Peaky Blinders Season 1

Peaky Blinders which aired its first season last year was yet another brilliant original British drama from the BBC starring Cillian Murphy, Sam Neill and Helen McCrory. It’s based on the violent Peaky Blinders gang that ran out of Birmingham in the 1920’s that were famous for slashing their victims with knives in their caps. Cillian Murphy leads the cast as Thomas ‘Tommy’ Shelby, the head of the Shelby family and the Blinders gang. Murphy just has such an enigmatic face and is just fantastic in this role. As a war veteran, the effects are still very much there, and it comes across with his cold, detached nature. He’s also a man of not so many words, and Murphy lets his face do all the talking for him. Calm and collected, he faces a lot of twists and turns within the betting business the family run and also within the family unit itself.

The overall series arc involves Tommy coming across military guns, choosing to keep them rather than get rid; it brings Inspector Campbell to Birmingham and their door, played by the brilliant Sam Neill. The inspector goes through quite a transformation across the first series, from the bible quoting man who says he’s going to clean up the streets and make everything better, to a man who uses brothel houses (whilst mistreating and having rough sex with the whores there too) and ultimately loathing himself for not being man enough for the woman he loves. That woman is the centre of a tricky love triangle/power play between Campbell and Tommy Shelby. Grace, played by Annabelle Wallis begins work as a barmaid in the Garrison, a pub the family has as its stomping ground, and soon strikes an unlikely friendship with Tommy. That friendship soon turns into romance until Tommy finds out the truth in the final episode: Grace is in fact an undercover cop, feeding information to Campbell. Despite this, she begins to have feels for Tommy, believing him to be a good man, deep down inside. Tommy allows himself to feel; to fall in love with Grace only to find out her betrayal. Campbell’s rejection from Grace in favour of Shelby leads him down a dark path and he is quite the sour loser in the final two episodes.

His ultimate plan to try and kill off Tommy within a turf gang war between the Blinders and Billy Kimber, ultimately backfires and fails. The priceless moment comes from a best copper telling Campbell that ultimately it’s his own fault. The final moments of the series are that of celebration for the family, for surviving within the legal betting industry and of shock for the audience. Grace resolves to leave during the episode, leaving Tommy time to think about whether he can forgive her. As he writes a letter to her telling her he does, Campbell walks into the train station, aims a gun at her and shoots. The series cuts to black and we’re still left unaware of what the outcome was. Did Campbell shoot Grace, or choose to turn the gun on himself, leaving her with the guilt of his death?

The second series of Peaky Blinders is currently airing on BBC2 on Thursday nights and it’s 2 episodes in. I’ve yet to start watching it but I’m excited to see where this series goes, particularly with the brand new addition of Tom Hardy joining the cast. One final note about this series is just how brilliant Helen McCrory is in her role as Aunt Polly, the matriarch and real heart of the Shelby family. The boys all include her in decisions and she rules the roost with a strength within her that’s brilliant, a real strong woman within this TV series.

Peaky Blinders on the surface is a drama about criminals and gangs; these characters are all anti-heroes because you shouldn’t root for them, but you do. In various interviews I’ve read, creator Steven Knight has this series mapped out to the start of the Second World War, and I know I for one would love to see this series continue for a few more runs. Cillian Murphy is fantastic in the lead role, and with strong ensemble cast surrounding him, this is a knockout of a BBC drama.

 

Grace: You think I’m a whore?

Tommy: Everyone’s a whore, Grace. We just sell different parts of ourselves. (Peaky Blinders, Season 1, Episode 3)

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Orphan Black Season 1 and Season 2

BBC America launched this new sci-if drama last year and after finishing airing its second season back in the beginning of the summer, Orphan Black is locked as a firm fan favourite and a show that showcases the talent of a fantastic young actress.

