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Fifth Estate: A Review

I blogged on Tuesday about the current situation with Assange and while I was researching some of that it brought back to my memory the film hollywood decided to make on wikileaks and Assange last year. I happened to find it on Netflix and figured I’d finally watch it now that it wouldn’t directly result in more money for the makers.

fifth estate I won’t deny there was a small part of me that hoped Hollywood had done a good job of making this film and capturing the Australian behind Wikileaks in some kind of fair way, while rising above all the swirling propaganda and hate the US politicians were spouting because it was their secret crimes Wikileaks exposed, but I was quite quickly disappointed. Hollywood has bowed to the pressure and created a story so far gone I almost despaired and gave up watching.

The film’s plot is a bit like a bromance gone wrong. Daniel Domscheit-Berg quite quickly meets Assange, sticks him up on some Messiah-like pedestal and then gets pissed off when he falls off it, like any human probably would (because believe it or not we’re not gods and perfect) and betrays him.

Fifth Estate duoThe film is pretty much from the point of view of Daniel, and rarely focuses on the actual work of Wikileaks, which Assange has dedicated a large number of years to. The few times it does mention the leaks it shows the possible negatives of the information getting out into other people’s hands, including the US government scrambling to save sources in middle-eastern countries because their cover had been blown and not entirely succeeding (despite the fact that the pentagon declared that no lives had been put at risk by those cables in the real world). Very occasionally it showed some of the positive results of the leaks, but it mostly glossed over them and always had them on the back of the negatives as if it was a sort of after thought.

fifth estate Cumberbatch AssangeAbout half way through watching I found I had to grab my laptop and take a look at why Benedict Cumberbatch took this role. He’s an actor I have a lot of respect for, I love his Sherlock and many other characters, but this isn’t a performance I can respect him for. I soon found that he’d said this.

“I wanted to create a three-dimensional portrait of a man far more maligned in the tabloid press than he is in our film to remind people that he is not just the weird, white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden, hiding in an embassy behind Harrods.”

The trouble is the film’s scenes didn’t allow Cumberbatch anything but making Assange look like the weird white haired Australian dude wanted in Sweden. About the only thing they got right was his looks. But the also obsessed over some really really stupid details.

Julian Assange August 2014Several times during the film, Assange’s character stopped ranting about something releveant to mention why his hair went white. This was done several times to Daniel with a different explanation each time. It reminded me of the joker played by Heath Ledger and how he explains the scars on his face several different ways. Right at the end of the film Daniel happens to tell a British reporter, who is also pissed off at Assange, that Assange dies his hair white, like this is some all important massive revelation on his character and life goals.

Who gives a rat’s ass why Assange has white hair? Why would you spend so much of a film’s time fixating on the colour of someone’s hair? Also, really? You want to tell me that the man is so completely fixated on his personal image of having white hair that in the photo to the right and up he’s dyed his hair and beard but not his moustache? I don’t know about any of you but the photo makes it look very much like the guy has just gone white (and in a very graceful and suave way, I might add) and his facial hair is still catching up a bit. You also only need to do a google images search on Assange to quickly notice that all the photos of him looking younger have a brown/sandy coloured hair and only the more recent ones have his stylish white, so it’s definitely not something he’s been doing since he was a teenager.

fifth estate assangeThis brings me to the very end of the film. I actually thought the film might redeem itself a little at the end. It had Cumberbatch facing the camera as if he was being interviewed and talking about all sorts of different things. After making a few odd comments about films about him and generally being a bit strange he started to make a speech that was actually quite good.

“If you want the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you their version. So if you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself. In fact that’s where power lies, in your willingness to look beyond this story, any story. And as long as you keep searching, you are dangerous to them. That’s what they’re afraid of: you. It’s all about you.”

The bit above is awesome, it’s true and it’s wonderful, but then it’s ruined by seven little words they tag right after.

“And a little bit about me too.” Honestly! There are so many things wrong with this. Firstly, from a sotrytelling point of view, it’s unrealistic. No matter if someone might think this, they’ve never say it in a serious interview if they had a brain, and I think it’s clear Assange does. Secondly, it smacks of agenda, as a writer there’s no way I’d ruin the speech above with these words unless I really didn’t want you to believe them but actually hate the guy who said it. and thirdly, even if someone was this egotistical in actions, in real life people just don’t tend to think like that. For Assange to be doing what he’s doing with Wikileaks I’m sure he must have a strong conviction that he’s right about needing to get these secrets out there and protect people from the lies their governments are telling them. Someone like that doesn’t think these things, let alone say them. Even in the off chance that they act that arrogantly, it’s never a conscious thought.

