Review Roundup - You know the name...

SKYFALL (2012)

To no ones surprise, James Bond has returned. 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, great set pieces and a nice score. What keeps me watching however is the pacing of events and staging of the action on top of that. The badly thought out sequel took things in totally the wrong direction with shaky cam gibberish and zero personality, so I was set for a return to form or at least a vast improvement - after all, the reactionary nature of this series is well documented. So yes Skyfall does a lot right and moves away from that in spades, but while there's a lot of this I like... it felt as though the structure was all over the place.

Here they seem to want all the serious drama, all the heavy moral issues, and then at the same time mix that up with the older school stuff like a Goldfinger DB5 out of nowhere... they're going to throw in these pop references now after ignoring them for so long? Is this still a reboot before or are we pretending it's a continuation now? Were the last couple of Craig outings a starting point for the other 20 plus adventures and this is now a successor? If they wanted to get back to the roots why is the gun barrel at the end, like it's an embarrassing relic? This conflicted approach spoils things a bit, and I wish they'd just pick a side. There are great dramatic moments mixed with strange almost inappropriate quips, it's a little odd. That being said it still manages to celebrate 50 years with more finesse that what they did at 40 though, so let's not think about that one... the idea of CGI wave surfing alone makes me want to gag.

I mentioned the music in Casino Royale, and so one thing I have to mention here - I missed having a David Arnold soundtrack during the film's duration. After serving so well all this time, what's up with the music in this? I appreciate the director Sam Mendes wanted it to be scored by his old time collaborator, but it feels like those older ones where you realise John Barry wasn't available and a disco Bond theme starts playing. Some of it doesn't even fit what is happening on screen, and to make things worse they borrow cues from Casino Royale and throw them in at odd places. Like the tone, the mix of orchestra and electronica doesn't gel. I have to admit the Adele theme itself works better than I originally thought at least after hearing it initially, and the film sound mix gives it a boost that tinny radio broadcasts lack. The intro is pretty slick alongside it, but I guess stylish CG credits sequences are a given at this point. It gets points for the striking imagery though, more death and less kitsch is nice to see.

I guess the big positive is that I really liked Javier Bardem - it's hardly a revelation but good characters are something that are a total must here, and he was intense when required along with being suitably charismatic and campy at regular intervals. Besides, it's nice to see a memorable villain, and he does get the best scenes. What was shown of the Quantum rogue's gallery was so totally forgettable, who cared about that guy's water stealing plan? Nobody. In fact the same can be said of the whole thing, so let's gloss over that episode and move on. Here we have a thriller that manages to sit at that mid level of the series for me - despite being so well made it doesn't sit properly as a consistent thriller and never reaches the heights of the better entries to franchise that I'd say are my favourites. Despite the applauded cinematography looking very nice and the refreshing plot being at it's heart a simple vendetta for once, it's not a personal high point. Maybe it's all that unrealistic techno babble or the lack of impact events seem to have taken during the closing scenes but I just didn't get all the hype despite having a good time.


Review Roundup - Meanwhile in space...


So I finally got around to seeing the biggest movies of the last year. I put it off for a while in fear of losing some of the mystique held by the original Alien, but it doesn't really effect that in the long run. I also felt it could be a crushing disappointment, so I was anxious about that a the same time. This isn't the immense failure of writing and plot problems many had made out, but at the same time it does feel slightly pointless, a strange mixture of great wide landscape effects shots and unexpectedly hilarious b-movie splatter. Seriously, any part with tentacles made me laugh. Gross is not the same as horror. What you choose not to show or only suggest is often more impactive than throwing in a big creature effect. One stronger note is most of the art direction which is quite magnificent, and the use of real locations and practical designs work very well.

In contrast to the locales, the characters are mostly useless and flat - there's no Parker and Lambert to be found here unfortunately as they are mostly forgettable, expendable crew members. Even Rapace's lead character is just bland, and her accent is all over the place. Yes of course David 8 has his moments but it's still a strangely empty experience. With some much detail and texture in the scenery the human element feels distant at times - where are the characters?