Orphan Black tells the story of Sarah Manning, a street wise young woman who hasn’t quite found her way in the world, moving from place to place and scam to scam. One evening while waiting for a train, a young woman jumps in front of a train and kills herself right in front of her. If that wasn’t crazy enough, the young woman looks just like Sarah -as if she could be her twin. Freaked out and not sure what to do, she steals the identity of the young woman, Beth Childs a police officer who also comes with a charming partner Paul, played by Dylan Bruce (who is extremely attractive).

As Sarah digs further into Beth’s life, she discovers other women like her that have the exact same face. Sarah discovers that the reason all the women have the same face is because they are in fact clones. Sarah gradually meets her “sisters” a family unit created from science; first she meets Alison, a soccer mom who lives in the suburbs with her husband and adopted children; next she meets Cosima, a science geek who helps crack the science behind the clones and thus becomes a interest to Dyad, a group that after some exposition is discovered to be partly behind the experiments. Not all the clones however have the same agenda, and some are more self-aware of their situation than others. Sarah discovers that a killer is on the loose, targeting the clones and that the killer just so happens to also have the same face. Helena is slightly unhinged, and doesn’t have a lot of self love on account of being raised by a religious cult that believes the clones are abominations of God. Finally as the first season comes to a close, we also meet Rachel, a woman quite high up in the Dyad group, and a completely self-aware clone. She wants to experiment on all the clones, crack the secret of their DNA and also replicate the cloning further, and will use any means necessary.

As the season entered its second season, I couldn’t get enough of this show. After two great opening episodes, the series drags a little leading up to the middle, and then really hits its stride in the second half. At points you do have to pinch yourself whilst watching this and realise that all the clone characters are played by the same actress – Tatiana Maslany. The Canadian actress pulls off so many different accents, mannerisms, and material, she is such a huge talent and the fact she has not been properly recognised for her work with an Emmy nomination is a crime.

As well as Maslany steering the show, Orphan Black has a host of brilliant supporting characters that interact with one or more of the clones including Felix, Sarah’s adopted brother, who is with her every step of the way as she discovers more about the clone conspiracy. Jordan Gavaris plays him brilliantly; full of humour and honesty, Dylan Bruce’s Paul, who Sarah forms an unlikely friendship/bond with after she discovers Paul was Beth’s monitor, a person paid to watch their assigned clone and monitor their lives, but without knowledge of why. After Paul discovers the truth, he is put into a compromising position, acting as double agent for Sarah to gain further information. Alison’s husband Donny played by Kristian Bruun also provides many of the shows’ black comedy sketches, and has a great connection with Maslany. Maria Doyle Kennedy also features as Mrs S/Siobhan who raised both Sarah and Felix when they were children and acts as a carer to Kira, Sarah’s biological child.

The second season only built on a strong first season, bringing more characters into play and opening up the conspiracy further. The major reveal at the end of season 2 saw Sarah learning that not only is their female clones, but also male clones, owned by the military. The face the male clones all bear is that of a character we had seen throughout season 2 – Mark, who had worked for the religious cult that had captured Helena and tried to impregnate her in a bizarre cattle like experiment.
It’s fair to say this season of Orphan Black has seen some tense moments, some twists and turns and also some shocks. And it’s also fair to say that the last few minutes of the season was certainly a game-changer, a huge reveal that leaves many possibilities for season 3. That reveal at the end of the finale, regarding the male clones of Project Castor opens up so many questions for next season – how many other clones from Project Castor are out there, are others self aware, because it seems Mark is not. How will Mark and Gracie play into next season? What’s happening to Helena and why do the military want her? What will Rachel’s next move be? And more importantly what will Sarah do now with this new information.

Whatever will happen, I know it’ll be a long wait for season three.
Felix: You are a bloody wrecking ball. You are an exploding cigar. Do you know that? (Orphan Black 2.03 ‘ Mingling Its Own Nature with it’)

Robin Hood (BBC Drama Series 2006-2009)

The BBC adaptation of the legend of the dweller in Sherwood Forrest who robs from the rich to give to the poor aired for three seasons from 2006-2009, and I’ve looked back on this series with not a lot of fondness. When I watched this program, I doggedly kept with it in hope that my gripes would subside, which they sadly never did. However, I decided to go back to this series after finding all three seasons on Netflix to give it another go. Did my feelings change towards the series?

