The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

“Let me tell you something. There’s no nobility in poverty. I’ve been a poor man, and I’ve been a rich man. And I choose rich every fucking time.”

There is very little that can prepare you for Scorsese’s new film, detailing the true story of infectious, and normally intoxicated, stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Even with the gossip circus that has surrounded its release, it is difficult to imagine the mix of drama, meta-fiction and almost slapstick comedy that the next three hours has in store.

But don’t expect the plot to rise and dip like the stocks on sale, as its roots in real life inevitably anchor the movie’s ability to twist and turn the way we like, leaving the story following the often-tread path from success to corruption. Despite this however, watching  the fantastic Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill light up the screen with their passion and natural humour, is without doubt one of the moments of the last year.

The Wolf may not have the narrative weight and political interrogation of the more prestigious Scorsese movies, but I have the feeling it will delight and amaze with its magnetic charm for many years to come. The comfort through which a film of this length can be watched, is testament to both the fantastic acting and intelligently scripted scenes that hit the viewer time after time. Although some may justifiably feel they have partaken in a testosterone-driven sex-fest, there is so much more to this Oscar nominated picture. Each scene unravels in a slightly different way, making them as ridiculously unpredictable as the stocks they are all trying to stuff down their clients’ throats.

All of this circumscribes a character whose relentless need to push the boundaries leaves him crossing every line possible.  His ambition and greed is reflected in every aspect of his life, from drugs and women, to business and money. This combined strength and weakness to consume, inevitably affects and ultimately hurts those around him. But even the viewer cannot avoid getting a taste for the reverence and idolisation that is the result of Belfort’s relentless enthusiasm and wit.

Unfortunately, there is a slight feeling of unoriginality in not just the over-arching narrative, but in several of the scenes styles as well. Scorsese even creates an Apatow-shaped hole for Jonah Hill’s Donnie Azoff to thrive in, with scenes of such hilarity and mischief you often find yourself looking around and forgetting where you are. The self-narrative and comedic drug taking will also smell of Fear and Loathing. But in the end, the crazy moshpit of drugs, sex and relentless laughs works so well, you will be hankering for a second viewing soon after the credits roll.

Shapstik verdict: The consistently fantastic connection that Scorsese and DiCaprio have together, has hit a different but equally striking vein. During its best moments, the intoxicating  and witty dialogue becomes almost as addictive as Jordan’s drug habit, leaving most viewers glued to their seat with a huge grin on their face. Time will tell however, whether its lack of twists, a decent ending and deeper insight, leaves it short of real prestige. 8/10

Lone Survivor (2013)

“Anything in life worth doing is worth overdoing. Moderation is for cowards.”

Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster star in Peter Berg’s explosive thriller, based on the true story of four Navy SEALs ambushed by a Taliban force in the mountains of Afghanistan. Berg’s exaggerated but very likeable movie is book-ended by some heavy-handed messages, both on the extremes of SEAL training and the power of mental strength. The film also goes slightly out of its way to defend and pay tribute to those that lost their lives, but fortunately has an undeniably intense and slick way of going about it.

When a film called Lone Survivor opens with Wahlberg being rescued before the expected flashback, you would not be blamed for questioning the film’s basic premise. But as the movie develops, and the physical endurance of the four men is pushed to the limit, you realize that this core element of survival is essential and arguably the whole point of the story. Foster is a great foil for Wahlberg with his brand of intense professionalism in the heat of the moment. Unfortunately, there are no real acting nods to deliver towards the Afghanistani contingent, because apart from those that assist Wahlberg, most are simply cannon fodder in some really great video-game inspired fight scenes.

As the four men are brutally and repeatedly wounded during their escape, we are reminded of the almost supernatural ability for trained SEALs to ignore pain and fear, no matter what the cost.  This is especially prevalent when the heroes throw themselves off steep verges and hills several times with no concern for the physical repercussions. This would all normally be too much to stomach, with blood, sweat and tears covering the screen. But instead, Berg intelligently fills the plot and dialogue with almost consistently recognizable war-movie tropes to put a comforting arm around the viewer to help them through.

