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This film was quite unexpected. Okay, from the previews I had an fairly good idea what it was about, however the execution was nothing short of brilliant. In parts the film was a little slow, but then it is thriller so that is to be expected, and having parts of the film drag out does really add to the suspense. I wouldn't call it a continual, edge of your seat, suspense film, and I did eventually work out how it was going to end, but a part of that had to do with the way that they had executed the ending, but that is all that I will say about that.
So, Life is, as you probably guessed, about the discovery of life beyond the confines of the Earth. The film is predominantly set on the International Space Station and they have just collected a probe that has returned from Mars containing some soil samples. However, in the soil sample they discover a living organism. At first it seems to be quite harmless, but after an accident in the containment field, they believe that it has died so they start prodding it with electric shocks. Bad move, because it seems as if they have somewhat upset it and the creature goes from being curious to being rather mad.
This is one of the things that is left hanging throughout the film is the creature naturally aggressive, or was it because we started poking and prodding it that it was under the impression that it was being attacked and as such decided to defend itself. If that is the case then it seems as if their first encounter with extra-terrestrial life has resulted in creating an enemy, and a pretty powerful one at that because it seems to be quite resistant to a lot of things such as fire and extreme cold. Also, a lack of oxygen results in it going into hibernation until it can breathe again.
Which raises another interesting question life on Mars. It has been suggested in the past that the 'aliens on Mars' movies don't quite work anymore because we are quite convinced that there isn't any life on Mars, which is why John Carter of Mars was considered to be a rather bad movie. There was a time when all of the bad and nasty aliens came from Mars, but ever since we managed to find out a lot more about the planet this concept fell upon the wayside, that is until this film.
It has been suggested that this film is a tribute to the Aliens franchise, and I probably agree with that. However, the film also seems to pay tribute to the good old invaders from Mars films as well since this creature does come from the Red Planet. However, there is an underlying idea as to why Mars is now a lifeless hulk this creature basically killed everything on it leaving it to become a desert wasteland. Since there is no longer anything to eat these creatures are now in hibernation waiting for an opportunity to come back to life.
This raises another interesting theory - the creature begins the film as a rather small creature, and only later, after it has fed, does it grow to its current size. It sort of flags the idea of what happened when we made contact with the natives of North America and other lands it wasn't fun for the populations since huge numbers of them were wiped out by disease. This is the case with Mars because we really don't know what is on that planet, or any of the others in the solar system with our desire to go out and explore, and conquer, a part of us doesn't seem to make the connection with the possibility that life may not only be hostile, but almost invisible. This is more so with the fact that symptoms of a disease don't come about until after the disease has reached its contagion stage.
Many films have us meet aliens and make friends with them, though we should also be aware that a lot of these films also have the aliens as being hostile, though we eventually defeat them. This may not, and probably won't, be the case if we were to encounter life beyond our planet, especially if they arrive here before we arrive there. In fact if the aliens were to arrive it would probably be more like Independence Day as opposed to ET or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, or even a microscopic organism which will decimate the population before we have a chance to stop it.
Time to go Home
Well, it seems as if they couldn't leave the movie with our four heroes happy back in the plains of Africa because, well, they are starting to get homesick. Actually, the Penguins and the Monkeys had already headed home, via Monte Carlo to do a bit of gambling with all of the gold and jewels that they dug up in the previous adventure, and our heroes are starting to scratch their heads, wondering when they are going to get back again. Well, as it turns out the Penguins have completely forgotten about them so our heroes decide to head off the Europe. There is only one problem after causing a raucous at the casino they catch the attention of Dubois, a dangerous animal hunter who wants a lion's head on her wall, so they do what any self respecting animal does, and join the circus.
