Flint and Marble Gods

This week I thought I’d take a break from talking about other peoples movies, and instead talk about my own. I’ve made quite a few, and one of the most recent is an animated film for a guerrilla film-making module in my film course. We were given a list of premises for art films to make, with limitations such as only using still images, or doing the whole film in one take. The film I’m showing is one which had the premise of a letter to a loved one.

As soon as I saw the premise, I knew it would work perfectly in the form of a poem. I have a friend who is a brilliant writer of poetry, so I asked him to send me a piece, which I then recorded and made animated segments to accompany it. I created models based on some of the imagery from the poem and then used them to make stop-motion scenes. The stop-motion took about two days, as each frame had to be captured several times to control pacing. Hope you enjoy!


Firefly: A Perfect Cult Series

Taking a look at a personal favourite show…

Having fallen behind on my TV watching habit thanks to a rather large amount of work at Uni, I thought I’d fall back on talking about another cult series that I love dearly, Joss Whedon’s Firefly. This is a fantastic series that was criminally cut short after only the first season and has since gained a large cult following. I also recently finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and you’re probably wondering why I’m not reviewing that instead, but Firefly is conveniently much shorter and so much quicker to go through, which fits perfectly with my limited time! Spoilers ahead.

Firefly is a blend of genres: part western, part space adventure, part drama, and it, like most of Whedon’s work manages to balance each genre superbly. The mixture of tones and style lead to a very unique feeling world which really lives and breathes. Most of Joss Whedon’s fiction is set in modern day earth, so it is interesting to see what he does with a world set far in the future. The characters use Chinese expressions, as it is the most common language besides English, the costumes are a mixture of modern business attire for the wealthy part of the Alliance of Planets, and more old-timey frontier clothes for the outlying planets. The series is full of little details which create an incredible atmosphere.

Set in the aftermath of a planetary civil war between the Brown-coats and the Alliance, the story follows Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew as they pilot the ship serenity into deep space, always on the lookout for their next job, and avoiding Alliance authorities every step of the way. The premise alone was enough to convince me to watch it. It really is a niche, you have to love both the western genre and the space exploration genre, which fortunately I do! The combination of styles enhances both, and the feeling both of familiarity with the setting and newness with the story and concepts makes for a very enjoyable experience. As the show progresses each of the characters gets explored in more detail and the way that this new world works is unpacked. If the show had gone on more could have been introduced, but what is already there is great fun.

The acting across the board is superb. I won’t be able to only talk about a few choice performances here as the cast are just too damn good. Nathan Fillion is alternately brooding and lovably charming as Captain Reynolds, Alan Tudyk is fantastic as the slightly more comical Wash, although he is also one of the more moral characters. Gina Torres is excellent as a very protective and loyal Zoe, the second in command. Morena Baccarin is calm and gentle, with an often sharp tongue and a very winning smile, playing the lovely Inara. My personal favourite character is Jayne, played by Adam Baldwin. The classic mercenary, Jayne could easily have been a simple thug, but thanks to Baldwins excellent comic timing, which can be seen better in Chuck, Jayne has plenty of funny moments and witty lines. His character is also very endearing. He is blunt and threatening, but deep down cares immensely for his crew, especially Kaylee. Speaking of, Jewel Staithe is a ray of sunshine, her portrayal of Kaylee is uplifting and heart-warming and her character is the most adorable person you will ever see. Sean Maher is perhaps the weakest actor. He has moments, but on the whole, when surrounded by such interesting characters, he has a tendency to get side-lined. Summer Glau is much more memorable. She plays River, an exceptional girl who has been experimented on by a shadowy part of the Alliance and spends a lot of the series adjusting to her life on the ship, and trying to come to terms with her abilities. As such she is very unstable. Finally, Ron Glass plays Booker, the resident preacher on the ship. Rather than being a self-righteous character, Booker is the moral centre of the group and often doles out advice to the rest of the crew. I enjoyed seeing a positive portrayal of a religious character, especially a Christian, as they tend to come off as pushy.

Of course, the show isn’t perfect. Despite the realism of the exterior scenes in space being shot in silence, the effect is unsettling and takes me out of the experience a little. As well as this the limited budget means that the space craft, while looking fantastically designed are very dated. The CGI doesn’t hold up well to scrutiny. The budget also means that many of the Terra-formed planets we visit on the far reaches of space just happen to have very similar environments. Sand and grass. It would’ve been nice to visit a few more diverse planets. However, none of these things are too distracting for me to not recommend the show, in fact I find them quite charming. The visual style of the show is strong enough to overcome bad CGI. The costume design alone is gorgeous, and the sets and props are all very cool and blend frontier cowboy style clothing with grungy Red Dwarf style technology.

However, the costume and characters aren’t all Firefly has to offer. I haven’t talked before about Joss Whedon, but he is a rarely talented writer. His TV shows in particular always appeal to me. He is a master of writing witty back and forth dialogue and making potentially boring exposition sound weighty and important. The characters are written so well, they seem like living breathing people, not stale archetypes, which is always a risk when writing genre fiction. Whedon has a flair for dialogue, but also a knack for organic world-building; he knows when to give the audience more backstory, and also when to ease off and let the characters chat. It’s always a pleasure to watch his work.

