Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)


Film Retrospective: Planet of the Apes (1968)

Arrival Review: Inner space

Director: Denis Villeneuve

Writer: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (short story)

Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg


Release date: November 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 116 minutes


Best part: Adams’ compelling performance.

Worst part: Some dodgy CGI.

In Hollywood, aliens typically come in two forms. Sometimes, they are tentacled monsters hell-bent on obliterating humanity (Predator). Other times, they remind us about peace and love (ET: The Extra Terrestrial). The movies either resemble popcorn-fuelled blockbusters or more calming fare. Arrival undoubtedly falls into the latter category.

Arrival leaps away from stereotypical alien-invasion material. The movie, vying for critics’ recognition over box-office dollars, is worth the largest audience imaginable. It’s worth extended hours of discussion and contemplation. The plot follows university linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) stranded in the present. crushed by her daughter’s loss and ex-husband’s neglect, her cynicism reaches breaking point. However, on a seemingly normal day, twelve extraterrestrial spaceships hover over key sites around the world. Nicknamed ‘shells’ by the US military, the ships do little besides open their doors every eighteen hours. Their reasons for landing are wholly unclear. Louise is recruited by US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) to form a team to clarify the aliens’ intentions. Joined by theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the team studies a shell hovering in Montana.

Besides 2014’s Edge of Tomorrow, viewers must travel back to the 1970s and 80s for a truly engaging and interesting invasion epic. Arrival resembles the type of cinematic masterpiece seldom replicated by filmmakers or seen by audiences today. Director Denis Villeneuve (Prisoners, Sicario) and screenwriter Eric Heisserer grasp short story author Ted Chiang’s original material (Story of Your Life). The two deliver the year’s most thought-provoking blockbuster; a movie with enough to do and say simultaneously. Villeneuve and Heisserer’s shared vision immediately kicks into gear. The deliberate pacing and tone may deter wider audiences looking for shootouts and explosions. Here, conversation and action are equally important. The story explores the values of incisive decision-making and processing. Louise and Ian, continually entering the ship and contacting aliens ‘Abbott’ and ‘Costello’, craft a plan to understand the otherworldly language. Its professionals-doing-their-jobs narrative is utterly compelling.

Villeneuve’s atmospheric direction delivers some of 2016’s most compelling sequences. His version of time travel works wonders. Unlike similar fare (Interstellar), the leaps in time and space are never distracting. Louise, experiencing flashbacks to her daughter’s slow demise, sees a puzzle forming in her mind. By the third act, she compellingly connects the dots to find her way. The movie develops several well-rounded perspectives. Along with Louise and Ian’s glowing optimism, we see wise alien beings, careful military types (led by Weber and Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)), fearful, right-wing soldiers and foreign military prowess. Like his previous works, Villeneuve draws phenomenal performances from Hollywood élite. Adams, with this and Nocturnal Animals, earns serious Oscar contention as the movie’s heart and soul. Renner and Whitaker deliver likeable turns in smaller roles.

Villeneuve and co.’s vivacious approach separates it from all other 2016 blockbusters. Arrival is a bleak yet optimistic dissection of humanity. Right now, like the movie’s events, the world is on the brink of anarchy and despair. If there was ever a need for intelligent discussion, it is now.

Verdict: A groundbreaking journey.

Star Trek Beyond Review: Thrusters on Full

Director: Justin Lin

Writers: Simon Pegg, Doug Jung

Stars: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana


Release date: July 21st, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA, China

Running time: 122 minutes


Best part: The central cast.

Worst Part: The villain’s convoluted plot.

In its 50th year, Gene Roddenberry’s creation Star Trek is one of pop-culture’s most lucrative and unique franchises. Its run has been extended by TV series’, films, comic books, fan fiction and everything else in between. The Trekkies and Trekkers have helped the series become an ever-changing organism. With nerd being the new black, the franchise must bend and warp to gather as many fans as possible.

The newer Star Trek instalments have, for the most part, done a bang-up job. The 2009 reboot introduced a new timeline and cast. Fans grew to love the younger crew members, director J. J. Abrams’ love of lens flares and the USS Enterprise’s shinier aesthetic. The Sequel, Star Trek into Darkness, fumbled the ball. Star Trek Beyond, the third feature in the Kelvin timeline, sees the crew in the third year of a five-year mission to explore strange worlds, meet new beings and bring order to the galaxy. Flying peacekeeping group the Federation’s flag, Starfleet captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) feels lost in the deep, dark void of space. Key members including Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), chief medical officer Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), communications officer Nyota Uhura (Zoe Saldana), chief engineer Montgomery Scott (Simon Pegg), helmsman Hikaru Sulu (John Cho) and main navigator Pavel Chekov (Anton Yelchin) also hit the wall.

Of course, a movie about the crew hanging up their skivvies 10 minutes in would be deeply unsatisfying. Receiving a distress call from the nebulous zone outside Federation base Yorktown, they are ambushed and captured/disbanded by warlord Krall(Idris Elba)’s drone/alien army. The first third balances cute comedic moments and high stakes threats. The opening scene is a blast – detailing how some missions go better than others. The aforementioned ambush sequence is electrifying, with the Enterprise and its crew torn apart with devastating velocity. The second act takes a peculiar turn, splitting the lead cast into twos. Pegg and Doug Jung’s script provides greater insight into each key member. Although the plot and momentum stall, the middle section delivers infinite character development and wit. In true sequel fashion, new characters including alien warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella) create several surprises.

With Abrams off on Star Wars duties, director Justin Lin (Fast and FuriousTokyo Drift through to Six) takes control of the ship. Not to be underestimated, he balances between the original series and this franchise’s bold, blockbuster-y direction. The exhilarating filmmaker piles action sequences on top of one another in the third act. The motorcycle set-piece clicks with the movie’s tone and close-quarter scope. The finale combines a high-flying spaceship battle, clever banter and a Beastie Boys’ track with aplomb. Meanwhile, the fist-fight finale injects pathos and resonance into an otherwise light-weight story. Assisting Lin’s breezy direction, Michael Giacchino’s score is as slick and dynamic as the Enterprise herself. The talented, good-looking performers aptly bounce off each other. Pine and Quinto snuggly fit into their famous roles. Urban, Pegg and Boutella are standouts. Meanwhile, Elba is let down by the character’s befuddling backstory and master plan.

Star Trek Beyond ventures where the franchise both has and has never gone before. Credit belongs to the performers, living up to the original cast’s crackling chemistry. Lin and co. have refueled and beefed up the Enterprise for future adventures. Most importantly, Yelchin and Leonard Nimoy are given touching send offs.

Verdict: An exhilarating thrill-ride.

Independence Day: Resurgence Review: Apocalyptic Entertainment

Director: Roland Emmerich

Writers: Roland Emmerich, Dean Devlin, Nicholas Wright, James A. Woods, James Vanderbilt

Stars: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Maika Munroe


Release date: June 23th, 2016

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes


Best part: The old cast.

Worst part: The new cast.