This film seems to move away from what the original two were exploring, namely the animals returning to their natural habitat. Okay, the animals don't actually live in Madagascar, but that was because they fell overboard and landed up there. However, we now return to civilisation (for want of a better word, though maybe I should say 'industrialised world') and have to learn how to perform in a circus. Okay, there is the problem that carnies (that is circus performers) tend to stick together and not particularly like strangers, but the Monkeys, taking on the disguise of the King of Versaille (which I have to admit is a pretty awesome disguise), buy the circus as a way to get onto the train.
The problem is that the circus is, well, run down, particularly since one of the star performers ended up failing in one of his acts and now spends his time moping in the corner. In the end, as can be expected from a Hollywood movie, everything turns out for the best, though the whole adage of there being no place like home is a bit of a misnomer because, as our heroes discover, once you leave home then all of a sudden home is no longer what you could consider home. In fact once you leave home then in reality you can never actually go back home again.
I have to admit that I didn't like this film as much as the second one in the franchise, but maybe because the whole joining the circus pretty much introduced a whole heap of new characters that I found quite difficult to start relating too. It wasn't as if they were bad, or annoying, it was just that they were new and, okay, somewhat annoying. I guess the whole circus thing sort of annoyed me as well. Okay, it did have a plot, and it did end reasonably well, though I guess the other thing was that Dubois also started to get under my skin by the end of the film. Sure, it is called Europe's Most Wanted, and by the end having Dubois in the film was necessary, but I still didn't particularly like her. The film was okay, but nowhere near as good as the second in the series.
Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa (2008)
Better than the Original
Who would have thought? A sequel that is actually better, and more enjoyable, than the original. Actually, as I mentioned I found the original to be rather boring and pointless, and also somewhat lacked a plot, but it turned out that this one was actually a lot more engaging. In fact it felt as if the original was simply made as a lead up to this one. Mind you, since the first one did have a large part set in New York, the movie would have probably been too long to work all that well, but still it seemed as if this film succeeded where the first had, in my opinion, failed.
First of all it had a better plot, namely Alex the Lion was born in Africa but had been captured by hunters and taken to the Central Park Zoo in New York. However, after being sent back into the wild, and landing up in Madagascar, they are left to fend for themselves. Well, the penguins build a plane and launch into the air, but unfortunately they run out of petrol and end up crash landing in the middle of Kenya. In fact they land up in the exact same reserve that Alex originally came from, and he even encounters his father. The problem is that because he has been gone for so long, and been raised in the zoo, he hasn't gone through the traditional rites of passage that all lions have to go through.
Like a lot of sequels all of the favourite, and not so favourite (namely the Lemurs) have returned. They even have the psychotic little old lady from the first movie that spends her time running around bashing people on their head with her handbag. Now she is on safari, and as is typical she has her own ways of doing things, and surviving. Mind you, she does actually take on a life of her own in this film, and becomes one of the better characters. Okay, she was a pretty cool character in the first movie, but she was only playing a bit role there as where whereas here is it taking a much more major role.
In the end though I thought that this was actually a pretty cool movie, and quite enjoyable as well, though it will be difficult knowing what is going on unless you have sat through the original film.
The General (1926)
One Long Train Chase
After watching my first Charlie Chaplin movie I thought I might give another great actor of the silent era a go, so when I typed Buster Keaton's name into Youtube this film was the first on the list. Well, as it turns out, at least according to Wikipedia, this film is apparently his best, and some have even considered it the best film ever made. Well, I personally won't go that far, though it does have its moments, namely because, especially in the silent era, there are movies that far surpass this particular film. Mind you, one thing that does stand out is that this would definitely have been considered a big budget movie of the silent era, particularly the scene where a steam train crosses a bridge and the entire bridge collapses.
The General is actually a pretty simple movie, though that is pretty much to be expected from the silent era. Well, okay, when we consider films like Nosferatu and Metropolis, then the silent era did produce some pretty complicated films, but this isn't one of them. Basically the film follows the exploits of an engineer Johnny Gray at the opening stages of the American Civil War. Gray goes to enlist but is denied due to him being a train driver (though he isn't told) and upon being rejected from the army, he is also rejected by the woman he loves, namely because she wants a brave man in uniform.
