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Bleak and hopeless.
If you enjoyed the last twenty minutes of Titanic, then this film is for you. If you liked the bleak vision of humanity that Christopher Nolan portrayed in The Dark Knight Rises, you might like the atmosphere of this film. If you want a generic war-is-hell and survival is matter of chance film, you may well appreciate this.
If you remember Dunkirk as a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat; as a near-miracle when for a full day a storm grounded the German air force in Flankers while the Channel was as calm as a millpond; as a day when sixty German planes attacked four hundred men on the beach and inflicted no casualties; as a time when men were buried hastily but with military honours rather than being allowed to lie dead on the beach; then this film does a huge disservice to the truth.
Finally a note on accuracy. The film may look right but it is missing almost any detail that might bring hope into the situation. The images may be accurate; the atmosphere is more appropriate for a film about a concentration camp.
San Andreas (2015)
Never mind the plot, enjoy the effects
I popped out to see the film "San Andreas" tonight. I rather enjoyed it, and managed to stay right through to the end (first time I've done that since "Fury" last year) -- and was only mildly distracted by the woman next to me who was already snoring when the film started, and didn't stop till it was over. (Her husband only jogged her when the snoring got loud).
To enjoy it, you have to be able to suspend disbelief. Right from the very beginning, when we were asked to believe that the offspring of Dwayne Johnson (African-American) and Carla Gugino (Italian-American with hair and eyes reminiscent of Sophia Loren) is a girl with the bluest eyes you've ever seen (Alexandra Daddario, Italian/Irish/Hungarian/German/English-American), believability flies out of the window. If you look at a list of the top disaster movie clichés (like this one: http://www.wow247.co.uk/ /9-of-the-worst- disaster-movie-cl /), then you'll see well over half of them in this film. And, like many disaster movies, Mr Scott is ignored: you can actually change the laws of physics, particularly towards the end of the film.
Having chosen to suspend disbelief, the best ways of enjoying it are actually to hope the main characters get out alive, and to enjoy the special effects. I particularly liked the apparent aerial shot of the land oscillating up and down like the waves of the sea. (I hope I haven't spoiled it for you by revealing that the film includes at least one earthquake).
It's not going to give you any deep insights into humanity or real life. But if you're in the mood for some big loud disasters, it's worth a night out.
Almost as good as Saving Private Ryan, and bonus marks for character realism.
Fury is intended as a "horrors of war" film in the same way that Saving Private Ryan was, and there are perhaps too many scenes of deeply unpleasant injuries and deaths. However, it has two key strengths. One is the tank battle scenes, which I have not seen done so effectively before. The other is realism; it includes vignettes on the enormous psychological resistance to killing another human being; whether there are atheists in foxholes; and incongruous moments of humanity.
It does include some war film clichés; there's a transformation from "boy" into "soldier man"; the usual "band of brothers" stuff; and the Americans are not nice, but the Germans are nastier (though sadly, this reflects the reality of spring 1945 pretty well). There are also a few "but why didn't they just ..." moments in the plot.
It won't become that classic that Private Ryan is -- Private Ryan earned that status by being the first "real war violence" film and also having a journey as its core plot -- but it's well worth the night out, as long as you have the stomach for the bloody bits.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Nothing really new, but a worthy addition to the X-Men canon
The strength of X-Men films has always been to give a large number of characters a decent bit of the story, and to allow viewers to imagine what it would be like to have that particular power. The moral of X-Men films has always been the same: people who are genetically different have to learn to live in peace. This film is absolutely solid on both of these aspects, along with occasional self-referential humour.
However, it doesn't bring anything outstanding beyond the above. It's set partly in the 1970s, and goes out of its way to include odd stuff from the seventies (let's face it, there was plenty); it charts more of the characters' personal development; it performs the necessary reboot that major franchises seem to require these days; and it has plenty of high-tech special effects. All perfectly competent (apart from one 'revelation' concerning a well-known three-letter acronym that nearly made me laugh out loud), and yet I walked away feeling I'd seen most of it before, in one form or another.
See it of you're a fan of the franchise and want to watch the story progress. If you haven't seen any X-Men films before, it's a good night out but you'd be better to watch some of the others first.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit (2014)
Not the Jack Ryan we know and love; and not a very good spy thriller
I'm a fan of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan books and I have enjoyed most of the previous films based on his work. I expected this to be the first film based on the recent series of books about Jack Ryan Junior, but it wasn't; it was a "reboot" of the original Jack Ryan, in which he first meets Cathy. The whole plot is time-shifted to 2013, probably so they could save money by not having to make places look old, and so they could have modern day product placement (unless they had Windows 8 mobile phones in the 1970s).
Okay, so I tried to watch the film as a stand-alone spy thriller. But such films have to fall into one of three camps to be successful: they have to be non stop action; or they have to be incredibly atmospheric (like Skyfall, or perhaps Mission Impossible); or they have to do gritty realism (like the Bourne films). This film fell between all three stools. I actually walked out after an hour or so, and there had only been one action sequence up to that point; the atmospheric shots were nothing special; and the realism was damaged by the rushed set-up sequences (twelve years in ten minutes), and especially by the stereotyped villain. In his first scene, we are introduced to the back of his head; he takes drugs; he kicks his subordinates; and he has significant tattoos. All he needs to be the complete clichéd bad guy is to wear uncool and unnecessary dark glasses.
