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xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)
Since returning to the Fast and Furious franchise Vin Diesel has tried to replicate the success by reprising his roles as Riddick and of course Xander Cage.
After a group of terrorist steal a device that can knock satellites out of orbit and kill Gibbons (Samuel L. Jackson) as he tries to recruit the football player Neymar the NSA seek to get Xander Cage out of hiding. But Xander faces his greatest challenge from a group of similarly skilled people.
The original xXx was meant to be dethrone Bond, a hardcore American action hero with extreme sports skills and an anti-authority streak. Yet it was a film I hated at the time because it was such a poor attempt to outdo Bond and it is even worst because it is so dated. The aim of this broaden the franchise's appeal and making xXx more like Fast and Furious.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage has an international cast, getting actors from India, China, Britain, Australia and Thailand, major markets and having stars that could appeal to action nuts.From a stunts and action level Return of Xander Cage is solid enough and the presence of Donnie Yen and Tony Jaa is always a welcome presence.
xXx: Return of Xander Cage is a big improvement over the previous two xXx films but considering the standard of those flicks the only way was up. Despite some decent action sequences and an unexpected return of one character xXx: Return of Xander Cage was a cynical piece of filmmaking and Diesel shows he does not have much appeal beyond the Fast and Furious films.
They don't make them like that anymore
George S. Patton was one of the most controversial and famous general during the Second World War and his war career got adapted into a Oscar Winning film in 1970. Based on a couple of book Patton works best as a board overview of his career, from taking over the American II Corp after the American Army was humiliated during the Battle of Kasserine Pass to meeting the Soviets after Germany's surrender. Running for three hours Patton was able to cover a lot of the general's war career as he brought discipline to the American Army, well read with a knowledge of history and led from the front but got into as much conflict with generals on his own side, slapping a traumatised soldier and made controversial statements. It is a great big film that don't get made anymore and even though the film does side a bit too much with Patton on a personal level it is a strong World War II film.
The BFG (2016)
A weak offering from a usually great director
The live-action adaptation of The BFG sees Steven Spielberg return to making family films, a special-effects heavy film that is geared towards younger children despite it undertones involving cannibalism.
Sophie (Ruth Barnhill) is an orphan in London who ends up being taken by a giant (Mark Rylance) after seeing him at 3 in the morning. In the land of giants Sophie discovers that the giant known as the Big Friendly Giant captures dreams so he can give them to people in the UK and is bullied by the other giants. With the giants posing a threat to the children of Britain Sophie and the BFG goes to the Queen of England (Penelope Wilton) to warn her.
The BFG is a slapstick-heavy film, having nut-shots, smiley vegetables and show pleasure with green gassy farts. It's a film where even the Queen farts. It is a kid-friendly comedy especially for children who enjoy that try of humour but there isn't so much for adults.
Spielberg does add a level of whimsy and wonder particularly when The BFG enter into a world where he captures dreams and then gives a family happy dreams. This is done through the colours and John Williams' score and there is a great amount of detail like in the BFG's home. Some great moments are when the camera follows Sophie around a location when she is avoiding being seen by the other giants. Yet some of the CGI for the giants falls into the uncanny valley territory.
The BFG has a great cast and Barnhill is a revelation as Sophie, being forceful when needed and performed well considering she would have been working mostly with a green screen. Rylance worked well with Spielberg in Bridge of Spies and he offers a gentleness as the BFG. Jermaine Clement was unrecognisable as the leader of the giants and Wilton is perfectly regal as The Queen. The film even has Rebecca Hall as the Queen's assistant and has connection with Sophie.
The BFG is a film that children will easily enjoy but as their get older will not look back at it as fondly.
Alternative Christmas viewing
The Hunt was a critically praised film when it was first released, winning the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars.
Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen) is a popular kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town: but his world is shaken to its core when he is accused of being a paedophile and the accusations make him a pariah.
The Hunt is a superbly acted film as would be expected due to the subject manner. Mikkelsen who's best known for playing villainous roles in English language movies is much more vulnerable figure, becoming a broken man. He is surrounded by a talented cast with the most impressive was Annika Wedderkopp as Klara, the girl who unwittingly makes the allegations and kicks off this horrible chain of events.
The film shows how these rumours are spread and the community can turn against someone. It's a giant game of Chinese whispers as children are asked leading questions and parents are given information about the signs of child abuse which lead an overreaction. Even when Lucas' innocence is proved he still has the stigma against him. It is a situation that is all too real.
Whilst The Hunt is primarily an actor's film director Thomas Vinterberg is able to put his visual stamp on the film. There are subtle little look throughout the film and there was a great sequence when Klara is making a Christmas decoration with her brother before running outside for the first snow of the winter.
The Hunt is a bleak drama that could easily been a story ripped from the headlines. Certainly a film who fans of indie and Euro dramas.
Dial M for Murder (1954)
Based on a play by Frederick Knott, Dial M for Murder follows a standard formula of a Hitchcock thriller of this time, like Rear Window and Rope, claustrophobic films about murder. Set in London Tony Wendice (Ray Milland) plans to commit the perfect murder by blackmailing a man (Anthony Dawson) he use to know a university to kill his wife, Margot (Grace Kelly). However, the best lay plans go to waste.
Dial M for Murder embraces the theatre origins and is set mostly in the Wendice flat and few scenes take place outside. And like a play there was a two-act structure than the usual three and it is a dialogue- heavy film as characters talk about the set-up and events. The risk of this is it breaks the rule of show don't tell, but Hitchcock and Knott deliberately leaves the audience in the dark, especially regarding the police investigation.
The film was also made during the 3D boom of the 1950s and it was noticeable with objects being placed in the foreground. The film has more of a depth of feel then most modern 3D films.
Dial M for Murder is great for Hitchcock fans, yet it is far from being his best offering, even from this period of his career. Dial M for Murder a tout film, but some audiences might be driven away by its dialogue-heavy nature.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Beautiful and Ambitious - Laika's Best
In recent years Laika has been developing a flawless reputation, similar to what Pixar use to have and their latest film is easily their best (or at least able to rival Coraline).
In a small village in a world similar to Medieval Japan Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who tells stories for money during the day and cares for his mother at night. However, it turns out the stories that Kubo that were true and he is being hunted by The Moon King and his mother's sisters (Rooney Mara).
Compared to other Western animation studios Laika are darker with its storytelling and imaginary and Kubo and the Two Strings continues that trend. The sisters are a wonderfully creepy creation because of the masks they wear and Mara's manipulated voice.
As well having the best features of other Laika films Kubo and the Two Strings also works within the Disney and Pixar templates. Kubo is a fantasy story in the vein of recent Disney efforts like Tangled and Moana and gives audiences some great action set-pieces. Whilst like Pixar Kubo has the heart and some of the themes would have fitted in a Pixar film - Kubo's first scene was him caring for his mother who was in a vegetative state. It's the type of scene that could have fitted in the opening of a Pixar film - Wall-E and Up even did that.
