square-eyed-geek’s Top Ten Films of 2021

There’s hectic years, and then there’s 2021, which in some ways was just as fraught and difficult as the dreaded 2020. But instead of dwelling on that, let’s dive right in to why we’re actually here: the best film releases of the last 12 months. Yes, my viewing habits have once again been rather sporadic, what with less trips to the cinema (I’m still wary of sitting in a crowd) and fewer online screeners available (although thankfully the wonderful Glasgow Film Festival offered an extensive virtual strand this year). As such, some of the bigger releases won’t be on here – films that I’m sure I would have liked just as much as many others did. But hey, this list is all a bit of fun, so I thought I’d write it anyway. You never know, there might be a title I mention that you’ve not yet seen, and which you’re eager to check out after you’ve read about it. And honestly, that’s my only goal with this blog – to share the things I love with all of you, in the hope that you’ll enjoy them as much as I did.

As with my previous top tens, I’ve compiled this using UK release dates for this year, mostly to make this list easier to keep track of. So without further ado, here’s my favourite films of 2021!:

10. Lamb

Lamb (2021)

This intriguing folk horror about a couple (Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason) who take in a new born lamb has a deliberate, unrushed pace that creates a terrifying sense of dread throughout – a method that makes this a mesmerising yet very uncomfortable watch. Writer-director Valdimar Jóhannsson keeps his cards close to his chest during the first part of the story, hinting at all sorts of macabre goings-on at the edge of frame as we try to guess where it’s heading, until a genuinely unexpected reveal that will have you reassessing everything that’s already happened. Shots of the desolate but beautiful Icelandic landscape and close-ups of farmyard animals add to the overall tension of the narrative, as do the performances from the exceptional cast, particularly Rapace who gives a brilliant and heartbreaking turn as the lamb’s adoptive mother, her face barely masking the fear she has that her new, happy life can’t last forever.

(Read my full review of Lamb here).

9. Sound of Metal

Sound of Metal (2019)

When heavy metal drummer Ruben (Riz Ahmed) begins to permanently lose his hearing, he suddenly finds himself very alone in a world he can’t understand in this bold and emotional drama from writer-director Darius Marder. With amazing sound design which allows us to hear what he does (or doesn’t), Marder puts us in Ruben’s shoes as he struggles to adjust to this new change in his life, trying to learn sign language while still hoping to gain enough money for a cochlear implant so he can go back to how things used to be. Ahmed’s portrayal also handles both sides of that story, showing the pain Ruben feels at all that he’s lost, but offering a glimmer of hope at what he may have found, if only he can stick with it. An intimate portrait about identity, as well as a wonderful account of the deaf community and what it can do for so many people, Marder’s film is an incredible, touching drama, with a beautiful final message that will stay with you for a long time.

8. First Cow

First Cow (2019)

Kelly Reichardt returns to the screen with this gentle 1820s Oregon-set tale of the first cow brought to the region, and the two chancers (John Magaro and Orion Lee) who see a golden opportunity to steal milk from the animal to make delicious oily cakes they can sell. Yet this is first and foremost a moving story about human kindness and friendship, the bond between this pair of outsiders growing ever stronger as the money starts rolling in and they navigate their troubles together. And there may be plenty of that just around the corner when the rich owner of the cow (Toby Jones) takes a sudden liking to them and their baked goods. Reichardt’s drama has a low-key realism that keeps us hooked throughout that charming narrative, her understated direction letting the stunning landscapes and performances speak for themselves, especially Magaro and Lee who are both wonderful as the odd couple at the centre of the tale. There might not be a lot going on here plot-wise, but this is a powerful and captivating film nonetheless, and one with an absolutely heartbreaking ending that will leave you reeling.

7. The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog (2021)

Jane Campion’s drama is a slow-paced affair to begin with, Campion delicately unravelling all the threads of Thomas Savage’s novel as she introduces us to Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) – two brothers who run a ranch with very different temperaments. However, when George moves his new bride Rose (Kirsten Dunst) into their home, things shift into much darker territory, the resentful Phil suddenly showing just how nasty and manipulative he can really be. This is a film that always seems on the verge of violence, Campion hinting at a masculine rage Phil is barely able to contain, particularly around Rose’s son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) who he takes an instant disliking to. Yet there’s also a haunting beauty to this that draws us in to this turbulent Western world, Campion’s lyrical direction and intimate shots highlighting an unexpected sensuality in the narrative. The cast are incredible too, but it is Cumberbatch who leaves a lasting impression, his performance bringing Phil to life in all his terrifying glory, while also giving him a gentleness that leaves us feeling oddly sad for this horrific monster of man.

6. Black Bear

Black Bear (2020)

This inventive, meta tale about a filmmaker (Aubrey Plaza) taking some time out at a cabin in the woods starts out like any other ordinary drama, her presence causing all sorts of delicious rifts in the relationship of her welcoming hosts (Sarah Gadon and Christopher Abbott). Yet where it goes next is even more fascinating, writer-director Lawrence Michael Levine turning the very idea of storytelling on its head to deliver something totally unpredictable, his film making us question what we’ve already seen while showing us all new sides to his intriguing characters. Plaza is a tour de force in this too, her portrayal of tortured artist Allison both fierce and filled with pathos and pain, especially in the second half. Not everyone will like the change in the latter part of the plot, but there’s no denying this is still a divine, taut thriller about how we often sabotage ourselves and those around us.

(Read my full review of Black Bear here).

5. Limbo

Limbo (2020)

A drama about refugees stuck on a remote Scottish island sounds like the start of a very depressing story, and indeed Ben Sharrock’s film tackles this subject matter with heartbreaking poignancy. But where Limbo really soars is in its surprising use of humour – laugh-out-loud, absurdist scenes that contrast the serious side of the narrative, making these moments hit all the more harder when they do happen. Sharrock shoots the majority of his wonderful film in a 4:3 aspect ratio, reflecting how trapped the migrants feel even amongst the vast Scottish landscapes, with young Syrian refugee Omar (the exceptional Amir El-Masry) particularly lost in this strange new place away from his family. A beautiful, moving film about the despair many face at the hands of such a ridiculous system, yet one that shows the power of compassion and community as well. It also has the most hilarious opening sequence of any release this year. You’ll never listen to Hot Chocolate’s ‘It Started with a Kiss’ the same way again.

