Sunday, 9 December 2012

My Favourite Film Series - #2 - THE LORD OF THE RINGS (01-03) *****

"One ring to rule them all, One ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them"

As the infamous introduction to one of the most glorious trilogies began, nobody could predict what a phenomenon this particular franchise was going to be. Before the neurotic obsession of the TWILIGHT saga came along, fantasy films had been revived successfully in 2001 with the movie adaptation of the HARRY POTTER series coming to light as well. But a film-maker from New Zealand named Peter Jackson started adapting J.R.R Tolken's tale of wizards, hobbits and elves; THE LORD OF THE RINGS which back in the late 1970s, already had an animated film version which received mixed reviews. But once FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) came to the core, it overshadowed the first Harry Potter film in terms of critical acclaim producing an adventure film that had emotion and beauty to help it become known to the world. A marvelous 18 Oscars (from 29 Oscar nominations) were awarded to the trilogy over the course of three years, the fact that Jackson and his team made the trilogy and released them in the space of that time was something not acheived by a franchise in film history. My love for cinema was enlightened by the viewing of these films on the big screen, particuarly RETURN OF THE KING (2003) though my first screening of the film was spoilt by a couple of chavvy lads from my high school *cough* Jake Evason *cough*. However watching it second time around was worth it for being a quiet cinema and an experience never to forget with such a tremendous trilogy. Of course, that notion has been further helped by the extended versions of all three films which make them much better adding more background information from the books to the film, to watch those versions of the big screen would be a sight to behold!


"Its power corrupts all who desire it. Only one has the will to resist it. A Fellowship of nine must destroy it"

Back in 2001, my passion for film was still not ignited despite the likes of A BEAUTIFUL MIND, MOULIN ROUGE! and SHREK which all did very well that year (though I was to watch them later in time). But when HARRY POTTER AND THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE came out in November, the adrenaline of watching an exciting fantasy film made me start to look forward to films again. But it was a month later where it all got interesting, as a certain film involving hobbits, men, wizards, elves, dwarfs and orcs would overshadow the success of Potter and begin a trilogy that would change epic films forever....

The adventure begins with a narrative from the elvish queen Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) explaining how the One Ring was made by the dark lord Sauron in Mordor to spread evil across the fantasy world of Middle-Earth. However his plans were foiled when men and elves combined a mass army to overcome his orcs as he himself was defeated by the king's son Isilidur. Unfortunately the ring's evil took over Isilidur who failed to rid Middle-Earth of the ring and he kept it for himself. Eventually it betrayed him and ended up in the hands of a gangly creature called Gollum (Andy Serkis) whose mind was poisoned by the ring. But it was then picked up by a hobbit named Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) who took it back to his home in the Shire, a place occupied by other hobbits. Into the present day with Bilbo preparing to celebrate his birthday with a big party, the arrival of his old wizard friend Gandalf (Ian McKellen) visits him but it is clear that Bilbo has plans to leave the Shire. After exiting his party in magical fashion, Bilbo departs altogether but leaves the ring to his nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) who is unaware of what the ring has done to Bilbo. Gandalf tries to find out information about the ring discovering that it is in fact the One Ring and that it must be hidden from Sauron's forces. He instructs Frodo to leave the Shire knowing that Sauron's servants are trying to claim the ring back, and is joined on the journey by his gardener Samwise Gangee (Sean Astin). Gandalf seeks the assistance of his fellow wizard ally Saruman (Christopher Lee) at Isengaard to help with the situation but soon it becomes clear that Saruman has turned to the dark side and imprisons Gandalf. In the meantime Frodo and Sam are accompanied by fellow hobbits Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) to try to meet Gandalf at a pub but on the way narrowly avoid the servants. When they get to the pub, they come across a mysterious ranger called Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) who helps the hobbits try to get to the elvish city Rivendell.
The journey becomes perilous when the servants confront the hobbits on a mounted hill leading to Frodo being stabbed by a mortal blade. Luckily an elvish princess named Arwen (Liv Tyler) attempts to carry the wounded hobbit to her city though eventually manages to overcome the servants with the help of a gigantic wave of water. Frodo recovers in Rivendell to find Gandalf there and is also introduced to the Elvish lord Elrond (Hugo Weaving) who is Arwen's father. She it emerges is in love with AragornIsilidur's heir). The main factor though is that the ring cannot stay in Rivendell and instead a meeting is formed involving men, elves and dwarfs to discuss the plan about what to do with the ring. The clear fact is the ring must be destroyed by being thrown in the fires of Mount Doom which is situated in Mordor. After much arguing, Frodo believes it is his destiny to take the ring and have it destroyed. However Gandalf, Aragorn, Sam, Merry and Pippin offer him their services to escort him to Mordor with elvish warrior Legolas (Orlando Bloom), stubborn dwarf Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) and Gondor man Boromir (Sean Bean) also forming the Fellowship. The group begin their quest towards Mordor but find themselves facing more perilous dangers with Saruman determined to end it abruptly including spying birds and treacherous blizzards. They soon make the decision to enter the cave city of Moria but they still aren't out of trouble as they end up being confronted by an army of orcs and a cave troll. Even after overcoming them, they still face the greatest danger of a hellish beast known as The Balrog leading to the tragic death of one of the Fellowship. The quest must continue despite the setback and they soon come across the elvish queen Galadriel who foresees what will happen to the group through friendship and betrayal. This makes its impact in the film's final 30 minutes which sees Saruman's army of Urik-Hai warriors confront the Fellowship in the woods leading to another major face-off and causing the team to be split up, making way for the sequel........

The Lord of the Rings is a fairy-tale of myth and fantasy. Peter Jackson directed a film that was considered, for a very long time, impossible to make, and not only for technical reasons. The narrative roots are incredibly long and detailed, and the storyline is deeply connected with the creation of a fantastic continent from a time unknown called `Middle Earth'. It's author, Tolkien, dedicated a considerable part of his life developing this continent's background, it's mythology and origins, it's different kinds of people, cultures and languages, and therefore it's geographic references are determined to the unfolding of the story of the One Ring. Never losing pace, the writing and direction is flawless, making for one enthralling introduction into Middle-earth. The voice over prologue from Blanchett fills even the most uneducated audience member with all the necessary knowledge they need to know in order to understand our heroes' and villains' motives. The story, sets, costumes & visual effects are so rich, you'll have to see the film several times to absorb everything. The unspoiled New Zealand location is spectacular, providing a variety of environments to represent the different settings on the characters' journey. They are also imaginative and detailed, adding to their beauty, while the studio sets match them in such tenacity. The costumes are at once familiar & strange, drawing on both the medieval & the fantastic, but more important, they're also functional & practical. The Howard Shore score is lovely, and its simple themes are used to great effect throughout all three movies. The musical collaborations improvising on Shore's basic themes are great, and are never weighed down by star-power.

