ScoreCard

MARCH


  • Captain Phillips ☆☆☆☆
  • Ender's Game ☆☆☆
  • Escape Plan ☆☆
  • Filth ☆☆☆
  • Gamera 2: Advent of Legion ☆☆☆
  • Gravity ☆☆☆
  • Hard Boiled ☆☆☆☆☆
  • Ichi the Killer ☆☆☆☆
  • Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade ☆☆☆☆
  • Machete Kills ☆
  • Meat Ball Machine ☆☆
  • Riddick ☆☆☆
  • Saving Mr Banks ☆☆☆
  • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home ☆☆☆☆
  • The Darjeeling Ltd ☆☆☆

Review Roundup - I'm doing my part!

ENDER'S GAME (2013)

Asa Butterfield stars as ridiculously named space cadet Ender Wiggin (or is it the other way around? These both sound like bad fantasy monikers) in this mix of teen melodrama and creepy war time dystopia story. There's a lot of war games, training camp (high school) angst and character alienation along the way. It's surprisingly dark at times, and those moments are easily the most interesting parts as the morality of what is being done is questioned and the concerning training methods involved are set out. In a world obviously indoctrinated into preparation for an alien attack, children are drafted into military service for their apparently faster minds and unpredictable thought patterns - though the ease of brainwashing them would seem to be the most obvious factor when the battlefield is controlled by screens and not physical ability. There are some neat visual set pieces and the pacing isn't too bad but whether this is all executed well enough to form a compelling narrative is another question.



The cast are hit and miss as you'd expect from a child actor heavy film, but nobody is distractingly awful. The veterans fare less well and though Harrison Ford has a few good moments he never looks or sounds too pleased to be on camera, perhaps part characterisation and part phoning it in, it's hard to distinguish at times. Later on Ben Kingsley arrives to add a bit of personality but never gets anything notable to do. Butterfield isn't bad in the title role but the protagonist's character arc is a little underwritten which is a shame as his development has a few interesting pitfalls such as violent behaviour in his genes and social problems in his brain. The problem seems to be there is too much material and not enough focus - there's a lot of psychological trauma to be mined, there are hints of what life on Earth has become, war as a game for kids; and these elements could be stronger if they'd pulled it together.

The effects sequences are reasonable with some fun zero gravity moments. However the climactic space battle is like a mix between those magic touch screens in Minority Report and watching someone play Galaga. I have no idea why they chose to portray it with so much on screen display imagery instead of mixing it up with actual battle perspective shots and being able to see what is happening on a smaller scale; it gets tedious incredibly fast. They reuse footage of the first alien attack several times as a propaganda message early on to set the story up, and the dog fight sequence shown there is a lot more impressive. Add to this some mixed messages about what the enemy forces are really planning just before the whole thing is suddenly cut short and the result is unsatisfying. I presume they meant to expand on the idea of two forces clashing because of a failure to communicate, but like the best ideas presented during the film it's never fleshed out properly.

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
MACHETE KILLS (2013)



There's a short teaser done for laughs at the start of this, where the dumb factor is high and it ends quickly enough to warrant a quick smirk - the opposite effect of the film itself. It's hard to understand how the feature itself is done in such a boring way, after all they don't exactly have a lot of material to work with here. Machete kills the bad guys and gets the ladies. That's it. But instead of a quick say 80 minutes or less (it could be less) they drag it out for a lot longer right up to the point where the joke is dead. And it was pretty DOA the last time.

1/5

Weekend Retrospective - Ecstacy of Gold

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

So this may not be the best Western, as I could give that title to Leone's own Once Upon a Time in the West. But this... this one is the most awesome. The most entertaining. Okay... maybe it is the best. The previous two film's in the dollars trilogy are very hit and miss, revisiting them recently the flaws are quite evident and they are certainly nowhere near as fun as this one despite the similarities in many places. Sure the music is good and they have their own set pieces, but it's all building up to this. They aren't paced as well, and they certainly don't have this much personality.

As a genre, it's never been one of my favourites - the general vibe of the movies from a certain era is one of dirty, nasty types of stories where the heroism of the old west set against a backdrop full of bandits, rape and death. After all, where life had no value, sometimes death had a price. They can often be too grim, even when that may be the point. But this one... somehow it's something all by itself. There are a few cruel moments but a lot of it is strangely amusing. It's fun, but not too silly (looking at you Sabata) and it's gritty enough without ever going too far. It certainly never feels it's running time.

He's tall, blonde, he smokes a cigar, and he's a pig!
 
Obviously the characters are what makes this, and when I say characters, I mean Tuco. The comic relief that ends up bringing it all together. Whether it's taking abuse from Angel Eyes or Clint, or getting mean with some of the antagonists or even the poor weapons store keeper, as well as getting sentimental in the scene with his estranged brother; it's weird to think that it kind of makes the movie. Eastwood was apparently unhappy about sharing the screentime with third character after Van Cleef had been along for the ride in A Few Dollars More, but it wouldn't work as well without the structure of the three treasure hunters playing off each other this way. That isn't to say they don't all have their moments, but his grimacing face and overacting is what I remember most.

