white coats to create something ‘better’.

By genetically modifying one of the most fierce and brutal predators that ever existed, returning Jurassic Park character Dr Henry Wu and his team create something absolutely terrifying and totally uncontrollable: the Indominus Rex.

jworldrexbig-jurassic-world-hunt-indominus-rex

“You went and made a new dinosaur? Probably not a good idea”

While Indominus Rex is certainly an impressive beast, undoubtedly causing nightmares for the younger members of the cinema audience, I was left in both awe and pity.

As Park Ranger Owen Grady says, it doesn’t know that it was created in a lab. It’s simply an animal attempting to fulfil one of its most basic needs: hunt.

Jurassic World builds on the themes of its predecessors to be an intense action film that gives you heroes, villains and exciting creatures plus question the morality of playing god and meeting the needs of a generation that’s searching for ‘the next best thing’.

Following on the foundations of Jurassic Park – with just the right amount of references to it – to show you what happens when the park is fully operational, it shows you glimpses of herbivore petting zoos, ride-on triceratops and a thrilling aquatic display.

For these reasons it ticks all the boxes for younger cinema-goers, creating the same ‘wow’ factor that I had when I first watched Jurassic Park.

It also operates on a second, deeper level. While 11-year-old me was in awe of the idea of a Jurassic Park and wished it could happen, 27-year-old me now understands through Jurassic World’s visual representation the dangers and moral uncertainty in doing so.

I’d still book a ticket to Isla Nublar, though. And I’m sure I’d be content to see plain old T-Rex, the Raptors and the herbivores.

★★★★

Part 2 – Seen on screen, 2014

Blame it on the dog, a lack of funds or being plain old busy, but as revealed in my post on Monday 12th January, 2014 was a dreadful year for cinema visits, with just six visits made.

Happily, none of those six films were disappointments. Here are more detailed reviews of them, with my ‘Movies of the Month’ summary too.

MockingjayThe Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 – ★★★★

“Strong continuation of the franchise, with solid performances from newcomer Moore and the late Hoffman.”

I’m a big fan of the world and people of Panem, both in novel form and film. Though her fiction may have been compared to Koushun Takami’s ‘Battle Royale’ – something I can’t comment on, as I haven’t read it – Suzanne Collins crafted an excellent story when she wrote of a dystopian world where a young adolescent named Katniss Everdeen would lead a revolution.

I found the novels, originally aimed at teenagers, to be unputdownable, reading them from cover to cover within a matter of days. The films have been worthy adaptations, with Jennifer Lawrence being the perfect choice for Katniss.

Of the supporting characters in Mockinghay – Part 1, Julianne Moore’s debut as President Coin was strong, embodying the ‘no frills’ leader as I had expected. The late Philip Seymour Hoffman sadly didn’t appear on screen enough, though this could be down to his death occurring during filming. He had filmed some scenes for Mockingjay – Part 2 so we will see him reprise his role one last time.

The action was just as tense as the film’s predecessors, moving from the Hunger Games arena to the devastation caused in the aftermath of Catching Fire and the resistance movement. I’m aware that Katniss remains a ‘Marmite character’ to some, but in Mockinghay – Part 1 Lawrence catches her transition from unease at being the face of the revolution to being the hero they need very well.

However, Mockingjay – Part 1 is the third of a four-part series, and in certain scenes it does feel like a ‘filler film’. Though it may be an odd point bearing in mind that she is the film’s protagonist, it did feel a bit too much like Katniss’ film at time, with not enough screen time given to supporting characters. Hopefully this will be rectified in Mockingjay – Part 2, as the series reaches its final conclusion.

InterstellarInterstellar – ★★★★

“Visually stunning and engaging, but suffers from being a bit too clever in parts.”

No one can deny that Christopher Nolan is a very clever man, and if there was a dictionary definition to explain his work I think it would be something along the lines of the below, with the antithesis of Nolan’s style involving the word ‘Bruckheimer’.

Nolanesque – Works of great intelligence that explore the human psyche, characterised by deep, multifaceted emotion and expert lighting.

Interstellar plays on all of the above, with Matthew McConaughey excelling in the lead role.

It’s undoubtedly beautifully shot, with the Earth-based scenes suitably despondent with their dust-ridden fatigue. The scenes where the crew are on-board the Endurance become expertly fraught and claustrophobic while the shots in space and the wormhole are breath-taking.

However, and it may be that this is a negative identified purely because I don’t have an aptitude for physics, but I found Interstellar to be too clever in parts – though whether any of the elements in space are actually plausible is another thought entirely.

At over three hours it is a very long film, and in the final third I went from having my mind totally scrambled through the epic visuals of what a wormhole could be like and what it could do to become emotionally drained, having my heartstrings pulled by a father’s love for his daughter and a daughter’s love for her father.