The answer? Yes…and no.

Watching some of it back I don’t think it’s all bad but there are definitely some weak points to it. To give some background, the first episode starts us off with Robin (Jonas Armstrong) returning from the Holy Land with his manservant, turned best friend and confidante Much (Sam Troughton). He finds that the people located around the village of Locksley which are rightfully his lands are being subjected to increased taxes and hardships by the new Sheriff of Nottingham (Keith Allen) and Sir Guy of Gisbourne – his right hand man (Richard Armitage). The series doesn’t take long to fulfil the legend and by the end of the first episode, Robin has made his feelings clear and escapes to live in the forest.

From this point on the drama series develops different strands, establishing its characters and generally trying to bring the legend of Robin Hood to life. It works to an extent; the gang that Robin builds up in the forest grow on you and my favourites still remain Allan A Dale (Joe Armstrong) and Will Scarlett (Harry Lloyd). I often found the other characters annoyed me, particularly Much – he constantly whined and it sounded like he’d always be itching to say ‘I told you so’.

As well as following Robin and his band of men, there’s also the love interest of Maid Marion, played by Lucy Griffiths who played her with compassion and also acted as a good sparring partner for Robin. The creators thankfully didn’t create her to be meek – she stood up for herself, her family and her opinion, but also showed her emotions. Marion was physical as well, introduced in the first season as masquerading as the Nightwatchman, a fellow outlaw but not necessarily working in correlation with Robin. The series also showed us the elaborate schemes of the Sheriff and Gisbourne as they try and trap Robin, each and every week. This is where the show’s secret weapon is well and truly revealed – Keith Allen is witty, exaggerated, and hilarious bringing a much needed energy to the show.

The first series certainly develops the characters, but it isn’t until the second series that the show actually starts to be entertaining. Whilst watching the second series I remembered just how much I enjoyed the show, and I was surprised how much I remembered. The show is fleshed out, has an overall story arc, and not just random adventures every week and Robin and his men aren’t captured every single week (just every two or so).

Richard Armitage becomes an integral part of the show, and a great sparring partner for Allen’s Sheriff. Under the surface there’s something always bubbling, with just a hint of creepy in his performance, particularly with his behaviour towards Marion who he still loves, despite the fact she ditched him at the altar at the end of Season 1. With her help, she unlocks some humanity and goodness; even though he is slightly desperate, he is ferociously loyal to her, covering for her when he finally finds out she was the Nightwatchman.

When I re-watched Season 2, I was surprised by how much I could remember, and could see why I stuck with the show week after week, despite its ludicrous storylines and how Robin and his gang still remained all intact, and Marion not found out. However, as I settled down to watch the season 2 finale I still felt the same emotions as I did the first time – severe disappointment and anger.

The storyline itself was slightly far-fetched in its nature – Gisbourne and the Sheriff hatch a plan to kill the King and travel to the Holy Island to assassinate him, along with a unwilling Marion who they’ve essentially kidnapped after she discovers their plan. Robin and the gang quickly decipher their plan and chase after them. It takes both parties no time at all to get half way across the world and without much hassle, they eventually convince the King of the truth and manage to foil the Sheriff’s plan but not without a casualty along the way. Marion discovers Gisbourne bearing down on the King, ready to kill him and gets in his way trying to talk him down. After professing her love for Robin and revealing her true feelings towards him, it sends him over the edge and he stabs her. Gisbourne is distraught at what he’s done, flees and Robin says a tearful goodbye to Marion as she dies in his arms.

The show killing off Maid Marion, the true love of the shows lead character, which is so rooted in the tale of Robin Hood sent me into a rage when I first saw it, and I must say I still don’t agree with the decision. For me, the show lost its way there and then; it seemed such a senseless character death, particularly because of how much the character was invested in the show.  At the time, I wondered how the show would pick up after such a important death, and even though the show did continue it left a bad taste in my mouth.