Firefly is one of those shows that feels so unique and interesting that you must watch every episode. It was a crying shame when it was cancelled in 2002 after only one season. However, Whedon since went on to make a film wrapping up the story, and I would rather watch a short-lived show I can love, than 20 seasons of a mediocre series. If anything about the show has intrigued you I urge you to give it a watch and discover how awesome it is for yourself.

Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, It’s crap and I love it!

The difference between enjoying a film, and a film being well made…

I’ve wanted to talk about the difference between liking a film and thinking a film is good for a while now. One of the things I’ve noticed when talking to people about movies, is that people often take criticism of a film to mean that the person doesn’t like the film, or is insulting them by suggesting their taste in movies isn’t good enough. I’m not trying to patronise; it is perfectly understandable when you enjoy something a lot to want to defend it, but I feel strongly that acknowledging flaws, even in your favourite films can help you gain a deeper love for them, and even make you more secure in your own taste. Case in point: Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.

This is a film I watched religiously when I was a kid. It was just the kind of movie I was drawn to; it had sword fights, explosions, romance and honour. It was the perfect swashbuckling adventure with better effects than the Errol Flynn version and even a cameo from Sean freaking Connery! What more could a geeky ten-year-old want? However, as I’ve grown, and especially after studying film, I’ve come to notice some of the glaring flaws that went over my head as a boy. These problems don’t ruin my enjoyment of the movie, on the contrary, they actually seem endearing. After all, I can still watch it and remember how much I adored the film as a child, knowing the film is far from perfect certainly can’t take that away from me.


Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves is not a very good movie. The effects, whilst miles ahead of the 1938 film, are a little dated by today’s standards. The acting is all over the place and some aspects of the story are very strange, but overall it is a staggeringly fun movie. I can at least promise that you will not be bored watching it. I’m going to compare the aspects of the film I love versus the aspects that make it a poor quality film, and why these flaws don’t bother me in the slightest.

Let’s start with the lead actor himself. Kevin Costner is a limited actor. I don’t mean to say he’s bad, he was very convincing in the Untouchables, but the guy doesn’t have much range. He isn’t suited the character of Robin Hood. Robin of Locksley is a fun loving boyish rebel, a man who inspires loyalty through his good nature and humour, and the script tries really hard to make Kevin Costner seem like this man. Costner gives it his best shot, but sadly he just isn’t up to accent, or to sounding energetic. Other performances are for the most part solid (if slightly melodramatic), I particularly enjoy Nick Brimble as an extremely bloke-ish Little John, but the stand out actor is once again Alan Rickman. That man was a gift to the screen and as always he proves to be the highlight of the film. Every scene in which the sheriff of Nottingham minces down a corridor, or snarls at Kevin Costner I’m having a blast. Rickman gives the sheriff a barely held together, delightfully malicious character which never fails to entertain. He consumes every inch of scenery every second he is onscreen, and this is more than enough to make up for Costner’s wooden delivery.


As for the story, apart from a few additions it stays mostly true to the legend. This is hardly a historical film, after all, Robin travels home with a Moor, Azeem played by Morgan Freeman with his usual dry wit. Apart from a few moments of telegraphed racism most of the merry men seem to accept this stranger unrealistically well. But as this is a film more about the legend of Robin Hood, this doesn’t bother me as much as something like Brave heart (Oh, we’ll get to you later). The story is paced well, though it takes its time getting to the forming of the merry men, spending quite a while showing Robin returning to Sherwood, and seeing it changed for the worse. This is actually quite a welcome alteration as it allows for some interesting character moments, especially the scene in which Robin lands at the beach, and leaps into the sand. It is one of the few moments of joy that Costner absolutely nails. If I had a choice, I would say that there a few story points I would cut. For instance, while the sheriff wants to marry Marian in order to secure a claim to the throne, the scene in which he loses his mind and tries to rape her was very tonally dissonant. This somehow never registered with me as a boy, but as an adult I recognised how jarring it was for him to be trying to do something so brutal in a PG film.

Apart from the wonky story, another aspect of the film which lowers the quality is the dialogue. This matters less when you’re a young boy who wants to watch the very American sounding Robin Hood fight with swords, but as a film student, it’s hard to overlook. While actors like Rickman and Freeman are strong enough on their own to sell the cliches, Costner and many of the other actors, like Christian Slater just can’t make the lines convincing. The melodrama is acceptable in this style movie, but when the lines are so trite and predictable that I can guess what the character will say next, and be completely right, you know something has gone wrong. For instance, at one point in the film Robin buries his father in what is supposed to be a deep emotional scene. Unfortunately, Robin goes on to cut his hand pointlessly and mutter “I swear I will not rest until my father is avenged.” My eyes rolled so hard at this scene I almost went blind. And yet every once in a while, a couple of the lines will catch you by surprise, by being actually good, or at least funny.

Finally, we come to the strongest part of the film, the music. Apart from a few choice selections, such as Lord of the Rings and Blade Runner, there aren’t many other film scores which have had such an effect on me. The sweeping adventurous style of the main Robin Hood theme is a perfect soundtrack for an action adventure. Michael Kamen composed an excellent tune. In fact, a large part of what makes the film seem so epic, and helps distract from some of the dodgy performances is the score. The music is on point, perfectly illustrating each dramatic moment, or letting an intimate character scene play out without music. But the crowning achievement is the main theme. It really emphasises the naive sense of fun and adventure that Robin Hood represents and it promises a world of possibility and excitement!

