Category Archives: Movies

Thor: Ragnarok (2017) Review

In the current superhero movie climate of gritty, serious stories, Thor: Ragnarok (2017) stands out because it dares to be different. In just over two hours, New Zealand born director Taika Waititi takes the viewer on an entertaining journey that wonderfully blends humour with the ‘world at stake’ nature of the superhero genre. It rescues Thor’s stand alone film series, which has largely been unmemorable to this point.

The beginning sequence of Thor: Ragnarok sets the tone for the entire film. We learn that Thor has purposely got himself captured to learn why a monster wants to destroy his home of Asgard. Thor repeatedly stops the monster during his world-ending monologue because the chain he is suspended from keeps spinning him around so he is facing away from the monster. As Thor uses his body weight to swing himself to face the monster, he urges it to continue. Waititi plays with the idea that because Thor is a god he rarely feels threatened by anything, and its where most of the humour comes from. It feels fitting for the character and finally gives him a likeable and distinguishing persona.

Thor returns to Asgard to discuss what he has learned with his father only to learn that Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has returned and is pretending to rule over Asgard as his father. When Thor and Loki go looking for their father they are confronted by Hela (Cate Balnchett) the Godess of Death who subsequently overpowers them both and knocks Thor out of the portal to Asgard. Thor lands on an unknown planet and is captured and sold to the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum) to compete in his gladiator-like contests.

The strong writing and performances from the cast are a highlight of the film. Chris Hemsworth is charismatic as Thor, always shining when he is on screen. Tom Hiddleston is great as the sometimes caring, always deceptive Loki. He and Hemsworth have a great brotherly chemistry when they are in scenes together. Cate Blanchett’s Hela is pure evil and she does a terrific job at capturing the menacing nature of the villain. I especially loved Jeff Goldblum as the Grandmaster, a monarch who enjoys the superfluous side of life and continually angers Thor by calling him the Lord of Lightning rather than the God of Thunder.

The rest of the supporting cast is solid too. Tessa Thompson’s carefree slaver Valkyrie plays well off Goldblum’s Grandmaster and Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk/Bruce Banner. Director Taika Waititi voicing Korg, a rock creature that was enslaved because he didn’t hand out enough pamphlets for his planned revolution, is a welcome surprise that captures the humour of the film beautifully.

Thor: Ragnarok’s action sequences are highly enjoyable, each feeling unique because they place their characters in varied situations each time. Highlights include the initial sequence which sees Thor using his hammer to defeat a seemingly endless onslaught of demonic minions, his fist fight with Hulk teased in the film’s trailer, a thrilling aircraft chase sequence, Hela’s powerful yet majestic battle against Asgard’s army, and the film’s final confrontation which isn’t just a massive CGI explosion fest. There is plenty of variety in the action sequences and the fight choreography utilises each character’s distinguished fighting styles to change things up and keep each encounter feeling fresh.

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Source: Marvel Entertainment/YouTube

I also loved the visual style of Thor: Ragnarok. Fantasy and sci-fi elements work well together, especially during the Thor and Hulk fight blending a gladiatorial setting with a sci-fi planet. The planet that Thor is trapped on is vibrant and littered with colour, contrasting to the somewhat dystopian nature of the rule the Grandmaster has over the populous. The visual effects look terrific, especially during the aforementioned aircraft chase sequence. It’s a pleasant cinematic experience.

If you are at all a fan of the Marvel Cinematic universe, you should see Thor: Ragnarok. Director Taika Waititi has put a much needed new spin on Thor, drawing out the somewhat hubristic persona that comes from Thor being an all-powerful god. Thor: Ragnarok balances the fine line between its serious and humorous tones to great effect, fuelled in part by the great acting performances from the whole cast. Thor: Ragnarok continues Marvel’s trend of allowing directors to take more light-hearted approaches to its cinematic universe (see Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy), and it pays off once again.