The cast also deserves its notice for such an epic fantasy film. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd are career-best as the four hobbits, the most vulnerable members of the Fellowship, therefore the ones we care about the most; Viggo Mortensen is very convincing as the conflicted Aragorn; Ian McKellen gives Gandalf the Grey the warmth and wisdom he deserves (and an Oscar nod for McKellen), while Christopher Lee is the only actor who could play the deceitful Saruman. The likes of Liv Tyler (never looked more beautiful), Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Ian Holm and Sean Bean also portray their roles with such solidarity and play their characters as you could imagine. Nobody mis-steps, and it is clear from the beginning that the entire cast was completely engaged with the task before them. Each actor is that character, making it seem impossible to imagine anyone else fill that person's boot. One could weep with our heroes should one fall, or feel inspired when they achieve victory. A fantasy with this much emotion just seems surreal, but it's completely believable.
Many believe this is the best of the trilogy but I am in complete opposite. The issue that many raise is that this is not a faithful adaptation of the book which may frustrate die-hard fans of the books (this is also apparent in Two Towers and King). However omissions and changes are always part of adapting a book to film, and the ones made by Peter Jackson, Phillipa Boyens and Fran Walsh are justifiable in every way. Some may argue, that the lack of epic fight scenes aside from the opening battle at Mount Doom and the climatic battle, does take a bit of the excitement away for younger who would need patience when watching an action film with consistent dialogue. This does not detract the film as a whole, and Peter Jackson went out to achieve the impossible and came out with a recreation of the original that is pure and true to the story in every detail. The film is a masterpiece from start to finish. Yes, it does take perseverance and it's not entirely faithful to Tolkien's work but Jackson has taken on a huge task, and has dealt with it with breathtaking success leading on to the two even more extraordinary sequels.


"All will be sacrificed... All will be lost... Unless all unite against evil"

Having watched Fellowship of the Ring the year before, I had started to embrace the prospect of watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy and after watching the trailer for THE TWO TOWERS (2002) earlier that year (complete with the famous Requiem for a Tower music), the anticipation built up, perhaps due to the fact there was to be more action (Helm's Deep) and new characters (King Theoden, Eowyn, Faramir etc). But while many consider this film the weakest of the trilogy, I was wholly fanatic about it, proclaiming it as even better than Fellowship, and this was a sequel that deserved recognition even more.

Following the break-up of the fellowship from the first film i.e. Boromir's death, Merry and Pippin's kidnapping, it is left to the remaining members to carry on with the objective. Hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) carry on their journey to Mordor to rid of the One Ring but soon realise they are being followed. The stalker is gangly creature Gollum (Andy Serkis), the previous owner of the ring who is intent on reclaiming his beloved 'precious'. Despite Sam's disapproval, Frodo seeks Gollum's help with leading the pair to Mount Doom and so the quest continues. Meanwhile Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) try to track down the army of Urik-Hai who snatched Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) in Rohan, but their initial journey looks to have failed when the pair are feared to have been killed during an attack in the night by Rohirum soldiers led by captain Eomer (Karl Urban). Fortunately the hobbits escaped the attack by crawling into Fangorn Forest where living trees roam the woods. The trio get an even bigger shock when they are confronted by the feared-dead Gandalf (Ian McKellen) who has been reincarnated as a white wizard and has a new objective for the trio with Merry and Pippin both safe. They are to travel to the city of Rohan where its king Theoden (Bernard Hill) has had his mind manipulated by Saruman (Christopher Lee) and squire Grima (Brad Dourif). The arrival of the four proves significant as Gandalf releases Theoden from his spell, who then banishes Grima from the city. However it is expected that Saruman will plan an attack on Rohan and so, Theoden leads his people to the fortress of Helm's Deep as safety but clearly the place has its flaws as Isengard prepares to unleash an army of 10, 000 Urik-Hai to begin Sauron's campaign to rid the world of Men. Gandalf seeks to track down Eomer and his army of Rohirrum soldiers to assist in the battle.

Throughout the film, the focus of the three groups of the Fellowship transcends along the narrative. Frodo learns about Gollum's past (his real name being Smeagol) and soon he respects his master's wish despite his schizophrenic mind affecting his aim to try and get the ring back. The trio's journey into Mordor becomes more enticing when a group of Gondorian men led by captain Faramir (David Wenham) capture them and seeks to know about their plan. We learn he is in fact the brother of the late Boromir (Sean Bean), and he is determined to prove his worth as a man of Gondor but fails to realise the cost the ring has had on others. This is apparent when Smeagol is left hurt by Frodo's so-called betrayal which makes things turn dark in the climax of the film. Merry and Pippin meanwhile, are kept in Fangorn Forest by the leader of the Ents; Treebeard (voiced by Rhys-Davies) but the hobbits plead for the trees to help with the war as they are part of Middle-Earth. Ultimately their involvement becomes key in the final half-hour of the film. The Rohirrum survive their journey to Helm's Deep, though Aragorn manages to survive an attack by Saruman's army of wolves. He faces up to the prospect of being the King of Gondor but also yearns for the love of Elvish princess Arwen (Liv Tyler) whose father Elrond (Hugo Weaving) fears that she'll be left broken-hearted if she remains at Middle-Earth. Aragorn is also unaware that Theoden's niece Eowyn (Miranda Otto) has developed feelings for him but she too fears that she'll live to an old age of being alone but plans to show fighting spirit (as proven in the final film). The traumas are put behind as Saruman's army of Urik-Hai arrive at Helm's Deep with Men and Elves joining forces to try and at least win a war to ensure Middle-Earth will not be overshadowed. The question though remains for the film's heroes; will Helm's Deep (and the heroes there) hold out against such a monstrous army? Can Frodo, Sam and Smeagol get away from the doomed Gondor camp and continue their quest? And will Merry and Pippin convince the Ents to help take down Saruman and Isengard? All this excitement builds for an excellent conclusion to the trilogy!

After Fellowship, the world wondered if Peter Jackson could sustain the momentum. The Two Towers is the shortest segment and the story is split into parallel tales. More characters enter the story, including one of the most important. Can Jackson do it? Of course he can. The opening scene of The Two Towers provides an outstanding, yet very brief, taste of action, cinematography, and special effects, only to be matched (and far surpassed) in the final hour of the film. The stunning events of the third hour of The Two Towers are undoubtedly the centerpiece of the film, and while the first two hours serve finely as story development, they primarily build anticipation for the final hour, which mostly depicts the battle of Helm's Deep. More than anything else, the first two hours merely tease and torment the patient audience. The battle of Helm's Deep is simply unreal; it's unlike any event that has come to pass since fantasy films gained, and regained, popularity. As was The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers is a visual delight. Those who have seen Fellowship are no doubt familiar with the beauty of the landscapes of New Zealand. The cinematography is, again, one of the best aspects of the film. Composer Howard Shore equals Fellowship of the Ring, as the music for The Two Towers is nothing short of awe-inspiring. From the theme of Rohan to the thundering might of Isengard, The Two

The cast is practically the same and there are some who improve a lot in this edition. Elijah Wood doesn't add much to his role but there are signs that Frodo is starting to crack as proven in the climax. Sean Astin as Sam delivers a good supportive role set up nicely for the final film where he steals the show. Viggo Mortensen goes from strength to strength as he gives another strong heroic performance. Mortensen's Aragorn is sensitive, warmer and more human, and yet super-human in presence and charisma. There is a perfect mix of humor in the film given by the characters Gimli (Rhys-Davies), and Legolas (Bloom), while still keeping the viewer in understanding that these are very darkened times. Ian McKellen's return as Gandalf, has been somewhat reduced in the second film but instead he steals every scene he is in. Dominic Monaghan and Billy Boyd provide delightful comic relief when together, compelling character development when apart. The other cast members from the first film including Tyler, Weaving and Lee all deliver as usual. Most significantly, Faramir (David Wenham) is given a back-story that makes clearer his motivations, a good role for Wenham. The newly-introduced characters are no less three-dimensional than their more familiar counterparts: Brad Dourif as Grima Wormtongue, Saruman's grovelling, serpentine apprentice is played with such chills by Dourif; Miranda Otto as Eowyn, a noblewoman lusting for glory and as gorgeous as her female co-stars and Bernard Hill as Theoden who is possessed by the treacherous hand of Isengard, but Hill shows experience with his defiance to help his people. But of the newcomers in this film it is Gollum who shines in a much-welcomed large role, due to extremely realistic computer animation, and a fine performance from Andy Serkis, upon which the animation was modeled. However, here he is more of a leading character and a 'star', and his convincing double-personality, stabbing voice, and well-choreographed body movements make him consistently eye-grabbing and the center of focus of nearly every scene in which he appears.

