Penny Dreadful: season three review

And so endeth Penny Dreadful. Before its time some might say. Despite the fact that creator John Logan said it would always end with (*spoiler!) the death of Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), not many of us believed him.

It felt rushed, particularly as most of the characters had been flung across the globe on personal quests of their own. Suddenly they’re hurried back to London at pace, at the bemusement of fans no doubt. Fair enough conflicted Texan werewolf/gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) always had the threat of his father with which to contend, so it made sense he deal with that.

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And why not have a dishevelled Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton) along for the ride? Even though he’d half lost his way he was still a better father figure to Ethan than his real dad, Jared Talbot (played with gusto by Brian Cox).

The creature (Rory Kinnear) was off on a quest of his own to discover god-knows-what in the Arctic. He then returned to London after a few episodes to reconnect with his family. It was touching I suppose, but not really the story I wanted to see and his arc felt like a distraction. In some ways it would have been more exciting to see him team up with the gang to fight a common foe.

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And speaking of common foes, this season saw the introduction of Dracula (Christian Camargo), bringing to a head his long pursuit of Vanessa Ives; which more or less started in the first season. And, whilst it was refreshing to see the way in which he pursued her, like most delectable things in life, it was over all too soon. For a baddie that big I wanted more.

Especially because the gang got two new additions, which both proved extremely interesting as characters within the first few episodes, but didn’t get the time they deserved. Namely, Catriona Hartdegen (Perdita Weeks), a stunningly attractive supernatural expert who was sassy, held her own in a fight and seemed to flirt with every character she encountered – and that was seriously refreshing when the show was in danger of becoming too dour for its own good. We also got the addition of Vanessa Ives’ therapist, Dr Seward (Patti LuPone), who gave the show a nice bit of weight and gravitas cutting through the melodrama with her no-nonsense approach.

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The trouble with a lot of it – because so much revolved around Vanessa Ives at the end of the day – is that most of the main characters didn’t interact with each to any great degree until almost the last episode. Long-form storytelling is fine if you’ve got maybe five or six seasons, but if you’ve only got three you’re shortchanging everyone, from characters to actors to audiences alike.

So I’m somewhat conflicted. Big fan, but frustrated.

And I’d also add I’ve been a huge fan of Eva Green since her debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, and this show – and her character – perfectly suited her occult and otherworldly qualities. Not that it was all about her, as the rest of the cast were also outstanding. I’d go so far as to say this has been the best work we’ve seen from both Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett in a long time. Rory Kinnear, as ever, is a very fine actor and massively underrated and the others all did a fine job, too.

Perhaps, in some ways, there were too many characters and stories to explore. From Lily Frankenstein’s (Billie Piper) escapades with Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) to Victor Frankenstein’s (Harry Treadaway) experiments with Dr Jekyll (Shazad Latif) it seems like John Logan bit off more than he could chew in the time he had given himself.

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These days it seems like every show wants to be Game of Thrones but tries to leap ahead and run before it can walk. Not that you can really compare the two shows, but the point has some relevance. Whatever caused the show to end before its time there’s one thing that’s clear, it will be missed by some pretty devout fans. Particularly as it was a show of real quality and substance.

And if they resurrect it minus Eva Green, it just won’t be the same. Don’t do it. Let’s just let it rest in peace as a decent thing which ended before its time eh?

Penny Dreadful: season 2 review

The first season of Penny Dreadful focused on Sir Malcolm’s (Timothy Dalton) hunt for his daughter, who had been captured by some sort of vampire master. It also shared equal screen time exploring Vanessa Ives’ (Eva Green) story, a battle with a demonic spirit which was attempting to consume her soul.

And we were introduced to troubled doctor Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and the monsters he creates – in particular John Clare (Rory Kinnear). Then there was strong and silent American gunslinger Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) with a dark past of his own. Plus the mysterious and eternal Dorian Gray (Reeve Carney) popped up from time to time in a subplot that bubbled along throughout.

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For season two it’s very much a continuation of the first in terms of the main characters and their journeys, albeit with a different antagonist for them to face; a trio of nightcomers/witches who, at the bidding of their master (spoiler: a fallen angel aka the devil) step up their pursuit of Vanessa’s soul.

