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Captain America: Civil War (2016)
Iron man vs Captain America: Dawn of nothing in particular but a very interesting movie that's way better than that other one.
Seems that this spring-early summer has turned into a sort of 'pistols at dawn' between DC and Marvel. DC fired first but shot themselves in both feet and blew their noses off too for good measure. If only they had stuck to Miller's excellent template it would have worked beautifully but David 'hands of death' Goyer and Zack Snyder had to show off how clever they were...'Have to save...MARTHA!' 'Riddle me this...Dad beat me and God must die...Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!' 'You won't ever make Holly Hunter drink P***!'
So Marvel has basically already won it by default but fortunately their volley turned out not to be so bad. Not brilliant but good. Certainly better than 'Age of Ultron', a movie that was not so much birthed as miscarried. Seems they've learnt their lesson and this third Avengers movie (never mind the Captain America tag. It could just as easily be called Iron Man Civil War) matches the character interaction and big fight fun of the original with the darker 70s thriller vibe of 'Winter Soldier'.That movie was a good thriller but non existent as a superhero flick and was marred by yet another 'there is no terrorism out there its just the guys in charge trying to scare you into submission line' that seems to have become the default position for many before the sheetstorm sweeping the world right now, the mantra to shout out as you see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil. There are politics here too but they are more balanced and a real dilemma is presented to which they thankfully do not offer a solution. That dilemma, can super powered individuals operate at their own discretion as judge jury and executioner or must there be government accountability?, is one that has powered many comic book masterpieces including the 1987 double whammy 'Watchmen' (which Snyder made into a great movie) and 'Dark Knight Returns' (which Snyder turned into a pile of sheet) It powers the conflict between the characters until more personal and visceral ones take over.
The scene everybody really wants to see is the 'Burly Airport Brawl' where the two sides go at each other with all their skills in a noisy and surprising battle that is light-hearted and fun in a way the rest isn't. That could be a mini movie in itself and its worth waiting for. There are a few action scenes around including yet another African rundown, this time against the masked Cross-bones and his crew, and the spectacular 'down the stairwell' and 'Tunnel chase/Audi Q7 advert' scenes in Bucharest but like 'WS' the rest of it is mainly downtime, yet the tension never drops and we feel the pressure building on everyone.
There isn't really a villain here as the two sides are providing the opposition. Someone helps stoke things up and he is Helmut Zemo played by the brilliant Daniel Bruhl. The film doesn't 'stick like glue' (HA!) to his comic book character and they are only using the name here. In fact it could be argued that Zemo isn't even a villain and he is ultimately deemed too pitiful to even kill by his opponents once they see who he is and why he has done what he has.
Spiderman is finally brought into the MCU and takes his place as an Avenger after years of protest with his backstory already done off screen (God, would we want to see it AGAIN?) with Tom Holland as Peter Parker and Marisa 'still so hot' Tomei as the comically sexy Auntie May. Black Panther also makes his début and despite his costume looking a little goofy he fits in well as does the now properly realised Wakanda. Hope they will be as well used in their own movies. - Ant-man makes the appearance promised at the end of his standalone but he is there to take part in the 'Big Brawl' and doesn't do much after. Falcon, Scarlet Witch and Vision are all beefed up and given more time and character depth here while Black Widow sort of hangs around the edges and doesn't get very involved in things for once though she too is in the action. Excuses for why Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't appear continue and are getting more and more stretched. Just recast and have done with it please!
Again, a summer blockbuster that is marketed at kids but is geared entirely at adults (after BvS and Zootopia) and will mean very little to younger audiences though the big fight will be sure to entertain.
So a victory on points for Marvel but a well deserved one and definitely worth going to see.
Now pay the price for your lack of vision! - What we expected we got, for better or worse.
"Brilliant! A work of true genius! The greatest most thrilling movie not only of this year but of the entire century! A fearless and daring work that reinvents the genre and reinvigorates it and sends it launching into a new age! A triumphant masterpiece and a film for the ages that cements JJ Abrams as one of the most brilliant talents of his generation, a true joy and the best night ever at the cinema!" OK, just bill it to the usual address please Walt Disney inc, thanks!
I have to admit off the bat that I had no faith in this project since Disney obviously only bought it as a shameless excuse to sell things (Ok Lucas did a bit of that but it was for a reason) and JJ Abrams has never made a film I have enjoyed ever and worse destroyed 'Star Trek' with a series that goes beyond insulting. I am one of those people who saw the first 'Star Wars' as a kid and have followed it ever since, maybe not as religiously as some but it was always something important accompanying me throughout my life rather like the Bonds or Star Trek. I am also one of those few people who liked the prequels which, despite having many flaws, were interesting as they took the series in another direction and looked at how and why the Republic fell and the Empire arose from its ashes. It saddens me when people say 'Politics and philosophy are so boring! I just wanna see cool sheet blow up!' as if that's all sci-fi ever was (it wasn't when the original Star Wars came out. It was largely about boring politics and philosophy back then) However I decided to give it a chance since several movies I prepped myself to hate have surprised me this year and we went to last night's anticipation filled midnight show at London's new Picturehouse cinema.
This is only my opinion Positives The special effects are amazing (especially on a huge screen) and it's nice to see the original trilogy vehicles rendered in CGI. 3D is also great. Air battles now taking place in the sky and not space and the Empire now has a sizable female contingent including female Stormtroopers. A genuinely strong female lead also at last.
