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Maleficent (2014)
3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
A Feminist reworking of a classic tale that's no fairy tale but a worthy and daringly offbeat addition to the new fantasy boom., 3 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"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.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Here we go again - Cruise cruises through Video Game pseudo-movie with Emily becoming a Blunt instrument and Liman lending a Light touch., 1 June 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Back to basics for story with lots of brain and a little brawn that does a difficult juggling act well., 22 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

Godzilla (2014)
9 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Gojria Vs. Cloverfield - Hollywood Kaiju homage has heart in right place but inherits many problems from its source material., 16 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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!

Sabotage (2014/I)
2 out of 13 people found the following review useful:
Sam Peckinpah's 'Salad Days', 7 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
The Flymo Man? Wuthering Nanomites? Star Trek Origins: The Borg? - All of this and more in interesting but flawed film., 4 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

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.

Pompeii (2014/I)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Volcanic Titanic - Anderson's budget blockbuster crashes and burns on a bonfire of tired clichés, 2 May 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A rare case of a film that's even worse than its trailer suggests, this heavily hyped high concept disaster movie proves that some directors, even talented ones like Paul WS Anderson (whose dumb but fun B-pics I've always loved) should not stray too far from their comfort zone. It also sadly recalls 'Titanic"and "Pearl Harbour" in that it turns a true life human tragedy of unimaginable proportions into an effects ridden extravaganza that ignores the real tales of suffering and sacrifice to focus on a cheesy and unrealistic romantic melodrama instead, thereby proving both a gross insult to the dead and the audience's intelligence!

You can already imagine how the pitch meeting went, "Sword and sandals is big at the moment! Why not do a movie based on the destruction of Pompeii, but in 3D! And since its set in Rome we can bring some stuff from "Gladiator" in, plus being a real life disaster we can riff on "Titanic"! too! You know, pretty spirited girl from the nice side of town falls in love with the poor bad boy who captures her heart and they have to flee from the evil moustache twirling pure evil suitor she's promised to?. While we're at it we can mix in a bit of 'Brave heart' too with a Celt hero whose family were slaughtered by evil foppish nobles growing up to get his convenient revenge! Its a sure fire hit! What could possibly go wrong?"

What indeed?

The obvious problem is that you have a film that strives for meaning, pathos and human tragedy while consisting entirely of shopworn clichés and hackneyed conventions that people were already laughing at in the 1850s! Add to this dialogue so awful and tired that you'd swear this was a Monty Python parody and a pair of lead 'actors' (allegedly) with no presence, character or passion and whom together have less chemistry than an average British school leaver and already things are floundering. Why not compound the problem with pedestrian direction (from a director who is anything but) and absolutely no sense of building tension, urgency or import at all? OK? So the story bit stinks, but people didn't come for that, did they? They came for the exploding mountain and the devastating eye candy carnage, and surely that rocks, right? Surely we wouldn't' just get some cheap fireballs, ash clouds and unrealistic CGI tsunamis for ten minutes after an hour plus of pointless bull sheet filler, right? WRONG!! And as a final finger to those with any knowledge about Roman times at all it offers up historical, social and political inaccuracies so chasmicly vast that they make "300 Rise of an Empire" look like a documentary!

Blame cannot be apportioned too squarely on the makers who clearly did the best they could with what they had to work with. The biggest problem is that this isn't a multi million dollar Hollywood blockbuster but a Canadian-German low budget B-movie from a team who specialise in fun video game popcorn actioners writing a huge cheque it cannot possibly cash.

The over reach is painful and it seems everyone was aware of it. Anderson uses none of his visual inventiveness nor the spark of wit and cleverness that made flicks like "Mortal Kombat" "Event Horizon" "AvP" and "Resident Evil" so memorable, and the few talented stars roped in for an easy payday just coast and hope for the best. This is particularly true of Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne 'Trinity' Moss playing heroine Cassia's merchant parents who smile and walk through like guests attending a party they'd rather not be at. Kiefer Sutherland actually plays his evil suitor-guy who killed heroes family Villain as a running Boris Karloff impersonation! Obviously he did it to make his risible part bearable (that or they originally wanted Hank Azaria and he was the sub?) But It speaks volumes that Anderson LET him! Kit Harrington and Emily Browning look good (though nothing like a Celt or an Italian) and that's it. Its not cruel to suggest they stick to modelling! Only the ever dependable Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje invests any energy or élan into his performance as the "black best friend/Gladiator with just one more day on the job before he retires' and as with other movies he outshines the jobbing cast around him and provides the only human being in a world off cardboard cut outs.

Looking to its 'inspirations' it tries to achieve a tragic poignancy, a Gnostic victory in death over a corrupt and cruel world, yet (for us at least) it was just the final rotten cherry on the burnt cake. Perhaps after having watched "Amazing Spiderman 2" and Sam Mendes London stage production of "King Lear" in the proceeding days we were comparing it unfavourably with shows that can do tragic endings properly?

An amusing incidental irony is that the star of the real 'Gladiator' headlines another classical disaster blockbuster in cinemas at the same time as this, and while 'Noah' has its flaws it still achieves everything 'Pompeii' tries and fails to in droves.

Not a total disaster it can be enjoyed if you know what you are letting yourself in for.

12 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Spider man 2 Electro Boogaloo - Memories of flaccid first instalment swept away by powerful and dramatic sequel., 16 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sony's first reboot installment in 2012 was justly criticised for being a poorly scripted rehash of Raimi's original a decade earlier, cheap and tacky looking with hardly any spider action and a poorly motivated villain, a chick flick masquerading as a superhero blockbuster existing solely so Sony could maintain the rights. However, in a rare case of people listening, the second movie is a massive step up in quality and integrity which puts to shame most of official Marvel's underwhelming recent offerings.

The storyline sticks quite closely to that of the comics (something the original trilogy didn't) and closes many of the loopholes of movie 1 while opening a myriad doors to future instalments.

There are four main plot strands here (1) Peter Parker's success as Spiderman and his conflicted feelings about his relationship with Gwen Stacey, especially the vow he made to her dying father, a vow whose casual dismissal now literally haunts him. (2) The succession of Peter's childhood friend Harry Osborn to the OSCORP throne and the dirty politics and inherited genetic condition that killed his father and is now starting to blight him too, leading to the desperate search for a cure that seemingly only Spiderman can provide. (3) The tragedy of lonely and ignored OSCORP tech Max Dillon, whose stalkerish obsession with Spiderman after a chance encounter turns deadly when an unlikely industrial accident involving electric eels turns him into 'Electro', a being of living electricity who can drain a city and control a cities fate. (4) The true story of Peter's parents, who on a pre-credit sequence are shown fighting an evil OSCORP assassin in a Learjet and whose motive for running is revealed by some underground detective work. Book ending the movie is a blink and you'll miss it turn by Paul Giamatti as Russian mobster Aleksei Sytseivich, who is recruited to Osborn's 'League of Evil' as "Rhino" in a mech suit 'Avatar' would envy. But don't get too excited because the film ends just as they are starting to battle!

The acting all round is fine. Garfield, criticised for being too cocky last time, is more mature and grounded this time, and his emotional scenes have real power. He is well matched by Dane DeHaan, who has made a career out of troubled angry loners, and gives Osborn enough pathos to make you pity him even as he does awful things. Emma Stone as Gwen is again excellent, funny and intelligent yet hiding a secret pain that's always there in the corner. Jamie Foxx as Dillon makes for both a sad and pitiful loner, desperate to be even acknowledged by anyone, and an increasingly angry and embittered Electro. His 'master plan' involves making the city bow to him and acknowledge his power, which is sad enough in itself. Sally Field again plays a younger, trimmer, more energetic Aunt May, doing some fiery dramatics of her own. Also appearing are Chris Cooper as Norman Osborn, bitter,dying and green, Colm Feore as the shady OSCORP king maker whose more actual villain than either Electro or The Green Goblin, and an unrecognisable Martin Csokas as a stereotypical sadistic German scientist.

Unlike TAS, the pacing and the mix of action and drama is far better, and it reaches the emotional and dramatic heights of Raimi's trilogy with actors better suited to the material (You do not want to throttle Stone, unlike the whiny selfish needy Kirsten Dunst! And they have the Parker-Osborn dynamic right here, unlike the Raimi series which switched the original roles around with disastrous consequences.) The special effects are OK but not brilliant, and Electro could have been more ground breaking and breathtaking, but surprisingly it doesn't make too much difference here. Kudos must also be given for following through with a faithful enactment of the Goblin-Gwen Stacey storyline, something of an open secret already, hence the heavy Greek tragedy style foreshadowing throughout the movie. They do not sell it short and it delivers the required emotional punch.