4. Another Round

Another Round (2020)

A group of friends decide to test an intriguing theory out – that the human body has a blood alcohol level that is .05 percent too low, and we would therefore perform better with a couple of glasses of booze in us every day. It’s an odd idea for a plot, but writer-director Thomas Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm make it work with a delicious mix of comedy and drama, creating a delightful yet incredibly dark film that shows how drinking can help and hinder, in all sorts of unexpected ways. However, what starts as a story about getting wasted (or slightly wasted) becomes something even more poignant and reflective as it unfolds, Vinterberg turning this into a wonderful celebration of life itself. With bold, realistic performances from the ensemble cast (particularly Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen), Vinterberg’s film is one of his finest, and will have you laughing and crying in equal measure. It also features an amazing dance sequence – a scene that I guarantee will give you a spring in your own step after watching it (and which will make Scarlet Pleasure’s ‘What A Life’ your earworm for the rest of the week).

3. Riders of Justice

Riders of Justice (2020)

Yes, it certainly was a good year for fans of Danish cinema and Mads Mikkelsen. For me, this Mikkelsen release just about won over Another Round, mostly for its macabre, absurdist comedy and its surprisingly emotional delivery. And I really am a sucker for an Anders Thomas Jensen film too. Mikkelsen is exceptional as Markus, a man reeling after a tragic accident and with so much pent-up rage and anguish that he doesn’t know where to put it. But when an unlikely trio (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Lars Brygmann and Nicolas Bro) tell him they believe the incident was actually the work of a notorious biker gang, Markus suddenly has an outlet, setting out to enact some well-earned vengeance on the baddies responsible, while his three new friends tag along for the ride. With scenes of side-splitting humour (mostly courtesy of Bro as the foul-mouthed Emmenthaler) and explosive, bloody violence, there’s rarely a dull moment in Jensen’s gripping thriller. Yet what stays with you is how unexpectedly touching and tender this is, with Mikkelsen and Kaas giving career-best performances as two characters both affected by loss in highly different ways. An incredible comedy-drama about finding help from others and being brave enough to ask in the first place, and a film you’ll want to revisit time and time again.

(Read my full review of Riders of Justice here).

2. Minari

Minari (2020)

Lee Isaac Chung’s 1980s-set film about a Korean-American family moving to Arkansas is endlessly charming and wonderfully sweet, with many moments captured with such vividness they feel like real memories come to life (Chung based the story on his childhood). Stunning cinematography gives a magical quality to the rural landscapes Jacob (Steven Yeun) tries to tame in order to start his own farm – an endeavour his wife Monica (Yeri Han) is apprehensive about, particularly after they’ve both left behind well-paid jobs in California. But it is their adorable son David (Alan Kim) who really steals our hearts and the narrative, his world suddenly turned upside down by the arrival of his grandmother (the amazing Yuh-jung Youn), who insists on several changes in their household that David hates (least of all replacing his beloved Mountain Dew with a healthy Korean drink). With Chung’s confident direction coaxing understated yet emotional performances from his cast (Yeun and Han are especially brilliant as husband and wife) and a compelling mix of comedy and drama throughout, Chung has created a richly-textured portrait of family life that is so enchanting, you’ll never want it to end.

(Read my full review of Minari here).

1. Petite Maman

Petite Maman (2021)

For the longest time, Minari was my number 1 film of the year. Then this little gem came along and easily skipped ahead to the top spot. Written and directed by the magnificent Céline Sciamma, this captivating tale of childhood, friendship and grief follows the young Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), who’s trying to process the recent death of her grandmother while she helps her parents (Nina Meurisse and Stéphane Varupenne) clear out her grandmother’s old home. Yet when the close bond she has with her Mum is threatened by the loss hanging over them, Nelly meets a new friend (Gabrielle Sanz) in the nearby woods – a relationship that she soon comes to realise offers her an incredible opportunity. To talk any more about the plot of Petite Maman would ruin the joy of seeing it for the first time, so I certainly won’t do that. But needless to say, Sciamma has created another delightful, poignant story, adding an unexpected magical element that is fascinating to watch unfold. However, there’s also a subtlety to her writing that focuses on the realism of her narrative, which at its heart is a profound reflection on the relationship between mothers and daughters, portrayed here in all its glorious ups and downs. With Claire Mathon’s cinematography highlighting the dazzling beauty of nature, and spellbinding music by Jean-Baptiste de Laubier (aka. Para One), this is a sublime, fairytale-like drama filled with wonderful moments that capture the joy of childhood and the power of imagination, as well as a film that will have you utterly transfixed from start to finish. And if you don’t shed a tear or two during the boat scene, then you’re a stronger person than me.

(Read my full review of Petite Maman here).

(Films that just missed out on the top ten: Apples, After Love, In the Earth, Palm Springs, Censor, Dreams on Fire, Bo Burnham: Inside, Underplayed, Rosa’s Wedding).

And that’s it for another year of my favourite top ten films. Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on these brilliant releases of the past 12 months. Stay safe, and I hope we all have a better and brighter 2022. (As always, post a comment below if there’s anything you think I left out of my top ten, or if there’s any films I’ve included that also make your 2021 list!).

12 Years a Slave – Steve McQueen takes us on a harrowing journey with his award-winning film

Steve McQueen’s previous 2 films have already shown us that the versatile director isn’t afraid to take a bold stance on hard-hitting issues. Whether it be the IRA hunger strikes (Hunger, 2008) or a raw look at sex addiction (Shame, 2011) McQueen has often explored overlooked subject matter, examining them in a brutal yet truthful way. With his most recent film McQueen has again given the world an unflinching look at another subject, this time the sensitive issue of slavery. 12 Years a Slave (2013) is the true story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who in 1841 was kidnapped as a free man and sold into slavery. Adapted by John Ridley from Northup’s own novel of his experience we follow Solomon on his arduous journey and witness the many startling atrocities he and the other slaves have to endure, all the while as Solomon desperately tries to find a way back home to his wife and children. The film has been McQueen’s biggest success to date, commercially and in terms of accolades it has been awarded. Indeed there’s more than one reason this spectacularly powerful film has won so many awards, including this year’s Oscar for Best Picture.

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Steve McQueen’s forthright direction is something that is always noticeable in his films. Every shot announces his presence, McQueen using the images onscreen to make a statement in every frame and to keep the viewer connected to the events depicted. 12 Years a Slave is no different. Throughout McQueen uses long shots that linger on the characters or on the horrors the slaves’ are subjected to, Sean Bobbitt’s cinematography almost documentary style at times as he follows the action, putting the viewer right there with the characters. One such shot that rivals even McQueen’s own magnificent long take used in Hunger (a 17-minute shot of 2 characters talking) is a single, static shot of Solomon as he is left hanging from a tree. McQueen stays with it for what feels like a decade, Solomon’s tiptoes desperately dancing over the mud as he tries to stay alive – just one example of how McQueen ekes out the tension to breaking point throughout the film in order to make a stronger and lasting impact.

