Archive

Sci-Fi

empireb_zpsgzqvubsx

Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) is about to say those famous words…

I watched this at the ideal time – I saw the start just before the new Star Wars film (review coming soon!) and the end a day or so later. So perfect to compare. This has always been my favourite Star Wars film. But how does it stand up in 2016?

Well the iconic AT-AT attack on the rebel base still looks impressive but I found the actual attack a bit boring this time round. I enjoyed the build up to it though. Action sequences do feel like they have moved in both drama and spectacle in the 30 or so years since this came out.

The acting compared to modern standards now feels a bit Saturday-afternoon-matinee and is clunky at times. If I was being uncharitable, a parallel could easily be drawn between Mark Hamill’s doe-eyed Jedi novice (Luke Skywalker) and his ability as an actor. Where this film shines though, is it’s story. It’s not predictable and it doesn’t have the traditional happy ending. Luke starts his Jedi training properly with Yoda, but then makes a heartfelt yet unwise decision to abandon it which means that by the end of the film he has 1. Been given the crushing news that one of the most evil men in the galaxy is his father 2. Had his hand painfully cut off. 3. Is slowly falling in love with a woman who he doesn’t yet realise is his sister. That’s not even factoring in his best friend being frozen in carbonite and the Empire gaining the upper hand. There’s also the memory of that first night on Hoth – which he spent unconscious inside a Tauntaun’s rancid gut cavity….

Where this film has the advantage over the others is in the much deeper exploration and explanation of the Force during Yoda’s training and in the moral choices Luke has to make. Luke has to decide whether to commit fully to the way of the Jedi, and later try to resist Vader’s attempted ‘seduction’ to the Dark Side. Of course it’s not shocking now but the famous “Luke, I am your father” scene made this an even greater film at the time

Which Order Would You Rate the Star Wars Films in Rich?

1. The Empire Strikes Back 2. Star Wars 3. The Phantom Menace 4. Return of the Jedi,  the other 2 prequels were both terrible but maybe Revenge of the Sith was slightly better.

And with the latest film?

It’s too soon to say but on one viewing I’d put The Force Awakens at number 3. However overall better acting, jokes that are actually funny, and superior special effects means it has a more instant and enjoyable appeal than any of the films except perhaps the original Star Wars.

Anyway… back to The Empire Strikes Back. While I enjoyed it, it feels dated overall and can be annoying at times. I actually found the whole Millennium Falcon hyperdrive-not-working-and-C3PO-or-another-character-being-ignored-when-they-try-to-tell-Solo-or-Leia irritating *at the time*. Now it’s even more so and while all three original Star Wars films have a jokey and upbeat atmosphere, the truth is they were never actually funny. The special effects are still surprising good, some of which is down to the 90s remastering. However this turns out to be a double-edged sword because while some of the 90s effects improve on the originals some now look dated themselves.

Interesting and enjoyable and easily the best Star Wars film in terms of both story and depth but dated acting and action sequences hurt it a little today.

7/10

A rare moment showing Optimus Prime actually winning a fight against the human-made Galvatron. It doesn’t last for long…

First of all this is the worst Transformers film I have seen, and given the low standards of the other 3 films, that means it’s pretty bad. There’s no Shia LaBeouf this time, Megan Fox was of course booted out long ago after making disparaging comments about the first and second film (She had a point given the snore-fest that was Transformers 2) and finding yet another hot girlfriend (after Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in the 3rd film) for a guy who hangs around with toy robots would have probably pushed the boundaries of credibility a little too far.

This time Mark Wahlberg takes the lead role as inventor dad Cade Yeager. His daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) fill the other 2 protagonist slots. Strangely – for a family film – his 17 year old daughter’s relationship with Shane.. a 21 year old Irish rally driver is actually illegal in most states. Making you wonder what exactly the reason for its inclusion is? I suspect it’s just so they could have a ‘hot’ teen girl (the primary audience for these films are teenage boys ) and a boyfriend who can drive everyone about at high speed. In fact this is what is interesting about Transformers 4. Everything happens for a reason – the reason usually being found in our world. So the film is set in the US (the biggest film market in the world), but then halfway through relocates wholesale to China (conveniently the second biggest film market in the world). Chinese actors also come to the fore at this point and it’s amusing to hear such propaganda as “We must ask the CENTRAL GOVERNMENT for help” as a huge alien spaceship enters Hong Kong and then later this response from Shanghai: “The CENTRAL GOVERNMENT will not leave Hong Kong to stand alone”. Yes China – you are great!