The negatives Absolute lack of originality. Already obvious from the merchandising, there are no new vehicles or uniforms or worlds, this Universe hasn't advanced at all since 1983. Fan service alone. Nothing is made clear, who are the First Order, what is the Rebellion and the Republic, how did they split? When and how was the Death Moon built? In Episode IV this sense of mystery was acceptable, but that is no longer possible in so complex and established a universe. The story is a rehash of Episode IV and deliberately so 'let's give them more of the same!' Like 'SPECTRE' brings nothing new to the table just karaoke versions of what's already been. A modern YAL like 'stringing along' structure in which nothing is resolved and everything is always being saved for later, unlike the Lucas movies where each had a clear self-contained narrative. Characters are fairly dull compared to those of other series. New kids are off the peg stereotypes (surly girl, cool jive talking black dude, daring quipping handsome pilot, funny robot sidekick) and are never developed beyond. The villains are also incredibly weak, not just Kylo Ren who is the biggest sissy ever to wield a light sabre but the entire Empire (sorry, 'First Order') who are led by a wimp and his team of wimps and controlled by a poorly rendered CGI something who is also weak. This is more like an insurance office than an evil empire! Most of the scenes and dialogues in the trailers aren't even in the film and a lot of the stuff in the merchandising isn't either. As a sort of 'anti-prequel' most of it is shot live but unfortunately looks as if it was shot in someone's back garden and is as alien and exotic as weekend in Brighton (UK seaside resort) The musical score is awful and has none of the usual majesty or emotional power. I know they went to Williams for name value but if this is all he can come up with at his time of life then give Giacchino the next one please. Two iconic moments made pathetic and underwhelming, ie the lame and sorry opening crawl and the 'swirlout' ending which spins and spins and spins around the same unimpressive final image for 2 minutes in a desperate attempt to make it epic.
It feels more like some neat fan-made short on 'Youtube' or cutaways to one of those countless 'Star Wars' video games we've had since 1985 than anything in the original series. On its own it is a fun little science fiction adventure comparable to say 'Pacific Rim' or 'Jupiter Ascending' but, IMHO, it is in no way worthy enough to be considered part of a series that has become iconic exactly because they were original and daring and had something to say. Lucas and Spielberg birthed the series from their own love and passion and it showed in every frame of 6 movies. This is a shameless cash in and it shows in every frame. Doubtless it will make billions and receive rave reviews and be hailed as one of the greatest films ever made, something most people had already decided before they had seen it thanks to 2 years of relentless carpet-bomb marketing, rather like Obama was being hailed as the greatest president in history before he had even been elected.
There are dozens more of these to come so sit back and wait for your three yearly dose of 'Star Wars' with accompanying hype. Enjoy :-)
Daniel's Die Another Day - Craig bows out in a bizarre, disjointed and meta-movie that's also fun and enjoyable
The 'Craig years' started out as a reaction against the campiness of Brosnan's 'Die Another Day' and though daring initially it is a difficult tone to sustain for a franchise like Bond. As ever revolution breeds counter-revolution and a whole host of new pretenders have been packing in cinemas with their defiant cry of 'old school Bond is best!' With 'Fast and Furious' 'Kingsman' and 'Mission Impossible (4+5)' biting at their heels, some serious script rewrites have taken place and a massive change of tone introduced for this fourth 'new continuity' Bond. What we have is a strange, bizarre, almost surreal film that plays out like some odd Bond fever dream that you keep expecting him to wake from back into his bland reality, walking a tight rope between seriousness and outright parody, the latter very often resembling 'Austin Powers'.
The story is already very well-known both via a leaked script and the spoiler filled trailers and publicity materials. Bond follows a lead from the recently deceased 'M' (never mentioned in Skyfall) to chase an Italian hit-man named Marco Sciarra in Mexico and after getting into trouble with the new M goes to Rome where a very brief seduction of Monica Bellucci (why do Italian actresses only get bit parts in modern Bonds?) leads to a Spectre meeting where he meets his long lost adopted brother Christoph Waltz who is now going under the name Blofeld and after the much publicised Aston vs Jaguar chase through Rome he follows a vague lead to find former enemy but now actually all round decent good guy (?) Jesper Christensen who puts him onto his shapely daughter and MI4 hand me down Lea Seydoux at the Piz Gloria clinic and after a plane-car chase through them mountains they go to Tunisia where, after some romantic train sex and a Jaws style train fight with David Bautista, they follow leads to Blofeld's high-tech base in a hollowed out volcano Meteorite crater from where he plans something to do with absolute surveillance but is never clear. It's all about getting back at Bond for stealing daddy's love etc, then the extra finale in London which gets sillier by the moment then the oddest ending ever in a Bond which literally says 'Craig's done and he's leaving the building. Goodnight everyone!'
There is plenty of action this time around but despite being 'old school' and spectacular, there is a lack of genuine thrills. The helicopter fight, the car chase, the plane chase, the train fight, the exploding villain's lair, final against the clock battle and boat-helicopter duel all feel well, 'ordinary' and bland. You watch them nodding your head then carry on with blood unpumped and nerves unjangled. Maybe it's Newman's poor score (great composer but not for this sort of thing) or Mende's lack of action experience but it makes what ought to be incredible just OK.