Belated sequels are like political campaigns – the build-up takes too long, but they’re always intriguing. Hollywood has delivered many much anticipated (Creed), slightly anticipated (Tron: Legacy) and not-at-all anticipated (Alice Through the Looking Glass) sequels. The Independence Day franchise has waited 20 long, arduous years to return to the big screen. Was it worth the wait? Hell no!

The original Independence Day took the world by storm back in 1996. The lively mixture of the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, the wacky guy from Jurassic Park and a cracking marketing campaign helped it smash box-office records and become an instant action/alien invasion classic. That famous shot – depicting a laser beam destroying the White House – is more iconic and stylish than anything we’ve seen in 2016. Humanity  has overcome the original’s world-shattering events and developed a peaceful and technologically advanced global society. International community faction Earth Space Defense, situated on the moon, is led by hotshot pilots including Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), his rival – and Will Smith’s character’s step-son – Dylan (Jessie Usher), and friend Charlie (Travis Tope).

Independence Day: Resurgence is a bland and overstuffed shadow of its enjoyable predecessor. Shockingly, I’ve barely scratched the surface in relation to the number of underdeveloped plot-lines and characters. The first third develops an excruciating build-up whilst leaping erratically between everyone involved. We have David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) dealing with an old flame (Charlotte Gainsbourg), President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) suffering as his daughter/Jake’s fiancée Patricia (Maika Munroe) watches on, David’s dad Julius (Judd Hirsch) helping some teenagers, an African warlord (Deobia Oparei) paired with the comic relief (Nicolas Wright), Dr. Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) waking up from a 20-year coma, and some guys on a boat. Indeed, each story-thread is more useless and boring than the one before it. At a certain point, you begin to root for the alien queen and her Atlantic-sized ship.

This belated sequel honours the original’s scale and spectacle with more city-levelling events, dogfights, and alien-on-human gunfights. However, in true Emmerich style (Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012 etc.), the movie’s relatively small cluster of humans represents the entire race. In the midst of mass hysteria and neverending explosions, its plot-threads – part of a lacklustre script by FIVE writers – intertwine due to baffling contrivances. Predictably, many characters develop telepathic links with the antagonistic alien species. Worse still, this cliche becomes even more egregious when another alien race shows up (picture a mix of white snooker ball and Wall-E’s love interest Eve). The movie also leaps between taking itself too seriously and a wacky, awkward sense of humour. Its older characters provide breaths of fresh air, and it’s nice seeing Goldblum, Pullman and Vivica A. Fox in the mainstream again. However, the younger cast members are void of life, personality, or joy.

Despite interesting concepts and a professional visual-effects team, Independence Day: Resurgence proves bigger definitely doesn’t equal better. Its lacklustre material, disappointing cast, sequel-bait finale and pandering to Chinese audiences elicit more groans than cheers over the drawn-out run-time. This July 4th, go see…anything else, really.

Verdict: 20 years too late.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review: Shell of its Former Self

Director: Dave Green

Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec

Stars: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee


Release date: June 9th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


Best part: The skydiving set-piece.

Worst part: The weak villains.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows encapsulates everything cheap and monotonous about modern Hollywood. It is not simply that it’s rote, or confused, tiresome etc., it’s that there is just nothing special about it. Despite the aim to please the core franchise audience, it fails on the basis of completely ignoring everyone else. This instalment is a poorly-handled and forgettable waste of significant filmmaking resources.

Despite the harsh words, Out of the Shadows is nowhere near as obnoxious and amateurish as the 2014 original/reboot. The original threw together focus-group logic and studio-executive desire into a soulless melting pot. The sequel sees our four reptilian warriors – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – wary of the humans around them. Afraid of exposure, the troupe – with Master Splinter(Tony Shalhoub)’s help – carefully choose opportunities to explore the outside world. Meanwhile, plucky journalist April O’Neil (Megan Fox) investigates renowned scientist Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry)’s dealings with Shredder (Brian Tee). Shredder, escaping custody with the Foot Clan’s help, hires fellow escaped convicts Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen ‘Sheamus’ Farrelly) to execute a world-destroying plan.

Out of the Shadows cherry picks characters, plot-lines, iconography, and imagery from the TMNT movies, cartoons, comic books, merchandise, and video games. This instalment is strictly for die-hard fans, spending most of its 112-minute run-time on fan service and selling toys. Alongside the turtles and April’s antics, sub-plots including Vern Fenwick(Will Arnett)’s newfound fame, cop-turned-vigilante Casey Jones(Stephen Amell)’s revenge mission, and alien baddie Krang(Brad Garrett)’s assault on Earth rear their ugly heads. The movie never allows its sub-plots or characters to develop beyond one or two dimensions. Its tone is almost unbearable, throwing in too many wacky elements at once. Intriguing ideas, including the turtles’ desire to become human, are overshadowed by bright lights and bubblegum.

Like with most blockbusters, Out of the Shadows‘ screenplay – written by TWO so-called ‘professionals’ – is overstuffed and weightless simultaneously. However, this movie is not for the critics. Developed and marketed for children, the target audience won’t mind the gaping plot-holes or lack of originality. The action is enjoyable, combining state-of-the-art motion-capture performance and technical wizardry. The cargo plane sequence adds several layers to this otherwise lifeless affair. The direction, special effects and humour combine effectively for this all-too-brief rollercoaster ride. The humans are more lifeless and irritating than their CGI counterparts. Fox, once again, delivers a flat performance guided by pure sex appeal. Amell provides a charmless Chris Pratt impression and toothy grin for the female viewers.

Out of the Shadows mines this once-popular franchise to the brink of collapse. For all the bright colours and flashing lights, this sequel proves only one thing – popularity and quality are not the same. The installment embarrasses the redeemable cast, hard-working production crew, and studios.

Verdict: On the brink of extinction.

Criminal Review: Title Fits Description

Director: Ariel Vromen

Writer: Douglas Cook, David Weisberg

Stars: Kevin Costner, Gary Oldman, Tommy Lee Jones, Gal Gadot


Release date: May 19th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes


Review: Criminal

Midnight Special Review: The Boy Wonder

Director: Jeff Nichols

Writer: Jeff Nichols

Stars: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver


Release date: April 21st, 2016

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 111 minutes



Review: Midnight Special 

The Divergent Series: Allegiant Review: Out of Touch, Out of Time

Director: Robert Schwentke

Writers: Stephen Chbosky, Bill Collage, Adam Cooper, Noah Oppenheim (screenplay), Veronica Roth (Novels)

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Jeff Daniels, Miles Teller


Release date: April 14th, 2016

Distributor: Summit Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes



Review: The Divergent Series: Allegiant

10 Cloverfield Lane Audio Review: Who’s the Real Monster?

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Writers: Josh Campbell, Matt Stuecken, Damien Chazelle

Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman, John Gallagher, Jr., Bradley Cooper


Release date: March 10th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 103 minutes



Predator Movie Review: Schwarzenegger Smackdown

Director: John McTiernan

Writer: Jim & John Thomas

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke

Release date: June 12th, 1987

Distributor: 20th Century Fox 

Country: USA

Running time: 107 minutes



Review: Predator


The Martian Review: Life on Mars

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Drew Goddard (Screenplay), Andy Weir (Novel)