4 stars

Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan Understands the Cinematic Experience

Dunkirk’s 1 hour and 46 minutes run time is significantly shorter than director Christopher Nolan’s other films. The Dark Knight trilogy, The Prestige (2006) and Interstellar (2014) are epics that all run for over two hours. Despite the shorter duration, the intense tone of Dunkirk makes it feel just as long. Dunkirk is not your typical war movie. There are no buff super soldiers who wipe out large amounts of enemy forces and save the day. It is still a tale about survival, but it is much more focused on the everyday soldier of World War II who just wanted to get home. Nolan wants to create as much empathy in the viewer as possible. In doing so he demonstrates that he understands the benefits of the cinematic experience.

To appreciate the tone of the film, you’re going to need a brief history lesson on the evacuation at Dunkirk. In 1940, Allied forces, especially the British, French and Belgians, realised that there was nothing they could do about Nazi Germany taking over France. Consequently, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an evacuation from Dunkirk, on the French coast. Christopher Nolan’s film is about the evacuation, featuring characters from all parts of evacuation – infantry soldiers, air force pilots and citizen boats sent to rescue soldiers because warships were too easy for the Germans to spot.

Nolan wanted to capture the evacuation at Dunkirk from the eyes of the everyday soldier who was just trying to survive the retreat. The tone of the film is one of desperation and survival. Nolan clearly wanted to create a sense of empathy between the viewer and the characters on screen. This is not a new concept for films, but as I said earlier, Nolan understands what makes the cinematic experience so great: it appeals to our visual and auditory senses.

The one word I used to describe the film when I left the cinema was “intense”. Dunkirk keeps you uncomfortable and on the edge of your seat for most of the experience. While the close-ups of the protagonists struggling to prevent themselves from drowning at sea and long establishing shots of the dire situation create powerful images, it’s the film’s musical score and terrific sound design that solidify Nolan’s position as a cinematic master.

Throughout Dunkirk, a high-tempo score (composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer) accompanies the on-screen images. The two most common compositions I remember are called The Mole and Supermarine. The Mole can be heard in most of the trailers, it’s the track with the constant ticking noise towards the end. As the film progress, it sounds like the score becomes louder and somewhat uncomfortable.

This is especially true of the track Supermarine. A Vox video I found while researching this piece explains the score perfectly: “an overwhelming orchestra that seems like it’s rising higher and higher, but never actually does”. Much like the film’s characters, the viewer waits for a break that never comes.

There’s no better way to create a sense of empathy with the viewer. The film’s largely silent protagonists continually transition from one bad situation to another, never given a break from their terrible circumstances or impending German air, land and sea attacks. There’s never a rest for the protagonists, so why should the viewer get a rest. It’s such a subtle addition that I didn’t notice it was happening until one scene towards the end of the film when the score is silenced. Pardon the cliché, but the silence is peaceful. It’s a very symbolic moment, providing a huge relief for the viewer.


Side bar: The Vox video that I just referenced explains that the technique Nolan and Zimmer use is called a Shepard Tone, several tones, separated by an octave, on top of each other. This makes the tracks sound like they are increasing in volume, even though they are not. Take a few minutes to watch the video, it explains the concept a lot better.


Dunkirk’s sound effects further enhance the experience. Dunkirk is a loud film. Even in a normal cinema – without the louder sound produced for cinemas like Xtremescreen or Vmax – every explosion from dropped bombs and submarine torpedoes, and every bullet shot from the fighter planes and infantry rifles is loud. Uncomfortably loud. It wasn’t uncommon to see other moviegoers jump in their seats from the unexpected explosions or bullet shots. Just like the soldiers, you’re never expecting an explosion or gunshot when it occurs.

It’s easy to imagine the terror the soldiers would have felt, not knowing if the next bomb or gun-shot would take their life. This is yet another example of Nolan creating more intimacy and empathy between the people on the screen and those looking at the screen.

