2013 Review – from Music to Film and Everything In Between

It appears the end is nigh. As many customers at my weekend job have reminded me, yes it is nearly the end of the year, and yes I should have a happy new year. And yes they would like the receipt in the bag.

Seeing as though I have nearly had this blog for a year now and how much has happened this year I thought I’d take advantage of this opportunity and sum up all of the best elements of 2013 for me. It’s in the style of an award ceremony, and it branches from elements such as music and film to experiences I’ve had. My year would not have been the same without them.

Song of the year: Do I Wanna Know?, Arctic Monkeys – it was up there with ‘Four Simple Words’ by Frank Turner and Black Sabbath’s ‘God Is Dead?’ but being released in the middle of the year as the first song by the band in well over a year, it was always going to be something special. It was a nice surprise returning from a camping week to hear this song, a nice blend of heavy guitar and bass accompanied by Alex Turner’s incredible vocals. It is masterfully written and presents a clear and strong message based around the connection you have to someone. 

Album of the year: Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man – having not heard of the band before spending a weekend away in Southampton to visit my sister back in July, I was excited to hear what music was produced by the band. Their new album was released and instantly became a favourite of mine, every single song on it is brilliant and makes me want to keep listening. Sure ‘AM’ was brilliant but it didn’t have me as hooked as Portugal. The Man did. If you haven’t listened to them before then I would heavily recommend them. Their music is a little different but beautiful nonetheless.

Best Live Act: shared winners Arctic Monkeys and Fleetwood Mac- I know I’m cheating by choosing two, but despite Reading Festival in the summer nothing compares to either of these acts. Fleetwood Mac performed for three hours straight and were musically perfect whilst still putting on a good show. Then Arctic Monkeys differed from that, being more energetic and making me dance harder than I’ve ever danced before. A particular highlight for me was the blend of their song ‘Arabella’ and the Black Sabbath classic ‘War Pigs’. Both were completely different styles of performing, but either way I witnessed true titans of music.

Television Programme of the Year: Breaking Bad – I don’t think I need to elaborate here. It was insane and there was no Sherlock to compete. Next.

Film of the Year: Kings of Summer – A beautiful, charming, funny and heartwarming film that was probably missed by most people I know. An obscure comedy about three teenagers who decide to live in the forest, reminding us all of the times we wanted to be free when we were younger. It shows the value of friendship, challenges the value of family and makes you laugh out loud in between. It is a genuine treasure of the year and it’s a shame so many people missed it. I would heavily recommend this film to anyone that is human. 

Cinema Shock of the Year : Trance – I came out of the cinema screening and didn’t know what to think. It was how I imagine ‘Inception’ would be if it was directed by Quentin Tarantino. I’m not saying it wasn’t good because it was a very good film, it’s just not one for the faint hearted. Danny Boyle did a terrific job but it should not have a 15 certificate. 

Film Soundtrack of the Year : Silver Linings Playbook – I can’t really say a lot more than it’s a perfect soundtrack for a damn good film. A good blend of old and contemporary songs that link to the mindset of the characters so well. I love it. My review of the film can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/rapid-reviews-silver-linings-playbook/

“I shouldn’t like it but I do” Film of the Year : The World’s End – those who are followers of my blog will know how much I thought of this film. Yes it was ill disciplined, yes it wasn’t as funny as ‘Hot Fuzz’, but I don’t care. The use of sci fi humour and the underlying theme of what it means to be a human, and furthermore being proud of being human were enough to make me very happy indeed. Again, my review of the film can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/the-worlds-end-review-no-spoilers-the-cornetto-trilogys-worthy-last-installment/

Acting Performance of the Year : Joaquin Phoenix, The Master –  I know it was technically a 2012 film for some but it was nominated for the 2013 Academy Awards so I think it counts. Honestly I cannot give Mr Phoenix enough credit for this role, he was absolutely superb. The scenes that were improvised were chilling and gritty and then the scripted scenes were perfected. This award very nearly went to Jennifer Lawrence for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ purely because of the shock factor but in the end Joaquin really put on a good show and showed us just how unstable a character can be.