The other big star of the film is the soundtrack, as if anyone is surprised. There's a sequence I expect that everyone knows at the end that's nothing more than Tuco running about through the graves at Sad Hill for what feels like 20 minutes, and it's a magic scene purely because of the music. The main theme can feel a little goofy at times but this part elevates everything to another level. There are various other things that add to the unique style of the movie (I always liked the names being drawn on the screen) and the signature use of extreme close ups is at it's best here. It's just bursting with personality. It's not about revenge or justice, or honour, it's just this crazy adventure. It may take a few strange detours, for example I always found the civil war bridge scene a little out of place; but overall I can't knock it. Quentin Tarantino has some dubious taste in schlocky movies, but when he's on the DVD box quoting it as his favourite, I can't deny it's a nice choice.

5/5

Review Roundup - Lost in space

GRAVITY (2013)

Finally, a new space movie. They don't come around that often so besides a level of hype the size of the known universe, a big draw for me was seeing someone put a level of effort and expertise into making a film with astronauts in it. And it's pretty amazing to sit through in places, the technical aspects are pretty mind boggling and the line between real sets and visual effects are almost indistinguishable. Using from what are as far as I can tell is a lot of new toys, they've created some great set pieces and managed to include some dizzying camera work. As far as action packed adventure material goes, this is visually amazing, well paced and meticulously put together. I'm not sure if tracking shots count if they are animated on a computer, it's impressive nonetheless. But how does the rest fare, in particular the parts that didn't soak up millions of dollars from the budget or require any graphics to be rendered?


First things first, the casting and characterisation. For all the advances in effects the real meat of any story is well, storytelling after all. As I said it's perfectly made which can be said for the way events come together on screen - a plot that unfolds without words is one of my favourite things in cinema; show don't tell. Thankfully there are no dry expository narrations, no on screen text or prologue moments. This is 90 minutes of film, it's the essentials. The blend of images and music excellent too, keeping the sound in space minimal while keeping things interesting. But for all the quality in it's execution I did feel that the writing lacked a lot of real personality. I couldn't get invested outside a couple of scenes. Now I quite liked Sandra Bullock here, it's a good central perfomance. But the dialogue wasn't up to scratch for me, it was very thin and had too much in the way of clunky hero banter instead of playing on the darker elements of death in space and providing real insight into the level of fear involved. George Clooney didn't help - whether it's intentional or not he was far too robotic and overconfident. Now I appreciate that veterans in space exploration are likely to have a lot of the right stuff but it never felt like he was a real person. Comparisons to Buzz Lightyear may be unwarranted but I can see their point. I imagine star power was what provided some of the money from the studio but maybe someone else would have been a better choice.

That's not to say that they don't try and do more than just have spectacular disaster sequences of course. There is a strong visual and literal narrative about isolation, being lost and finding reasons to live. A little to on the nose in a few places but ultimately suitable for the tone which is consistently popcorn movie. Maybe the wow of an IMAX presentation has been lost on me, but it's no excuse when stories like Moon have more humanity and no money to create entire space stations and weightlessness simulations. After all these kinds of plots are never about space and technology itself, but using those elements to build something interesting. Perhaps it should have pushed harder on the space madness themes but I'm not sure if it's appropriate. Maybe it just needed more real human angst and made better use of the few backstory elements that are presented. There are a few good moments of real movie magic here - none of which include explosions or speeding objects I have to say - but I would have appreciated a stronger script in a few key places to seal the deal. It left me entertained but a little cold, much like the view - dazzling but too much of a vacuum in a few places. 

3/5

Review Roundup - You wouldn't steal a boat

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS (2013)

Coming to this not having read up on the hijacking case this is based on, or really following Paul Greengrass's work outside of the Jason Bourne series, I was in for a interesting ride in regards to plot developments but also the film making style. The results are an effectively made, tightly wound thriller - but also a visually interesting feature. The look of the film is surprisingly colourful towards the start - perhaps intentionally so in contrast later events - with shots of the open sea and some interesting looks at the scale of the shipping operation; and as things get worse and events spiral out of control for both the pirates and the protagonist, it gets darker (visually and tonally) as the tension builds and the final resolution approaches.

Piracy, hijacking, photobombing, the list of crimes is endless

A fairly balanced approach is taken towards introducing all the story elements here. While the pirates are hardly shown to be sympathetic they are at least drawn as average people with their motivations set up alongside a few early moments we share with Phillips at home discussing family matters. Soon after the Somalis fight amongst themselves as the freighter crew bicker about what their are signed up for, it's a short introduction but nicely done. It's also quick to set up the scale of what the pirates are up against, as a handful of young men make a decision to take on a massive ship which despite having slow moving rescue services and no weapons clearly has an advantage. This of course comes to a head as both groups clash with one another, and from here on in it's basically firing on all cylinders as each side tries to gain an the upper hand and control of the situation moves between them. The early pirate attacks and initial confrontations may be the more effective ones as the constant unease does become a little tiring later in, but each set piece is done well to keep things interesting.