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Source: Warner Bros. Pictures/ YouTube

Dunkirk is not the first film where Christopher Nolan has used sound design to great effect. I first fell in love with Nolan from his Dark Knight trilogy. The second film, The Dark Knight (2008), is my favourite film of all time (but that’s a story for another time). One of my favourite scenes from The Dark Knight is when Harvey Dent is being transported to prison because he wants everyone to think he is Batman.

The whole scene, from the moment he leaves in the police van, to the moment Jim Gordon reappears and arrests The Joker, plays out without a backing track; only diegetic sound can be heard. Panicked chatter between police guards, The Joker mumbling, the hum of the Batmobile, RPG explosions, sub-machine gun clips being unloaded on police vehicles. It’s a terrific scene, and is more effective because of the lack of a backing track.

The other memorable Nolan scene that comes to mind is in Interstellar when the shuttle launches into space. The sound of the thrusters kicking in and launching the shuttle was so loud that it vibrated the floor under my seat. Suddenly, I was in the shuttle with the crew, heading into space.

With streaming services like Netflix and the ease of illegally obtaining new release films, the cinema experience is under threat. However, directors like Christopher Nolan are giving film fans a reason to visit their local cinema. I believe the auditory experience that Dunkirk provided me in a movie theatre cannot be replicated properly from a home environment (unless you’ve got a world class home theatre system).

Dunkirk solidified what I’ve felt about Christopher Nolan for a while now: he understands the benefits of the cinematic experience. Films are best when the viewer’s experience is a visual and auditory one. Dunkirk is a masterclass in both.

Wonder Woman Review: Power. Grace. Wisdom. Wonder.

Side note: I know it’s been a while between posts, I have to try to find more spare time to write these. Ideally I’d love to be posting once a week, but I’ve got other commitments that require my time. Thanks for sticking with me and coming back whenever there is new content! Now, onto the review!


Ever since I fell in love with Batman, the Justice League and the interesting cast of DC Comics characters, there have been three things I have been waiting for: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in the same film, a Justice League film, and a stand alone Wonder Woman film. My first wish was fulfilled last year with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and my second wish will be fulfilled in November when Justice League releases. As of last Thursday (June 1, 2017), my third wish was fulfilled with the release of Wonder Woman. And what a glorious film it is, capturing the very essence of who Wonder Woman is and what she fights for.

Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins, tells the origin story of Diana (a.k.a. Wonder Woman), Princess of the Amazons, as she travels to the world of man to defeat the God of War Ares and save mankind by ending World War I.

Diana (Gal Gadot) is raised on Themyscira, an island hidden away by Zeus to protect the Amazons from Ares and the world of man. While the other Amazons know of the cruel nature of mankind, Diana was born on Themyscira and knows very little about the men who exist in the outside world.

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Image: Warner Bros.

The first act of the film follows Diana from childhood to adulthood, showcasing the vigorous training she undertakes with the highest ranking officer of the Amazons, Antiope (Robin Wright), and demonstrates that she has talents that surpass all of the other Amazons. The film does a great job at subtly introducing Wonder Woman’s signature accessories, her bracers, sword, shield and lasso, without disrupting the pacing.

When British spy Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) crash lands on Themyscira and brings a platoon from the German army to Themyscira, Diana is made aware of the war outside Themyscira and is determined to save mankind from the evil she believes to be Ares.

Gal Gadot is the perfect Wonder Woman. She convincing portrays the heroine’s child-like naivety about the world of mankind and her perceptions of black and white morality. Diana has grown up believing that people are either good or evil, but as she experiences more of mankind, she struggles with the idea that humans are not always all good or all evil. Gadot’s performance expressing the ebbs and flows of Wonder Woman’s willingness to fight for mankind is captivating. She also shines during the combat sequences as the fierce warrior and compassionate hero Wonder Woman is.