Nerd Pleasing Moment of the Year : Doctor Who 50th Special – Star Trek didn’t get this award. Thor didn’t get this award. Superman definitely didn’t get this award. There was only going to be one winner, and that was indeed the anniversary special of Doctor Who back in November. The combination of David Tennant, John Hurt and careful writing (finally) made the episode as good as it was. I was overjoyed when it turned out to be as good as it was and I think it was a near perfect way of celebrating what is one of the best television programmes ever to be made.

I Told You So Award :  shared winners Man Of Steel and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – This is again an award that is shared between two films, and it is for the films that I warned people about before but they didn’t listen. What I mean by this is simple: ‘Man of Steel’ was ruined because Zack Snyder concentrates too much on visuals and so the film lacked substance. A secondly, ‘The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug’ is still too long and it doesn’t need to be that long. Both films could have been a lot better and it’s a shame because I wanted to enjoy them both a lot more than I did. Incidentally I reviewed the second installment of The Hobbit recently which can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaug-the-film-is-long-meaning-my-review-is/

Blog Post of the Year : “Tim Burton vs Christopher Nolan – The Batman Argument” – this was always going to be a favourite of mine. It took a long time to write due to the research behind it, but it was worth it. It was a lot of fun to write and to this day it still remains my most viewed blog post. It was my response to an article saying that Tim Burton made better Batman films than Christopher Nolan. In all fairness the article was very well written and they formed a strong argument, however I responded accordingly, and if you haven’t read it then it can be found here: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/08/30/tim-burton-vs-christopher-nolan-the-batman-argument/

Runners up for my favourite blog post were:

Cloud Atlas review: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/rapid-reviews-cloud-atlas-dvd/

Great Gatsby review: https://adamdlester17.wordpress.com/2013/06/05/the-could-be-better-gatsby-no-spoilers/

So there you have it, my review of different elements the year had to throw at us. Were they the best choices? Probably not but they were the ones that stood out to me and the ones that had the biggest impact.

On a side note I would just like to say a huge thank you to everybody who has followed my blog or indeed anybody who has read it. Even the one time means a lot to me and I’m grateful for anybody who takes the time to look at my work. I started this blog a year ago and didn’t even imagine it would be as well received as it has been so I would like to thank those who have supported me throughout the year. Thank you to everyone who has made this year so brilliant, and I wish everyone all the best for 2014.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Review

I will apologise in advance for not making this one of my rapid reviews. I was going to make this a reasonably short review but I realised I did have quite a lot to say about the film. So it’s time to batten down the hatches and wait for the storm of comments from Tolkien fans like last time, but the most basic comment I could make about it is simply: it is better and I enjoyed it, but it is still too long.

I sat down in the afternoon screening, drink at my side, replica of the one ring around my neck (please don’t judge) and an open mind that was ready for a new cinema experience. I went in wanting this to be a really good film and to come out of it ranting and raving about how incredible it was and how right the mass audiences were. However my patience was tested somewhat after 160 minutes of footage.

I will say first of all that I do think it is good. Honestly, I thought it worked perfectly as an action film and delivered me a lot of pleasure in seeing some of my favourite sections of the book put to the big screen with delicacy. Peter Jackson clearly cares about the source material and respects it, which is why he takes so much care in making his films. Unlike the first film the pace is better, but I think that’s purely based on it’s timing in the novel, starting a point that is quite literally in the middle of the action and then delivering us a chunk of the events from the adventure. I still hold the belief that this will be the best film of the trilogy.

I have to say that one of my favourite elements of the film was how they put Mirkwood to the screen. I have never been so terrified of spiders in all my life, and to be honest the people who made the second Harry Potter film should really take note. It was brilliant. The huge landscape shots of this chilling environment were accompanied perfectly by the close up shots and attention to detail, to the point where you can honestly feel and smell the environment based on what’s on screen.

The acting is once again top notch, Bilbo is one of my favourite characters of all time and it is a real treat to see Martin Freeman playing the role perfectly. The dwarves are as funny as ever, lead of course by Richard Armitage who once again manages to portray a conflicted character longing for his home land but concerned for his own safety. The new star of the film for me personally was Benedict Cumberbatch who proved to be a very good choice as the voice of Smaug the dragon. I understand that his voice has been brutally edited to sound like it is coming from a creature rather than an actor in a studio, but I still think he has done a brilliant job and it is exactly the voice I heard in my head when reading his lines in the novel. The timing between words and sentences, the emphasis on certain words, and the times you can tell Cumberbatch wanted to sound menacing. He was fantastic.