Stars: Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor



Release date: October 2nd, 2015

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 141 minutes



Review: The Martian

Terminator: Genisys Audio Review: Old AND Obsolete

Director: Alan Taylor

Writers: Laeta Kalogridis, Patrick Lussier

Stars: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Jai Courtney


Release date: June 22nd, 2015

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 126 minutes



Chappie Audio Review: Powering Down

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Writer: Neill Blomkamp

Stars: Dev Patel, Watkin “Ninja” Tudor Jones, Yolandi Visser, Hugh Jackman


Release date: March 6th, 2015

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 120 minutes




Project Almanac Review: Rancid Ripple Effect

Director: Dean Israelite

Writer: Jason Harry Pagan, Andrew Deutschman

Stars: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black D’Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista


Release date: January 30th, 2015

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes 



Review: Project Almanac

The Hunger Games Mockingjay – Part 1 Review – Broken Arrow

Director: Francis Lawrence

Writers: Peter Craig, Danny Strong (screenplay), Suzanne Collins (novel)

Stars: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson


Release date: November 20th, 2014

Distributor: Loinsgate

Country: USA

Running time: 123 minutes



Best part: The grimy visuals.

Worst part: The love triangle.

Let me stress this to film-goers and Hunger Games aficionados everywhere: this latest instalment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1, is a mixed bag. Following in the Harry Potter, Hobbit, and Twilight‘s footsteps, this first-half feature is purposefully messy. Ok, that’s unconfirmed. However, it sure seems tangible. The movie’s central action sequence solidifies this theory.Teenage warrior Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), eyes down an enemy bomber, takes a deep breath, and fires her bow. Despite the awesomeness, it’s the one time she uses her signature weapon here.

Jennifer Lawrence & Liam Hemsworth.

Setting everything up for Part 2 (coming mid to late 2015), Mockingjay – Part 1 constructs an obstacle course for itself. Spinning several plates at once, the story wobbles violently before its rescue. Part of another undeserving and needless trend, this instalment should have only been one 150-minute feature. However, to make an extra billion in box-office revenue, Lionsgate screwed the pooch. The story, such as it is, hurls us back into the desolate landscapes of Panem. Thankfully, this entry takes a wholly refreshing departure from the Games. Katniss, having survived the world-shattering events of Catching Fire, is on rebellion leader President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) and Plutarch Heavensbee(Philip Seymour Hoffman)’s watch. Applauded by Districts 1 through 12, she’s become the symbol of rebellion and hope. Previously unaware of District 13’s existence, she learns of several mind-numbing truths. Pulled into the resistance/Capitol war, her efforts spark significant unrest. Worried about friend/admirer Peeta(Josh Hutcherson)’s safety, she focuses on protecting her loved ones. Despite volunteer soldier Gale(Liam Hemsworth)’s long-lasting affections, Katniss’ resolve reaches breaking point. Armed by previous Games winner Beetee (Jeffrey Wright), Katniss and Gale become the children of the revolution.

Philip Seymour Hoffman & Julianne Moore.

Similarly to Deathly Hallows and Breaking Dawn, Mockingjay already suffers from studio interference. Almost always, splitting one narrative into two causes major structural flaws. In no other instance would this tactic be acceptable. So, why does this multi-billion dollar industry do it? Beyond the monetary gain, mass fandom influences these decisions. The fans, infatuated with Suzanne Collins’ original material and/or these adaptations, form a tight-knit community. Predictably, despite the cast and crew’s efforts, this installment doesn’t work by itself. It’s wafer thin narrative yields overwhelming major and minor flaws. The first half, specifically the painfully dour first act, explores our distraught lead’s psyche. Aided by former Hunger Games victor Finnick O’Dair (Sam Claflin), she flips between rousing anger and teary-eyed remorse. The movie unevenly plonks certain sequences next to one another. Though emphasising the consequences and stakes, it’s repetitiveness and bloated narrative are repulsive. The story leaves little but charred corpses, random set-pieces, and heavy-handed rants to connect with. The Capitol, however, still comes off like the Empire. The tension builds whenever moustache-twirler President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and Caesar Flickerman (Stanley Tucci) appear. Sadly, this instalment takes the arrow away from the bow. Katniss, by focusing entirely on Peeta and Gale instead of the world around her, becomes yet another love-struck Young Adult heroine. Slipping from Catching Fire‘s grit to Divergent‘s distasteful pandering, this instalment never establishes its love triangle. Katniss, the only well-developed and charismatic character of the three, almost becomes Bella Swan here (but could still kick her ass!).

“You will rescue Peeta at the earliest opportunity, or you will find another Mockingjay.” (Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1).

Natalie Dormer.

Despite the complaints, Mockingjay – Part 1 is still a worthwhile installment. Here, Director Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water For Elephants) becomes this series’ David Yates. Displaying a bright infatuation for the franchise, his earthy direction – previously bolstering  Catching Fire – grounds this expansive universe. Ditching the original’s shaky-cam/washed-out aesthetic, Lawrence’s cinematic flourishes boost this otherwise haphazard entry. Luckily, the movie’s last third builds significant tension and thrills. In addition, the political subtext overshadows its threadbare story. This installment examines the resistance’s larger-than-life propaganda machine. A camera crew, led by punky director/Capitol escapee Cressida (Natalie Dormer), follows Katniss and co. around whilst surveying the despair and destruction. This time around, popular characters Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson) and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks) butt heads with revolution big-wigs over Katniss’ fate. Forget 3D and IMAX – this instalment launches its convoluted agenda from all angles. Katniss, forced into advertisements and viral marketing schemes, goes through several peculiar situations. Judging by just a few expressions, she’s more comfortable murdering small children than reciting lines and trying on fashionable military attire. Lawrence, switching between indie-drama experiments and major franchises, connects with the crowd-pleasing material. Amplifying the character’s physical and emotional transformations, the 23-year-old mega-star – displaying exceptional singing skills in one vital scene –  displays more class than her more-experienced co-stars. New additions Moore, Dormer, and Mahershala Ali add gravitas as vital resistance players.

The major problems with Mockingjay – Part 1 have little to do with its actors, screenwriters, or director. Similarly to the Capitol, Lionsgate’s overbearing gaze affects everything involved. The infamous split-in-two decision sucks this instalment dry. Katniss doesn’t help either: becoming a shrill, unfavourable, and indignant YA trope. Fighting only for herself, her barely defined family members, and two bland super-zeroes, the Girl on Fire is now extinguishing her own flames. Sadly, the Mockingjay is struggling to take flight. Let’s hope Part 2 drops the attitude and picks up the bow.

Verdict: Half a Hunger Games flick (for better or worse).

Interstellar Review – The Space-Mind Continuum

Director: Christopher Nolan

Writers: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Caine

Release date: November 6th, 2014

Distributors: Paramount Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 169 minutes



Best part: The mind-blowing visuals.

Worst part: The exasperating length.

Whenever a Christopher Nolan feature is released, two distinctive camps wage war. One group, known simply as the Nolanites, strives to elevate the acclaimed British filmmaker’s status. Convinced he’s cinema’s biggest game-changer, this cult pushes internet comment sections to breaking point. The other group directly clashes with the Nolanites. Convinced he’s another Michael Bay or Brett Ratner, the group causes a stir before, during, and after each movie’s buzz-time. His latest monster, Interstellar, has crafted the decade’s boldest cinema-related feud. Inexplicably, it’s a behemoth ripe for praise and parody.