Robin returns to England, blood thirsty for revenge on Gisbourne, on a one-track suicide mission to avenge Marion. Gisbourne it seems has also been affected by Marion’s death, even more angry and depressed and his relationship with the Sheriff massively suffering. The once father/son type partnership they had, the Sheriff slowly influencing and corrupting Gisbourne has vanished as Guy blames the Sheriff for the death of the woman he loved.

The show also introduces two new characters Friar Tuck (played by David Harewood pre Homeland) and a new female lead –Kate (Joanne Froggart). She’s plucky, physical and even more go-getting than Marion, determined to ‘do the right thing’ all the time and more than often shouting her opinion.  It’s not long before she’s looking admirably at Robin, her leader and friend and by the time we get to episode 9 the two of them have quite real feelings for one another; considering Robin was so in love with Marion the speed and swiftness of a new love interest is ridiculous and quite frankly rude. To add insult to injury, during the season’s 6th episode he also kisses another woman, who turns out to be Isabella, Gisbourne’s sister (Lara Pulver). Pulver is a great addition to the cast, and is more slick and manipulative than Gisbourne, who takes a back seat in this series and by the end is actually somewhat of a hero.  We also have the introduction of Toby Stephens as Prince John, but only for a few short episodes – a shame really as he brings a delightful energy to the show.

Gisbourne is still relatively tortured regarding Marion’s death even though he is the one that killed her, whereas Robin seems to have all but forgotten about it. The softer side of Gisbourne and the guilt that he continues to feel are unfortunately not explored or developed. In a moment when Robin and Gisbourne are fighting, Guy says “I’ll never ask for your forgiveness, because I can’t forgive myself”. This would have been a brilliant opportunity for exploration but it unfortunately only scratches the surface of Gisbourne’s guilt.  Despite Robin’s character being so destructive in the opening episode of the 3rd season, through the rest of the season he seems very blasé, and back to his typical arrogant self. The writers also tend to produce problems and issues and resolve them just as quickly, not letting it naturally develop and build, as if it’s thrown in as an afterthought.

The final straw for me was the bizarre twist they invented for the last arc of the season – that Gisbourne and Robin are actually intertwined and related by a half-brother, causing them to join forces to go on a hunt for this half-brother, who turns out to be yet another troublemaker with not that many morals. The season 3 finale the second time round was entertaining and quite action packed, with Keith Allen returning once more to try and defeat Robin and his gang. I’d forgotten just how many people they’d killed off in the episode – Allan was the first to bite the dust, a character I was massively sad to see go. He had such a charming quality about him, and a great wit, and Joe Armstrong played him so well. Next to go was Guy, followed by Isabella and the Sheriff and finally they go and poison Robin – the actual main character of the show! Jonas Armstrong had announced just before the season began airing that he was leaving the show after this season, and even though there was a potential plan to carry on the show basing it around Archer (the half-brother), realistically the show couldn’t have carried on.

The goodbye and the ending is quite clichéd, but all in all it was nice to have Lucy Griffiths return one last time as Marion, although quickly frankly I would’ve whacked him for his behaviour during that last season. The gang wander off into the forest, quite lost without its leader, a lasting image and a final one for the show.

This show had the making of a great autumn slot in the absence of Doctor Who, a slot that Merlin progressed in from strength to strength. Instead, the show had several pitfalls that it couldn’t recover from, including some foolish choices from its writers and characters that did not connect. However after I finished, I certainly took away the fact that I did enjoy this show, despite its annoying qualities, and it allowed me to discover little acting gems such as Richard Armitage, Lucy Griffiths (who’s about to appear in the new US show Constantine) and Joe Armstrong. I’ll leave this review with a few standout episodes from the series as a whole – if you wish to try out the show, I suggest you go try one of these episodes first.

 

Stand Out Episodes:

1.1.‘Will you Tolerate This?’