There are endless nods and namechecks to previous Bonds, in fact half the film is just Bond namechecks and though it's fun as a Bond lover to spot them they don't actually add up to anything fresh or original. They ought to be creating NEW iconic Bond moments here, not just repeating old ones! Plus there are influences from all over the place, mostly 'Austin Powers' , not only in the meta-parody nature of much of it but also in the relationship between Dr Evil and Powers which is pretty much how the official 007 series now replays Bond and Blofeld! As in the previous 3 Craigs a 'villainous plot' is barely even existent, something to do with 'worldwide surveillance', causing terror attacks to convince governments to sign on to the world wide spynet he is building etc, all recycled from other similar fashionable 'conspiracy theory' ideas, a flogged horse now not only dead but in advanced stages of decomposition! Not that it matters anyway and it's just an excuse for Bond and Blofeld to trade handbags at fifty paces. Gadgets are back as is an iconic tricked out car and an exploding watch plays a key role and best of all, the long removed 'Gunsight opening' is back at the start in its traditional glory so HURRAY and about XXX time! There is also a more traditional Bond opening titles sequence with a shirtless Craig, sexy women, octopuses and more octopuses, women becoming octopuses, being held by octopuses and dancing on octopuses featuring Sam Smith.
Acting is fine. Craig is now playing the old 007 and is not too bad at it, less brooding more fun. Lea Seydoux makes for a good old school spunky and resourceful Bond girl and fares well in drama, action and romance moments. Monica Bellucci is only a cameo really. David Bautista is similarly underused playing a mute Jaws style killer and frankly any muscular man could have played his role, a pity given what he showed he could do in GOTG. Waltz simply camps it up hence the Dr Evil comparisons but how could you play Blofeld straight these days anyway? The rest of 'team Bond' are on form and get to do their own thing throughout the film.
Totally different from the previous Craigs, this is both his Swann-song (literally) and a turning point as Broccoli and Wilson ask 'Quo Vadis 007?' from here on in. Let's hope they decide to go forward into the future to make new adventures and not just back to revisit what has already been again.
Nolan enters wormhole to go back to the 1970s but cosmic forces bend everything badly out of shape
The 70s, it seems, is where the cinema zeitgeist is at the moment. From bleak sparse thrillers ('Jack Reacher' 'A walk among the tombstones') to Horror (Under the Skin' -'You're Next' and 'The Guest') to Sci-Fi ('Guardians of the Galaxy) to anarchic comedy ('Wolf of Wall Street') everyone is wearing retro. Now it's Christopher 'The Messiah' Nolan 's turn with a brave and ambitious stab at the cerebral sci-fi of the early 70s. A difficult enough genre at the best of times ('cold' and 'dry' are kind terms, 'pretentious', 'boring' and 'painfully dull' less kind) it takes someone of Nolan's current stature to sell such a project today. Has it worked? Well yes and no.
The story is, like the originals, very hazy and has Humanity slowly dying out from nature itself turning against us, something we see through the rather limited prism of a dirt farm in the mid-west (dirt farm and dirt cheap!) Although the fate of all humanity is at stake we concentrate only one family, that of widowed ex-Nasa pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) and his unnaturally smarty pants daughter Murphy (Mackenzie Foy as a kid, Jessica Chastain as an adult) who through some weird messaging from beyond end up with boffin Dr Brand (Michael Caine) After a very long time we finally blast off on 'mankind's last hope', an exploration ship that goes through a wormhole that has very handily just appeared near Saturn. From there it's off to three planets, 'water world' 'ice world' (where Matt Damon appears as 'poorly sketched but necessary human antagonist') and finally 'rock world'. Then Cooper, who despite all of humanity being in his hands thinks more about his daughter than anything else (Selfish? Not really because love is the 5th dimension apparently) leaves his co-pilot Amelia (Anne Hathaway) and leaps into a giant black hole which, rather than utterly destroying him, leads him to some sort of time-gate built by humanities distant descendants who have learnt to master the 4h dimension so that he can set everything in motion. Then there's possibly the most forced happy ending in cinema history and what could be a sequel lead in.
The original 70's movies were roughly divided between pessimistic (We're all frakked and we deserve it) and the optimistic (Humanity will thrive no matter what and there are higher forces out there helping us out too) and 'Interstellar' falls squarely into the second category. . As many have pointed out the main players (Cooper-Amelia-Murphy-Dr Brand, the red shirted crew) are one-dimensional cyphers (as they were then) but here Nolan has found his forte anyway since it can be argued that the same is true of all Nolan movie characters. It's clinical coldness it counter-weighs with 'emotional heft', also known as 'schmaltz' and 'cheese'. Not quite as sick bag inducing as the absurd 'Gravity' it still manages to raise plenty of groans and face palms from the get-go. Everyone gets a chance to cry and weep and make important, unlikely speeches about the power of love, the nature of the human spirit, etc. Also a lot of major short cuts are taken with the science especially towards the end where it reaches such heights of tenuous straw grabbing that you could imagine Adam West and Burt Ward's Batman and Robin making similar deductions ("The message said 'Stop!' And what do you do when you 'stop'? 'You Wait!" "Exactly Robin! Wait- WEIGHT! Weight is obviously the secret to time!" "Holy time machine Batman, we have to use gravity to stop time!" "Exactly Robin, that's what Dr Brand was missing all the time!")
What the 70s sci-fi films lacked in narrative cohesion or character building they made up for in striking images and music and this film delivers that in abundance. The movie's look is carefully designed to evoke the 70s, complete with that 'grainy' 70mm film some people are complaining about and a design aesthetic that is 40 years old. While impressive in its recreation, a lot of it looks frankly ridiculous in 2014, especially the 'walking block' robots that became such an integral part of the tale. Even the special effects all look practical (or are CGI made to look practical or a combination of both) and ships look like models clumsily blue screened and matted that move at odd jerky right angles (on controlled pole arms) over painted backdrops. Again, this is wonderfully nostalgic and accurate to the source but it looks cheap and amateurish to a mainstream audience. Thematically also it has that 70s combo of 'Space Race optimism' (when we all believed we'd be having holiday's on Mars by 2000) and 'New Age' philosophy, both lingering hangovers from the 60s.