Likewise, Chris Pine provides a charismatic supporting role as Steve Trevor. The pair have great chemistry throughout the film, despite a couple of somewhat awkwardly written scenes that felt like they were trying too hard to develop sexual tension between the two characters.

The remainder of the film is set in 1918 London and the Western Front as Wonder Woman, Steve Trevor and a ragtag crew attempt to stop German General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) and his evil scientist Dr. Maru (Elena Anaya) from releasing a gas that could win the war.

The second act was my favourite of the film, as we see Diana in action as Wonder Woman for the first time leading a push through no man’s land to reclaim a Belgian town. The symbolic moment of Wonder Woman leaping over the trenches into no man’s land is powerful. Trevor tells Diana that no man can cross no man’s land without being killed, but Diana is not a man.

What follows is a series of terrific set pieces demonstrating Wonder Woman’s determination and combat prowess. She’s a more agile fighter than Batman, moving around gracefully in a series of hand-to-hand fights inside buildings, and she demonstrates her power and resourcefulness by taking on seemingly impossible situations without hesitation. The fight choreography is entertaining as each new fight offers something different from the last, while utilising all of Wonder Woman’s weapons.

These sequences are complimented by the powerful score from composer Rupert Gregson-Williams and the inclusion of Wonder Woman’s heart-pounding guitar riff theme which signalled the character’s appearance in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

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Image: Warner Bros.

The 1918 Great War setting was perfect for the film. It exacerbates Wonder Woman’s willingness to challenge gender perceptions and the male ruling elite in a time when women had few rights. And it also allows Wonder Woman to be represented as the beacon of hope that she is in the DC universe. London and the Western Front’s grey and brown colour scheme contrasts greatly to the paradise of Themyscira’s lush green fields and crystal clear water. Likewise, the blue and red of Wonder Woman’s attire makes her shine whenever she is on the screen, and demonstrates her ability to empower those around her.

Wonder Woman is a terrific origin story for the binding member of DC’s trinity. The story is entertaining, well written and convincingly acted, with the right balance of comedic relief and seriousness. The action sequences are thoughtfully choreographed and visually stunning, and demonstrate the many facets of Wonder Woman’s abilities. It has taken 75 years for Wonder Woman to star in her own live-action feature film, but the payoff is a wonderful (no pun intended) portrayal of Wonder Woman and the traits that make her a powerful, shining light of hope in the DC universe. And hope and love are something the world could use more of now.

5-stars


What did you think of Wonder Woman? Tell me in Twitter @Nathan_M96. You can follow Think First Entertainment on Twitter for updates @ThinkFirst_ent. Read about TFE’s review rating policy here.

Logan Review: Not Your Average Superhero Film

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They say you are only as good as your last performance. If that is the case, Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine/X-Men film franchise will be remembered for its terrific finale, taking audiences on an emotional journey that succeeds because of how cathartically depressing it is.

Logan, named after the titular hero, isn’t your typical superhero film. There are no colourful costumes, no gigantic threats to the world and no overly-dramatic explosive set pieces. Logan is a gritty story about family, the lengths we’d go to protect them, and dealing with illness. It also happens to feature characters who have mutated genes.

Director James Mangold sets the tone in the opening scene when a clearly aged and tired Logan (Jackman) has trouble healing after maiming several criminals. Something is poisoning him, limiting his rejuvenating abilities. It’s quite clear his days of being an X-Men are over. He’s now a limo driver going under the name James Howlett.

That is until an encounter with a girl called Laura (Dafne Keen) who, as we’ve seen in the trailers, is a new mutant with similar skills to Wolverine. Logan, encouraged and accompanied by a dementia ridden Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), must take Laura to a supposed safe haven in order to evade her pursuer Donald Pierce (Narco’s Boyd Holbrook).

This journey exists largely to give the characters a destination to reach. The real brilliance of Logan is the characters. Hugh Jackman is superb in this film, captivating in his performance of an older, sick Logan. He limps or stumbles in most scenes, struggling to keep going and hold his world together. He’s short tempered because he has to look after Xavier, and frustrated by his reduced physical capabilities. It must have been physically exhausting in a different way to his other performances as the Wolverine.

Speaking of Charles Xavier, Patrick Stewart provides a solid performance as the once powerful professor, acting as a father figure to Jackman’s Logan. Their portrayals help to capture the tone of the film, with Jackman and Stewart maintaining a strong chemistry as their characters battle with illness and loss.

Despite having a limited speaking role, newcomer Dafne Keen shines when she’s in the scene. Her often blank facial expression demonstrates to the audience that she’s been through an ordeal even at such a young age. Yet, still being a child, her curiosity and lack of understanding of the world allows scenes that create some temporary respite for the audience.

Given Logan‘s emphasis on characters, it’s disappointing that the film’s villains aren’t given much depth other than being purely evil. It’s interesting seeing Holbrook in a villain role, and he provides a solid performance despite the limited character development.

Logan is, however, a film about its protagonists and giving more time to the villains would have presented some pacing issues.

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Logan is not a happy-go-lucky film about superheroes saving the world. As I said earlier, it deals with characters who have been alive for too long, having experienced too many tragedies to have a positive outlook on the world. The characters are the most important aspect of this film, and Mangold’s constant use of close-ups emphasises their suffering and the urgency of the situation as the trio struggle to evade their pursuers. There’s a constant feeling of grief and bleakness, but it’s never overwhelming.

One of the main reasons why Logan is such a great film is because every scene has a purpose. Every scene feels like it adds to the film and an understanding of the characters, rather than being there to fill up a couple of minutes. Just over two hours in length, Logan‘s slower pacing makes it feel longer than it is, but it never drags on longer than it has to.

The wonderfully choreographed action scenes are where we see the differences between the older Logan and younger Laura’s abilities. It takes a lot of effort for Logan to move during fights, and his strikes are more powerful and brutal. Whereas Laura is faster and more agile. She can move herself around faster, leaping on enemies to bring them down.

These action sequences are wonderfully shot, with the brutality of Logan and Laura’s claws depicted in all of their gritty detail. There’s plenty of dismemberment, claws going through brains and arms being sliced through, but it’s all captured in a manner that feels realistic rather than with an over-the-top stylisation common in superhero films. The violence is there in all it’s detail, there is no close up shaky camera here.

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In a world where superhero films are trying to be darker and more gritty, Logan has the edge. There’s barely a happy moment in Logan, with the characters, cinematography and directing all creating a sombre, desperate atmosphere that somehow proves to be cathartic. It feels like the perfect end to Jackman and Stewart’s story as Wolverine and Professor X. Not only has James Mangold directed one of the best superhero films since The Dark Knight, he’s also directed a terrific, captivating and emotional story that many viewers will relate to.

 

5-stars

Are Award Shows The Right Platform To Make Political Messages?

We’re currently in the midst of the award season for the film, television and music industries. The best films, actors and actresses, directors, television shows, writers, songs, producers and artists are being honoured and acknowledged for their exceptional contributions to their respected industries. Each winner is invited on stage, and then given less time than they need to thank whoever they want.

Most of these speeches are your standard affair of thanking family, cast members and any other influencers. However, occasionally a winner will use their award win as a public platform to spread a political or social message. Recent examples include Meryl Streep’s 2017 Golden Globe speech against then United States President-elect Donald Trump, or Leonard DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscars acceptance speech touching on the reality of climate change.

With the Oscars only days away (Sunday 26 February, North America) I ponder: should award winners be using their award winner speeches at industry events to spread political and social messages? It’s a subject I’m currently torn on, and I’d love to know your thoughts once you’re finished reading and understand my conflicting points of argument.

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What celebrities say is instantly newsworthy

On the one hand, there is no more public platform than an awards show. The award winner is given the spotlight exclusively for a couple of minutes and free reign to speak about anything they want. Celebrities have proven to be some of the most influential figures when speaking out about social issues. So when we combine the two, the message becomes instantly newsworthy and spreadable.

The mainstream news media thrives on the entertainment sector and what celebrities say and do. This is especially true when political statements are made that may cause conflict. Streep’s political views were spread around the world by news organisations because it created a narrative of conflict between her and Trump. A quick internet search for ‘Golden Globes’ still brings up news articles about Streep’s speech.

That’s the undeniable power that celebrity messages have when news organisations catch on.

Awards nights are about recognising achievements

On the other hand, does preaching about social issues during awards shows detract from the award actually being won? Without searching for it, could you tell me the award Streep was accepting at the Golden Globes? It was the Cecil B. DeMille Lifetime Achievement Award, a prestigious award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment” (Wikipedia). In the context of the award, Streep’s powerful speech has some relevance. She speaks out against the immigration bans President Trump was threatening to bring in, highlighting the diverse talent that makes up Hollywood and the industry she’s contributed so much too.

However, in doing so, the news coming out of the Golden Globes was “Meryl Streep attacks Donald Trump”, rather than “Meryl Streep wins an award for outstanding contributions to entertainment”. You could say it’s selfless of award winners to take the spotlight away from their successes to highlight issues they feel are more important. But the whole idea of an awards night is to take a night to acknowledge the contributions of people in the industry and the projects they’ve helped to create.

Entertainment can’t help but be wrapped up in politics. Many movies, novels, comics, and songs draw from the world around them to tell stories. The science-fiction genre is especially great at displaying politics in a metaphorical sense, as are many rap albums. I’m not saying keep your politics out of my awards night. Let’s maybe just think about whether it’s the right platform.

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Does the message fit the platform?

We’ll keep with the Streep scenario because it’s the most relevant. Clearly Streep feels extremely passionate about the issue and understands that what she says has a tremendous influence on her peers and consumers of her work. Had she expressed her speech through social media, through a series of Tweets or Facebook posts, or a similarly lengthy video, or if she had appeared on a talk show with the same message, would it have been as effective? I think so. Maybe it would not have been accompanied by the same raw emotion, but you can guarantee the news angle would have remained the same. Especially considering it would have come from someone of Streep’s celebrity status.

On February 11, Streep accepted an award from the Human Rights Campaign for being an Ally for Equality, and made another speech against President Trump. Considering the nature of the award, this is the perfect stage for such a speech, and it received equally as much media coverage.

Ultimately, it’s up to an award recipient to decide what they want to talk about when they are given the spotlight. The spoken word is a very powerful tool, and an awards night like the Oscars is the ultimate soapbox. However, if making that message detracts from the overall aim of the awards night – recognising the exceptional contributions of talented people – is it really the right platform to be using?

I’d love to know your thoughts.


Nathan is the founder of Think First Entertainment. You can find him on Twitter @Nathan_M96.

My 5 Favourite Films of 2016

2016 was most definitely the year of the superhero film. Marvel has been putting out a constant stream of its cinematic universe films for years now, but this year we got three of them. DC also decided it had to play catch up and released two films. Are we suffering from superhero film fatigue? I don’t think so, they are all different stories and worlds. It’s like asking if we’ll ever be fatigued by the Fast and the Furious franchise: probably not, car stunts are cool.

Enough rambling, here are my five favourite films of 2016!

As with my favourite games of 2016 list, these are not necessarily films I thought were the best of 2016, rather the ones I had the most enjoyment watching.

The Hateful Eight (January, 2016)

While The Hateful Eight was released on December 31st overseas, it did not release until January 14 in Australia, so it can sneak onto the list. Quentin Tarantino is a master director, who succeeds at developing interesting characters to tell stories about. The Hateful Eight is a prime example, using the interactions between eight characters at one location to tell a suspenseful story.