I think I will revisit Interstellar in the future, but I’ll make sure that I have an energy drink and the pause button to hand so that I can check with my viewing partner that I’m up to speed.

Five ArmiesThe Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies – ★★★★½

“A suitable conclusion to the trilogy, with strong fight sequences, both on a large and small scale. While it can never rival The Lord of the Rings, in my opinion, it will have been an excellent first journey into Middle-earth for a new generation.”

On 16th October 2010, I shared the excellent news that Peter Jackson’s plans to return to Middle-earth with a two-part adaptation of ‘The Hobbit’ had been greenlit. 13th December 2014, and I returned to Middle-earth via the cinema for potentially the last time.

Comparisons with Jackson’s LOTR were always going to be inevitable, but trying to separate the two and focus primarily on the merits of The Hobbit trilogy, I’m very pleased that the films were greenlit; with Jackson at the helm, a return to Middle-earth was always very welcome, in my opinion.

Looking at my ratings, I gave An Unexpected Journey four stars, The Desolation of Smaug four stars and The Battle of the Five Armies four and a half stars. Reading those scores, I stand by them and think that TBOTFA was the strongest of the trilogy.

Jackson excelled in battle choreography in LOTR, and this was also evident in the epic conclusion in TBOTFA. The sequences between the dwarves, the orcs and the people of Laketown were fast-paced and exciting, with pockets of dialogue between characters while on the battlefield. The fights between characters on a one-to-one basis were equally exciting, with great scenes between Thorin and Azog, Legolas and Bolg, and Fili and Azog.

Though it was original to the films and not in the novel, the sentiment between Tauriel and Fili was moving, and it hinted to the friendship that would emerge between Legolas and Gimli and help to break down the long-held animosity between elves and dwarves.

Will Jackson make a third visit to Middle-earth with an adaptation of ‘The Silmarillion’? Who knows, but I would certainly buy a cinema ticket if he did. He is a true Tolkien fan, and his six brilliant films are all testament to that.

Part 1 – Seen on screen, 2014

Blame it on the dog, a lack of funds or being plain old busy, but as revealed in my post on Monday 12th January, 2014 was a dreadful year for cinema visits, with just six visits made.

Happily, none of those six films were disappointments. Here are more detailed reviews of them, with my ‘Movies of the Month’ summary too.

Dawn of the Planet of the ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes – ★★★★★

“An absolute triumph; builds on the foundations of the first and continues the epic story in style.”

As my ‘Movies of the Month’ summary stated, Dawn was an absolute triumph, matching and exceeding its predecessor, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. This was no mean feat, considering that Rise was very well received and holds an 82% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Dawn, currently sitting pretty at 90% fresh, saw Caesar return with a group of genetically evolved apes, 10 years after the events of Rise. What’s left of San Francisco’s population live in ruins, with an uneasy peace between the two species.

With nods to Rise, Dawn builds on its foundation but begins to focus on the plight of the apes and humans more equally, seeking to explore how the two species can forge a relationship when Earth as we knew it is no longer and the odds are markedly in the apes’ favour.

Without a doubt, the stars of the show are Caesar and the apes, stunning examples of motion capture from Peter Jackson’s Weta that made it so easy to form emotional attachments with and forget that the animals we were seeing on screen weren’t flesh and blood.

A third film, with the place-holder title of Planet of the Apes, is slated for July 2017. I’m confident that it’ll follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, and eagerly await the next chapter in the series.

GuardiansGuardians of the Galaxy – ★★★★

“Simply put in two words, this is ‘great fun’.”

I’ve always enjoyed comic book adaptations, and for a long time the X-Men have been my favourite characters. This could be an indicator as to why I enjoyed Guardians so much, as it’s a group of heroes rather than placing the spotlight on one in particular.

Guardians is a fun, fast paced origin story that creates the next generation of intergalactic superheroes from a bunch of murderers, mercenaries and misfits. They’re slightly meaner and more criminally-minded than Professor X, Cyclops and co, using cyber-genetics, weapons and old-fashioned fists to get their point across.

Since seeing Guardians in August, I’ve re-watched it at home, boosting my original four-star rating to four and a half. While it can be predictable – something I’ve come to expect with most films now; a side effect from watching so many films – it is 110% pure enjoyment, from the fantastically Eighties soundtrack to the use of contemporary references and insults.

Chris Pratt is a hugely likeable actor, and I look forward to seeing him in this year’s Jurassic World; he hadn’t previously taken leading man status until last year, with his starring roles in Guardians and The Lego Movie. Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista and Bradley Cooper ably support, as does Vin Diesel as the unforgettable Groot.

