Monday, 2 January 2017

Coming Soon to Netflix: "A Series of Unfortunate Events".

Friday the 13th of January will, appropriately, see the release of a new Netflix series based on the international best-selling series of books "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events" written by Daniel Handler. A film version was released in 2004 (what seems like a lifetime ago now), and while we may see some of the situations from said film replayed here in the early episode, things may play out a bit differently due to a number of factors. Firstly, Handler's script for the film wasn't used and secondly director Barry Sonnenfeld, who is a longtime fan of the books and was originally attached to direct, left the film but has returned for this adaptation, directing four episodes and acting as Executive Producer on the series.

Starring Emmy- and Tony-winning performer Neil Patrick Harris, the series also stars Malina Weissman, Louis Hynes and Presley Smith as the three wealthy Baudelaire children, who are sent to the greedy, manipulative Count Olaf (Harris) after the sudden deaths of their parents. In addition, the cast includes Joan Cusack, Catherine O’Hara, K. Todd Freeman, Alfre Woodard, Don Johnson, Rhys Darby, Aasif Mandvi and Patrick Warburton as the narrator, Lemony Snicket.

As fans know all too well, Handler’s original series spans 13 books, each very different from the previous one. Here, each episode spans half a novel, allowing viewers to delight in the details while still moving at a brisk, cinematic pace. Settings such as Count Olaf’s dilapidated mansion, the “Miserable Mill” and Uncle Monty’s snake-filled “Reptile Room” spring to life, thanks to dedicated teams of set designers, costumers and prop specialists. As the Baudelaire children continue on their journey for a proper guardian, they encounter a variety of eccentric characters – several of which are also played by Neil Patrick Harris. While the kids don’t fall for Count Olaf’s trickery, the adults always do. “Daniel Handler wrote these ideas and these books through the eyes of children,” says Harris. “Because the Baudelaires and the kids that play them are so truthful … those are the people you want to respond to and relate to. And from their lens, you can look at how ridiculous adults can be.”

All eight episodes will available exclusively on Netflix worldwide from Friday the 13th of January. If you, like me, are still lamenting the cancellation of "Pushing Daisies" this could be right up your alley.

You can watch the trailer below:

*Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and for this, I avail of complimentary Netflix subscription. However, all opinions are my own. Information about films available on Netflix is correct at time of publishing. All photos courtesy of Netflix.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Family Bonding Inspired by Netflix.

Winter is closing in fast, and your next appointment binge after "Narcos", "The Crown", and "Luke Cage", will be "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life". This one is slightly different in that there will be four feature-length episodes, each one set during a different season. All four episodes will land on Netflix on the 25th of November.

Family plays a massive part in "Gilmore Girls" and it got me thinking about family activities that I enjoy the most. One of these things is visiting a popular local attraction in Johnstown Castle and Gardens.

The back of the castle.

The castle itself is closed to the public currently, but the grounds are expansive and more than make up for this. You could easily lose a full day taking your time walking around the lake and the rest of the gardens. 

The fountain at the front of the castle.

Inside the round tower.

It's not just the castle that is there to see, but around the lake, there are a number of towers that you can walk into. As well as this, there is a great little coffee shop and also there is the Irish Agricultural Museum, which has a number of exhibitions, ranging from recreated workshops of traditional trades such as blacksmiths, there is a comprehensive exhibit that details the Great Famine, and a whole host of restored farm machinery both modern and historical. 

This lamp post always reminds me of "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe"

The agricultural museum and the coffee shop are part surround a beautiful courtyard where you and yours can enjoy a nice break after your jaunt around the grounds. There's also plenty of feathered friends doing the rounds, looking to pick up any scraps.

A Peacock at the fountain at the front of the castle, but there are plenty more in the courtyard.

All the information about the castle and gardens can be found here, but it's worth noting that from November to February entry to the gardens is free! 

Of course, once you get home on these chilly evenings, there's nothing better than lighting the fire and putting the feet up as a family. For that, Netflix has you covered. From the director of the classic "American Tail", Don Bluth, "Anastasia" tells the story of the last surviving member of the Romanoff family as she makes her way from Russia to Paris and features the voice talents of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, and Angela Lansbury. Also coming on Friday the 18th of November is the second season of the extremely popular "Beat Bugs", which made it's debut during the summer. This new season will feature more Beatles hits being performed by international stars such as Rod Stewart and Jennifer Hudson. The first series was a lot of harmless fun, so I'll definitely be letting the little on watch this and will no doubt be inundated with requests to play Beatles songs in the car!

So tell me; what's your favourite family activity, and what do you like to watch to unwind after. Leave a comment below or shoot me a message on Twitter.

*Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix Stream Team and for this, I avail of complimentary Netflix subscription. However, all opinions are my own. Information about films available on Netflix is correct at time of publishing.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

2016 Comic Book Movies: From Worst to First.

For all the talk of  "comic book movie fatigue, " people are still going to see them. As of today (8th of November 2016, the six films listed below have grossed a worldwide total of $4,424,410,137. Seeing as we're rounding now, we'll call it $4.4 billion dollars. These figures were obtained from Box Office Mojo, and will probably only go up depending on how much more "Doctor Strange" makes. That's not to say that box office means quality. Far from it. It also doesn't begin to describe how this year has shown us more than any other that there's no such thing as a "sure thing" when you compare the takings and critical reaction. Just compare the production budgets, star power, and marketing campaigns of  "Deadpool" and "Suicide Squad" under those two qualifiers I mentioned in the last sentence for evidence of this. But I'm no expert in such matters. I'm here to write about the ones I liked and the ones I didn't. Of the following six films I've only previously written about "X-Men: Apocalypse", so these will be all new takes from me on these films. Unless you follow me on Twitter of course. One point to note, I didn't see the second "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" film, so it's not featured here. I'll probably never watch it either. Full disclosure and all that.

6. "X-Men: Apocalypse"

I reviewed this film here. Just in case you don't want to read it, here's the summary: it pretty much sucked. Which is difficult for me to say as I've been an "X-Men" fan for years, and I've even defended the worst of the films. Since this review was done, I've come to the conclusion that we won't get another X-Men team movie, but rather more films like "Deadpool" and next year's "Logan". Maybe a deal with Marvel could be on the cards similar to Sony's arrangement around "Spider-man". Regardless, I genuinely believe that we will not see Bryan Singer make another of these films.

5. "Captain America: Civil War".

Yes, it's THAT low. This film, let's just call it "Avengers: Civil War", did absolutely nothing for me. Apart from the Airport skirmish, nothing of consequence happened in this film. It fell into the usual Marvel traps of them trying to play serious with the subject matter of the film but not being able to help themselves by throwing in quips at the wrong moments. Add to this the fact that, while the film is action packed, none of the action seems to have any consequence. The fight scenes all bleed into each other and after some time it just gets incredibly tiring. There are some TERRIBLE effects in the Bucky/Panther/Cap foot chase which is very uncharacteristic for Marvel films. The final cardinal sin is that it's unnecessarily long. If the film justified the length, then it would have been great but it's a simple premise that's spread far too thin across two and a half hours.

4. "Suicide Squad".

It was a close run thing for this position between this film and "Civil War" but his film just pips it by virtue of the fact that I haven't seen these characters half a dozen times before, as is a problem with the Marvel films. This isn't near as bad as you've been led to believe, but it's definitely been "panic edited" with the first forty minutes being especially choppy and ridiculously heavy on the exposition. In places it feels like the order of the soundtrack was decided first and the film was then edited around that. When it settles down, it's decent. It's just a shame that it resorts to "blue light shooting into the sky" and "faceless enemies for our heroes to dispose of" tropes that have been staples of comic book films since the first two "Iron Man" films. All the main cast play their parts very well, from Smith to Robbie, and even Jai Courtney. Jay Hernandez is the surprise stand out as El Diablo, the only character apart from Smith's Deadshot, who has a sympathetic backstory. Leto's much talked about Joker is fine. He comes and goes which, along with the clips in trailers not present in the film, hints at a much larger part than what we were originally promised. This will probably be expanded on in the extended cut which is coming in a few weeks. Not a total disaster by any stretch, but not exactly a home run either.

3. "Doctor Strange".

Marvel's "House" is yet another origin story in a time when Marvel really needs to be knocking these on the head. "Civil War" showed that you can introduce new characters without the need to feature them in their own cookie cutter origin story, but they seemingly felt that the Sorcerer Supreme deserved his own movie. Mercifully, it's a short one and is saved by its stunning visuals and an excellent soundtrack. The acting is solid all round, especially Tilda Swinton and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Where the film falls short is in its story, which is a blend of "The Matrix", "Batman Begins", "Iron Man" and some "Inception" inspired visuals mixed in to give the piece a bit of personality. Cumberbatch is fine but there's a reason I called it "Marvel's House" at the top of the paragraph,  purely because he seems to channel the character that Hugh Laurie made famous by way of Robert Downey Jr's Tony Stark. Strange doesn't seem like a unique character, but rather an amalgam of a number of characters. One last positive is the fact that the film doesn't rely too heavily on what's going on in the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so you won't have to spend time explaining to your mates that don't watch these films who Thanos is and why is Iron Man fighting Captain America. On a final note, I feel that this would have been a good time to play a DC card by not overloading the film with humour where it isn't needed. Some of the more serious beats in the film are somewhat spoiled by the stock Marvel sense of humour and worse, some of the jokes just die on the screen in front of your very eyes such as Strange's first meeting with Wong. I can't see this one having the same replay value as, say, "The Avengers" or "Captain America: Winter Soldier", but it's an entertaining if forgettable standalone feature.