Throughout the film there is a thematic throughline of what makes a family with Kubo having to find out what makes a family as well as care for his mother. There is also a theme the importance of memory and stories and how they are connected. It gives Kubo a lot of substance.
Although Kubo does stray into dark material for a kids film it's not without moments of fun. Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey make for a great double act as Monkey and Beatle, having some great banter and there are some of big action scenes include a fight with a giant skeleton and Monkey fighting one of the sisters who uses a Kusarigama.
Kubo and the Two Strings is a great film, working both as a fantasy adventure and as something deeper. It's a great offering from 2016 which itself offered some great animated films.
A solid debut film from a great director
Duel was Steven Spielberg's debut film, made as a TV in the US but extended to be a theatrical film in Europe.
Duel follows David Mann (Dennis Weaver) is a businessman who ends up being chased and tormented by a large truck on the Californian Roads. This simple premise was great for a first-time director to cut his teeth on and even at the age of 24 Spielberg showed his talent. Duel was basically a chase film/horror-thriller that only had a few moments of respite.
Spielberg knew how to make increase the tension of the situation, working with his composer and editor to do this. It is especially true for the final showdown between David and the Truck. For a fan of practical effects Duel is a treat because of all the car chases and stunts. It is even more impressive because the film's budget $450,000, which even by early '70s standards a modest sum. It was similar to the first Mad Max film which was also a car movie made cheaply.
The problem with the film is the writing. Duel was written by Richard Matheson, best known for writing I Am Legend. Matheson also wrote episodes of The Twilight Zone and Duel was basically an extended episode. Even at 89 minutes Duel was padded - 50 to 60 minutes would have been sufficient.
Boyz n the Hood (1991)
An important film from the '90s
John Singleton's debut film was seen as remarkable back when it was released in 1991, screening at Cannes and making Singleton the youngest director to ever be nominated for the Academy Award and the first African-American. And Boys n the Hood still stands up today.
Set from 1984 to 1991 in South Central LA Boyz n the Hood follows three friends, Tre Styles (Desi Arnez Hines/Cuba Gooding Jr.), a smart kid who wants to lead a normal life, Ricky Baker (Donovan McCrary/Morris Chestnut), an aspiring American Football player and Ricky's gangbanger half-brother "Doughboy" (Baha Jackson/Ice Cube).
The main characters three different aspects of black life - Tre is the academic, Ricky is athletic and Doughboy falls in with a bad crowd and serves as an example of what could happen to Tre and Ricky. Although Tre and Ricky have ambition and potential they can't escape the gang warfare infecting the area.
Singleton gets the atmosphere of the area - the constant police presence and shootings, the young men that roam in cars and gangs and the drug addiction of some the residents of the area. A powerful image early in the film is showing children's drawings of the gang and police violence.
Some of the dialogue is a bit too blunt and heavy handed but I willing to put it down to Singleton's youth at the time as he was trying to get his point across. The same goes for the more melodramatic scenes but this was because of extreme personal circumstances that the characters have to go through.
Boyz n the Hood is a highly influential film in the 'hood subgenre' and it is clear it set up some of tropes that many of it ilk followed.
Seven Psychopaths (2012)
An entertaining crime comedy
Seven Psychopaths was Martin McDonagh's big follow-up to his dark comedy hit In Bruges and was placed on the Blacklist of best unproduced screenplays in 2006.
Marty (Colin Farrell) is a struggling screenwriter in Hollywood who unintentionally gets involved in a the Los Angeles criminal underworld when his roommate, Billy (Sam Rockwell) kidnaps the beloved dog of Charlie (Woody Harrelson), a violent gangster.
Seven Psychopaths had a lot of talent involved: McDonagh was able to recruit an all-star cast that featured Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and Christopher Walken in the main roles and well known actors like Abbie Cornish, Olga Kurylenko, Gabourey Sidibe and Michael Pitt in minor ones. That alone is enough to drawn in film fans and they all have excellent chemistry together. Many of them have excellent comedic timing. It was obvious the actors wanted to work with McDonagh because many of them only had one or two scenes in the film.
McDonagh is a skilled wordsmith and Seven Psychopaths' best feature is its dialogue. Combined with the acting Seven Psychopaths has a zip and the banter naturally hilarious. McDonagh is a master at the dark comedy genre and he knows how to make it funny: something other filmmakers forget.
Seven Psychopaths has a plot and a style that's similar to the films of Quentin Tarantino, Shane Black and to a lesser extent Guy Ritchie. It matches the tones, quick dialogue and comedy as well as the crime setting and ultra violence. Yet the big weakness of the film is its desire to be meta and self-referential due to Marty's profession. It does learn to fine scenes of violence and action but it does not serve a purpose to the main story. It's a piece of writer self-indolent.
Seven Psychopaths is an entertaining crime comedy that fans of Tarantino and Shane Black will enjoy but it does match the heights of In Bruges
Visually stunning retro sci-fi
In an age of dark, grim visions of the future Disney's Tomorrowland is a delightful throwback to upbeat adventures of the 60s and 80s, a retro sci-fi film for the whole family to enjoy.
Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) is a bright and optimistic high school student who does not share the pessimistic views of elders. When Casey discovers a mysterious pin that shows her fantastic world and sets out to find the futuristic city with the help of a jaded inventor, Frank Walker (George Clooney) and Athena (Raffey Cassidy), an English-accented Audio-Animatronics.
Tomorrowland is a deliberately old-fashioned film both its tone and visuals: the film was loosely based on the Disney ride of the same name - considering that Disney were able to turn Pirates of the Caribbean into a billion dollar film series. Bird was a wise choice to direct and co-write, The Incredibles had a 60s style sci-fi look to it and he brought that look to Tomorrowland. It was bright and colourful with its showing of various technologies, from robots, jetpacks, lasers and a steampunk rocket.
Brad Bird has already shown himself to be a capable action director with Mission Impossible: Ghost Portrayal and with Tomorrowland he had much better CGI. There are some cool fight sequences, especially with Athena - it is awesome to see a little girl beating up fully grown men and giant robots. Tomorrowland is visually spectacular especially when we get to see the city in all its glory for the first time. Bird certainly brought out a sense of awe, whimsy and wonder.
Tomorrowland also has a great trio in the leads: Clooney, Robertson and Cassidy are terrific together, having many witty moments together when they are travelling and there is a zip in their interactions, like when they use a knock-out tool. Although Robertson's look too old to be a high schooler she pushes off the necessary enthusiasm. But it was Cassidy who stole the show: she was a revelation as Athena, playing a character who was older than she actually looked and at times acts a Terminator. She personally reminded me of Saoirse Ronan when she was younger, just with dark hair.