A strong superhero movie at a time when such things are increasingly scarce, an astounding step up from the feeble initial instalment that provides fine Summer thrills with a solid dramatic backbone and promises much from director Webb and his team for future episodes.

Noah (2014)
1 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Lord of the Arks? - Not a complete Washout (Ha!) nor canonical - Fantasy spectacle that still respects the story despite the touches of Tolkein., 4 April 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Let's face it, when Darren Aronofsky said he was making a big budget version of the story of Noah, nobody was expecting Cecile B. DeMille, Charlton Heston and Miklos Rosza…or where they? Seems reading some of the pages here that an awful lot of people were hoping for a traditional, faithful old school Biblical epic, hence their disappointment. Well a lot more than disappointment actually, especially for those followers of the Abrahamic faiths who with some justification are furious at having one of their most important stories turned into a sci-fi fantasy epic. But is it really the nakedly political green agenda Atheist propaganda piece everyone here is decrying? I have to say that while there are 'environmental' ideas pushed in here and there, they are hardly ever at the forefront, and though not Biblical canon there is no way this can be called an Atheist movie, even if the man making it is 'non committed'. (He claims repeatedly to be an Atheist but there has always been a very Malick-esque spiritual strain running through his works that defy this assertion. I'm convinced many of the anti-God' people out there are actually believers but dare not say so in public for fear of ridicule from their 'trendy' friends)

The most interesting thing about it is that the film takes an unapologetically Sci-fi-Fantasy route, setting the story in some weird undisclosed era that might be the past or the future (though it is only a few thousand years after the expulsion from Eden so maybe not?) The Cain family, purveyors of murder and lustful living, have set up an 'industrial society' that covers the world. Al Gore alert rings immediately, but it is never mentioned again so it might just be something sneaked in. The world however is utterly frakked and in a post-Apocalyptic state. Noah and his family are the last guardians of nature, protecting God's natural creations from man (it's like a job and he treats it as such here) rather like Native Americans in some other movies might. Then Noah gets a vision from 'the Creator' (Useful for talking about God without getting denominational) which a handy visit to grandfather Methuselah, former super warrior and now Shaman, is interpreted as the historic mission to save the animals in the Ark. This Ark looks like a Borg Oblong rather than a ship, and is constructed by 'The Watchers', Angels who came to help Man out but got caught in rock and now look like stone Transformers! But he is getting grief from the King, Tubal Cain who was also the man who murdered his father before his eyes when he was but a boy! (Boo!-Hiss!) He sets up a camp specialising in debauchery, cannibalism and other vices while preparing his army of black clad henchman (These clichés are literally prehistoric!) to attack. Son Ham finds a wife but she gets run over (?) while Sham gets to impregnate adopted sister Ila after some Methuselah magic heals her ruptured womb. As the flood begins a great battle takes place between Cain's army and The Watchers in which they get released from their rock shells and 'ascend' like the Gargoyles from 'I Frankenstein' (Actually, are they related? Could be…) while humanity is wiped out. Noah however is convinced that all mankind must be die, including himself, to save creation (is he a Cylon?) and when Ila announces she is pregnant he handily promises to kill the child if it is a child bearing daughter! To make matters worse Tubal Cain sneaked on board and is corrupting wife- less Ham to 'The Dark Side'. Things turn out nice in the end but not before lots of shouting, crying, overacting and an extended fight to the death between Noah and Cain!

No, not what you learnt in Sunday school! However, with traditional faith suffering a crisis of faith, updating these timeless mythologies in a more commercial way would be a savvy move, far more effective than simply angrily shouting dogma over and over implacably at people who couldn't care less. C.S Lewis made great advances for Christian theology via this route, and though not denominational "Star Wars" and "Lord of the Rings" have led to a far greater interest in the spiritual and the numinous among a young urban population who otherwise would never have been seen dead near a church or temple. And what was "Man of Steel" if not a DC New Testament?

OK, so this Noah is a conflicted, fallible human being prone to hubris and rage instead of an all-wise unblemished bastion of virtue, but in our world that line no longer sells either. We want our heroes troubled and human, like us, and that includes Biblical ones too. Personally I've always preferred the 'humanistic' approach to religious icons, sharing their pain and sacrifice and torment, something the Greeks specialised in but which largely vanished with Christianity and Islam. He is the Noah we need in 2014.