Beyond this the main issue I have is that nobody seems understand how to structure a compelling series of events any more. Just pile in random scenes apparently. Just forget about that crazy octopus for a bit and move along, nobody seems to mind including the victim of the creature despite big quarantine procedures earlier on. Random cliché sexual tension from nowhere, ignore your lost crew for a bit and get laid. People with advanced mapping gadgets that can't provide them with directions. Characters with no clear motivation doing things here and there mysteriously or not caring that things are seriously wrong. Building up a long entrance to the alien pyramid to leave suddenly because of the weather. Creeping tension goes a long way in this genre, but it's ditched early on. Speaking of atmosphere building, the music is really weird in a few places, they have this heroic "discovery" type theme keeps playing at the wrong moments. It makes sense when the story starts out and is showing optimistic explorers but later on it seems very strange.

Though I said it's not quite the mess of writing it does have poor script and the story telling seems all over the place. I do think subtlety is a positive attribute of the picture, and avoiding obvious exposition is a nice change in blockbuster cinema. The "big questions" it raises are not the obvious ones though to me. Not to give anything away but I mean did they forget to spend any money on ageing Guy Pierce? Are they seriously going off on a buddy movie adventure like that at the end? I still enjoyed a lot of this overall, but it's hard to call it a classic in the way it's roots have become despite it once being a cheap monster flick called Star Beast, I imagine a lot of grief could have been avoided if they'd decided to avoid association with 1979 at all, but I wonder if the brand awareness was too tempting. Speaking of marketing perhaps an extended, better edited cut is in the pipeline, at this point it's uncertain but I'd be unsurprised.


Review Roundup - It's about time...

LOOPER (2012)

Original write up February '13

Rian's Johnson's ultra stylish time travel thriller almost lives up to the buzz, thanks to great performances all round (even from the dreaded child actor) and some cool near-but-not-quite future ideas that nicely realise the world without going overboard on effects. It's a recognisable cityscape, despite the eye dropper drugs and hover bikes. I liked how people have began to develop telekinetic powers from small mutations or evolutionary changes, and it just ends up disappointing everyone... these are small things that make it such a neat set-up.

But like I said adding such a good human element to all this is what makes the movie, and the two leads are really strong even if the effects to make it seem like they are the same person at different ages are quite distracting at times. It was a good idea, but little things you can't disguise with make-up like the proportions between someone's nose and lips throw it off the whole time.

So hitmen are hired in the near future to take out victims sent back in time from 30 years ahead of this, intrigue or unnecessary? I like the idea, and the narrative does a fair job of the reasoning for this. The idea about closing "loops" and killing your own aged self, less so. The film as a whole is a fun thrill ride, particularly the opening half which is incredibly slick and includes a great mixture of visual and musical elements - the standout scene is the main character's transition through the present into the future in a montage. Of course since he works for an organised crime group things soon go wrong for him and other characters, and this allows for some good chases and violent moments.

It's not perfect though, and the middle section drags a little once new plot developments come into play, without going into spoilers here. Despite a fresh feeling to the film, there are a few silly movie clichés dropped here and there (people randomly sleeping together because of expected gender interaction is one of my most eye-rolling tropes) and if you're thinking of it all as a Doc Brown diagram based version of time travel with timelines and diagrams, forget it now. If there was ever a crystalline idea for their version of cause and effect or fate versus change, it's been muddied or under explained. Still the overall film is a solid one and I am a big fan of these kinds of low budget sci-fi thrillers. The emotive drama being punctuated with some nice action sequences helps.


Review roundup - Your move creep...

DREDD (2012)

Original write up January '13

I was never a huge reader of 2000AD or comics generally as a kid - simply because I couldn't get hold of them often, but I did try to get my hands on them when at all possible be it through random issues sold in mid 90s newsagent shelves or as annuals and collections I found in local used book shops. This one was easily the favourite thanks to Judge Dredd's visual appearance, his world and the characterisation and they left their mark on my imagination, along with things like body recyclers, ugly fads (Get Ugly!) and riot foam. So after much personal anticipation as a fan both of the source and of this kind of sci-fi cinema, John Wagner's big chinned fascist finally gets a movie worth seeing, and more importantly includes the character he created.