His presence is also felt in his bold depiction of shocking incidents, often shown here up close and in all their raw detail, an approach that McQueen also used to deal with the tough subject matter of his previous 2 films. And indeed there are many moments in 12 Years a Slave that will make you want to look away. But McQueen keeps his camera focused on the brutalities, forcing us to watch. This depiction of violence might at first seem to some as excessive and even unnecessary, yet McQueen understands the importance of showing his audience these tough moments. It means that throughout we are continuously connected to Solomon – we see what he sees and therefore almost feel what he feels, ever by his side through even these horrific moments of pain.

Benedict Cumberbatch as Ford and Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup

For his script, John Ridley has also understood this need to stay connected to Solomon and for the viewer to feel as though they are on a journey alongside him. Throughout his detailed and atmospheric screenplay his characterisation is rich and varied, so much so that even the many minor roles, some of which could have become mere parodies of ‘baddie’ characters, are fleshed out and made whole. Yet Solomon is the one who Ridley makes us feel the most connection to, who he makes us feel the most pathos for and who he makes us identify with – an important man in a very important story.

Of course this journey in 12 Years wouldn’t be felt without a brilliant central performance to go with the great direction and writing. And the film thankfully has this with Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon. Subtle yet powerful throughout, the play of emotions that cross his face in each scene tell a thousand unspoken stories for the character. One such astounding scene is when we see the slaves singing together after having buried one of their own. As Solomon joins in with the singing we literally see the pain and despair cross Ejiofor’s face as he portrays Solomon’s sudden realisation of just how lost his old true life is. How Ejiofor didn’t win an Oscar for his performance is completely beyond me.

Epps (Michael Fassbender) threatens Solomon

Other roles in 12 Years a Slave are brief, yet with Ridley’s rich characterisation paired with many great performances, all are made memorable and add to the detailed background of the story. Sarah Paulson as the harsh wife of a plantation owner, Paul Giamatti as a slave trader, Benedict Cumberbatch as a potential shining light in Solomon’s life, Michael K. Williams as a fellow slave, Paul Dano as a brutal overseer to a plantation and many more all portray these difficult and ambiguous characters superbly. However one who sticks in your mind (and who has a slightly larger role to play) is Steve McQueen’s go-to guy, Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, a ruthless plantation and slave owner. What in the wrong hands could have simply been a thuggish brute of a man is in Fassbender’s hands humanised and made realistic. Yes, Epps is still a vile and loathsome man. But Fassbender and Ridley also add many other layers to the character, perfectly portraying him as an infinitely complex man who has a war raging inside his own head and who only knows how to respond to anything with violence.

The other character in the supporting cast who makes a lasting impression is Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey, a young slave on Epps’ plantation. Nyong’o displays the sort of onscreen magnetism rarely seen in an actor, drawing us in every second she is onscreen. In a role filled with pain and pathos she truly brings Patsey to life – a poor and beaten soul who nonetheless shows some remaining spirit hidden within her. Every moment with her truly is captivating, as well as completely heartbreaking.

The incredible Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave

Some might be put off by the graphic depictions of violence and the sensitive subject matter. Many may also feel that it’s too much of an endurance watch to bother seeing. But if you let this cloud your judgement of the film then you are missing the point. The film needed to be unflinching in order to truly do justice to this story of this poor man’s life and a nation of others subjected to slavery. And let’s face it, this was never going to be easy viewing. 12 Years a Slave is beautifully adapted by John Ridley from a book and story few have heard about and perfectly acted by a great ensemble cast, especially by Chiwetel Ejiofor. However it is Steve McQueen’s direction, coupled with Sean Bobbitt’s beautiful yet brutal cinematography, that really pulls you into this harrowing story at every moment and never lets you go. By the end you’ll almost certainly be in tears with this heart-wrenching tale, but it will be worth it to see one of the most gorgeous, powerful and riveting films of this year.

Oscars 2014 – Well, it was fun while it lasted…

Last night, as I’m sure the entire universe is aware, the 86th Annual Academy Awards took place. This year the show was hosted by the amazing Ellen DeGeneres, and as usual I decided to watch the whole thing in full. Was it worth it? Hmm. I think this year was the first time I was really doubtful about whether it was.

While Ellen DeGeneres was a good host and she gave a funny opening speech, the rest of the show was pretty joke free. There was one great joke about a giant selfie she took (which apparently temporarily broke Twitter as that many people retweeted it). However then there was the gag about ordering pizza for the whole audience and sharing it out when it came, a gag which was a little bit chucklesome at the start but then became ridiculous. Especially when it was repeated about three times. In my opinion Seth MacFarlane did a much better job last year – it felt like more of a show then, with more performances throughout the night, and (more importantly) more jokes that were actually laugh-out-loud. Yes, he can be stupidly offensive for no reason sometimes, but maybe that’s what the Oscars needs, rather than this year when it just felt like they were playing it safe.

But on to who won the awards themselves… 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture and director Steve McQueen gave a beautiful, heartbreaking acceptance speech. Although it wasn’t great that McQueen didn’t win for Best Director as well, I think Alfonso Cuarón’s win was the Academy’s way of giving out awards to both films so one or the other wasn’t missed out completely. And at least Gravity didn’t win for Best Picture. Imagine the uproar if that had happened. As good a film as it is, as well as a technical marvel and a stunning watch, imagine the controversy if it had won over a film dealing with slavery. Was never going to happen. Plus Alfonso Cuarón does deserve an award for his direction for Gravity – to spend that many years developing something like that is a real feat. And he’s been snubbed for the Best Director Oscar before – the Academy do love to make amends for a mistake. There’s hope for you yet Steve McQueen.