Of course there are flaws at the time despite the amazing onscreen visuals but there is one major criticism you can level at The Two Towers, and that`s a lack of an emotional impact . Yes you`ll gasp and cheer and feel your heart race but you won`t burst into tears. Remember the scenes in the first film involving the deaths of Gandalf and Boromir? Of course you do because these two scenes are amongst the most moving and heart wrenching in cinema history. Unfortunately there is no similar equivalent in The Two Towers. As well as that, there was the controversial decision (which angered die-hard fans) to cut out the Shelob sequences and place it in the final film, but considering how long and jam-packed this edition was, it's the best decision Jackson had to make. In size and scale, Peter Jackson has truly redefined the word "epic" and he also pays attention to the small things that truly elevate this movie from great to amazing.


"One film to rule them all"

As the tag line confirms, this is truly my all time favorite film and proves that no matter how many others I'll watch, they'll never be as grand nor adventurous or even loved as the climatic part of Peter Jackson's epic fantasy trilogy THE LORD OF THE RINGS. Having been left satisfied by FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING (2001) and then mesmerized by THE TWO TOWERS (2002) I was preparing myself for the end of a cinematic phenomenon which had made such a crucial impact on my life in terms of my love for film. When the trailer for RETURN OF THE KING (2003) came out earlier that year, I was overly ecstatic about how it would turn out and come December afternoon, I was treated to three and a half hours of pure entertainment and a real roller coaster of a film. The effect of it proved crucial and soon I was watching other epic films including LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962), GONE WITH THE WIND (1939) and BEN-HUR (1959) and that is the story of how my film passion came alive, one journey ended, another was about to be begin!

Concluding the trilogy, the final installment begins with a flashback sequence revealing just how Smeagol (Andy Serkis) came to own the One Ring, turning out that he killed his friend who found it and was banished to the mountains where the ring messed up his mind. In the present day, Smeagol's intentions is to reclaim the ring from hobbits Frodo (Elijah Wood) and Sam (Sean Astin) by betraying them to a mysterious creature in a tunnel near Mordor. But his twin personality with Gollum sees Sam overhear his plot and tries to expose him but Frodo insists that they need Smeagol to carry on leading them to Mount Doom, and so the journey continues. Meanwhile Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen), Gandalf (Ian McKellen), Legolas (Orlando Bloom), Gimli (John Rhys-Davies), King Theoden (Bernard Hill) and Eomer (Karl Urban) are reunited with Merry (Dominic Monaghan) and Pippin (Billy Boyd) at Isengard which was overthrown in the previous film by the Ents. Saruman (Christopher Lee) is trapped at the top of his tower but refuses to help the group with information about Sauron's plans and ends up being killed by his henchman Grima (Brad Dourif). However Pippin finds Saruman's plantir 

Monday, 23 April 2012


"My dad said they'd come. He said we ain't alone. He said one day we'd find them. Or they'd find us."


With the world marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, it would appear that the film industry is having its own Titanic-themed week with the recent re-release of Titanic 3D and Aardman's Pirates: Band of Scientists being part of the UK box-office charts. But now the latest film set at sea has sailed by in the shape of Peter Berg's corny yet action-packed sci-fi flick Battleship which may probably go down as one of the most ridiculous films you'll see on the big screen. Think of Independence Day, Top Gun and Transformers rolled into one and it becomes a messy film with a complete suspension of reality not helped by a torrid script and an average cast which relies on a pop star making her film debut to try bring the big bucks in. It actually makes you wish Michael Bay made it which is saying something....

Aimless slacker Alex Hopper (Kitsch) struggles to do much in his life but after getting into trouble with the police, his older brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgaard) challenges him to commit to the navy. However Alex's confrontational behaviour leads to him facing being kicked out by Admiral Shane (Neeson) whose daughter Sam (Decker) is dating the unfortunate marine. But things soon get complicated for Alex and the navy when a group of spaceships land in the middle of the ocean following a transmission between Earth and space which leads to them unleashing fire on the boats as well as causing havoc in Hawaii. It is left up to Hopper and his marines including feisty female marine Raikes (Rihanna) to try tackle the extraterrestrials head on knowing that if they fail, Earth and its people face being destroyed. Cue many loud explosions and exhilarating special effects....

The problem with CGI-infested blockbusters like Battleship is the investment of big money to make these deafening, booming films entertain its audiences and while this critic has been known to enjoy the odd guilty pleasure CGI flick (examples including Stealth and Speed Racer), this particular effort ends up being a complete disappointment going beyond the words 'corny' and 'ridiculous'. Based in some ways on the classic board game but with a sci-fi twist to it only adds to some of the major flaws in the plot hole-ridden story which seems to rely on its stunning visual work to try enhance its reputation with audiences and critics. Firstly why do the aliens appear? Why are they so dumb and so familiar-looking to other film aliens? Why don't we really care about some of the characters? Why waste the likes of Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgaard yet give Rihanna more screen-time? Just a slither of reasons out of many to know why this film fails to be taken seriously which is disappointing given director Berg's tenacity with action films. As was the case with Michael Bay's handling of the Transformers series (not from me obviously but in other people's views), we get the typically embarrassing moments in the film which make you cringe ranging from Alex's attempt to steal a chicken burrito from a closed shop with the Pink Panther theme playing to the heroic geek (one of several cliched characters) coming out of nowhere to overpower a deadly alien. But the most original yet cheese-infested moments comes towards the end when our heroes seem down and out, who are they going to call? The US Marine equivalent to Dad's Army of course! Anyone seeing the film won't be able to help but laugh at the silliness of that part. Another big disappointment for the film is the B-Movie type cast that fails to add any passion to the sloppily written script with uninspiring characters. Taylor Kitsch, fresh from his starring role in the box-office flop John Carter, fails to light up this film when responsibility is placed on him as a leading man again. Liam Neeson is wasted in his role as the gruff Admiral in what must be his 100th film of the year already while the tasty-looking Brookyln Decker is merely reduced to the predicable damsel in distress who spends most of her time standing around though even when she does commit to action, its nothing special. And of course Miss Umbrella herself Rihanna makes her ill-fated debut as the female marine who refuses to back down without a fight. Sadly that fight to really prove herself as an actress proves anti-climatic (just like her singing) through a lack of emotion in various scenes, but the lads will appreciate her appearance here nevertheless.

Obviously in its defense, there is no denying the visual spectacle of Battleship which takes inspiration from the Transformers films in its use of immaculate effects based on robots and flying machines, which is enough to boost its final rating. Technically it is made with great precision through the mixture of CGI and explosions ranging from the first appearance of the robotic ships to the spectacular sequence involving a couple of small circular machines which cause havoc in Hawaii by destroying an airfield and a motorway bridge. The aliens look good too yet are rather predictable in terms of appearance, a common trait with sci-fi films nowadays. Interestingly the one actor from the film who avoids any ridicule is one who has never acted before. Gregory D. Gadson is cleverly cast as the Marine Vet Mick (with robotic legs) who has clearly suffered a lot of trauma during his war career and is able to lend some realism in his experience with war through his character who helps the damsel in distress Sam in her quest to confront the aliens. Kitsch, Decker and Rihanna take note!