So to sum up. The film sucks and I’m glad I never paid for it. but the one good thing I’ll quote again for emphasis.

“If you want the truth, no one is going to tell you the truth, they’re going to tell you their version. So if you want the truth, you have to seek it out for yourself. In fact that’s where power lies, in your willingness to look beyond this story, any story. And as long as you keep searching, you are dangerous to them. That’s what they’re afraid of: you. It’s all about you.”

Getting lost in a good book

The wonderful thing about a good book is that you can get lost inside the world it has created, imagining your own new scenes once the book has ended. Having your own conversations with the wonderful characters.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of this. In the difficult times I had earlier in the year I filled my time when I couldn’t write with books, films and tv series. There’s some brilliant books I’ve read this year and some amazing tv. I’ve blogged my reviews of the films I’ve gone to see as I’ve seen them but with the book reviews I said I’d do that hasn’t left any friday spaces for the other books and anything else I’ve enjoyed so I made a favourites shelf on my goodreads profile here.

Who knows, maybe all this input will inspire some cool new idea soon!

The Avengers – Age of Ultron: A Review

I think it was pretty obvious I was going to go see this film. The first avengers is still one of my favourite films and I must have watched it 20+ times now. I also totally love Joss Whedon’s character writing skills. Not to mention his dialogue.

avengers-ultronThis film sort of picks up where the previous marvel plots have left off, so it helps to have watched the Captain America film from last year as well as the previous avenger’s film, obviously. Right away there’s the focus on character and snappy one liners that Joss Whedon is brilliant at and in that respect this film was everything the previous one was. I laughed, a lot.

Avengers-ultron-3There’s a few more heroes in this one and some new and interesting powers, as well as the new and interesting bad guy, Ultron. This was some very well done animation. I often found myself loving the way his face moved as he spoke, and the voice actor, James Spader, was particularly spectacular with the expression and emotion he managed to get into it. I know there was quite a bit of news kerfuffle when he was announced but that was some definite fantastic casting.

I’m not sure what it was about this film though, but I didn’t quite love it as much as I thought I was going to. I liked it and laughed a lot. There’s nothing I can specifically say is wrong with it. But I’m beginning to wonder if the films are just a little too formulaic and I’m finally beginning to get a bit bored. Nothing totally surprised me and I like being surprised.

Avengers-Ultron-2There were a few things I really liked. I liked the massive iron man suit thing tony boosted his normal suit with in a very transformers sort of way, although I wondered if this contradicted the ending of Iron Man 3 a bit. I was fairly sure all the suits got blown up in that and would really like some kind of explanation on what happened there. I also totally loved what they did with Jarvis and Paul Bettany, and as usual he got some great one-liners.

All in all, I came out happy and pleased I’d gone to see it, but something was a little too samey about it, even if I can’t put my finger on what exactly. If you like Marvel films though this one really won’t disappoint.

The Kingsmen: A review

The trailer for this film made it look like it was going to be very funny so I went with my usual group of friends to see it.

kingsmanThe film started off in the manner I expected, at least until someone was chopped in half. Then it went back to the silly gentleman spy movie I was expecting for the most part (there was quite a bit of swearing but not masses). I laughed a fair bit and was generally entertained. The film really didn’t take itself seriously and there was even some funny product placement.

This is sort of when the film took a turn I hadn’t quite expected. Colin Firth walked into a church, the bad guy trialled his destruction machine. Then there was a scene filled with violence and mayhem that might have been watchable had it cut away sooner or been a little less obvious with the sick violence of it as well as about a tenth of the length. By the time I was a third of the way through the scene I wasn’t really watching anymore and was hoping it would stop, by the time I was two-thirds through the scene I was sitting in disbelief and starting to motion to my friends that I wasn’t comfortable. As it was we were starting to discuss leaving when it finally stopped.

Kingsman-The-Secret-ServiceWe honestly hoped this was a one off and would go back to the gentleman spy spoof the trailer made us expect, but it wasn’t entirely and there were a few more distasteful scenes later as well, although they tried to make the gross violence funny. I actually wish I had left and never finished it, or even better, never bothered to see it, and I think there’s only about five films I’ve ever watched I wish I’d never seen.

It felt a lot like the film was going for the cheap shock of violence and gross fights to surprise the audience because the makers couldn’t be bothered to do so with the story and characters instead. And given who was involved in making it (something I didn’t realise until after) I’m not that surprised. They’re other films have the same feel.