These cheesy moments are combined with a natural levity between the characters, going some way to dilute some of the more heavy-handed messages and laboured decision-making, which lingers unwanted during some scenes. Lone Survivor can be either loved or hated depending on the disposition of the viewer, but it is a film that deserves much credit for cramming so much, good and bad, into its running time.

Shapstik verdict: By nicely balancing the line between cheesy action flick and hard-hitting drama, Lone Survivor mostly makes up for its slightly predictable nature and subjective viewpoint. Throw in some real directional effort and fantastic cinematic landscape shots, the film may indeed surprise with its appealing blend of entertainment and brutality. 7/10

Gravity 3D (2013)

“Half of North America just lost their Facebook.”

Not only has Alfonso Cuaron’s wonderfully crafted film restored my waning faith in the future of 3D cinema, but its concise plot and simple yet striking cinematography is a welcome change of pace in an era full of noisy, bloated popcorn flicks with convoluted story lines. Sandra Bullock, silently making her way up the prestige ladder in recent years with a string of excellent performances, stars as Dr. Ryan Stone, a medical engineer whom finds herself stranded in space alongside veteran astronaut George Clooney. These two characters alone make up the entirety of the film, which only heightens the empathetic feeling of isolation. In fact, every element of Gravity seems tailored to fit Cuaron’s astronomical vision, culminating in what could arguably be described as a cinematic masterpiece.

After viewing a preview trailer for the ropey-looking I-Frankenstein in 3D, I duly worried that the next 90 mins might be full of more out-of-focus figures throwing things at the camera with a infantile grin spread across their face. But once the first scene of Gravity opens, as the viewer hovers vertiginously above a beautifully created planet Earth, one is instantaneously immersed into an uncanny depiction of outer space. I for one was immediately blown away by the difference in quality between the 3D trailers and the feature presentation, giving testament to what can be achieved when full dedication is given to the sub-genre.

As well as the unerring realism created by Cuaron, there is plenty of clear but digestible metaphors dotted throughout the film to sink your teeth into, from a floating foetal Bullock having difficultly with basic human functions such as movement and breathing, to a giant umbilical cord. I inevitably spent much of the next day at work distracted by the procession of images lingering like shadows behind my eyes. In fact, the whole experience reminded me of Kubrick’s landmark film 2001: A Space Odyssey , from the deliberately over-scored soundtrack, to the evolutionary nods that have a memorable and cinematic conclusion at the end of the film. Not only does Gravity have a wonderfully designed persona and vision that holds its own brilliance, but both actors do an excellent job of etching the correct emotion onto each of their lines, a tough job considering the demands of acting in a superficial environment.

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Despite its near perfection, there is only one problem with Gravity . I am concerned primarily for its existence beyond the realm of 3D cinema. As expected, there are moments of desensitisation to the surreal experience, which left me analysing a film that on the face of it has a fairly unassuming set of plot lines and pretty slow dialogue. This may sound like an undue criticism considering the film does not do anything unintentionally, but assuming that most will not have acquired a television with the latest 3D capability on the film’s release onto DVD, I am not sure that Gravity has enough teeth to keep an audience going for years to come. I cannot help but feel that the slight repetition of suspense scenarios within the subtly episodic structure of the film may damage its long term potential and fan base. The film is easily tight enough to not induce genuine boredom, but I just worry that when the visual meat is stripped away, all that is left is Clooney floating through space with that cheesy, all knowing grin on his face that may start to peel away at even the most avid science-fiction enthusiast.

Shapstik Verdict: Although Gravity 3D is heavily reliant on its medium, it is also the first made-for-cinema film that I can genuinely say is more than just a visual treat. Its vivid ideal is so crammed full of clever cinematography, it ironically creates the most convincing depiction of empty space ever conceived on film. Rekindling the cinema experience like no other, Cuaron’s handling of the 3-dimensional paintbrush slams a striking benchmark onto 3D cinema. 9/10

 

Prisoners (2013)

“They only cried when I left them.”

From Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, Prisoners takes a trip down a dark and disturbing rabbit hole, weaving around the lives of several people involved in the abduction of two young girls. Hugh Jackman is intense as one of the distressed fathers, whom works both with and against the law in an attempt to find his daughter. But it is Jake Gyllenhaal who makes the biggest screen impact, combining his experience in Zodiac with one his most understated but professional performances as Detective Loki, a delightfully ambiguous character attempting to unravel the mystery at hand.