The brooding Organ led music by Hans Zimmer (who else) is a good imitation of Phillip Glass and suits the film well, doing a lot of the 'talking' for it. Acting wise it is a lot of familiar faces really going through the motions but then Nolan movies are never acting tour-de- forces.
The Nolan brothers are to be congratulated on attempting to do something like this and to explore some (sadly) rarely visited themes including the power of wonder and striving that fuels science and exploration, mankind not being isolated but part of a greater unity we can perceive but barely understand (yet) the bonds of love in a Universal context, (etc) even when the result comes out looking rather too silly and melodramatic, melding stony seriousness with frankly ridiculous events and impossible coincidences. One to watch, but with a big pinch of salt!
A Feminist reworking of a classic tale that's no fairy tale but a worthy and daringly offbeat addition to the new fantasy boom.
"Maleficent" is the latest in the cycle of "re-invented fairy tales" which have been filling our screens (and stages and bookshelves) for the last few years, turning against the cutesy sudsey happy gay clappy versions of yore to return to the darker nature and mythopoeic roots of these stories. This one comes from the same producer who gave us Disney's "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Oz the Great and Powerful", two marvellous and engaging movies that have been rare success stories in the otherwise Box Office disappointment laden 'New Fantasy Boom". Those took the established narratives and made them darker and more psychological, finding good reasons for the classic villains to be who they were. 'Maleficent' on the other hand changes the story completely and tells its own narrative, a sort of 'alternate version' that presents the villain of the piece, evil sorceress Maleficent, as the heroine and King Stephan, the fairies and everyone else as guilty parties. It could be interpreted as her own version of events, a sort of 'The Book of Judas' deal, but the narration turns out to be by Princess Aurora herself. So is everything we are seeing here true or not? Do we trust someone like Maleficent to be 100% honest?
The revised storyline begins before the traditional version, with a land split between a human kingdom and a fairy/magical one. Young thief Stephan meets young Maleficent, the guardian fairy who unfortunately looks like a devil (in disguise?) and the two fall in love but then part ways years later. A war breaks out between the two with Maleficent general of the magical armies (tree creatures in cavalry and infantry divisions) giving the humans a drubbing. The enraged king offers his crown to however offs her, and ambitious Stephan woos her and steals her wings (but spares her life) getting the crown and the Princess as his prize. Maleficent turns to the dark side, transforms the fairy land into an oppressive military dictatorship and dons a sinister black costume, from that day forth becoming known as Maleficent (except that she already was! But anyway ) She crashes her ex's first child's Christening and does the whole spindle curse thing, the sits back with her Crow/Human assistant Diaval (Sam Riley) to gloat as the three (here) useless fairies try to raise young Aurora, but through a series of accidents becomes attached to her, inevitably seeing what should have been her child as a substitute daughter and annexing the rights of motherhood from her rival. Maelficent's heart starts to warm and she begins to dream of this idyll continuing but her past actions come to bite her on the magical behind. The curse she laid cannot be undone and King Stephan has become mad with grief, guilt and anger and is determined to kill her at any cost. As Aurora slips into a spindle induced coma, 'true loves kiss' comes to mean something quite else, but there is still Stephan and the arsenal he has been building to contend with before the two kingdoms finally become united under one ruler.
The scenario plays out more like some 'dark fantasy' version, with a Feminist spin (A Woman's wings clipped by a selfish man!) where men are **&^% (except Crows) and the true love of the fairy tales does not exist. There is also a barely disguised Lesbian element that makes one think this was some odd self-published fan fiction that got picked up and expanded. It spits in the face of the traditional message of the story, which is no bad thing since that message was false and disingenuous but many audience members may not like that all, especially from Disney. Traditionally the home of good wholesome all-American values, the house of mouse seems to have turned into a chapter of the Revolutionary Communist Party of late in both its own and its Marvel outings. One may fancifully imagine the board held hostage somewhere while Radicals direct the day to operations in secret "Diamonds are Forever" style, but the truth is probably much more to do with commercial considerations and a cynically planned strategy to follow 'current trends'. Once the dial starts spinning back to more conservative ideas you will see them doing so also.
The film looks spectacular and like other movies in the 'New Fantasy Boom' carries the chromosomes of the original 80s fantasy boom within its DNA, right down to its English setting and support cast. The special effects are lovely and the 3D well used. Acting wise it is clearly the Angelina Jolie show and everybody knows it. She gives her character heart but she never truly plays evil because of course this Maleficent is not truly evil, so we see rage and anger but the rest is love, tenderness and regret. She looks the part even with horns and wings, and as many have noted she played an almost identical role in the similarly 'deconstructed' "Beowulf" (2007) Elle Fanning is OK as Aurora, but she is just a foil for Maleficent and has barely any scenes that don't play beside her, but then frankly Aurora was never much of a character anyway. Sharlto Copley is a little disappointing as Stephan, perhaps because his meaty scenes were edited out. His Lear-esque descent into madness is interesting but ultimately just a plot device. Sam Riley is good as Maelficent's henchman while Lesley Manville, Juno Temple and Imelda Staunton play the 3 Stooges with wings. Brenton Thwaites comes and goes as the now redundant Prince Phillip while Kenneth Cranham gives some malice to the King who triggers everything off.
Too dark, violent and psychologically complex for small children (not the intended target anyway) it is a fascinating piece that you will probably either love or hate.