Karl Urban impresses in the title role with a bare minimum of script, and gets a character he can call his own after smaller parts in the likes of The Lord of the Rings sequels, The Bourne Supremacy or even Star Trek. Despite me liking him in all of these, they were never his movies of course, so this changes that - and he does it without eyes. It's a dirty, grimy, ultra-violent film full of exploding limbs and flying gore, a nice new and old mix of the kinds of future visions we used to see from say Verhoeven and Carpenter. It's a shame the rating this gained the picture probably killed it at the box office, but a low marketing presence and the source material's lack of exposure internationally probably didn't help, and I don't think the push for 3D on this kind of budget did it any favours.

It's not for everyone of course, and saying so is perhaps quite an understatement. Dredd is a wonderful jerk, grimacing and sneering throughout the story, dishing out death and oh-so dry quips, the villains are an ugly, violent bunch and the tone of the movie is certainly no buddy cop adventure. No scenery chewing to be found, just thugs and lowlifes. Personally I like this adaptation a lot, and it's refreshing to see it as a kind of anti-thesis to say the Avengers movie earlier in the year. Cheap and not cheerful. And as for the plot, it's a simplistic story. Taking a rookie on board for a simple murder investigation, it soon turns out to be a lot more complicated but essentially boils down to shooting everyone they meet to get to the big bad at the top of a city sized tower building. It feels a little video gamey at times, right down to the bombastic synth score - but I can't complain much about that, it's pretty satisfying.

A few minor issues I felt were the lack of futuristic elements, a few added robots and hover wagons would have been nice even just as set dressing. And despite nailing the tone instantly, a gun is used to fire a bullet called hotshot in the opening chase. It's a great movie moment but it doesn't make much sense given it's comic rendition. That said the mostly useless 1995 attempt failed to bring the material to the screen besides looking the part thanks to (some of) the production design, so despite these qualms I am grateful that this really is Dredd on screen instead of a cheese and ham filled Stallone vehicle. This isn't the place for it. There is a lack of direct satire but it has a few touches, I like the grave yard headstone city landscape and the way Dredd's trainee Anderson actually becomes a cog in the system by the end despite kicking ass along the way. Innocence lost? Perhaps, it's an interesting idea. So besides some minor complaints the big shame in the end is that this won't get a sequel, but the DVD sales are looking strong enough to call it a future cult movie at least.


Review Roundup - Kaneda??


Danny Boyle venturing back into to creepy stuff is always nice, but this homage to the designs of 2001, Alien and even Event Horizon is pretty good even if that third act is a little out of nowhere initially. It gets less jarring with repeat views, though it's shame the scope of a cinema screen is lost now on home formats. The idea they can restart our Sun with nuclear bomb of some kind remains a little silly to me (where did they find enough material to make it?) but it's still an entertaining look at things going wrong in space, a nice genre for me.

The psychological aspects of the mission are touched on perhaps a little too lightly, but there are plenty of mission screw up tropes that get played out. It's an atmospheric thriller rather than one that goes into depth about the crew getting irritated with other as the mistakes pile up and the space madness grows. They do get a bit stir crazy before the critical mission errors, but I guess they'd be prepared for this kind of thing despite the on board shrink being flaky and the engineer having anger problems. Hardly the right stuff. The design work is pretty nice and the big vista shots are one of the high points, with the shield-ship and the space suits making for some really good images. The third act comes up with a few story turning points that could have been dealt with better but I figure that people fighting against someone that wants them to fail and deal with their natural fate is interesting enough. This is mostly a good time regardless of those weaker elements.


Short Film Safari - Yellow

With the impending trailer release for Elysium incoming pretty soon, I went back and took a look into a few of the director's older short films, which are still well worth seeing. This is probably the one I like best, and think would make a great feature if they ever expanded on the premise.

Short film Safari - Keloid

Admittedly there's not a lot here as it's mostly a trailer rather than a normal short, but it's still pretty impressive whatever it is exactly that's going on - there are no live action elements being used.

Review roundup - This is what you pay for...

Original writeup date - December '12 

HARDWARE (1990) 

Okay I have to say it - this was disappointing (sorry cult movie fans). I'm well accustomed to low budget b-thrillers and low rent science fiction fare. When done right they can be vastly better than the kinds of mass produced Hollywood popcorn fodder out there. So I was kind of exited to see they'd released this on a shiny new BD disc here, and was ready for some low grade acting and fun robot murder. It starts off well enough, there's some nice set work on show in the apocalyptic world they've devised (reading into this it's apparently based on the 2000AD Cursed Earth, which is a neat idea). Unfortunately it's mostly set inside a single apartment, and goes south as soon as the aforementioned killing machine gets activated. See it was looking good, the opening prologue has a lot of atmosphere as a junk trader collects machine pieces from a nuclear desert wasteland. There are great details of the dystopian setting hinted at in dialogue or on the radio being played. But when the action starts, it falls to pieces for me. 