VERDICT: Disappointingly this 'Battleship' hits troubled waters with Berg trying too hard to be the new Michael Bay and despite delivering on action, the film is sunk by its lack of character work and horrendous plot-holes. As for Rihanna's acting career, it just got complicated!

Monday, 16 April 2012


For the last couple of months, I have been helping out with writing articles and reviews for another website DOWN WITH FILM, and so far I've had the privilege of reviewing three films for them. They are all different and not exactly part of the mainstream circle with films but they are still worth checking out.


2 1/2 STARS

Imagine watching The Last Samurai but with the leading character not being American but Japanese instead? That is the case with Nopporn Watin’s silly, blood-soaked epic  Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothaya which has about as many brutal, non-stop fight scenes which at times makes the TV series of Spartacus fade in comparison when it comes to pure blood and gore.  The film itself is made in celebration of the diplomatic relationship between Thai-Japanese culture  which is one of the more significant aspects of its narrative when looking at the state between the two nations during that period. However that historical factor is overshadowed by Watin’s desire to entertain his audiences with the constant use of over-the-top violence to influence its story with this film being an example of action speaking louder than words in this predictable effort.

As peace is being orchestrated between Japan and ancient Thailand, samurai warrior Yamada (Seigi Ozeki) discovers that there is a plot to assassinate the King of Ayothaya but unaware that his own people involved, Yamada is betrayed and left for dead. However his rescued by a group of Japanese Samurai who bring him back to their village. As he is nursed back to health, Yamada finds companionship and brotherhood in a camp dedicated to training The King’s future bodyguards. Determined to gain revenge on his enemies, he decides to combine his Samurai skills with an ancient Thai art to become a bodyguard to The King and restore order to the Ayothaya legacy.

When Ong-Bak was released back in 2005, it suggested that a new wave of martial-art films would enhance the films of Thailand and here some of the cliches are in noticeable from the use of choreographed fight scenes to the cultural misc-en-scene varying from paddling boats to masked dances though it is still a nice film to look at. Evidently the story flows quick, with the basic narrative almost the same as The Last Samurai when it comes to our hero being wounded, rescued by his ‘enemies’, learning their traditions and eventually fighting against his own. Half-way in and people will know already that our hero will succeed but it will cost him. Hollywood is just as influential to foreign cinema as it is the other way round. Even the light-hearted music proves a distraction for many scenes in the film, even during the training scenes where you can’t help but feel you’re watching an action film with dubbed rom-com music. A technical error on the director’s part. Leading actor Oseki does a satisfactory job in his role as Yamada conveying dismay over his people’s betrayal but being able to put it aside when working on his fighting skills and certainly enjoys his confrontational scenes. Aside from Kham (Thanawut Ketsaro sporting a very similar mustache to Tom Hardy in Bronson) who has the more physically challenging fight scenes, the other cast members are reduced to particularly the lovely looking Kanokkorn Jaichuen (who was Miss World Thailand in 2007) who is vastly underwritten as another female character in an action film reduced to the background.

But what many audiences crave for the most with Asian cinema is the action, and here there is plenty of it to admire. Training sequences with the warriors all practicing while sporting their holy tattoos and long, wavy hair. Check. Awesome fight moves. Check. Severed body parts. Check. CGI blood. Check. The ancient form of martial art is presented with such viciousness from the Gladiator-style encounters in the arena at the beginning of the film to the actual confrontation scene where Yamada is attacked. But the big one involves a non-stop sequence where Yam and Kham tackle an army of warriors in a jungle and for the next five minutes, we see almost every fight move in film appear here. It gets tiring after a while and even the shots of swords going into bodies looks fake possibly due to making quick edits. But that doesn’t matter to action fans who will love every second of it.

VERDICT: Yamada: The Samurai of Ayothara tries too hard to pleasure it audiences with its constant kick-ass sequences overshadowing the weak-story and while it’s visually beautiful to look at, it proves nothing more than being just another Asian popcorn flick.



While watching this well-crafted documentary, I felt motivated by ‘Island President’ Mohamed Nasheed’s passion to tell the world about the dangers of carbon dioxide and what it was doing to the 2000 islands of his nation, the Maldives. But when looking up on the aftermath of the film’s events, I was left somewhat disappointed that Nasheed had actually resigned as President only a few weeks ago due to his country’s conflict between the law enforces. Anti-climatic is one word to describe the film’s aim to make us all fear the dangers of global warming yet knowing that the aftermath has proved as frustrating for us as it was for Nasheed during the film.

At the beginning of the Island President’s journey, the audience are treated to a history lesson of how the clustered islands of the Maldives endured a mixed 30 year period under leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom until former prisoner turned political activist Nasheed succeeded in winning the votes to become the new leader of the islands. However his tenure would be tested by the uncontrollable erosion affecting the islands and leading to some of them being in danger of being submerged under water. The film documents his appeal to the rest of the world including the bigger nations of the USA and the United Kindgom, to try and support the Maldives and restrict the use of carbon dioxide in their countries otherwise they face the prospect of global-warming becoming a reality.

Aside from the disappointments of recent events, you can’t fault the hard work put into the project by Jon Shenk (though one only has to feel sorry for him and Nasheed with how everything has turned out). Within the first few minutes, the audience are taken on a breathtaking tour of the Maldives with the radiant Indian ocean simply glorious to look at, but even more spectacular is the long-shot view of the islands. It makes you forget you’re actually watching an environment documentary. From then on, it’s all about the struggles that Nasheed went through in his rise to politics from his horrific time in prison to settling into his new role as President. As he becomes dismayed over the dangers of carbon-dioxide, we know that this is a man who refuses to let his country be swept aside in favour of the bigger nations as he travels to London, New York and India to seek their help but along the way there is support but also frustrating moments for him. Unlike most politicians, Nasheed is presented as witty and patient especially during one scene where he makes a broadcast to the nation by sitting on a table knee-deep in water. When you think of all the underdog characters in film, here you get a modern day one, who represents an unknown nation which is dying from the rise of natural disaster but wants to go toe-to-toe with the big boys. That all comes from the key moment which becomes a make-or-break factor towards the end when Nasheed delivers his speech about the Maldives’s legacy to the Copenhagen Political Party attended by the likes of Barack Obama and Gordon Brown. The final result isn’t entirely satisfying but it gives the world a bit of hope about changing the planet.

VERDICT: Despite the awkwardness of recent events, this film proves just as significant as Al Gore’s Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, another which put a blunt point across about the dangers of global warming. This particular film mixes the beauty of its imagery with the grim threat that the environment could bring to the Maldives and ends up being a worthwhile documentary.


1911: REVOLUTION (2011) - 3 STARS

There are two landmark events to consider when you think about this film. Firstly it was made to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1911 revolution of China and seen as one of the most important times of the country’s history. Secondly it also marks the 100th film in which leading actor Jackie Chan has starred in during his illustrious 35 year career including kung-fu flicks and Hollywood blockbusters. Here though, he marks the occasion by co-directing it and taking top billing yet chooses not to delve into his usual fun, eccentric roles and instead chooses to explore the film’s focus on China’s historical legacy whilst playing a more calm and withdrawn character. But despite being enthralling to look at with its focus on the past and its vicious battle sequences, the inclusion of too many characters and plot-lines cramped into a 99 minute production takes away the epic approach it was trying to show.

