Best films of 2013: Haiku reviews

Following my first stab last year at reviewing my favourite films of the year in Haiku form, I decided to give it another go. Remember, these little Japanese poems are three lines made up of five syllables, then seven, then five.sandra-bullocks-gravity-interview

Explosion in space
Debris flying everywhere
The will to survive

Captain Philips
Somali hijack
Capture Captain in lifeboat
Tense tale on high seas

Two F1 driversworlds-end-new-trailer
Battle it out for title
A wild, thrilling ride

The World’s End
Pubs, pints and old friends
Scrapping with weird blue aliens
Marmalade sandwich

The Place Beyond The Pines
Stunt rider has kid
Teams up with guy to rob banksdjango and candie
Fathers, sons, life, death

Cloud Atlas
Past, present, future
Kind act that ripples through time
A grand, epic tale

Django Unchained
Bounty hunter finds
slave, recruits him then hunts down
plantation ownerJosh Hutcherson and Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games Catching Fire, a review

Zero Dark Thirty
Hunt for Bin Laden
Led by obsessive lady
Finds him then kills him

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Victor of games
Girl on fire made to play nice
Starts revolution

So there we go. My attempt at Japanese poetry for this year, or at least until the mood takes me again. Hope you enjoy them. See if you can come up with your own for your favourite films of the year, it’s quite fun.

Top ten films of 2013… er, and some others

Looking back, it’s not been a bad year for cinema. Perhaps not vintage, but we’ve had some crackers over the last twelve months. Here are my whittled down favourites, followed by a list of those I’m sure I’d like a lot but have yet to see. So… two lists, in a weird way.

Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Anton YelchinIt’s cumberbitches versus pine nuts in JJ Abrams’ second outing as director on this franchise. Fine job he did too, upping the ante for Kirk and co in a most satisfying way; with a new twist on Kahn, something that arguably angered die-hard trekkies, but kept the Enterprise on course for the rest of us.

Captain Phillips
captain-phillips01Director Paul Greengrass played to his strengths in this smart and highly tense retelling of a real life tale of Somali pirates capturing a cargo ship on the high seas. And Tom Hanks gives one of the performances of the year, and indeed perhaps his career.

Chris Hemsworth and Daniel Brühl in Ron Howard's RushEpic return to form for director Ron Howard in this thrilling look at the rivalry between two F1 legends: James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl), the latter giving a phenomenal performance as a man fighting to retain his title following a horrific injury.

The World’s End
worlds-end-new-trailerPegg, Frost and Wright conclude the cornetto trilogy with their most ambitious tale yet; featuring pubs, pints, blue aliens and a sexy marmalade sandwich. A satisfying conclusion for the trio and it’ll be interesting to see what they do next.

Cloud Atlas
cloud-atlas-somniDavid Mitchell’s book is unfilmable… or was until the pair behind The Matrix – the Wachowski siblings – got their hands on it. What resulted was a breathtaking set of intertwining stories and storytelling and imagination at its finest.

Django Unchained
django shadesThe first Tarantino tale to be told in a linear fashion (i.e. no chapter element) tackled some big themes and finally showed everyone his take on a western – and what a take it was too. Epic, explosive and totally Tarantino.

The Place Beyond The Pines
130412CutdownPines_7474218Derek Cianfrance and Ryan Gosling are a bit of a match made in heaven. First Blue Valentine and now this; a series of three stories examining how the actions of fathers affect their sons. It’s a poignant and tender sort of tale, with strong performances from Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper and a young Dane DeHaan.

Zero Dark Thirty
zerodarkthirtyReleased almost a year ago in January 2013 for us UK types; but still worthy of inclusion as it’s a tense affair, capturing Bin Laden and all that – one which, following the award laden The Hurt Locker, director Kathryn Bigelow handled like a master at work.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
the-hobbit-the-desolation-of-smaugAnother year, another trip to Middle Earth eh? Well, in this case, that’s largely a good thing, as Peter Jackson’s trilogy gets into full swing in this second outing with Bilbo, dwarves, Bard the Bowman and an almighty dragon sporting a fierce temper.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
Hunger-games-catching-fire-lawrence_katnissThe difficult second album – or, in this case, the bleaker second album. Following the success of the first film the pressure was on this one to deliver. And it did, with a darker, more adult tone and another fine performance from Jennifer Lawrence.


