The universe is a fairly large thing to fit into a film. Filled with sciencey mumbo-jumbo or not, it’s difficult to escape the fact that Stephen Hawking is one of the most respected and accomplished scientists Britain has to offer, but his story is not an easy one.
Despite the headline drama of Hawking being struck with motor neurone disease, the real story is the relationships he had, which is hardly a surprise given the film itself is based on his wife’s autobiography rather than a dusty old textbook.
Leading man Eddie Redmayne completely loses himself in the character of Hawking, who is by no means exaggerated on screen, genuinely being in equal parts just as eccentric and brilliant in real life. It’s not only Redmayne’s physical transformation, as Hawking’s disease takes hold, which is stunning, but the intensity and sensitivity he shows in even the early stages, establishing a character the audience can feel like they know. His Golden Globes win is surely a sign of future award successes to come.
Good to see some familiar yet often overlooked faces in the supporting cast too, such as Game of Thrones and Doctor Who alum Harry Lloyd, who makes a suitably preppy turn as Hawking’s school chum Brian, and Harry Potter’s David Thewlis (that’s Lupin to you Pot-heads) commands respect as Professor Sciama.
It’s Felicity Jones though, who plays Hawking’s wife Jane, who you really feel for. To find yourself in her shoes could only be the most bittersweet of circumstances: falling in love with an adorable genius, only to watch him slowly waste away, despite his mind staying as sharp as ever.
No one would find such a situation a walk in the park, and the film does a good job of presenting the story without taking sides or casting judgement.
Much like The Imitation Game (an almost equally excellent journey), The Theory of Everything’s pace is the area most likely to make some attention’s drift, with a run time of just over two hours and slowing down at a few points, but really it would be unfair to mark down a filmmaking team giving such delicate moments a fair airing.
Director James Marsh crafts his audience’s experience to the smallest detail, jumping you between the shoes of both Stephen and Jane, and ramping up the emotional impact gradually, almost without you noticing, until one critical dream sequence sees Hawking rise from his chair, as if cured, and scrape the knife across your heartstrings with expert care.
The film leaves you with an unshakable feeling of both consideration and inspiration, just as you imagine the man himself would approve of – not putting himself on a pedestal nor gushing with pity or undue tears. No amount of science can explain the impact such a against-all-odds tale can have.
People die. One fact anyone familiar with either the book or TV adaptations of Game of Thrones will already know. The real trick is, can a game trick you into caring about its characters as much as the ones fans of the show, in particular, know and love?
An episodic game, very much brought into the mainstream by Telltale themselves, this incarnation of Game of Thrones is very much part of the world, with the familiar characters (even voiced by their respective actors on the show) being positioned on the edges of its central narrative, rather than relying on them.
Ramsey Snow (or Bolton, as he becomes in Series 4 of the show at least) is a definite highlight, with Iwan Rheon relishing every syllable of his utterly contemptible character, and even new characters managing to make a good first impression.
Later episodes may dictate how significant some characters can be, since Telltale’s talent for tailoring the path of story to every player’s decisions is present and correct, but based solely on the opening chapter the narrative, and its protagonists, are interesting and diverse enough to leave us wanting more.
In action scenes the style creaks a little, with the slow motion quick-move-the-cursor moments proving frustrating at times when you ask yourself things like “Is he really only going to swing that sword twice?” Whether Telltale can keep the variety going through the rest of the series remains to be seen.
In all an ideal first stab, especially for fans, with plenty more blood left to spill.
It all comes down to this. With the Tolkien estate calling time on further films (for now), The Battle of the Five Armies, or BOFA as it shall henceforth be known, is our final visit to Middle Earth.
With such expectations, you would be forgiven for hoping for an exciting climax which raises the bar for the series, or at least makes it shuffle in its seat a little. Instead, even the promised spectacle of seeing five armies battle it out leaves us wanting more (plus, I’m concerned that I only count four…)
Matching the standards set by The Lord of the Rings in the first place is already a colossal task of course, Return of the King alone took home 11 Oscars and sits at #9 on the IMDb top 250 films of all time. But they wanted to go back to Middle Earth, and so did we, and so off we went on Bilbo’s quest.
