Film Reviews

Tomorrowland_posterTITLE: Tomorrowland: A World Beyond
STARS: George Clooney, Hugh Laurie, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy
RELEASED: May 22nd 2015

As I sit down to write this review, I realise that this is the second Disney live action film I’ve written about in recent months. However, the latest offering promised to be a weird and whimsical adventure and I had to jump on board. Tomorrowland is named after an attraction at Disney theme parks and the striking skyline alone is the epitome of futuristic wonder.

The story begins in 1964, when a young inventor Frank Walker (George Clooney) takes his jet pack to the New York World’s Fair. Unimpressed by his invention, leader of Tomorrowland David Nix (Hugh Laurie) sends Frank away. A mysterious girl named Athena (Raffey Cassidy) is intrigued by Frank and gives him a pin that grants him access to the future via the It’s A Small World ride. He arrives in Tomorrowland, a futuristic city where inventors and artists are free to create their masterpieces without restrictions. It then jumps forward in time to the present day where science-loving teenager Casey (Britt Robertson) is attempting to save her father’s job as a NASA engineer by damaging machines that are destroying the launch pad he works on. Athena has been watching her and sneaks a pin into her motorbike helmet. When Casey is arrested the next night after attempting to carry out her mission, the pin is among her personal items when she is released. Therein begins a magical journey full of innovative creations, corruption and plenty of sci-fi weirdness.

The visuals and cinematography of the film is one of its strongest aspects. The setting of Tomorrowland itself is enthralling and original. There is a definite theme park feel to the entire film and many scenes are shot on Disney turf. The weakest part is the plot which is not the easiest to follow. I wasn’t able to grasp why characters were doing certain things and there didn’t appear to be a big climactic point in the middle of the film. There was a touch of emotion towards the end but it ended with an unfinished feeling that makes me wonder if a sequel will be made.

If you love films with stunning visual effects and plenty of fast-paced action, then I’d definitely recommend giving it a try. It does definitely sacrifice plot for high-intensity suspense and it almost had the feel of a late 80s sci-fi at times. The pulling off of robots’ heads and wacky tropes were perhaps inspired by some films from that era. Like them, it probably will gain a loyal cult following who fall for its undeniable charm and whimsy but if you’re looking for a good, fresh story, you probably won’t find it here.


Insurgent_posterTITLE: Insurgent
STARS: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Kate Winslet, Mekhi Phifer, Miles Teller
DIRECTOR: Robert Schwentke
RELEASED: March 11th 2015

So I was a little late in seeing this especially as I saw Divergent on its release date, However, I remember my cinema experience being marred somewhat by overexcited teenage girls and seeing Insurgent once all the hype had died down, certainly made a difference. A new director on board and even more drama unfolding, I was always curious about how Insurgent would compare.

After the events of Divergent, which left off on a devastation revolutionary note, Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter (Miles Teller) seek shelter with Amity, the faction of peace and love. However, whilst there, the Dauntless who are hunting Divergents burst in and chase them onto a moving train full of the factionless. A brawl ensues before Four gives the factionless his true name and they take him to meet their leader, his mother Evelyn who was believed dead. Tris and Four travel to Candor, leaving Caleb behind to return to Abnegation. In Candor, the remaining Dauntless are waiting and the plot to rise against Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and the Erudite begins.

Insurgent is full of dark secrets, truth revealing and spell-binding cinematography. The scenes where Tris is within simulations are truly stunning and there are many times where your heart is in your mouth. I felt that I connected to Tris a lot more in this film, as all facets of her personality are clearly shown. She is brave, kind, honest, selfless and intelligent and it doesn’t really come across as well in Divergent. In the second film, we see her standing her ground and really fighting for what she knows to be right. I was really rooting for her in places, even though she is by no means one of my favourite protagonists.