As the lengthy film progresses, we learn more about the eight mysterious characters and that some of them may not be who they say they are. It’s a wonderful example of character driven storytelling that works largely because of the terrific writing and acting performances from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins and Tim Roth.

The cinematography is also brilliant, with shots chosen to further emphasise the relationships between certain characters. The Hateful Eight received an Oscar nomination for best cinematography, but was beaten by The Revenant. It did, however, win best original movie score – the first Tarantino film to have an original score – and best supporting actress with Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice Extended Edition (June, 2016)

I’m being very specific with this one and sayiing the extended edition is one of my favourite films of 2016 because the extra 30 minutes actually improves the film.

The extended scenes are largely related to one of the opening sequences in the desert, and are spread nicely throughout the film, but they make the motives of Batman, Superman and Lex Luthor much clearer. It feels like Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment wanted to trade clarity for a PG-13 rating in the U.S. to bring in more viewers.q

Criticism aside, I’ve been waiting for a Batman and Superman film ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe began teaming up its heroes. It’s been a long wait, and I felt it would never happen, but DC has finally got on the superhero team-up film bandwagon.

For all of its flaws, it’s just great to see Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman depicted on the big screen!

Captain America: Civil War (May, 2016)

The Captain America films are some of my favourite Marvel films. I love the cinematography and the action sequences the Russo brothers create.

Captain America: Civil War is the culmination of this phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and it’s a great action film. There never feels like a ‘right’ side of the conflict, with both Captain America and Iron Man expressing strong reasons why superheroes should and shouldn’t register to be under control by the United Nations.

The highlight of the film, however, is the massive fight sequence between the two factions, which includes the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Hawk Eye, Black Widow, Ant Man and the newly introduced Spider Man.

Captain America: Civil War was an ambitious project that showed the capabilities of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and its vision for future films.

Arrival (November, 2016)

Hopefully you’ve already read what I think about Arrival, so you know why it’s on this list.

Arrival succeeds because it tells a different kind of first contact story, one about communication and language rather than military intervention to save the planet.

The pacing is great, the cinematography elegant and the acting outstanding. Arrival is an all-round well polished film.

Arrival is one of my favourite films of 2016 because of the messages it expressly and implicitly tells. There are interesting ideas of language and how culture is effected by it, and of course being a science fiction film there’s a hypothetical theory about the relativity of time.

Arrival probably isn’t one of those films I’d watch over and over again, but it has left a lasting impression on me.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (December, 2016)

You can definitely tell that the new wave of Star Wars films are being made by people who love the Star Wars franchise. Like J.J. Abrams last year, Gareth Edwards has created a wonderful film that captures what makes Star Wars so great, while also bringing something new to the franchise.

Rogue One tells the story of the spies who stole the plans to the Death Star. Whereas the original trilogy and The Force Awakens use a war as the backdrop for a story about heroes destined to save the galaxy, Rogue One is about an unlikely crew uniting to help the rebellion take its first action against the Imperials.

Rogue One’s final act, a well scripted 30 minute action sequence, demonstrates inspiration that the film draws from war movies.

Rogue One emphasises the fact that it is different from the main Star Wars films by removing the traditional crawl at the beginning and the famous main theme. However, it is still a wonderful Star Wars film with a new and exciting story to tell.

With a likeable cast of characters, great CGI and special effects, Rogue One is one of the great blockbuster films of 2016 that every Star Wars fan should see.

Honourable mentions

Deadpool (February, 2016) – The funniest superhero film of 2016

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (October, 2016)- A solid action film starring Tom Cruise

Suicide Squad (August, 2016) – A fun collection of characters that could have been so much better

Sausage Party (August, 2016) – A smart comedy about what supermarket products finding out what humans do to them at home


What were your favourite films of 2016? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @Nathan_M96.

