Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Kurt Russell, Elizabeth Debicki, Sylvester Stallone
Guardians of the Galaxy was one of the most pleasant surprises to come out of Hollywood in years. James Gunn’s space opera brought some much needed freshness and joy to not only the comic book movie genre, but the blockbuster form more generally. It also benefited from the fact that no one saw it coming. Expectations were not high. This same is not a luxury that is enjoyed by the sequel. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has a lot to live up to.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamorah (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are on the run from a race of ethereal, golden beings known as the Sovereign after Rocket stole some of the precious batteries that they had paid the Guardians to protect. Despite having been together for some time now, the team doesn’t seem to get along any better and there are clear tensions and rivalries on display. Continue reading
Director: Morten Tyldum
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen
Jon Spaiht’s screenplay Passengers, a science fiction romance about two people alone on a long space journey, had been around the traps for a decade having appeared on the Black List (an industry survey of the top unproduced screenplays) way back in 2007. But once they added two of the hottest stars on the planet in Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt, and an Oscar nominated director in Morten Tyldum, coming off his success with The Imitation Game, it wasn’t going to stay unproduced for much longer.
The Starship Avalon is 30 years into its 120 year journey transporting 5,000 hibernating migrants to the colony world of Homestead II when a technical glitch causes passenger Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) to wake way too early. With all the other passengers and crew asleep, and no way of putting himself back into hibernation, Jim is faced with the prospect of spending the rest of his life on this intergalactic cruise ship with only Arthur the android bartender (Michael Sheen) as company. Continue reading
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Starring: Bryce Dallas Howard, Chris Pratt, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan, Omar Sy, Jake Johnson, Lauren Lapkus, Judy Greer
There is good news and bad news with Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World. The good news is that it is the best Jurassic Park movie since Steven Spielberg’s original, the blockbuster sensation that ushered in a new world of digital effects on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time. The bad news is that saying a film is better than The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 is not saying a lot.
In Jurassic World we see the vision of Jurassic Park realised: a fully functioning theme park and resort island where twenty thousand visitors a day come to see genetically engineered living dinosaurs. It is SeaWorld on steroids. But the park has been open for a while now, and numbers are starting to plateau. As operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) explains. “People aren’t wowed by dinosaurs anymore. Twenty years ago, de-extinction was up there with magic. Now kids look at a stegosaurus like it’s an elephant at the zoo.” So in order to keep the crowds coming, Jurassic World’s team of scientists have moved into a new frontier of genetic innovation. Continue reading
1. The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Wes Anderson has for two decades now been the most distinctive cinematic voice in America, and this 1930s-style caper film is the most complete realisation yet of his aesthetic. Anderson first-timer Ralph Fiennes is not known for comedy, but he is tremendous here in leading an all-star cast. In a time when so many comedies are built around rambling improvisation it, there is something really striking about the meticulously crafted nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel. With a Russian Doll structure, the film is beautifully designed and precisely shot. A real treasure.
2. Calvary (John Michael McDonagh)
Irish director John Michael McDonagh managed to one-up his brilliant debut feature, The Guard, with this poignant, powerful and yet still very funny film about a rural Irish priest who receives a death threat in the confessional. What starts as a black comedy transitions into a quite profound modern passion play, with Brendan Gleeson delivering what is for mine the year’s best performance as Father James Lavelle, a good man who must bear the sins of the institution that he represents, an institutation that has failed both the wider community and himself.
3. Whiplash (Damien Chazelle)
Where so often movies about music focus on passion, soul, creativity and love for the art, Damien Chazelle’s debut feature chooses to explore the determination, single-minded obsession and dangerous perfectionism that goes into the pursuit of greatness. This emotionally and psychologically brutal film features a powerful and controversial depiction of the student mentor relationship as a determined young drummer is brought to the brink by a borderline psychotic conductor. JK Simmons is surely a short price favourite to walk away with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar early next year.
4. Boyhood (Richard Linklater)
There has never been a film quite like Boyhood. Writer-director Richard Linklater shot the film over a twelve year period, following the same boy (Ellar Coltrane) as he grew from a six year old into a young adult. Incredibly ambitious and effectively executed, the film manages to not only explore the evolving family dynamic as this family grows up together, but also to navigate the cultural and political changes the world experienced over the twelve years of production. Managing to be at the same time epic in scope and incredibly intimate, Boyhood is a truly unique cinematic experience.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn)
How hot are Marvel Studios right now? In what looked like a questionable step following the success of The Avengers, they announced they would be bringing a minor comic book about a motley crew of space adventurers that includes, among others, a talking raccoon and a walking tree, and they have turned it into the most exciting, fun and fresh blockbuster in decades. Rather than repeating the formula of The Avengers, James Gunn has gave Guardians of the Galaxy a completely different style and tone. This 1980s style sci-fi adventure is Marvel’s funniest film and has made a legitimate movie star out of Christ Pratt.
While it lacked the mainstream potential of True Grit and No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis saw the Coen brothers in top form. This character study of a neurotic, arrogant but undeniably talented folk musician offered significant insight into the mind of an artist while poking gentle fun at the earnestness of the Greenwich Village folk music scene. Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography is stunning, with its muted colour palate of greys, greens and browns making the film feel almost black-and-white. The soundtrack, arranged by T-Bone Burnett is outstanding.
7. Locke (Steven Knight)
One man in a car making phone calls. Who’d have thought that could be the basis of the year’s best thriller? Steven Knight’s variation on the one-man play breaks with formula and bravely rethinks how to tell a story on screen. Carried by a compelling performance from Tom Hardy – one of the few actors in the world who can carry a film on their own for ninety minutes – this minimalist piece of filmmaking reimagines the very nature of what is cinematic.
8) Chef (John Favreau)
Jon Favreau got back to his indie roots in 2014 with his passion project Chef, the food porn film of the year. With its simple story, Chef is a completely endearing celebration of food, cooking, creativity, passion and family, with many critics seeing more than a hint of autobiography in chef Casper’s quest to rediscover his creative spark. Vibrant and alive with the Cuban inspired flavours of the food and the music, Chef is a joyous film and not to be seen on an empty stomach.
9) What We Do in the Shadows (Jermaine Clement & Taika Waititi)
With What We Do in the Shadows Kiwi duo Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement take a subject matter, vampires, with which popular culture is teetering on the edge of overload, and a form, the mockumentary, that is every bit as tired and combine them to create a vibrant, original and downright funny movie. Juxtaposing the extraordinary with the mundane, the film follows a trio of vampire flatmates living in Wellington. The New Zealand sense of humour brings a slightly different sensibility to the film than we’d get from an American or British equivalent.
This year saw two films in which Scarlett Johansson got a bit cerebral. While Lucy was among the year’s worst films, Under the Skin was among its best. This odd film sees Johansson driving around Glasgow and the Scottish highlands, picking up men and then… well it’s best not to give away too much. A most peculiar and entrancing film, when you get to the end of Under the Skin you won’t quite know what you’ve seen but you’ll know you’ve seen something.
The Next Best (alphabetical): The Dark Horse (James Napier Robertson), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves), Frozen (Chris Buck & Jennifer Lee), The Lego Movie (Phil Lord & Christopher Miller), Nightcrawler (Dan Gilroy), The Wolf of Wall Street (Martin Scorsese)
The Worst Movie of the Year:
I, Frankenstein (Stuart Beattie)
200 years after being brought to life, Frankenstein’s monster finds himself in the middle of an ongoing war between demons and gargoyles for… You know what? It’s not worth going on. This diabolical film which recasts Frankenstein’s monster as an action hero is utter nonsense and would have Mary Shelley rolling in her grave.
by Duncan McLean
What were your best and worst films of the year? Post in the comments section and let us know.
Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel
Do you want to know just how hot a streak Marvel Studios are on at the moment? They have taken a minor comic book series about a motley crew of space adventurers that includes, among others, a green woman, a talking raccoon and a walking tree and they’ve turned it into possibly the best sci-fi adventure movie in decades.
Having been abducted from Earth as a child, Peter ‘Star Lord’ Quill travels the galaxy as a treasure hunter (read thief). Quill steals a mysterious orb, which turns out to be significantly more valuable, and dangerous, than he imagined. So he teams up with an assassin, Gamora, a pair of bounty hunters, Rocket and Groot, and the physically imposing Drax the Destroyer to sell it to the highest bidder. However, it just so happens that the orb contains one of the powerful Infinity Stones, and when it falls into the hands of the evil Ronan who plans to use it to destroy the galaxy, it falls to Quill and his rag tag bunch of misfits to save the day.
Despite being around since 1969, the Guardians of the Galaxy comic book series is not exactly a household name. This means there are a lot of new characters, places and concepts that need to be introduced to the viewer in the first act of the movie. Amazingly, though, it doesn’t become exposition heavy. Refreshingly, the film doesn’t bother giving us complete backstories and origins for all of the characters. It doesn’t seek to answer all of our questions, but rather just to give us as much information as we need. As a result, Guardians of the Galaxy doesn’t take a while to warm up; it gets rolling at the beginning and keeps going until the end.
Director James Gunn and his team have succeeded in making Guardians of the Galaxy completely different to The Avengers. After that first franchise was so successful, the temptation would have been there to copy that blueprint and import new characters and stories. But while there are minor narrative elements which connect Guardians of the Galaxy to the Avengers universe, and we will no doubt see a crossover film at some point in the future, Guardians of the Galaxy has a completely different style and tone.
For starters, it is not a superhero movie. It is a 1980s-style science-fiction adventure movie much more akin to Star Wars. This eighties resonance comes from within the narrative. Quill was abducted from Earth as a child in 1988, and as such all his points of reference are from the eighties. Similarly, the film cleverly uses music from that era to set the tone. The only memento Quill has from his life on Earth is a Walkman with a mix-tape of seventies hits his mother made for him. That mix-tape – including tracks from 10CC, Blue Swede and David Bowie – serves as the soundtrack to the movie, and from the outset of the film it is really successful in creating a very different, fun vibe.
Guardians of the Galaxy is also far and away Marvel’s funniest film. The Avengers, and in particular Iron Man, have always had that wise-cracking element of humour, but this film takes it to the next level and is legitimately comedic. Gunn and Nicole Pearlman’s screenplay is so sharp. They have given each of the characters a unique voice and can therefore draw different types of humour from each of them.
Chris Pratt is perfectly cast as Quill, bringing an irreverence to this mash up of Han Solo and Indiana Jones. It has potential to be a real star-making performance for Pratt, which could propel him from TV star to legit movie leading man. The CGI pairing of Rocket Raccoon and Groot, voiced by Cooper and Diesel respectively, were among the movie’s biggest question marks. But Rocket turns out to be a scene stealer and Groot, despite only being able to say “I am Groot” in different inflections, is used well to both comic and emotional effect.
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel Studios have given us the most exciting, fun and fresh blockbuster movie in years, maybe even decades. For those of us not old enough to have been there, this could be as close as we will get to knowing what it felt like to experience Star Wars for the first time back in 1977.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen Guardians of the Galaxy? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Directors: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman, Alison Brie
The Lego Movie marks the latest step in the recent diversification of the Lego Group, producers of everyone’s favourite colourful, interlocking construction toys. The last decade-and-a-half has seen them produce a series of best-selling video games and DVDs, but a $60 million motion picture backed by Warner Brothers represents arguably their most ambitious step yet. However, rather than feeling like a film made by a toy company, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writer/directors behind Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, have delivered a film that is surprisingly clever, creative and funny.
The Lego world is under the control of the tyrannical Lord Business. Business likes logic and order. He separates the Lego world into different realms, keeping the city of Bricksburgh separate from the Old West, Pirate Cove, Clown Town and the rest. He encourages people to follow the instructions and stifles creativity. But there is a prophecy that tells of the Special, “the most talented, most interesting and most extraordinary person in the universe,” who will reunite the Master Builders and remove Business from power. Somehow, the Special turns out to be Emmett, a simple, lonely construction worker from Bricksburgh. He is identified by the spunky heroine Wyldstyle who takes him to meet the Master Builders so they can prepare for their assault on Lord Business. Oh, and of course Emmett becomes quite smitten with Wyldstyle. But she has a boyfriend… and he’s Batman.
The Lego Movie is all about imagination, both in its form and its content. Visually, the film presents us with a world in which everything is made from Lego. And when I say everything is made from Lego, I mean everything. Buildings, vehicles, landscapes, water, fire, all Lego. But rather than this limiting the scope of the film, it makes it entirely limitless. The internal logic which guides the film is that of a child’s imagination. Rather than being kept separate and adhering to real world story logic, the different realms of the Lego world intermingle resulting in an amazingly diverse story where our characters include Batman, cowboys, the cast of Star Wars, Abraham Lincoln, pirates, Gandalf, Michelangelo (both the Renaissance artist and the ninja turtle), space men and Shaquille O’Neal.
A fun, irreverent adventure that feels a bit like Toy Story meets Inception or The Matrix, the film’s narrative reinforces this focus on imagination and individual creativity by taking its lead from the very toys which inspire it. Yes, Lego comes with instructions but the real fun is to be had when the instructions are thrown out and your imagination takes over. So while Lord Business desires order and conformity, our heroes are the Master Builders whose creativity enables them to see the potential of their surroundings, enabling them to dismantle the world around them to build something new.
The Lego Movie is magnificently animated by the team from Australian animation house Animal Logic. The animation, while clear and vibrant, has a slightly clunky quality to it which works perfectly with the limited pliability of Lego figurines. This animation is then complemented by a strong voice cast including Chris Pratt, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Ferrell. You get the impression that these funny people have been given a little bit of freedom in their characterisation, so while the film is very much G-rated in its content, the humour has the same patterns and rhythms of today’s more successful comedies.
With creativity and originality in mainstream animation appearing to have plateaued over the last couple of years, The Lego Movie feels fresh and exciting. Clever, funny and with enough heart to prevent it from being a cynical product promotion, it is possibly the best animated feature since Toy Story 3.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen The Lego Movie? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.