The biggest controversy of the night was probably Leonardo DiCaprio not winning the award for Best Actor. AGAIN. Seriously what does this guy have to do to get an award from you Academy? Matthew McConaughey more than deserved it for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club though (however I really think that film is lacking in other areas, such as having a strong plot for the whole of its running time). And although both Leo and Matthew play characters based on real people, who was really going to win? – the guy playing a real-life hero who had AIDS? Or the guy playing a real-life arsehole? Maybe another year Leo…

The least shocking award of the night though went to Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, which pretty much everyone has been predicting since it came out. And why not? – Blanchett more than earned it with that stunning performance. Lupita Nyong’o also won for Best Supporting Actress for 12 Years a Slave and pretty much cemented herself in everyones’ hearts as the sweetest person on the planet. And Jared Leto also gave a beautiful speech with his win for Dallas Buyers Club – again, well-deserved as he was one of the only things that kept me watching that film (along with Matthew McConaughey of course).

However the two shockers of the night for me were the awards for screenwriting. Best Adapted Screenplay went to John Ridley for his adaptation of 12 Years a Slave, which is great and well-earned, but I would have thought Terence Winter was a shoe-in for his adaptation of the amazing The Wolf of Wall Street. So in the end Wolf won FLIP ALL. Guess the Academy weren’t so fond of a film about money, drugs and sex as I was hoping (I’m being sarcastic by the way, it was never going to win). Also a surprise was the award for Best Original Screenplay which I predicted would go to Woody Allen for Blue Jasmine…but which went to Spike Jonze for Her!!! I adore that film and it was quite a shock to see the Academy go for something quite so original and strange as Her. But I’m very thankful that they did.

All in all last nights Oscars was a weirdly subdued ordeal with few surprises. It was also a night of Pharrell Williams dancing with Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, John Travolta getting Idina Menzel’s name wrong (“Adele Dazim” indeed – HOW DARE YOU SIR) and expert photobombing on the red carpet from many celebs including Jared Leto and the overall winner Benedict Cumberbatch for spectacularly photobombing U2 (seriously check out the pic if you’ve not seen it yet, it’s like he’s a professional or something…). And that’s it for another year. Roll on 2015 when there will be someone else getting snubbed, no surprises and even fewer jokes (from me or next year’s host – you decide…). Yay!!!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Round 2 for Bilbo and the Dwarves in Peter Jackson’s halfway point of his Hobbit trilogy

Last time we saw the courageous Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) he had (just) survived numerous attacks and death itself and, along with 13 Dwarves and Gandalf the Grey Wizard (Ian McKellen), he was in the middle of an arduous journey to The Lonely Mountain to take back the Dwarves rightful kingdom from a terrible Dragon called Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). Their quest now continues in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013), Peter Jackson’s second film in his trilogy adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. And things have definitely picked up pace for the middle story in Jackson’s new Middle-earth trilogy.

Although the overall momentum to the film is a lot better, things are at first very slow to get going, as they admittedly were in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012). Even the appearance of the shapeshifting Beorn (Mikael Persbrandt), a fan favourite, can’t liven proceedings. But once Gandalf is (again) off to sort out some things with a pesky Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch again), leaving the Dwarves and Bilbo to head into the murky depths of Mirkwood forest alone, the fun really starts. As with Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) this time the group is split, which again means multiple storylines. Rather than being confusing though the transitions between each are thankfully seamless, Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro’s script effortlessly switching from character to character, lending equal weight to all of the different narratives in the film while never losing focus on the main part and also the main hero of the story; Bilbo himself.

Speaking of Bilbo, Martin Freeman is again brilliant as the brave little Hobbit. He’s certainly found his (Hobbit) feet in this sequel and has really grown into the role. He is even funnier than in the first film, but like before he is also able to play it serious when he needs to, with the right mix of terror and determination that makes the Hobbit who he is – someone who knows he is terrifyingly out of place, yet who is determined to survive.

The rest of the returning cast are also excellent again, in particular Richard Armitage as the Dwarves hot-headed leader Thorin Oakenshield and Aidan Turner in a now expanded role as the young Dwarf Kili. This bigger role for Kili is due to a new storyline that has been added, as well as an entirely new character not seen in the book: Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) the female Elf warrior. I was highly dubious about adding a new character to the story, especially as it seemed she was merely being including so there was a female character present, as well as to add a romance element. However the new role actually works – Tauriel is a strong-willed character and interesting in her own right, and it helps that Lilly is very likeable in the role too. The romance storyline also works and is sweet without being overly sentimental or forced and, more importantly, you care what happens.

However it is seeing other characters actually from the book that makes this sequel all the more fun. We finally get to see Elvenking Thranduil (Lee Pace) who we only glimpsed in the first Hobbit film. Pace is a brilliant combo of overdramatic gestures and fierce stares – an intense character who we’ll hopefully get to see again in the last film. Yet it is Thranduil’s son, a returning character who we all know and love, who more people will be excited to see: Legolas the Elf (Orlando Bloom). His role from the book has also been expanded on and as with the other extended roles it works well. So not only do we get to see more thrilling Legolas action moments, we also get more backstory for the character in terms of his relationship with his father, as well as his complicated friendship with new Elf Tauriel. It also can’t be denied that although Bloom isn’t much of an actor, he really is brilliant as Legolas and does the character complete justice. He is superb in all the fight scenes yet good for the dramatic moments as the naïve and boyish Elf who doesn’t know much beyond the secluded Elven land he lives in. It is also great to see Bloom back in a role he clearly feels comfortable in, and for this reason it is a more than welcome return for the character and the actor to the world of Middle-earth.

The best character addition from the book for me though, and in my opinion one of the best performances, is Luke Evans as Bard the Bowman of Lake-town. Evans plays the complexity of Bard brilliantly – a conflicted man who wants to help others but who is also struggling to provide for his family and keep them safe in an increasingly unsafe place. Even more impressive a performance and character though is a villain from the book who finally makes an appearance – a certain Dragon called Smaug… Played by Benedict Cumberbatch via motion capture and with his remarkable vocals he creates a menacing serpentine foe. The design for Smaug is also superb and this paired with the amazing motion capture technology, as well as Cumberbatch’s terrifying performance, has created an incredibly realistic creature who is almost weirdly humanlike at times, especially in the way it taunts Bilbo.

The appearance of the main villain of the story means one thing too: scarier moments, as well as more exhilarating action. Indeed the closing scenes with Smaug are excellent and horribly tense. However the one scene that really impressed me is the barrel scene. As I mentioned in my review of the first film, The Hobbit is one of my favourite ever childhood books and although I love plenty of other moments in the book, without a doubt the barrel scene is my personal favourite. And thankfully Peter Jackson has done the moment complete credit. It is in fact better than I could ever have imagined – so well-choreographed as an action piece and absolutely breath-taking to watch…as well as hilarious too! Overall though all of the set pieces in this film are all brilliantly interpreted and realised from the book, and it makes me very excited to see just what Jackson has in store for the last film.