Matthew McConaughey vs. the universe.

So, how did Interstellar garner said backlash? Oh boy, where do I begin?! There are many reasons behind said divisive reaction. Hot on The Dark Knight Rises‘ heels, it had a fascinating production history. Passed from Steven Spielberg to Nolan, the production undertook  several exponential changes. Working from  brother/writing partner Jonathan Nolan’s original script, Nolan crafts a concoction of weighty concepts, directorial ticks, and peculiar casting choices. Indeed, Spielberg’s version would have worked. However, Nolan’s version is a scintillating yet flawed epic. The story is…seriously, where do I begin?! This extravaganza follows mankind’s journey to infinity and beyond. Former NASA test pilot/engineer turned corn farmer Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a bland life. Born into a warring world, he’s pushed through food wars, social obliteration, and his wife’s death. This widower, fathering Tom (Timothee Chalamet) and Murph (Mackenzie Foy), treats his job and father-in-law Donald (John Lithgow) with contempt. Humankind, regressing into an agrarian society, must contend with blight, dust storms, and economic/political/social/cultural failure. In fact, its schools teach children about phony, propagandistic space programs and 20th-century “excess and wastefulness”. Murph, convinced a ghost haunts her room, asks for Cooper’s help. Thanks to gravitational anomalies, it outlines a binary message listing nearby coordinates. Finding NASA’s underground station, Cooper is chosen for a humanity-saving mission. Aided by astronaut Amelia (Anne Hathaway), physicist Romilly (David Gyasi), geographer Doyle (Wes Bentley), and artificially intelligent robots TARS (Bill Irwin) and CASE (Josh Stewart), Cooper searches for life-sustaining systems and multi-tiered dimensions.

Anne Hathaway.

Interstellar bares several overwhelming positives and mind-numbing negatives. Wanting to have its cake and eat it too, the movie reaches for the stars but just misses. As notoriety and power rushes to these siblings’ heads, their latest aims higher than the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception combined. Despite Chris’ majesty, his reach still exceeds his grasp. So, with this in mind, why the high rating? The well-renowned filmmaker, switching from mind-bending blockbusters to unique drama-thrillers (Memento, Insomnia) to outside-the-box surprises (Following, The Prestige), still deserves immense credit. His style, delivering blockbusters no one else can compete with, deserves meticulous study and discussion. Interstellar, despite being a lesser effort, is born from full-blooded ambition. Unlike previous efforts, light, space, and optimism solidify its core. Fuelled by intriguing ideas, multi-layered plot-lines, and major themes, each act delivers significant twists and turns. Standing out from the second-two thirds, the opening 45-60 minutes weave through parenthood, global degradation, and spirituality. Despite the leaps in logic, the first third delivers touching moments and picturesque flourishes. Ripping up/burning down corn fields, poetic happenstances, and far-fetched ideologies, its less-is-more approach switches between  apocalyptic-actioner tropes and ponderous dream-weaving. After Cooper’s run-ins with Dylan Thomas poetry aficionado/Earth saviour professor Brand (Michael Caine), Nolan hurls us into the stratosphere. Pulling us into his galaxy-hopping journey, the second-two-thirds obsess over quantum mechanics, wormholes, potential home-worlds, black-holes, physics, and relativity. The convoluted screenplay, spilling vital details through exposition, becomes a miasma of theoretical physicist Kip Thorne-approved science mumbo-jumbo, plot-holes, needless plot-strands, and contrivances.

“We used to look up at the sky and wonder at our place in the stars, now we just look down and worry about our place in the dirt.” (Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Interstellar).

Jessica Chastain & Casey Affleck.

Sadly, Interstellar‘s egregious run-time is inexcusable. Exhausting his audience, Nolan’s latest is too dark for too long. In the last third, its grand-scale messages send it into a crash landing. Flipping between hard science and love-and-fate-conquer-all posturing, Nolan becomes lost in his own tumultuous labyrinth. However, its smaller moments add emotional resonance, awe, and stakes. Nolan’s uncompromising visual flourishes are worth the admission cost. Wearing its central influences – 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Right Stuff – on its sleeve, it laps up the universe’s wondrous creations. Lapping up our solar system, Saturn has never looked so appealing! Also, the black-holes/wormholes are vast, awe-inspiring obstacles. The planets – constructed of water, ice and sand – are imaginative constructions. Shooting on anamorphic 35mm film, Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography paints with delectable strokes. Nolan’s world-building – depicting space’s weightlessness, silence, and claustrophobia – delivers edge-of-your-seat thrills. Nolan’s process – utilising practical effects over CGI – improves over each set piece, visual flourish, and extended take. Capturing space travel, human endeavour, and astronomy’s overwhelming merits, his style crafts engaging dreamscapes. Hans Zimmer’s organ-based score, coming in at opportune moments, amplifies the movie’s atmospheric glow. Throughout the middle-third, cross-cutting between space-and-time-tearing adventures and Murph(Jessica Chastain)’s and Tom(Casey Affleck)’s sibling rivalry, its overly insistent momentum swings wildly. However, the action – including one set piece connecting a shuttle to a damaged spacecraft – amplifies Nolan’s glorious style. Also, McConaughey elevates this monolithic sci-fi extravaganza. Crafting new inflections and ticks, the Oscar winner solidifies his immense worth.

Swinging for the fences, Interstellar attempts to deconstruct blockbuster cinema and create ground-breaking celluloid playgrounds. Despite the polarising screenplay and directorial choices, Nolan’s ambitions deliver several heart-breaking moments and wondrous flourishes. Delivering 2014’s ultimate movie-going experience, his willpower and attention to detail overshadow other action-adventure filmmakers’ styles. Aiding Nolan’s grand-scale project, McConaughey and Hathaway are flawless in beautiful roles. As an enthralling concoction of Cloud Atlas, Sunshine, and The Grapes of Wrath, this is true big-budget spectacle. However, Gravity achieved much more in half the length.

Verdict: A flawed yet invigorating sci-fi extravaganza.

Stephen Amis (Director) Interview – Reaching for the Stars

Stephen Amis, Camera operator Con Filippidis & Director of Photography David Richardson.

Back in 2012, I got the chance to meet Australian true-blue filmmaker Stephen Amis. Promoting his latest cinematic effort at the time, his independent cinema seminar transfixed a room of enthusiastic press folks and cinephiles. In addition, his sci-fi extravaganza, The 25th Reich, took the Revelation Perth Film Festival storm. So, with a couple of years having past between then and now, I made it an all-on-the-line mission to, once again, get in touch with Amis . I chatted to this underrated genre-cinema icon about his love of filmmaking, his multiple production roles, and the Australian Film Industry’s response to big-idea projects.

Where did the idea of the 25th Reich come from?

I made the 25th Reich as a kind of sci-fi homage to the Super-8 movies I made when I was a kid. It was also a celebration of the B pulp films I grew up with – made by directors like George Pal and Sam Fuller…

What are the major challenges with financing a film such as this in the Australian film Industry?