In short I don’t recommend anyone seeing this, it was quite simply, disgusting.

The Hobbit: A Review

So I’ve finally seen all three of the films in the new Peter Jackson series, and I thought I’d make a post about what I did and didn’t like.

Hobbit DwarvesIn the first film, I liked that it had a more light-hearted feel to it than the Lord of the Rings films. The chases had me laughing and so did the Dwarves antics in Bilbo’s house. considering how much more light-hearted the Hobbit is to the Lord of the Rings in book form that sat well with me, but I noticed a lot of people who hadn’t read the books and were introduced to the series by the films were annoyed by those scenes and thought them unnecessary.

I didn’t like the new pale orc stuff as much nor the rock giants, but over all I enjoyed the film. I quickly realised it was a sort of in between feel to it. Less light-hearted and more over all world in it than the Hobbit book, but more light-hearted and focused than the previous films. I think this only led a lot of people to be disappointed. All the people who expected Lord of the Rings got more Hobbit than they wanted a vice-versa. As I didn’t mind either way I was very happy with the film. I think it blended the feel of the two together nicely.

Hobbit SmaugThe second film was probably the best, of the three. I liked the extra Necromancer stuff in here and what Gandalf got up to. I also really liked how they introduced Bard and the Smaug and Bilbo scenes were amazing. Some of the Legolas stuff wasn’t as good, but I liked what they did with his father and how they showed the differences between the two elvish races.

There was the odd bit I didn’t like so much, but very few parts of this film. I didn’t like where it finished, but I tried to think of a better place and really couldn’t. If the moved the end later to include more Smaug stuff it didn’t leave enough plot for the third film and if they moved the end sooner it would have needed to be a lot sooner or still be in the middle of the Smaug plot thread.

hobbit taurielFinally, I think the third film is the weakest. This is the film that suffered the most from the Hobbit being so much shorter than Lord of the Rings. It had the conclusion to the Necromancer and Smaug near the beginning of the film and both of these would have served the film much better if they were either more complicated and didn’t start the film or just moved to the second film. Maybe the Smaug section could have been in film two and the Necromancer stuff in film three, but then Gandalf wouldn’t have been in film two very much at all (see, I told you I couldn’t find a better way to divide it). I’d have liked a longer resolution to the Necromancer plotline for sure. After adding in all the stuff Gandalg got up to it was very lacking on imagination and scope.

I liked the set up for the final battle and the way Bard handled himself, as well as the interplay between Thorin and Bilbo, and Legolas, Tauriel and Thranduil, especially concerning love and what happened to Legolas’ mother, but that was about it with the third film. I didn’t like Alfrid at all. I assumed he was in film three for the comedy value (like the chase scene in the Goblin lair and Barrel scene in the previous two films) but I didn’t find him funny at all. I did find Billy Connelly as Dain funny and Gandalf had the odd amusing line. The conclusion to the Pale Orc stuff was predictable but good enough.

Anything else I could complain about would have spoilers so I better stop there. I have a feeling the Hobbit films would improve on me if I could watch them in one go. There just isn’t as good a way to break them up as there was with the Lord of the Rings. I also want to see what’s included in the extended editions. If there’s more Necromancer it could improve the third film a lot. after that I want to watch all six extended movies in one go and see if it does what I think where the third Hobbit film sets up some of Lord of the Rings and creates a natural progression that weakens the third Hobbit if you treat the trilogies as stand alones.

The Boxtrolls: A Review

This is one of those kids films that just looked too cute to ignore but I thought I’d missed it as it ws hyped majorly several months ago but then things seemed to go quiet for a while.

It was done in stop motion, I think or at the least animated to look that way and was very nicely styled. There was also quite a number of famous voices, especially of the side characters and henchmen (and really they had most of the best lines from an aduly perspective).

This was definitely one of those kids films that felt possibly like it was even more for the adults than the kids. There was the fairly standard kids theme, this one was who you are on the outside and what society thinks you are doesn’t mean that’s what you are on the inside. Also that you can change and become more than you were before, but shouldn’t do anything for the acceptance of others.

I laughed aloud quite a bit so the film definitely scored well from the comedy side, mostly because of the side characters and henchmen as I said earlier, but I did find the boxtroll snatcher to be quite scary. From an adult perspective probably not that bad, but if I was a child I think I’d have found it a little too scary so please be wary with the younger ones.

All in all it was a reasonable adult version of a kids film that made me laugh but I don’t think it was as good as frozen or tangled let alone the lego movie.