The robot apparently can only see in body-heat vision, so instead of rampaging about the housing block spends long stretches of time just kind of hiding ... somewhere. Our hero, some kind of war-vet vanishes off into the building instead of rushing back when he deduces the robots purpose (seriously, what's taking him, isn't he downstairs?) and heroine, a shut-in junk artist; sits around in the dark sweating for most of the movie or hiding from the excessively slow moving robot. Exiting chase sequences, these are not. Unless they thought tension was going to be raised by long scenes of people pressing intercom buttons that apparently don't ever work, while the killbot behaves erratically and moves in and out of the dark. There are seriously odd choices made in the editing room here. There are cuts during the action to people sat playing chess. I appreciate the antagonist is a low budget model or puppet, but I spent a lot of time wondering what was going on here, confused and not entertained. Is this blasphemy to some? Perhaps. 


MOON (2009) 

Sam Rockwell stars in this effective drama, which I have to admit is difficult to talk about without going into spoilers, but it's seriously worth checking out. I will say this is very atmospheric and has some nice practical model work, refreshing to see these days. The influences of 2001: A Space Oddysey are worn on it's sleave, and there are hints of Alien and Silent Running here in the art direction and design work. 

In the future it seems that the moon is a source of clean
Hydrogen fuel harvested from the surface rocks (apparently this has some scientific basis) for use in nuclear fusion. So we find one lone astronaut is on an isolated 3 year contract to monitor the mostly automated base operations of a British-Korean energy conglomerate, helped only by the station AI for company (voiced by Kevin Spacey). Things are not all as they seem as you'd expect, shady business practices are soon uncovered and there is a lot of drama which unfolds as the plot goes on and our hero figures out how Lunar Industries does it's business. The isolationist themes and space madness type ideas have been done before, but are well played. I really like the performances and also the haunting soundtrack by Clint Mansell. What really sells it is Rockwell though, and so all these things combined make it one the best low key thrillers in recent years. 


Short Film Safari - The Gift

A short thriller set in futuristic Russia, The Gift has some impressive robotic effects and a neat premise that allows for a nice chase story to unfold while at the same time building a very atmospheric mood.

Short Film Safari - Metalosis Maligna

Don't worry, this isn't a real medical video. The tone is still slightly harrowing though, as it describes a fictitious condition you might find familiar if you ever read the manga series Akira or saw body horror movie Tetsuo: The Iron Man. The special effects are equally impressive as they are disturbing in some places.

Scores Explained


While 10 star ratings offer some nuance, they often confuse me. How much worse than 9 is 8? Is everything below 6 worthless? How far from 5 stops being average? There's just too much going on and I don't like it. Admittedly there are many levels that need to be expressed at times, usually levels of bad. I have of course got into them writing elsewhere. But here I use a simple five points rating, from great ... to irate. These are basically satisfaction ratings so don't expect one 3 star movie to be comparable to another in a straight up way since things that work in one instance may not in another. There are many factors, these are simply how satisfied I felt at the end within any given genre and considering the overall pros and cons.

5/5 ☆☆☆☆
Flawless victory? Well nothing's perfect, it's a big personal preference. This is a rare score given to those movies which give me a certain vibe, a particular feeling. Something that really strikes a nerve. Often they are thingsI have seen many times before that 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, a standard recommendation. Some flaws are present but they can be overlooked as it's still a satisfying experience. 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 train wreck. Has enough good points to talk about but is never brilliant except perhaps in short bursts. May be watchable or even something I like to revisit frequently but never excellent outside a few moments even if they stand out. Perhaps one element spoils the fun or it's just not exceptional overall. Silver medal.

2/5 ☆☆
Big flaws detract from the film. There may be things I like but there are not enough to win me over. Often a big failure to capitalise on certain elements or an what might have been a good idea but is 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 average either. A failure to be interesting consistently or something that just becomes boring outside a few scenes. Bronze medal.

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