Building up to the pinnacle year the film’s title depicts, it focuses on an uprising originally led by determined Huang Xing (Jackie Chan) who watches on as his group of young rebels are massacred in an early attack. It is all part of the beginning of the Xinhai revolution which has been trying to bring down the corrupt Qing government since they took power during the Opium War which occurred over 2000 years earlier leading to the country falling into decay for its people. However in the west, potential presidential leader Sun Yat-Sen (Winston Chao) tries to gain help from authoritative people of other countries to help back his fight against the Qing but fails before deciding to return to his native China to bring the fight to the enemy. Various battles take place between the rebels and the Qing armies with neither willing to back down yet Sun rallies on with his political aspirations unaware that the Empress of China (Joan Chen) is also wanting the carnage to end.

As far as historical films go, this intriguing yet clunky effort by Chan in his directing duties manages to explore the context of China’s struggles to effective detail. Despite its short running time which doesn’t warrant its epic feel, the film manages to squeeze in significant details of the Revolution and helping us understand by what is going on by placing paragraphs during scenes to explain what’s going on and why these moments are crucial in the story. But at the same time, it does cause problems too as I’ll explain later. Though the project is a landmark moment for his entertaining career, his top billing here sees his General Huang Xing  only playing second fiddle to the more focused Sun Yat-Sen character portrayed by Chao who is lesser known than Chan but manages to take centre stage and give a vibrant and committed performance. Ironically though he has played the iconic Sun in other projects, a situation similar to Michael Sheen’s many performances as Tony Blair in his own work. As for Chan himself, he backs away from his usual charismatic approach and his over-the-top stunt work to play a more serious and emotionally-torn character though one scene half-way in brings back his physical skills when Huang has to overcome three bad guys; it’s classic Chan but that’s all you get on the fist front here. As for the production value, Chan is able to capture the setting of the period which 1911 focuses on particularly the costumes and art direction but it is the thunderous and riveting action scenes which capture the essence of war almost as well as Spielberg did with his war epic Saving Private Ryan ranging from the soldier’s emotional facial expressions to the booming explosions and gun-fire.

But despite Chan’s best efforts of trying to mark the landmark event’s occasion with a harrowing look at war and the build-up to the politics, 1911 is let down by its attempts to cramp too many characters and situations into a small half and a hour feature film which is probably why the editing seems sloppy thus ruining the film’s flow between scenes. Although it was crucial to have moments in the film explained via paragraphs in the middle of the screen, it was hard to read them while trying to keep an eye also on what characters were saying during those scenes. This was also obvious with the introduction of at least 30-40 characters with official names stating who they were but most of those people would appear briefly then never be seen again amidst the film’s pace. Had this been a lengthy two and a half/three hour epic, then the usage of all these characters would have been more acceptable as it could have given more significance as to why they appear and perhaps give them more screen-time. Finally Chan does seem to rely on Hollywood themes a bit too much at one point when we see the Western characters a couple of times e.g. important British/American delegates who come across as silly stereotypes with stuffy accents and not lacking any seriousness to what’s at stake for China’s welfare. There had to be some Western involvement in this project somewhere!

VERDICT: 1911 does a commendable job of exploring China’s historical background with Jackie Chan working hard to present the film’s war theme while giving an-against type performance. But its disjointed narrative and messy editing brings it down a notch though Chan will just be glad to have marked his century of films in style.

Sunday, 1 April 2012


"Behind every captain, there's a crew. Sure, some of you are as ugly as a sea cucumber, some of you are closer to being a chair or coat rack than a pirate, and some of you are fish I've just dressed up in a hat..."


Yaaarrrr me matees! For many, many years now Aardman Animations have charmed audiences with their delightful stories and 'clayful' characters beginning with Creature Comforts, followed by their triumphant Wallace and Gromit series and the chick-flick Chicken Run (two puns already!). Now they are back with the adventurous animation The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, which is based on the quirky novels from author Gideon Defoe, and once again they succeed in attracting some cracking stars with Hugh Grant (in his first animated film role) leading the colourful voice cast supporting him including Martin Freeman, David Tennant and Salma Hayek. However the film doesn't allow its stars to stand out and still contains the same loopy capered fun that audiences of all ages will come to expect. Anyway let's set sail and read on....

In 1837, the charismatic pirate captain known only as....Pirate Captain (Grant) leads his savvy crew including Number Two (Freeman) across the Seven Seas showing ruthlessness towards the British armies. However the Captain's main desire is to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award from rivals Black Bellamy (Jeremy Piven) and Cutlass Liz (Hayek) to prove he isn't a rubbish pirate. During his quest, an attempted robbery onboard a ship sees the Captain encounter Charles Darwin (Tennant) who notices that the ship's parrot, Polly is in fact the world's last Dodo. Darwin manages to convince the Captain and his crew to come to London to showcase the bird to a special community fair but things get complicated when the pirate-hating Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton) turns up but rather then having the Captain killed she pardons him instead knowing that she can exchange fortunes aplenty for him in return for the dodo. The Captain fails to realise the consequences of giving up Polly as it turns out the Queen is planning to serve the bird at a banquet and vows to try and rescue her.

Once again 'Aaaaarrr'dman look to have another slick and entertaining hit on their hands thanks to its family-orientated approach added in with the odd bit of dark humour. To us its our own Pixar which can only get better. The film's Victorian themed-setting provides the backdrop for the narrative where pirates are the outlaws across the Seven Seas with the different uses of humour thrown in (as well as a pirate-like soundtrack including songs from The Clash and Jimmy Cliff). One can't help but feel like you're watching an animated version of Blackadder, only less rude and more playful and here Aardman continue their obsession with cultural references and clever names on signs poking fun such as a dentist being named DE-CAY-ING or Jane Austen and the Elephant Man being a couple. Some more viewings should do the trick when it comes to looking out for all these little puns and nods. The animation also continues to be immaculate thanks to the dedicated work of those behind the scenes thanks to the clever uses of colour particularly the Pirate Bay being bright and glossy whereas Victorian London is shown as murky and sooty (as it pretty much was back in the day!). Character animation also plays a part in the film's success with many of the models designed to perfection particularly Martin Freeman's Number Two who practically shares the same facial look as the man voicing him. The voice cast relies mostly on British actors which proves an effective move with credit going to the director Peter Lord for the impeccable casting of Hugh Grant (in his comeback leading role) as the man to voice the jolly and suave Pirate Captain bringing much comedic depth to the character and making him a likeable hero. Freeman, Brendan Gleeson and Ashley Jensen are also natural choices for their varied roles as the crew with Tennant adding a bit of smart yet cowardly humour to his voice of Charles Darwin assisted by his monkey sidekick. An even more inspiring casting is Imelda Staunton (almost reprising her Professor Umbridge role in Harry Potter 5) as the cunning Queen Victoria who practically makes us dislike one of our own former monarchs with a deceitful performance. Finishing things off here, we have a couple of US stars contributing too with Entourage's Jeremy Piven and the sexy Salma Hayek voicing the Captain's two pirating rivals.

In all honesty, The Pirates isn't quite Aardman's best animated flick as it does lack the overall appeal to children who will probably not understand some of its humour as well as can be expected compared to adults who will probably enjoy the broader jokes more. It starts off a bit slow in the first quarter but once our pirating heroes arrive in London, it picks up more though sometimes children don't stay focused for that long. The lack of Nick Park's involvement is also noticeable here with the film just missing his magic when trying to entertain younger audiences which he managed to do well with in Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Finally while the cast is effective in the voice department, it is clear that the project had to involve a big-name star with Salma Hayek getting that opportunity as the sassy Cutless Liz who is sadly underused in this film and ultimately lackluster compared to Hayek's other recent character work as Kitty Softpaws in Puss in Boots.