Although Tomorrowland had a talented director at the helm it also had a screenplay with Damon Lindelof's fingerprints, a man who has poor reputation as a screenwriter. As an adventure Tomorrowland is excellent but when it goes to the science fiction the film gets bogged down with mumbo-jumbo about time particles and destiny. This part needed to be expanded and more refined. When it's revealed that Tomorrowland was a place for exceptional people to come to where they would not disrupted by government or civil society. Essentially this is similar to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a controversial sci-fi work that abdicates the philosophy of Objectivism, or if you prefer it's the ideology of Andrew Ryan in Bioshock. The prologue at the 1964 World's Fair could have been cut and it would have made the reveals more impactful.
Tomorrowland is a good of romp of a film, providing plenty of laughs, action and visual spectcle. It was rated a 12A in the UK but it is on lower scale of that rating and could easily be enjoyed by children younger than that age.
A series running on fumes
If there was a case for young adult adaptation are all the same and blend together then Allegiant can be used as evidence, borrowing elements from The Hunger Games and Maze Runner series.
After the events of Insurgent the faction system has broken down after the people have found out that Chicago was no more than an experiment. Tris (Shailene Woodley) wants to see the outside world and together with her boyfriend, Four (Theo Jones), brother Caleb (Ansel Elgort), friends Christina (Zoe Kravitz), Tori (Maggie Q) and Peter (Miles Teller - the term friend is being used very loosely) go over the wall and discover a civilisation of scientific advance people lead by David (Jeff Daniels) who explains how the world felt into chaos and why Tris is so special. But, David has his own motives.
I had a soft spot for the Divergent series until now: the first two films were solid films for their target audience and had some fun trippy Inception style scenes in the mindscape. Yet the good will that the series has built has spent and Allegiant used ideas from Mockingjay and The Maze Runner sequels, that people secretly exist beyond the world and they are not to be trusted whilst the desert landscape is like the one in The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, just with much worst CGI.
Allegiant even rips off the previous films in the series. The climax is similar to what happened in the first two films, the heroes have to break into the central governmental building to stop the villain's scheme and free either friends or family. Insurgent was able to get away with this because there was enough of a different because Tris was stuck in the dreamscape to open mystery box.
Allegiant relies on the characters to be idiots for the plot to continue, especially Tris who should have been more sceptical of the mysterious people who have been watching Chicago, not less. She was both the chosen saviour who had enhanced instincts yet also be incredibly gullible.
The relief in Allegiant is the world fell apart was humanity split between genetically enhanced people and regular people. Basically it was a cross between Gattaca, X-Men and the Animatrix short The Second Renaissance. Humanity split into factions because the genetically enhanced got corrupted, making some virtues greater at the expense of others, making them 'damaged'. Tris is told she's the cure for the 'damaged' and like the kids in the Maze Runner series being the cure for the zombie outbreak. Even for a sci-fi film this is a stretch and Allegiant does not mitigate the criticism the series has suffered that the faction system doesn't make any sense: if anything the revelation makes the concept harder to swallow.
Allegiant shows that the Divergent film series has run its course. It has run out of ideas and the low Rotten Tomatoes score and box office returns has put paid to the idea that there would be a sequel: although there would be a sense of schadenfreude to see big- name and emerging actors forced to appear in a TV movie.
La La Land (2016)
A wonderful throwback or over-hyped?
La La Land is one big awards contenders of 2017, sweeping the Golden Globes and been nominated for 11 BAFTAs at the time of writing and received near universal acclaim. But is really worthy of this praise or has it been over-hyped? Mia (Emma Stone) and Seb (Ryan Gosling) are two artistic dreamers living in the City of Angels who inexplicably keeping each other in the metropolis. Mia is an aspiring actor and Seb is a jazz pianist who wants to open his own jazz club. They soon for start a relationship and encourage each other to follow their dreams, but the harsh reality of real life test them regarding the personal and professional life.
Damien Chazelle is easily considered one of the great emerging directing having already made Whiplash and now has La La Land to his credit it has been announced he would be reuniting with Ryan Gosling to make a biopic about Neil Armstrong.
La La Land opens with an excellent song-and-dance number on an LA freeway and Chazelle embraces the old-fashion nature of the film. The film celebrates the fact it was shot in cinemascope and it uses a lot of techniques that was common in the technicolor era, using long tracking shots (making the dance numbers even better) and the editing transitions. But some of the early songs do have the same structure, a soft beginning becomes a bigger numbers as the song process and then two-thirds through the song one singer has a moment of introspective before a huge finish. One of the best moments is a big tap-dancing when Mia and Seb start to get to know each other, wonderfully reflecting the musicals it's reflecting.
When Seb and Mia finally get together the musical number pretty much stop and La La Land becomes more like a serious drama about a relationship. Whilst this part of the film of fine but it was not the pastel coloured detail that made the first act such a delight. It becomes a romantic drama about the highs and lows of a relationship. There is a logic in the film having less music during its middle act because of the reality of their situation but one of the big selling points of La La Land was it meant to be an all-singing-all-dancing aware. It doesn't go back to being a musical until the third act in an extremely drawn-out ending.
The retro style and story about the struggles in Hollywood La La Land has similarities to 2011's The Artist, the story of a silent movie star whose career takes a downturn whilst an actress he helped out becomes a huge star. Both films were celebrations of a bygone era in Hollywood, using the same techniques that the films that were referred used. This is usually a great way for a film to gain awards attention.
La La Land personally reminded me of John Carney's Begin Again, both similar openings, including showing two characters having bad days, plot points and themes about success vs. artistic integrity. La La Land also looks at the reality of a relationship and artistic lifestyle and it is essentially a story about the American Dream - looking at the sacrifices people need to achieve their goals.
La La Land offered a lot of promise with its big opening and the film as a whole should have been a big song-and-dance feature throughout. There is too much of a lull after it's great opening act and whilst La La Land is enjoyable, it is not the masterpiece some have made it out to be. Moana is the best musical of 2016 and Chazelle's previous offering, Whiplash was a better film.
Rogue One (2016)
Puts the Wars in Star Wars
Star Wars! It is one of the biggest franchises around, spreading its tentacles to films, video games, cartoons and books. The films have been a dynastic saga about the Skywalker clan, until now! Rogue One is the first spin-off film and a bolder film then The Force Awakens which was a repeat of A New Hope.
Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) saw her father (Mads Mikkelsen) being captured by the Empire and mother killed. 15 years later she had become a criminal with no allegiances until the Rebels free her so she can do a mission for them, meet a rebel extremist and Jyn's former guardian, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whittaker) who has vital intelligence about the Empire's new weapon.
Rogue One is a direct prequel to A New Hope, tying into the events of the first film and the writers, director and producers pulled off a marvellous trick, making something fresh and original, expand the universe for people who only the on screen version of Star Wars and tell a story that people know the outcome to. Director Gareth Edwards perfectly recaptures the look of the original trilogy in its set-design and costumes and puts his own directional stamp on the series. Rogue One takes away the famous opening crawl and trademarks like the screen swipes: it was a risk and it paid off.