There was also much more of sci-fi element to Insurgent. A lot of elaborate imagery and effects were on show, namely the slow disintegration of Four and the city in the simulations were mesmerizing to watch. The stark contrasts between Amity and Erudite were particularly striking as one lives in peaceful simplicity whilst the other is powered by intelligence and technology. The mirrors between their world and ours were also apparent when considering the differences between these two factions. Amity are the farming faction whilst Erudite are the governors. Much like reality, the farmers who grow the food that keeps us alive, live in humble houses with close to no possessions whereas the government, who are often corrupt and selfish, live in luxury with everything that they could possibly desire.

I have yet to read Allegiant, so I have no idea what to expect from the final installment. The neat ending of Insurgent also intrigues me as it could easily have been a duology. The final book received incredibly mixed reviews and that makes me nervous to finally wrap the series up, as I really don’t want to feel let down. Here’s hoping to avoid another lame dystopian ending!

cinderella3_glamour_19nov15_pr_b_720x1080TITLE: Cinderella
STARS: Lily James, Richard Madden, Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Sophie McShera, Derek Jacobi
DIRECTOR: Kenneth Branagh
RELEASED: March 27th 2015

As a big Disney lover and a huge fan of the Cinderella fairytale, this adaptation was one of my most anticipated film releases of the year. I firmly believe that nobody is ever too old for fairytales and that adults should continue embracing and believing in them, as they give us a lift in the dark chapters of our lives. I find it incredibly sad when people sneer and believe themselves above such fantastical nonsense because it hints that they’ve lost all sense of wonder and love of magic. That’s definitely something that I never want to lose.

The film follows the original Disney animated version’s plot almost exactly. It begins with Ella (Lily James) as a happy little girl with her mother and father living in a beautiful country mansion. However, the familiar fairytale trope of early tragedy strikes and her mother dies. As she grows up, she is happy with her father who eventually marries Lady Tremaine (Cate Blanchett) and she and her two daughters (Sophie McShera and Holliday Grainger) move into the family home. One day, while her father is away, a messenger calls and delivers the news that Ella’s father has died. As Ella grieves, her stepmother and stepsisters are distraught that his death will cause them to lose their lavish lifestyle. As the famous story goes, Ella is treated as a slave and loses her bedroom to the sisters forcing her to seek warmth by the hearth at night. Her ashy appearance earns her the name Cinderella from her stepsisters.

One difference from the original film’s storyline is that Ella meets the prince (Richard Madden) in the forest before the ball. He falls in love with the beautiful innocent country girl who dissuades him from hunting a stag. He then decides to throw open the upcoming ball to every maiden in the land, not just princesses in the hope that she will attend. Another difference is the eventual unfolding of who the mysterious “princess” really is. In the animation, Cinderella’s stepmother has no idea that her stepdaughter has the other glass slipper but this version shows Lady Tremaine confiscating Ella’s shoe and smashing it before the duke arrives. The mice open the window of the attic where Ella is trapped and the royal party hear her sweet singing voice as they are about to leave, which leads to her trying on the shoe and having the happy ending.

The cast is full of faces from huge global phenomenons and if you’re very familiar with these shows (as most people are), seeing Lady Rose and Robb Stark as Cinderella and Prince Charming while Downton’s shy retiring kitchen-maid Daisy plays an evil ugly stepsister, does take some getting used to. Helena Bonham Carter’s performance as the Fairy Godmother is one of the best in the film. Perhaps Bonham Carter has been typecast to play beautiful, whimsical women but she does it so well and her arrival indicates a shift in the mood. She brings the light-heartedness and her magic adds the entire fantasy element. Richard Madden’s portrayal as the prince or “Kit” is equally moving. He is a down-to-earth guy who seems keen not to be seen as royalty and marries for love. This is, perhaps, a modern thread in the film but it gives viewers hope that true love is key to everything.

The lasting memory of the film is the beauty of the costumes and cinematography. It is a beautiful film to look at and the costume design is second to none. The stepsisters’ ballgowns are slightly pantomime-esque but even they have their own unique wonder. The ball scenes are mesmerising, enchanting and encapsulate everything that fairytales should be. Expect some production Oscar nominations!