VERDICT: Not as brilliant as Wallace and Gromit but at least superior to Chicken Run, Pirates shivers the timbers of its audiences with Aardman succeeding again with another animated hit. For those people who won't at least watch it, they may have to walk the plank, yaaarrrrr....

Friday, 30 March 2012


"May the odds be ever in your favor."


Following the end of the Harry Potter franchise and the impending finale of Twilight later this year, teenage fans of popular books will be looking for a new series of films to keep them entertained. Step forth The Hunger Games. With the summer blockbusters including Avengers, Prometheus and Dark Knight set to dominate the box-office, one of the year's unlikely hits already has odds in its favour with the viewing public particularly the youngsters who'll no longer be rooting for Harry Potter or Edward/Bella but instead cheering on new fictional heroes who don't face the challenge of wizards or werewolves. It's not quite the perfect first adaptation of a renowned novel series, but its Battle-Royale setting makes for a gripping and at times brutal ride where even youngsters are spared no mercy....

Set in a futuristic society, a rebellion against the state has led to twelve districts being punished by having to provide two youngsters/teenagers to fight in an annual tournament known as The Hunger Games. The tournament is a game of combat where 24 contestants fight to the death to be crowned Champion and ensure their district never suffers again. When youngster Prim Everdeen (Willow Shields) is selected as the female representative of District 12, her elder sister Katniss (Lawrence) volunteers to take her place. Joined by male contender Peeta (Hutchinson), they travel to the Capitol where they are tutored about their participation by former contender Haymitch (Harrelson), before going through an intense training program as preparation for the tournament. They are also presented as rooted-for heroes to the cold hearted and uncaring people of the Capitol who enjoy the violent escapades of The Hunger Games. Ultimately once they and the other 22 'Tributes' are released into the arena, Katniss looks to hide away from some of her more bloodthirsty rivals who show no sympathy towards any of the weaker competitors who fall early on as it becomes a survival of the fittest.... 

Director Gary Ross (who made the brilliant horse-racing drama SEABISCUIT) succeeds in making the first book of Suzanne Collins's series into a worthwhile adaptation and for anyone who hasn't the books (like myself), this particular film sets itself as one of the year's big surprises especially with its appeal to younger audiences. Despite a lot of pressure being on its similarities to Harry Potter and Twilight, it manages to steer clear of being completely sugar-coated as a romantic fantasy with hunky men (most definitely for the latter!) instead opting for a more refreshing and at times brutal flick with steady camera angles during the pace of the action. For a 12A rated film, it does hinge close to a higher rating with its moments of violence which are quite shocking especially when seeing it happen to young people such as one 'tribute' having his neck broken and another one suffering a horrific death via a swarm of deadly wasps. But amongst the vicious horrors that our young competitors face, some of them are only children who are plucked from their homes and thrown into an arena that takes away their innocence and leads to them having to survive no matter what. However our heroine's scenes with fellow warrior Rue are touching to watch during the intensity of the game showing Katniss's humanity towards others. The world of The Hunger Games is also visualised to perfection with its stunning imagery of a futuristic world with many strange vibrant costumes and use of makeup (Wes Bentley's beard one of the standouts!) to present the carnivalesque feel of the city and its people. Compare that to the lack of colour used to depict the struggling districts where Katniss and Petta descend from. And while something like Twlight relied on its glamourous stars to attract its teenage followers, Games succeeds in relying on a stellar cast of experienced though not huge names to assist the film in its appeal towards audiences. Jennifer Lawrence continues her rise towards Hollywood stardom with another complex and strong female performance as Katniss, one of the year's first big film heroes who protects anyone she cares for in order to overcome the odds. Josh Hutchinson on the other hand is somewhat overshadowed by his female co-star but still plays a character we can root for and has a stirring on-screen charmistry with Lawrence as the film progresses. The more experienced actors get to enjoy themselves with Woody Harrelson lapping it up as drunk but caring advisor Haymitch (he'll always be Woody Boyd from CHEERS to me!), Elizabeth Banks has fun as the absurd Effie Trinket underneath all that colourful, flashy makeup and Stanley Tucci very entertaining as the flamboyant show host Caesar Flickerman.

As with many, many adaptations of renowned books, The Hunger Games does have its faults in trying to get everything onto the big screen but having to make changes. Although I haven't read the book, I have learnt about the film's failure to really show character development. Katniss, Peeta, Rue and Cato all get the development but the other 'tributes' are mealy reduced to either being cold-blooded, selfish killers or sweet, unfortunate individuals with no background on them whatsoever which is what the book did well to look at. There is also the survival story which unfortunately has its similarities to the plot of BATTLE ROYALE as well as the Arnold Schwazrengger sci-fi thriller THE RUNNING MAN which may put people off seeing a film which relies on an almost similar theme. Finally the 140 minute running time does make the film drag in places and doesn't quite come across as the exhilarating CGI-invested film that everyone expected.

VERDICT: It isn't quite a game-changer for young audiences though it should keep them happy (not unless they like seeing people their own age getting killed) but Hunger Games does have you asking for more with its dark and thrilling narrative while Lawrence's Katniss stands out as the new modern day action heroine. Move over Bella....

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

21 JUMP STREET (2012) - 3 STARS

"When did you go through puberty? Like at seven or something."


Comedy films continue to do well with audiences at the moment and it looks as though that will roll on by with 21 Jump Street being the latest to spread laughter in all its raunchiness as it pairs two different looking actors together to provide a surprisingly successful on-screen partnership in this humourous though unimaginative adaption of the 'dramatic' television series from the late 1980s. Shows being turned into films have received mixed results in the past with the good (Naked Gun) and the bad (Miami Vice) but with this particular effort, it is just about okay yet absurd at the same time....
Several years ago, bickering students Jenko (Tatum) and Schmidt (Hill) had their differences during their time in high school together but years later they work together to graduate from the police department and become best pals. But when they mess up with making their first arrest, they are assigned to work on an undercover mission for fiery Captain Dickson (Cube) which sees them returning to high school as students in order to stop a drug operation taking place which has led to a student's death. Realising that school has changed for them since they left, the two men mix in with various students to try and find the people behind the supply with student Eric (Dave Franco, younger brother of James) seen as the one connected to those involved. Facing pressure to crack the case and as well as one of them being desired by female classmate Molly (Brie Larson), Jenko and Schmidt know they must uncover the perpetrators or face losing their badges....