So, there we have it. A film which has many problems, but which I love nonetheless. It has a lot to offer, and for me the flaws aren’t nearly enough to ruin my experience. Obviously this film isn’t for everyone, and if any of the issues I have addressed have put you off, I don’t blame you at all. However, as I said earlier, just because it isn’t a well made film, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.

Also Sean Connery has a cameo.


“Are you shure she’s taken?”


Hi guys! Sorry about the rather inconsistent posting at the moment! I have rather a lot of Uni work to take care of, so the blog is taking a bit of a backseat. This week I have an essay with a looming deadline, so I’m going to hold off on a new post until next week, when I can give it some proper effort.

Westworld – Season 1 review

Taking a look at the successor to Game of Thrones…

HBO seems to be on a winning streak with it’s shows. It seems like every few years they release the next big influential tv drama. From Boardwalk Empire to The Sopranos, they have a high bar to set. With incredible shows like The Wire to their name and with no other big breakout drama, many were worried that HBO were going to face problems finding another success once Game of Thrones finished. Then along came Westworld. While some label this show as a copy of Thrones set in the wild west, a closer look at the show reveals not only some astonishingly clever writing, but a consistent and carefully planned narrative.

Summing up, Westworld is a resort set in the distant future in which robotics have advanced to point where the machines can now pass the Turing test and are incredibly life-like. The Park is a place in which the guests can interact with these Host robots in a wild west setting, engaging in layered stories, or just killing and shagging the hosts as they please. We follow a variety of characters, some hosts, some human players and the staff of the Delos corporation who create and control the hosts throughout the season. As the story unfolds we learn more about the origins of the Park as well as the possibility that the hosts are becoming sentient. This show is every bit as entertaining as Game of Thrones, and possibly just a bit cleverer. Be warned, potential spoilers from this point onwards.

The first thing to mention about the show is the incredible cinematography. Huge sprawling landscapes and beautiful scenery are shot with aplomb and the wide shots of the land contrast well with the foreboding sense of entrapment, as the hosts are forced to repeat dialogue and actions without once realising it. The transitions between different characters point of view, and as we find out later, different time periods are perfectly chosen and create amazing foreshadowing. For instance, William, a newcomer to the Park nearly always is cut to after or before a scene with the ominous Man in black, who is revealed later to be an older version of William. The shots are well executed and the costume and set design are on point. Every character exudes personality just from their outfit, from rich tourist guests wearing the most gaudy, silly cowboy outfits, to Robert Ford, the Parks creator, wearing western getup almost all season, subtly showing his sympathies lie with the hosts more than with humans. My personal favourite is the Man in black, whose costume is a superb example of style. It toes the line between affectation and intimidation, with a dark hat, leather gloves and boots, and a cravat. And yet it is a simple outfit, almost utilitarian. Apart from the characterisation, the outfit is a nice call-back to the original gunslinger from the 1973 film.


Apart from the visuals, the story is phenomenal. Whilst it is easy early in the season to find yourself confused, with quite a few characters and unexplained backstories, it doesn’t take long to pick up on things without the characters throwing a bunch of exposition around. I won’t go into too much detail here, or this post would be the size of a small novel, but the way in which Jonathon Nolan and Lisa Joy weave so many plot threads into a compelling and tightly focused narrative is frankly astounding. It would be so easy to lose track of one or two story elements and make a complete mess, but no part of these episodes feels wasted, every single scene feels in some way important, impactful. This makes for a very engaging viewing experience. Nolan of course has helped write almost every film made by Christopher Nolan, and it is easy to see why. But as ambitious as the narrative is, the fact that the characters and setting serve as a metaphor for fiction writing as well is very impressive. For instance, take a look at this scene with Ford, as he talks about why people come back to the Park. What he says can be applied word for word to any story creator.


Finally, we come to characters. There is not a single actor who does a bad job on this show, and far too many to cover here, so I will focus on the ones which stood out most to me. Ed Harris plays the Man in black, and from the number of stunts and fighting gives an impressive physical performance on its own. However, he captures the mindset and feelings of a gamer who has played so long that not much surprises him anymore. He is simultaneously jaded and cynical and yet oddly hopeful that his pursuit of a deeper meaning within the Park will satisfy him. Ed Harris was born to play characters like this. Another stand out to me was Jimmi Simpson as William, who I only knew through a handful of comedies, playing mostly weaselly cowards and rather nasty individuals. Seeing him play a traditional heroic type, albeit a thoughtful and nervous one was quite unusual. However, he pulls it off so well, and in fact is much more engaging than other, better looking actors could probably have been. That said, these two are not my favourite character. That prize goes to Dr Robert Ford played by Anthony Hopkins. This may be the best performance from Hopkins I have seen since Silence of the Lambs, and certainly a much subtler one. Hopkins is such a natural actor that I am convinced there is no line of dialogue he can’t make sound convincing. In Ford he weaves an incredible tapestry of different small facial cues and slight expressions, never once going too far and yet creating such a wealth of feeling and character that I swear Ford must be a real person. Honestly, in the wrong hands this role could have seemed so cliché, but with Hopkins playing him, he is the most interesting and complicated character within the whole of the first season.