However, he gets the opportunity to redeem himself when a group of Northern spies steal his train and head off back across the lines. Gray, upon seeing his train being taken, gives chase and the film becomes one whooping great big chase, though they happen to be using trains instead of cars. In fact being so used to car chases it is rather amusing watching one long chase scene that happens to use steam trains instead and all the tricks that are used to try and stop the train behind or catch up to the train in front.
As can be expected this film has an awful lot of slapstick, but then again this is basically what Keaton was famous for slapstick, or physical comedy as some refer to it as. Mind you, Chaplin demonstrated that the humour in the silent era could be quite subtle, however this film doesn't have Chaplins' hands anywhere near it (and it appears that Keaton and Chaplin didn't work on the same projects, probably because both of them were actor/directors).
The film is quite entertaining, and certainly worth watching, though don't expect anything too flash. Mind you, considering when it was made, and the fact that Keaton did all his own stunts (and special effects were basically non-existent), then it does carry some pretty interesting historical values.
A Fitting Farewell
I wasn't sure what to make of this film, particularly since of late when a film hits the screens, while I may really enjoy it, once I have finished watching it it becomes a case of 'well, that was that, lets get on to the next one'. It is sort of like the concept of the chase where the anticipation of the movie is actually much better than the movie itself, especially when the teaser trailers give you enough to make you really want to see it, but not too much to the point where you basically have worked out the plot and only end up seeing the film because you have seen all the others in the franchise (as is the case with the latest Fast and Furious movie).
However, it turned out that this film wasn't going to be following along the same lines as the previous X-men, or even Wolverine films. Okay, after the third film it looked as if the franchise was dead, but it was given a huge shot in the arm with the first origins movie, and also cemented Hugh Jackman as the character of Wolverine. In fact it will be difficult to even envisage anybody else being able to take up the mantle in the way that James McAvoy and Michael Fassenbender has done with Professor X and Magneto. However, after seventeen years, it looks as if it is time for Wolverine to hang up his claws, and what better way than a movie focused around both him and Professor X.
The year is 2029 and pretty much all of the mutants have died, all except for Wolverine, the professor, and Caliban. The problem is that the operation that Wolverine had all those years ago where adamantium was fused to his skeleton is starting to have a side effect, namely it is hindering his ability to regenerate, and as such he is also growing old. Professor X on the other hand seems to be drifting in and out of dementia while having spasms that result in psychokinetic outbursts. In an attempt to control these outbursts Wolverine finds himself driving a limo and hustling for drugs outside a hospital. However, into his twilight years comes one final mission, a girl who needs to be smuggled out of the country.
It is quite interesting teaming Wolverine and Professor X in a final movie as the characters cannot be any different from each other. Wolverine has always been portrayed as the loner who tries not to become too attached to people because whenever people are around him they end up dying. This was the image painted in the first origin movie. However Professor X has always been the communal one, being the founder of the X-men and the guy who went out of his way to track down mutants to bring them into a special school. This contrast is seen especially in the scene in the middle of the movie where they end up rescuing the horses from a farming family that have an unfortunate accident.
In some ways people might suggest that this is a movie where the baton is being passed on to a younger generation, but this is not necessarily the case. Sure, it has painted a vastly different future than the one envisaged at the end of Days of Future Past, but it seems that no matter what they do there is always going to be a reaction against the mutants. In fact what happened to result in there being 'no mutants being born in the past twenty-five years' is left hanging in the air. Mind you, this is not necessarily going to be the last movie in the franchise, especially since a new Deadpool movie is now being advertised, though it is certainly a great way to retire a character that has made an appearance in every X-men movie (with the exception of the first Deadpool movie) that has been made to date.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Let's remake the monkey movie
It seems that like Godzilla, every ten years or so another movie comes along to once again flog this age old concept to death. Okay, when it comes to big monsters stomping around the place, King Kong is just one of the many movies that seem to hit our screens year in and year out, but the big monkey seems to be one of those creatures that always draws the crowds, if the number of people in the cinema is anything to go by (and considering that this is Salisbury Cinemas then a crowded cinema does say something, though they are refurbishing half of their screens anyway). The other interesting thing, as picked up by some internet blogger, is that every time King Kong is reborn he seems to get bigger and bigger. Personally I'm in no real position to compare since I don't go out of my way to see King Kong movies and the only reason I saw this one was because I thought my brother would like it.
Anyway, this movie is set in the early 1970s and the space race and satellite imaging has revealed an island in the south pacific that nobody knew anything about. Actually, people do know about it because it turns out that it has been a graveyard for ships and airplanes for decades, namely because it is surrounded by a perpetual storm and anybody going into the storm generally doesn't come out. However, there are rumours that there are monsters on this island, so this government organisation that is on the verge of having its funding cut, manages to convince congress to approve one last bill, and off they go on a good old monster hunt.
The thing that caught my attention to this movie is that while it is more than just a movie about a giant monkey (and the thing is that monkies, or at least apes, don't actually live in the South Pacific), but rather about even nastier monsters that the giant ape is keeping under control. Mind you, all of the iterations of the King Kong movie has been about people who have gone out of their way to capture an ape from an island in the South Pacific even though this ape isn't actually harming anybody, and then finding out that it has escaped, has grabbed some woman, and climbed to the top of the Empire State Building. Okay, this one follows a slightly different plot in that the entire movie (with the exception of the introduction) is set on the island, but it isn't much different to your typical monster movie.
One thing about this movie is that it is typical Hollywood criticism of how the various departments in the United States government play games of secret squirrel with each other, how the military are basically used as grunts to push forward the government's world dominating agenda, and how the only thing that battle hardened soldiers know is how to do is fight in battle. Oh, and there is also a comment on how the eco-system is a finely balanced machine that if it is tipped too far in the wrong direction then really really bad things would happen. However, movies like these aren't subtle in their execution, and coupled with bad acting, there rather blatant used of eye-candy (which shows them up as hypocrites), and the fact that it is a monster movie disguised as a morality tale, really rubs me up the wrong way. Sure, they may be making some good points, but the way they go about it is more like a sledge hammer, which in some cases is probably what is needed, but not where I am concerned.
The Grass isn't Always Greener
Honestly, I'm not really sure why I actually watched this movie, though it probably has something to do with having access to it, being bored one night, and having been on the ride at Universal Studios in Singapore. To be blunt I found this film rather dull and pointless. Okay, the opening part of the film which was set in New York was fun but once they arrived at Madagascar the film suddenly went downhill. Also, I was expecting to see a lot more of the penguins than I actually did because as it turned out they were only playing bit parts, but were far and away the best characters in the movie (maybe because they were, as one of the animals described, psychotic).
The film is about a Zebra who has turned 10 and lives in the New York Zoo, but spends his days staring at a mural of the wilderness. His best friends are a lion, a hippo, and a giraffe. For the lion life is pretty good because he gets fed steak everyday and is the centre of attention, however the Zebra is pining for better things. So, one day he escapes, and all hell breaks loose, and the authorities decide to send them home. Unfortunately, due to the ship being hijacked by penguins, the crates holding the animals are washed overboard and they land up on the shores of Madagascar.
And that is about it. Basically there really is no plot. Okay, there is that Lord of the Flies concept where the animals are trying to fight off their savage nature, or at least the lion is trying to do so, however I'm not really sure if I could consider this to be the central plot. In another sense it is about how sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the otherside of the river, and that we should be content with where we are and what we have. Well, at this all well and good, but society seems to be suggesting something else, especially since the rich and the famous seem to flaunt their wealth (or at least some of them do). I could even suggest that friendship somehow transcends race, but I'm not really sure if I can say that either. In the end it is basically about a bunch of animals trapped on an island I won't call it a desert island because Madagascar is pretty large for an island.
Yet there is another interesting thing that comes up, and that is how animals in captivity generally can't be returned to the wild. Well, the Lion did, but being born and bred in a zoo sort of indicated that there were things he couldn't do and wasn't used to. In a way we find he constantly trying to fight that savage nature that regularly rises up inside of him in the zoo he was given meat but out in the wild he had to go and find it himself. However a part of me doesn't really want to think about this movie all too deeply because, well, it didn't really thrill me all that much, though I had to admit that there are two more waiting to be watched, but whether I will watch them or not is another story.
T2 Trainspotting (2017)
Revisiting the Past
I'm still in two minds about this film. In one sense it continued to demonstrate Boyle's brilliance as a film maker, and also answered a number of questions that were left unanswered from the first film, such as why it was called 'Trainspotting'. However in another sense I felt that the first film was complete in and of itself and really didn't need a sequel. However, after being impacted the way I was by the first film, and also being intrigued by the trailer (which also reminded me that I hadn't seen the first film) it went without saying that I was going to see this one. Mind you, I seem to be pretty hit and miss when it comes to predicting which films would be packed and which wouldn't, and a part of me expected that on this opening weekend I was going to be fighting for a ticket. Turned out that I wasn't.
Anyway, as we know from the last film, it ends with Renton heading out of London carrying a bag containing twelve thousand pounds, and with Begby being arrested namely because he is smashing up the hotel. So, the question is raised, especially twenty years after the conclusion of the first film, is what happened to them. Honestly, I really don't think it is a story that needs to be told, and a part of me was not actually expecting all that much when it came to this film. However, it turned out that I was actually quite surprised T2 actually goes a lot further than simply 'what happened to them'.
In a way T2 is more about the past as well as the future rather than simply showing us what happened to them we also go back in time to see where they came from. In sense, the first movie introduced us to a group a junkies, and all we saw them was as junkies. Okay, much of the film was about Renton attempting to shake his habit, but in other ways we didn't see much beyond their immediate lives. I guess this is the key to both films when they are junkies there is nothing beyond the immediate now, and nothing beyond that next hit. In a way there is no past, and the future is only as much as it takes to get high existence is meaningless.
Twenty years later and suddenly we are in a different world. Another aspect of the original film was that Renton couldn't escape the habit because he couldn't escape his friends, and the only way he escaped the habit was not just through some tough love by his parents, but also eventually walking away from those friends. Now we see a different Renton, a Renton who has returned to Edingburgh not just to seek out the past, and to look for a new future. In a way what the film seems to do is to flesh the characters out a lot more so they actually become real people as opposed to just junkies.
Another thing that jumped out at me was how time passes. In a sense twenty years has passed and each of the characters seemed to have completely missed those twenty years. Renton was in Amsterdam, Spud was, and still is, a Junkie, and Begby is in Gaol. The only person that seems to have done something is Sickboy, though his life seems to revolve around scrapping whatever money he can get together to support a rather expensive cocaine addiction. In a sense life has suddenly passed them all by sure, Renton may have chosen life, and it was a life that needed to be lived outside of Edinburgh.
However, it is interesting how we look at the nature of addiction everybody is addicted to something, and as Renton tells Spud, to get off the heroin one needs something to replace it, and what he does is that he replaces it by becoming a fitness junky. Sure, back in the day they spoke about choosing life, yet looking at the world twenty years on, that life that one chooses seems to be little different from the life of the heroin addict where we spend our lives trying to get our hands on whatever money we can to make our lives as comfortable as possible, yet realising in the end that this life we are pursuing is just as empty as that of the Junkies.
The Great Wall (2016)
An American Film set in China
There seemed to be a lot of lead up to this film that, in the end, pretty much turned out to be another mindless action flick. Mind you, the cinema I saw this film in had reclining seats, which was pretty cool, but that also meant that the number of people that could watch it were somewhat less, making the price of the tickets more. Still, that is somewhat irrelevant to the film itself. The thing was that when I discovered that the film was directed by a Chinese director made me think that it might have some classic Hong Kong cinema elements in it it didn't.