In general the show is quite slow burn, so if you’re expecting True Blood set in London go elsewhere. It’s dark, moody and there’s some nudity involved, but otherwise it’s a completely different beast. Again there’s a large focus on Vanessa, building up more of her backstory; as she’s such an interesting character it’s a pleasure to spend time in her company. There’s also Ethan Chandler’s past which catches up with him, along with a secret he can no longer keep hidden.

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The primary difference in season two is two-fold: first, the main antagonist has more of a human face and development of character; as the witches are led in suitably machiavellian fashion by Madame Kali (Helen McCrory).

Secondly, the main group, essentially rookies in season one are more cold, clinical and ruthless this time round. They know the sort of darkness they face, both internal and external. That said, the demons they’ve accumulated keep coming back to haunt them.

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We get more Vanessa Ives backstory in which to sink our teeth and the relationship between her and Ethan develops almost as you might expect. Dalton’s Sir Malcolm takes a bit of a backseat this season, but makes way for more of Victor Frankenstein and his flawed creations, including Lily (Billie Piper), who becomes – in almost a 180 switch of character – a bit of a walking nightmare for Victor. Vanessa aside, she probably has the most compelling character arc.

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The season finishes (without giving too much away) with the characters all pursuing different goals of their own and in different places, geographically. As such it will be interesting to see – should they choose to do so – how John Logan and the show’s writers will pick them all up again come season three.

We’ve had vampires and witches. What’s next for them to face?

Sin City 2: Was it worth the wait?

Momentum is a funny thing. When graphic novelist Frank Miller first teamed up with filmmaker Robert Rodriguez in 2005, the result was Sin City. Filmed mostly on green screen, it was a dark, dirty neo-noir delight. Fit to burst with swooning dames, femme fatales and bad ass guys. Critically and commercially it was a success. And it felt fresh.

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What I’m getting at here is that it’s taken almost ten years to bring us the sequel. In general, Hollywood rarely lets this happen. If they’ve got a good thing going, they keep it going. However, Rodriguez operates somewhat apart from the Hollywood machine and, as such, it’s taken nigh on a decade for the pieces to fall into place and for Sin City 2 to hit the big screen.

The question is, did they lose momentum? Is it possible to recapture the gritty feel of the original? Will Miller and Rodriguez strike noir gold again? The answer, typically, is yes and no. Momentum has been lost, there’s no denying it. Had this film come out 2 or 3 years after the first one we’d probably feel rather differently. It might be looked on more favourably.

Sin City 2 Lady Gaga

The problem is that, since the release of the first film it’s taken on a bit of a cult status. A status which has grown with each passing year. Perhaps this second film will take on a similar status, but I rather doubt it.

As per the first film, A Dame To Kill For is divided into three stories. The main story – and film’s title – focuses on Dwight McCarthy (played by Clive Owen in the first film and Josh Brolin here) and his love-hate relationship with the ultimate femme fatale, Ava Lord (Eva Green).

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Angelina Jolie was originally meant to be the dame, but it didn’t work out. Perhaps for the best as Green was born to play Ava Lord. She’s pretty much been doing this sort of role most of her career anyway – and it’s not a stretch to picture her as a woman that can drive guys crazy. Seduction incarnate indeed.

Brolin does well picking up the mantle from Clive Owen. His Dwight perhaps more animalistic, less measured and more of a brute. I’m not sure he fits into Miller’s world as well as Owen did, but that’s a minor point.

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The second story – newly written by Miller for the film – follows Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a cocky gambler on a revenge tale of sorts. He fitted well into this world as a character and Gordon-Levitt’s performance was convincing. You’d almost wish he’d somehow featured in the first film as I’d have liked to have seen more of him.

The final story picks up after events of the first film and follows everyone’s favourite stripper, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba). When the only man she ever loved (Hartigan, played by Bruce Willis) took his own life, Nancy fell to pieces and vowed revenge on the man responsible, corrupt Senator Roark (Powers Boothe on fine, evil form).