So, to finish, this show is a brilliantly written, fantastically shot, perfectly acted masterpiece of Science fiction. I would recommend this to everyone, and I am eagerly awaiting season 2 in April. Until then, you’ll have to excuse me, I’m off to watch the trailer for season 2 again and again.

My Personal Top 5 Cult Films

Looking at some of my favourite cult movies…

Since I’ve done quite a few simple film reviews, I thought I’d take a break and have a look at a topic close to my heart, cult films. For those who stick to more mainstream movies and might be unfamiliar with the term, a cult film isn’t a religious fanatic’s ideal watch, it is a slightly nebulous word to describe a film with a relatively small but dedicated fan base. There are many things which can be used to define whether a film is cult, but for the purpose of this post, I’m going to keep to a basic definition. A film can be cult if it has a small possibly obsessive fan base, slight campy elements and possibly a troubled or unsuccessful initial release. With that out of the way, please enjoy my pick of the top five personal favourite cult films. These aren’t going to be ranked in order of best to worst, merely five different genres of cult movies that I really enjoy.



  1. Birdemic: Shock and Terror.

This slot on the list represents my love of films that are so bad they’re good. Birdemic, directed by James Nguyen is a passion project, like most films that are unintentionally hilarious. It’s tough to describe why it’s so much fun to watch a terribly made film, but I think the key point for me is intent. There is a charming quality to a film which tries so hard to be good which can be missing in a lot of mediocre big blockbusters. The lack of budget and inept directing almost serve as a masterclass in how not to make a movie, and especially for a film student, it’s a riot watching all of the failures. My personal highlight is the animation on the CGI birds, which is so bad it almost distracts you from the terrible acting. Birdemic is so much fun, especially with a group of friends.


  1. Donnie Darko.

As a contrast, lets look at a fantastically made film, which I love completely seriously. Donnie Darko was made in 1999, as a debut for director Richard Kelly. The film didn’t do too well on release, probably because it’s such a surreal and hard to categorise experience that no one could really have marketed it to a wide audience. Since then it has developed a cult following and I am a proud member of that following. The film is probably best defined as a sci-fi but, honestly there are elements of a lot of genres in there. There are aspects of a coming of age narrative, fantasy, superhero themes, and a lot of very lovable characters. The film stars a young Jake Gyllenhaal in a career highlight as troubled teen Donnie Darko, who experiences strange visions and odd powers, being told he must save his world in 28 days. The film is instantly quotable and straddles the line between eerie and depressing, and funny and heart-warming.


3. Office Space.

I have never worked in an office. And now thanks to Office Space, I pray I never have to. This genius comedy, directed by Mike Judge is a brilliant lampoon of the terrible people we all meet at work. It’s hilarious portrayal of the soul crashing inanity of working in an office environment is endlessly entertaining. The fact that Peter, the main character needs to be hypnotised into a zen state to cope with his job is brilliant, and sets up a lot of great gags, as Peter no longer caring about being fired gets him promoted. His new attitude at work actually improves his standing. There are great characters in this; the boss Lumbergh for one. He is a great example of the faux friendly, chummy boss who still gives you more work and cracks the whip. The lines in this are not just funny, they’re repeatably funny. I’ve watched this film countless times and I still howl with laughter every time Milton threatens to burn the office down.


4. Army of Darkness.

I’ve always appreciated films that blend different genres. Sam Raimi is a director who seems particularly adept at this, and his horror comedy Army of Darkness is probably on my list of all time favourite films, let alone cult movies. Technically, this is also Evil Dead 3 as the third film about Ash Williams, every-man from Michigan taking on the evil dead with a chainsaw hand and shotgun. I love this film because of the camp factor, the effects are cool and very real but also delightfully rickety. I adore this film because of Bruce Campbell as Ash, a role he finally seems completely comfortable in after two films perfecting it. His one liners are a fantastic blend of stupid and witty. The horror elements are well realised, but the lighter, even more comedic tone, partly brought about by the time travel plot make this film more accessible to a wider audience. In fact, I watched this first when I was younger because it was much easier to cope with. Whereas Evil Dead 1 and 2 were held back by a tiny budget and only took place in a single cabin, this is a sprawling medieval epic horror, taking place in castles and old dark woods. It’s just a really fun ride from start to finish.


5. Labyrinth.

Finally, a bizarre 80’s fantasy to send things off. This film is a triumph of Jim Henson puppetry. The characters designs are really creative, ranging from downright creepy to incredibly cute. David Bowie lends his star quality to the film, making it impossible to determine if he’s actually a good actor, or if he simply doesn’t need to be. His music in this film is catchy and very evocative, setting the tone of the film. Jennifer Connolly as the lead starts off as a slightly bad actor, but by the end her character has come a long way, and Connolly does manage to convey that and tone down her performance accordingly. This film has a unique tone and atmosphere, set up by an almost ethereal soundtrack and a set which feels somewhere between a real place and a theme park. The characters are slightly cartoonish, but in a kid’s film that can be forgiven, and the urgency of the story is well set up in that Sarah’s baby brother is in very real danger. Overall, this is a unique film that needs to be seen at least once, and I recommend it to any big fantasy fans out there. You won’t be disappointed.

