Benedict Cumberbatch

12 Years a Slave – A Review

12 years a slave

You do have to feel sorry for Leonardo DiCaprio, don’t you? Every year seems to be the one when he’ll finally win that elusive Oscar, and then something comes along and pips him to it.

And on that note, we have 12 Years a Slave, an adaptation of Solomon Northup’s account of slave life in the mid-nineteenth century American south. It’s almost hard-wired to be a hit, given the combination of subject, cast and director. But the buzz surrounding it has been something truly special. Put simply, I haven’t heard a negative word about it.

Northrup’s book is an unknown to me, so I can’t make any comparisons to the source material. What you see here will be a judgement of the film on its own merits. Which is how it should be

Read on…

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug – A Review

the hobit the desolation of smaug

Christmas is no more! The period formerly known as Christmastime has now been annexed by the potent combination of Peter Jackson and J.R.R. Tolkein. No more will we eat Christmas puddings, sing carols, and watch the Queen’s speech (shush). Instead we will have second breakfast (and elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper…), sing about dungeons deep and caverns old, and watch reruns of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films.

Or not. But we do have another Hobbit film to enjoy.

The decision to chop a fairly small children’s book up into a hefty three-part epic, but the An Unexpected Journey was quite good. Leaving aside the complaints about length (It’s a Peter Jackson film under three hours! It’s practically a short!), it was entertaining and a lot of fun.

But that was a year ago. Things are much more serious now, and I must gird my loins and turn my reviewer’s eyes on the second Hobbit film: The Revenge of the Cumber-dragon The Desolation of Smaug.

Read on…

Heresy of the Week: Star Trek Into Darkness wasn’t Wrath of Khan

star trek into darkness trailer hands

Far from being a copy (in reverse) of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek Into Darkness was the natural successor to J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot, in story, tone and character.

Ah, Star Trek Into Darkness. You aren’t the most hated of films, in fact by many (myself included) you were rather enjoyed. But there were also those who complained that, by riffing heavily off arguably the franchise’s most successful Trek onto the big screen (see what I did there) it showed an unforgivable lack of originality.

Says io9’s Rob Bricken:

That’s my biggest problem with the new Star Trek — that after a requisite origin story that needlessly pulled in Leonard Nimoy, they were content to give a retread of Wrath of Khan instead of giving us anything new or unexpected…they started a whole new Trek universe, and could have done practically anything. Instead, we got a mercenary remake of the most widely known Trek story out there.

With respect to Rob, whilst he’s right about how much Abrams ignored the opportunity to really explore the alternate timeline, he’s wrong about it being a straight Wrath of Khan do-over. And here is why.

Read on…

Star Trek Into Darkness – A Review [SPOILERS]

star trek into darkness

WARNING: this review contains spoilers. I don’t usually write spoilery reviews, and indeed I thought long and hard about how to make this spoiler-free. But in the end I decided that the vague semi-references which would result from the necessary critical acrobatics just weren’t worth it.

So if you haven’t seen the film, and have thus far remained unspoilt and virginal, then don’t read any further than this.

Or do. Whatever; I don’t really care. But you have been warned.

Read on…

Star Trek Into Darkness – Theories and Speculation [Contains potential spoilers]

star trek into darknessSo today saw the release of the first trailer for the next film in the rebooted Star Trek franchise, entitled Star Trek Into Darkness. Speculation about it has been rife for months, but has hit a particular fever pitch with it. Primarily this has been around what character Benedict Cumberbatch (Yes, he’s in this, as well as every other film of the moment) will be playing.

And, after watching the trailer on my lunch break (as a true geek should) I’m ready to make my prediction, and to stake it on line for prosperity to be either vindicated or humiliated in time to come.

I think that Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Gary Mitchell.

Gary Mitchell, for the uninitiated, featured in the first proper episode of Star Trek: The Original Series as Captain Kirk’s best friend from the academy. I won’t give specifics, but it doesn’t end well for Mitchell. Mitchell is a name which has been mentioned a fair bit amongst fans, along with Khan Noonien Singh (of Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan fame). There are a few reasons why I think Mitchell is more likely than Khan:

  1. Khan would be just too predictable. When Abrams and co rebooted the franchise, they made a special point of turning the concept upside down. To then, for their second film, to follow the track of the orginal second film… It just feels too easy.
  2. There isn’t time for Khan. Khan’s appearance in The Wrath of Khan was actually a follow-up to an episode of the TV series. Cumberbatch specifically says in the trailer “I have returned, to have my vengeance.” There doesn’t seem — to me — to be enough time in a film to do the two storylines justice. He could be taking revenge on humanity, rather than Kirk, but still…
  3. Cumberbatch is wearing a Starfleet uniform. Mitchell, in the original story, was at the Academy with Kirk. Of course, Kirk attended the academy later in the new timeline, so its likely that he wouldn’t have been at the Academy with Mitchell. Hence, Mitchell’s backstory could be told during the film trek into darkness trailer benedict cumberbatch
  4. Benedict Cumberbatch is white. This might seem a silly point, but the character of Khan was not a white character. At the first suggestion that it might be Khan, there were rumblings about why Abrams would cast a white actor in a (rare) minority ethnic role. I think there’s potential for it to seriously piss off people in the “how dare you mess with the cannon?” camp as well as non-white audiences.

So there we have it. I’m by no means certain that it will be Mitchell rather than Khan. And, indeed, it could potentially be neither and we’re just all being led down the garden path. But I’m leaning ever closer to Gary Mitchell.

Of course, the most exciting image of the film wasn’t Cumberbatch flipping around like a slimline Bane, but rather this:

star trek into darkness trailer handsThis frame (only appearing in the longer Japanese version of the trailer) will be familiar to anyone who remembers The Wrath of Khan. It is, of course, Spock’s death scene. It’s a bit of a hint towards Cumberbatch being Khan, but again it runs up against the first point I made. I don’t believe that JJ Abrams would be content to rehash the originals.

Of course, if I was writing the film (which, as you may have noticed, I’m not), I’d reverse it. I’d have it as Kirk’s death scene, rather than Spock’s, especially as the first film moved towards a more emotional Spock. I’m not sure that’s what will happen, especially since you don’t kill off your lead character so early into your new franchise (well, unless he’s played by Sean Bean).

But still, the net result of this trailer is that I’m now very much looking forward to 17th May 2013.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – Review

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

This was a very interesting film- illustrated, really, by the fact that I loved it and Ashleigh hated it. Not a normal occurence with us, as we’re usually fairly in synch on film taste.

Truth be told, I’d been looking forward to Tinker Tailor… for a while now. I watched the original when I was quite young, and though I don’t remember all that much about it, I remember it fascinating and entertaining me. Which left this not-quite-a-remake (the original was a BBC TV miniseries, not a film) with big boots to fill.

The story is set in the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, following British intelligence agent George Smiley. Smiley is assigned to hunt down a Soviet mole at the top of MI6, with the knowledge bequeathed by his former boss that it is one of four people.

The first thing to note about this is that it’s a proper spy film; as opposed to an action film in a tux, a la James Bond. In fact, I don’t even remember seeing a tux. It’s a slow, cerebral, atmospheric thriller, which builds suspense almost without you realising it. What violence there is, isn’t over the top or cartoon- and more shocking for it. What sex there is serves only a side story, and a function of the plot at that. And the spies in it actually do some spying.

A lot of thought has also been put into the setting. It has a really authentic feel of 1970s London, and whilst I have no comparative with which to verify this, it feels like a fairly likely picture of the intelligence world. Lots of reading paperwork, talking to people, and hanging out in very grungy looking warehouses.

It also boasts a host of British acting talent, led by Gary Oldman, including the likes of old stalwarts like John Hurt and Colin Firth, alongside rising stars like Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch. And really, there wasn’t a bad performance amongst them. I was particularly impressed with Cumberbatch, showing a versatility which Steven Moffat’s Sherlock didn’t quite manage to bring out. There’s an ancillary, but at the same time essential, scene of his which movingly demonstrates the price that these men paid for their jobs and country.

A lot of the criticism aimed at this film will be that it’s too slow, too quiet. I can understand where that’s coming from, and quite a lot of people will go to this expecting a more “traditional” spy film, with lots of explosions, and infeasibly suave men seducing incongruously attractive women. But I found myself lost in the intrigue, the quiet building of threat and tension as more of the mystery was unravelled.

I think this is one of the best films I’ve seen in the last few years. It’s a completely different kind of film, but whilst that endears it to me, it will put others off. If nothing else, it’s a showcase of British acting talent at it’s best. I’d recommend you go and see it for yourself, and see how it takes you.