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For those characters that continued from the first film, Nancy has changed the most and it’s nice to see Alba have more of a role to sink her teeth into. Although in some ways it’s sad as her character was really the only pure soul in the first tale and, in this story, Basin City has finallly gotten to her. She played the part well though.

As a film, this doesn’t have the impact of the original from a storytelling point of view. The three stories don’t overlap as well as the original, nor are they as emotionally affecting. That said, as a sequel it’s a good addition and should have been made. The other characters returning – particularly Mickey Rourke’s Marv – feel like they’ve not been away at all and the actors looked like they were having a ball.

In general it’s been worth the wait. It won’t grab you as much as the original but it’s a worthy effort. Two is plenty though Mr Miller and Mr Rodriguez, we don’t need a trilogy.

Trailer park: Lucy, a messenger and a dame

scarlette-johanssen-lucy-trailerDing, ding! The time has come for another trailer park breakdown. If you’re unfamiliar, this is the latest in a series of posts where I provide my pick of upcoming films with a little bit of info to set the scene and, of course, the trailer to get you all fired up.

Lucy
(US release 8 August, UK 22 August)
What if we could access the full processing power of our brains? Writer-director Luc Besson explores this theme via a kick-ass heroine. In the past he’s given us Milla Jovovich and Natalie Portman and now, a lady enjoying a fine run of form, Scarlett Johansson. Her character, Lucy, is forced by the mob to be a drug mule. Unfortunately the drugs get into her system… with interesting results. This could, potentially, be Besson’s best film yet.


Kill the Messenger

(US release 10 October, UK 28 November)
Based on a true tale that saw a journalist stumble onto a story involving cocaine, the CIA and rebels in Nicaragua. From the prisons of California to the corridors of power in Washington this looks an epic ride. And if story alone isn’t enough there’s also a cracking cast which includes Jeremy Renner, Michael Sheen, Ray Liotta, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Andy Garcia.


Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

(US and UK release 22 August)
Good lord this has been a long time coming. But good things come to those who wait, they say. And wait we have. But this also means that this Robert Rodriguez directed prequel needs to be as good as the original… Or better, if they can manage it. Some old faces return for this tale, but new additions – Josh Brolin, Eva Green and Joseph Gordon-Levitt – look the part and seem to fit nicely into Frank Miller’s sinful world.

Baby did a bad, bad thing

As we head into the, ahem, steamy British summer I found myself having mini flashbacks to sexy dance moments in film (just the way my mind works). Scenes that were charged to the nines and loaded with… possibility. Here are a few of my favourites.
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Amber HeardThe Rum Diary
To be honest you could take any of her scenes from this film, however her dance in a blues bar was downright dangerous. A modern Hollywood siren, if ever there was one.


Nicole Kidman
Eyes Wide Shut
Right before Tom Cruise gets involved it’s just her swaying in front of a mirror, like a seductive serpent ready to strike. Perfectly scored to ‘Baby did a bad, bad thing’ by Chris Isaak.


Jamie Lee Curtis
True Lies
Demure housewife gets lured into a spy racket in one almighty mix up. Cue Arnie with a tape recorder duping Curtis into doing one of the sexiest on-screen dances on film in recent years.


Salma Hayek
Desperados
Not long into her Hollywood career Hayek got a break on Rodriguez’s monster flick, as a vampire queen giving Tarantino one hell of a sexy snake dance before eating him alive.


Eva Green
The Dreamers
In her debut film appearance she gets lost in the moment in an unforgettable dance scene, one which leads to Michael Pitt’s character momentarily passing out.
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Penny Dreadful: first episode review

timmyModern TV shows, they have to begin with a bang these days. Well, to be fair, old ones did too, yet new ones tend to come with an A-list cast of actors, as well as an acclaimed director and screenwriter.

Penny Dreadful is no exception. The man who put pen to paper, John Logan, is the wordsmith behind this one – in case you didn’t know, a look back through his impressive filmography shows he’s given us Any Given Sunday, Gladiator, The Aviator, Skyfall and many more. Quite a talent. And, if we’re mentioning Bond it won’t escape many of you that this show has two alumni: Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm Murray and Eva Green as Vanessa Ives – both inspired bits of casting.

Ever since Hot Fuzz in 2007 Dalton appears to have had a new lease of life and looks to be having an immense amount of fun with each project he now takes on (perhaps the most since his Bond days). As well as a wry smile and a wink he also brings a good dollop of gravitas and sincerity to the part.Episode 101 With only the opening episode to go on it’s fair to say he put in a compelling performance as a man on a quest in the darkest parts of London.

And then there’s Eva Green as Vanessa Ives. Green has spent most of her career playing sultry, sensual, seductive parts. She also suits the occult quite well (she’s been a witch twice), so Ives was a natural fit. There’s intrigue there too, why is she beholden to Sir Malcolm? What debt does she owe him? Where do her witchy powers come from? Or are they religious ones? We see her twice in the episode praying to a crucifix. We also have an actor (Josh Hartnett) who, much like his character jaded gunslinger Ethan Chandler, has lost the love for his profession, having been pretty quiet since 30 Days of Night in 2007.josh1 The story is told largely from his character’s point of view, introducing us to the worlds between worlds.

Harry Treadaway as Victor Frankenstein makes up the rest of the team. Young, articulate, creepy and intense. Treadaway’s performance was, for me, unexpected but eminently watchable, often stealing scenes from the likes of Dalton (no mean feat) and then rounding off the episode with a beautifully monstrous yet touchingly tender scene.

Despite having seen umpteen vampire shows in the last few years, this has a different tone and feels fresh, with the focus on the human characters rather than the supernatural ones (bear in mind it’s not just vampires but they feature in the first episode).ustv-penny-dreadful-s01-e01-4 It’s also beautifully shot.

Some credit has to go to Juan Antonia Bayona, director behind The Orphanage and, quite recently, The Impossible for the way he’s portrayed Victorian London. Without knowing the budget for the show he’s given it an expensive look and feel and the sets are thoughtfully designed with nice detail.

So, a promising start. All the pieces are in place and the first episode was sufficiently gripping and well paced. Looking forward to seeing how the season unfolds.

Ooh la la… my cinematic French fancies!

swimming-pool-2003-08-gThere’s a certain indefinable something about the modern-day French actress. Ok, sorry, it’s a lazy line even without saying it. However, the point stands. The appeal is hard to pinpoint but it’s undoubtedly there.

Is it just the sexy accent? Or the fact we’re – well, most of us – drawn to the exotic? We all like a bit of mystery. And acting wise, these ladies deliver that effortlessly, hypnotically luring us in like the sexy sirens they are. You have been warned.

Let’s start with the newcomers. The first two are both in the same film, yet really should get a special nod for their committed and naturalistic performances. Breakout performances too, as they’re both now on many people’s radars. Then we have another breakout performance, this time from Ms. Thierry in Terry Gilliam’s latest mind-bending dystopian offering.

Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopolous
Blue Is The Warmest Colour


Melanie Thierry

The Zero Theorem


Next up are the mid-range ladies. They pop up from time to time, often in scene stealing fashion. Either by being impossibly cute, seductive, beguiling, or all three rolled into one.

Ludivine Sagnier
Swimming Pool, Mesrine: Killer Instinct/Public Enemy #1


Clemence Poesy

In Bruges, Birdsong, Harry Potter


Melanie Laurent

Inglourious Basterds, Now You See Me


And then there’s the heavy hitters. In recent years two ladies have to share top spot; both are deadly, unpredictable, enchanting and really quite brilliant at what they do. Both hold the screen incredibly well and have film CVs that range from blockbusters to sweet little indies.

In terms of an impressive body of work over a longer time period, you’d have to give the title to Marion. However, there’s something enigmatic and downright dangerous about Eva and the way she portrays characters. As such, I’m calling this an admirable draw.

Eva Green
The Dreamers, Casino Royale, Cracks, Dark Shadows, 300: Rise of an Empire. Next up? Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, Penny Dreadful.


Marion Cotillard

Taxi, La Vie En Rose, Public Enemies, Inception, Little White Lies, Midnight in Paris, Rust and Bone, The Dark Knight Rises. Next up? The Immigrant.


For my list I’ve really only looked at modern actresses, so no Bridget Bardot, Sophie Marceau, Beatrice Dalle and those of a similar time. So what do you think? Did I miss anyone? Thoughts on these ladies?

Until next time.

300: Rise of an Empire – Green brings the pain!

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMIs it fair to say that Zack Snyder’s film 300 in 2007 was, stylistically, a breath of fresh air? All sculpted six packs and slow-mo violence. It also introduced many of us to Gerard Butler as we’ve never seen him before. However the story by Frank Miller, whilst great in graphic novel form, came across as fairly light in terms of character on screen. Lacking depth was bandied about as a phrase by some critics.

Yet Butler gave a degree of depth to the proud Spartan King Leonidas – to the point that we cared what happened to him and his brave 300. And whilst the film was lambasted for oodles of style over a smattering of substance, it developed a cult following over time. But it was what it was: an unashamed guilty pleasure. A Friday night popcorn movie. Yet… it stuck around. Word spread. A sequel was inevitable.

This time round the story takes place a little before, during and after the events of the first film. It tackles another battle between the Greeks and Persians by focusing on the plight of a different set of Greeks, led by the Butler-esque Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton).300-rise-of-an-empire-official-trailer-2014-hd And, to avoid treading the same action beats, the setting has moved largely from land to sea, with both sides pitting their mighty navy against one another.

We also have a new antagonist in the form of Greek-turned-surrogate-Persian Artemisia (Eva Green); right-hand warrior to the Persian God-King Xerxes. Whilst there’s some other bits of plot to consider, this film isn’t really about story or character, it’s about spectacle. The relatively inexperienced Israeli director Noam Murro helms this one (with Snyder co-producing) and the result is pure concentrated Synder (more Sucker Punch less Watchmen).

So what we get is a series of set battles at sea, where Themistocles and Artemisia face off against each other. Aussie actor Stapleton is solid as the stoic leader of the plucky Greeks but, ultimately, in terms of pure entertainment, we’re here to see Green’s unhinged warrior Artemisia chew up the scenery, which she does in spectacular femme fatale fashion. R2_V10B17_80213_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0017.tiffA perfect fit for the worlds which Frank Miller creates. (We’ll be seeing her again later this year in Miller’s Sin City: A Dame To Kill For as the eponymous dame.)

Some have said this sequel offers little in terms of depth of character and that the conveyor belt of battle sequences can seem numbing. I agree in part, but we all know what we’ve signed up for; an unashamed, gory, highly stylised and violent action flick – with some tough female characters to boot. (Not just Green but Lena Headey too.)

As I said earlier, it is what it is.

But it’s not just style. There is story and character to be found if you look, some of it quite compelling. It just tends to take a back seat in favour of macho posturing and fight sequences (of which there are some impressive ones). The quieter moments, as a result, carry weight. Yet they are few and far between. Ones to savour.

Another factor which surprised me was the deft use of 3D. As a sceptic I’m the first to say it adds nothing to the experience, yet here it lent itself well to this sort of tale: all limbs, blood, swords, arrows and spears flying everywhere. Murro wanted us immersed in this ‘bucket ‘o’ blood’ nightmare and, with 3D, he achieved that.

All in all, a decent follow up to the original, with a seductive and deadly standout turn by Green that confirms her status as modern cinema’s de facto femme fatale. Roll on the next 300 film…

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For draws closer

It’s finally here. Well, the trailer at least. And I’m as giddy as Michael Bay who’s just been handed the keys to a set of real-life Transformers with matching explosives.

I have to say, it’s been a long wait but, now images and clips are beginning to be released, there’s grimy, noir-ish light at the end of the tunnel. Great cast too: Josh Brolin, Joseph-Gordon-Levitt, Jessica Alba, Mickey Rourke, Powers Boothe, and of course, Eva Green. The deadly dame. The femme fatale of our dreams and nightmares.

What with this film, 300: Rise Of An Empire and new TV show, Penny Dreadful, Miss Green looks set for quite a year. About time too, she’s been away too long. Anyway… without further ado, here’s the trailer and some images to fuel your desire for all things Basin City.

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marv sin city

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jgl sin city

Take your ass back to the trailer park – part 2

blue is the warmest colorWith Oscar season almost upon us, there’s a lot of films out now or soon that should have you racing to the cinema. From drama, action and horror to comedies and a compelling biopic, here’s my pick of marvellous movies you need on your radar.

The Monuments Men (Feb, 2014)
Based on a book of the same name, this film has caper written all over it. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn with Ocean’s Eleven, as Clooney and Damon again take centre stage. This, however, is based on a true story. Essentially it’s ‘art curators assemble!’, as an unlikely band of misfits team up to recover works of art stolen by the Nazis during the war.


Kill Your Darlings
(Dec, 2013)
Daniel Radcliffe and Dane DeHaan play Allen Ginsberg and Lucien Carr respectively; with the film focusing on the birth of the beat generation’s most well known writers: Ginsberg, Karouac and Burroughs. Despite putting in a respectable turn in The Woman in Black, Radcliffe is still – for some out there – trying to establish himself post Potter. From the looks of it he’s gone some way to achieve that. DeHaan, too, continues to establish himself as a growing talent.


Nebraska
(Nov, 2013)
Rival to Wes Anderson’s quirky crown comes in the form of Alexander Payne; the man behind Sideways and The Descendants and a director on the rise. Here he tells the tale – filmed in black and white – of Bruce Dern’s Woody Grant; a man who think he’s won a million dollars and sets off on a road trip to claim his prize. It’s already won a stack of awards and received lavish praise from critics. If you like quirky, human films it’s a must-see.


Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom
(Dec, 2013)
Actor, producer, singer, rapper… Luther! Stringer Bell! Stacker Pentecost! Is there anything Idris Elba can’t do? Apparently not as he’s now playing Nelson Mandela in this epic portrayal of the great man’s life. The film’s red carpet release coincided, tragically, with his death. In terms of the film, it looks to be a stirring affair but has received mixed reviews.


Carrie
(Nov, 2013)
Big cajones… that’s what you need if you’re going to remake a Brian De Palma classic. The 1976 original blew people away being universally praised and rightly so. So big cajones, in this case, comes in the form of Chloë Grace Moretz (fast developing as one of Hollywood’s best young female talents), Julianne Moore and director Kimberly Peirce – best known for her award winning debut Boys Don’t Cry (1999). As far as remakes go, it has promise but received mixed reviews. If you’re a fan of the original and/or Moretz, it’s worth checking out.


Her (Jan, 2014)
Here’s a brave move: take one of the most attractive women in Hollywood – one, Scarlett Johansson – and have her play a role where we only get to hear her voice. Brave or genius? Either way, it’s the sort of thing you expect from enigmatic director Spike Jonze. This film sees Joaquin Phoenix’s lonely writer develop a relationship with an operating system voiced by Scarlett. An intriguing idea – although puts me in mind Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror, an episode called ‘Be Right Back‘ starring Hayley Atwell and Domhnall Gleeson.


The Raid 2: Berandal
(Mar, 2014)
Welsh director Gareth Evans and breakout star Iko Uwais are back with their sequel… Oh yes! The original film had a simple premise (bunch of cops get trapped in a drug lord’s tower block and have to fight their way out) and the sequel immediately picks up events from the first; with Uwais’s Rama going undercover with gangs to bust corrupt cops. Same old, same old you may say – just watch the trailer.


300: Rise of an Empire
(Mar, 2014)
THIS IS A SEQUEL! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Actually it’s a sequel, prequel and a sort of during-quel in some ways. Covering events before, during and after the 2007 original. Obviously we’ve got no Gerard Butler this time round. Filling the gap looks to be a heroine in the shape of the delicious and delectable Eva Green. What with this and Sin City 2, Eva’s star looks to be on the rise next year. A pleasing thing as she’s a mesmerising screen presence.


Blue Is The Warmest Color
(Nov, 2013)
This French romantic drama is the first film to win a Palme d’Or for both the director and lead actresses. Also the first film adapted from a graphic novel to win the award. Essentially it tells the tale of two female students who fall in and out of love. Critics have heaped praise on it with award winning director Pedro Almodovar naming it in his 12 best films of the year.