1.12 ‘The Return of the King’

1.13 ‘A Clue: No’

2.8 ‘Get Carter’

2.10 ‘Walkabout’

2.12 ‘A Good Day to Die’

2.13 ‘We Are Robin Hood’

3.6 ‘Do You Love Me?’

3.9 ‘A Dangerous Deal’
Robin: People of Nottingham, these men have committed no crime worth more than a spell in the stocks. Will you tolerate this injustice? I for one, will not! (Robin Hood 1.1 ‘Will You Tolerate This?’)

Guilt by Jonathan Kellerman

Whilst on holiday, and after finishing the other book I’d packed, I took advantage of the library that was provided on board the cruise ship I was on and found a book by Jonathan Kellerman, an author whose series I’d read quite a lot of before. Intrigued by this 2013 publication, I quickly became engrossed finishing the book in 4 days.

Kellerman’s crime novels follow the story of child psychologist Alex Delaware, an enigmatic, intelligent, thoughtful and quite a sympathetic character that you warm to instantly. He consults for the LAPD, helping Detective Milo Sturgis friend and professional partner who is also a great character full of wit and likability. I hadn’t read the series in a while, but this book brought back good memories of the series, meaning I’ll probably start them again at some point.

The plot revolves around bones that were found in a backyard of a house, which develops into a tale of Hollywood lovers gone wrong and a string of deception and creepy murders. It’s a good read, and got me hooked right away. Perfect for a summer holiday read.

“They’ve already gone to the lab, maybe you’ll get lucky.”
He said, “That’s my middle name.”
“Lucky?”
“Maybe.”
p258

Ant and Dec – The Autobiography

Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly have been in the entertainment industry for 25 years, starting their partnership on the children’s TV show Byker Grove and developing themselves into pop stars and finally entertainment presenters and national treasures. Their autobiography came out in 2009 and it’s only now that I picked up these cheeky Geordie duos’s book.

The book did take me the best part of 6 months to finish, as it remained on my shelf, only getting picked up if I was going on journeys; having said that, I really enjoyed this book. I’m a huge fan of the Geordie duo, ever since their days on SM:TV Live with Cat Deeley which was my Saturday Morning kids program of choice. I thoroughly believe they deserve all the success they have had and the love of the nation. The book itself offered a great insight into the duo and their friendship, particularly as the way it was written allowed for dual authorship – each having their own voice represented by different fonts. The book covered everything from their early days on Byker Grove, the success they had and continue to have on prime time TV, their personal lives and also plenty of brilliant anecdotes, remaining throughout the book their cheeky fun-filled selves.

It’s fair to say the book made me love them even more. Despite the fact the book took me a long time to complete, I would recommend this book to fans of the two, or just for a good autobiography.

“Throughout it all, we’ve always had one constant that’s kept us sane – each other. In two decades, we’ve never spent more than two weeks apart.”(Dec) p355

The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Who is the Monster and who is the Man?

With this question, our movie starts and with this Disney delivered a beautiful and quite frankly under-appreciated film with a classic moral undertone of don’t judge a book by its cover/appearances aren’t everything. As part of the late 90’s Disney films, it often gets forgotten but for me it’s personally one of my favourite Disney films. Set in Paris, it tells the story of Quasimodo, a very untypical hero, who over the course of the film goes on a journey of self discovery and self confidence, showing the fullness of his heart and kindness.

Throughout his life, Quasimodo has been hidden in the depths of the Bell tower of Notre Dame due to his hunchback appearance poisoned with words by the villain of the piece, and Quasi’s master and guardian Frollo, a religious man and prosecutor. It isn’t until he one day is convinced by his stone gargoyle friends  to go out into the streets of Paris and attend a festival that he meets other people, including a gypsy named Esmeralda (played by Demi Moore).

This is perhaps one of the darkest Disney film, dealing with issues such as persecution, loneliness, being an outsider in society and how that disadvantage you and exploring how religion can be twisted. Frollo remains as one of the most ruthless Disney villains created in my opinion, allowing his lust and obsession with Esmeralda to completely consume him. When you watch it at an older age, you realise just how unsettling and perverted it is.