Many people (like myself) wouldn't have known that the original TV series was serious compared to this tongue-in-cheek romp which surprisingly works well in its new genre. The laughs are aplenty here as you would expect with these types of comedies ranging from the usual gags to some completely farcical but hysterical moments. The main highlight would probably be when our two heroes take the venomous drug and go on the ultimate freak out with mass hallucinations and crazy antics causing them to lose the plot. It also pokes fun at the typical cliches of action films such as a thrilling chase sequence where the two men are pursued by villainous bikers which leads to certain moments not going quite right for them. The film also deals with going against school stereotypes particularly when the pair discover that Eric, for all his machoness as a jock, is actually sensitive about the environment. Normally there aren't too many acting partnerships to savour especially in this genre but Hill and Tatum deserve credit for integrating themselves within their characters and pulling off the banter needed for a successful duet. Hill, fresh from his Oscar-nominated role in Moneyball is practically the same as he has been with his previous comedy efforts like Superbad but Tatum on the other hand, more associated for his hunky, lead roles in GI: Joe and Dear John, shows his comedic talent to effect with the sarcastic and no-nonsense attitude required for his character. Ice Cube has fun as the moody and snappy boss who tells our duo not to seek help from Korean Jesus (one of the random moments of the film) while the likes of Franco and Larson stand out in their youthful supporting roles. But for those who may have watched the original TV series, there is a genius yet ill-fated cameo from one of Hollywood's biggest superstars which sadly puts all the cameos in the recent Muppets film to shame.
Stemming into the negatives here, the writing does let the film down and leads to an unimaginative story which relies on the various gags to keep the audience happy. It continues the trend set by previous cop comedies like Starsky and Hutch and The Other Guys in paying homage to the crime genre but it does all become predictable at times with how the narrative plays out. And while it is a hysterical film, the raunchy humour does become too disbelieving with overblown moments like Jenko and Schmidt trying to be sick by putting their fingers in each other mouths. One can't help but feel they're watching Superbad again and that seems to be a common trait with all these absurd comedies in recent years.

VERDICT: It's not spectacular in terms of story but 21 Jump Street will make you laugh at times as the newly established on-screen duo of Hill and Tatum work well together in this hit-miss comedy with lots of crazy antics. A sequel would actually be welcoming....

Tuesday, 6 March 2012


With the Oscars over and done with, it is now the time to look ahead to the film releases that myself and many others can look forward to during the next 12 months. This guide explains the various films coming soon to a cinema near you with blockbusters, sequels and early award-contenders on the horizon both in the UK and the USA. From superheroes and fairytale characters to legendary historical figures and hobbits, it looks to be another breathtaking year for cinema....(P.S the schedule of these film releases are mostly based on the American line-up with some British release dates slotted in-between).

One man set for a busy year is British actor Tom Hardy who is currently selling his soul by appearing in action rom-com THIS MEANS WAR alongside Reese Witherspoon and Star Trek's Chris Pine. Another big names star who has practically made the rom-com genre her own is former Friends star Jennifer Aniston who can be seen with her former co-star Paul Rudd in WANDERLUST. Sexiest Man of 2011 Robert Pattinson swaps fangs for corsets when he appears in romantic period drama BEL-AMI as he seduces not one, nor two but three (!) female co-stars in Uma Thurman, Kristen Scott Thomas and Christina Ricci.
One of the first big blockbusters is almost out in Disney's expensive action-adventure JOHN CARTER with newcomer Taylor Kitsch tackling mythical creatures in a film of epic proportions. Channing Tatum and recent Oscar-nominee Jonah Hill are the unlikely duo who team up together in the action comedy 21 JUMP STREET while Mark Wahlberg returns to bad-ass hero mode alongside Kate Beckinsale in the thriller CONTRABAND. Horror continues to dominate the year with THE DEVIL INSIDE looking a potentially harrowing experience to sit through while on a lesser horror scale Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson star together in Cameron Crowe's sweet drama WE BOUGHT A ZOO.
Another intriguing blockbuster sees rising talent Jennifer Lawrence star in the action-adventure THE HUNGER GAMES while The first of two Snow White films released in the space of three months comes out with Phil Collins's daughter Lily continuing her rise in Hollywood playing the title role alongside Julia Roberts as the Evil Queen in the campy looking MIRROR MIRROR. March ends with Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes returning for the action-adventure sequel WRATH OF THE TITANS though sadly Gemma Arterton is not involved though Rosamund Pike makes for a tasty and lovely replacement!

The surprise nominee for Best Animated Film, A CAT IN PARIS is also out over here giving many people a chance to see what all the fuss was about with its shock nod. The biggest film reunion of the year (though not a franchise I've particularly warmed to), sees Stiffler and the gang return to the big screen with the long-awaited AMERICAN PIE: REUNION. Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt are paired up in the unusually named British film SALMON FISHING IN THE YEMEN while another late 2011 release over here is the period drama ALBERT NOBBS which features Oscar-nominated performances from Glenn Close and Janet McTeer. Henry Cavill continues practicing for his role as Superman with action-thriller THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY appearing with original action-stars Bruce Willis and Sigourney Weaver while the Razzie winner of 2013 looks likely to come from the Farrelly Brother's modern-adaptation of the silly comedy THE THREE STOOGES. Zac Efron continues to move from his association with High School Musical appearing in romantic drama THE LUCKY ONE while Emily Blunt has another 2012 release starring with The Muppet's Jason Segel in the Judd Aptow rom-com THE FIVE YEAR ENGAGEMENT. Aardman Animation are back on the big screen with Hugh Grant voicing the leading character in THE PIRATES!  
John Cusack is also back in action playing Edgar Allan Poe in the remake of the thriller THE RAVEN, which looks like the new Sleepy Hollow in terms of its gothic horror elements. But a more unusual horror film out over here sees the original Freddy Kreuger (Robert Englund) star alongside ex-soap stars Adele Silva, Ali Bastian and Martin Kemp in the unusually-titled horror comedy STRIPPERS VS WEREWOLVES (UK). 

But perhaps the biggest blockbuster of the year so far for superhero films sees Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) assemble for what promises to be one of the biggest action films of recent years with Marvel's THE AVENGERS

James Cameron's obsession with 3D returns with his re-release of the multi-Oscar winning epic TITANIC. Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST gets the big 3D treatment following the success of last year's re-release of The Lion King as we becomes guests to this enchanting story once again. Tim Burton's latest gothic film comes in the shape of DARK SHADOWS which yet again stars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter alongside Michelle Pfieffer, Eva Green and unusually Alice Cooper. Sacha Baron Cohen's controversial traits continue with his latest comic creation as Admiral Aladeen in the dark-comedy THE DICTATOR for which he has already caused a stir with his ashes incident at the Oscars recently.
Rihanna makes her film debut as a naval soldier (randomly!) in the sci-fi action flick BATTLESHIP which is bound to be a guilty pleasure for me. Even more ironically another pop stars makes her film debut with X-Factor's Cheryl Cole appearing in the rom-com WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING supporting the likes of Cameron Diaz and Jennifer Lopez. Bruce Willis stars in his second film of the year, the drama MOONRISE KINGDOM with a talented cast including Ed Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand and Tilda Swinton. 
The month ends with another highly anticipated return to the big screen as Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones team up again for the sci-fi action sequel MEN IN BLACK III.

The second Snow White film hits our screens with a darker take on the fairytale named SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN with Twilight's Kristen Stewart playing the young princess with the fairly beautiful Charlize Theron bizarrely cast as the Wicked Queen with support from Thor's Chris Hemsworth who loves his weapons. Theron also appears in Ridley Scott's prequel to Alien; PROMETHEUS with Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace co-starring in the sci-fi thriller helmed by Ridley Scott. 

Ben Stiller and Chris Rock return to lend their voices to animated sequel MADAGASCAR 3: EUROPE'S MOST WANTED, a franchise which  bizarrely just keeps going. A random cast including Tom Cruise, Russell Brand, Alec Baldwin and Catherine Zeta-Jones star in the big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical ROCK OF AGES while Benjamin Walker portrays Abraham Lincoln who tackles vampires in the unusual action film ABRAHAM LINCOLN, VAMPIRE HUNTER. Kelly Macdonald voices the fiery redheaded warrior in Pixar's latest animated adventure BRAVE
Steve Carrell and Keira Knightley make an unlikely couple in the indie-comedy SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD while Woody Allen follows on from his Oscar-winning film Midnight in Paris with another European-based film, NERO FIDDLED featuring Jesse Eisenberg and Penelope Cruz. The month ends with GI: JOE RETALIATION, the sequel to the original film from 2009 with Channing Tatum joined by Dwayne Johnson and Bruce Willis (busy year for him already!).