There’s some shockingly blatant product placement, which you get the idea was done obviously on purpose to be funny. Especially since two of the products  – Bud Light and a Chinese drink are spat out by the people drinking them. By far the best product placement though is when arrogant scientist Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) is showing off the newly discovered element ‘Transformium’ (the worst named element since Unobtanium in Avatar) and he transformers a chunk of it into a spiral and then into a gun and finally into a Beats Pill speaker – “..even a BEATS PILL WIRELESS SPEAKER if you want to listen to some music”.

I haven’t talked much about the story because its the dullest part of the film. It starts off ok but then after a while it’s just action sequence after action sequence. Michael Bay again forgets the rule that you need quiet meaningful bits in-between to make the exciting action parts actually seem exciting. While this may be the worst Transformers film so far, you can still get some enjoyment from watching the giant robots kick the crap out of each other. Bumblebee is still great. Optimus Prime still annoying (that voice), and still bizarrely loses almost every fight he is in.The final fight in which humans and transformers coordinate to bring Lockdown down *is* pretty good, and did I mention… I really feel like a BUD LIGHT right now… That’s right – it would be really great to drink a BUD LIGHT right now..

4 for the film  + 1 for the giant robots = 5/10

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), and Call (Winona Ryder) are about to find out that aliens can swim…

I haven’t seen this for a long time, but I felt like watching an Aliens film and this happened to be on. If you ignore the franchise-extending way Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) – she died at the end of Alien 3 – has been brought back. It’s actually pretty good for the first 25 minutes – it’s just the rest of the film that’s the problem.

It’s now 200 years since the events of Alien 3 and Ellen Ripley has been genetically re-engineered – complete with alien queen gestating in her chest. This is purely so research scientists can extract the alien and breed more. They want to experiment with training the Aliens for military purposes. Predictably this doesn’t end well with the aliens escaping and trying to kill everyone…

The main problem with the film is that once the aliens escape, it’s not even a good Alien film. It feels like a B-movie sci-fi complete with a low standard of acting and unrealistic tension-destroying moments. Like when an alien quickly moves it’s head from side to side to dodge incoming gunfire.

The protagonists – a crew of smugglers, who include Annalee Call (Winona Ryder) and originally brought fresh alien-hosts (live humans) for the experiment – don’t even have that much contact with the Aliens overall. Ripley, now a human/alien hybrid is largely relegated to muttering over-dramatic soundbytes and doesn’t have a huge role here. Then there’s the step too far of the alien queen growing a human womb and giving birth to an alien with human qualities. This alien thinks Ripley is it’s mother. You can’t say that the film isn’t ambitious at least…

A mish-mash of crazy ideas mostly poorly implemented which result in a B-Movie action sci-fi 4/10

“Woah… I’m really sorry for what I am doing to your girlfriend tomorrow.” Jasper (George Finn), Callie (Danielle Panabaker), Finn (Matt O’Leary) study tomorrow’s photo.

Imagine if you could tell yourself yesterday what to do today after you had lived through today. Yes it’s already confusing but be prepared to have your brain turned in more knots by this time-manipulation thriller.

Three housemates discover a camera that takes pictures of the future. The twist is they are usually in the pictures so they can use this to their advantage by sending messages back to the present. As long as they remember the next day to send the messages and take the photo. At first things work out well – Jasper (George Finn) is able to make a ton of money by betting on dog races, and Finn (Matt O’Leary) an artist who previously had creative block, now sees paintings his future-self has painted and is able to copy them. However soon their future-selves start sending worrying and disturbing messages and Finn’s paintings start to look less like art and more like warnings…

This is a pretty good film, with believable acting, it’s never boring and builds tension at a good pace. It’s full of twists and turns and you’ll often think you’ll know what’s going on but you won’t.

There are negative points: some of the time-logic seems a bit flawed at times and can be confusing unless you give yourself time to think. There are a few MacGuffins in there too that enable the plot to work – e.g. the camera is bolted to the ground and only ever points at the housemates’ apartment, and an early plot point means the housemates feel they have no choice but to match exactly what their future selves are doing in the photos. A device that is used to create much of the tension and conflict.