Lucy: A Review

This film was one of those I’d not even heard of until the trailor came up before Guardians of the Galaxy at the cinema. It looked interesting so when I had a spare evening and noticed it was on I went to see it.

I already knew that the original premise of the brain only using 10% of its capacity was a little wide of the truth but I can hardly fault them when I use the same logic behind the science in my own Sherdan series, so ignoring the dodgy science, the film has a really interesting concept. The rest of the science I can’t directly speak for. It seemed legit but it was out of my field of study so might have been and equally might not have been. I imagine it was probably a little of both.

From the trailor I expected a kick-ass action movie where a girl gets revenge on the people who experimented on her. Admittedly the trailor was miss-leading in the whole why she had this happen to her sort of thing. It wasn’t an experiment, it was an accident. It also wasn’t quite as kick-ass as I was expecting. There was plenty of action, but it wasn’t the sole focus of the film.

On top of the action there were some gorgeous scenes like the picture on the right. Thanks to the extra brain capacity Lucy could see things others couldn’t and the makers of the film took the opportunity to do some gorgeous things with the cgi to show us what it might be like. Although I don’t normally like cgi for the sake of cgi, I have to admit I found it stunning. Somehow the makers of this film managed to combine action with breathtaking beauty and make it fit together. There was a very unexpected harmony between the two.

This only grew towards the end of the film and there was a gorgeous scene right near the end that must have been several minutes long and had no dialogue, very little action, yet was mesmirising. I won’t spoil the ending with too much detail, but it was cool and brilliant storytelling.

The acting was also pretty amazing. Let’s face  it, Morgan Freeman, can pretty much do no wrong. he’s the master of subtelty and perfectly delivered lines. Several of the interactions between his charater and Lucy had me chuckling out loud.

Scarlet Johansson managed the transformation from not quite all there blonde to overwhelmingly intelligent super-human incredibly well. Also managing the subtle expressions that gave tiny suggestions of personality away but not all at once.

All in all, I found I was pleasantly surprised. The violence was ever so slightly gratuitus but no more than I expected and everything else that I hadn’t expected was an added bonus. A very awesome, under marketed film.

Amazing Spider-Man 2: A Review

You may be wondering how I can review this film when it isn’t out until next week and the premier was only last night. Well, I happened to get free tickets to the premier showing. Unfortunately, not the premier showing in London, but the movie was streamed into several cinemas around the country at the same time and I got to see it in Bath.

I enjoyed the first one of this reboot series and knew Andrew Garfield was doing a great job of spiderman so that wasn’t a worry when I went into the cinema. I also thought Emma was great as Gwen and again she didn’t dissapoint. Really faultless performances from both of them. The greatest surprise on the acting front was Electro/Max pictured having a face off with spiderman. He was brilliant.

The actor wasn’t one I knew and due to me seeing a premier I got shown the red carpet stuff before the film and he seemed a little, well, odd, so I was a little worried he might not have pulled the role off but he was perfect. The first scene in Max’s home is going to go down in my books as one of the best crazy scenes ever. He wasn’t quite so good as Electro, but I think that’s down to him being used as a supporting role for spidey and the Osborn corp lot, which meant he set up a lot of the one liners for the others.

The other new character was Harry Osborn. He was back from travels and boarding school to see his father and stuck around for the rest of the film. I also didn’t know what to expect from this actor and worried that he’d made it into this film because he looks a lot like a pre-titanic Leonardo DiCaprio, but the casting held out once more and throughout the film he delivered exactly as he needed to. I’m looking forward to seeing how he handles the next one.

The rest of the film was a pretty standard spidey movie. Plenty of scenes of him slinging his way around the city, getting the bad guys and generally making the people around him feeling special. There’s no doubt about it, spidey is one of the friendliest superheroes out there, and appeals to the kids.

Then there was all the jokes. While not as funny as most Marvel superhero films, Andrew Garfield’s spiderman is definitely one of the quirkiest sense of humours out there at the moment, and the film used plenty of this to keep people laughing. He took a lot of phone calls at awkward moments, including at the front of a truck, and his one liners, as well as Harry’s were fantastic and had me and many people around me chuckling out loud.

So to round up, pretty good superhero film so if you like most of the others you really shouldn’t be dissapointed in this one. I’ll definitely be going to see the next one and might even go see this one again when it’s properly out next week, with some more of my friends.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier: A Review

So I went to see this film at the cinema, as I usually do with Marvel films these days and I had to watch a 3d showing as my cinema didn’t have a good time for the 2d ones.