Peter Jackson’s second film in The Hobbit trilogy is a big step up from his first – miles more exciting and better paced, even if it is a little slow to get going. This is down to the main chuck of the storyline being used as well as an exciting new array of characters that we get to meet. And we all know what “sequel” means: more action and more danger, which benefits this film greatly. However not only has the action been stepped up for this sequel, there are also more violent and gory moments (multiple beheadings!). Yes, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug is a sequel that has more grit and marks the series taking a turn into the more serious – less of a children’s story and now entering into the more adult Lord of the Rings territory. Yet along with this seriousness, Jackson never loses grip on the fun aspect of this film delivering a superior fantasy sequel that nearly surpasses The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers in terms of thrills and action. Some might be frustrated by the abrupt cliffhanger ending, but it’ll be worth waiting until later this year to see the final exhilarating film to complete Jackson’s trilogy.

square-eyed-geek’s Top Ten Best Films of 2013

Another year gone and another year filled with filmic goodies (and baddies – I’m looking at you Spring Breakers…). And that means another round of films that have managed to make it into my top ten best films of 2013. Same case as last year – I only count films released in the UK in 2013. Also same as last year, there have been many films I’ve missed in 2013 (Blue Is the Warmest Colour and Nebraska being just two I can name), so apologies for that. But this is a list of the films square-eyed-geek (moi herself) has seen and reviewed overall this year on this blog. Because let’s face it, everyone loves a list. Let the countdown commence…

10: Behind the Candelabra

Technically in the States this was a HBO TV film, but over here we got to see it as was originally intended – up on the big screen. Steven Soderbergh’s film shows the flamboyant life of performer Liberace (Michael Douglas) and his secret lover Scott Thorson (Matt Damon) through the turbulent ups and downs of their relationship. Director Soderbergh creates a riveting film that (as usual) looks beautiful at all times, with a great script by Richard LaGravenese and built around two great central performances from the pair, especially Douglas who brings Liberace to life in all his fun, OTT glory.

9: This Is the End

Without a doubt the funniest comedy I have seen this year…scratch that, in a very long time. Might be a bit too rude and crude for some, but for me seeing a cast featuring James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride all playing themselves and trying to survive the apocalypse in one the most meta films of 2013 was a riot. It also had more fab cameos than you could shake a proverbial stick at and great one-liners too. I am proud to say out loud that I LIKED IT. Scratch that – I LOVED IT.

8: In A World…

Another comedy, this time an indie comedy with heart. Clearly working on so many rom-coms herself had taught writer-director-star Lake Bell a thing or two in this film about the voiceover industry and one woman’s struggle to make herself heard. In A World… is a different sort of rom-com though – not only is it hilarious but it has genuine feelings and (shock horror) zero sap. Bell has also marked herself as one to definitely watch out for in the future with her brilliant central performance, her excellent script and her great direction – clearly a serious talent who has it all.

7: Trance

After conquering all with his Olympic Games opening ceremony in 2012, Danny Boyle returns to the world of film with a head-trippy flick about a guy (James McAvoy – excellent) hoping a hypnotherapist (Rosario Dawson) can unlock the secrets in his head about the whereabouts of a stolen painting before some thugs get to him. With great visuals throughout (as can be expected in a Danny Boyle film) and a brilliantly paced twisty tale this is gripping to watch too…even if the ending is a little bit overkill.

6: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

A return to the world of Middle-earth, and it’s never been more fun. Peter Jackson directs the second in his trilogy adaptation of the book and amps up everything for the main part of the storyline, including some more nasty creatures, superb action and set pieces, some returning characters (Legolas! – a welcome return from Orlando Bloom) and new ones, some from the book such as Bard the Bowman (Luke Evans) and some written in that surprisingly and thankfully work (Tauriel the Elf played by Evangeline Lilly). All this plus the icing on the cake: a big, flipping dragon in the shape (and voice) of Benedict Cumberbatch. (Full review coming soon!).

5: Mud

A brilliantly acted drama with a stellar performance by Matthew McConaughey as the mysterious Mud, the titular man who two kids (Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland – also amazing) stumble across one day living in an abandoned boat they have found. But what is his secret? Writer and director Jeff Nichols creates a poignant coming-of-age tale that doesn’t spoon-feed his audience with answers and that is filled with interesting and engaging characters, as well as performances from a great cast.

4: Blue Jasmine

Another film that is an example of an acting masterclass at work, this time from Cate Blanchett. Her broken and naïve Jasmine is a New York socialite come to live with her sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) to get her life back together after her fraudster husband (Alec Baldwin) is sent to prison. Woody Allen creates another beautiful story set in another city he clearly loves, this time San Francisco. Allen’s film is both hilarious yet also heartwarmingly sweet and sad. It is also filled with great characters and an excellent cast who can handle both the comedy and the dramatic elements (in particular a tempestuous Bobby Cannavale as Ginger’s boyfriend Chili). But really, this is Blanchett’s film all the way…

3: Much Ado About Nothing

For a while this was my number 1 film of the year, but it gradually slipped as the year went on. It has still managed to make the top 3 though… Shakespeare adaptations are easy to come by these days, but few are as inventive, fun and clever as this. Joss Whedon updates The Bard’s prose to modern-day California for a film that he shot in just 12 days during a contractual post-production break after shooting Avengers Assemble (2012)…as you do. The cast are all superb and hilarious for one of Shakespeare’s funniest tales and Amy Acker and Alexis Denisof make a great central pair as Beatrice and Benedick, the reluctantly matched lovers. And the black-and-white lensing, as well as the inventive scene set-ups using nearly every part of Whedon’s house, are beautiful to watch and brilliantly choreographed. Not since Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet (1996) has a Shakespeare adaptation been this creative and entertaining to watch.

2: Django Unchained

I had my own internal struggle about which in my top ten should be first and which should be second. In the end, Quentin Tarantino’s latest just, JUST missed out on the top spot. His spaghetti-western tale about the slave Django (Jamie Foxx) being freed by a bounty hunter (the ever amazing Christoph Waltz) and searching for his bride Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) is superb viewing – over 2 hours and the time barely feels like it’s passed once you reach the finish line. As ever Tarantino’s film is well-paced, his script buzzing with clever and funny dialogue as well as his usual use of hard-hitting violence. It’s also filled with great, outlandish characters performed ably by a game cast, in particular Leonardo DiCaprio as the ruthless plantation owner Calvin Candie. Some have criticised Tarantino’s depiction of slavery but they’re missing the point – this is a cathartic revenge flick about one man’s struggle and a metaphor for retribution against a past that is sometimes forgotten. That it is a brilliant and enthralling watch is a great bonus for one of Tarantino’s best ever films.