Now I’m not a huge expert on visuals so I won’t pretend to be, but I feel I should address it nonetheless. Personally I didn’t like the visuals for some of the film, I feel as though they were too rushed and didn’t do the book justice. See the thing about the book is this, there is a lot of attention to detail, Tolkien is a fan of adding lots of detail so that the image in your head is as vivid as could possibly be. What you have in the case of the film is faced paced action sequences that are a little bit tricky to follow based on the head ache that develops each time an arrow is fired and the camera angle attempts to follow it. The dragon was always going to be an interesting element to the film, being an important character and a challenge for any visual team. The trailer earlier this year sparked some doubts among fans, but I don’t feel as though it was too bad. Smaug’s presence was intimidating and you could feel the weight of every step he took which was terrifying yet brilliant at the same time.But I would be lying if I said I thought it was perfect, because it was far from that. In fact there were times during Smaug’s appearance when I felt as though I was witnessing the final boss fight of a Playstation 2 game.

This is the bit where Tolkien fans will throw things at me and want to deliver fire upon my household, but I’m going to say it any way: the film is too long.

What annoyed me about the film was that the length was taken up by things we didn’t need to be added. All of the added plot lines surrounding the necromancer were not needed and took up screen time. There is a point also at which there are three different plot lines happening at once and it did make me feel quite irritated. I agree entirely with Mark Kermode in the sense that the film could be two hours long and still be a good film. I know that die hard Tolkien fans will think it’s brilliant because there’s elements added from The Silmarillion, but honestly we don’t need them. It pads out the film unnecessarily and derives the focus away from a book that has enough substance already. It was too long and it honestly didn’t need to be that long.

As if the fans didn’t hate me enough by this point I’m going to add to the reasons to dislike me by saying that I didn’t like the addition of Legolas to the proceedings. I know he added an element of action to the film. I know it an appearance from a character we all love. I know he was the most “bad ass” character in the film. But did we need it? No.

The pace of the film was, and I’m sorry this is the truth, what Kermode refers to as “turned up to eleventy-stupid” which was disappointing. Legolas added to the pace of the action scenes and showed that the second and first unit directors can handle a fast paced action sequence, but he added nothing to the plot. It annoys me that so much action was added to the film that wasn’t present in the book.  I know the film needs to be interesting and entertaining but what I loved most of all about the book is that it was clever. I love the character of Bilbo because he was clever with words and showed how intelligent he can be. For me this was not translated properly in the film, and the dwarves came charging in all too quickly. The parts of the book I enjoyed the most were when Bilbo was being clever, talking to Smaug for lengthy amounts of time which racked up the tension and added to the development of the characters. I realise I said earlier that the pace was better, but the problem is that the pace starts high and stays high, which for me took away the sense of adventure that the book and even the first film had and replaced it with an over emphasis on battle, which was a disappointment.

I know that different people get different things from films. Some people love it, some people hate it. Personally I hated it and loved it. I enjoyed it because it was made by someone who clearly respects the source material and someone who understands film. I disliked it because I’m too stubborn and I love the book with a passion. Of course I’m not right with what I’ve said about the film, it’s just how I felt after the cinema screening. I may need to review it again after a second viewing. It might be because I’m relying too much on the book and I’m comparing them too much, but the point still stands that it is too long.

Knowing what there is to come and what has already been, I don’t know if I should feel excited or worried about the last installment.

Why is the hunger games really catching fire?

With the release of the ‘Hunger Games’ sequel a couple of weeks ago, the inevitable has happened as I predicted; the box offices figures are flooding out in to the press. Taking a substantial amount at the box office over its opening weekend, the film is already being hailed as a success. With a new director picking up after a film I wasn’t particularly keen on, it’s might be safe to say that there could be hope for the franchise.