If there was an issue I could bring up it would be that the efficient, documentary style is perhaps makes the events feel a little too distant at times. The two "captains" are the core of the film and provide the best acting while the other characters come across as more like typical stand ins or challenges to their authority rather than having anything more to do as people. That being said the performance from Tom Hanks in the third act is what brings to film to it's best and it really stops things from being too much like a well oiled machine that could have otherwise lacked humanity. It's clear that this type of plot could have been easily been cartoonish or jingoistic in the wrong hands which speaks a lot for those involved be it in front of the camera or behind the scenes.

4/5

BONUS REVIEW
FILTH (2013)



So yes, basically this lives up to the title - James McAvoy gives a solid performance as drug addicted, sexually depraved and all round nasty piece of work DS Robertson, who plays games with his colleagues and supposed friends while trying to climb the promotions ladder. The material is all pretty good as his schemes grow and his mental condition deteriorates, but the way it's been put together seems messy with too many tonal shifts - even the soft focus camera work is at odds with the grim events that take place. The best black comedies gel the tragedy well and manage the tone properly, they often make you question if you should be laughing or not - but this is far too inconsistent and isn't put together in a way that prevents it from feeling episodic. There's a clear divide between the comic scenes and the dark and grotesque parts. Because of this there isn't enough impact when things really fall to pieces in the third act, despite the plot taking some interesting turns along with way. It does have it's moments but is certainly no Trainspotting (adapted from the same author's work) and I feel it could have been with stronger direction and editing. 

3/5

Review Roundup - Turtle power

GAMERA 2: ADVENT OF LEGION (1996)

I can't be certain, but I'd have to hazard a guess that this is a misquoted bible verse they are using in the title there. I've no idea if the "we are many" excerpt refers to a swarm, never mind a swarm of bugs - but I will get to that. Gamera, a rival to Toho's Godzilla was rebooted in the 90s with three films, and for the genre this one holds up fairly well. That is considering it features a giant turtle with super powers... As you'd expect this is a monster clash movie with rubber suits and a lot of collateral damage and ecological messages.

This time he does battle with alien insects - they have a few different stages that keep things interesting. When fully grown it's part bug, part crayfish; all arms. It has a few different abilities, but it's also got a plant like nest that grows to spread it's seed to outer space (killing us in the process). The smaller ones are used in a few scenes typical of an alien infestation plot - hiding in the subway or jumping out the dark. It keeps the human element from getting too dull and the effects are used properly - they are hidden in the shadows until the right moment. A medium sized flying variant gets forgotten about after it's appearance, but bringing things up and dropping them becomes a recurring theme here.



After a number of meteors land in northern Japan (but unsurprisingly they later spread to Tokyo) a number of strange creatures are spotted and things like phone lines and bottles from a brewery go missing. As usual in this type of thing the military and science bods slowly work out what is going to happen. Meanwhile Gamera; Friend To All Children (no, really) gets on the case. There's a few stock scenes discussing the alien plan and things like magnetic waves and silicon based life, it's all pretty typical nonsense. Unfortunately they have this annoying plot device where a character has a psychic link to the 'hero' creature - something that was overused in the later 90s Godzilla movies - but since this is a part two and they did all they really could with it in the first movie, it's not really explored or used that much. One the one hand this is good as I find it silly and melodramatic; but why feature it at all if you are going to bring back characters for no apparent reason or have them randomly at the scene of the attack in the style of so many dumb sequels?

There are a couple of things like this, unused dramatic elements which could have been focused on better or should have been dropped - one other character apparently witnessed the previous film's events and could have been utilised somehow, but they are quickly forgotten. Why mention it? There's also a scene where a shockwave levels a city, hinting at a darker tone - but it's left aside as things move along; nobody really talks about it afterwards. The dry expository element is always problem with this genre as it becomes dull quickly, and in a story about giant monsters it needs pruning back or fleshing out all the way. People are here to see the larger than life characters after all.

The battles themselves are well staged; though I found it odd that the antagonist is so tall here - the movement in some shots seems limited by the size difference. All the legs and moving armour plates are quite intricate. It's a shame the DVD is so washed out in places as visually it could be pretty nice. Some computer elements do creep in which is a shame as I love the old fire breathing effects; but generally the destruction is all detailed model work and real props. Overall it's solid entertainment but one that is unlikely to blow any minds or convert new fans in an age of far more advanced visual effects techniques.

3/5

BONUS REVIEW
ICHI THE KILLER (2001)



Looking into some Japanese cinema of a whole different variety, I recently revisited a few older DVDs including this mix of extreme violence and manga insanity. The characters are all bizarre and twisted and the imagery is completely over the top with crazy amounts of splatter and crazier fashion. Seriously, with all the gore there are some loud shirts. Yakuza plots interconnect with threads about hypnotherapy and masochism so don't expect any relatable characters or a story conclusion that adds up on the first viewing. On the surface it's about a plan to wipe out mob bosses - and the guy with cinema's best Chelsea smile does awful things as he goes around trying to get to the bottom of it. But these are the simple parts of explaining how things go down. Ultimately I can only recommend this to those looking for new foreign cinema kicks or horror fans, but it's a ride that I think is too strange to be missed.

4/5