Cinderella is definitely worth watching if you love stories of true love and triumph of good over evil. Branagh was hired after the previous director envisioned a darker version and Disney refused. Of course, a darker version would have appealed to those who believe they are “too old for fairytales” but Branagh’s version is for those who haven’t given up hope yet. The fact that Disney recognises that we exist promises good things for future adaptations of classic love stories.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-movie-posterTITLE: Guardians Of The Galaxy
STARS: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Glenn Close
DIRECTOR: James Gunn
RELEASED: July 31st 2014

As one of the most anticipated film releases of the year, Marvel’s latest blockbuster had a lot to live up to. I’m not normally a huge lover of sci-fi and superhero films but the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy did draw me in. A star-studded cast and a huge following before its release meant that it was always going to sell a lot of popcorn but does it live up to all the hype?

The story follows Peter Quill or Star Lord (Chris Pratt) who is kidnapped by space pirates headed up by Yondu (Michael Rooker) just after the death of his mother. Years later, he steals a mysterious orb and is ambushed by Gamora (Zoe Saldana), adopted daughter of the titan Thanos. Their fight attracts two bounty hunters -a genetically engineered raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) but the group are arrested. Imprisoned in the Kyln, Quill reluctantly joins forces with his fellow captives to escape. Gamora is accosted by the powerful Drax (Dave Bautista) who threatens to kill her due to her connection to the evil Ronan who killed his family. After explaining of her disassociation with Ronan, Drax insists on accompanying the group as they escape. Gamora takes the group to Knowhere to Tivan the Collector who is interested in the orb. He reveals an Infinity Stone inside the orb which can harness enough power to destroy everything but the beings who hold it. As Gamora’s sister Nebula (Karen Gillan) joins Ronan in the hunt for Gamora and the orb, the film hurtles towards a dramatic emotional ending.

Guardians of the Galaxy has some of the best characters in sci-fi. The special relationship between Rocket and Groot was a bizarre but beautiful thing to watch. Both characters provided the bulk of the humour with Quill also chiming in every so often but they were also at the heart of some of the more emotional scenes. Saldana played Gamora as a no nonsense assassin, which was great to see in an all-action space drama. So many films set in this genre depict women as either minor characters or as frail beings who need saving. Quill is a very normal guy in a world where he doesn’t belong but in which he has to be the hero, which gave him a definite likeability factor. Even the initially frightening intimidating Drax became a loveable character who came up with some very funny lines.

It is a fast-paced action film that gets the balance between comedy and emotion just right. Not many dramatic films like this feature the level of comedy that it did but as a result, I felt more invested in the characters than I normally would do with a sci-fi. The sad moments resonated more with me because the characters involved had already made me laugh profusely. As a result, it was easily the best film of its kind that I’ve seen in a long time. The plot wasn’t the best in the world and it was definitely the characters that I came away from the film with. In fact, I had to remind myself of the actual plot before reviewing!

The twist at the end got me excited for the sequel and I’m disappointed to discover that it isn’t due for release for another couple of years yet. If you love your comic book films then it is a must-see, however there are plenty of elements in there for non-comic geeks too. Don’t be afraid that it won’t live up to all the stellar reviews that it’s getting because believe me, it does!

The-Fault-in-Our-Stars-Poster-438x650TITLE: The Fault In Our Stars
STARS: Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe
DIRECTOR: Josh Boone
RELEASED: June 19th 2014

This story first came into my life at the beginning of 2013 when I wrote a rather gushing review of John Green’s infamous tearjerking novel. Since then, thanks to the growing popularity in YA contemporary literature, the book has gone flying to the top of must-read lists and has become a bestseller pretty much everywhere. With such a huge following, it was inevitable that a film was going to be made and I’m delighted that it appears to have come around so soon. I was lucky enough to get a ticket to an advanced screening and as I do consider the book to be one of my favourites of all time, I was hoping that it would translate well to screen.

It follows the blossoming relationship of Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shailene Woodley), an assertive, bookish girl who lugs around an oxygen tank and Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), a witty, poetic boy with a prosthetic leg. Meeting at a support group for teenagers with cancer, they fall in love and embark on a romance that drags you along with it right from the first “okay”. From fulfilling their life-long wishes to simply being normal teenagers, they laugh and joke their way through their tragically short lives until the ending strikes, bringing everything back to harsh reality.