As part of Marvel’s Phase 3, a sequel is in the pipeline and I can’t wait to watch the next instalment, as well as find out what’s on AWESOME MIX: VOL. 2. My only hope is that the Guardians don’t feature with any of the Avengers too soon, as it would be great to follow the Guardians on their own path and learn more about them first.

Gone GirlGone Girl – ★★★★½

“Stunning film; Fincher is on top form with a true thriller.”

Looking at his back catalogue, I’ve seen seven of Fincher’s 10 feature films, with just The Game, Zodiac and The Social Network left to watch. Of the ones I have seen – Alien 3, Se7en, Fight Club, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Gone Girl – I can firmly say that he excels in thrillers, with Benjamin Button being an odd choice.

Gone Girl is much in the same vein as Dragon Tattoo, with another fantastic score from NIN’s Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross playing against a clever script, dark lighting and strong lead performances. Perhaps it could also be said that Fincher is excelling in book-to-film adaptations too, though I haven’t read either of the above, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, so can’t comment.

When I went to see Gone Girl, with three male friends, I was left a little shell-shocked when the credits started rolling; I was feeling a little uncomfortable and on edge, agreeing with my friends that when love, lust and power are involved, people can be downright scary.

The choice of leads was inspired. Over recent years Affleck has been enjoying a McConaughey-style renaissance, choosing dramas and thrillers over big budget actions. With his clean cut, all-American appearance, he was the perfect fit for Nick Dunne while Rosamund Pike, who previously had minimal leading lady experience, was superb as Nick’s wife, Amy. Indeed, I haven’t been able to look at her in quite the same way since.

When watching films I love to be ‘on the edge of my seat’, particularly when it comes to thrillers. I have been known to start shouting at characters, urging them to do this or that. When it came to Gone Girl, I was so close to the edge that I was in danger of being on the floor.

[Review] Stoker

Stoker film posterStoker (2013)

Dir: Park Chan-wook
Starring: Nicole Kidman, Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode

Courtesy of Empire’s five-star review, I was itching to see Stoker. While hype surrounding it centres on the fact that it is South Korean director Chan-wook’s first English language film, I was more interested by the trio of actors heading it up. So far in her (comparatively) short career I haven’t been disappointed by Wasikowska, and Kidman is another who rarely disappoints. Goode too has an impressive track record, with star turns in WatchmenMatch Point and A Single Man.

So, last Friday night, my boyfriend and I joined the handful of other people who were watching Stoker on its opening night. At first there were only five of us in the theatre, though eventually that number did creep up to 11. With a film like Stoker, that added intimacy caused by the rows of empty seats definitely adds to the atmosphere.

As the lights dimmed and the stylised credits started rolling, I started wondering just how scary it was going to be. I knew it wasn’t going to be jump-out-of-your-seat type of scary or blood’n’guts either, but the classification screen at the start that said ‘sexual violence’ had me thinking…

Kidman is a very beautiful woman, but as the credits dissolved into the opening scene I couldn’t help thinking about how smooth her face was. I started questioning whether that would affect her performance, but I shouldn’t have worried. As Empire said in its review, Wentworth Miller’s script is so tight that it never wastes a word when a look will do, and my can Kidman do ‘a look’.

Emotionally unstable due to a variety of reasons, not least her strained relationship with her daughter, Kidman’s fragile widow Evie is The Mistress of The Look, always with a strange, disturbed glint in her eye. You never quite know how she is going to react to something, and even when she knows something isn’t quite right, she carries down the path regardless.

The estranged daughter, Wasikowska’s India, appears to be a Victorian woman trapped in a young girl’s body, with her personality and mannerisms not quite fitting the present day. Lacking friends and more interested in hunting than any other more feminine pastimes, she is definitely the sort of person you wouldn’t want to be in close proximity to for a long period of time.

Rounding off the Stoker family is the mysterious Uncle Charlie (Matthew Goode), India’s father’s younger brother, who is both charming and menacing. His handsome and unnerving presence puts a spin on the family dynamic, and like India the audience is left wondering who exactly the man is. Goode portrays Uncle Charlie perfectly, maintaining a glossy exterior that hides a mind that is working overtime.

stoker

On leaving the cinema and thinking about it, that 18 rating may have been excessive, in my opinion. There aren’t that many explicit scenes, indeed my boyfriend and I weren’t sure what represented the ‘sexual violence’. Perhaps it received its 18 rating due to its dark and frightening themes instead; maybe the depths into went into sexuality, murder, jealousy and incest were too extreme for a 15.

The way it explores those themes is done in a very careful, calculated manner. With his script Miller, and Chan-wook in his direction, prefers the subtle to the explicit. When you watch Stoker for yourself, you’ll realise that you wouldn’t want it any other way, and it leaves you captivated till the very end.

★★★★