  • Now You See Me – described as The Prestige for idiots by some critics and pure summer movie magic by others. Chances are it sits somewhere inbetween as a fun caper of a film.
  • Stoker – written by Prison Break’s Wentworth Miller and directed by South Korean director Park chan-wook, this psychological thriller landed well with critics and looks an intriguing and mysterious tale.
  • Mud – Jeff Nichols is fast marking himself out as a director to watch, first Take Shelter and now this coming-of-age tale; continuing the career revival of one Matthew Mcconaughey.
  • Trance – seems, in his tea breaks when planning the Olympic ceremony, Danny Boyle knocked this film together; which goes to show how the rest of us really need to put in more effort. Whilst it’s more style over substance, it’s some style.
  • Gravity – making the number one film of many critics’ lists, this immersive and thrilling film by Alfonso Quaron showed that, if there’s a more compelling use of 3D we’re yet to see it.
  • Kill Your Darlings – the evolution of Daniel Radcliffe post-Potter continues, in this interesting look at the birth of the beat generation. As well as Radcliffe, up-and-comer Dane DeHaan reportedly put in another fine performance.
  • Robot & Frank – a quirky tale about a jewel thief, Frank (Frank Langella), who’s past his prime so his son buys him a domestic robot. His mood lifts when he realises he can use the robot to steal again.
  • The Bling Ring – spoilt LA brats rob celebrities in Sofia Coppola’s latest. A timely tale in today’s celebrity obsessed culture. Whilst the film got average reviews Emma Watson’s performance was praised by critics.
  • Blue is the Warmest Color – garnering a hugely positive response from critics, this film explored – over three hours no less – the relationship between two girls who fall in and out of love and everything in between.
  • Thor: The Dark World – Chris Hemsworth dusted off his red cape and hammer for another outing as the man from Asgard and, by all accounts, did a splendid job. Apparently, worldwide, this is the third-highest grossing film for Marvel studios.
  • Blue Jasmine – there really is no holding back Cate Blanchett at times, she’s easily one of the best actresses of our generation and really doesn’t get enough credit. Here she puts in arguably a career best performance in this film, which many have said marks a return to form for Woody Allen.
  • Philomena – a sweet and amusing tale of Philomena Lee’s (Judi Dench) 50-year search for her son Martin Sixsmith (Steve Coogan). Described as a profoundly affecting drama, this film was a hit with critics and audiences alike.
  • Kings of Summer – drawing comparisons with Son of Rambow (which I liked a lot), this film passed many people by, yet sounds like a wonderfully uplifting coming-of-age tale that should make your watch list, if you like this sort of thing.

Reading this back it’s rather shocking; there’s loads I’ve not seen. At least it gives me things to see over the next month or so. Still… the ones I did see were all a joy to experience. And some were a genuine surprise; as I went in with no expectations (often a good tactic).

What made your top ten of the year? And what’s still on your list to see?

Cloud Atlas: the Wachowskis’ magnum opus?

Aaah, the old books to films conundrum – in this day and age are any novels truly unfilmable? In the last ten years or so the industry has brought a myriad of literary tales – all widely considered unfilmable – to the big screen: Lord of the Rings, Life of Pi and Watchmen all spring to mind as critical and commercial successes.


Which brings us to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – possibly one of the hardest books to adapt. Officially described as ‘An exploration of how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future, as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and an act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution.’ Mitchell constructed the novel as a series of six stories set across different periods, with multiple characters connected in small but significant ways. Here’s a quick run-down:

  • The first is set on the high seas of the South Pacific in 1849, with American lawyer Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) being poisoned by the ship’s corrupt Doctor Goose (Tom Hanks)
  • Set in Cambridge in 1936 we then have the tale of budding composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) being mentored by cantankerous composer Vyvyan Ayrs (Jim Broadbent)
  • Then a 1973 conspiracy thriller in San Francisco, with reporter Luisa Rey (Hallie Berry) being hunted down by CEO Lloyd Hooks (Hugh Grant) and enforcer Bill Smoke (Hugo Weaving)
  • Next, in 2012, is a comedy tale of bungling publisher Timothy Cavendish’s (Jim Broadbent) nursing home break-out, after a trick by his brother Denholme (Hugh Grant)
  • Leaping forward to Korea (called Neo Seoul) 2144 we then find out about fabricant Somni-451 (Doona Bae), a clone who breaks out of her slave-like existence with the help of activist Hae-Joo Chang (Jim Sturgess)
  • Finally, on The Big Island in 2321 – after the fall of civilisation – lives tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks). He meets Meronym (Hallie Berry) and agrees to help her reach Cloud Atlas – a communication system – to signal off-world colonies to rescue what remains of their people

So there they all are. Enough for at least three movies you might think, or at least a mini TV series. Despite the sheer number of stories and characters we’re being asked to get our heads around, the film does work on many levels.

In the book these stories are told in a sort of linear/cyclical fashion. Going from the 1800s to the post-apocalyptic future then back again revisiting each story, returning to the conclusion of the first tale at the very end. This wouldn’t have worked cinematically, so all six tales have been masterfully edited together to flow back and forth, constantly linking themes and characters to keep the audience hooked throughout.


This works, to a degree. The problem lies in the fact that cross-cutting between all these different stories for three hours can wear the audience down somewhat. Within the space of a typical ten minutes we’re being asked to feel so many emotions it becomes rather numbing. Perhaps I’m just emotionally stunted. That said, I can’t see any other way to put all these tales together into one sitting without it being an undertaking on some level.

In terms of whether you’ve read the book or not, I don’t think that’s a big issue. If anything it may be a blessing, as you go in fresh and unburdened. You can allow yourself to absorb all the film has to offer, without the constant mental comparison of book versus film, something with which us avid fiction readers often have to contend.

Granted, this sort of film will divide people, heavy going for some and a joy for others. Either way, it’s an admirable effort by the Wachowski siblings – one that definitely deserves credit, for both their ambition and execution. In the way that Life of Pi was a story about stories and the nature of belief, this too, is a tale that deals with big themes: how our actions last longer than our lives, with their effects rippling across time and space to inspire future generations.

On that note, Cloud Atlas is very much worth your time and, if you put in the effort, you’ll come away exhilarated and refreshed with your head full of big, positive thoughts. Plus you’re pretty much getting six films for the price of one – a bargain by any standards!