Of course, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Their blind friend Isaac (Nat Wolff) provides a lot of the comic relief. The scene in which Hazel, Gus and Isaac throw eggs at Isaac’s ex-girlfriend’s house is full of laughs as Isaac’s blindness prevents him from being able to aim properly as is the scene in Gus’ bedroom where Isaac proceeds to smash everything up in a rage at being dumped. There are also plenty of funny moments between Hazel and Gus while their love is developing and the fact that they are both such clever, witty people only adds to the tragedy.

The film did stick pretty closely to the book and there were certain scenes where you couldn’t help but get choked up. Gus claims that he wants to attend his own funeral so asks Hazel and Isaac to speak at a rehearsal he has set up. Hazel reads out a heart-breaking eulogy about how thankful she is for her relationship with Gus and how much she loves him. This along with the very end are guaranteed to bring tears to your eyes as you reflect on what an ambitious, brave person Gus is. His strength are what keeps Hazel going and it’s a lovely nod to the belief that young love is never insignificant. In fact, it’s probably the strongest kind of love there is.

All in all, the book was definitely better than the film but that isn’t to say that it didn’t come over well on screen. Indeed there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema but as with so many book-to-film adaptations, nothing can ever beat the original text with your own interpretation of the characters. Dealing with Hazel and Gus’ situation in my own mind was somehow much more heartbreaking because I felt more invested in them as people than I did with the cast of the film. However, The Fault In Our Stars is a beautiful timeless love story that is guaranteed to hit you hard. At first glance at the film trailer or back of the book, it may appear to be a fluffy teen romance topped with cheese but it is in fact, so far from that.

The subject matter takes YA entertainment to a new level of emotion. Yes these kids are dealing with normal teen struggles such as discovery of sex, conflicts with parents and worries about the future but they’re doing so while standing on the brink of oblivion -which is what Gus confesses is his only fear. This alone means you have to hand it to John Green for tackling a topic as serious as cancer and writing it in a way that everyone can relate to whether you’ve come into contact with it yourself or not -something only a very skilled writer can do.

Divergent-UK-PosterTITLE: Divergent
STARS: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ansel Elgort, Mekhi Phifer, Kate Winslet
DIRECTOR: Neil Burger
RELEASED: April 4th 2014

As a big fan of The Hunger Games and dystopian stories in general, Divergent was a film that I had earmarked to see for a long time. I read the book by Veronica Roth at the beginning of this year and although I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Hunger Games, it was still a fast-paced enjoyable read. The trilogy of books is incredibly popular amongst teens and so the cinema was packed with excited youngsters on the film’s release date and I can’t pretend that this didn’t affect my experience of the film somewhat. Once I’d got past the squeals and overexcited hyperactivity, which did actually take some doing during the more risque scenes, I was able to sit back and enjoy it.

Divergent follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a teenage girl who lives in a society split into five factions -Abnegation (the selfless), Amity (the kind), Candor (the honest), Dauntless (the brave) and Erudite (the intelligent). When they come of age, the teens of the society take an aptitude test to determine which faction they truly belong in. Tris and her brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort) were born into Abnegation but their test results cause them to rethink their true calling. Tris’ results reveal her to be a Divergent meaning that her aptitude test is inconclusive because she possesses qualities important to multiple factions. Divergents are extremely rare and are in fact considered dangerous by the government and because of this, Tris must keep her status secret. Although they are free to choose their faction, they must never return to their faction of birth and therefore their families, if they decide to transfer. Without too many spoilers, Tris is then thrown into turmoil as she fights to prove herself worthy within her chosen faction while encountering dangerous people and situations. Through it all, she meets and falls in love with the handsome, mysterious Four (Theo James) and she finds herself in trouble when powerful Erudite leader Jeanine (Kate Winslet) learns of her secret and threatens to wage war against her and other Divergents.