Edge of Tomorrow (2014)
Here we go again - Cruise cruises through Video Game pseudo-movie with Emily becoming a Blunt instrument and Liman lending a Light touch.
Another year another Tom Cruise mind-frakk Sci-Fi puzzle picture with a top androgynous Brit actress! After last year's pleasing though not universally admired 'Oblivion' now comes 'Edge of Tomorrow', based on Hiroshi Sakurazaka's novel and directed by Doug Liman, author of the original 'Bourne Identity'
'TBI' was a very different movie to the two Greengrass sequels, more gay-spirited, lightweight romantic Euro-adventure than the dark, oppressive and more politically oriented films that followed and this film is very much in that tradition. It is a light, fun, breezy film that wants to take you on a crazy ride and have a good time getting there and that's it.
The setup is simple enough. Yet another alien invasion threatens the Earth after a meteorite/troopship hits Germany and squiggly luminous polip-lion creatures are taking over Europe just as the Germans and Italians did in WWII (No subtlety at all here) Humanity responds with mini-mech suited legions and plans a great beach landing at Normandy (still no subtlety!) Slick PR guy Major Cage (Cruise) manages to pees off General Brigham (Brendon Gleeson) and ends up press ganged into the landings where he dies in the act of killing an 'Alpha', the blue hued officer class of the alien hoard with a direct link to their leader 'The Mind'. However he wakes up at the same point on the same day and finds himself repeating the same thing every time, yet learns by his mistakes and survives longer every time and becomes a better soldier as a result. Then he meets the Allies star warrior, Rita Krasinsky (Buffed and Womaned-up Emily Blunt) who had experienced a similar thing herself before her great victory at the decisive battle of Verdun (Subtlety totally absent!) Turns out Cage has inherited the powers of the Alpha, who is an avatar of The Mind and can 'reset time' once killed so it can have the strategic edge over its enemies every time.So the two team up and try to get to the 'boss level' Mind, getting a little further every time until they are tricked by false visions into a trap. Only way to locate The Mind now is to obtain the top secret device invented by wacky MOD scientist Dr Carter (Noah Taylor) which involves some 'Mission Impossible' shenanigans at Whitehall during which Cage is injured and gets a blood transfusion which robs him of his 'time reset' powers as it did Krasinsky. Now very mortal, the duo recruit the rough jarheads of J- Squad on a Dirty half-Dozen mission to Paris to take out The Mind by any means necessary.
As this précis suggests, Sakurazaka's story is very much a gamer universe with the 'fight-die-repeat-get better-advance through the levels till you reach boss level' reality of most console adventures and it is no surprise to learn that Sakurazaka's background was as a games designer. So what we have in effect is a film that plays like a game, instead of the endless movies based on games that don't, capturing perhaps for the first time the actual experience of gameplay. Of course it could have been fun to go beyond the actual narrative parameters of the story and have the character discover they were part of two universes, their own and that of 'the users', as we saw in 'Tron' and 'The Lego Movie', with the ensuing existential angst and metaphysical dilemmas, but that would have been another movie altogether. Liman is happy to play along with the concept and let it roll. Of course being so different to the traditional narrative structure yet without any extra dimensions or allusions it risks tiring an audience and wearing out their patience, so you have to know what you are going to get if you want to avoid disappointment.
The acting is not splendid but functional. Cruise nicely essays the journey from douche to hero better than most (those are his two set personas anyway so with either he is still in his comfort zone) but he is never stretched or taxed. Same goes for Emily Blunt, who has been to the gym and got herself a hard body which she shows off through wife- beater vests in a way that would make even Michelle Rodriguez proud. Of course someone like Rodriguez would have been a more natural first choice for this role, so it is brave casting to go for the normally very petite and elegant Blunt, who is however no stranger to odd-sci-fi. The two do not exactly have much of a chemistry, but given the situation and the whole 'wartime' milieu, it is perhaps intentional. Gleeson does his part well as does Bill Paxton as the hard ass Sargent. No mystery why he was cast, though sadly he never says 'Game Over' (Too obvious?) The rest are familiar character actors playing tough Space Marines and are never meant to rise above pure stereotype.
Action wise we see the same impressive aerial landing and beach battle (the one in the trailers) many times, and there is a nice 'ruined city' fight at the end, but none are THAT spectacular and after you've seen them again for the thirtieth time (including the trailers) they begin to lose their lustre. Special Effects are also OK but nothing extraordinary. The look of the movie is very much 90's, and that is probably down to Liman (or a tight budget) London gets to do Blockbuster duty again with Trafalgar Square, Waterloo Bridge and Whitehall all getting a pounding.
The second time travel 'change the future by replaying the past' summer flick after "X-Men Days of Future Past", it pales a little in comparison but is still easy and original fun (If you forget 'Groundhog Day' and 'Source Code' of course) if that is what you seek for a night out.
X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
Back to basics for story with lots of brain and a little brawn that does a difficult juggling act well.
There were a lot of expectations resting on this movie's shoulders. A return from original director Bryan Singer, a resurrection of the original trilogy cast and a union of original trilogy and "First Class". Plus it features the beloved 'Sentinels' storyline and deals with time travel (always tricky) and the often used 'go back to the past to change the future' line, as well as heavy issues about war and peace and the power of choice over destiny etc. However, happily enough, this difficult and tricky balancing act has been pulled off with aplomb.