It’s a film that’s unconventional in terms of a typical Disney story set up; a hunchback certainly isn’t a typical hero, but here Quasimodo is a true Disney hero, showing that appearances aren’t everything and leaving the audience in no doubt that he is certainly the man out of him and Frollo. It’s also a case of the hero doesn’t end get the girl at the end of the movie (although Phoebus is indeed a hero, he isn’t the ‘true hero’). Even though this doesn’t happen, Quasi learns a true life lesson and that he finally has people around him that are friends and not just stone gargoyles (which may or may not be real).

The true triumph of this film however is its music. Alan Menken who pens most, if not all the Disney films from the last 20 years of so teams up with Stephen Schwartz who has created hit musicals such as Wicked and Godspell and together they create a beautifully stunning score and lyrics. My particular highlight is the use of the choir which simply gives me goosebumps every time.

If you’ve never seen this Disney classic, I urge you to find a copy – it’s available on US Netflix and out on DVD – it’s such an under-rated movie and personally one of my favourites.

Esmerelda: You saw what he did out there, letting the crowd torture that poor boy. I thought if one person could stand up to him then – (Sighs) What do they have against people who are different anyway?

14 Film to Look Out for in 2014

2014 is a bit of a sandwhich year for films, there are plenty of blockbusters but a lot of people are looking at 2015 as being a big year for film. That being said there’s still plenty to look forward to this year. So a bit delayed but here is my list of films to look out for in 2014! (Please note that I’m not counting films that have already come out in January and February)

I’ve added links to trailers for the films that already have them.

 

X Men: Days of Future Past

As soon as the entire cast of Days of Future Past appeared on the stage at Comic Con last year, the movie got kicked into high-gear. Reuniting the old cast of the X-Men franchise in the early 00’s with the cast of X-Men: First Class, its sure to make the dreams of geeks everywhere come true.

Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier

The First Avenger is back and firmly in the 21st century and writers have promised that after this movie finishes, the scene will be firmly set for Avengers 2. As well as Chris Evans putting on the suit again as Steve Rogers, Samuel l. Jackson is back as Nick Fury and Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow.

Maleficient

Delayed from last year, Angelina Jolie steps into the role of Sleeping Beauty’s villain to give another take on the classic fairytale. The first trailer has already hit, and it looks visually beautiful

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

Andrew Garfield puts on the red and blue suit once more to fight crime, and it looks like the stakes are even higher in this film as he faces off against Jamie Foxx’s villain Electro. It seems that by the end of this film though, Peter Parkers life won’t be the same as its being promised to set up the next film set for release in 2016. One of my most anticipated movies of this year – just looks insane

Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel’s big gamble in its Phase 2 plan was bringing out this film as it’s certainly not a widely known for its characters. However its assembled a crack team of actors, led by Chris Pratt and the trailer has taken a risk in showing off it’s witty script.

Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

The first part of the last book in the Hunger Games series comes to cinemas at the end of this year and its gaining more and more momentum, especially due to the recent success of Catching Fire. Filming continues back to back with Mockingjay Part 2, and you can expect the film to reach high levels of anticipation come

The Hobbit: There and Back Again

The final part of Hobbit trilogy and the prequels to Lord of the Rings; it’ll be a sad state of affairs to think we won’t be visiting Jackson’s Middle Earth again. As the last film ended on a cliff-hanger with Smaug flying off to wreak havoc, there’s no telling what Jackson has in store.

Divergent

The latest Young Adult novel series to do the rounds is the Divergent series by Veronica Roth; the film looks set to rival The Hunger Games franchise and if it is a success at the box office, you can bet a franchise will be made out of the book series.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Michael Bay returns to the directing chair of the Transformers franchise but assembles a brand new cast being led by Mark Wahlberg who’s promised a great film.