Rogue One was what the prequel trilogy should have been - it was a darker tone like the prequels were meant to be and there is a clear emphasis on the 'Wars' part of the Star Wars title. It told a story where audience members knew the outcome to but still felt unique and not a carbon copy of other Star Wars film plots. It is an original story that is cleverly tied to A New Hope thanks to the screenwriters Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. The film also expands the mythology and science in the universe without being complete stupid i.e. midichlorians. Rogue One showed more of the culture and religion of the Jedis, with the Empire raiding their temples.
Another risk of prequels is that they could be seen nothing but fan service. The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them were examples of being films obsessed with fan services and references for the sake of it. Rogue One had references to the series as a whole, some are recurring lines that are said in all the films, references that are tired into the wider series, like a certain Jedi and a few little nods for the fans. They are not forced and some even have a dramatic purpose.
Rogue One also marks the first time a live-action Star Wars film has been composed by someone other than John Williams: Michael Giacchino. Giacchino is one of the most celebrated composers around, working on films like the Mission: Impossible series, the rebooted Star Trek films and many Pixar films and he was able to recreate Williams' sound - it could easily work within the other Star Wars films.
The Star War series is a brand that supersedes any big name actors and Rogue One cast a collection of actors on the edge of hitting the big time, respected character actors and genre actors. Jones was cast after she was nominated for an Academy Award for her role in The Theory of Everything and along with her roles in Inferno and A Monster Calls she had a terrific year. She was convincing in the action scenes and being the jaded young woman who isn't that interested in the rebellion but deep down got a good heart. One of her biggest moments was when she sees a message her father left for the resistance and sees him for the first time in 15 years. She was overwhelmed just by a hologram.
The big stand out performance was Alan Tudyk as a reprogrammed droid K2-SO. He had a dry, sarcastic delivery that was sometimes pessimistic and always bitting. Tudyk sounded similar to Anthony Daniels and his character came across as a more confident version of 3-CPO. Despite his pessimism K2-SO was loyal to Cassian Andor and was quite the badass in battle.
One of the biggest controversies about the film was using technology to bring Peter Cushing back from the dead - some commentators have said it was in poor taste despite his family allowing the film to use his likeness and the effect is seamless. The use of Cushing's Grand Moff Tarkin was used sparingly. Whilst the film could have used a new character but it does add to a sense of continuity in the series, as well Jimmy Smits to reprising his role as Bail Organa from the prequels.
There were rumours that Rogue One was a troubled production - it was reported that there was a large amount of reshoots and that director Edwards was kicked off the project. If any of these rumours are true it doesn't show in the final product. Edwards is establishing himself to be one of the best sci-fi directors around, having already made Monsters and Godzilla and easily one of the best special effects directors around. He was able recreate the look and feel of the original trilogy and but his own stamp on the series, making a darker war film that uses some WWII iconography. The final battle can easily go down as one of the best in the whole franchise.
Whilst Rogue One had a great opening and closing act it was in the middle were the film suffered from a saggy middle. The film was just stalling to extend its runtime and try and add some extra emotional drama.
Rogue One works both as a sci-fi fantasy action for casual moviegoers and as an extension to the Star Wars series, showing that the films can move beyond the Skywalkers and Solos. It was truly an epic space opera.
Don't watch if you're going on a flight
Back in 2009 US Airways pilot Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger pulled off an amazing feat, landing a passenger plane into the Hudson River after both engines were damaged by a bird strike. His story became international news and which led to Sully writing a book and been adapted into a Hollywood film.
Tom Hanks and Aaron Eckhart start as Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles, the pilots on that fateful day, looking at how they handled the disaster and the aftermath, being investigated by the federal authorities and the media attention whilst Sully shows signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Sully is told in the space of a few days and has usual structure, starting with the investigation already taking place and the incident is shown in flashbacks. The advantage of using this framing device is it prevent the film from showing its best scenes, the crash - a mistake that 2012's Flight did. But the film adaptation also just jumps around from event to event, repeating some of the same moments. The framing device of all the investigation does not make the most compelling of drama, especially when we know the actual outcome.
The film has been criticised for making the investigators too aggressive and trying to blame the pilots for the incident, considering them reckless and putting lives in danger. The worst moment is at the end of the film so this is a spoiler warning: the investigators reveal the left engine lifted from the river and verifies the pilots claims that both engines failed - leading to question why wasn't that revealed earlier? Tom Hanks is brilliant as the lead role, adding to his recent run of real live roles. With Eckhart they had a calm authority to them as they face a crisis. They never lose their cool as they handle their job with absolute professionalism. As Sully Hanks has celebrity thrust upon them, being a adored by random strangers he meets and carries on with a stoic attitude. It's refreshing to Eckhart in a serious film, instead of being a stuck in subpar genre films.
The best scene in the film is the plane crash as the pilots have to land the plane safely whilst keeping their cool. We get glimpses of some of the passengers on the plane, like an older Jewish woman, a man and his adult sons and a woman with a baby and also show people like air traffic control and witnesses in the buildings. It gave the film a slight air of Paul Greengrass' United 93. The film has the line that it has been a long time since New York had any good news, especially involving a plane and Sully suffers visions of what could have happened and the plane crashes into the city - the imaginary being like 9/11.
Sully is a perfectly solid true life story and has some terrific moments - but as a whole fairly middle of the road.
The Muppets (2011)
Am I a man or am I a muppet?
2011's The Muppets was a sequel, reboot and a loving homage from its writers Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller. They end up making a delightfully funny film that adults and children, fans and non-fans can enjoy. The Muppets follows two brothers, human Gary, muppet Walter (Peter Linz) and Gary's girlfriend Mary (Amy Adams) go to Los Angeles to for Gary and Mary's anniversary and see the Muppets studios. However the studio is about to be sold to a evil oil baron (Chris Cooper) and it is up to Gary, Walter and Kermit to find the other muppets and do a telethon to raise the $10 Million to buy the studio back.
The Muppets has seemingly the most clichéd plot possible that is where the film genius steps comes in, subversion this storyline with a self-awareness and twisting the conventions. It was a delightful, toe-tapping experience, having some big song and dance numbers (which are brilliants twisted at the end) and some of the best jokes are when the characters breaking the fourth wall like travel by map and the characters saying they will finish their recruitment drive by having a montage. This is humour that's clean enough for kids, smart enough for adults.
Jason Segel and his co-writer Nicholas Stoller clearly loved the characters and director James Bobin made it into a bright, upbeat family film.
En kongelig affære (2012)
Grand and political period drama
A Royal Affair was a prestigious costume drama that works as a political drama as well as a tale of forbidden love and with its director Nikolaj Arcel and star Alicia Vikander becoming successful afterwards.
Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (Vikander) is a British Princess who was betrothed to the insane King of Denmark, Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) a man who acts like a child and has an unmanageable temper. Even worst Denmark was the backwater of Europe, a country that still practice serfdom and ruled by a conservative group of elites. However, Caroline and Denmark's fortunes improve when Johann Friedrich Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a man of the Enlightenment, is hired to be King's physician and using his influence sets out to reform Denmark and make the nation into a beacon for the rest of Europe.
A Royal Affair is a lavish looking production, having fantastic costumes and settings, being filmed on location in Copenhagen. The role of Caroline was part of a double whammy for Vikander who became know to an international audience (the other being Anna Karenina) and she was perfectly regal as in the dresses and elaborate hairstyles whilst Mikkelsen as Johann had a more man of the people look. Despite the pretty facade Arcel does contrasts the well-kept palaces of the elites to the streets and fields where the common folk live, filled with mud, rats and other nasties and peasants in field are tied to the land and tried as property by the aristocracy. This fuels Caroline and Johann's ideology.
Caroline and Johann are drawn together because of their minds, being intellectuals and reading subversive literature, mainly the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They are the ones who take over Christian's reign, creating a shadow government before seizing power for themselves. All the political manoeuvring makes A Royal Affair into a less violence version of Game of Thrones. The relationship between the trio is complex, Christian sees Johann almost as a father figure and the only person who can calm the king down whilst Caroline has nothing but loathing for her husband. One of the most powerful moments is when Johann tells Caroline she has to sleep with Christian so they can keep up the charade - an action that clearly causes both of them emotional pain.
Although Caroline sets up the film with her letters and voice-over and being the one who opens the film it was Johann and his actions that the actual centre of the film. He is the one who has to befriend the king, be the one who uses the king, has an affair and essentially becomes the Prime Minister. He was the anchor of the film.
A Royal Affair is a lavish production and fantastically acted, especially from Mikkelsen and Vikander and it detailed look in Denmark's history. It is certainly a treat for people who like The Duchess and Anna Karenina, touching on a similar subject manner of political marriages, social status and reform.
Watch the original instead
The idea of remakes are normally abhorrent to film fans, a sign that there is a lack of originality or ideas and normally results in the question why bother. However the 2009 version of Bad Lieutenant had a better chance then it most - it was directed German auteur Werner Herzog and had cast figuring Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer and rapper Xzibit.
Set during the aftermath of Hurricane Karina Terence McDonagh is considered a hero for saving a criminal and promoted to police lieutenant. However, he has also become addicted to a variety of narcotics. Terence is assigned to investigate a gang murder of a immigrant drug dealer and his family whilst he also has to battle all problems involving finding drugs, getting in debt with his bookie and crossing powerful people.
The original Bad Lieutenant was a dark, grimy film that was covered in Catholic iconography and Harvey Kietel gave a fantastic performance as the unnamed Lieutenant. It was an underrated gem from 90s. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a remake in the loosest sense - sharing a similar premise and telling its own story. Herzog even claimed his version wasn't a remake because he never heard of the original.
The 1992 version was a more akin to a film like Taxi Driver or Serpico, a film that showed New York to be a cesspool of crime and was shot in a grounded style. The Werzog version is a much more glossy film, having a score that sounds like a film noir detective story and takes away most of the grit of the original. Despite the quality of the director the 2009 film was more a run-in-the-mill story, taking away the themes of Catholic guilt and redemption that were prominent in the 1992 version. Some of the African migrants are shown to be Catholic which could have been an interesting avenue to go down especially since African-Americans are normally Baptists but nothing much was done with this.
Both films also have a surreal edge, the 1992 version being based on the Lieutenant's Catholic guilt so had a logic to it. In the 2009 version it was based on Terence's drug addiction which results in the character seeing reptiles that no one else can. The idea is Terence's addiction is making him loose grip with reality, but these moment really do is allow Nicolas Cage to do his maniac Nic Cage performance - it is the stereotype of what people would expect from Cage. There is also a theme of characters getting clean from their vices but this is underdeveloped and undeserved.
The 2009 version was highly praised by critics, it has a 87% rating compared to the original's 77% (amidst from a lower review count) - but audiences are more hostile towards the film. It is a case where critics praised a film because of its director's reputation rather than the quality of the film itself. 'Port of Call' is a more mainstream effort form Werzog but it lacks the complexity of the original and a plays like a neutered version. If this had been directed by a lesser known director this version would not have been so well received.
This version is at its best during the midpoint when Terence is at his lowest because professionally and personally is building up against him. He is getting what he deserves and this is when the film has it biggest drive because everything in Terence's is colliding to each other.
As a bad cop movie 'Port of Call' is a weak entry and swallow in its writing and character development. Try the original or the Scottish set Filth which shows a self-serving cop going to the edge because of his addictions and personal problems.
The Artist (2011)
A wonderful homage to silent cinema
Made as a homage to the era of silent cinema The Artist was a huge critical high back in 2011 and won a number of awards including the Academy Awards for Best Picture (making it the first French film to win the award), Best Director and Best Actor, six César and BAFTA Awards each and the covered Palm Dog Award.
In 1927 George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) is a silent movie star of swashbuckling adventures like Douglas Fairbanks was and by chance he meets an aspiring actress and dancer, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), a woman who admires the actor. However George's career and life as a whole takes a downward spiral after the advent of sound. As George star falls and Peppy is on the raise.
The Artist was a film that made by people who had affection for the silent era, it is not just a gimmick to get awards and critical attention. Director Michel Hazanavicius and his team replicate the style and techniques used for during the period - it was shot in the 1:33 ratio instead of widescreen, they is a constant score throughout the film especially a soft piano track and uses editing techniques that were popular like wipes and transitions. It could have been a film back at the time.
Though The Artist is classical in its approach some modern techniques were used, but this is done for dramatic effect. The best example being a dream sequence where George starts hear sounds, indicting his type of film is dead.
The Artist was marketed as a romance and there is an indication there's a spark between George and Peppy during the first act. In reality The Artist is a tale about film making and Hollywood like Chaplin, Sunset Boulevard, Ed Wood and Hail Caesar just to made a few. Like the Tim Burton classic Ed Wood The Artist is made to look like the films that it is about while the likes of Chaplin and Sunset Boulevard reference the changing time and nature of cinema and like Singin' in the Rain The Artist is about the risk the invention of sound in film has on actors who don't have the voice for talkies. Although Hazanavicius tries to inject some commentary about the filmmaking world of the late noughies/early 10s where the use of 3D was increasing with the George character saying you make popular films, I'll make great ones.
Dujardin won the Oscar for best actor for his performance and he has darker, more interesting role as a riches to rags story, a man who tries to keep his fame and wealth and fails miserably. It takes a lot for a actor to express themselves and Durjardin was able to manage it. Bejo was also deserving of praise, her wide smile and expressive eyes being perfect for silent film. Bejo portrayed as a upbeat, kindhearted person and was a wonderful beam of sunshine in the film. She should have won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Durjardin and Bejo also had wonderful chemistry together, whether it was meeting outside a premise, dancing during a film shoot or Peppy looking in George's dressing room.