It was very difficult financing the movie – but isn’t that the case with every movie? Australian film agencies generally see genre films as being ‘soft’ as the box office – so it was hard convincing them to come aboard, and ultimately they didn’t. In addition, with Aussie films barely finding any cinema space these days, and DVD sales plummeting, The 25th Reich was a very tricky film to produce and distribute.

How did your plan for the film come together in the script writing/pre-production stage?

Our budget was tiny compared to what you would ordinarily have to spend on this kind of production, and consequently our crew was limited. I wore many hats – co-writer, director, co-producer, not to mention post-production supervisor – so I was the only one who really had the entire film ‘in my head’. I also have a solid background in cinematography, so I was able to very clearly write on the page what I knew could be achieve in production for the specific budget.

What were the highest and lowest points of the production?

For me, the highest point in the making of The 25th Reich was getting the music composed and synchronised – that’s when the magic happens and all the hard work comes together – particularly as this film was very music driven. Up until then, you’re always asking yourself will it work, is it emotionally engaging…

And the low point? Shooting was very difficulty and treacherous. 50 degree days and 2 degree nights in the wildness. Scorpions, snakes, spiders – it was quite arduous!

How did you create the visual effects and set designs on location?

I set-up 8 small VFX teams worldwide to produce the visual effects. We worked mostly by cloud computing and developed a lot of short cuts and new tools to bring the film in on budget. Oddly enough, we barely used any green-screen as this was too time consuming on set and I decided quite early in the production to rotoscope everything in post – when ended up achieving a better look than traditional green screen keying.

 How did everything come together in the post-production stage?

Post-production was like pushups – particularly in regard to the VFX. Every VFX shot you do, is one less you have to do… It took 18 months to finish all of the special effects, along with many edits of the film and replacing and refining each VFX shot from previz, to crude animation, to final animation to fully rendered animation.

How important are genre films such as yours in the image of Australian independent cinema?

I think genre films in general are important worldwide. Genre films, as opposed to other kinds of films, have the unique ability to contain sociological subtext about the times they were made in: Think about the subtext in ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, made during the cold war, or the original ‘Planet of the Apes’, made during the Vietnam war. The 25th Reich is no different, and was made in an era of out-of-control right-wing, neo conservative ideology. In terms of subtext, The 25th Reich has more to do with contemporary fascism rather than specifically Nazi Germany.

How did you distribute the film?

The film went through the conventional distribution route – with international and domestic sales. But that old model is dying, and I’ve just setup a new distribution company called ‘Label’, to distribute my next film. Label will be using an unconventional mix of old and new distribution techniques to get films into the market and to attract and engage audiences.

How do you see social media outlets aiding the distribution and advertising of independent films such as yours?

We had a social media campaign running via Twitter and Facebook. The film had quite a good showing on the festival circuit, and I found our social media campaign helped drive and consolidate that. Aside from being able to speak directly to our fan base, which is hugely important to me, there are also other businesses based issues of specifically directing your target audience ‘somewhere’ to achieve an identifiable goal – whether that may be buying a cinema ticket, purchasing a DVD or the soundtrack…

How important to you is the fan base that it now has?

Our fan base (and genre film fan bases in general), are very loyal. It’s an important base which we plan to take with us on the next instalment of the movie which we are now writing. So in that context, we are trying to harness and grow our fan base across the franchise.

How important are national film festivals to independent film-makers such as yourselves?

With Australian films struggling to find cinema space (it’s now almost impossible to book a movie) , and the DVD market plummeting – the festival circuit is one of the last avenues for filmmakers to showcase their work on the big screen. It’s important that Australian film festivals showcase more Australian content. At the moment, the large festivals pay lip service to Aussie films, but not much more. There are many Aussie films seen each year that don’t see the light of day and they really should.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of the Australian independent film industry?

The disadvantage is that we have no protection for Australian cinema. It’s not like in France where film is considered a cultural art form and protected by a fairly rigid quota system. North Korea set up a quota system too, and like France, their industry is now thriving. We desperately need a quota system here in Australia to protect Aussie cinema.

What is your next project?

I’m developing a small number of projects. Two science fiction films and one big broad Aussie comedy – all to be shot in 3D…

Has anything in the industry, major or minor, changed in the industry over the past to years?

There’s been many many changes – many of the big obvious changes on the distribution landscape and the way content is seen and disseminated. Film is not the cultural pop icon it was 20 years ago. It’s competing with many other consumer products now. And that is really what’s at the core of the revolution we are now having. I wouldn’t say film is dead – but it’s certainly going through some kind of metamorphosis…

Official website: The 25th Reich

Guardians of the Galaxy Review – I Am Groot

Director: James Gunn

Writers: James Gunn, Nicole Perlman

Stars: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Vin Diesel


Release date: August 1st, 2014

Distributors: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Marvel Studios

Country: UK

Running time: 121 minutes





Best part: The dynamic soundtrack.

Worst part: The two-dimensional villains.

All-powerful mega-conglomerate Marvel Studios has, for the past few years, been keeping everything close to the chest. Its mission, to build an intricate cinematic universe whilst entertaining the masses, is worthy of immense critical and commercial acclaim. Unlike most blockbusters, the Iron Man, Thor, Incredible Hulk, Captain America, and Avengers tentpoles work as stand-alone adventures and vital instalments. Marvel’s latest effort, Guardians of the Galaxy, fits into this gutsy and entertaining franchise.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Peter Quill/Starlord in action.

Hitting and sticking, this sci-fi epic puts the pedal to the metal from the get-go and refuses to listen to the studio big-wigs. As Marvel’s craziest venture yet, Guardians of the Galaxy is ballsy enough to stick to its overarching plan. Unlike Marvel’s preceding efforts, this movie refuses to stay Earth bound. Here, the narrative and characters reach for the stars and soar into the sky to achieve the nigh-impossible. Thanks to the alluring marketing campaign, its premise is significantly more bizarre and questionable than expected. Shortly after his mother’s death, a young Peter Quill escapes his family’s grasp before being abducted by an unknown entity. The movie then jumps several years, and thirty-something Quill (Chris Pratt), going by “Starlord”, is a lowlife criminal working for himself. Dodging bounty hunters and murderers across the galaxy, his immediate future consists of treasure and loose alien babes. Unsurprisingly, his latest prize, a sphere-like artefact, places him atop the universe’s Most Wanted list. After a tussle between Quill, assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Racoon-like badass Rocket (Bradley Cooper), and tree-like creature Groot (Vin Diesel), our brawlers are thrown into a vicious floating jail.

The Guardians kicking ass!

The Guardians kicking ass!

After a daring escape, aided by Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), these abrasive warriors come together to tackle villainous figures including Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), Nebula (Karen Gillan), and Korath (Djimon Hounsou). Predictably so, comic-book aficionados and giddy cinema-goers define Guardians of the Galaxy‘s set fan-base. Pushing its kooky and intriguing narrative into warp speed, this sci-fi actioner delivers on everything it promises. Director/co-writer James Gunn (Slither, Super) injects his off-kilter style into each scene. From the emotionally resonant prologue (placed in front of Marvel’s logo) onward, the movie delivers a balance of charm and poignancy. Mixing sci-fi, action, and comedy tropes, Marvel latest is even more boisterous and hearty than preceding efforts. Scouring the universe, the movie examines the comic-book series and Marvel’s Cinematic Universe simultaneously. As varying factions and figureheads fight for control, the story etches in several cartoonish heroes and villains. Despite the sequel baiting and distracting contrivances, the goodies (led by the Nova Corps) and the baddies (led by high-ruler Thanos (Josh Brolin)) never distort the narrative. Instead, the pacing and tone establish a Star Wars vibe with hints of Serenity and Indiana Jones. Bolstered by a 70s/80s soundtrack, its nostalgic glow pushes everything along with style and gusto. Venturing into the vast reaches of space, this Star Trek-like space opera connects aliens, humans, and animals together organically.

“I am Groot.” (Groot (Vin Diesel), Guardians of the Galaxy).

Ronan the Accuser

Ronan the Accuser.

Indeed, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s universe-building techniques inject gravitas and awe into its simple-yet-effective plot. With our five leads at each other’s throats, their zany actions and reactions are worth the admission cost. Drifting between expansive star systems and planets, the movie’s production design eclipses that of both Thor instalments. The Knowhere, a mining district built inside a gigantic skull, is a sight to behold. Handling magic and mystery deftly, Marvel’s latest achieves everything Green Lantern failed at. Despite the confusing space-opera/source material jargon, its story beats and character motivations mature naturally throughout. Without becoming a slapstick farce, the comedic jabs craft memorable and applause-worthy moments. Pulling people from different realms together, our five leads’ camaraderie bolsters this inspired instalment. Outshining its set pieces and genre cliches, the quieter moments make for significant strides. Whenever  our characters sit and talk to one another, the movie’s negatives hurriedly dissipate. Graciously, its unique performers elevate certain set pieces and dialogue moments. Pratt, coming off Parks and Recreation and The Lego Movie, excels in his run-and-gun lead role. As the group’s Han Solo, Quill has the attitude, and dance moves, to match Marvel’s other anti-heroes.  Surprisingly, Bautista, Cooper, and Diesel steal the show from one another as the team’s wackiest members. Their foul-mouthed, vengeful characters solidify this sarcastic yet determined ensemble.

From Quill opening credits dance number to the third act’s spaceship showdown, Guardians of the Galaxy takes to shooting first and taking names second. Fuelled by its retro visuals and puffed-up swagger, this sci-fi actioner signifies the start of Marvel’s immense evolution. With Phase 2 coming to a close, this mega-studio is heading in the right direction. The pressure now rests on Avengers: Age of Ultron‘s God of Thunder-sized shoulders. I anticipate a Rocket/Groot/Iron Man team-up flick by 2019.

Verdict: Marvel’s most ambitious and peculiar effort yet!

Lucy Review – Running on Empty

Director: Luc Besson

Writer: Luc Besson

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked, Choi Min-sik


Release date: July 25th, 2014

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 89 minutes





Best part: Johansson’s touching performance.

Worst part: The overblown final third.

French cinematic endeavours, to the common moviegoer, illicit significant emotional and psychological responses whenever they come to light. For most people, this movement sits on a certain pedestal. With that said, one writer/director/producer extraordinaire has spent the past decade turning these stereotypes inside out. With sci-fi extravaganza Lucy, Luc Besson (La Femme Nikita, Leon: The Professional) aims to bolster his wavering reputation.

ScarJo training for Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Relying on past successes to green-light future projects, Besson’s career now resembles a dying animal. Compared to his more substantial efforts, this cinema icon’s recent career turns are pitiful and tiresome. However, with Lucy, Besson is taking appropriate steps toward celluloid salvation. Tackling everything around him, this filmmaker is now embracing his darkest thoughts and pseudo-radical beliefs. Lucy, carrying a tried-and-true premise, tries to be more than the sum of its parts. The narrative takes hold as our lead character brightens up her first frame. As a struggling student, Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) is feeling the pinch of inner-city living. Pushed around by a sketchy boyfriend and overbearing responsibilities, she finds herself drifting off mid-conversation. However, with her will-power lower than her IQ, she becomes the unfortunate Guinea Pig of a bizarre and potentially- revolutionary drug trafficking scheme. Forcing Lucy into the drug-mule game, the local mob, headed-up by Kang (Choi Min-sik), push our lead’s resolve to breaking point. After a daring escape, Lucy forms a bond with determined French Policeman Pierre Del Rio (Amr Waked). Fortunately, this information covers only a tiny part of Lucy‘s intricate and intensifying narrative. Exposed to a mind-bending new drug, Lucy is transformed into a gun-toting, super-powered badass with nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Lucy - Morgan Freeman Wallpaper

Morgan Freeman as ‘The Voice’.

Unsurprisingly, this is one of modern cinema’s most overused and undercooked concepts. Everyone knows we use only 10% of our brains, so why does this fact appeal to big-name filmmakers? Well, according to Besson, accessing a higher percentage of brain power will cause worlds to collapse. Admittedly, it’s difficult not to compliment Besson for thinking outside the box. Unlike similar psychological thriller Limitless, Lucy reaches for weightier ideas and motifs. With that said, Lucy is still one of this decade’s most perplexing and laughable action flicks (and that’s saying something). Mixing existential sci-fi drama and mindless action-thriller tropes, Besson’s screenplay comes off like the result of an extended Red Bull marathon. Fusing unique concepts together, the first-two thirds deliver solid emotional moments and fun set pieces. Explaining itself, Lucy‘s narrative discusses the universe’s most valuable puzzle (or so Besson would have you believe). With Lucy Forming an alliance with Professor Samuel Morton (Morgan Freeman), this gripping thriller becomes the year’s most intriguing woman-on-a-mission flick. Sadly, the first-two thirds are undone by a woeful climax and nonsensical resolution. Resembling this year’s sci-fi dud Transcendence, the final half-hour spoils everything that came before it. As is Besson’s tendency, the writer/director’s popcorn-chomping-action side takes over.

“Ignorance brings chaos, not knowledge.” (Lucy (Scarlett Johansson), Lucy).


Amr Waked as France’s least idiotic cop.

With our heroes going up against Asian gangsters and French police, the climactic action sequence lends little depth or personality to the final product. Despite this, I should give credit where it’s due. Unlike his preceding effort The Family, Besson’s latest dares to explore otherworldly realms. Looking past its conventional premise, Lucy’s overbearing message responds to everything effecting our world. Explaining Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Besson uses stock footage to explain the smallest details. Overdosing on visual metaphors, Lucy comes off like a stoned philosophy major shoving his/her theories in our faces. Matching gripping sequences with dodgy CGI, Lucy is certainly a mixed bag. However, certain highlights save it from critical and commercial lashings. The action and torture sequences, though over-emphasised, deliver enjoyable moments whilst bolstering its tight pace. The Parisian car chase injects adrenaline into Lucy‘s veins. However, eclipsing the whiz-bang set pieces, Johansson elevates this sci-fi flick above similar fare. With just a handful of expressions, Johansson’s searing performance lends a solid core to her inconsistent character. Unfortunately, Freeman and Min-sik are stranded in thankless roles.