So those were my five favourite cult films. I hope this list has in some way inspired you all to try a few more obscure movies, there are tons out there and they get fan bases for a good reason. From underappreciated classics to hilarious train-wrecks, there is something for everyone out there. Have a look and see for yourself!

The Thirteenth Warrior: A Forgotten Classic

Another severely underrated classic…

I must once again apologise for my lateness. It’s been a while since I last posted, and I don’t really have a good excuse between laziness and forgetfulness. However, I’m back up to speed now, and to kick off the new year properly, I thought I’d continue in the style of the last review and take a look at a film I loved growing up that has sadly been forgotten over the years, The Thirteenth Warrior. This is a film that I watched quite a lot growing up. My Grandmother had the DVD at her house and one of my favourite things to do whenever I went round, aside from cooking really bad cakes, was to pop it on and spend an enjoyable afternoon watching Antonio Banderas fighting alongside Viking warriors.

It wasn’t until I got a little older and looked up the history behind this film that I discovered how big a flop it had been on release. Arriving in 1999 to a lukewarm critical reaction, The Thirteenth warrior was a gigantic flop, possibly one of the worst flops in cinema history, dwarfing the returns of Waterworld, and making only 61 million of its 160-million-dollar budget back. I’m actually baffled that this film isn’t at all notorious. After all, Waterworld has often been labelled as a mega box office flop and that film almost made its money back. However, the film made a pittance, was largely ignored by critics, except for Roger Ebert who reviewed everything, and was promptly forgotten.

13 warr.png

What amazes me is not the people didn’t like the film, after all taste is subjective, but the fact that this film is not more iconic than it is. It wasn’t marketed that widely at release, and it has never developed a substantial cult following (at least, not that I can find). However, this film apart from being a great watch, has some real talent behind it. For a start it was directed by John McTeirnan, who dominated the late 80’s and early 90’s with some fantastic action films, including Die Hard of all movies. If someone told me the guy who made Die Hard was making a Viking film, I would need no further convincing. On top of this, the story is based on an adaptation of Beowulf written by Michael Crichton. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because he is the same author who wrote Jurassic Park. Already we can see some serious pedigree here, although where the film falls down is in the actors. Don’t get me wrong, the cast are all fantastic, even minor characters are immensely fun, but with the exception of Antonio Banderas, who was already reaching the end of his wave of popularity, the only other big star in the cast to draw people in was Omar Sharif. That isn’t much star power to interest the casual movie-goer, and Omar Sharif, although a brilliant classic actor, hadn’t ever been a huge box office draw.

However, despite the relatively unknown cast, this film has a lot going for it right out of the gate, and it makes me sad that its directing and writing talent haven’t managed to attract a strong cult following, because the film is worth seeing. It is a story loosely based on the historical figure Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who was a famous 10th century traveller from Baghdad. Ahmad is most recognised for his journeys with the Volga Vikings, or Varangians, and his witnessing first hand of their culture, even being present at a ship burial. Crichton used this character as a third party to retell the story of Beowulf, and this historical twist creates a slightly more believable and grounded take on the legend. Apart from a compelling story, watching a pampered Arab ambassador turn slowly into smart and capable warrior, the character arch is a joy too. Ahmad serves as a way for us to slowly become invested in the Varangians struggle to defend a vulnerable village. As he learns their culture and injects some of his own into their lives, we see a bond form between him and several of the key Vikings, as they learn to respect him and even accept him as one of their own. Ahmad is thrust into this situation because their soothsayer foretells that they need 13 men, one of whom must be no north-man. All through the film, Ahmad is forced to adapt to his surroundings, and this struggle is very relatable.

The action is quite visceral in this film to say the least. There are very few obvious special effects, which may be enough to bore some viewers, but there is something very appealing to me in watching regular humans do battle with real-looking weapons. People actually get tired and sloppy in this film, the battles, lit spectacularly by fire much of the time are exhilarating simply because the characters are often barely holding on, hopelessly outnumbered. I’m a sucker for a good sword fight, and this film has tons, including an entertaining duel midway through the film which shows off a nice bit of political intrigue. Visually this film is shot pretty well, although nothing special, and the set design is quite realistic and very creative. Most of the sets are historical, wooden halls and thatched huts, until we reach the layer of the villains, which is a gloriously over the top evil cave full of skulls and animal pelts. The costumes are for the most part pretty nice, although not very historically accurate. Several of the Vikings are wearing full plate armour, which was not widely used until several centuries later.

13th warior

However, I don’t watch this film for action or even for the story, I watch it for the characters. To start with Ahmad is a great protagonist. His journey from disinterested ambassador to hardened warrior is engaging and gradual, allowing the viewer to grow with him. We watch this new culture through his eyes, and his willingness to engage with and even adopt aspects of the Vikings life is heart-warming and fun. It’s also interesting to see him add his own twist on their ways, such as when he grinds a heavy sword into a smaller scimitar. Obviously this would really make for a terrible sword in real life, but it serves as a perfect blend of Arabian and Viking fighting styles, the curved blade and Norse hilt working together. Omar Sharif, though he wasn’t a fan of the film, is nonetheless quite enjoyable for the small time he is onscreen, seeming quite dry-witted and sardonic. The villains are quite lacking in charisma, although very intimidating.