Arrival Is One of the Best and Most Relevant Films of the Year

Arrival, from Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario), might be one of the best films of the year, a close second behind Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (I kid about that last part, but the DC fanboy within me wishes it were true). It’s a wonderful piece of art, both in the cinematic delivery and the messages it preaches. Arrival is about an expert linguist, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), whose services are required when 12 alien ships land on Earth.

The film jumps straight into the action, taking all of five to ten minutes to setup up Adam’s character and her current situation. Arrival is a slower paced film, but it moves forward at a constant pace. The cinematography and selection of shots is smart and effective; the sound design is eerie, creating a sense mystery throughout; the alien’s character design is unique; and the CGI is believable.

Arrival is a first contact science fiction film, but largely holds back on the action sequences. As a result, dialogue takes up a large portion of the film. Both the content and delivery are superb. Amy Adams delivers a captivating leading performance with Jeremy Renner providing a solid supporting role.

Language, culture and how the two interact is Arrival‘s biggest theme. With 12 different nations and cultures over the world trying to converse with the aliens – called heptapods in the film because of their seven legs – how their languages effect their interactions with the aliens is important, and it’s not something I’d thought about before seeing the film.

Some nations want to talk to them and interact with them to find out why they are on Earth, whereas others take a more hostile, military approach when they decide conversation is not working. The film uses the metaphor of chess to help the audience understand how different languages influence how cultures perceive the world, and how this could have a negative effect on someone or, in this case, something learning the language and how the culture perceives the world. Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson wrote a great piece on this aspect of Arrival, you should give it a read once you’re done with this.

Other ideas in Arrival include the idea of living in the present and the relativity of time; that’s where the science fiction elements take full flight. Gizmodo’s Beth Elderkin asked some interesting questions with regards to the theories express in the film. Another good read.

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However, the idea, or message, I want to talk about today is the idea that humanity’s instinct is to treat every new race as a threat. The term used to demonstrate this in the film is “give weapon”. Some nations deem it hostile, while others are sceptical about its meaning. As you’ll see if you watch the film, all of the above ideas interweave and play off one another. However, given the events of the past week and the year in general, this final theme is why Arrival’s release could not have come at a better time.

In science fiction films, a new threat is usually a new species that has come to take over Earth. However, translated to modern times, these threats to the unknown or misinterpreted take the form of racism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia, etc. Throughout history, anything new or different has been seen as a threat and to be met with hostility or oppression. Just look at colonisation and its effects on indigenous races globally, or how the Catholic Church views homosexuality.

We like to group ourselves in every way possible. We group by race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation, wealth class, which state we live in or even which neighbourhood. Sure, these groups all have things that make them unique, but too often we perceive different as hostile. It’s a misinterpretation, a failure to understand and it’s hurting us as a collective.

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The power of science fiction is that it groups humans together, forcing us to unite to solve an issue rather than tackling it alone. To Arrival’s heptapods, we are all humans. We are all a collective. Science fiction films, and especially Arrival, remind us that deep down, we are all the same. We are all human. In Arrival, it takes an alien species and some science fiction theories to unite us. Is that really what it is going to take to stop humanity from hating, fear-mongering and oppressing itself?

The bigger question something like this raises is, how do we stop something that’s so entrenched? We’ve been grouping ourselves and fighting against ourselves for centuries, millennia even. Sure, we’ve got a United Nations, but it’s more a symbol than anything meaningful. Arrival suggests that we must negotiate and communicate with each other to achieve a non-zero sum game. That is, both sides can gain something from a transaction. Clearly, we are a long way from achieving this, but eventually we have to turn conversation into meaningful action.

We don’t have to completely understand each other and our unique cultures, but it is important that we understand that hate, disrespect and isolation of groups and cultures does not help humanity. Arrival only takes two hours to demonstrate this fact, and it’s the most relevant and important two hours of film you should consume all year.


Nathan is the founder of Think First Entertainment. You can find him on Twitter @Nathan_M96, and you can follow Think First Entertainment @ThinkFirst_ENT.