The 'ravaged Earth' future (which is at odds with original trilogy but anyway..) is shamelessly derivative of 'The Terminator' and 'The Matrix' series, and they do not even try to hide it. Not so important given that it is just a bookend for the main story. Professor X and Magneto are now allies, facing an army of unstoppable anti-mutant robots called Sentinels which are like the offspring of the T1000 and Thor's Destroyer. Reduced to just a handful, it is decided to send Wolverine back to 1973 because he is the only one who can make the journey and also never ages (and because he is the main star of the series) His mission is to unite young Charles, a drug addicted wash out who is afraid of his mental powers, and young Lehnsherr, who is imprisoned beneath the Pentagon suspected of having assassinated Kennedy (?) Breaking him out with the aid of young Hank McCoy/Beast and Quicksilver, who can move at lightning speed, they have to stop Mystique, who is now a breakaway radical, from assassinating diminutive genius Bolivar Trask, inventor of the Sentinels, an act which will at once radicalise the human governments and provide Trask's team headed by young Colonel Stryker with her unique DNA that helps them create the T1000 like future Sentinels! After interrupting the first attempt at the Paris peace talks to end the Vietnam War (where Trask is trying to sell his Sentinels to the Reds) they then track her down to Washington where President Nixon is unveiling the first generation robots. However Magneto is following his own radical agenda and crashes the party by dropping a Stadium around the White House and hijacking the robots. With the future on a literal knife edge it will be a series of individual personal choices that decides everything.
There is a predictable but cute coda in a totally new future that sees a lot of dead characters alive again (guess who in particular?) and the events of the previous 5 contemporary timeline movies seemingly rubbed out to start anew.
The film returns to big ideas and concepts, something that defined the original trilogy but largely disappeared from subsequent entries. In many ways it evokes "Watchman", right down to Nixon and a cold war milieu (here Vietnam) demonstrating human aggression and self destructiveness which a well meaning but misguided scientist hopes to end by uniting mankind against a common enemy (here mutants) It also returns to the core concept of X-Men, do you meet aggression and hostility with more aggression and hostility or do you reach out and change hearts and minds? Singer shows pros and cons of both sides but of course ends on a victory for peace and mutual tolerance. It is far more thought provoking and free thinking than the simplistic black and white agitprop of the overpraised "Captain America the Winter Soldier". The old free will/destiny dichotomy gets a fair airing as well with a message that even the smallest of gestures and choices can change not just our own lives but those of countless others. It is no coincidence that a classic Star Trek episode is playing in the background of a key moment!
The film is not over abundant in action but then no previous X-Men ever was either. The "Terminator" future scenes are pretty much all in the trailer and seem done with little real care. There are some interesting set pieces in the 70's section, notably Quicksilver's bullet time rescue and a fight around the Paris peace talks that's caught on 8mm 'found footage'. The biggest battle comes at the end with Magneto's stadium lift and White House destruction, even if the resolution is ultimately intellectual rather than pyrotechnic.
Acting wise, Jackman is again the star playing a more chilled out Wolverine this time in his 6th turn! Stewart and Mckellen are cameos more than anything else , leaving the real screen time to Mcavoy and Fassbender, who here play intermediate versions of the characters. McAvoy has most to do as a self doubting pathetic druggy wreck that gets a little tiresome quickly. Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique gets another expanded role, driving the story along, but her performance is laconic and lacks passion. Nicholas Hoult is a nerdy Beast who can change at will while Game of Thrones star Peter Dinklage plays unintended villain Trask well and never loads his character or reaches for camp. Other brief returnees from the original trilogy include Ellen Page, Aaron Stanford, Shawn Ashmore and Halle Berry, though like the big two they're just there for recognition value and do little.
Perhaps a little action-light for some fans and a seeming step back from the reboot project, this film is nonetheless an engrossing and unusual left turn for the series that leaves us wanting to know more as the credits roll.
Gojria Vs. Cloverfield - Hollywood Kaiju homage has heart in right place but inherits many problems from its source material.
As a lifelong Godzilla (and Kaiju movie in general) lover, I was both excited and wary when the new version rolled around, still bearing the terrible scars of disappointment with the 1998 "reimagining". Back then nobody would have spent a nickel on a genuine 'Kaiju' homage, but a lot can happen in two decades and now 'Geek is King'! So like last year's equally niche but fun Kaiju/Anime homage "Pacific Rim' this one nods many knowing winks at the 'cognoscenti while keeping it generic enough for the layperson to part with their entrance fee.
The new take sticks closely to the traditional 'Kaiju' template.The characters are all stock as well, save Taylor Johnson's Brody who is an American military everyman archetype, with scientists and generals meeting regularly to discuss unfolding developments and devise ineffective solutions. 'Godzilla 1998' borrowed from the first movie's premise, Godzilla as atomic destroyer, but it also showed how limited such a template is, becoming 'just another frakking disaster movie'. Even Ishiro Honda and the guys at Toho realised this as the format changed immediately with the second movie, going for a 'whoever wins we lose -Godzilla does battle with another monster who may or may not be more dangerous than he is' style. Eventually the series merged with "The Mysterians" to become 'Godzilla and humanoid heroes vs a series of kind of sympathetic but still dangerous alien races who control monsters intent on taking over the Earth' battles, and this is probably Godzilla's most famous phase, giving us classics such as "Destroy all Monsters" "Invasion of the Astro Monsters" and "Godzilla vs Gigan". This film borrows the basic outline of phase 2, Godzilla vs a more dangerous monster while humanity looks on not sure who to back if anyone?