Looking back at the first installment, there was much promise. There was a memorable song (and, admittedly, an annoying song), good actors and after a while away from Tolkien’s fantasy-verse, we were keen to dive back in. Unfortunately the sad fact is that the story doesn’t suit film as well as LOTR did.
The fellowship’s quest can be explained in a sentence – take the ring of power to Morder to destroy it and save Middle Earth. In The Hobbit though, it gets complicated, who is the main character? Who is the main villain? Why on Earth have they made Billy Connolly into a dwarf using entirely CGI?
The song doesn’t remain the same
Thankfully in BOFA the story is simplified quickly. Smaug, though fantastic, is quickly pushed aside, as is the largely unnecessary Sauron sub-plot, a story in itself so dripping with foreboding that even those unfamiliar with LOTR at all will cry fowl immediately.
Once things get going it’s enjoyable, the dwarves have their home back at last, but what of Bard and the people of Laketown? Thanks to some stubbornness from Thorin a conflict springs up where there needn’t be one, but magic is the cause and so he is powerless to prevent it. This is a shame as Thorin was always the most fleshed-out of the dwarves and for much of the film ends up coming off as a stubborn teenager.
The fellowship of the Hobbit
The fact that even now the names of the fifteen dwarves, let alone their personalities, are too hard to remember is something no other film could get away with – at least seven of those dwarves would be on the cutting room floor. The few we do recall though, do their job well, and credit to those actors for standing out from the crowd.
While sweeping landscape shots of New Zealand never get old, the scale of the film isn’t quite as impressive as Return of the King and the use of slow-motion in particular can very jarring, on more than one occasion it grabs the audience out of the action completely, whereas in ROTK it is seamless.
A half-a-man show
But what of the Hobbit himself? Martin Freeman has always been the perfect casting for this role, but, like most of the film, he is a passenger in this story. He is likeable and fun, but this installment of the story probably has the least comic relief (particularly if you exclude the oddly thrown in escapades of Ryan Gage’s Alfrid), and as a result you are left longing for the lighter, more fun moments of the earlier installments.
When coming to a verdict on part three, you can’t help but reflect on the franchise as a whole, and in that The Hobbit comes off well. The emotional payoff of seeing a story come to a close and the bookended story leading in to LOTR is immensely satisfying. Whether you think that splitting the story into three films was a good idea or not, each of them has something to offer which is worth watching and if you have sunk almost six hours into this story, you are going to want to see the end, and it’s a good end.
Interstellar is not 2001: A Space Odyssey, so get that out of your head right now. Christopher Nolan’s space-bound, more than featured length epic certainly shares some DNA with Kubrick’s classic, but in reality what you get is something quite different.
One similarity is that you can explain the basic premise without telling you much about the film at all. In a nutshell, Interstellar follows Cooper, a former pilot and engineer who exists in an age when the human race is grinding to a halt as it is running out of food. Despite culture debunking the Apollo moon landing as a hoax, to focus people on solving the problems on their doorstep instead of looking to the stars, in the end it is the stars which present the only real chance of saving humanity.
This time it’s personal
Cooper’s own journey, and his relationship with his family is the real story though, with sci-fi merely providing the crisis to put things under pressure. Matthew McConaughey, who plays Coop, is very much the star here, delivering a very relatable and likeable performance in what was a critical role to sell the concept of the story to the audience.
The supporting cast keeps going and going, with the introduction of each new character bringing another “Oh it’s that guy” moment, though this is by no means a bad thing. Jon Lithgow and female lead Anne Hathaway stand out as the strongest performances, as the former fulfills a Jiminy Cricket-type role to Coop before he leaves Earth, while the latter jumps between believing in science and love as the increasingly head-scratching plot progresses.