2. "Deadpool".

The surprise package of the comic book slate of 2016. While hope was high from the trailers, people were sceptical about how well an R rated film with a budget of just $50 million that the studio (Fox) didn't even plan on making in the first place would do. How could they pull this off? A number of factors: A clever marketing campaign (below), a lead actor that clearly loves playing this character, a script and tone which made the most of the budget they had, and not trying to stretch out the budget too far. While this meant that the highway fight scene seen in the trailer was spread out in between flashback scenes and some action scenes that were more "street level" which meant fewer effects, the dialogue and the characters were enough to paper over the cracks. While I criticised "Doctor Strange" for being an origin story in a time where there have been far too many, "Deadpool" doesn't follow the Marvel format. As I mentioned above, the origins of the character are shown in flashback to fill in the blanks and explain Deadpool's actions. It's tenuously linked to the "X-Men" films in that we get two of the non-core "X-Men" in (a new) Colossus and new character Negasonic Teenage Warhead who fares infinitely better than any of the younger X-Men in "Apocalypse". This was a hugely entertaining, not too taxing superhero flick that appeals to comic book and non-comic book fans, as it has almost as much in common with your typical rated R comedy as it does with comic book films. Combined with excellent word of mouth, "Deadpool" is currently the highest grossing film in the "X-Men" series ($782 million), which is even more spectacular when you consider the budget and compare it to that of the aforementioned "Apocalypse" which grossed $543 million against a budget of $178 million. "Deadpool 2" begins filming in January.

1. "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice".

A contentious choice, I know, but it's my list and my choice. I unashamedly love this film. Contrary to "Civil War" the length of the film was justified by the compelling story being told. While a lot of people had issues with the characterisations of the two titular heroes I, however, did not. In Affleck's Batman, we have a character who feels ultimately powerless following the incident portrayed at the end of "Man of Steel", which is shown again here from Bruce Wayne's perspective", that reacts to his internal "fight or flight" response by fighting, but fighting dirty. He is no longer hindered by his own rules anymore in a desperate attempt to retain his power over criminals and has become obsessed with Superman who he does not entirely trust. And who can blame him, considering we see Superman utterly dismantle an entire city? Some had an issue with Batman's motivation when it comes to taking down the Man of Steel, but when you see him embrace the young girl who has just been orphaned at the start of the film and simultaneously shoot Superman a look of death, it's not hard to put the pieces together. The film cuts to eighteen months later. That's eighteen months of Wayne stewing in his anger at what happened. His anger is compounded by a visit from the future, a warning, about what Superman is capable of. It's completely believable to me as to why he would act the way he did, and while the resolution of the dispute has been much maligned, I found it to be another great moment. There seems to be an issue in relation to this version of Superman as well which baffles me, as it's perfectly fine for there to be multiple versions of the character in the comic book world but to a lot of people, we should still be getting smiling, happy Christopher Reeve. If that's what you want, those films still exist. This is a Superman that's still uncertain of his place in the world, and he acts accordingly. In the old films, nobody doubted Superman's intentions because he was all good. While this Superman means well, his first exposure to the world was through the fight in Metropolis. As far as some people are concerned, while he stopped Zod he was equally culpable in the destruction that was wrought on the city. Can you blame the guy for not smiling and posing for pictures? Gal Gadot's Wonder Woman is an excellent addition and is probably the purest "superhero" character here. There are no shades of grey or doubt in her mind about what the right course of action is at any given time, which bodes very well for her solo film. Jesse Eisenberg's Lex Luther is a wild departure from the property-obsessed baldie that we've come to expect, and while his initial introduction is jarring when he settles into the role, he's quite impressive especially in his face off with Superman on the top of the LexCorp tower. The cast is rounded out well by Jeremy Irons' world-weary Alfred and Amy Adams' tenacious Lois Lane. Snyder's directorial style has been altered here as well, as we don't get as much of the slow motion effects that he used so much in "Watchmen" and "Sucker Punch". The action is very easy to follow and eschews the trend of action scenes that are edited to pieces. The soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Junkie XL is suitably operatic which suits the film perfectly. Over the last few years, Zimmer has done away with writing "catchy" movie scores and has focused more on the film itself. That being said, the "Wonder Woman" theme will be stuck in your head for life. He works well with Junkie XL here who channels some of the work he did on "Mad Max: Fury Road" to bring a huge, sweeping suite of themes for each character. Over time, I think that people's extreme thoughts on this film will soften and people will learn to appreciate the film for what it is; something different from the formulaic albeit hugely successful Marvel films.

So, that's my two cents. What do you think? Tired of these films or craving more. What way would you rank the above? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter.