Review Roundup - Ringworld

ELYSIUM (2013)

I had a lot of hopes for this after District 9, possibly the kind that could never be fulfilled but ultimately those that ended up being dashed a little as the movie went on. The erratic, energetic style and the faux docu-drama camera work had a kind of ad libbed charm and an off beat sense of humour that was a big surprise at the time. Unfortunately the follow up doesn't really have any of those raw indie stylings, and it falls into too many clichés that should have been avoided. Perhaps they were unavoidable with Hollywood casting coming into play. That's not to say there isn't quite a bit of enjoyable stuff here, it's just frustrating that amongst the entertaining sequences and the great CG creations there's just too much clutter, the parts have been put together in a way that feels clumsy instead of refined.

Like it's predecessor, the design and art direction is pretty incredible. There's more of that dirty, worn out sci-fi aesthetic this time mixing shanty town slums with robotic police and space vehicles; it pops on screen in a very detailed, eye pleasing way. I'd have liked it to have spent more time exploring the dystopian world that had been created, but it pushes on quickly with the storyline and drops the quieter moments (a chat with a dead faced computerised parole officer is one of the best) in favour of more basic plot forwarding scenes and story points we've all watched before. After an accident Matt Damon is forced to break into the space colony where Earth's rich elite live in seclusion to save his own skin - but he's an ex-con with a heart and has to help some old friends along the way - and possibly even the people of the desolated Earth while doing it (yeah). It's really odd how quickly these elements take over from the more interesting stuff - the life saving health machines he needs are a weak plot device, and the political commentary is a lot heavier than District 9.

Damon's hero Max isn't very memorable and the other cast members vary; I have to bring up D9 again as Sharlto Copley shows up doing a twisted version it's protagonist, but it seems kind of forced here. Jodie Foster is the main villain giving him the orders but doesn't get anything memorable to do and has a very strange accent going on, which seems to represent the wealthy characters though it's unclear and I thought it seemed dubbed. It's an entertaining ride but problem is that despite good moments and some great effects, the more typical plot elements need editing down to smooth over the parts that are all too convenient or just incredibly trite. I still look forward to the next release by these film makers but this dampens things a little.




Things have got really bad when you start to wonder "maybe the Roland Emmerich directed White House movie would have been a better choice?" It's very tedious and the derivative wannabe Die Hard action mixed with a current affairs North Korea plot holds zero entertainment value. I expected more from the casting but this delivers on nothing. It get's one point for one good wise crack in the whole thing.


Review Roundup - None more dark


Due to the nature of it's recent history storyline, coupled with the portrayal of interrogation tactics at US Black Sites this is a difficult movie to digest as you'd expect. Jessica Chastain stars as "Maya" - the jawline that killed Bin Laden, and it's a fairly engrossing look into the grey and murky world of covert CIA operations. They sum it all up in one line which goes something like "find me some people to kill". That attitude runs through the whole thing and over the course of a decade her drive simply gets more icy in the face of dead ends, bomb blasts and machine gun fire - alongside department bureaucracy and doubting superiors. The level of realism on show here, and how much fact backs up the writing I can't say - but it is all done in a very engaging way that hooks in early after a slow start and doesn't let up.

The core cast around the lead heroine is all pretty solid, but her ever building determination holds it all together, with the mission becoming all she is ever shown thinking about (after 12 years it's not surprising). Part detective plot part spy thriller, the bulk of the narrative is at it's most basic just information gathering, but it never drags - and for want of a better cliché this is pretty edge of the seat stuff on many occasions as targets are followed and leads are chased. It keeps ramping up all the way to the climax, a tense night-vision showdown akin to Silence of the Lambs via Rainbow Six.

The morality of what's going on during the torture scenes and how the final assault goes down is never questioned. Perhaps the viewer is being left to judge, or perhaps they are simply for or against what takes place depending on how you look at the mission outcome - they get the job done but nobody is ever questioned about the methods or brought to task for being involved in the work they've done. American operatives switch roles to regain their links with "normality" while their prisoners are are simply "not getting out" and never talked about once the facilities are closed down - make of it what you will. It's cold and detached but this is possibly the point, if they were trying to make one. In the final moments there are no celebrations and no questions raised. The story is simply brought to a close, but it is a gripping and well made tale. 



LINCOLN (2012)

If you like people shouting "How dare you sir!" and having lots of historic debate scenes this is the good stuff. The accuracy is something I have no knowledge about besides the basics of the subject but the cast is very compelling. Daniel Day Lewis is impressive of course but I liked Tommy Lee Jones here a lot too. Nearly ever other scene is an anecdote or a speech of some kind but they are all well done even when some of the cursing could quite possibly be out of place in this time period. It does go a bit off course in the final moments trying to do something different with an outcome everyone knows is coming, but overall it's still a drama worth seeing.


Review Roundup - Sunstroke?


Why is this so long and drawn out? I appreciate an epic Western here and there and length isn't immediately detrimental to a story, but this outstays it's welcome by an hour - at least. There's a lean 90 minute adventure film here under all the chaff, but for whatever reason it's an exercise in flabby and impotent cinema. There are a lot of big pacing issues here which aren't helped by useless book end sequences set years after the story takes place, and it fails to either be a fun blockbuster or a serious drama - there's an identity crisis going on between the Disney style Johnny Depp mugging and the harder edged moments of the Old West genre.

Tonally the story is all over the place. Bordello scenes where prostitutes fire guns hidden in false legs (really) and comedy horse gags clash against bandit raids, railroad labour and moments where the big bad decides to eat part of his latest victim just for kicks. The pastiche and grit doesn't gel at all and it goes off the rails way too often, which is odd when they already have two separate train crashes in the plot. Outside the random elements of the script things don't improve much - the characters are instantly forgettable, as is the music outside the signature Overture theme. The titular hero is flat and doesn't get any kind of proper arc, while Tonto gets both drama and slapstick to deal with and neither works. Is he mystical or just cracked? Does it matter? It feels empty a lot of the time and so much should have been left on the cutting room floor to make it flow properly.

As a Summer action movie, it should have at least been punchy and slick, but the fleeting moments during some of the set pieces that feel engaging are rare - it's too much like struggling to cross a desert rather than the breezy ride I was expecting. It does look pretty good in places, the panoramic shots and real locations work nicely but in the end it's wasted. All that troubled development perhaps took it's toll, but that's no excuse for all the excess. Someone should have taken the reigns and decided what genre this was going to be. Besides, Gore Verbinksi already did a great western. It was called Rango.


Review Roundup - Would you care to step outside?


So I will go ahead and say it, Christopher Reeve is still Superman... but I didn't hate this. Something of a sticking point for some, but the ridiculously overblown violence, collateral damage and this kinda angsty version of the character isn't so bad despite me expecting the worst. You see Superman Returns is kind of a dud in reality and after the buzz of hearing John Williams blasting at me again had worn off, it just felt like a big lazy rehash of the 1978 movie that didn't add anything of it's own besides some questionable plot threads that will never be continued and some weird secondary casting choices. So this is something different at least on some levels, and the real problems are the writing rather than the darker outlook.

Darker, grittier, more intense? It seems like a mantra for many reboots and sequels particularly in this genre. After the latest Batman outings it was a predictable road map to where this would be heading with producers and writers reuniting, and things definitely hit that tone here. The mood is engaging for the most part, and the mix of flashbacks, action beats and space drama keeps things moving with a moderate pace. It does feel a little derivative at times of recent sci-fi concepts, particularly the Bioware Mass Effect series or some moments in the Star Trek reboot. The more detailed look does add that expected level eye candy at least, even when some of the effects don't hold up in every scene. The big action moments are pretty ludicrous at times, but I found them entertaining. It's fun to see superhuman abilities done with new technology, and despite the overblown violence I didn't feel it detracted so much from the story. The much talked about final moment in the last battle didn't appall me and offered more of a look at making impossible decisions. Unfortunately the script cuts the moment short and things move along to fast, the dialogue doesn't provide any kind of thoughts on what is taking place - as I will get to.

The cast is filled out pretty well, though without any particularly stand out performances. Cavill has his moments, he certainly looks the part - and Shannon does his stuff, but it's hardly Take Shelter. My issue is the writing here which doesn't provide the big character moments to balance the big spectacle. There isn't enough real discourse - Superman at one point literally says "I'm gonna stop you" without debate or flair. Charisma and banter has been dropped - the verbal sparring is lost to the hulk smashing, and ultimately I think there's a missed opportunity. Perhaps it's not the done thing now but I still prefer the comic tone of those Otisburg moments and kind of hammy "diseased maniac" villain scenes which have more flavour. Surely there's still room for that kind of thing in some guise? They've set things up for a new take on some of these ideas, but who knows if they can expand on them properly in the future. It's certainly a step up from the flat and hollow photocopies of 300 or Watchmen at any rate.


Review Roundup - Clash of the titans


I like Guillermo Del Toro. His work generally has a nice feeling to it, that mix of horror and beauty - a creepy magic that fills the stories with a certain atmosphere of melancholy and brings a little more to the stock genres of fairy tales, vampires or ghosts than you might expect. He also does films in English sometimes. I don't mean to be harsh, as the enthusiasm for crafting this stuff is clearly on show, and they are pretty good - but something gets lost when you move from Pan's Labyrinth to Hellboy. I really enjoy the trade paperbacks you can get of Mike Mignola's anti-hero, the art and writing seems simple at first but has a lot of depth, and the characters are done well with a subtle sense of humour. On film it becomes a teen drama about girlfriend issues, the implications of bearing the weight of doomsday are swapped out for hollywood cliches and corny lines. So you understand I went into Pacific Rim with some anxiety.

I will say it's an enjoyable ride, even if it's ironically light weight. The Kaiju genre is rarely something that can be taken seriously outside the original Godzilla's anti war themes, and this doesn't change that. So while the works of Honda and Harryhausen are openly credited, it doesn't try and provide much in the way of depth. It's all very underwritten, which isn't helped by the leads being so flat and the supporting cast being a mix of military leader archetypes and what are basically cartoon characters. At times I wished that the main characters were swapped out for the father and daughter-esque story to be at the centre instead of the typical overcoming the odds stuff. It's a strange mixture at times, I'd have liked some real charisma to off set the giant battle sequences.

Those scenes are well handled with little in the way of flash cutting and shaky cam so you can see the impact of punches and focus on things, though the effects are not as impressive as you'd expect. I mentioned Hellboy before; it's sequel had more eye poppings moments including practical creatures that were more exciting. It's not helped that the monster fights are a little samey after a while - lots of night time, lots of sea water. A flashback showing what was effectively a child running from a gigantic crustacean hinted at something different in tone but was cut short. Similarly, daytime battles are seen in news footage and not given a proper showing off. Also the action peaks too early during the mid movie battle as the underdogs get their first victory and the inventiveness of the fighting increases rapidly. Makeshift weapons are used and new creature tactics are introduced - but the finale isn't as fun and feels slower and less creative. It's also weird that slow firing weapons are used so much instead of the super effective bladed ones, or that no military forces support the Jaeger pilots.

My closing thoughts were that it needed to be darker. The two people required to control each half of a huge robot brain is interesting, but the effects of damage to the pilot and the impact of being in someone elses head simply isn't explored enough. It's also set in a world of war propaganda and post apocalyptic scenery, as it's set decades after the first creatures arrived - but only small glimpses are shown. Perhaps a sequel can bring this to the table? It's not clear if that will even happen. I think this comes off as overly critical, and after all it's refreshing to see something like this done with some passion. It's very lacking in certain areas, but honestly it's fun enough and refreshingly lacks the sleaze of Michael Bay, which is a big plus.


Review Roundup - Knives out


So X-Men Origins: Wolverine is... a low point both on the series and movies in general to me. After so much focus on the character during the previous X-films, finally they could get down to business and show all that troubled history. Surely a gold mine of interesting stuff? Instead what happened is like a straight to video trainwreck of poor CG, poor characters and all round cartoon nonsense. I seriously expected it to kill the franchise at the time. As it happens, they appeared to scrap the "origins" tag and re-purposed their Magneto movie into First Class which was pretty entertaining if not up to the standards of the original two. At least it bettered the third installment. Could they do the same with Huge Action's solo outings? Is it a good time or another mess? Well kind of both I guess.

Firstly, as a comic spectacle movie the set pieces are entertaining enough. There's a funeral shoot out, a train top scene, a sword fight, and a really stupid robot showdown. Irritatingly, there's a trailer sequence that has been cut (ha) involving ninjas which means paying extra for the extended 3D home release if you want to see it. As is stands though, the action is all fairly well done and never feels stale with Wolvie's one trick powers. Outside the expected amount of stabbing and punching though things fare less well. It falls into travelogue territory on a few occasions - Oh look Pachinko! Love hotels! Which I guess might be novel to some but feels a little unnecessary even if I didn't mind it that much as they wheel out the Bullet Train and tattooed Yakuza thugs. The characterisation isn't too bad for this kind of thing and at least they took some time to include a few quieter moments, despite referencing The Last Stand once too often. The supporting cast are a mixed bag, so while sidekick Yukio is fun she gets sidelined a lot so we can have a (weak and forced) romantic interest that doesn't work, several side characters working for / against the villians whose intentions are unclear, and worst of all a mutant called Viper who serves no purpose they couldn't have just given to anyone else, besides looking extra stupid in the third act. She should just have been dropped from the script.

On that subject, the plot is the weakest aspect here. Early on there was a chance for the bad guys to get exactly what they wanted while Logan slept at their house and instead of course let him walk off and go on the rampage for the next hour of film. It should have been rethought or at least have them make a failed attempt to explain it. I understand it's a critical error by most villains, but it stands out here as they do a predictable reveal in the finale. The objectives of the bad guys and their methods are pretty ridiculous, and as I mentioned the minor characters aren't explained enough either. There are some other things here and there such as Logan being able to remember the 1940s just because the plot needed a flashback, and the idea of his powers being weakened or removed doesn't seem like a technology that would ever be one-off in this world. Still I was entertained enough and didn't get a headache so it gets a pass, even when it's not the best at what it does.


Review Roundup - Dying Inside


Die Hard still stands as a solid example of raising the material of an 80s action flick to something a little higher, showing a little more humanity and character than is usually brought to the screen in those days. It's also one of those films that probably should never have had any sequels. The second is probably more entertaining than I should admit but is not a great movie by anyone's standards, and the third is pretty solid despite still having weak plot devices and too many messy third act moments. The last entry was pretty basic modern day thriller stuff... it hit enough of the right notes to keep me interested at the time but isn't really much of anything on rewatching now. It's made well enough to be inoffensive overall, but it's very forgettable. So... if the last one represents the impotent, slightly hard of hearing stage in the series life cycle then this has got to be the incontinent, mentally questionable part. 

It blunders its way through poorly done teal and orange action set pieces to ridiculous Chernobyl conspiracy nonsense in just over 90 minutes; and almost every aspect feels lacking. The opening car chase is so overblown with distracting levels of collateral damage (vehicle collisions look mis-timed and practical stunts are cartoonish). But at the same time this is the high point, as later shoot outs with one dimensional goons in the place of proper villains just feel noisy and flat. 

It gets worse as CG helicopters and slow motion glass breaking sequences are added in place of real style or excitement by a film maker without any apparent skill whatsoever. It's poor on basically every level, right down to the basics. Even the standard Die Hard double crossing bait and switch moment feels so inconsequential when the players are so thinly drawn and the motivations of every character seem to be missing key elements. Nothing has any weight as nearly ever actor looks uninterested and bored, much like myself. There are a couple of Father - Son exchanges shoe horned in but they fail to have any impact when everything going on is so incoherent and frustrating. Don't even get me started on how stupid the finale is when disused nuclear reactors get wheeled out in some misguided attempt to bring gravity to the storyline.

Bruce Willis here looks and sounds tired, and despite admitting as much when talking about his film choices recently, he keeps appearing in brainless movies like this and the Expendables series. I'm guessing it has to be a quick buck to keep things ticking over but I'd prefer to see more of him in the likes of Looper and Moonrise Kingdom where there was some depth and personality to be mined. There's definitely some energy left there but it's not to be found in this franchise. They'd better call the next one Die Hardest, or preferably just not come back at all.


Review Roundup - Mind heist

TRANCE (2013)

The latest outing from Danny Boyle offered a reasonable level of intrigue, so despite the clichéd amnesia story trappings being mixed with the other clichés of the inner city crime thriller, I thought it could be worth a shot. During an inside job art heist, the protagonist gets a minor brain injury and is left to figure out where the painting his associates want has gone before they assign him as the guilty party. There may be an answer in alternative therapy, and so hypnosis is employed to delve into the damaged mind. Things get more complex for him, his employer; and the therapist involved, as fragments of the past come together and it begins to seem as though all is not as it appears. See, it sounds familiar already.

Ultimately it's not as trippy as I was hoping for despite a few sequences within the mind or a visual interpretation of it, but the plot does move along at a reasonable pace as things get messy and their methods of getting the information required become more personal. It's surprisingly grim in a number of scenes, with a couple of grisly moments during the third act, during both real world and hypnosis sessions. 

On the downside the narrative is intentionally fragmented as you might expect, which isn't a big deal in itself, but it depends far too much on the payoffs at the end to provide weight to scenes that happen in the earlier parts of the story. It leaves me feeling a bit uninterested early on, despite some decent casting it takes too long to have real any gravity with things piling up in the finale rather than being evenly paced. Along with that, the whole who is stabbing who in the back style plot starts to feel a bit silly as everybody becomes interconnected, and it kind of drains any sympathy for these characters when in the end they all come across as morally empty. 

I've no idea if the 2001 television adaptation of this story did it any better. It was probably less high tech looking; and I could have done without so many tablet computers being shown, which seemed like an odd way of doing reveals where they should have used something that isn't so distracting. As a side, the electronic soundtrack does a good job of keeping the mood both relaxed and sinister when required, and the visual style is pretty good with a lot of high contrast city lights and lighter, dreamier moments. A trip that could be worth taking if it sounds like you kind of thing, despite there being perhaps one twist too many.


Review Roundup - Loose ends


Dodgy makeup and even dodgier accents are par for the course in this fantasy / sci-fi mashup from a variety of film makers, in which the idea of intertwined lives and echoes through time are explored through the Victorian naval era to the post apocalyptic future. Or are they? I will get to that in a moment. Different time periods and genres clash, and a number of different stories come together in some way or another.

On the whole the segments in the anthology are well done. It's a nice looking film during any of periods shown, and each story had things that were likeable, gripping or just simply entertaining. There are various threads about struggles which the characters face, be it illness, bigotry, hit men, cannibals or nursing home staff. I quite enjoyed the latter which was contained in the lightest story in the collection. The fight for freedom is a recurring theme in several different guises. There are a lot of characters to process as they deal with these situations, with a few likeable heroes and some fairly despicable irritants. Though the events have stronger thematic links more than any direct narrative ones. At the moment I am undecided on how effective that is to the story on the whole.

Beyond the writing, there are a lot of different dramatic moments, some effective chases and action beats; and one or two grisly thriller scenes. Though saying that I felt it was drawn out at times, despite all this material to cover it would have helped the pacing to trim back a few things. It's to their credit that each era feels very separate from the others, with washed out 70s sequences paired with neon sci-fi cities and earthy far future tribal scenes. On the subject of visuals, characters are done by the same core cast mixed up throughout the run time, and it's an interesting idea they are perhaps linked by some sort of past life experiences... even if the makeup to achieve this is rather hit and miss. The score is mostly understated and intimate, which is an appropriate link to the title of the film which is taken from a piece of music written during one of the chapters. I have to add however that it was very distracting to have to process some odd dialects being spoken as the cast try different characters. In a number of places they were unconvincing and others are purposely jumbled to represent speech after the fall of civilization.

My main issue (outside the far future decay of spoken language) was that it seemed to all be heading somewhere, a big moment or revelation that would hit me like a truck and make everything fit together. But it doesn't arrive. The threads are tied in to each other by smaller moments, some that work; others seem a bit inconsequential. One man's life story spurs on rebellion in another generation, while other characters simply happen across elements from the earlier periods in letters or journals. Some of the cast seem to be reborn as the same morally lacking people as they had been before, while others don't have any obvious pattern. I had to think about who was where, and what connections there were, if any. I have to recommend the trip though, it should provide some level of debate at least. It's been labelled as polarizing, but I am happy to just be on the middle ground on this one.


Review Roundup - Lesson number three

IRON MAN 3 (2013)

When I was young we used to watch the Marvel Action Hour on TV. The memories are pretty fuzzy, but besides those moments when the Fantastic Four went up against Galactus, the main thing that stuck was simply how cool the idea of Iron Man was to me. So I was pleased that the original movie outing pushed the right buttons, but the sequel left a bad taste. It's grown a little more on me since, but still misses the mark. So to nobodies surprise, this is an easy improvement on Iron Man 2. Despite liking the cast, and thinking Sam Rockwell and Mickey Rourke were great additions, it just wasn't a good enough follow up thanks to messy plot points and worst of all - anti-climactic set pieces. Here we get a more focused story, though the running time feels too long. Looking into the deleted scenes a lot was already trimmed; perhaps they should have gone further. Also on the downside, despite a better plot the motivation of the villains is a little unclear, and I think my major complaint has to be throwaway lines being used to explain major points, particularly towards the end.

The action is fun and inventive, and honestly the best parts are probably the scenes without the armour. Or at one point, just parts of it. There seem to be complaints that Tony Stark is in this too much without the suit, but I felt there was a good balance and having him need to use his wits to escape and having to improvise was a great choice. There is an excessive robotic showdown at the end, but it's got enough variety in the battle, and the big bad and his minions are used in ways that mean it's more fun to see that just a repeat of the finale in the original movie. The big trailer selling points of a plane crash and a helicopter attack are also very well done. They also add a few new technological advances to keep the man in a can idea fresh, adding to the visual fun and the action beats in new ways.

Onto the subject of bad guys, there has been a lot of debate on the Mandarin, and how that turns out in the events of the film. I didn't mind it that much but to avoid going into too much detail will just say it wasn't that unexpected and was far more amusing that irritating. I can see why it was done but can easily see why this caused all the fan rage. Everyone else has their moments, and again the cast is likeable with Guy Pearce being a good addition. The others are as good as in the previous two movies, and the character banter is done well. It is a darker entry to the series, but in other places has a lot of humour which stops it becoming too one note. As I said the film length is an issue, but imagine it's because of the way the cast plays off each other and how much their improv may have stretched out the scenes. There's a dreaded child actor moment which appears in the mid section, but thankfully doesn't outstay it's welcome even if personally that's where it could have done with some more cuts in the editing room.

In the end it boils down to how good the characters are and not how much CGI they throw about, so there I put it about equal with part one, in places higher but neither has huge amounts of depth in a serious way. I think this pulls enough new ideas to make it a more human story, and helps me forget the basement particle accelerator moments in part 2. The first still edges it because of a simpler plot and that original arc. Here Tony's relationship issues have some closure, and though there are some PTSD anxiety attack moments that don't seem to get enough explanation, it's an interesting weakness to include so I can give it a pass. Perhaps almost dying in a vacuum and seeing aliens invade would do that. Overall it rounds them off as a set, and I can see Iron Man becoming an Avengers supporting team member in future appearances, rather than being in another sequel - I guess time and profits will tell. 


Review Roundup - Into incoherence


First things first, well this is certainly a fantastic looking film. The art department has created some amazing stuff, the opening on an alien world is eye popping, the set pieces are all pretty spectacular and the general look is full of great visuals and designs. There are a number of fun, kinetic sequences. Some of the characters are well done, and the cast works well together for the most part. Unfortunately the rest of it is kind of messy, and it comes off as a "too many cooks" effort with far too many ideas thrown in and everything on screen all at once becoming bigger than just the visual effects. There is misplaced fan service, unnecessarily overblown schemes, and not enough focus on character where matters.

The underlying problem is that whoever wrote this needs to be sent to Rura Penthe, and looking at the credits it's a mix of Transformers 2 and Prometheus - not a magic combination. They had three people working on this, and maybe that's the problem. It's kind of a shame to see them waste all of the budget like this when there is clearly talent on the production. While it's not an offensive Transformers type money burning disaster (headache inducing car crash cinema in more than one way) the material here is still mostly useless with some very odd story choices that add nothing to the overall plot while revisiting arcs we've already seen in the previous movie. It's a compelling series of scenes and action beats, and it never feels boring, but rather than building up from their rebooted universe with a strong script it's like they were trying to link each set piece together retrospectively or kept adding extra moments to an earlier, less cluttered plot.

The 2009 effort wasn't exactly a great movie from a writing perspective either (it falls over itself in the third act several times) but it was at least mostly coherent; it was simpler and worked way better as a character piece even when they seem to be very overdone and almost cartoon like at times. Some of the cast are good as I have said, but others seem to fall quickly into the "give them something to do" category rather than being written with more practical roles in mind to suit their rank or position. McCoy seems to be sidelined in particular. Others are still miscast as they were the first time (Chekov, Scotty - sorry fans) but I liked the villains even when certain elements have been thrown in without any real thought to them... I won't go into spoiler material here. The trailers are pretty misleading but none of the twists are very satisfying or ultimately effective in a meaningful way. Revenge stories are far to easy and get used way too often.

In the end the exciting battles, chases and shoot outs are pointless without anything underpinning them as a framework to tell the story. A recent poll voted this worst ever Star Trek film, and while I don't agree it's not a great entry and they need to put some real effort into the next one to give it some meat, some depth and some gravity. With another commercial success on their hands, it's hard to say if that will ever happen. I was entertained, but not much else.


Review Roundup - Wasteland


This is a tough one as it has all the hallmarks of something that should come together nicely. But the resulting movie is something I have a near total lack of enthusiasm for. The electronic music group M83 is on board to do a score, sci-fi artist Andree Wallin is involved to create some neat concepts, and the director is fresh from Tron Legacy to improve on his work.

On paper it sounds like a good plan right. But it was not to be. Joseph Kosinkis's last film had a lot going for it but kind of hit that weird middle ground between classy popcorn thrill ride and slick but hollow spectacle. This on the other hand is somehow even more less involving than CLU's disco world which had more overall entertainment value.

Review roundup - getting old and growing up


In a period where it seems as though all the heroes of old are coming back for another screen outing, it's not a big surprise that Arnold tries his hand at doing the one man army act one more time. The less than successful Expendables movies had a handful of incoherent cameos from the Austrian Oak, but overall felt like they were aiming for some modern demographic instead of delivering the oldschool action vibes I wanted. This had to be better, right? Unfortunately the mix of what should have been a fresh approach with 80s action moments ends up as muddled and inconsistent as the tone veers from serious crime drama where Forest Whitaker frowns and shouts orders, to complete schlock in which people are exploded and one liners are spewed.

The movie I wanted to see involved Arnie and Peter Stormare shouting incomprehensible dialogue at each other while faceless mooks get blown away, but despite the latter's best attempts (seriously what was the accent? Sweden or Texas? Does he know this is all terrible?) it barely has 10 minutes worth of that expected goofy action. The scenes of melodrama and FBI seriousness just take up too much time, and interchangeable agents and boring townsfolk get far too much to say. Director Kim Ji-woon's The Good the Bad the Weird had a similar problem to a lesser extent, deciding if it wanted to be wacky or straight faced, and this time the struggle and indecision of choosing genre have a bigger impact. This is the kind of movie where a sidekick character finds a morning star in a museum while loading up for the showdown, and never uses it. It's just the wrong kind of rule breaking.


LIFE OF PI (2012)

The plot hook of a kid in a lifeboat with zoo animals for company is what got me interested in seeing this, and the parts where that takes place - that middle section where the craziness and survival scenes play out - delivers that in spades, with plenty of amazing visuals and impressive effects work for good measure. The blend of staying alive drama, surreal travel scenes and dream like fantasy moments as the boy Pi (long story) and the tiger Richard Parker (yeah) cross the Atlantic are very well done. How would you live like this? Is this all imagined? How many times will he curse God until his beliefs reach breaking point? How many times has he shouted Richard Parker? These kind of questions are what drew me in. The rest of the journey is less effective which is a shame, but has it's moments - and the themes of faith and which parts of life should be taken at face value are fairly engaging for the most part despite a slow start.

My major issues here are due to the structure - getting interested in the struggle of the boat occupants is the strongest element, but the way it takes place comes along too slowly and having bookend narration with our protagonist explaining things to a journalist in the present day just kills the atmosphere. Particularly near the end as the voyage had become more absorbing. It pulled me out of the story and standard narration, if any at all, would have been simpler and more effective. Overall the trip is worth taking but I felt these disappointing elements are a bigger problem that I'd have expected from all the awards buzz this generated.


Review Roundup - Fun and games


So after using all those Morricone tracks in his past movies, and declaring "The Good, The Bad..." the perfect movie (as top picks go, I admit it's a nice choice) - Quentin Tarantino finally gets around to making a Western of his own. It's a blood splattered, pseudo-history epic bordering on pastiche in some places (as you might have expected after his last venture into the 2nd World War) and is full of great performances and slick musical choices for the most part, again no shocks there. Surprisingly, the locations being used are also given their share of screen time too, making for some spectacular vista moments. I really like the film's look, a world apart from the grimy, almost one room theatre of Reservoir Dogs. The action is handled well with plenty of good practical effects, and it's an engrossing movie experience overall despite one or two things that stall the pacing during the final act.

The meat of the story is of course a revenge drama, as our protagonists team up for love and justice. They take down the bad guys (either bounty kills or simply irredeemably awful people) on their way to rescue the title characters wife. In an interesting contrast, the horrors of trading human lives as animal stock for entertainment or labour are played completely straight - against the almost ridiculous level of bullet impacts which start when the villains begin taking hits in the inevitable shoot outs you'd expect from the genre in question. Where the opening scenes of Inglourious Basterds ramped up the real word tension and harrowing consequences of an SS questioning, here the subject matter is laid bare in a great deal more scenes. While it's a relief they are handled with seriousness, at the same time is difficult to sit through. But rightly so.

This is not to say we're getting a humourless drama - much of the story is fine entertainment thanks to the characters and script. The cast is all very strong whether we are rooting for them as saviours or loathing them as grotesque slavers and wanted criminals. Some may be veering into caricature territory at times, but as antagonists they are still entirely unlikeable. The dinner table discussion of race inferiority might be memorable as a sequence and a great performance moment, but the points being offered are only ever vile. Of course the main focus driving the story is Django and Schultz who make for a great duo, the latter deserving the praise and awards which have been bestowed on him. Even so, I doubt it will be converting any new Tarantino fans thanks to the violence levels but it's still recommended as an engaging, well made piece of cinema.   



Disney's interest in videogames over time hasn't exactly been high caliber, however many cult fans of TRON there might be (both new and old have their moments but never hooked me entirely) so it was with a raised eyebrow I approached their latest animated feature, particularly after seeing that easter egg packed trailer full of classic gaming icons. As animation goes, the unexceptional but eye pleasing style seen in Tangled seems to have been the thrust of things in the design department (outside of the existing work of game artists) which isn't a massive issue in itself. It's just a shame that while the intrigue of the opening hook lasts for the first act, I was hoping something fresh to follow it. Later into the adventure it turns out that the less interesting design work is complimented by a fairly typical family adventure plot, and the predictable elements that those usually include soon follow suit. 

The premise is simple enough, but this proves to be a strength and ultimately the weakest element of the story. Sitting atop a smashed apartment block, as a kind of Donkey-Kong or Rampage style villain, our titular residential menace is having a personal crisis after 30 years of being defeated by coin using gamers. Setting out to change his life and get the respect of a hero, the whole world and history of the videogame is set ahead of him - in a convenient tube station linking all the machines and their characters within the arcade that they are hooked into.

Ultimately though after a fun trip into a modern day sci-fi shooter (when did games get so violent?) things get bogged down way too much in the standard stuff - hero's journey to find his place, a cute unlikely romance sub plot and an outcast's chance at being part of the clique. This could have been worked around, but the problem is that the limitless possibilities offered by "game-hopping" are squandered by having all this take place in a single candy themed race track world, something that after a while feels like it could be part of any animated feature. Despite the Mario Kart vibe it suggests, most of it just comes across as a typical fantasy kingdom setting full of wacky minions and bright colours while anything Namco and Sega might have offered is sidelined. The idea of using all those years of game history, all those genres - it never materialises. Villains are revealed, tables are turned and character arcs are completed - it's just so by the numbers after such potential is built up at the start.

In the end it's a likeable, but forgettable trip that could have had so much variety considering who we meet in AA meeting style opener. Perhaps something Pixar might have handled with more finesse. Maybe it just wasn't possible with all those licenses and such a trim film length - but I guess it might just be the balance of audiences they were aiming at, a combination of arcade fans and younger film goers is probably a tricky balance and ultimately I couldn't love the resulting mix.


Review Roundup - Totally expected schlock

LOCKOUT (2012)

You know when you hear a premise, and what you think of is almost exactly what you get? It's a strange blend of satisfaction and at the same time the lack of surprises drag you down a little. So when they say this is where Guy Pearce is forced by Peter Stormare to go on a rescue in a space prison, it's no shocker when the result is a low grade adventure where the characters talk in sound bites at each other. Evil thugs, back stabbing corporate suits, a smoking anti-hero, it's all stock material. That's not to say the results aren't mostly pleasing in some way or another - some of the quips are pretty fun and our hero Snow (just Snow) does the whole trash talking and frowning act pretty well.

It offers a reasonable b-movie ride, and for your time you get a few silly sci-fi moments, some action, a pair of Scottish convicts and couple of really bad cheap CG sequences. The comic style characters work for their purpose, the future technology is given a couple of neat moments, and the art direction is fairly nice considering the low budget setting. Just don't expect any kind of moral discussion about the actual prison itself and how the inmates are being stored in deep freeze in orbit away from society, as they quickly give up on it after a brief mention early in; despite the promise of some deeper plot about using them as data for new space travel methods. That's not the film you're getting.

I have time for schlock when it ticks the right boxes and doesn't go too far on sleaze or stupidity. Most of the time here it does all that stuff well enough to keep the momentum going, so it's a shame when the finale falls short on anticipated action beats, and throws in moments that try to be less simplistic than it has been until there as the story unravels into some unnecessary tangents. The one dimensional aspects are what kept it easy to follow and best of all stop you thinking about what a big anti-climax it all came to in the last few scenes (and how much had been taken from Escape From New York). Compacting the issues right at the close left me wishing they'd just have gone with a more clichéd ending. Which is just madness considering the rest of the film, but an easy show down without the extra sub plot would have suited me fine. Break some heads, save the girl, easy. But no... it actually feels like something was lost on the cutting room floor in a few places. That being said the ride is mostly what you'd expect, so if you feel throwaway entertainment it could be worth a shot. Fire and forget.



Speaking of getting what you expect, remember that announcement they'd be doing a trilogy based on well loved children's book The Hobbit instead of a two part adventure? I thought this was very strange considering the source material, what are they going to squeeze into another 2 hours or more? There's a beautifully illustrated comic that did it very well and some great audio books after all. That sinking feeling followed me into the movie itself unfortunately, where the easy going treasure hunt plot has been expanded a great deal to include epic battle prologues, plus a lot of extra characters, melodrama and fantasy violence. Some of it's to be expected from the makers of Brain Dead, but other things I can't rationalise.

The tone of The Lord of The Rings series was something I could credit the makers for - there were a few silly comic relief bits here and there and some strange inclusions I guess to cover that lowest common denominator mindset (looking at you Lighthouse of Doom) but the desaturated, earthy texture and overall mood was for the most part well realised. Trimming the material to fit a cinematic pace worked much of the time, and they stand up after all these years as high points in fantasy film. As if there's a lot of competition. Here it's as I'd imagined after hearing they'd be editing together a third chapter for what is a much shorter story - a lot of extra things have been thrown in to fill the run time (which is still pretty lengthy) and where previously the action beats and character moments had kept the Fellowship moving along, the characters seem to get bogged down and side tracked once to often. Many of these things are details and sub-plots relevant to the overall world... but whoever thought bringing them up here makes for a compelling story needs their head examined, and it makes no sense to add so many grim and sombre moments to what is a colourful, straightforward tale after all - it's supposed to be all songs and talking beasts.

It could be what's perceived as audience expectation coming into a prequel at this late stage, is the scale demanded now? Or maybe this is just the kind of extravagance that comes with success. Either way I didn't see why extra wizards, extra race relation stresses and extra dismembered heads needed to be added to the proceedings. I appreciate they need to have arcs where rifts between characters are created and resolved, but the whole Elves and Dwarves tension idea doesn't need repeating, not in this story, and the idea Bilbo is a risk or a burden to the journey comes up once too often. Bringing things like this up as well as being distracted by outside plots and back story moments feels slightly artificial. The way it fluctuates from light moments to the darker material simply doesn't make for good pacing, and instead it drags during one scene and explodes with goblins in another. 

Speaking of which - I did enjoy most of the overblown action despite the lack of practical creatures, and many of the characters are fun and performed well by staples of theatre and television, both new and returning. The highlights of Gollum's cave towards the end and Bilbo's gate crashers early in made for some great moments of both drama and fun. As expected there are some rousing quest themes and a lot of nice fantasy design work to be seen, if that's your kind of thing. It's just strange to think when some viewers had a problem with ending the last three with so many subsequent epilogues, here things take forever to get moving - more than once. On top of this several characters don't even get speaking parts in this chapter, despite the run time being this excessive. Things don't add up, and it's a shame that in the end this is the overall feeling I was left with despite finding much of it entertaining. I think I will revisit that adaptation with the David Wenzel artwork in the meantime and so should you.


Short Film Safari - Minty is the Law

Review Roundup - You Know the Name...

SKYFALL (2012)

James Bond is back, what a shocker. I enjoyed nearly everything they did with Casino Royale which still holds up as a really edge of your seat action adventure, with just enough hints of characterisation to keep me involved. The set pieces and the score also helped a lot. What keeps me watching in this sort of thing however is the pacing of events and the staging of the action. The badly thought out sequel in the other hand took things in totally the wrong direction with all the shaky cam rubbish. Someone was desperate to remain relevant and ape the likes of Jason Bourne. But they're back again to give it another shot. The reactionary nature of this series is well documented, is this a return to form or at least an improvement?

Review Roundup - It's about time...

LOOPER (2012)

Rian Johnson's ultra stylish time travel thriller almost lives up to the positive buzz, thanks to some great performances all round and some nifty near-but-not-quite here yet future ideas that nicely realise the world without going overboard on visual effects.

Review Roundup - Kaneda??


A director like Danny Boyle venturing back into to the creepy stuff is always good news. His more human films are often excellent, but I do have a thing for horror and suspense when they're done well. Throw in some science fiction style exploration, some existential dread and a few set pieces involving the vacuum of space and I'm good to go.

Scores Explained


While ten star ratings do admittedly offer some nuance, they often confuse me. How much worse than nine is eight? Is everything below six worthless? How far from five stops being average? There's just too much going on and I don't like it. I don't like change. Admittedly there are many levels that need to be expressed at times, but they're usually levels of bad. Which has of course been required when writing elsewhere and I really had to distinguish a three from a four out of ten.

But here I try and stick to using a simple five points rating, from great ... to irate. These are basically satisfaction ratings so don't expect one particular three star movie to be comparable to another in a straight up way. Things that work in one instance may not in another, and a mid tier action film and a mid tier drama have to work in their own right and inside their own genre. There are many factors to consider, these are simply how satisfied I felt at the end of the day when considering the overall pros and cons.

5/5 ☆☆☆☆
Flawless victory? Well nothing's perfect. Except when they are. It's a big personal preference, and this is a rare score given to those movies which give me a certain vibe or a particular feeling. Something that really strikes a nerve and leaves a mark. Often they are films that I have seen many times before and have grown to this status with time, but every so often one will come along. A rare score from me. Platinum medal.

4/5 ☆☆☆☆
A good movie and a standard recommendation. Some flaws may be present but they can be overlooked as it's still a satisfying experience overall. Very entertaining, or engaging. No anticlimaxes or weak acts during the narrative unless they're very minor. Whether or not I would consider watching it multiple times is another question but there are qualities here to be considered. Gold medal.

3/5 ☆☆
Disappointing in some ways but still okay. A story that falls down due to notable flaws but isn't a total train wreck. Has some good points to talk about but is never brilliant except perhaps in short bursts. Perhaps watchable or even something I like to revisit frequently but never excellent outside a few memorable moments. Perhaps one element spoils the fun or it's just not exceptional overall. This is where things get sketchy and an average acceptable film can get the same score as a mild let down. Silver medal.

2/5 ☆☆
Below average with big flaws that detract from the film. There may be things I like but they're not enough to win me over. Often a big failure to capitalise on certain elements in what might have been a good idea but was poorly executed. Perhaps the pieces are all here but they've been scattered rendering them almost useless. Not rock bottom but doesn't go anywhere towards being watchable either. A failure to be consistently interesting or a film that just becomes boring outside a few scenes. Bronze medal.

Utterly useless, or truly annoying. The good points are barely visible or are totally overshadowed; it's just sunk by too many holes. Incredibly disappointing or tedious. Sometimes simple movie making incompetence is shown, but it may be very dull or very irritating. Maybe both. Tin medal.