Top 10 Films of 2013

Another year has gone by, and what a year of movies it was. A lot of franchise movies and big blockbuster hits in the summer, but also some niches films that really shone. Here’s my top 10 picks of the movies of 2013.

10. Fast and the Furious 6

The latest instalment of the Fast and the Furious franchise is my number 10 pick; it’s fast-paced, action-packed, but is also personal and family orientated with the reintroduction of Michelle Rodriguez’s character. The ending left the movie series in a fantastic place, still riding high at box offices, and bringing in Jason Statham as the next villain. However, due to the tragic and untimely death of Paul Walker fans have to wait a little longer for Fast 7 and this will remain Walker’s last completed movie for the franchise.

9. Prisoners

Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal star in this crime drama which sees the kidnapping of two children on a Thanksgiving weekend. This is a brilliant psychological drama in which Jackman’s character Keller Dover takes matters into his own hands kidnapping and torturing a man whom he believes is involved in the kidnappings. The film presents a man who blurs the lines of what is right and what is wrong, and the audience is forced to question the moral correctness of what is happening. A tense and gripping drama.

8. Much Ado About Nothing

So during post production of Marvel’s big comic book movie collaboration Avengers Assemble, what does Joss Whedon do? Oh he shoots a black and white movie in his own home helped by his alumni cast members from his shows. After a year, it finally made it to selected theatres and it was such a treat – Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof as Beatrice and Benedict were a great match for each other, and it was lovely to see that chemistry resurrect itself from the days of Angel. The black and white look of the film gives the film an edge and just makes it all the more beautiful. Long may the genius of Joss Whedon live.

7. Frozen

The only animated movie on this list, it sneaked in with its December release, but this was such a joyous and fun-filled Disney film I couldn’t leave it off. It centres around two sisters, who have been living mostly separate lives despite living and growing up together. Elsa (Idina Menzel) has magical powers and through her parents well-meant but certainly wrong advice she locks herself away from her younger sister Anna. When Elsa unleashes a winter on her kingdom, it is up to her sister to save her. It’s a truly delightful film, with a brilliant soundtrack including the stand out ‘Let It Go’ sung by Menzel and a twist that will certainly shock you (heck it did for me!)

6. Thor 2: The Dark World

Marvel’s second film in its Phase 2 plan, the sequel for its Asgardian God Thor reunites Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins and Marvel’s secret weapon Tom Hiddleston in a film that is certainly better than its first outing. The brotherly banter between Thor and Loki is one of the high points of the film, with Hemsworth and Hiddleston’s chemistry shining through.

5. Gravity

The Oscar nominated film took the box office by storm at the back end of last year. This 90 minute thrill ride was both visually beautiful and thematically, exploring the notions of life, death and also rebirth. It fully deserves the attention its getting and is so worth a watch.

4. Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

The middle film in the Hobbit trilogy helmed again by Peter Jackson is action-packed, adventurous and flows a lot better than the first outing. I was never bored during this film, something that I felt at times during the first Hobbit film. Martin Freeman again flourishes as Bilbo, and with the addition of Evangeline Lily, Luke Evans and the return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas the film takes off and becomes a blockbuster of a movie.

3. Star Trek: Into Darkness

The much awaited sequel to JJ Abrams rebooted Star Trek found its way into cinemas last May and what a treat it ended up being – like many things Abrams does it was shrouded in secrecy, but that didn’t stop fans speculating about villain Benedict Cumberbatch’s role in the movie (if you want to find out whether he is in fact Khan, go check out the movie). It was an adrenaline ride and definitely one of the early hits of the summer.

2. Iron Man 3

The third (and possibly final) stand alone Iron Man film probably saved the best until last, with more laughs, but also more humanity and anguish for Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark who spends much of this film still dealing with the aftermath of the battle of New York from Avengers Assemble. Iron Man 3 kicked off Marvel’s Phase 2 campaign and was a banker in terms of money, but a risk with Shane Black stepping in to direct. However, it took off like a rocket, and the ending felt like a nice closed chapter point for the character.

1. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

After looking at everything I’d seen that had came out in 2013, the second instalment of The Hunger Games, clinched everything; it was a blockbuster movie that had blockbuster performances, a fantastic pace, and a disquieting theme.  When I walked out the cinema I wanted to turn around and watch it all again (which I did a week later). Even though it does verge on the over-running borders, the action and the tension is ramped up through every scene and all the elements come together to make this my number 1 film of last year.

 

Peeta: You have to live. For them.

Katniss: What about you?

Peeta: Nobody needs me.

Katniss: I do. I need you.

Advertisements

Pilots: Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD 1.1

Earlier this year it was announced that Marvel was branching into real-life TV as it announced a S.H.I.E.L.D focused program, headed up by none other than fan favourite Clark Gregg (Agent Phil Coulson). Of course for fans of Marvel, they’ll know that Coulson dies during Avengers Assemble, eventually inspiring the Avengers to defeat Loki and unite as a team. It’s probably been one of the most anticipated pilots from this year, and its arrival signals the return of a Joss Whedon show back on our screen. So, did it live up to the hype and just how does Coulson live?

The answer to both is both yes and no. The show is solid enough and shows great promise, introducing us to the world of S.H.I.E.L.D on a day-to-day running. Coulson himself appears around 10 minutes in, emerging from a dark corner in a quite humorous moment. It’s revealed that he died for around 8 seconds, and that Fury lied to the Avengers to inspire them, and that he’s been sunning himself in Tahiti, waiting to get back to work. Is that all true however – no. With one short exchange between Dr. Streiten (guest starring Whedon alumni Ron Glass) and Agent Hill (Colbie Smoulders guest starred in the pilot episode before her filming commitments on How I Met Your Mother) the speculation starts as to exactly what happened; my money at the minute is on robot or clone.

This episode also introduces us to the rest of the team that Coulson puts together through the episode. We have Agent Grant Ward, newly promoted to level 7 just for Coulson’s team; he’s intelligent, great in combat and he seems to have chemistry with Coulson’s newest recruit Skye, a renegade he picks up off the street, who has been trying to track down heroes. She’s a computer hacker, and actress Chloe Bennet carries Whedon’s comedy wit well. Duo Fitz and Simmons are the scientific geeks and even though we didn’t see much of them, they seem to bounce of each other like battling siblings. Melinda May, is the most interesting character for me; she gets recruited as she’s behind a desk doing paperwork, but Ward acts as if he’s met a celebrity when he’s introduced to her. She certainly can kick butt, but just why is she so reluctant to get back into the field? With this being the pilot, none of the characters are particularly fleshed out, but everyone seems plucky and interesting, so hopefully their personalities will grow as the episodes carry on.

The ‘hero’ of the week in this opening episode was another Whedon alumnus – J. August Richards who played Gunn in Angel. In order to be more than just ordinary in order to provide more for his son, his character Mike enters into an experiment that sees him develop superhero powers. His speech towards the end of the episode about how they are not super-men in the world totally works as motivation for his character who just wants to provide for his son. It was lovely to see J. August on my TV screens again as well.

Even though the pilot is written by Joss Whedon, the show will run by his brother Jed and Maurissa Tancharoen who were the previous executive producers of Dollhouse. It has the ability to be standalone from the film series, but also give us some good cameos from some of the stars of the film. Hopefully the show in itself will continue to go from strength to strength and this move to the small screen will prove fruitful.

Grant: Okay there are two ways we can do this

Skye: Oh is one of them the easy way?

Grant: No.

Skye: Oh.

Avengers Assemble

This film was the grand conclusion of Marvel’s Phase one plan after successfully building up characters in various stand alone films. It culminated into a geek fantasy some could have only dreamed of; a strong, stellar ensemble cast including Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans; firm fan favourites from within the marvel franchise including Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson and Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, and to put the cherry on top of the cake – the man to orchestrate this Marvel juggernaut, none other than geek God himself Joss Whedon. This film single-handedly turned him from geek genius to household name, because of the far-reach the movies had. As I was re-watching it the other day, I came to the realisation that this film came out just before Kat and I started this blog. So let’s put this awful blunder to rest and get this review on the road!