Ten years after Spiderman appeared on the big screen, Marvel have rebooted the franchise with a new story in THE AMAZING SPIDERMAN as Andrew Garfield takes on the role of the heroic superhero alongside Emma Stone. Oliver Stone returns to directing with his crime drama SAVAGES as Blake Lively gets given a chance to prove her acting chops supported by John Travolta, Uma Thurman (nice Pulp Fiction reunion for the pair), Kick-Ass's Aaron Johnson and Salma Hayek. ICE AGE: CONTINENTAL DRIFT becomes the latest sequel to come from the animated franchise while Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane directs his feature film debut in comedy TED starring Mark Wahlberg and the sexy Mila Kunis (Shut up Meg!). However the biggest film of the summer is set to come from Christopher Nolan's concluding part of the epic superhero trilogy as Christian Bale dons the black cape one final time as he battles Tom Hardy's Bane and Anne Hathaway's Catwoman in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughan and Jonah Hill team up for the sci-fi comedy NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH as an end to the month.


The Bourne franchise continues in August with Jeremy Renner taking over from Matt Damon as the recruit part of the program in Tony Gilroy's THE BOURNE LEGACY with Rachel Weiz and Ed Norton also involved. The Arnold Schwarzenegger film remakes come thick and fast with sci-fi thriller TOTAL RECALL the latest Arnie film given a new-look with Colin Farrell, Jessica Biel and Kate Beckinsale the new recasts. Arnie himself makes his badass film comeback after almost a decade as he, Jean Claude-Van Damme and Chuck Norris join Sylvester Stallone, Jason Statham and Bruce Willis in the action-thriller sequel THE EXPENDABLES 2.  
Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis team up for political comedy THE CAMPAIGN while recent Oscar-winner Meryl Streep stars with Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carrell in romantic comedy GREAT HOPE SPRINGS. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play husband and wife in Disney's family drama THE ODD LIFE OF TIMOTHY GREEN while the kids entertainment keeps coming through animation with the freaky looking PARANORMAN featuring the voices of Kodi Smit-McPhee, Casey Affleck and John Goodman. The lovely and hardworking Jessica Chastain is back on our screens at the end of the month starring alongside Tom Hardy (busy fella), Shia LaBeouf and Gary Oldman in the crime drama THE WETTEST COUNTRY.

Ben Affleck is back in starring/directing mode with his historical action film ARGO based on the rescue of a group of US diplomats in Iran. FINDING NEMO follows on from Beauty and the Beast in getting the re-released 3D treatment while another horror sequel pops out in RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION with Mila Jovovich still going strong in the franchise. One of the first big award contenders sees Joe Wright and Keira Knightley working together again on romantic period drama ANNA KARENINA with Jude Law and Aaron Johnson. Brad Pitt returns to the big screen with crime drama KILLING THEM SOFTLY with the Weinstein's looking to support the film. The sci-fi thriller Judge Dredd becomes the latest remake to take shape as Lord of the Rings's Karl Urban plays the futuristic cop made famous by Sylvester Stallone in DREDD. Adam Sandler and singer Selena Gomez contribute their voices to the horror animation HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA while Bruce Willis pops up in his 5th film of the year starring alongside Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Emily Blunt (busy gal this year too) in sci-fi drama LOOPER. Clint Eastwood makes his first acting role without directing for a very long time, appearing with Amy Adams and Justin Timberlake in the drama TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE.

Tim Burton follows up from his live action film Dark Shadows with his animated film FRANKENWEENIE featuring the voice of his former star Winona Ryder. The tables are supposedly turned on Liam Neeson as he is the one in trouble with his daughter having to rescue him in action-thriller sequel TAKEN 2. Ryan Gosling who enjoyed a busy year in 2011 is back with crime drama THE GANGSTER SQUAD co-starring Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Josh Brolin. The fourth installment of the Paranormal films continue with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 which is bound to scare everyone as usual.

Chris Hemsworth tackles the lead role in the remake of war thriller RED DAWN. James Bond celebrates its 50th anniversary with Daniel Craig reprising his role as 007 in the 23rd Bond film SKYFALL with Judi Dench, Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes signed up. A week later, another major franchise prepares for its end as Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner battle it out in the concluding horror adventure THE TWILIGHT SAGA - BREAKING DAWN PART 2. George Clooney and Sandra Bullock appear together in romantic sci-fi drama GRAVITY directed by Alfonso Cuaron. 

Heading towards the end of the year, Bill Murray stars as Franklin Roosevelt in the historical film HYDE PARK ON HUDSON while one of the most beloved musicals makes it to the big screen as Anne Hathaway, Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman star in Tom Hooper's adaptation of LES MISERABLES. The biggest comeback of the year no doubt is the return of the Lord of the Rings series as Peter Jackson directs his much-anticipated prequel to the epic trilogy THE HOBBIT: AN UNEXPECTED JOURNEY with Martin Freeman playing the younger Bilbo Baggins in the first part of the two spin-off films. 

Oscar-winning female director Kathryn Bigelow returns to the Iraqi scene with her untitled film focusing on the death of Osama Bin Laden with Jessica Chastain and Joel Edgerton starring. Another award-winning director also makes a comeback as Ang Lee directs Tobey Maguire in the fantasy adventure LIFE OF PI. Judd Aptow crops up another rom-com with his wife Leslie Mann starring with Paul Rudd and Megan Fox in the romantic comedy THIS IS FORTY. Brad Pitt stars in the post-apocalyptic war film WORLD WAR Z while legendary director Steven Spielberg directs the versatile Daniel Day-Lewis in the historical biopic LINCOLN with an excellent support cast including Sally Field, Tommy Lee Jones and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Leonardo Di-Caprio ends the year on a high with two successive film roles; firstly starring in Quentin Tarantino's western DJANGO UNCHAINED playing a villain alongside Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson and then playing Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann's remake of the period drama THE GREAT GATSBY supported by Carey Mulligan and Tobey Maguire.

Terence Malick follows on from The Tree of Life by casting Jessica Chastain (everyone loves her at the moment!) alongside Ben Affleck, Javier Bardem and couple Michael Sheen and Rachel McAdams in his untitled project about a man who reconnects with a woman from his hometown. Paul T. Anderson returns to directing duties with his drama THE MASTER starring another returnee Joaquin Phoenix and supported by Amy Adams and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Other award contenders include John Hawkes's lead role in THE SURROGATE, the Coen Bros returning to action with INSIDE LEWLYN DAVIS, Hugh Grant playing a group of despicable characters in CLOUD ATLAS alongside Tom Hanks and Halle Berry while David Cronenberg directs Robert Pattinson in the drama COSMOPOLIS. The big blockbusters to look forward to include Gemma Arterton and Jeremy Renner tackling witches in HANSEL & GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS, Henry Carvill taking on the iconic role of Superman alongside Amy Adams as Lois Lane and Michael Shannon as General Zod in the rebooted SUPERMAN: MAN OF STEEL and the concluding edition of the Lord of the Rings franchise; THE HOBBIT: THERE AND BACK AGAIN

Phew, so much I've managed to get through but in the end, there we have it, so many films to look forward to in the next year, it's been a lot to find out and write up but otherwise it looks as though we'll be spoilt for choice on the big screen. Exciting times lie ahead for cinema-goers....