Vampire Academy

Another Young Adult book series that’s getting the movie treatment, this revolves around a young girl who is half human/half vampire charged with keeping the peace and helping to protect the Moroi from the more violent bloodthirsty vampires the Strigoi. This film already looks good, and is set to appease the Twilight fans most of all with its vampire sex appeal angle.

Godzilla

A Godzilla reboot? A few raised eyebrows were certainly the first reaction by many. But throw in names like Bryan Cranston and a trailer that looks brilliant and the confused eyebrows are turning into expressions of delight.

Jupiter Ascending

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis star in this sci-fi adventure from the men that brought us The Matrix trilogy. It does have similarties with that trilogy, but still holds its own, and set for a summer release, it looks set to be a box office success.

Intersellar

Christopher Nolan’s next film after finishing up on the Batman trilogy and he’s reuniting with Anne Hathaway and bringing Oscar winning actor Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain along. It’s so far shrouded in much mystery, but then that’s what fans expect from Nolan.

Transcendence

And finally we have Nolan’s right hand man Wally Pfister’s directorial debut. As the director of photography for many of Nolan’s previous projects, he’s fully stepping behind the lens in this film starring Johnny Depp about a terminally ill scientist that downloads a computer into his mind.

 

Old Charles (to Young Charles) You’re afraid. I remember.

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.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

Jennifer Lawrence has had an incredible couple of years; after landing the lead role in The Hunger Games franchise as Catniss Everdeen, she led the film to serious box office success. She then went on to join the X-Men franchise as a young Mystique and starred in Silver Linings Playbook, a movie that would change her life and see her become one of the youngest actresses to win a Best Actress Oscar. J-Law as she’s now affectionately known is one of Hollywood’s hottest young stars (and a brilliant role-model) and she returns to the role of Catniss in this next instalment Catching Fire which sees Catniss having to deal with the choices she made in the previous Games.

The film opens with Catniss back in District 12, she and her family may have moved into a better life in the victory village, however life in 12 is still hard and wearisome, and she hasn’t forgotten her roots, hunting with love interest no.1 Gale (Liam Hemsworth). As her and love interest no.2 Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) are due to go on a tour of the Districts, it’s apparent that the two of them are not on good terms, Peeta finding her deceit about her feelings toward him difficult to take. As the trip gets underway though, the two come to an understanding and start to re-bond over their shared experience. Lawrence has an easy chemistry with both men, but it’s her scenes with Hutcherson that I love the most; it’s easy to see that Katniss is trying to kid herself that she doesn’t have feelings for Peeta, but at the same time they both convey the care and love they feel for one another.

The stakes are much higher in this film, particularly politically for Katniss as she faces pressure from President Snow (played brilliantly by Donald Sutherland) to keep a rising rebellion forming in some of the districts. Katniss and Peeta are forced to put on a show during their trip, and continue to act out a lie. When they think it’s over Snow announces that the next Games will feature those that have already won past games, in an effort to try and eliminate the threat of Katniss. Katniss and Peeta must then forget everything they learnt in the last games as they must align themselves with other tributes in order to stay alive and survive the games.

Jennifer Lawrence carries this movie effortlessly, with beautiful poise and elegance at times but she’s also not afraid to show Katniss’ vulnerability. It does beg the question how would these movies have fared with another actress in the leading role but thankfully this never has to be questioned with Lawrence. The PTSD that Katniss is clearly suffering from after the games is highlighted by Lawrence in certain moments, particularly the way she reacts to finding out she will have to face the Games once more. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth, the franchise has three young actors with a brilliant chemistry and unity, making it the success that it has become.