The Artist is a unique film in this era of cinema, a nice throwback to silent cinema. Running at a brisk 93 minutes it is a simple story well told and a delight for anyone interested in classic Hollywood.
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)
Not as bad as some made it out to be
Following the success of Star Trek: First Contact, it was hardly surprising to see a sequel being quickly commissions, coming in the form of Star Trek: Insurrection.
After a number of conflicts the Federation seek to make alliances with new races, including some of the less savoury factions in the galaxy, one of them being the Son'a. The Son'a and the Federation are working together to study a planet that has a produces a radiation that could be the key to medical breakthroughs. However to harvest this radiation it would require removing the Amish like residents, The Baku, leading to Picard (Patrick Stewart) and crew of the Enterprise rebel against their superiors to The Baku.
Star Trek: Insurrection is often criticised for being no more than an extended episode of the series, being a small scale story and action - the run time is only just over 90 minutes and the settings looking like a TV show. The moral dilemma presented by the film has also been criticised, manufacturing a conflict, by making out the villains desperate to take the planet, instead of forming a colony. Even Patrick Stewart said he would have evicted the Baku. The screenplay needed refining to justify the conflict. The film's attempt at comedy is also misguided, using Worf (Michael Dorn) as the butt of jokes.
Despite these problems Star Trek: Insurrection is a perfect, decent, if average Trek adventure. It has a nice touch of tying the film with the wider franchise, great for fans of the series but adds some wider context for non-fans. Even with its televisual look and special effects the final third has some decent action sequences, the small team using the caves of the hold out against the Son'a forces.
Also the criticism of 'Insurrection' being like an extended episode is a flawed one. It might be small scale but it is better than a film that is better for the sake of being bigger - especially hard considering the previous film was the excellent 'First Contact'.
It was also fun to see the Son'a going through their medical processes to keep themselves alive, using face stretching technique similar to what Ida Lowry received in the classic Terry Gillam film Brazil.
Whilst Star Trek: Insurrection pales in comparison to 'First Contact' and other great films in the series, but it is better then what follows in the form of 'Nemesis' that attempted to be too dark.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
A solid, mid-ranking entry in the franchise
Star Trek Generations was the first feature film to star the New Generation crew and the only film to team up the Original Series and New Generation actors. 'Generations' ends up being a fun, if mid-ranking entry into the film series. It has a premise that would be more suited to fan-fiction yet the film puts it off with the idea of the Nexus, a world of euphoria and having Soran so driven to return to this place by destroy solar systems to achieve this. It made Soran one of the best villains in the Star Trek film series, played brilliantly by Malcolm McDowell, someone who's physically and mentally a great threat. His plan involving his star destroying weapon reminded me of Genesis in 'Wrath of Khan'. Patrick Stewart and McDowell doing battle is a delight to see.
The opening is a solid, exciting sequence, where an undermanned Enterprise has to go on a rescue mission and Kirk having to resume command of the Enterprise, something he had done in Star Trek: The Motion Picture and has some nice little character moments like Kirk touching the Captain's chair longing to get back into action. Shatner is criticised as an actor, but knows how to play Kirk.
There are problems with the film, the worst being the film's attempts at comedy with Data having an emotion chip implanted into his head. It drags the rest of the film down - it could have reduced the comedic moments and still been a family friendly sci-fi film. It was also obvious Scotty and Chekov were meant to be Spock and Bones but the filmmakers were unable to get them.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
Connery should have meant never
Never Say Never Again is an oddity of a film, made because of a legal dispute screenwriter Kevin McClory and MGM after McClory worked with Ian Fleming when writing for Thunderball before it was turned into a novel and subsequently turned into a film. After McClory sued he was allowed to credited as a producer, got the rights to the character of Blofeld and organisation SPECTRE and allow to make his own Bond film after enough time has elapsed. This is more interesting then the actual film.
In Never Say Never Again Sean Connery plays an aging Bond working for an MI6 that has limited funding and an M (Edward Fox) who has no respect for the 00 section. After failing a training exercise Bond is sent to a health camp to get back into shape and stumbles on a plot that leads to the theft of two American nuclear warheads and leads to Bond going back into action to stop SPECTRE and their agent Maximillian Largo (Klaus Maria Brandauer).
Never Say Never Again is an interesting case study of a film, made because the rights controversial, that allowed another Bond film to be made outside the main series and to see Connery return one more time as Bond because of the big paycheque and as a way to say screw you to EON. It is the most official unofficial franchise film to be made. It even lead to a media dubbing 1983 as the Battle of the Bonds, forcing Roger Moore to stay on in the official series. The official one won.
Never Say Never Again is really a poor remake of Thunderball, which is a damning indictment because Thunderball is one of the weaker Connery Bond films. McClory and co could only make a film with the Thunderball plot, so the big selling point was the return of Connery. Never Say Never Again did have some interesting ideas, we see an older Bond who seems past his best, an idea that was used in Skyfall, has an M who has a dislike to Bond, like Judi Dench's M in Goldeneye and showing MI6 struggling financially and politically. But that idea seems to be an excuse to for why Never Say Never Again then be a commentary about the espionage world. Plus the official series ended up doing these ideas better then Never Say Never Again.
The film does has some decent set-pieces, the opening training exercise was strong except for the god-awful theme song, the fight in health club and the motorbike chase and the scene where Bond dances with Domino (Kim Basinger) could have easily have fitted in an official Bond film. Barbara Carrera as the main henchwoman, Fatima Blush was a great addition and Alec McCowen was strong as the film's Q, Algernon, having great banter with Connery and having to work with work with limited resources. The film also the excellent casting of Max von Sydow as Blofeld, a man who would have been perfect to play an official Bond villain.
Despite these positives Never Say Never Again is weaker then most entries in the Bond series and can tie with Diamonds Are Forever as the worst Connery Bond film. Like Diamonds Are Forever Never Say Never Again had an interesting set-up for a darker, more thoughtful Bond but wasted the potential. The film has also feels very dated, that it was a product of its time - the special effects look worst then what was in Thunderball and the video game sequence was just added because of the growing popularity of video games. Even the music didn't feel approach for a Bond film or even an action film in general: it sounded more like an attempt of making a jazz album. The score only has action beat during the climax. Bond was also still able to bed women 20 to 25 years his junior, which was just creepy with the film having a nonchalant attitude towards it.
Fox as M was wasted. He had a great set-up as a civil servant and an outsider to the intelligence service, someone who has run down the 00 section. He was just made out to be pompous public school boy with no understanding of the world and Fox exaggerated every mannerism. He was the worst portrayal of the character, official or unofficial.
Never Say Never Again is just an exercise in vanity from McClory and Connery, making it just because they could. It was made out of spite and if Connery wasn't involved no one would have been interested. It is nothing but a footnote in the Bond series.
Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)
Had decent ideas but a lacklustre execution
Star Trek: Nemesis is the final film in the Star Trek film series to feature the Next Generation crew and due to it underperforming at the box office and with critics led to the JJ Abrams rebooted series.
The Romulan Empire suffers political turmoil after a mysterious man called Shinzon (Tom Hardy) leads a coup and kills the Imperial Senate. This political turmoil leads to the Romulans to open negations with The Federation and The Enterprise is sent to meet the new leader. However this is all an elaborate plan by Shinzon to get Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) into Romulan space and enact his revenge plan.
Compared to other Star Trek films 'Nemesis' was a more troubled production - Nicholas Meyer, the director of 'Wrath of Khan' and 'The Undiscovered Country' was offered the directing gig but turned it down because could not have final say on the screenplay and Stuart Baird, editor of action films like the Lethal Weapon series, Superman and Demolition Man lobbied for the directing gig despite not being a Star Trek fan. LeVar Burton, Michael Dorn and Jonathan Frakes have all been critical about how the film turned out. As an end to the Next Generation run 'Nemesis' disappoints: it's certain like a fitting end like 'The Undiscovered Country' was.
On its own terms as a standalone picture 'Nemesis' is a serviceable, if unremarkable sci-fi film. It starts out with promise after the political and there is an attempt to introduce ideas involving nature vs. nurture. The character of Shinzon is a dark reflection of Picard, a clone who was meant to replace Picard in a Romulan plot but ended up being raised in darkness and slavery, just like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. One of the best scenes in the film was when Shinzon and Picard dine together and he tells about his childhood. Hardy was one of the best additions to the film and 'Nemesis' was meant to be big break - however it did not pan out that way.
'Nemesis' mostly had a dark, grim look and tone, there are violent deaths like what happened to the Romulan Senate and Shinzon's childhood. However this was ruined by the films attempts at comedy when at the wedding and involving a prototype of Data, B4 (Brett Spiner). It did not match the tone that Baird set up. There was also a scene when one of the female characters has an horrific image in her head - a scene that was too dark for a Star Trek film.
The action scenes were solid when on screen, there are strong shootouts and fights. The special effects were also strong particularly the final space battle between the Enterprise and Shinzon's ship.
'Nemesis' is often despised by fans of Star Trek considering it one of the worst in the series and it is certainly in the lower half of the Star Trek films. But as someone who has a more causal view to the Star Trek franchise it's not that bad, just an unoriginal entry in the franchise. The Motion Picture and The Final Frontier are far worst.
The Slow Motion Picture
Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the first feature film based on the famous TV series, made after the show found popularity whilst on syndication in the US and the success of Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind proved that sci-fi can be a box-office success. It had the backing of showrunner Gene Rodenberry and was directed by acclaimed director Robert Wise (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Haunting, The Andromeda Strain). But the film has been dubbed 'The Slow Motion Picture', for good reason.
The Motion Picture starts with promise, a mysterious cloud effortlessly destroys three Klingon warbirds and is heading on a course towards Earth. The only ship able to intercept it is the USS Enterprise and Admiral Kirk (William Shatner) uses the crisis as a means to reclaim the command of the Enterprise. It is up to the crew, members old and new to find out what the being in the cloud known as V'ger wants and how to stop it.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture was the most expensive film made at the time, costing $46 Million and hired the talents of Douglas Turnbull as the special effects. The model works still stand the test of time but some of the matte paintings, particularly on Earth are too obvious.
The film Star Trek: The Motion Picture wanted to be was 2001: A Space Odyssey, a serious, high minded sci-fi film that wanted to explore big ideas. This meant that it followed 2001's slow pacing and it seemed like the filmmakers had to show off the model work in laborious shots as Jerry Goldsmith's fantastic score played in the background. Less would have been more. The Motion Picture also copied 2001's trippy moments like when the Enterprise enters the wormhole and Spock goes to see the creature to see what it is. Even the ending where a new life form is birthed is like the ending to 2001.
The film's story is also mixed. The idea is perfectly interesting, a unstoppable unknown being that destroys everything in its way and the Enterprise have to investigate. It has an old Trek episode, the crew having to investigate something mysterious and the crew had to use their brains to figure out what it is and how to stop it. There are some great scenes like when V'ger destroys the Klingons, the crew of the Enterprise watch the destruction of a Federation Outpost and because of the malfunctioning Enterprise two officers get a gruesome death, very surprising because of the U rating.
It when the Enterprise actually go into the cloud the movie slows to a crawl. This part of the film is just talking as V'ger turns a member of the Enterprise crew into its voice and Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Bones (DeForest Kelley) and new crew member Dekker (Stephen Collins) try to debate and reason with being. This part of the film could have been cut down to five minutes, not 40 like it was in the final film. Most of this took place in the Enterprise, adding to the dullness of this scene.
One of the big subplots in the film is the rivalry that forms between Kirk and Dekker. Kirk usurps Dekker's position and the two clash over the how to run the mission and the Enterprise. Kirk's reason is he has more experience dealing with these types of threats whilst Dekker knows the re-fitted ship better. It added conflict and character between the two. Ilia (Persis Khambatta) was also a decent addition to the series, a cold and emotionless alien that had a romance with Dekker.
However Chekov, Sulu and Uhura were pushed to the sidelights and had no stand out moments. They were just tried to their consoles for most of the film.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture has a notorious reputation amongst fans, in The Big Bang Theory Sheldon and Raj argue which is the worst Trek film - it's the Final Frontier! The Motion Picture had the right idea for a story and it would have been interesting to see the living machine race that made V'ger. However the filmmakers mistakes a slow-pace is a substitute for complex plotting and the story needed to be fleshed out.
Ironically the failure of The Motion Picture was the best thing to happen to Star Trek because we properly wouldn't have got the 'Spock' trilogy.
Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
A Trek film that can please fans and non-fans
Star Trek: First Contact is often considered to be one of the best Star Trek films and the best films featuring The Next Generation cast. This statement is justified because as someone who has never watched any Star Trek involving the TNG cast it does stand alone side the best 'Trek' films.
Star Trek: First Contact is set six years after Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) had been rescued from the Borg and he is stilled plagued with nightmares and flashbacks. Now the Borg have started to invade the Federation and the battle is only won by the Enterprise's late intervention. However the Borg have a trick up the sleeve and travel back in time to conquer Earth. The Enterprise crew is unaffected and it is up to them to travel back to stop the Borg conquest and help the legendary Zefram Cochrane (James Cromwell) who achieved the first wrap flight and made contact with an alien race.
Like 'Wrath of Khan' 'First Contact' was a continuation of a critically acclaimed episode, but even if you haven't seen it 'First Contact' works on its own terms and finds that sweet spot to appeal to fans and non-fans alike and matching the two tones the franchise has straddled, dark and brooding and light-hearted and funny. The film has with a dark image of Picard being assimilated into the Borg and his eye about to drilled before waking up and all the half of the film that features the Borg is the most atmospheric. The Borg are great villains, a near unstoppable hive a races that have been conquered, a collective that all linked together who work as one unit.
Picard's assimilation with the Borg is both an advantage and disadvantage. Picard knows how the Borg operates and their tactics, so knows how to fight them, but he desire for revenge make Picard irrational. It's like Khan who could have been free after capturing the Enterprise in 'Wrath of Khan' but his want for revenge against Kirk is his downfall. Stewart gave a passionate speech about not sacrificing the Enterprise to the Borg.
The Borg's assimilation of the Enterprise makes for a dark and dank atmosphere compared to the more brightly lit environments of the Enterprise. It is this sector of the film where we saw the Borg Queen (Alice Krige), the voice and personification of the Borg collective. Her introduction was impressive, her human body being lowered into a cybernetic body, CGI effects that still hold up today. Most of the Borg Queen's interactions are with Data (Brent Spiner), trying to convince him to join the collective, making him more human to attractive this.
The cliché perspective of Star Trek from non-fans is that it a slow, boring franchise that only appeals to a hardcore fanbase. "First Contact" blows that perspective out of the water - it starts with a huge space battle between the Federation and the Borg as the alien hive try to invade Earth and there are sprinklings of actions scenes throughout the film. One of the best is scene when three members of the Enterprise crew having to stop the Borg from creating a satellite dish - it was a tense scene that was similar to the assassination of the Klingon Chancellor in "The Undiscovered Country".
The action on Earth where Riker (Jonathan Frakes), Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Geordi La Forge (LeVar Burton) help Cochran with the first warp flight is more lighter in tone. The more comedic approach combined with the time travel story, cultural clash and essentially revealing the future to Cochrane made this half of film similar to "The Voyage Home". Cochrane is hailed a hero by everyone in the Federation, a man whose action united Earth, made a scientific breakthrough and made his planet a player in galactic politics but the reality was he was a drunk, he wanted to make money and is overwhelmed by finding out what his future holds. It made the character more human as he has to accept his destiny and James Cromwell, being the professional that he is was brilliant at humanising the character as he drunkenly dances and having the deal with the weight on his shoulders.
"First Contact" is a film that works for both fans and non-fans alike, having action, being able to balance a dark plot with lighter moments and working as a continuation and a standalone film, being a strong sci-fi film in its own right.
Suicide Squad (2016)
A fun ride
We have seen a multitude of superhero movies in recent years, from the ultimate good guys, bad-ass anti-heroes and revisionist takes on the genre. Now there is DC's Suicide Squad, a team of bad-guys who have to do high-risk missions for the American government.
Suicide Squad picks up where Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice left off. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) is a senior government official who wants to create a team of meta-humans to do the dangerous missions. Her recruits include Deadshot (Will Smith), Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie), Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney), El Diablo (Jay Hernandez) and Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). The team is called into action when an incident devastates Midway City and to ensure compliance the members have an explosive device implanted in their necks.
Suicide Squad is at best in its early potions when Amanda Warner introduces us to the members of the squad before their recruitment. It was an expository sequence but it was made with energy as it shows the backstories of the members of the squad, showing their rap sheets in brightly coloured text and embracing its comic book source material - there is a great homage to a famous comic book painting by Alex Ross.
Warner Brothers went full out when searching for its cast and crew, getting David Ayer to write and direct and forming an all star cast. Will Smith and Margot Robbie got the most attention as Deadshot and Harley - Deadshot display Smith's on screen charisma, a smart mouthed criminal who knows how to play hand when negotiating with gangsters and the government. He was one of the most well defined of all the characters, having a rivalry with Rick Flagg (Joel Kinnaman), a Special Forces soldier who thinks the hit-man would run off. For fans of Smith you get more of what you like. Robbie was a perfect as Harley Quinn - speaking with exaggerated Brooklyn accent Robbie portrayal was like previous iterations in Batman: The Animated Series and the Batman: Arkham games, being a crazy minx who has unhealthy relationship with The Joker. Hernandez was also a standout as El Diablo, a man who wants to suppress his powers and seek some sort of redemption.
Viola Davis and Jared Leto were also great in their supporting roles and hopefully we shall see more of them in the DCEU. Amanda Waller, a Machiavellian woman who would do anything to survive and protect 'national security' - she can become the DCEU's Nick Fury, a woman who does not have any super powers but can handle her own in a world of superheroes and villains. As she says in the film she has a talent for getting people to act against their interest. Leto is a terrific actor, but it was an unenviable task of replacing Heath Ledger as The Joker. Yet he succeeds - Leto's version of The Joker is a cruder and more sadistic character, someone who enjoys violence. The Joker was spurious to the plot, he was only introduced to the film so he can be ready for future DCEU films.
Other characters were poorer presentations. Akinnuoye-Agbaje is a huge bloke and physically looks the part as Killer Croc, but the character may as well not have appeared in the film - he was just a thug and had no characteristics. The pitch of voice was lowered too much to be believable and it became distracting. Delevingne was miscast as Enchantress . Her human alter-ego is meant to be an archaeologist, but she looks like barely graduated from High School let alone have a PHD. When Delevingne first appears as Enchantress she had a creepy look to her, having a dark complexion and black smoke whirling around her. When Enchantress has her completed form she becomes less effective - she did jerky dance movements and her voice was dubbed with an older English voice which did not fit. The point was to make Enchantress other worldly yet it did not work.
Warner Brothers and DC were aiming to make their version of Guardians of the Galaxy. They go to the point where they have a pop soundtrack like their Marvel rivals and are trying to match its tone. The film works best when it shows the relationships between the villains, delving into their past and the conflict of doing their job and their own self-interest. It made for an interesting twist to the superhero genre. However, after the great start Suicide Squad does not stick to its convictions and goes into familiar superhero territory of stopping a big bad guy trying to make a devastating weapon and the film attempts to give the characters a connection with each other, instead of showing them for what they really are, self-interested villains. The film also suffers from writing and editing problems, one character was introduced just so he could be killed.
The problem with the DCEU is it's trying to catch up with the MCU, but by doing that it's trying to do too much too quickly - flooding their franchise with characters without much of an introduction. Marvel Studios were able to play the long game and it benefited the series because all the characters get an introduction and the various sci-fi, fantasy and paramilitary elements. Suicide Squad was a way for the DCEU to quickly introduce their villains (as well as some heroes) and it inexplicitly brings in fantasy ideas like a woman having a sword that captures the souls of the people it kills.
Suicide Squad does not deserve some of the bad reviews it has received; it is still an entertaining and more ballsy attempt at a mainstream superhero film - it has a 15 rating in the UK. Its basic heroics plot is nothing new or that inventive, yet it does work changing up some of superhero (or should it be supervillain?) dynamics and it does a fine job at introducing some of the DC villains.