From the opening scene – depicting Earth’s first primate/human inhabitant – onward, its clear that Lucy is not for the strictly religious or simple minded. Despite the big-budget spectacle and A-list stars, Besson’s latest forces us to revel in his warped mindset. However, like with similarly surreal The Fifth Element, his ideas don’t gel like they should. Like our lead character, Lucy is an inconsistent yet alluring creation.

Verdict: Like Lucy herself – slick but insecure.

Snowpiercer Review – Do the Locomotion!

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jaques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel)

Stars: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton


Release date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: RADiUS-TWC 

Countries: South Korea, USA

Running time:  126 minutes



Best part: The alluring visuals.

Worst part: The heavy-handed final minute.

More often than not, Hollywood refuses to make the right choice. The big-name studios, pushing us into theatre, hire major players to stand in front of, and behind, the camera. However, forced to follow a formula, these studios end up bullying these people beyond belief. Unfortunately, foreign directors suffer the worst of this atrocious behaviour. Despite the critical acclaim, Korean directors including Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon had to fight to keep their big-budget efforts alive.

Chris Evans & Jamie Bell.

Gracefully, without ruffling anyone’s feathers, one Korean export took it upon himself to make this year’s best action extravaganza. Bong Joon-ho (The Host) is yet another three-name filmmaker currently working under Tinseltown’s bright lights. His first Hollywood feature, Snowpiercer, looks like a tiresome and cliche-driven post-apocalyptic actioner. However, after entering the theatre, you’re taken on a revelatory journey unlike any other. This year, we’ve seen several blockbusters rise and fall quicker than expected. As Snowpiercer illustrates, the smallest projects are pulling people back into Hollywood’s firing line. Guided by stark visuals and touching moments, the narrative transitions instantly from obvious to transcendent. The premise, despite anchoring this enjoyable action-thriller, highlights its glaring agenda to an extraneous extent. Based on a French graphic novel, the story examines a desecrated Earth on the brink of oblivion. To combat global warming, the world’s governments banded together to release a specific chemical into the atmosphere. Sadly, because these forces ignored the signs, the chemical caused a destructive ice age. The world’s last-surviving citizens now live on a globetrotting train called, you guessed it, Snowpiercer. Developed by mysterious benefactor Wilfred (Ed Harris), the train divides its inhabitants to conserve the status quo.

Song Kang-ho & Go Ah-sung.

Ambitiously, Snowpiercer has several points to prove. With its angry side ever-so-slowly taking over, this daring and resonant sci-fi actioner utilises everything to its full potential. The narrative centres around a revolt, driven by the lower-class folks subjected to the train’s tail end. Covered in dirt and dour memories, leader Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), second-in-command Edgar (Jamie Bell), and age-old prophet Gilliam (John Hurt) empower their fellow “Freeloaders” with dignity and respect. The narrative, like the train itself, runs on the hopes and dreams of everyone involved. Following a hearty formula, Joon-ho’s most expansive effort yet is far more exhilarating and prescient than expected. Despite Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s controversial cuts, the movie flows naturally from one revelation and set-piece to another. Pointing at global warming, race relations, and social issues, Snowpiercer bolsters its agenda with profound motivations and charming surprises. Cleverly, its points are summed up by a witty speech about shoes and hats. As our crew shuffles through the train, the narrative conquers its momentous twists and turns before reaching the heartbreaking finale. From the opening frame, without derailing Joon-ho’s immaculate execution, the movie throws in clever intricacies designed to raise the stakes. Bullied by middle-class guards and arrogant socialites (led by Margaret Thatcher-esque ruler Mason (Tilda Swinton)), our lower-class warriors come off as empathetic more so than reckless. In fact, unlike most summer tentpoles, “F*ck yeah!” moments and emotional pay-offs come thick and fast throughout.

“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.” (Curtis (Chris Evans), Snowpiercer).

Tilda Swinton.

Given free reign over everything, Joon-ho has taken several chances with this meaningful and touching post-apocalyptic bloodbath. Paying homage to his favourite directors and dystopian features, this foreign director delivers seminal references without catering to anyone else’s desires. Further more, this story swerves around several blockbuster cliches. Avoiding a massive scope, over-long set-pieces, and manipulative beats, Joon-ho’s style is of an entirely different species of filmmaking. Like the train’s never-fail, perpetual-motion engine, this auteur is a well-oiled machine keeping everything together. In particular, his visuals speak to critics, Korean film fans, and blockbuster nutcrackers. Within the first third, the grimy tail-end becomes a rage-fuelled character in itself. With small beds, tin cans, and gelatinous blobs coveting the screen, the opening scenes construct the vacuous hell-hole our heroes call home. Indelibly, it’s in the first act – after drug-addled engineer Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his psychic daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) are recruited – that our characters discover the first-class passengers’ dastardly schemes. Righteously, our talented performers take control of this intensifying narrative. Handing the physical and dramatic aspects, Evans displays his polished skill-set throughout. In addition, Octavia Spencer, Bell, Harris, and Swinton anchor the film’s more impressionistic tangents in well-crafted roles.

Unsurprisingly, this project was met with questions from every studio executive it came across. The premise, attacking the first world’s obsession with celebrity and order, is as repulsive as the second act’s blood-stained axe-fights. However, resting on its writer/director’s strength and intelligence, the final product is more satisfying than most action flicks of its type. It  might even cause a revolt against the Transformers-hocking big-wigs in their ivory towers. Maybe. Hopefully.

Verdict: A sumptuous and potent post-apocalyptic thrill-ride.

Edge of Tomorrow Review – Live. Die. Repeat Viewings

Director: Doug Liman 

Writers: Christopher McQuarrie, Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth (screenplay), Hiroshi Sakurazaka (graphic novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Emily Blunt, Bill Paxton, Brendan Gleeson

Release date: May 28th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes





Best part: Cruise and Blunt.

Worst part: The throwaway one-liners.

Hollywood, over the past decade, has sheltered one of the most influential and polarising public figures. This particular celebrity, known for jumping on Oprah’s couch and keeping Katie Holmes out of the spotlight, is outrageously attacked by critics and filmgoers the world over. Tom Cruise, despite his peculiar comments and religious allegiances, is still one of our bravest movie stars. His latest action flick, Edge of Tomorrow, alights his magnetic screen presence and immense buying power.

Tom Cruise.

In this intensifying action-adventure, based on Japanese graphic novel All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, Cruise transitions from media spokesperson to blood-drenched saviour. This role suits the real-life Cruise more so than you’d think. Overlooking his recent comments about A-listers and the US Military, Cruise can sell entire audiences on any character, storyline, and leap in logic. However, despite plastering his impressive physique across the posters, Edge of Tomorrow is much more than a one-man show. The surrounding elements ground Cruise and the premise in an expansive and invigorating layout. The narrative, like similar apocalyptic sci-fi extravaganzas, begins by tying major political issues to the movie’s vicious alien invasion. Creating the United Defense Force to combat the Alien hordes (labeled ‘Mimics’), the world’s military units are straining to control the situation. From there, we meet advertising executive turned military PR advisor Major William Cage (Cruise). Ordered by UDF leader General Bingham (Brendan Gleeson) to join the front lines, Cage must suit up and fight alongside war-hungry privates. Thrown to the wolves, Cage is bullied by his fellow J-Squad members. Storming the beaches of Southern France, his character suffers a horrific death at the hands of a boss-level Mimic.