None of this really matters however because the films works so well. Even so it still all feels a bit small-time – more like it was made by a bunch of students with limited resources rather than a proper film company. It also cops out when it comes to nudity and sex whereas it has no problems going to extremes with the violence. Again conforming to that weird puritanical doctrine that sex is somehow worse than seeing someone’s brains bashed out. Something that continues to haunt a lot of American films.

An interesting and (comparably) realistic take on the time travel genre. Both dramatic and tense.  7/10

Eve (Amber Clayton) is about to find out there’s something even more dangerous than the soldiers who have been sent to kill her.

After an ‘incident’ at a top secret Australian government research facility. 3 special forces teams are sent in and given orders to kill the human research subjects there.

Why is it called Crawlspace? Well because there’s not much wriggle-room in the air ducts (where the protagonists seem to find themselves a lot of the time) and even less when someone else has access to your mind and thoughts. Just where do you go to hide then?

This is the real horror in Crawlspace and it would be an intriguing idea to explore if it wasn’t buried amongst a huge amount of cliche, events and characters you’ll already have seen in so many previous films. You’ll notice the motion-detectors from Alien, the same squad make-up as in Aliens and in many films since : tough badass female, crazy male, sensible captain. Then there’s the lone female with special powers who doesn’t know how powerful she is yet – see Resident Evil 1, Fifth Element, etc. There’s even an English villan – I won’t list films here because in 50% of films we get cast as the villan. I will need serious help if I ever have to defend myself in a foreign court – after all how can I be English and not be evil?

So yes Crawlspace is cliched, derivative, and predictable. There are also times however when it’s inventive, fresh and unexpected. Unfortunately this is only about 10% of the time. This means that although it’s watchable and you’ll want to see what happens next, it’s not a particularly rewarding experience. You’ve mostly seen it all before. I wish they had taken the central concept of thought and memory control and put it into a completely fresh setting, ditched the soldiers and generated some real horror in an environment we could all relate to. As it is, for a horror film Crawlspace is not very scary. It gets an average 5/10

Superman (Henry Cavill) looks on as Faora (Ayelet Zurer), General Zod’s deputy, helps hostage Lois Lane (Amy Adams) with her breathing mask.

This is a difficult film to review. It begins well, with realistic characters, and an interesting storyline. Superman’s boyhood is neatly told through flashbacks – which means we don’t have to sit through that familiar set-up again. The standard superhero geek powertrip at highschool is also refreshingly avoided – Clark knows he must avoid showing his powers so that they can remain a secret. His father (Jonathan Kent here played by Kevin Costner) has drilled it into him that if people find out about his powers, then they will fear him and want to take him away. The action itself then begins slowly and builds up well. Clark is now an adult and General Zod (Michael Shannon) – a criminal from Kypton begins an invasion of the Earth. Things are still fairly realistic at this point, however by the end of the film all sense of grounded-ness is gone, and half your belief with it as Superman and General Zod look like exactly like the 2 animated CGI men they are while having a fist fight high above the Earth.

So General Zod? Cleverly Zack Snyder (the director) realises we probably wouldn’t take kindly to just an origins story especially after the long-running Smallville, Superman Returns and also that Lois and Clark series in the early 90’s. This film is an amalgamation of both Superman 1 and 2. Superman 2 being the best Superman film of course.

I liked that Synder has taken his own approach here and hasn’t stuck too closely to the comics, however some of his constructs end up being more unbelievable that the original film. (You may remember Superman flying round the Earth to turn back time at the end of the first film – and have then wondered why he doesn’t just do this every time a tragedy happens? Interesting Fact : he was originally going to do this again at the end of the original abandoned Superman 2 ). Here Superman’s powers somehow come from the reduced gravity on Earth and our young sun. O…kay… and although it takes Clark years to master them, General Zod is able to learn to fly and direct even more impressive laser beams from his eyes than Superman can, all within the space of a few minutes.The only explanation given is that Zod has trained in the military and so finds it easier to learn stuff. Hmm…

It has a good sense of realism at other times though, for example Clark (Superman) frequently doubts himself and struggles to come to terms with his ‘otherness’ (Just as you would be if you knew one day you would be the most powerful man on the planet). And then as the real action starts, the tension is built well and builds until sadly things go too far and then everything – story, realism, groundedness seem to take a back seat, and eventually even the special effects begin to break down in the pumped up final action sequence.

The best Superman film since Superman II but is spoilt by an over-the-top ending section. 7/10

Who’d have thought there would be a scene where people get trapped on a bridge as Godzilla approaches?

Most of the reviews I had seen before watching this said it was average to good. It’s not – it’s crap. For some reason having a respectable director and decent actors seems to have made critics ignore the fact that: 1) The actors are just place-holders and pretty much any actor could have done the same job. 2) The film is terrible, has a stupid story and is criminally boring in places, and 3) Millions of dollars of special effects budget has seemingly meant that they are able to make Godzilla and the two bad monsters look exactly like 3 men in rubber suits – without actually having to buy rubber suits. This is, as it turns out, the film’s only real achievement.

I found it difficult to sit through the first half-hour without squirming in embarrassment at the story. The director has taken a serious approach here and tries to make you care about the main characters but this just doesn’t work when there is such a ridiculous story in the first place. There were some unintentionally amusing moments however such as the Japanese professor who keeps repeating “It’s Godzilla, I think he’s an alpha-predator come to keep nature in balance”. And pretty much any moment is funny where they have to seriously explain the existence of either 1) Godzilla or 2) The Mutos (the bad monsters).

I also struggled with boredom in the build up to the real action starting (when you finally get to see Godzilla confront the Mutos). However when this does happen and you see Godzilla close up, be prepared for disappointment. He’s not very impressive at all and for good reason has already been dismissed as ‘Fatzilla’ in Japan. He has a new cuddly look, and clearly sports some cellulite (or rubber-suit folds) around the hips.

The film is not all bad however, there are some good action sequences and the tension is cranked up as Lieutenant Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and a special forces squad rush to defuse a nuclear warhead. This section also starts with an impressive halo-jumping sequence from a plane. However to have to sit through 1 hour 10 minutes of dullness to find 20 minutes of good action is just not worthwhile.

Those ‘good’ reviews will look more ridiculous than this film in 20 years time. I would say from memory that this is actually worse than the last Godzilla film. Cloverfield was certainly much better, and at least most of that was a surprise at the time. This is just a predictable, below average, dull standard monster flick. It attempts to be serious and involve the audience emotionally but fails. 4/10

The Black Hole is quite frightening for a Disney film.

This was my favourite film when I was a child and it gave me nightmares too – specifically the part where the evil red robot Maximilian uses his rotating blade weapon to cut into a scientist’s chest. Back then Maximilian seemed sinister and scary but when you watch it now, it looks like it would be possible to fight him off with a well-positioned broom handle. It’s surprising this is a Disney film because it’s very dark and bleak at times. There is no hope for the once human but now zombified crew on the Cygnus and at the end of the film there isn’t a great outcome for the protagonists either. So it’s interesting then…

Captain Dan Holland (Robert Forster) of the Palomino, a research ship and his crew discover a huge black hole, and amazingly there appears to be a man-made space ship (The Cygnus) in a stationary orbit near it. The ship is commanded by Dr Hans Reinhardt who has been missing since a mission 20 years ago. Dr Reinhardt initially seems a friendly and benevolent host but soon the crew of the Palomino find themselves making shocking discovery after shocking discovery and it’s not long before they wonder if they will leave the Cygnus alive.

Interesting this may be, but it’s not Alien, it’s not scary at all for adults, and it’s a little predictable especially since this there have been numerous films before and since that follow a similar plot – that of a benevolent host turned malevolent. The special effects have dated but they aren’t bad at all and after the first 20 minutes you’ll find your imagination easily fills in the gaps, and then you can sit back and enjoy the story.

One of my favourite things about this film when I was a kid was the robots – Vincent and Bob. Back then Vincent seemed very cool, and while not exactly cool anymore, he at least has a quirky personailty. He constantly quotes from famous thinkers and philosophers which almost annoys the crew as much as it entertains them. He’s also a sharp shooter with his laser gun, and his willingless to face off against the much larger Maximilian shows he has guts.

Sadly it all feels a little rigid (acting included) and staid now, and if you’re coming to it new without the nostalgia there’s not really enough intrigue or excitement to hold your adult attention. For a much younger audience though it would still be an exciting adventure, and who knows? maybe even a little scary. Just don’t have nightmares. 6/10

Total Recall (2012) is not stepping on the toes of a classic because the original wasn’t a classic..