Acting wise, Crowe does a good job, evoking the similarly Godly Kal-El in 'MOS.' Jennifer Connelly gives us a strong and determined Naameh, no mere passenger she! Emma Watson is OK as Ila, but she is probably only it for the Hermione factor. Anthony Hopkins plays Methuselah as Anthony Hopkins, so no change from there. Best casting stroke though is Ray Winstone as Cain. Raising an instant smile from British viewers, the Cockney hard man evokes both violence and brutality, yet also finds the dignity and pride in a character whose main drive is his belief in the natural superiority of man and his dominion over the world.

Destined to be more famous for the controversy than the film, it is an interesting and exciting piece which dares to bring out the Blockbuster in the Bible, though the son of Noah is not the only Ham in it (nor Cheese) I suspect God ultimately approves, but that might just be a hunch..

2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Captain anti-America? Conspiracy thriller overdoes it on the politics but balances out with decent action and pace, 26 March 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Captain America is perhaps the hardest character to do in 'the modern age' due to the post 60s fashion for 'hip-anti patriotism' in the Anglo- Saxon world. An integral part of 'The Avengers' he got his own rather underwhelming 2011 standalone that served as part of the run up to that all-star tag team. But what story could you give him between Loki and Ultron?

Unsurprisingly Marvel has opted for 'hip anti-patriotism', a sort of inversion of the flag waving he represents, which would be quite interesting and refreshing in itself if only every other popcorn movie around for the last decade hadn't taken the exact same line! In fact any movie with even the tiniest little recognition that there are threats of any kind that have to be faced somehow would be a surprising change. Instead here, couched in the continuing Marvel plot arc, we have movie that tells us again that 'we are the only problem!', that those who try to stop world threats are in fact Nazis (literally here!) and only bending every sword into a ploughshare and sitting down to buy the world a Coke will lead to everyone singing in harmony. While admirable, it is precisely this sort of naive, insular 'splendid isolationism' that led directly to both world wars and is seemingly leading us towards the third one right now! If anything all of these movies will become historical documents of our time, like those 'Atomic science will cure everything' pictures of the 1950s.

But enough of the socio-political analysis, how good is 'Winter Soldier' as a night's entertainment? Well it openly boasts of being more thriller than a superhero movie, and in that it works well. Captain America gets to do his thing a lot, and his shield finally becomes his signature weapon. There are spectacular car chases, especially early on featuring Nick Fury in a tricked out Tahoe vs a fleet of fake cop cars. Close quarter fist fights of every kind abound, even if they are shot with 'wobbly cam'. Three drone Heli-Carriers that are integral to the plot are well realised if destroyed a little too easily, and those 'Quinn- Jets' also turn up strafing our heroes everywhere they turn. Evans continues his maturity as Rogers/America, a doubting hero in the wrong time (he says so every other line in fact!) aided by Black Widow, who is more at home as a spy than as a 'super heroine' slaying Chitauri left and right. Johansson, who has been opting for every odd role going lately, looks oddly uncomfortable in the black leather this time, but that may just be the character arc. Samuel L. Jackson finally bends Fury around into his Tarantino mode that goes full 'gangsta' by the end. Robert Redford is in it is an acknowledged nod to the 70s conspiracy thrillers he once headlined and that 'WS' models itself on, playing the villain in far too relaxed a manner to be genuinely menacing. Marvel fans will already know exactly who 'The Winter Soldier' is and who he was before he became it, and he proves an interesting enemy here, yet with a lack of other 'heavies' he is left to carry the villainy alone and it is a tough load even for someone with a metal arm. Anthony Mackie finally brings 'Falcon' to the screen, even if he ends up looking more like turbo 'Condorman' and is not even that big a presence anyway despite Mackie's winning performance.

The film continues the post-Avengers trend of 'scorched earth', seemingly destroying everything that came before it, presumably to then rebuild again in 'Age of Ultron' (if anyone cares anymore by that stage?) A couple of rather confusing post-credit scenes (one after end title design and at the very end as usual) hint at what is to come in future attractions.

Not a conventional 'superhero' film, it is a modest entry that is slightly above 'Iron Man 3" (it actually features some Captain America!) and "Thor Dark World" (it has an actual story and some energy behind it) if one lowers their bar suitably. The films heavy handed politics will certainly alienate many but they are not exactly hidden so you take it as you find it.

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