As with most literary adaptations, Veronica Roth’s novel was much more entertaining, however the film did stick relatively close. There was a particularly blood-spattered scene in the book that was omitted from the film and I can only assume that producers thought it would be a little too much violence for a film that teens would be going to see. I think it would have added to the competitive nature amongst the initiates though as I felt that this was something that was lost that seemed to be an integral part of the book. There seemed to be a lot more of a friendly vibe amongst them in the film that was a bit off-putting for those that know the novel. The topless Four scenes also fell a bit flat for me although that wasn’t because Theo James doesn’t have a great physique -oh boy, he does!- but I did feel that it was something that was done for the cameras and the young female audience rather than something that was necessary for the character.

I’m not sure the casting was quite on point as Shailene Woodley doesn’t really have the kind of look and manner that I imagined Tris to have. Tris and Caleb’s sibling relationship wasn’t given much screen time and it was only towards the end that we even remembered Caleb. I know that Shailene and Ansel Elgort are also playing the roles of Hazel and Gus in The Fault In Our Stars this summer and I was keen to see how they played both brother and sister and young, doomed lovers. However, I didn’t really get to see much of them in Divergent.

It is a great dystopian full of action, danger and corruption but I would strongly recommend the book over the film. Don’t go into it expecting another version of The Hunger Games, as they really are very different. In my opinion, The Hunger Games is a better series with more developed characters but Divergent is still an exciting and engaging watch.

movies-the-book-thief-posterTITLE: The Book Thief
STARS: Sophie Nelisse, Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson
DIRECTOR: Brian Percival
RELEASED: February 26th 2014

Marcus Zuzak’s World War Two tearjerker was one of my favourite books that I read last year and I was both excited and nervous for the release of the film adaptation. It’s such a beautiful, heart-breaking story that I wasn’t sure how well it would translate to screen and whether the emotion would really carry over in the same way that it does in the book.

Set in Nazi Germany in the late 1930s and early 1940s, the story follows the tragic tale of Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nelisse) who is travelling by train with her mother and younger brother who dies on the journey. Burying the boy at the side of the road, Liesel picks up The Gravedigger’s Handbook which she finds on her brother’s grave. Liesel’s mother is a communist and due to the growing conflict, Liesel is placed in the care of Hans (Geoffrey Rush) and Rosa Hubermann (Emily Watson). Befriending a local boy of her own age Rudy Steiner, Liesel lives a simple life. Her stepfather Hans teaches her to read with The Gravedigger’s Handbook, which leads to Liesel’s long-time obsession with reading. When there is a mass book burning at the command of the Nazis, Liesel retrieves a book which is witnessed by the Major’s wife. Hans and Rosa are meanwhile hiding a Jewish boy Max  in their basement and Liesel becomes close friends with him. When Rosa asks Liesel to deliver laundry to the Major’s house, his wife invites her into their library and tells her to read whenever she wants. However, the war brings troubled times to the community and the ending is one that you’ll remember forever.

Both the film and the book are narrated by Death -a voice who never makes a physical appearance but is a constant dark presence. Having him interject every so often brings you back out of Liesel’s sweet simple life and reminds you of the reality of the time. No matter how safe and happy life may seem, Death is always there during war time. The severity of the country’s situation is shown so many times and you can’t help but wonder how different things would be if the war weren’t going on. Every single death in the film is shocking and simply heartbreaking, so that you leave the cinema feeling utterly drained of emotion.

As a reader, I really connected with Liesel and as a result, my heart was in my mouth for a lot of the film. Although I had read the book, Sophie Nelisse was the perfect Liesel and the character really came to life in front of my eyes. Her friendship with Rudy is a beautiful touch that keeps in mind the innocence of children in such a dark time. The tragic ending and the final words from Death are so haunting and I’m so glad that Zuzak’s wonderful story wasn’t messed with too much.

It is one of a rare breed -a very good book-to-film adaptation. The Book Thief is a story that so many people love and are deeply affected by, so it was important that the film was done well. The casting was perfect and every important aspect of the book was included. Creating an authentic World War Two setting is something is seen a lot but rarely from the point of view of a bookish little girl trapped in the terrible world she has found herself in. If you love emotional, dramatic films then The Book Thief is definitely for you!