After reading a series of different reviews and online commentaries it appears that the new film has been received rather well. I still find this surprising after a rocky start with the first film that never really found itself and failed to reach above average. Many websites are already comparing the series to a number of other film series they feel applies, with some saying it’s like the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and others comparing it to the ‘Alien’ series. When you consider the different comparisons being made it’s easy to spot which direction they all point to: the second film being better than the first.

I think it is fair to say that it could be a case of repeating what happened with the ‘Star Wars’ trilogy and that the second film is better than the first. There is always the chance that a new director will not only bring their own different style and technique but will also improve based on what they feel were the weaknesses and strengths of the previous film. ‘Star Wars’ was always a tough subject because it is quite rightly renowned as one of the best science fiction films of all time. It has a legacy that has so far lasted well in the test of time; I’m just not sure if the same can be said about ‘The Hunger Games’. I don’t know if it will become a similar style of ‘Star Wars’ and stand the test of time proudly, or if it will go the way of ‘Commando’ leaving us in thirty years feeling as though we remember how good it was at the time but can accept it is poor eventually.

I am of course willing to give the new film a chance because I want to remain open minded about the franchise and would like it to be good, but I will already disagree with what some people have been saying. The comparisons are being thrown about left right and centre which is fair enough but I think comparing it to ‘The Godfather’ is a stupid for a number of reasons. Firstly I think it’s a bit silly to try and compare ‘The Hunger Games’ to ‘The Godfather’ series because it is no way near as artistically perfect or well-constructed, or ever will be for that matter. Secondly because the idea of the comparison was to say that both of them had good beginnings but the second film was better, which may be true for ‘The Hunger Games’ but is not true for ‘The Godfather’ which had an artistically perfect first film and an equally perfect sequel. To say that the second ‘Godfather’ is better than the first one is someone’s opinion and they’re entitled to it of course, but I hope they realise it’s an opinion based on nonsense.

As I have said before I’m not going to judge the film yet because I haven’t actually seen it, but I am curious still as to why it’s being hailed so much. Personally I think it could easily be a case of it being a good film but not a great one, but what makes it look good is the fact that the first film was so terrible. It sound negative admittedly but if you take a step back and examine other series you can see that it has happened before on other occasions. Take James Bond for example, some people feel that ‘Skyfall’ only appeared to be a brilliant film because ‘Quantum of Solace’ was so bad before-hand. I’m not sure if that’s true or not because I agree that ‘Skyfall’ was excellent and ‘Quantum of Solace’ was a travesty, but the point still stands that the one before was terrible and it makes the next one look good.

A similar instance happened recently for those who are fans of science fiction, when the ‘Doctor Who’ fiftieth special was aired it pleased fans nationwide (including myself for various reasons) and really did the franchise proud. However after various discussions with a number of fellow Whovians (yes I am using that as a collective term) we all started to feel the same way about the episode. What we all started to realise is that because we all disliked the writing for ‘Doctor Who’ in the series before the special, it was only good to take writing that was slightly better to impress us. This is partially what made it good for me because I was overjoyed that the writers had really bucked their ideas up for the anniversary and put on a really good show and it brought the franchise back up from the depths it plummeted to. Regardless, it was still the idea of what came before that influenced our opinion.

Just earlier this week I found yet another situation where this was true. I sat down finally to watch the latest William Friedkin film ‘Killer Joe’ I had thoughts of a similar nature. Apart from being slightly disturbed and wanting to wash my eyes out with acid I realised I was enjoying a film with Matthew McConaughey in it…because of Matthew McConaughey. It was a worrying feeling but also one that was slightly relieving. I’ve had doubts about him in the past because he’s done some very bad films and has been awful in all of them, but in the case of ‘Killer Joe’ he gives a very good performance and left me feeling both scared and impressed. But yet again it was the same principle, I really enjoyed his performance partly because it was refreshing to see him being talented compared to how awful he has been before.

I realise by this point I have strayed away from my original point quite a bit, but to sum up I am going to stay open minded about ‘Catching Fire’ because I haven’t seen it and obviously it’s worth giving every film a fair chance. I want it to be a good film, but either way I think my opinion of it is going to be heavily influenced based on my thoughts about the first one.