The team of 12 Viking warriors are an odd bunch, most of whom for the sake of time receive little screen time and die at various points in order to up the stakes. There are several stand outs who get more development, but the two main Norse characters are the leader Buliwyf played by Vladimir Kulich, and his right-hand man, Herger, played by Dennis Storhøi. Buliwyf as the son of a recently deceased king and leader of the band of warriors is given a backstory and a connection with Ahmad, who teaches him to write a little, and then promises to write his deeds down as a ballad. Vladimir Kulich is stoic and gruff as Buliwyf, mostly quite wooden and gloomy looking, although he has moments where his deadpan lines provide some wry humour. However, for me, the best character, and biggest reason to watch this movie is Herger. Dennis Storhøi injects this character with such pure glee, and completely sells some of the best lines in the film. He is a delight to watch from start to finish, revelling in the battles and genuinely enjoying himself in the midst of life-threatening situations. His smile and manic energy are contrast with occasional moments of deep reflection and sadness, such as when he kills a worthy adversary and regrets his death. Herger is given the closest friendship to Ahmad, even calling him “little brother”, and he teases the Arab with seemingly genuine warmth. It’s always refreshing to see a character that simply enjoys life.

best character

A true pragmatist.


This film is a great time. It has stellar action and characters, and enough unique selling points for me to recommend it to anyone. I have always been confused as to why no-one has ever heard of this film, and why it has never received more attention, given who made it, and hopefully it will one day get a proper chance to shine. If you enjoy historical epics, Antonio Banderas or simply want to try something a bit different, I’d give this one a go!

Why Waterworld is actually quite good…

Why despite it’s reputation, Waterworld is a pretty fun time…

As a bit of change of pace, I thought I’d take a look at an old film I have quite a soft spot for, the 1995 film Waterworld. This is a notorious movie, partly because of its flaws, but probably more because it is remembered as a massive flop, which cost way too much to make. While this is partly true, I think that the reputation of this film has informed many people’s opinions, and I’d like to take some time to explain why I personally think it’s pretty good.

Firstly, lets recap the film. Waterworld is a post-apocalyptic film about a time after the Earth has been covered in water thanks to global warming. Kevin Costner plays the Mariner, a lone wanderer who sails a trimaran across the ocean, taking in resources. Through a series of misadventures, he becomes involved with a woman and her step-daughter, who has a tattoo on her back which is said to lead to the last dry land in the world. Along the way, there are floating cities, a brilliant villain and lots of great action.

Image result for kevin costner waterworld

“Can you hold the script a bit higher please?”

So why is this film considered such a failure? There are certainly flaws, for instance, Kevin Costner isn’t very good in it. He is extremely bland; his entire performance gives the impression he doesn’t really care what is going on. Now, I’m not one of the people who think Costner is a bad actor, but his range is quite limited and he needs a good director, or a strong character, and sadly he doesn’t have either in this film. Secondly, the dialogue and plot can be a little awkward at times, particularly with the young kid Enola. The actress Tina Majorino has gone on to do good things, such as Napoleon Dynamite, but this early in her career, she isn’t convincing, and in fact is quite annoying at times.

However, actors and dialogue aside, most people know Waterworld as the Icarus of film, the movie that flew too close to the sun with a massive budget and not enough returns in the box office. While it is true that the film overran its budget thanks to the ambitious scope; everything was filmed on the water, most of the sets were built on the water. In the end the final budget was over 170 million dollars, it was never likely it would be able to make that back, after all it wasn’t a franchise film, and apart from the two leads didn’t star any major stars. In the end it took home just 88 million dollars at home, but 170 worldwide, meaning that the film almost broke even, but thanks to the profit cinemas take in, it took longer. In the end the film became profitable from DVD sales. While it wasn’t that financially successful, it certainly wasn’t the huge flop most people remember.

Image result for waterworld boats

Three hulled ship? That’s pretty awesome.

But anyway, what is so good about this film? The film has a surprisingly resonant message about how our world might be changed by global warming. It gets most of the science wrong, but that this film was made over 20 years ago shows an unusual awareness of a subject many still ignore today. The story is engaging and fun, the idea of a completely new world, not just the ruins of the old one is exciting for a film premise, and a lot more original than most modern post-apocalypses. But one of the major reasons I enjoy this film is watching the way things work in this world. There are some really creative machines and boats made out of recognisable present day junk, and watching how they function is really interesting. Add to that some epic water battles, including dogfights above the water and jet skiers leaping over the walls of a floating city, and you have a recipe for good entertainment. The film is like Mad Max with boats, using some really interesting vehicle designs and costumes that reflect the new society, made up of fish nets, discarded plastic and even deep-sea diver boots at one point. The film also takes great pains to show how people survive, using dirt that can grow plants as a new type of currency, and even some humans who have evolved to survive, with gills (although for some reason everybody hates the mutants).