The director’s leaden and layered style is evident straight from the start, with clever dark and patient shots that hold onto the emotion written on the faces of all involved. Although the story itself lacks any real surprise, the myriad of character emotions, from Bello’s regression to Jackman’s frustration and cruelty, creates drama and leaves the viewer fully engrossed and slightly on edge. The cinematography also combines with Guzikowski’s writing to make a film that is artfully textured, but also intensely exciting. Although there is a sense of unfulfilled promise in its restraint, the dialogue flows and mixes with the rain-drenched setting evenly, so as not to leave the viewer squirming uncomfortably in their seat.

As an undoubtedly sinister and arty film, there are several clever metaphors and religious suggestions to have the critics crooning, but it does feel a shame that the gas isn’t stepped on sooner to catapult the film forward into an intense thriller. Despite this though, with such blurred lines between the characters and their motives, the real thrill is seeing the great actors performing. Especially Gyllenhaal’s eye-twitching and Paul Dano’s Eli-like turn as imprisoned suspect Alex Jones.

With an ominous and haunting soundtrack that sounds like a cross between Atticus Ross and John Carpenter to accompany the film, Prisoners is a classy yet honest movie that delivers a solid if somewhat predictable plot, coated with exceptional performances and some delicious cinematography that will linger behind the eye for some time.

Shapstik Verdict:  Prisoners exudes such an overtly artistic style, that its patience and long running time arguably oversteps the mark to the point of slightly silencing a potential thriller, which broods underneath the surface like those imprisoned souls that suffer in the film. But the plot’s twists and turns expertly intertwine with the emotion of the characters to punch a hole through the screen and reach out to the viewer, delivering a truly dark and layered drama that is not easy to forget.  8/10

Contagion (2011)

“Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.”

Let me get something essential out of the way. If you are going to watch this film expecting a thriller like Outbreak, a movie with the same moody bleakness as Children of Men, or in fact anything resembling a post-apocalyptic disaster movie, then you may be slightly disappointed. This is filmed like a documentary, has the pace of a documentary, and if it was not for the unmistakable (if somewhat heavyset) faces of Matt Damon and Laurence Fishburne, one would believe it belonged on terrestrial television in two parts. Of course I am referring to ‘possible reality documentaries’, the type that is used for climate change predictions, possible terrorist attacks or other generic fear-mongering.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays a possible first victim of a new disease as she returns from a trip to the Far East. She dies and Matt Damon plays the immune but distraught husband who also loses his stepson in the process. The film then plays out the spread of the disease, which runs alongside humanity’s attempt to find the anti-virus, reduce social contact and control the panic that is bound to ensue. Saying any more would necessitate a spoiler alert as that is pretty much all there is to the movie. I say this because as a film it somewhat fails. There are no hand-holding stares into the face of death. There are no dramatic tears in the arm of a contagion suit. In fact, the one opportunity to drum up excitement in the race for a cure is slightly limp and emotionless. In a word, as a movie, it’s flat.

As a documentary however, it is thought provoking, alarming and actually relatively informative. There was more than one instance in the cinema of turning heads and raised eyebrows. It just depends on what you, as a viewer, want from a movie. This may go some way to explain the general ambivalence from audiences everywhere in reaction to Steve Soderbergh’s film.

With this in mind, I don’t really know whether to recommend this film or not. I think I would just for the intriguing, contemporary media clash between Lawrence Fishburne and Jude Law, playing a crooked-toothed scaremonger offering an alternative, conspiracy fuelled ‘truth’ for the masses. Apart from that expect plenty of science and statistics with intermittent drama.

Shapstik Verdict: A thorough exploration into the global panic that would be caused by a lethal outbreak, which makes it an interesting watch. But it lacks the thrill and depth of a true disaster movie. 6/10

Skyline (2010)

“Don’t you get it? We are at war!”