As I said above this film’s cast list speaks for itself in terms of star power: returning to their characters are RDJ, the two Chris’s (Hemsworth and Evans), Tom Hiddleston as our favourite villainous Asgardian Loki, Scarlet Johansson as the Black Widow, Stellan Skarsgård as Dr Selvig Samuel L. Jackson as Agent Fury, Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Clark Gregg as Coulson. Joining the ranks for this outing are Mark Ruffalo taking over from Edward Norton’s incarnation as Eric Banner and his giant green alter ego, Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye and Cobie Smoulders as Agent Hill. And each certainly gets their moment in the spotlight, with Whedon combining all the elements into a nice big cauldron pot of goodness, often combining his trademark wit alongside big action sequences.

It takes about 20 minutes or so for the film to really kick into high gear – after the initial pre-titles sequence, we then take a round trip across all our Avengers, seeing them initially recruited and generally introducing them into the plot. Don’t get me wrong it’s all enjoyable but once this is out of the way, the film really finds its stride. Everything from the Helicarrier to Loki’s baiting of the Avengers, which further causes witty in-fighting amongst our heroes which is downright hilarious (“no hard feelings point break, you got a mean swing.”) However the catalyst for bringing this divided group together is the death of one of their own; Agent Coulson, sporting last year’s must have item – Loki’s spear. The death was a hard-hitting one, both on-screen and off as fans had taken the character of Coulson to their hearts after he was created especially for the screen. Of course now, Coulson lives in the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, set to premiere on US in September but that’s beside the point.  The event unites our Avengers and they set off to defeat Loki in an all out war on the streets of New York. The action sequences are brilliant, with a lot of special effects crammed in; two particular favourites include Banner’s “I’m always angry” comment and the one long tracking camera shot of each Avenger fighting in the battle, flowing beautifully and ending on possibly one of the most hilarious gags in the film as Hulk punches Thor out of camera shot and sniggers. In the end, even though it sees our heroes standing tall, leaves the team understandably changed forever, with the world also knowing of their existence.

Now that over a year has passed since the film was released, we’ve learned a lot about what Marvel has planned for it’s aptly named ‘Phase two’ plan. It’s already released Iron Man 3, and they have another Thor and Captain America scheduled to be released within the next year. With Avengers 2 scheduled to be released in 2015, we learnt at this year’s comic con that the film will be called ‘Age of Ultron’, slotting another piece of the puzzle into place.

All I know is, Avengers Assemble does not get any older the more times I watch it. The jokes are still funny, the writing and the performances are still fantastically brilliant and I think it may well have been my favourite film of 2012. Shawarma anyone?

Loki: What have I to fear?

Stark: The Avengers. It’s what we call ourselves, sort of like a team – Earth’s mightiest heroes type thing.

Loki (laughs) Yes, I’ve met them

Stark: Yeah, takes us a while to get any traction, i’ll give you that one but let’s do a  head count here: Your brother the demi-god; a super soldier, living legend who kinda lives up to the legend; a man with breath-taking anger management issues; a couple of master assassins and you big fella. You’ve managed to piss off every single one of them

 

Much Ado About Nothing

Back in October 2011 as fans were tantalised by reports and on-set pictures of Avengers Assemble, Joss Whedon, whilst taking a break from filming, completely shot his own adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic Much Ado About Nothing. At his own house. In about 14 days. And no one knew about until filming had completely wrapped. A feat even for Whedon’s standards.

The production was largely inspired due to Joss Whedon’s Shakespeare reading parties, which came about during filming of Buffy, in which various cast members would come to Whedon’s house and perform read-through’s of Shakespearean plays. It stars a cast of Whedon alumni which include Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof in the lead roles of Beatrice and Benedict, amongst others including Clark Gregg, Nathan Fillion, Tom Lenk, Sean Maher and Fran Kurtz. It’s completely shot in black and white and the script still keeps Shakespeare’s language despite its modern day setting. The backdrop of Whedon’s home brings a wonderful intimacy to the film, and in general the film is beautifully shot.