As for the acting, you get the feeling the actors are all doing the best with the material they've been given, but I still found myself thinking of the name of the actor/actress whenever I saw them instead of their character -- which is a very bad sign. Chris Pine (as Ryan) appeared to have been told to look like a dork who's out of his depth; he did that successfully, but it's just not very interesting.
Oh, and there's no tongue in cheek humour, either, from anybody. Please, bring back Alan Rickman as the Sheriff of Nottingham to give the film something to make it watchable.
Ender's Game (2013)
The most thought-provoking film I've seen for a long time.
I really liked the film, because it's different. At first you think it's going to be another wimpy-kid-coming-of-age story, though set in space. But it isn't. Then you think it's a smart-kid-can't-unlock-the-key-secret-until-he-understands-himself, but it isn't that. Maybe it'll be another Hunger Games, teenager-uses-skills-to-survive-and-then-to-beat-the-system? No, not that either.
In the end, it's a film about the rights and wrongs of war, and of training for war. And I do mean rights and wrongs, plural: this is one of the best films for a long time for making you think about more than one side of a complex issue. It also takes a hefty (though mitigated) swipe at video-game culture; but if you think that's a modern politically correct message, remember that the book was written in 1985. Its message is best summed up in one (sligh mis-)quote from the film: "It's not what you do; it's why you do it." It's one of the most thought-provoking films I've seen for a long time. If you come out of the film wanting to know more about the issues that the book raises, I recommend the excellent (if slightly academic) book "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Lieutenant-Colonel Dave Grossman. It doesn't tackle exactly the same issues that the film raises (which is good, because that means the book doesn't act as a spoiler for the film!) but it does address the wider issues.
Downton Abbey fans may like this, I didn't.
I'm sure this is a good film for the right audience -- by that I mean people who liked the set-piece bitchiness of Gosford Park, the long-playing social relationships of Downton Abbey, the humour of old folk forgetting things, or the nostalgia of opera. For such folk, my comments below can be safely ignored. But if you don't like any of the above, you may find (as I did) that the senility was over-acted for supposedly comic effect; the emphasis on characters over plot made the film drag; and some of the plot ideas were telegraphed so far in advance, they could have used pigeon post and it would still have arrived in time. I can't even tell you if it had a happy ending as I didn't make it to the end of the film, though it looked like most of the tensions were going to be reconciled while one key character suffered an emotion-jerking exit.
If you want a film where old people are not either incredibly wise or suffering from comic levels of senility, I recommend The Bucket List.
The Expendables 2 (2012)
If you like clichés, you'll be back
(minor spoilers only) With a body count in the hundreds, pretty much every action film script cliché, and lots of explosions, the Expendables 2 has the virtue of giving action film fans what they expect. It also attempts some wry humour, from the Terminator cracks that appear every time Schwarzenegger does to the jokes about women who can't shoot straight. I'm not going to score it highly, though, because the sheer unreality of it all grates. Five guys can kill hundreds of armed men -- sometimes with unarmed combat -- with hardly a scratch? And why is it that the squirts of blood from those who have been shot are always in the same pattern, no matter where they are hit? Maybe I'm just getting old ... like The Expendables themselves, and I do have to give Stallone in particular credit for playing his part (and his age) to the hilt. (Literally ;->)
The Bourne Legacy (2012)
Lacks originality - and from a Bourne film, that's especially disappointing
The biggest thing that this film made me realise was that the entire Bourne franchise contained an internal contradiction. The first three Bourne films were praised for the gritty realism of their action - heroes who actually hurt themselves, journeys that were delayed by traffic jams, etc. Yet when the plot finally unravelled its secrets, we find that Bourne and his ilk are genetically modified super-humans.
This film therefore has to treat these super-humans as, well slightly superhuman -- and the result is that the gritty realism is replaced with a character who's more like James Bond (but without the sophistication or humour) than Matt Damon's more realistic Everyman who was bewildered by his own capabilities. The script tries to deal with this by casting the hero as one drug-dependent man (plus Rachel Weisz) against the world, but it just ends up being another running away film, like the Fugitive.
Poor Weisz is cast as a scientist who has to run from her employers and spends most of the film running and looking scared. I'm not criticising her performance -- she's good at it -- but she should be because she's played exactly the same role before (e.g. in Chain Reaction), right down to her upper clothing gradually being reduced till she's running around in a singlet. She's a better actress than this film gives her the chance to express.
Some of the action sequences are pretty good, and the cast do their best with the material they're given. But the plot of this film is one you've seen many times before -- and from a Bourne film, that's particularly disappointing.
Father of Lights (2012)
If You Film It, God Will Come
This is a documentary, in the style of Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 or Bowling for Columbine. But the subject matter is very different from Moore's films: Darren Wilson is trying to capture examples of (the Christian) God in action. To this end, he travels with and films various Christians who minister to others (many of them are not "ministers" by profession) just to see what happens when people put their trust in God. He finds examples of self-sacrifice; supernatural guidance; remarkable 'coincidences'; and above all, the power of love as an expression of God's heart for his children -- i.e. anybody.
There are some surprises: without giving spoilers, there are some situations where people play a role that "good Christian theology" would not predict. This film may not include big special effects or airbrushed movie stars, but like Moore's documentaries, its attraction is that it is real; and after seeing it, I expect you'll believe that God -- the Father of Lights himself -- is real and active too.