When Skyline was first previewed it did not create high expectation. This was partly due to the fact that the directors had no experience in the chair except for several mainstream music videos. The ‘Brothers Strause’, Colin and Greg, made their names through special effects for blockbuster films such as Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and The Day After Tomorrow. Deciding to try their hand at full control they teamed up with writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell. Unfortunately, apart from special effects themselves, the writers had even less experience than the brothers. Despite this however, Skyline has still managed to capture the attention of cinema goers.

The action starts as a group of boys and girls wake up just before sunrise to a blinding light coming in through the window. This bluish beam hypnotises its victim and renders them helpless to resist. One of them disappears into the light and the rest are left confused and afraid. The story then jumps back 15 hours earlier in an attempt to build up background on the characters before returning to the action of invading aliens kidnapping people, destroying buildings and generally being rather unpleasant.

Once the threat is established, the rest of the film revolves around the group (consisting of Eric Balfour – Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Donald Faison – Scrubs and the delightful Scottie Thompson – Star Trek) trying to decide whether to stay put and sit out the invasion, or get the hell out of dodge. Unfortunately, as engrossing as some of the action is, this premise seems to stretch throughout the entire film. Apart from being littered with blatant clones of other film scenes (I actually started playing ‘name the movie’), Skyline runs out of its own ideas very early on.

The characters struggle to connect with the script throughout and even though Scottie Thomson puts in a good performance, Eric Balfour is uneven and inconsistent during many scenes. Fortunately, the film comes to the rescue by distracting the audience with panoramic shots of bombs, battles and the human struggle for freedom in the distance. The directors are careful to keep the perspective with the main characters and there is a continual, contagious fear that is absorbed by the audience through the screen during some of the ‘closer’ encounters.

It is a decent first effort on the part of everyone involved and the Strause brothers clearly have some good ideas in their locker. Scenes involving the aliens’ hypnotic lights are sinister and slightly captivating. It is as expected, great to look at and some of the action scenes work well. The film does not, however, deviate far from what is shown on the trailer, and some scenes, such as the ‘TV reports shown on the teaser trailers, are not even in the final cut. So what you see is what you get, or what you don’t get in some cases.

It is an entertaining, contemporary bit of fun with plenty of explosions and aliens to keep the audience interested. Unfortunately, when it comes to escaping the scary monsters, Cloverfield really shows us how it’s done. Drip feed the audience glimpses of the threat, keep it dark, crank up the tension and develop the characters as you go. Skyline does none of these.

Shapstik verdict: Even though the film sticks commendably to the task at hand, the actors lack the presence required to turn a simple plot line into an engrossing film. 5/10

Shapstik’s Top 5: Eighties Movie Music

No decade in modern film has been defined so clearly as the “sound” that is the eighties. The up-beat, sometimes inspirational tunes and the sheer effort that singers, musicians and songwriters would put into a mere background song was astounding. Only in the eighties could a song be so full of cheese and actually work. These songs injected life into potentially flat genres and turned a simple action, comedy or fantasy film into something else: An eighties movie.

These songs became so ubiquitous with the film itself and whether it be through the title or lyrics, its timing in the film would fit the glove so perfectly in the moment. The songs always seemed to come at the film’s time of need, such as an motivational montage or to capture the feel of a fantasy epic. Be warned however, as the below top 5 is so full of cheese, it will probably give you bad dreams:

5: The Karate Kid (1984)

“You’re the Best” – Sung by Joe Esposito

The song that rose to fame as the background music to the All Valley Championships in The Karate Kid. It epitomised everything the film was about and reminded all those bullied and victimised kids out there that self-confidence and belief are the strongest weapon. The song suited the scene so well, that it almost seemed as if without it Daniel-son would not have won. Although I am not sure Mr Miyagi would have had it playing during his training sessions. 

4: Teen Wolf (1985)

“Win in the End” – Sung by Mark Safan

Although this film is probably not remembered for its soundtrack, the ‘final match’ scene was joined by a truly inspirational song that epitomised every sport-related montage in eighties movies. By simply accompanying the game with such an uplifting song, we all fell hook, line and sinker for the ridiculous idea that through team-spirit alone, these bunch of physically inferior misfits could outplay a clearly better team.