1: Gravity

Like I said, the internal struggle over what to crown my number 1 film was hard…but in the end it had to be Gravity. Although Django Unchained is beautifully cinematic in its own way, and entertaining too, I have yet to have seen a film in recent years that is purely for the cinema-going experience – a film that is the perfect blockbuster, with nail-biting tension throughout. And the real bonus about Gravity is that not only is it a great looking flick, it also has a clever and riveting story to match rather than being all style and no substance. It also has a great central performance from Sandra Bullock as medical engineer Ryan Stone who finds herself lost and floating in space when something goes wrong (as it inevitably always does in space). And although the story seems simple, that is the beauty of it in a film that is at its heart a metaphor of one woman trying to overcome her past. Director Alfonso Cuarón has created an intelligent blockbuster that is beautifully lensed and is the first film I have seen to benefit from the use of 3D (especially on an IMAX screen), drawing you into the action and making it all the more terrifying to watch. I don’t often use the word ground-breaking to describe films, but Gravity certainly was that. And that is why it is my number 1 film of 2013.

(Those that just missed my top ten: The Paperboy, Stoker, Star Trek Into Darkness, Elysium, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, A Field in England, Filth, Zero Dark Thirty).

So now that 2013 draws to a close we have all of 2014’s film treats ahead of us. Highlights hopefully should be The Wolf of Wall Street, 12 Years a Slave, American Hustle, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Guardians of the Galaxy and the final film in The Hobbit trilogy. Let’s hope 2014 also slows itself flipping down too, eh? Feels like only yesterday I posted my list of top ten films for 2012… That way I might also get a chance to see more of what’s on offer in 2014 as well. Happy New Year everyone! – from square-eyed-geek. (And remember to drop me a comment below if there’s anything you agree/disagree with in my top ten list!).

Star Trek Into Darkness – J.J. Abrams keeps the Enterprise soaring

Back in 2009 director J.J. Abrams, already famous for producing the hit TV show Lost and directing Mission: Impossible III, rebooted Star Trek for this generation. Abrams used a clever mix of fast-paced action and big laughs, as well as taking the original story in a fascinating new direction while still managing to keep the fans of the original show happy. With this formula Abrams was on to a winner and his version of Star Trek was a huge success. That also meant that there would be an inevitable sequel on the way…and after a 4 year wait, here it is. Titled Star Trek Into Darkness it seems to promise more thrills, more danger and, well, more darkness. But with sequels there are often pitfalls that come from a director trying to set the bar too high. Has J.J. managed to avoid this with his much-anticipated follow-up?

As soon as the film begins we are reintroduced to the crew of the USS Enterprise on their latest mission, and not much has changed since last time we saw them. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is still the maverick bad boy determined to do what he thinks is right rather than follow orders, while Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) is constantly undermining him by rigidly sticking to the rule book. The rest of the crew still remain – Uhura (Zoe Saldana) the ship’s communications officer, Bones (Karl Urban) the ship’s resident and grumpy doctor, Sulu (John Cho) the ship’s intelligent helmsman, Chekov (Anton Yelchin) the young navigator and of course Scotty (Simon Pegg) the ship’s comical engineer. But the balance of the crew is suddenly upset and their entire existence put in jeopardy by a man called John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a terrorist who is intent on destroying Starfleet. Soon Kirk and his crew are in hot pursuit of Harrison and determined to stop him, no matter what the cost…

Director J.J. Abrams and writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (who both wrote the first film) and Damon Lindelof have all achieved something special with this Star Trek sequel. Not only have they managed to match the first film in terms of smart story, gripping action and funny, sharp dialogue, but they have actually managed to surpass it with a plot of greater intensity, wider scope, bigger thrills and more at stake than ever before. Having already been introduced to the much-loved characters and their ways in the first Trek film, this leaves room for J.J. and the writers to drop us right into the action (literally) as soon as the film starts. This quick introduction means there is instantly more time for the intricate narrative to unfold, as well as leaving plenty of time for more of the crew’s adventures. Indeed the game has been upped for this sequel in terms of huge set pieces, in particular a couple of thrilling ones on alien planets, all of which have been superbly and intricately designed but that still have a touch of realism about them. Abrams direction for these big set pieces on these alien worlds, as well as on board the Enterprise and in other moments, is wonderful. His camera is kinetic, moving you along with the characters through the more elaborate action-packed scenes, barely leaving you a chance to breathe from the moment it begins. This results in a film that moves along at breakneck pace, but that is all the better for this. Yes, there is never a dull moment with this crew.

Part of the secret of the success of the first film, and again here, is the cast playing the crew and their easy, funny banter with each other. In particular the Kirk/Spock bromance is expanded on in this sequel and played to perfection by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. Two actors couldn’t have been more suited to the roles than them – Pine creates a charming, rebellious and bold Captain Kirk and revels in every moment while he plays him. And Quinto is perfectly stoic and deadpan as Spock the half-Vulcan half-human who keeps his emotions at bay in order to let his firm theory of logic remain. The rest of the cast playing the crew are again brilliant in this sequel. Notable mentions are Zoe Saldana who has a much more involved role to play this time as the intelligent, strong-willed Uhura. Again both Karl Urban as Bones and Simon Pegg as Scotty also get more to do this time around, both who provide much of the comic relief in the story and are therefore the most memorable out of the other main characters.

However the same can’t be said for the rest of the crew. Despite having slightly more to do on the ship than last time, both John Cho and Anton Yelchin seem to get left behind in this sequel as the focus on them is lost. In addition to this we are introduced to a new character on board the Enterprise – Carol Marcus played by Alice Eve. But as with Cho and Yelchin although she too performs confidently and competently amongst the regular cast, her character becomes wholly forgettable and it becomes clear that she is simply there to move along the plot (there is also the inclusion of an unforgivably gratuitous moment involving her character, something which J.J. and the writers should never have used and which serves no valuable purpose). However these are all minor flaws of character and somewhat inevitable in a film such as this – I guess that’s what happens when you’ve got a big cast and an even bigger story.