The 'MUTOS' (a designation rather than a name) are based unashamedly on the 'Cloverfield' monster, a clever little jab at that 'found footage' disaster (in more ways than one!) and its pretence to the Godzilla crown. One male hatches and destroys a Japanese nuclear reactor in 1999 while the other incubates until it's ready to mate. This initial story line involves Bryan Cranston's Joe Brody, a scientist and family man who becomes an obsessed maniac when his wife dies, trying to convince the world of the existence of a monster only to be ridiculed and mocked. It's a little homage to one of the best of the original series, "The Terror of Mechagodzilla', the ultra dark film with which Honda closed a series that other hands had turned into increasingly cheap and ludicrous bubble gum cartoons for kids. Alas he is only in it for the first twenty five minutes or so, swiftly written out once his character arc is done. (His screen wife Juliette Binoche is in it for even less!) The baton is handed to his son, Aaron 'Kick Ass' Taylor-Johnson, a bomb disposal expert and family man who becomes our 'on the spot' hero armed with the necessary scientific knowledge to make him the human epicentre of events. David Strathairn takes the role of 'General who sits in endless meetings and gives audience exposition' usually played by Yoshifumi Tajima while Ken Watanabe plays the 'wise and knowing' scientist role usually played by Takashi Shimura. Like the originals, two very talented character actors give kudos to utterly empty roles requiring only gravitas and a straight face. Spunky and intelligent female characters were a regular in the series, but for our American hero archetype we have the 'devoted wife and mother' role played by a similarly underused Elizabeth Olson. Perhaps to counterbalance we have Sally Hawkins as Watanabe's assistant, who joins the rest in having little demanded of her talents. Whatever this movie is, a powerhouse acting tour de force it isn't! (save Cranston)
The structure is clunky, the characters two dimensional at best and the dialogue often hokey, but these faults are mostly inherited from the structure they were trying to copy. A bigger fault that is all its own is that we rarely see the battles between Godzilla and the MUTO lovers, a kind of 'always in the background' technique director Gareth Edwards used in his ground breaking sci-fi home movie "Monsters'. Like Spielberg, this route was taken due to a simple lack of means, and so there is no call for it here. Sure, what we see is great, but we see so little of it! Most appears on TV screens or in the background when all we want is to sit down and get a ringside seat for the big fight, 12 rounds between the champ and the contender, like the originals. It turns out to be extremely frustrating, especially since the human characters we focus on are just place-fillers!
That said, the digital CGI Godzilla looks and moves just like the original (gone is that chicken lizard POS from 1998!) and also has that same intelligence in his expression, reminding us he is no dumb brute. He also has blue fire which powers up along his dorsal fins and punches and throws his opponents, a 'motion capture' update of the 'men in suits' technique, which endears it to the fans. The film ends, as all good Godzilla films do, with the battered hero returning to the sea after his bout is done, leaving the wide eyed humans to see him off. Nobody actually waves and shouts "Goodbye Godzilla!" alas, unless it is in a deleted scene somewhere.
At last a Hollywood tribute to Godzilla done right, it is nonetheless riven with problems which may hurt its chances at the Box Office. We hope not, because if this works then future bouts against King Ghidorah, Hedorah, Gigan could become a mouth-watering prospect for future summer seasons!
Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days'
For those of you who are Monty Python fans of course that was the infamous sketch which almost got the series pulled featuring a gruesome parody of then shocking Sam Peckinpah featuring increasingly ridiculous violence and gallons of blood and guts. This thriller is a lot like that, and by the end equally as absurd.
Crucified in the States (like one the characters in fact!) this would be mind-frakk puzzle picture cum ultraviolent narc actioner is a sad case of over ambition by the normally solid and dependable David Ayer. In Europe this movie has been largely marketed as 'David Ayer's new film' yet it falls by the wayside compared to other outings like "End of Watch" and "Street Kings" even though it is contains the same DNA. The problem is that the main 'mystery' isn't all that mysterious when it comes down to it and some baffling stuff involving Guatemalan Special Forces mercenaries (or are they?) and taking them down serve only to bring the film up to the bare minimum run time and to throw in a red herring to what is a very small barrel of fish.
The film is very reminiscent of 90's post "Silence of the Lambs' thrillers, right down to the spunky female detective and her beta male black assistant who spend a lot of their time in mortuaries attending grisly post mortems and looking through computer files with very big print and padded by endless helicopter shots of Ford Crown Victorias driving down barren country roads to an ominous musical accompaniment. There is also the prurient obsession with blood and horror that nowadays is sated by forensic porn TV shows, including numerous shots of pulped and mutilated bodies in various states of dismemberment over which the camera hangs like some rubbernecking motorist driving past an accident. The other half is the sort of macho military thriller focusing on the camaraderie and tensions between elite warriors, men and women who would be bottom feeding social rejects if that same society did not employ them as its guard dogs and so give them a lucrative and enjoyable calling. None of them are meant to be likable, given that they kill for a living, but they are good at what they do and kill other worse killers.
The 'action' part, which involves numerous shoot outs, also shares this desire to 'shock' with endless 'buckets of blood' shooting out with every bullet hole. Maybe that's more realistic, but it's done so sensationally here that you get the feeling the expected reaction is 'Wow! Cool! Did you see that dude's head blow up? Rad man!" rather than revulsion at the real life horrors of war. This reaches saturation point by the final shoot-out/insane car chase which reaches that 'Monty Python' level and keeps going right into the even more absurd Peckinpah tribute coda.