Acker and Densiof are great sparring partners for each other and the chemistry that they had in Angel is still very much present on-screen. They make a fantastic Beatrice and Benedict, both feisty and bringing a fresh take on the characters. There are some funny moments, mostly provided by the uncanny double team of Tom Lenk and Nathan Fillion. Also the classic scenes of Beatrice and Benedick eavesdropping on their friends as they secretly set them up are brilliant fun.

The wait was quite long for most to see this film, with the film opening on release about 18 months after it was originally announced. It received great reviews at various film festivals it was shown at and received a limited release at selected cinemas in the UK and US. If you weren’t lucky enough to find it, or fancy giving this Shakespeare adaptation a try, then it’s certainly worth a watch – even though it’s Shakespeare’s work, it simply screams Joss Whedon and has his stamp all over it.

 

“I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me” (Beatrice, Much Ado About Nothing)

Song, Dance and…er Vampires? Buffy the Vampire Slayer 6.07 ‘Once More With Feeling’Review

 

 

I recently decided to watch the musical episode ‘Once More with Feeling’ from one of my all time favourite TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If you’ve never seen the series first off WHY?! Secondly go watch it! For those who haven’t, the basic premise is of a girl chosen to fight demons and vampires who is called the Slayer – in this instance Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is chosen. We first meet her at 16 and over the course of the 7 seasons the show aired for, we watched her grow up through high school, college, experiencing love, death and heartache all the while, helped along the way by her friends.

‘Once More With Feeling’ falls within the sixth season of the show, a season that was arguably the darkest of the show’s run. The episode was written and directed by creator (and absolute genius) Joss Whedon, who also wrote the music and lyrics for the episode. Whilst watching it I’d simply forgotten how clever Whedon actually is; listening to the lyrics of the fantastic soundtrack that is interwoven through the episode, you can obviously tell he thought a lot about it. The episode comes early on enough in the season to foreshadow and bring to the forefront some themes and issues that are going to become more relevant as the series develops (such as Spike and Buffy’s affair, Xander’s fear of his impending marriage, and Dawn’s issues of loneliness/everyone ignoring her).  The episode story itself is also quite similar to other episodes in a ‘Demon of the Week’ type arc, except that this demon brings with it song and dance and the only problem of spontaneous combustion when you experience too much of it. This episode also brings to an end Buffy’s secret that she has kept since she came back from the dead (seriously go watch the series if you’ve never seen it). To protect her friends’ feelings she kept from them that when she was dead, she was happy and at peace, which is why she has struggled to reconnect with the world now that she is back.

As well as the great lyrics that Whedon came up with, the cast deliver yet again, happily jumping in head first and joining in with the singing and dancing. Cast members James Marsters, Amber Benson and Tony Head actually do sing and they showcase their fantastic voices in a number of different songs, but the less accomplished singers nonetheless give stellar performances. All the actors portray their characters feelings and help to make the episode, some would argue, one of the best Buffy episodes ever.

Rachel

(For fans out there look out for cameos by David Fury and Marti Noxon, (the mustard man and the lady with the parking ticket respectively) 2 exec producers on the show, each showing their talent for singing (and light-hearted fun).

 

“Life’s a show and we all play a part. And when the music starts, we open up our hearts.”  Buffy ‘Life’s a Show’

“I hope she fries, I’m free if that bitch dies! I’d better help her out” Spike, ‘Walk through the Fire’

 

Avengers 2 Assemble!!!…And guess who’s coming back to the helm?

That’s right folks, after announcing the obvious -that there will be an Avengers 2, Disney have now confirmed that Joss Whedon will be back to write and direct the film!! This is excellent news, given the way The Avengers performed at the Box Office, Whedon is definitely a good man to put at the helm of the sequel and it just means the world can experience more of Whedon’s utter genius.

Don’t get too excited yet though (not that I am) Avengers 2 has no release date yet, and the earliest it will probably be slated for would be Summer of 2015. Next year with the release of Iron Man 3 sees the start of Marvel’s Phase 2 so we still have plenty to look forward to before the release of Avengers 2

For a little bit more info see here:

Also, it appears that Whedon has agreed to develop a live-action TV series for US network ABC based on Marvel characters – a little bit more info here at SFX 

Stark: “Then tell him to suit up. I’m bringing the party to you” (The Avengers)