I want to start by saying that no other universe has been handled quite so well as Marvel handle the Avengers universe. There’s something about seeing these films (and the Agents of Shield tv series) in the order they were made that just builds and builds. Each film feels a little better than the one before. The characters more fleshed out and the universe more rich and complex. Some of that may be that each film requires more of everyone involved, but some of that is the subtleties, the little details that all add up.

The first Captain America film felt very different to the other avengers films. It had a little less humour and dealt with the much darker theme of the second world war. This meant quite a lot of people didn’t like it as much. I assume most of them were expecting the still deep but with a glossy finish style of Iron Man and Thor.

Captain America is a deep character. He deals with some of the fundamental issues of freedom, fear, and what it is to be an honourable soldier and you can see him wrestling with these issues in both films. As such the veneer is a little less shiny, although this sequel is a little more in tune with the sort of feel of the films over all. There was a bit more humour, but still not as much as Thor 2 or the Avengers, and definitely not as much as Iron Man 3.

On top of that the bad guy was a troubled soul. While there have been bad guys in many of the Marvel films that are evidently meant to be hated this wasn’t so clear cut in this story. I don’t want to plot spoil but I found myself not wanting to hate the Winter Soldier, but to hope that somehow he could be saved instead. The character is definitely an interesting one and I hope they revisit him.

Another common occurance in the Marvel films is the concept of how much control should our governments have and the moral obligation of standing up for the right thing even if it risks your own life, and yet again that was a strong theme throughout this film. and once more Marvel handled it well. Captain America, a character seen as deeply patriotic, is the perfect person to ask the right questions.

Finally the side characters were amazing. Scarlett Johanssen as the Black Widow was once again superb, building on her parts in the Iron Man series and the Avengers film. And then there was this new character here (<—) who has one of the coolest pieces of tech I think I’ve ever seen. He can fly! And some of his stunts and fight scenes were epic. He was also a great supporting character for Captain America, providing most of the funny one liners, typical of the Marvel style. Nick Fury’s story arch was also awesome.

In short, I really enjoyed the film. I think Thor 2 is still my favourite of all the Marvel Avenger films so far as Loki was hilarious but this is definitely one of the better ones and well worth seeing, just don’t bother with the 3d unless you have no option and make sure you stay until the very end of the credits as there are two sneaky extras and only one is part way through the credits, with the other being left until the last moment.

12 Years a Slave: A Review and a Thought on the Ripple Effect

I know it’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a film as I chose to give the books I read a slightly higher priority, but this film is one I want people to know about.

This is based on a true story of a man who was free, sold into slavery, and then spent 12 years working for different slave owners of varying tempers and opinions. The original man the story was about wrote his account and the film is based on that book, something I’d also really like to read.

With all films like this you expect to shed a few tears and I can say I definitely did, although not until the end. I also found several points hard to watch. The makers didn’t always hold back on the horrific things the slave owners did to their slaves.

Acting wise I was very impressed. Michael Fassbender did a fantastic job in what must have been a tough role to play as the worst of the slave owners, and Chiwetel Ejiofor who played Solomon himself had me very moved by his performance (I knew him best as Peter in Love Actually before this). I knew Brad Pitt was going to be in it from the trailor and wasn’t impressed but equally not dissapointed with his performance. The surprise actor was Benedict Cumberbatch and his character presented one of the most interesting points of the plot for me.

While most slave owners really seemed to believe black people were something inferior and needed owning or it was their God given right etc. Cumberbatch played the part of an owner who evidently knew the slave trade was cruel and on a couple of occasions acts to try and make it less cruel. He still kept silent and bought slaves, as well as using them for work, but he was relatively kind to them and listened when they spoke. I think this is the hardest ground to stand on with something so controversial.

The people who genuinly believed they were better, while totally deluded, they were at least acting in line with their beliefs. But knowing it’s wrong and not doing much about it but the odd act of kindness here and there, is that actually going along with the wrong, because your actions don’t speak out otherwise. I find myself wondering if these people are actually the ones to be blamed for not stopping the slave trade sooner. Because if all of them had fought their fears and spoken up, who knows how much sooner people like Solomon would have been freed?

In the end it is one of these, in between, sort of men who saves Solomon. Just one voice spoke up and it saved him, which meant he could go home to his family, and then write his book, and then let others know about it all, and then help build momentum to stop the slave trade for good. One single voice started a ripple of events that helped change so many more lives. I want to write that again for emphasis. One Single Voice started a ripple of events that helped change the lives of so many more.

The next time I find myself faced with something and I’m afraid to speak up, I hope I remember this true story and I say what should be said, because one voice can sometimes turn an entire tide.