It all probably looked better on paper and maybe that's where it should have stayed! (or been restructured) The stars do what they can, with Schwarzenegger doing his strong and silent routine well and he still looks tough and menacing with a gun or a knife. The other 'Terminator' Sam Worthington actually shows some acting prowess at last and makes his goateed tender-tough guy likable and vulnerable. Terence Howard coasts and treats everything like a comedy (obviously not happy with his script!) while Joe Manganiello, Josh Holloway and Max Martini look and act tough before achieving spectacular over the top demises. Olivia Williams does the 'spunky female detective' routine nicely, though her character is increasingly demeaned and rendered stupid and weak which is a shame (another 90's nod?) Harold Perrineau (of 'The Matrix' sequels) plays the beta male black partner who is really just a straight man to her wisecracks and a Watson to her Holmes-ian deductions. The real standout is Mireille Enos, who takes the role of the insane drugged up psycho bitch martial arts bi-sexual nymphomaniac killer freak and runs with it throughout the movie, hitting 11 on every dial. Maybe she wants to branch out or maybe she is just channelling the anger from everyone saying she was too ugly to play Brad Pitt's wife in "World War Z"?
Not as bad as everyone says, it can be enjoyed if one lowers ones expectations. There are far worse movies out there, but the problem is few of them have such illustrious stars or carry the weight of being 'David Ayers new movie!". Disappointing but only compared to what it should have been.
The Flymo Man? Wuthering Nanomites? Star Trek Origins: The Borg? - All of this and more in interesting but flawed film.
I admit that the trailer for 'Transcendence" made it look like a poor remake of 'The Lawnmower Man", some terrible penance that Johnny Depp had to serve for his multiple crimes against beloved cultural icons. Turns out it is a lot deeper and more interesting than that, though the end result is still very flawed.
The films biggest problem ironically enough is its ambition. While most movies today are happy to coast on the same old formulas, spelling out in huge flaming words what you are meant to think and how to think it, this one attempts to introduce ambiguity and ask serious questions on a number of time-honoured issues such as 'Man's relationship to technology', "What does it mean to be human?', "Is Utopianism destined to cause only destruction as it tries to achieve perfection?" "Would it be right to kill a Hitler or a Stalin if you knew what they were going to do in the future?" "Is love between two people real or is it just a dream that one has of the other?" and other questions without forcing any one answer on you. Fine, except that the end result looks like several completely different films spliced clumsily together with no real central thread or structure, and as a cinematic work (which any movie no matter its intentions must also be) it is devoid of pace, urgency or drive, which makes it appear boring and pointless.
Structure is one of its main drawbacks. It starts off interestingly enough with a serious of attacks by an anti-Tech Terrorist group called "R.I.F.T" led by Bree (Kate Mara) comprised almost exclusively of young computer nerds who have seen the future and realised it is not pretty. One of the victims is AI genius Will Caster (Depp) who is shot with a polonium bullet KGB style to kill him with Radiation poisoning. His loving wife Evelyn (Hall) persuades their mutual friend Max (Paul Bettany) to copy a previous AI experiment and upload Will's neural net into the drives of their existing mega AI experiment. Is what emerges Will or the AI imitating him? Then however it gets messy. Max is kidnapped by R.I.F.T and turned to their side. Years pass as Evelyn and Cyber-Will set up their huge 1970s style Underground lab complex in the middle of New Mexico where they create Nanotech miracles. Then Will begins to experiment with human-machine hybrids, using Nanomites to turn people into cybernetic super beings that operate as part of a single Collective consciousness with the aim of expanding and repurposing all of existence to serve it. Good idea, except that it already EXISTS in popular culture as Star Trek's Borg, and the film does nothing to get around this eye rolling sense of Deja-Vu. Then they invite their former friends including Dr Tagger (Freeman) and FBI cyber Chief Buchannan (Cillian Murphy) to a 'Borg Open Day' (?) which leads to an immediate declaration of war by the terrified powers that be. Resistance turns out not to be futile as R.I.F.T (Who were the villains at the start and killed lots of people including Will) joins forces with the F.B.I/C.I.A under Colonel Stevens (Cole Hauser) to mount a covert attack on their complex using deliberately old school weapons (even the trucks are from the 80s!) and a VIRUS, which 18 years after 'Independence Day" is still the best cinematic way to overcome an otherwise invincible enemy. (Will can create the Borg and control nature itself but he can't use a decent anti-Virus!) The end is the most confused of all, seemingly overturning everything we have seen before to eventually close on a nod to 'Wuthering Heights' two graves finale. Looking back maybe the whole film was a sort of 'WH' riff, with Evelyn as Cathy and Will as Heathcliff and R.I.F.T as Hindley?
Watching a second time I got the impression that perhaps the original script involved an element of 'Terminator' style time-travel, with Bree and the R.I.F.T being from a future over run by Will's Borg, which they use to shock Max into understanding the need to kill Cyber-Will and Evelyn (Here it seems he turns out of flattery since R.I.F.T is inspired by his writings) in this time before it all went wrong. With that extra dimension the story makes a lot more sense and gains more of the moral ambiguity and tragic poignancy and pathos the makers were obviously aiming for towards the end. If this was the case it is understandable why it was removed (too 'fantastic', too much like 'The Terminator' series) but if you imagine THAT is the set up as you watch it, I guarantee it will work a lot better.
The film looks nice, as you would expect from Wally Pfister (Nolan's lenser) and has a good cast, though none are working to their full strength. Everyone seems to be deliberately underplaying their roles, avoiding sensationalism and melodrama, which was obviously a directorial choice though not necessarily a correct one, adding to the leaden pace and lack of dynamism to make the film seem flat and lifeless.
Not a bad film but a frustrating and disappointing one which veers frequently in tone and thematic content and does not address serious structural issues. Worth going to see despite all this if you like films that try (however poorly) to make you think.