From Nolan past films you may already have an idea what to expect here, leaving the somewhat more obvious Dark Knight Trilogy to one side, there’s always a cerebral element to his films, particularly Inception. You can almost watch the film in two ways: trying to make sense of the science and sci-fi or taking each thing as it comes and focusing on the human element. Nolan does a good job of balancing the two, meaning there is enough to keep a wider range of film fans engaged.
Despite Nolan’s experience though, the final act does require a bit more brain power and could easily lose some, particularly the open-to-interpretation final shot. Not thinking about it all too much is the best way to enjoy it, although a lot of the science is actually fact, even if it is baffling. The perceptive may pick something up early on which reveals more about the finale than Nolan may have intended.
Style or substance?
Visually the film certainly lives up to the recent depictions of space, particularly Gravity – in fact the film could be described as a more action-packed version of that very film in some ways, and that’s by no means a bad thing. The depiction of the wormhole, which provides the celestial doorway to far-flung planets, and the black hold found on its far side are particularly stunning, and give you a real sense of scale.
As usual, the silent depiction of space itself (due to it being a vacuum) is incredibly striking, and adds another dimension to some of the action set pieces. The score too does a lot to add to the atmosphere too, with Hans Zimmer stepping away from the somewhat distinctive sound of the past few Nolan films to something more soft and quite haunting in places.
Providing you have the patience for a three-hour film, which can slow down at a couple of points, but not quite enough to lose your attention, then Interstellar is an impressive film with a good sense of scale and solid characters. That said, it won’t set your world on fire, particularly is Nolan’s style of filmmaking has struck a nerve in the past. Much like Gravity it’s a film worth watching for any film fan but only the committed will jump in again to unpick it’s layers.
With series 8 of Doctor Who all wrapped up, where can (and should) the relentless time traveller go next? The past? The future? Gallifrey? Despite the rapid wrap-up we got in Death in Heaven The Doctor has left us with many unanswered questions.
Grand promises were made in Deep Breath, such as doing something about all those mistakes, and yet here we are without many of them fulfilled. The question of whether The Doctor is a good man was sort of answered with a loud and excitable ‘no’, but where’s Gallifrey? Where’s Missy now (since she clearly didn’t die, what do you take us for)?
The quest for Gallifrey has to feature in series 9, it was such a fundamental part of the 50th Anniversary Special and we’ve barely heard a whisper about it since. Can we expect to see Timelords return in force next series? Perhaps there would be some crimes to answer for? There have certainly been some interesting Timelord storylines in the classic series at least, and only a flutter of them so far in new Who.
Imagine the costume possibilities at the very least. The elaborate headdresses and colour were the inspiration for the Timelord language as it appears in new Who, so it would be nice to see some of that in context.
To seek out new life and new civilisations
There’s no doubt The Master will return in some form. The portrayal this series was short and sweet, and left us wanting more. The story of an unseen evil has recurred in the modern series a few times, as far back as the 2005 series, so perhaps it’s time to be a bit more overt with it all. We’ve been flirting with Missy for series 8, let her take us on a merry dance through series 9.
What other monsters could The Doctor encounter though? A few of the old favourites have had one too many outings recently (Cybermen in the finale were hardly necessary, at least they were part of the story in Dark Water), so perhaps there are other classic monsters they could bring back, but really we want something new, something you couldn’t do 50 years ago, something exciting and most of all – not terrible CGI. Seriously, The Mill, you’re good, but you can do better with some of these things, there’s a pretty lifelike penguin in the John Lewis ad for goodness sake!
Anywhere, anywhen, anyhow…
As for time periods, the Victorian era has been getting a bit worn lately as well, there’s plenty of other exciting times and places in history we could explore. What about going right back to primitive Earth? Could be interesting, if not done cringeworthingly badly, so perhaps the Tudors would be more fun? Or revolutionary France? Just because Assassin’s Creed has been there doesn’t mean it’s off limits.