This is a remake of the original Arnie film from 1990. A film I have watched 3 times, not because I liked it but at the time it was one of the few Arnie films I didn’t like and I felt I should. This is also a similar reason to why I have seen Bladerunner 6 times, but anyway I’m getting off track..

Here Colin Farrell steps into the shoes of Douglas Quaid. However despite sharing a name with Schwarzenegger’s original character, you will soon find quite a few differences to the story. He still has a ‘perfect’ wife though – here it’s Kate Beckinsale – and he has a meaningless life. He is plagued by dreams where he feels he has a purpose and is doing something worthwhile, fighting someone or something, and there’s a women in his dreams (Jessica Biel) who he has feelings for.. but the dreams are never quite solid enough to grasp onto or discern a meaning from. He eventually finds himself going to ‘Recall’ a private company that promises to let people live out their dreams in their mind just as if they were real.

This film is clever and plays with your expectations constantly. If you have seen the original you will be surprised that things don’t always happen how you expect. I should say that the lady with 3 breasts is present though, and is considerably more beautiful that the original – in fact this time round you may actually wish for that extra hand. (sexist joke alert!)

In fact you’ll often think you’re smart and that you’re ahead of what’s going on – but the director is always one step ahead of you – Is this real? or is Quaid still unconscious at Recall? and events will make you vacillate between the two with such a frequency that you’ll barely care by the end of the film.

Ultimately despite the cleverness there is little meaning here, and once it gets going, the movie is just one long action scene. There’s no time for meaningful relationships to build between the characters and combined with the excessive number of twists in the plot (the director plays with your expectations a little too much), you never find yourself fully engaged.

Different, but no worse or better than the original. It is entertaining but it’s shallow too. 5/10

“It’s Spock Jim, but a lot older than we know him”, Kirk (Chris Pine), Scotty (Simon Pegg), Bones (Karl Urban), Sulu (John Cho), and Uhura (Zoe Saldana) all wonder why Leonard Nemoy is in this film.

I haven’t seen the the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film but here I am jumping in with the sequel. Initial impressions were much better than I was expecting though. Especially with regards to the new, or should I say younger versions of the now geriatric Enterprise crew. Zachary Quinto is superb as Spock and manages to capture perfectly the internal conflict between his calculating, logical nature and his need to understand the more emotional and impulsive actions of his colleagues. Chris Pine makes a good young enthusiastic Kirk, although on the negative side he does look a little too pretty (what’s with his alien-like blue eyes?) and fragile at times. I do like Simon Pegg normally but here his Scotty wasn’t working for me. (Why not actually use a Scottish actor?). Everyone else though is pretty good. I have to ask though, What the hell is Leonard Nemoy’s future Spock doing here?? It just seems like an excuse for a cameo, all it does is to reduce tension even further (we already know Kirk, Spock et al aren’t going to die because..  well – we’ve seen them in the original Star Trek. We don’t need a future version of Spock giving the younger version advice and  making things even safer for them). It just seems like a weak attempt to get some of the more staunch, traditional members of the fanbase onside. Get rid of him.

The bad guy in this film is Khan (who you will remember from Star Trek II : The Wrath of Khan), a super verison of a human ably played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He wants revenge on Star Fleet for taking his crew – and he gets it – gunning down a room of high ranking Star Fleet generals. Kirk, hot-headed as he is jumps on the Enterprise (not entirely his ship at this point) and heads after Khan looking for revenge. But is he in too deep? It turns out that Khan is much more dangerous an enemy than he or his crew realise…

What Abrams does well is to inject some much needed excitement and action into the typically more staid, cold and clinical Star Trek universe. You always want to see what happens next, and tension is expertly built. However I would argue that there’s a little bit too much dumb action and not enough of the intelligence and cleverness of the original Star Trek to counter-balance it. At the end of the film you feel you have been entertained by but nothing more. A little more depth wouldn’t go amiss.
I have to say though, it was great to see Spock using his Vulcan Death Grip again. It brought back memories of when my father used to try it on my brother and me – thankfully I lived to tell the tale. As for my for my brother, well…

Abrams certainly gets that Star Trek needs excitement. This is a good, fun, entertaining action film, that’s just in need of something extra to make you think. Let’s hope he’s saving it for the next film.

6/10