As I have summed it up in the title, this is basically an American film set in China, with quite a few Chinese actors because, well, it is set in China. Actually, there are only three European characters in the film, and they are basically here for one reason and one reason only to steal a weapon to take back to Europe. However, they suddenly find themselves caught up in a huge battle for survival. Here, they could have actually introduced some Chinese style monsters and such, but they didn't they were basically reptilian monsters, which I have to admit that somewhat of a let down.
Okay, they had Matt Damon and a couple of other Europeans in the film, and honestly, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. However, the tag line 'what were they trying to keep out' gave the suggestion that maybe there was going to be something a with a lot more Asian character to it, or even some horror elements. However, while they tried to make it sound like these creatures were sent from heaven to punish an arrogant emperor, it is pretty clear that these things weren't ghosts, demons, or somesuch, but were rather alien creatures that had somehow found their way to Earth.
Mind you, the film itself was entertaining, and certainly worth the couple of hours in the cinema watching it (as I seem to be doing a lot lately), however it is really only one to watch if you really like these types of films, or have nothing else you really want to see.
Well, twenty years after it was released I have finally got around to actually watching this film, though I suspect that it had something to do with the sequel hitting the cinemas shortly. Mind you, after finally watching this film I sort of wonder whether a sequel is actually warranted sure, it might be interesting to see what happened to the guys, and I'm sure Begby is one who is definitely going to be holding a grudge, however a part of me feels that this film pretty much covered everything that needed to be covered and we simply could have gone on without the need for a sequel to be produced, unless of course it is to encourage us to actually get around to watching the original film.
The one thing that had stood out about this film was that despite its name it had nothing to do with trains. Well, there are a couple of trains in the film, but I was wondering why a film about heroin addicts would get the title 'Trainspotting'. It turns out that it is a reference from the book, and also that addicts would hang around an abandoned train station, using it as an injecting room, and whenever they were going there they would say that there were doing 'a bit of trainspotting'. This reference appears in the book, but unfortunately doesn't make it into the film. I guess that is actually one of the biggest flaws in the film and that is that there are a lot of things that come out of the book, and unless you have read the book you might not entirely understand what was going on. For instance how did the baby die? Okay, that is fairly obvious, but it is things like this, that are mentioned in the book but not so much in the film.
One of the themes that seems to run through this film is that you are who your friends are. The thing is that once you have a group of friends you eventually pick up their bad habits, and the thing is that it is really, really hard to actually break away from these friends because you are either on your own, or these friends will eventually hunt you down. Further, when you have a group for friends who have some really bad habits, then quite possibily you will eventually pick up this bad habits as Tommy did and then find yourself in a situation where you can't actually get away from them, and these habits.
Trainspotting is incredibly confronting, and while I have never touched heroin, I have met a couple in my time and have seen how destructive the lifestyle can be. Actually, my encounters have been more with speed, and I have seen houses where the mothers live in a pigsty and are more concerned about their next hit than feeding their child. However, the scary thing is that many of these addictions start out pretty innocently but have the tendency to slowly dominate your life. Sure, I have heard stories of heroin addicts holding down successful jobs, but the stories you don't hear are the stories of those who have thrown away their careers, their lives, and their families to pursue these desires.
Another theme about the film is that of choice, and the choices that we make, but it seems that there are only two, both of them quite horrible. We have the choice where we succumb to our desires and need for pleasure, though which heroin is a symbol of that pursuit of pleasure, while the other pursuit is that of 'life', which in part is enslavement to the system though debt, through employment, through being an acceptable member of society. In a way it seems to be one of those loose, loose situations. Mind you, there is something more fulfilling living a clean life with a respectable job, but the problem is that sometimes the choices that we made in our past, like those of our friends, eventually come back to haunt us.