But the best reason to see this film is to behold Dennis Hopper as the head of the smoker gang, Deacon. I have yet to see Hopper in a film where it isn’t clear he is coked to his eyeballs, and this is no exception. The man is just so entertaining, and at times even intimidating in his performance. He has a wicked sense of humour, and a short temper that he takes out on his own men. The intensity of his acting is mesmerising and makes me look forward to each scene he is in. It’s actually hard to tell if he is actually good as his character, because all I can see is Dennis Hopper having the time of his life, tearing the scenery to shreds with his teeth. If nothing else I have said has convinced you, watch this film just to witness Dennis Hopper.

Image result for dennis hopper deacon

“I’m… gorgeous.”

So, despite not very compelling heroes, and some questionable dialogue and performances, this film is a fun dose of action through the lens of an interesting and original story premise. The costumes, set design and action scenes are spectacular, as you would hope for such a high budget. Dennis Hopper is gloriously fun as the villain and makes every second with a bland Kevin Costner all the more tolerable. In short, it’s a good time, and as long as you have the right expectations, you can go into this film and expect, at the very least to have fun.

Oh, and Jack Black is in it briefly!

The Last Jedi, Not What You Expect…

It really is a shame how fans can react to change. I know it’s always hard when a franchise we love makes something that we don’t enjoy, or changes something that we thought was fine. Heaven knows I was annoyed enough at the unnecessary romance crow-barred into The Hobbit trilogy (and it still hurts me that I have to refer to those films as a trilogy). However, sometimes I think fans can get so attached to a property and connect it so fully with their childhood, that they are unable to think clearly about the films anymore. Yes, Star Wars is a huge global phenomenon and it has impacted a lot of people. But it is just a film series. We don’t own it any more than we own the people who made it. And the overblown reaction I have witnessed online is staggering for a film series about magic space wizards. Don’t think I’m disparaging Star Wars. I have always loved these films, and I think even the prequels have some entertainment value. But some perspective seems needed, after all, these are silly films. The original movies have ewoks, two death stars, cute annoying aliens and very glaring plot holes. But we ignore those because the films are still good in spite of them. The nit-picks don’t ruin a fun time. I think that those that argue passionately that porgs aren’t Star Wars because they’re cute merchandise are perhaps forgetting the sillier parts of the other films. After all, as much as we can get very passionate about these films, they were never exactly high art.

Now then, with all that said, The Last Jedi was awesome! There are flaws to sure, and some of them aren’t small, but much like the other films, I enjoyed the film enough not to notice them. And Rian Johnson does something that not many of the other directors have done with Star Wars for a long time; he takes risks. Honestly, the biggest problem I had with some fans reactions was that not two years ago there were people angry at The Force Awakens for being too similar to the original films. Then along comes this film, which inverts many of the tropes and themes of the other films, and a lot of those same fans get angry because of the changes. But for my part I really enjoyed being given something new and slightly more original. From here on things will be a bit spoiler heavy so stop reading now if you are the one person in the world who saw this later than me!

I really appreciated the choices made in the plot of this film. While I really enjoyed The Force Awakens, it had no risks – I could predict the plot from start to finish. Not so here, I was constantly wondering what would happen next, and thanks to Han Solo’s death in the previous film, I was not sure even who would make it out of the film alive. First Luke refuses to train Rey, then he accepts, but it turns out he wishes to die alone and end the Jedi Order. Rey starts seeing into Kylo Ren’s mind, and is drawn to him in an effort to turn him to the light. However, when she arrives, Snoke reveals he merely twisted her visions. But the best moment for me was the moment when Kylo kills Snoke. Suddenly, the main antagonist, who had been a boring replica of Emperor Palpatine, is killed and Ren takes his place as the true main villain of the trilogy. This was such a refreshing twist. For me, Ren was the interesting villain, and Snoke was nothing special, so replacing him with the more engaging character is a bold and smart move. Another great twist is that Rey’s parents are not important characters we have seen before. She is not a Skywalker or Kenobi, much as I would have loved that. Her parents were just Junkers who sold her into slavery. This revelation is new and exciting, as it gets back to the idea of a protagonist who comes from nothing. So many heroes in stories have ties to previous legendary characters, that serve as crutch to make the hero special. It is lovely to have a hero who has no amazing backstory, who is only interesting because of what she chooses to do, and who she is as a person.

On to the performances. Daisy Ridley is as fresh faced and determined as in the previous film. John Boyega as Finn is so charismatic it makes up for the fact that his entire storyline has no impact on the plot. Kelly Marie Tran is very engaging and likeable as Rose Tico, and of course Oscar Isaac is perfect as the roguish Poe Dameron. He has a commanding presence, and is clearly highly motivated. It would be great to have some backstory behind his actions. Carrie Fisher is warm and witty as General Organa, and it is crying shame we will never get any more films from Fisher. Adam Driver brings a true intensity and yet vulnerability that we rarely see in villains. His Kylo Ren is so unnerving because he is relatable even in his most terrible actions. But the best character in this is Luke Skywalker. He has evolved in a most interesting way since he tried to restart the Jedi Order, has learnt in fact that the Jedi were part of the problem. He is cynical and afraid to fail in teaching Rey as he did with Ren. Mark Hamill is on fire here, and he deserves a lot more work after this. He still retains the core of Luke’s identity, but with a shell of age and awareness of his own legend. It could have been so easy to turn Luke into the new Obi Wan and repeat the same tropes, but Johnson makes a conscious effort to make sure Luke is not the same old, wise character as his predecessors.