The future is always endless and expansive of course, perhaps visiting some more planets is a bit optimistic – even on Doctor Who‘s budget – but we’d settle for some more alien locations than just ‘London with a few trees in it’, and don’t think you can get away with another industrial-type space station or ship either, we’re wise to that now. Space itself is interesting enough in reality, surely there’s some things out there which we could draw in, a comet is a bit obvious, and Kill The Moon sort of went there, but perhaps an asteroid field or something could work, so long as you can avoid Millenium Falcon-killing creatures of course.
Not all fun and games
The biggest journey really is The Doctor himself. It sort of felt like he was in the passenger seat at times this series, and fair enough you could say it’s his first season. But Tennant was there fighting with a sword in his first episode, no one could suggest he didn’t take charge of that particular situation, but Capaldi’s Doctor seems to have stumbled to his feet in the presence of an increasingly demanding companion who in many ways seems to have outgrown him, and others just wishes for the good old days of Smith’s Doctor.
Tonally, the show had a bit of a reset with this series, and it could do with some of the fun of the Tenth (and even Eleventh) Doctor to spice things up a bit. Even grumpy old Nine had his moments (“Just this once Rose, everybody lives!”) This is not a criticism of Capaldi though, who has worn the role on his sleeve and convincingly, he just needs to be given more meaty drama to get to grips with, in a situation not where he is swooping in and saving the day perhaps, since we know The Doctor doesn’t think of himself that way, now less so than ever, but making those difficult decisions, selflessly, when no one else could.
In all the show is as strong now as it has been at any point through the Moffat era, and really whether you are enjoying things depends on whether you like his style or not. If you gave series 7 a miss because it was all getting a bit silly and unnecessarily complicated, then reconsider for 8. The standalone episodes made a big difference to how watchable the show is, particularly out of order or in chunks, and there’s a lot to like about Capaldi even if Clara rubs you up the wrong way. The future for Doctor Who now depends on whether the show can continue to innovate and reinvent itself as readily as its titular hero, and from past experience we can at least say it’s possible.
Based on a book by Alan Snow, The Boxtrolls is the latest release from the makers of Coraline and ParaNorman, both excellent films with unique animation and more than enough of a dark side to be totally acceptable adult viewing at the same time. Boxtrolls is similar in this respect, but is it a worthy follower?
The film opens in the Victorian city of Cheesebridge, where we are introduced to the film’s antagonists, Lord Portely-Rind and Archibald Snatcher (Jared Harris and Ben Kingsley) discussing how to remove the city of the Boxtroll problem, Snatcher agrees as long as upon completion he earns a white hat like that of Rind’s (the ultimate sign of status in this society).
Soon we meet the elusive Boxtrolls and the rather un-troll like baby Eggs, the star of this tale. The trolls are harmless humanoid creatures in cardboard boxes rooting through people’s rubbish trying to find items of interest, their scavenging is interrupted however when Snatcher and his cronies burst in and capture them, with just Fish and Shoe escaping (the trolls are so named after what their box once stored).
The film uses the same stop motion style of animation as its forebears, though they have possibly peaked here – everything looks so good, the movement is fluid and everything manages to feel alive. The character models are incredibly detailed, and they all managed to have their own expressions and personality. The Boxtrolls for example, may not speak English, but they are identifiable by their box, and how each one behaves.
Character models are very exaggerated and somewhat grotesque, though this allows them to be quite unique and expressive, Egg for example can speak English (inexplicably, given none of the trolls speak it) but shows a lot of his emotion through gestures and expressions, there is a particularly amusing scene where he gets shown how to politely introduce himself, but takes the advice too literally (“Nice to meet you, even if I don’t really mean it”).
The characters themselves are generally decently done, Eggs (Isaak Hempstead Wright) is a fairly typical star, being honest and wanting the best for his friends, he’s also joined by Winnie (Elle Fanning) an stuck up rich girl, who is ignored by her parents and yearns for more. At first she’s fairly cold and haughty but soon warms to Eggs and his troll friends). Her father, Lord Portely-Rind, is very cold to her – almost to the point of being dismissive.