3: The Neverending Story (1984)

“The Neverending Story” – Sung by Limahl and Beth Anderson

If you have already pressed play then you are probably wondering why you always thought it was a woman that sung this. Although looking at his hair, it is definitely excusable. This is without doubt the perfect soundtrack for what is the perennial fantasy kids film. It captures the genres of fantasy, adventure and epic in one great moment that is etched permanently into the memories of all that experienced it as children. But, it is also a sad reminder that films this gloriously ambitious are just not made anymore.

2: Back to the Future (1985)

“The Power of Love” – Sung by Huey Lewis and the News

If the title music by Alan Silvestri captured the adventure and science-fiction of the film, then The Power of Love took care of the rest. It was everything that was cool about the movie, from the giant speakers to riding the back of a truck on a skateboard. The song also bridged the gap between the time zones during the film, as it was both distinctively eighties and jiving-fifties at the same time.

1: Rocky III (1985)

“Eye of the Tiger” – Sung by Survivor

A song that instantly creates a montage in the mind. It is so inspiring, we played it in the car on the way to every 5-a-side football match for motivation. We lost the season, but that did not stop it getting everyone fired up and ready before every game and filled us with the belief we could let in less than ten goals. It is one of the most famous soundtracks and the second it comes on, you cannot help but flip your hood up and spar on the spot.

The Best and Worst of Marvel Cinema

After reviewing Thor: The Dark World, I felt it might be a great idea to look back over nearly three decades of Marvel-based movie action. Starting with Howard the Duck way back in 1986 (I know, I still can’t believe that was Marvel), through to the present-day bombardment of sequels, prequels and spin-offs that have inundated the cinemas in recent years. Not that this is a bad thing. I enjoy nearly all the attempts at capturing our favourite heroes, if only for their originality and invention. I also believe that despite all the negativity that surrounds the use of CGI in 21st century cinema, comic book adaptations proudly display the benefits of this technology and show some true creativity by blending live action with graphics in a way that can tingle the senses and leave you hungry for more.

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As you can probably tell by now I am a big fan of this well established, yet still young, genre that has taken hold of this generation. It has such a grip in fact, that the next few years are already mapped out with comic-book entries for the cinema goer in a way never seen before. This can either leave a bitter taste of predictability in your mouth, or have you gnawing at your nails in anticipation.

Although Marvel films have given us some great moments over the years, with over thirty movies in total there were bound to be some absolute stinkers, hanging on to the coat-tails of the Marvel name like a beggar on Wall Street. In fact, Marvel movies range from the pretty disastrous to the well-loved and respected. I therefore thought I would run down a few of each, just to jog the memory banks and get some of you salivating for the upcoming releases:

The Best: Iron Man (2008)

Rotten rating: 93%

Directed by Joan Favreau / Starring Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges

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A film that catapulted Robert Downey Jr’s career and transformed the public’s perception of him as a talented supporting actor, to infectious and likeable lead, almost overnight. Although there is no doubt the film would not be the same without the wit and quick delivery of Tony Stark, self-proclaimed genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist all rolled in to one, credit must be also given to Favreau’s ability to never allow the film to falter, delivering relentless twists and turns that are a joy to watch. This film has become a template for Marvel origin stories and proves that the perfect recipe can often come from the least expected places.

The Worst: Ghost Rider (2007)

Rotten rating: 26%

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson / Starring Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes

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You know a film is bad when Nicholas Cage is arguably the best thing about it, and probably makes it about watchable. Ok, so that is slightly harsh on Cage, but at the same time Ghost Rider stands out as a wasted opportunity to bring to life one of comic books’ most revered characters. A bad-ass skull in constant flames, riding an even more bad-ass motorbike, what could possible go wrong? Try wooden dialogue, predictable plot-lines and almost no character development, that’s what. Ghost Rider proves that using CGI correctly has become a modern art form in film-making and it fails in every way to deliver.

The Best: Thor (2011)

Rotten rating: 77%

Directed by Kenneth Branagh / Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Portman

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I have watched this film more times than any other Marvel movie, despite it being clearly inferior to several of its counterparts. Why? Because I have never seen a cast enjoy their fictional roles so freely and colourfully as the array of talent on display in Thor. From the stalwart Anthony Hopkins, owning the stage and bellowing theatrically at his sons, to the extremely gifted young duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, locked in a ancient struggle for power and glory. As a viewer, the earth-bound scenes, laden with comedy, cuteness and conspiracy are interlaced so creatively with the action, theatre and magic of the Asgaard scenes it is almost painful to watch. This film has everything a Marvel movie needs, including Natalie Portman.

The Worst: Dare Devil (2003)

Rotten rating: 45%

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson / Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Colin Farrell

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Before the disappointing Ghost Rider, and the even more disappointing Elektra, Mark Steven Johnson made his name as the unreliable Marvel-movie-maker when he dressed up Ben Affleck in a red suit and turned him into Dare Devil. Not only does this film let down the fans, but it is also the main reason behind the mounting scepticism surrounding Affleck’s appointment as the new Batman in the upcoming DC instalment. It is unambitious, littered with continuity errors and is instantly forgettable. One can only hope Affleck does a better job at playing the hero with a different director at the helm.

The Best: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Rotten rating: 92%

Directed by Joss Whedon / Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johnasson

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Some franchise instalments, especially sequels of any kind, often fall victim to their own success and unwisely clutter the film by introducing too many main characters or supporting actors. But in this Marvellous assemble, most background and origin stories have already been established through the respective previous films. This meant that Whedon was able to allow the characters to clash heads and rub their already inflated egos against each other to make some of the funniest and tensest moments in Marvel movie history. Each character injects the screen with their own unique values, beliefs and motives, making it pivotal to the film that their cohesion succeeds. This itself makes the film great. But throw in some of the best action sequences ever involving our Marvel heroes and you have a movie that without doubt has raised the bar on what is possible in the comic-book genre.

The Worst: Howard the Duck (1986)

Rotten rating: 15%

Directed by Willard Huyck / Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Robbins

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Perhaps if more people had noticed that George Lucas was executive producer on this film, or in fact had anything to do with it, then maybe we would have seen those infamous Star Wars prequels coming. Howard the Duck, although in some perverse way enjoyable, lacks any real direction and instead reverts to diving into the deep end of the sleaze pool with crass jokes and regular exposure of female flesh (which probably explains why most men remember this film more fondly than they should). Although based on a Marvel comic, the film makes very little effort to create a real hero, and instead we are treated to a string of typical eighties comedy tropes. Howard the Duck succeeds so well at being poor, it almost deserves some credit.

The Best: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Rotten rating: 87%

Directed by Matthew Vaughn / Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fasssbender and Kevin Bacon

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It was always going to take some very talented individuals to better the original casting of Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen as Charles Xavier and Magneto. Thankfully, McAvoy and Fassbender go beyond just stealing the show, they make the film what it is. Fassbender especially, strikes a surprisingly emotive tone to the Magneto persona that really makes his saga-defining motives understandable and translatable. Although the film has a sprinkling of cheese, montages and super-hero clichés, it never stops surprising and has some of the best action sequences in any X-Men film. Not only did this film re-invigorate the franchise, but it also put some much needed meat on the bones of the already established heroes and villains of the X-Men franchise.

The Worst: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Rotten rating: 38%

Directed by Gavin Hood / Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston

X-Men Origins Wolverine movie image Hugh Jackman

Although X-Men Origins: Wolverine has its moments, there is something very uncool about this film. From the predictable plot-lines and nauseatingly repetitive fights, through to the “walking away from an explosion whilst looking angry” shot, which is unforgivably unoriginal in the scheme of things. Jackman and Schreiber cannot be blamed however, as they both undoubtedly give their all to portray the fierce rivalry that defined the origin of this most iconic of heroes. I actually quite enjoyed the final fight sequence with the engineered superhero villain and much of the acting is top notch. But unlike the other X-Men films, this film lacks any real drama, intensity or supporting cast, and instead falls flat on its face scene after scene.

Honourable mentions

The Best:

 Iron Man 3 (2013), Blade (1998), Spiderman 2 (2004), X2 (2003), The IncredibleHulk (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Worst:

 Iron Man (2010), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Fantastic Four (2005), BladeTrinity (2004). Hulk (2003)

If you liked this, check out my Best and Worst of DC Cinema!