Of course the other supporting cast members also have a role to play and there’s certainly a few standout performances; Woody Harrelson returns once again as Hamich in a role I adore him in. He’s hardened by what he has seen and knows how to play the game, coming across as direct; he really does care about his two new charges, particularly Katniss. There’s almost a fatherly bond he develops with the two, but he never doubts them, simply telling them both to ‘stay alive’. Elizabeth Banks plays Effie with a lot more emotional charge during this film as the character too has bonded mores so with these two tributes; behind the affluent costumes, hair and make-up that Banks has to contend with, there is a heartbreaking performance. Donald Sutherland is also able to develop Snow much more so in this film as he’s further portrayed as the patriarch of all people, but underneath is a dark side, fuelled by his need for power and dominance. Of the new cast, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the new games maker Plutarch Heavensbee, who all along has a secret agenda to help Katniss become the leader of a rebellion that Snow has feared all along. Two of the new tributes also stand out in the forms of Sam Claflin as Finnick and Jena Malone as Johanna, each aligning themselves with our lovers from District 12. Claflin brings a sense of distrust to his character, the audience never completely sure to believe that he wants to help but also bringing his sheer loyalty to the surface with his connection to a fellow tribute as he refuses to leave her. Malone takes whatever she is given and completely runs with it, with her character becoming an instant standout.

The franchise has perhaps performed so well in the box office and gained critical success not only because of the acting bones behind it but also due to its subject matter; the concept of a Battle Royale style future where children are forced to kill one another in a reality show concept is quite a grim subject matter. The filmmakers don’t water the concept down as well to reach younger audiences as several moments in the film are hard to watch. When a man is taken from the crowd and shot in front of hundreds of horrified faces; when Gale is whipped viciously in the centre of a square and when Stanley Tucci’s Caesar announces that after tonight all but one competitor will never be seen again (an albeit harsh fact), but then breaks into hysterical laughter, a grin and applause is a complete juxtaposition. It can perhaps all be summed up when Katniss glances at her younger sibling, taking charge of Gales wounds after he has been beaten by the Capitol’s version of the police – she realises she has had to grow up extremely quickly because of the life they live in.

As well as the overall theme of the movie, the action sequences of the games are just as intense as the last movie; it’s not so much about the hiding in these games but about the obstacles that are put in their way. Deathly fog, killer monkeys, blood rain are just the tip of these games and they offer an intense, adrenaline ride for the second half of the movie. New director Francis Lawrence picks up the reigns of the franchise and gives us a movie to remember which flows brilliantly thanks to its well-gauged pacing, which could have easily felt dragged thanks to its impressive running time. As the movie closes, the larger scale plan emerges with the simple phrase ‘Remember who the real enemy is’. That lasting image of Lawrence’s face morphing into a steely determination summons the final instalment Mockingjay which follows the pattern of many film franchises and is splitting the book into two films. What’s clear is that The Hunger Games train isn’t de-railing any time soon, and with Jennifer Lawrence at the helm, it is in safe hands.

Hamich: This trip doesn’t end when you get back home, you never get off this train. (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire)

Priscilla: Queen of the Desert UK Tour

The stage show UK tour of Priscilla: Queen of the Desert had a stop off at the theatre near me so I thought it rude to not go and see it. I’d never seen the stage version of the show or even seen the film, but the premise of three drag queens having a road trip across Australia on a bus they nickname Priscilla sounded brilliant.

The show itself was brilliant – full of life, energy a great vibe and at its core a great message about acceptance. The soundtrack was filled with well-known pop songs and the theatre was alive when the cast launched into number after number. The costumes were also a huge standout point for me – flamboyant, colourful and beautiful. The three main cast members as well looked great together, a nice chemistry and flow between the three and more importantly all three men looked comfortable in heels.

The cast was led by Jason Donovan who has been in and out of the West End version of this show; he was great with the acting side, hamming it up well, but also showing the emotional side of his character as he struggles with his fears of meeting his son. However, certainly during the first half he sometimes seemed a bit awkward with the dance moves whilst his fellow leads were putting a lot more effort into it. Whether this was done to a personal choice to portray the character like this, or because he’d had a few days off I’m not sure, but he seemed more comfortable in the second act.

Priscilla is still touring the UK and if it’s coming to a theatre near you, then I’d highly recommend this show – it’s a guaranteed feel-good night as I certainly left the show with a huge smile on my face.