Something I took from this film is that, despite the cute posters and toy/merch lines available, I’m not sure this is actually a children’s film. It is quite dark in places, and the grotesque imagery (the aforementioned cheese bit is somewhat uncomfortable to watch) and dark atmosphere will doubtless prove quite scary for some children, as well as a few scenes that seem completely hopeless for our Eggs and his friends. There is little in bright colours and the locations are mostly dark and gloomy. Despite all this, there is humour, though – slapstick is frequent in scenes involving Boxtrolls and there is some witty dialogue between our two young heroes.
The film reaches a conclusion a little too quickly perhaps, with Snatcher revealing a rather unlikely method for seizing his white hat after Eggs manages to thwart his deal with Portely-Rind. It had been hinted at but seems somewhat far fetched. His actual downfall comes shortly after, and is suitably gross. The film ends happily, and it is worth sticking around for the credits as they are very well done, along with a short forth wall breaking bonus scene.
An enjoyable film, it’s something that kids will enjoy for the slapstick and cute Boxtrolls while adults can have no shame in watching for its great animation and refusal to compromise the dark aspects of the story.
They always say marriage is about compromise, but when your other half tries to kill you, it’s often hard to find the middle ground. From the first moments of Gone Girl, you can tell this film is something a bit different to what expected. You find yourself saying: “Did he really say that? That can’t be what he meant, can it?”
Ben Affleck stars as Nick Dunne, a man having a really bad time when his wife is taken…sorry, gone…one morning when he returns from his bar (imaginatively known as ‘The Bar). What has actually happened is a mystery, which unravels unexpectedly throughout the film. To say that the film contains a twist might be considered a twist for most films, but in this case, there are so many twists and turns you’ll be amazed that you haven’t ended got a headache.
…Because I’m Bat-fleck
Affleck brings the feeling in this film, in a role which shows a lot of emotional depth – admittedly already evidenced by his excellent work in films such as Argo – which gives a lot of hope for his turn as The Caped Crusader in Batman vs Superman next year. Watching the story unfold in front of you through Affleck’s eyes just forces you to route for him, even if his character might not be as straightforward as your first impression might have thought.
Female lead Rosamund Pike as wife Amy is just as complex a portrayal as Mr Affleck, although some male viewers might find it hard to relate to her just because of how strongly her gender runs through her character – you don’t feel as though if the genders of the two leads were reversed that the film would have unfolded in the same way.
If director David Fincher had a word in mind when he was directing this film, it must have been ‘tension’. The film is dripping with it, so much so that you may not have any fingers left by the time the credits roll. Like The Social Network before it, Fincher’s understanding of the subtleties of close personal relationships shine through here, causing no surprise at all when the characters interact naturally together.
Part of the credit for that must go to screenwriter and author of the original book Gillian Flynn, who’s tale ups the ante at every stage as we delver deeper into its characters with each revelation. Even Desi Collings, the most misunderstood character of the piece, who Neil Patrick Harris gives you no choice but to feel sorry for, is written sharply enough to draw blood, despite a relatively short span on screen.
Bite the hand that feeds
As usual, Fincher’s musical meastros Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross bring the rich soundtrack which set the stage, and highten the uneasiness of the characters on multiple occasions. The visuals by comparison are generally low-key, with straightforward production and set design keeping the film grounded despite the fluctuations of its plot, though occasionally there is effects work which makes you stop dead and then squirm in your seat.
There’s a strong feeling of balance with this film. Let things slip too far into the surreal and you could lose your audience, but the way it is knotted together by Fincher (often with stubborn, ugly knots which can’t be unravelled) makes it strangely compelling viewing. More than once there is a moment where you feel like the story could finish, but then the film steps up a gear to push the audience even closer to the edge.
There might not be a right time or a right place to take in the story without drawing comparisons to your own life, but in truth this just emphasises what a strong example of the medium the film is. Not one for the faint-hearted, but undeniably a quality experience.