However in this sequel it is the introduction of another new character who surpasses the crew, in terms of the story and in acting, and whose performance ensures that Star Trek Into Darkness is entirely gripping to watch. This is Benedict Cumberbatch as the mysterious and terrifying John Harrison. The addition of his character raises the already high stakes for the crew as he matches them for brains and brawn. Cumberbatch is perfect as Harrison, all cold intense stares and restrained movements with an unreadable expression that gives nothing away to Kirk or his crew, or even to the audience. Not only this but Cumberbatch gets some more than impressive action scenes to take part in and gets to kick some serious arse. All in all this makes for a brilliant villain, and a fascinatingly ambiguous one at that, who keeps you hooked to the intense story. Any scene featuring him is thrilling to watch.

Star Trek Into Darkness is a perfect sequel. High-octane action and thrills, clever and interesting plot, superb and realistic design throughout and marvellous set pieces all wonderfully directed by Abrams. Not only this but it is a lot funnier than its predecessor, which is saying something when the first film was already hilarious. And Benedict Cumberbatch’s amazing performance as a new villain seals the deal in making this a sequel to be reckoned with. A fast-paced film that will more than satisfy you, but leave you eager to see where the crew of the USS Enterprise head next. Bravo J.J. – you’ve done it again.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – Official Teaser Trailer

Here is the first look at the next film in The Hobbit trilogy, featuring feisty elves, a barrel load of action and a sneaky peek at a terrifying creature:

This trailer seems to focus more on other characters of the book rather than the ones we saw in the first film. So this time instead of getting to see the dwarves in action, we get a first look at some other interesting characters, namely Thranduil played by Lee Pace. Although he was glimpsed in The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (blink and you’ll miss him), this time we actually get to hear him speak. There are also some other new additions in this trailer – Bard the Bowman played by Luke Evans and the return of Orlando Bloom as Legolas which, depending on your opinion of him, will either be welcomed or not (I think Bloom was good as Legolas in The Lord of the Rings, so it’s a happy return for me). But also in this trailer we get to see an entirely new character who has been introduced to the story: Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), a female elf warrior. From the scenes in this trailer it seems like she has a few excellent action moments, but I am still undecided on her inclusion in the film. It smacks of movie executives not trusting that women will want to watch something with just male characters, as well as without a bit of romance in the story – a hideous idea which I am NOT looking forward to. Hopefully my assumption is wrong and writers Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens and Peter Jackson have managed to make her into an interesting character rather than a simple love interest and unnecessary story fodder. But at the moment it doesn’t look good…

However back to the positives of this trailer for now. We also get to see some of the amazing action set-pieces that will be on offer, in particular one of my favourite moments of the book and a part that I think will be one of the best in the whole film: the barrel scene. And from the trailer it looks like director Peter Jackson has managed to perfectly emulate the book by creating something thrilling yet funny for this classic scene. Finally we also get a thankfully brief glimpse of the titular dragon of the tale. I say thankfully because I am sure that the design for the creature will be mightily impressive, and I (as I’m sure many others will be) am trying to avoid seeing as much of it as possible until I see the final film. So while we get a small look here, the trailer doesn’t show too much. We also don’t get to hear how Smaug (played by Benedict Cumberbatch) will sound when he talks, another mystery that I hope remains until the film is released. I’m certain though that however Cumberbatch has performed as this serpentine character, and however Jackson has chosen to shoot it, will be amazing to watch.

Keeping up the mystery around this part of the story and all of the impressive set-pieces on display here means that I can’t wait to see this second film. As for the inclusion of certain dubious characters?…well I’ll have to see the final film before I fully decide. Put it this way – there’ll still be plenty of moments to enjoy in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug no matter what.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – Peter Jackson returns to Middle-earth for an altogether different trilogy

This is one film I have been anticipating for a very long time. Since the final film in The Lord of The Rings trilogy ended in fact. The Hobbit is also one of my favourite books which I read and loved at about 11 years old, so as you can imagine, I had a lot to expect from the first film in this new trilogy. Originally planned as a series that would be helmed by Guillermo del Toro, Peter Jackson later took the reins – a safe pair of hands to leave this project in seeing as how he obviously had previous experience of bringing J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories to life. But with so much to live up to, is this new start to an altogether different trilogy any good?

A prequel to the Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is the story of Bilbo Baggins (older Bilbo played in LOTR and briefly here in a prologue by Ian Holm, young Bilbo now played by Martin Freeman) and a certain journey he embarked on when he was younger. 60 years before the events in The Lord of the Rings took place, the young Bilbo was very different from the daring, energetic hobbit he became; happy to live at home in peace and quiet for most of his life. But one day his reverie is interrupted by a strange wizard called Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) who is looking around the Shire for a hobbit that would like to come on an adventure. Bilbo is distraught by the mere thought of this; adventures make you late for dinner after all. But the next night an even more unexpected guest arrives. And then another. And another. Until Bilbo’s house is filled with 13 hungry dwarves, as well as Gandalf. They are going on a quest to reclaim their land that was stolen by a terrifying dragon called Smaug. And the dwarves need someone small to act as their burglar. Enter Bilbo. After much persuasion Bilbo decides to join them (not really a spoiler as if he didn’t the film would only be half an hour long), but will he regret his decision after he starts to witness what horrifying things lie ahead?

The Hobbit is an altogether different beast from The Lord of the Rings. Rather than an epic tale about war and evil that has overtaken an entire land, it is a children’s story solely about a quest and is filled with action and adventure, with a little bit of danger thrown in at times too. While director Peter Jackson has managed to reflect this perfectly throughout the film, creating a fun, action-packed story about the thrilling journey, he has also managed to make something that fits in with the feel of the previous Lord of the Rings trilogy. Additions to the story have made it darker, like LOTR was, with more at stake than in the book (more on that later), which ensures this film will appeal to both fans of the book and fans who adored the films as well. Another huge achievement with regards to the story and script, written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson and Guillermo del Toro, is that they have managed to make the events in the first part of the book into a well-rounded story that could to all intents and purposes be its own stand-alone film. And enough focus is given on the right characters to make their journey (their literal one and also their own internal journey) seem interesting and compelling enough to watch throughout.

One of the things that I loved about the LOTR trilogy so much was the perfect casting for certain characters. And again they have managed to do that here. Martin Freeman makes for an excellent young Bilbo Baggins. He is ideal for providing much-needed comic relief throughout, but he can also play serious when he needs to as the nervous hobbit who is out of his depth. The 13 dwarves, who have all been expertly designed costume wise so they can be told apart, are brilliant as well, but there are only a couple that stand out from the crowd here. Dean O’Gorman and Aidan Turner are great as the two youngest dwarf brothers in the group Fili and Kili, and are the most memorable of the group as they get the most action scenes and things to do (and they’re also my favourites, not that I’m biased or anything. *Ahem*). Graham McTavish as Dwalin, Ken Stott as Balin and James Nesbitt as Bofur all get their moments as well, in particular Ken Stott as the patriarchal figure of the group. A few of the other dwarves get a couple of comedic moments to take part in (Adam Brown as Ori and Stephen Hunter as Bombur), but some of the others don’t get their time to shine yet – hopefully they will in the next films. But it is really Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield who gets the most screen time and focus as their serious leader. He also has the most interesting backstory as the King who is trying to reclaim their rightful land and who has a past filled with war and fighting.

However with the addition of this amazing new cast, let’s not forget the returning cast who are reprising their previous roles. The ever amazing Ian McKellen who is also on their quest hasn’t lost any of his charm since The Lord of the Rings trilogy. While he might look significantly older he still has that ever-present twinkle in his eye as Gandalf. Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee return as well and again are all brilliant. But it is a certain Andy Serkis as Gollum who gives the most astounding turn from the returning cast. He again makes Gollum both funny and terrifying at the same time. And the motion-capture has been significantly improved since last time, meaning Gollum looks even more eerily lifelike than ever before.

While the action, design, cast and script are all things to shout about, there are also a few very specific sequences I am inexorably happy about. The scene with the trolls is one of my absolute favourites in any book. I remember reading it for the first time and being completely hooked on what was going to happen. And here Peter Jackson has superbly managed to capture the scene, making it humorous and terrifying at the same time. The other scene, without giving too much away, is the Goblin King under the mountain. Again not only is it perfectly realised from the book, it actually surpasses this with the use of design and action. The look of the goblins and their land is incredible and so realistic and the action sequence for this part is expertly choreographed and thrilling to watch.

That all being said let’s get down to the elephant (or Oliphant – sorry, awful joke) in the room… This film is incredibly long. There are moments in which the action stops and the pace slows down…and you start to feel ever so slightly bored. For me most of these moments are parts that have been added to the story and that were not in the book. The inclusion of Radagast the Brown Wizard. The talk between Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) and Saruman (Christopher Lee). The pale Orc who fought the dwarf King Thorin (Richard Armitage) all those years ago and is now seeking revenge. I understand why certain aspects have been added; for instance the pale orc has been used to include more of a backstory for Thorin, and to give a more satisfying conclusion to this first film. The scene of Galadriel and Saruman I even slightly understand – they’re not in the book but fans would obviously be gratified by seeing their presence, so I can’t berate Jackson for that. But Radagast the Brown? When he is first introduced we leave the storyline of the quest to briefly be shown his story, a confusing idea that feels too jarring alongside the actual (and more interesting) narrative. While I’m sure that he is there because this will somehow connect to the story in the next two films, at the moment it seems like an odd inclusion and one that really slows down the plot. But we’ll see – prove me wrong Jackson.

And now to the really big elephant in the room: does the book warrant three films being made? I for one would like to say that we can’t judge at this stage. If it’s being made into three films then I trust that Jackson, Walsh, Boyens and del Toro have written it so it works as three complete stories and so that it ties into the LOTR trilogy (unless the last one is just the characters all sitting around and having a pint). I can say at this point anyway that this first film in the trilogy has an interesting enough climax that will make you desperate to see what happens in the next two films, especially the second one. And I for one am incredibly excited to see how exactly Smaug the dragon has been designed, especially using motion-capture technology (and who will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He gets a credit as the Necromancer in this first film even though he is only onscreen for about 2 seconds, but essentially he is playing the part of ‘Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film’ in this first one).

Peter Jackson has managed to capture the same spirit that was present in The Lord of the Rings films creating another fun, entertaining start to a new trilogy with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Although it is somewhat long in parts, there is always another piece of action around the corner ready to pick up the pace again. The cast are all brilliant especially the returning actors, and in particular new additions Martin Freeman and Richard Armitage, and the design is beautiful with New Zealand again being used to great effect as an almost real Middle-Earth. The conclusion will also make you eager to see the second film, but with a year to wait you’ll need to be patient to see Bilbo and his band of dwarves again.

War Horse

Would you like to play spot-the-actor? Then by all means, watch War Horse…

War Horse is Steven Spielberg’s film version of the Michael Morpurgo novel that was turned into an award-winning stage play. It follows one horse (duh) called Joey who is raised by a young farm boy called Albert (Jeremy Irvine – sporting an outrageous ‘Devon’ accent). Slowly, the two become inseparable from each other. But when the war starts Albert’s father (Peter Mullan – who else to play a conflicted evil man?) sells Joey the horse to make ends meet on the farm. Albert vows he will be reunited with Joey some day though…

Cue a million and one different stories about how this “miracle horse” goes from person to person and affects them all in one way or another. So far, so Black Beauty.

Like I said before, there’s a billion blink-and-you’ll-miss-em cameos of actors from all over the globe. This is one of the big problems with the film though: because the time spent between each of the characters is so brief, you don’t feel connected to them AT ALL. Even Albert feels underused and he’s the bloody main character in it.

One of the better parts of the film is when the horse first goes off to war when he’s bought by posh soldier Tom Hiddleston. The scenes here when they finally start the fighting are expertly shot, especially the initial charge of the cavalry, but again it is all too brief. And Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch (as a v posh Major with a moustache) are incredibly underused for these scenes as well. As is Niels Arestrup (from A Prophet) in another of the films better stories about a Grandfather looking after his Granddaughter in France as they try to avoid the war.

And another of the big problems with the film is the fact that it gets steadily more and more ridiculous. It becomes unintentionally laugh out loud stupid at times (especially when more than once people risk their own lives to save a freaking horse – or am I just very unsentimental?). And is the film sad? Occasionally it’ll make you well up but most of the time you couldn’t give one about any of the characters because you’ve barely seen them for five minutes.

Steven Spielberg is normally good at this sort of thing, but this time the mark is well and truly missed on more than one count. War Horse is definitely one that you can do without seeing. And why it’s up for a Best Picture Oscar absolutely beggars belief.

The Hobbit first trailer

I actually might be secretly more excited about this than The Dark Knight Rises:

HOBBITS! BEARDS! SINGING DWARVES! What more do you want? Literally cannot wait…