Finally, the visuals of the film are breath-taking. The shots can be a little conventional at times, but the composition more than makes up for this, with amazing colour and costume design, and fantastic moments. Many screenshots of the film could be used as posters in their own right. The new locations are striking and different to what we have previously seen in the Star Wars universe. A casino planet, a salt flats base and of course a rocky island in the middle of nowhere. The Salt flats and the red dust underneath make a very striking colour, and reflect the more mature themes addressed in this film. The red of the dark side lurking underneath the pure white. In fact, it is on the salt planet that we have the best scene in the film, where Luke faces off against an entire fleet of the First Order. This scene also works so well because Luke mocked the idea of taking on the entire Order single handed earlier in the film. The music is of course inspired, John Williams could score these in his sleep with both ears blocked and he would still make amazing musical themes.

Overall, this is a film with flaws, there are story elements that remain unaddressed (such as the knights of Ren) and odd choices that undercut the tone at points, but they are outweighed by the amount of new ground covered, and I would happily sacrifice many of the old elements of the films in order for future films to make me feel as this film made me feel coming out of the cinema. As long as they keep the laser swords!

Die Hard: the best Christmas film…

Looking back at the best festive film of all time…

First of all, apologies for the two-week absence, as I was too busy with a pileup of holiday coursework to write a post, but as I’m now free of most of my burdens, I thought I’d look at something rather festive! So, without further ado, Die Hard!

I know what you’re thinking, “hang on, that isn’t a Christmas film, its an action film!” Yes, I know it’s a controversial issue, but I love the film, and seeing as it takes place at Christmas I’m reviewing it anyway. If you want something more saccharine and cheesy you can watch Elf.

I recently saw Die Hard again with a bunch of friends and some drinks, and let me tell you, that film never gets old. It helps to watch with someone who hasn’t yet seen it; their reaction reminds you exactly how you were the first time you saw it. Die Hard is one of those films that is hard to analyse, because the reputation it has makes it difficult to separate the objective quality and the entertainment factor. However, there are certain things we can look at to see why this fantastic movie has endured for so long, and why the sequels don’t always measure up.

First of all, the setting. Die Hard takes place at a Christmas party in Los Angeles at the Nakatomi Plaza, where John McClane becomes embroiled in a heist disguised as terrorist kidnapping, and has to overcome great odds and no shoes in order to save the day and reconcile with his wife. The setting allows for a huge set, and yet a claustrophobic atmosphere as McClane is stuck running around the building trying to get the Police to turn up. The fact that he is trapped with them forcing him to come up with some ingenious ways of outmanoeuvring the villain, Hans Gruber. For instance, when he is unable to attract the attention of a cop, who checks the desk and thinks that everything is fine, he throws the body of one the robbers onto the man’s car, immediately letting them know how serious the situation is. Later sequels often made the setting all over the place, in different cities and countries, but that just removes the tight hemmed-in atmosphere and lowers the stakes.

Bruce Willis is at his best as the put-upon New York cop, out of his element. John McClane is a more down-to-earth action hero, constantly damaging his body, without even shoes, in order to save the hostages. He is a capable cop, but the constant stress and fighting wears him down over the course of the film, until he can barely stand. This appeals to a lot of people, the underdog who still fights on. Having a relatable hero who has to struggle and still wins is ten times more satisfying than an unstoppable demi-god. It also helps that Willis has some of the best lines in the film, and his deadpan delivery is on point. By far the best scene is when McClane calls the emergency line and cannot get through to the operator as she doesn’t take him seriously. Watching him cuss her out furiously as he avoids gunfire is always entertaining.

However, the star of the film isn’t Bruce Willis in my opinion. That title belongs to Hans Gruber, played to perfection by Alan Rickman. His over the top German accent, sardonic delivery and brilliant lines add up to a truly memorable villain who is not only intimidating but also very funny. He is charming, quick witted and confident, totally in command of his crew and prepared to deal harshly with Police and FBI alike. Alan Rickman sadly passed away last year, and I would like to take a moment from this review just to mention that Rickman was a national treasure and a top-notch actor. The film world will truly miss his iconic roles and I can only imagine what amazing characters he could have gone on to portray if things had been different.

Moving on to the action, this film is in another class. The enclosed area means that the action has to be creative in order to not become boring. This leads to scenes in which McClane has fire fights under tables, on roofs and climbs down elevator shafts using a frigging machine gun as a grapple. The action may not be realistic, but the consequences it has on McClane, tiring him out and causing blood and sweat, makes it feel much more visceral. Apart from being downright exhilarating, the action provides unexpected comedy in contrast. There are scenes such as when cars crash inside the car park, gunfire ringing out as a cabby sits in his Limo with loud music, blissfully unaware.

Overall, this film is immensely fun, with surprisingly relatable characters, unforgettable performances, fantastic action and a truly unique setting. It’s a great fun romp that can be enjoyed at any time of year, but to get the full effect, it should be watched at Christmas, with friends. What else can I say, it’s Die Hard!

Merry Christmas!friends-1994___didnt_say_die_hard