Wonders of the Universe

BBC2’s documentary series The Wonders of the Universe is one of the most breathtaking and mystifying programmes to grace our screens in the name of science. Professor Brian Cox has taught us about the origin, life and death of the Universe, and explained how everything on earth is created during the final death throes of a star, just like our Sun.

At the beginning of episode 2 – ‘Stardust’, Professor Cox describes how the Hindu religion centres on the idea of death and rebirth. Many travel to Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, so that they can be cremated there and rejoin the earth. Professor Cox then starts to draw parallels with his own story of the Universe and how from the death of a star, planets like our Earth are born. With the youthful, bright eyed enthusiasm of a six year old at Christmas he says: “I have a different creation story to tell” and begins to describe the Universe’s own cycle of life from death.

Without saying it, I believe, he suggests that the more we discover about out Universe as a species, the more divine and majestic it becomes, all the while circumscribed by its own religion of science, a religion based on discovery. Professor Cox even makes the point that “we are all part of something much bigger”.

What is important about this series and what is especially important about professor Brian Cox, is that he has the unerring ability to pluck analogies out of the sky and describe processes fundamental to the Universe as “child’s play”. It cannot be overestimated how difficult this is, and I have found certain Horizon episodes fly over my head like a Stealth Bomber. The What is Reality episode springs to mind, which even admitted to itself by the end that the language of maths does a far better job of describing what is being suggested than English language does.

Brian Cox in Wonders of the Universe on the other hand, like the Ancient Mariner drawing you in, gets you excited and makes you understand how we are part of something bigger than we can believe but also are a remarkably unique part. So unique that he draws the tiny hole of time in the sand that we fit in as something amazingly special.

I would pay any sort of uncapped tuition fee if I knew professor Cox was lecturing and he is quickly building up a reputation in the public eye. Even without him though this programme is something exceptional and goes some way to answer some of the deepest questions about the universe.

Crossroads

A look back at the 2013 Confederations Cup in Brazil

Not many would disagree that the 2013 Confederations Cup exceeded all expectations and more. Since it started being a competition held every four years, it has grown on the footballing public in a big way. It feels that after this year’s contest, I doubt there will be many teams who will decline the invitation next time around. Admittedly, having Brazil as the host and Italy getting a place due to Spain’s dominance, we were spoilt in terms of quality. All the teams were used to winning, and even the tiny footballing nation of Tahiti stole the public’s heart with their determination and hard work. Not only has this cup become a great warm-up for the hosts to test their World Cup credentials, but fans can also use the tournament as a litmus test to see what state their teams are in. For the neutral, it was simply great television.

But it was the Brazilian public that ensured we witnessed a true competition. Despite the turmoil just around the corner of the stadium, the crowd encouraged fast, flowing football by keeping the tempo and applauding great skill. Their jeering of the world champions was as much out of frustration at their style, as it was out of slight envy. This passion for football culminated in that unforgettable moment during the Brazilian anthem when the music stopped, and a war-cry rang out as the team and crowd sang together, the country becoming one in a heartbeat. Who could doubt that the Spanish were shaken by this show of solidarity? It would, and did, humble the greatest of them all.

Perhaps then, the 2013 Confederations Cup will be remembered for the turning of the tides in football. If Spain were made to look human against the Italians, they were made to look bad in the final against the relentless and dynamic Brazilians. Watching Alan Hansen wrongly predict Brazil’s form brought joy to everybody’s heart, topped only by the justice done by seeing the fans’ favourites completely outplay the Spanish. Neymar smashed in another great goal, and despite Fred’s consistency in finding the net, it is hard to imagine a Brazilian team lifting the World Cup without the boy wonder leading the attack.Spain's Iniesta and Pedro sit on the field after losing their Confederations Cup final soccer match to Brazil at the Estadio Maracana in Rio de Janeiro

But we must be very careful to assume this is definitely a turning point. Not only must we remember that this was still the Confederations Cup and not the World Cup, but must also see the white elephant in the room; Spain were poor. We can therefore only really see a possible changing of the torch, when Spain are beaten whilst playing at their best. Because despite the result, the truth is when Spain are passing quickly and accurately, even a resurgent Brazil might be chasing their tails. But I guess that is definitely the hot debate right now. Either way, we will only really know who is on top of the world when the deserving team lifts the cup in 2014.