Emily Blunt.

Cruise haters will love seeing this A-list juggernaut become shockingly eviscerated by alien forces. However, Cruise’s character, after suffering this fate, comes back to life. In this instance, he wakes up 24 hours into the past. Holding onto specific details about the following day, Cage’s proactive nature throws him into each repetitious situation. The first third elevates Edge of Tomorrow above most sci-fi epics of its type. Co-written by Cruise collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Valkyrie, Jack Reacher), the screenplay races through impactful dialogue, gritty warfare, and tender moments. Immediately ascending above Oblivion, this Cruise vehicle embraces its tried-and-true concepts. Like Source Code, Edge of Tomorrow’s time-loop-based narrative delivers immense surprises and twists on genre tropes. The military base sequences, featuring Cage’s encounters with optimistic Master Sergeant Farrell Bartolome (Bill Paxton) and obnoxious grunts, provide their fare share of witty lines and heartening revelations. From there, the storyline delves headfirst into each explosive action beat and character interaction. The first third’s beachside set pieces, pitting ExoSuited battalions against nasty alien warriors, become nail-biting moments that overshadow the time-shifting premise. Playing with video-game mechanics, Edge of Tomorrow’s relentless storyline lends intelligence to an otherwise derivative concept. These life-or-death scenarios, building to the explosive second-two thirds, are bolstered by Cage’s momentous character arc. Cage, struggling to cope with his newfound talent, looks to persistent Special Forces member Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt) for guidance. Gracefully, Cruise stands aside to allow Blunt’s charismatic persona to stand front and centre. Developing chemistry over several time-loop scenarios, this mismatched paring sidesteps everything we’ve seen before. Pitting a cowardly soldier against a sword-wielding badass, their training sequences deliver entertaining comedic jabs.

“Come find me when you wake up.” (Rita “Full Metal Bitch” Vrataski (Emily Blunt), Edge of Tomorrow).

Our cute, blood-thirsty couple.

Despite Edge of Tomorrow’s exhilarating pace and jaw-dropping action sequences, the narrative occasionally falls into dour patches and obvious plot-holes. Switching from a gritty sci-fi war flick to an unending chase story, the movie slowly pushes its time-loop guidelines into the distance. However, beyond these minor complaints, the final third throws landmarks, high stakes, and sacrificial acts into an extended set piece. Director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr & Mrs Smith) perfects his action-direction here. As his most entertaining effort, Edge of Tomorrow brings back the frantic editing and swift camerawork he first brought to Go and Swingers. Beyond this, his alien-invasion thriller even constructs a backstory without dropping it halfway through. Comparing Military pragmatism to the conscription era, this tale of masculinity and second chances becomes a step above similar blockbuster schlock. Creating symbols of American idealism and Military prowess, our characters are transcendent and captivating examples of the modern political and social environment. More importantly, however, our characters are extremely likeable. Cruise’s everyman persona and convincing delivery moulds a multi-layered lead character. Before evolving into the typical Cruise/action-hero type, he first steps outside the norm to play this cowardly and manipulative anti-hero. His role – transitioning from blackmail, to acceptance, to pure determination – is nuanced compared to his more recent characters. In addition, Blunt, taking on the action-hero role, stretches her already significant range for her intriguing and damaged character. Mastering fighting skills and yoga poses; Blunt’s character is a mysterious and bubbly foil for Cruise’s outlandish role.

Weapons training and filmmaking rely on repetition. Fortunately, Edge of Tomorrow takes this conceit and delivers thrilling set pieces and refreshing characters. Along with a subversive sense of humour, the movie rewinds time and examines Cruise’s star power. Placing the narrative on a world-sized scale, this sci-fi actioner succeeds without superheroes, transforming robots, or brightly coloured CGI vistas.

Verdict: An entertaining and gripping sci-fi actioner. 

Cinema’s Greatest Movie Monsters: Slimy and (Occasionally) Sympathetic


Cinema’s Greatest Movie Monsters: Slimy and (Occasionally) Sympathetic 

Transcendence Review – Slower than Dial-up

Director: Wally Pfister

Writer: Jack Paglen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Rebecca Hall, Paul Bettany, Morgan Freeman


Release date: April 24th, 2014

Distributors: Warner Bros. Entertainment, Summit Entertainment

Country:  USA

Running time: 119 minutes





Best part: The unique visuals. 

Worst part: Johnny Depp.

Sci-fi blockbuster Transcendence had the perfect ingredients to deliver a thrilling and enjoyable addition to this ever-lasting genre. With an intriguing first-time director, starry cast, and interesting ideas at the helm, this movie had enough potential to be something truly…transcendent (the word does indeed suit this situation). In fact, this computer-charged techno-thriller could’ve become the antivirus for the ever-growing trend of superhero/explosion-fuelled extravaganzas. However, as you can tell from my judgemental tone, the final product hurriedly short circuits.

Johnny Depp.

When judging this flick objectively, it’s difficult not to turn against this disappointing and bizarre creation. As yet another case of “interesting premise spoiled by poor execution”, Transcendence promises significantly more than it can possibly hope to deliver. Not only does it promise too much, but the very few answers it does deliver are bafflingly silly and superficial. Before I delve into this sci-fi actioner’s flaws, I’ll attempt to describe its patchy and cumbersome plot. Similarly to our unfortunate lead characters’ actions, unlocking its labyrinthine code could unleash dire consequences! We start off in the not-too-distant future as renowned researcher Max Waters (Paul Bettany) trudges through a post-apocalyptic Earth. The story then jumps back five years, and prolific researcher Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife/fellow scientist Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are close to developing the first machine to be driven by sentience and collective intelligence. Aiming to “unlock the most fundamental secrets of the universe”, Will and his team, supported by his mentor Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman), are willing enough to present their PINN project to the world. Examining the First World’s reliance on technology, the limitlessness of Artificial Intelligence, Biocentrism, nanotechnology, the Singularity, and the analog/digital debate, Transcendence almost seems intent on questioning romantic-drama Her‘s viewpoints. Most importantly, Depp being everywhere at once is a terrifying prospect! Unfortunately, Depp’s miscasting jumpstarts Transcendence‘s horrifying descent.

Paul Bettany & Rebecca Hall.

Nowadays, sci-fi extravaganzas like Prometheus and Elysium are criticised for touching on valuable ideas without examining them. However, unlike Transcendence, those projects are salvaged by action sequences, intense moments, and powerful visuals. I’ll admit the movie’s set-up appears entertaining…on paper. Sadly, with Transcendence drifting away from paper in all respects, the narrative’s technological side overshadows anything resembling believability, entertainment value, intelligence, or empathy. A radical extremist group called Revolutionary Independence from Technology (RIFT), led by Bree (Kate Mara), ruins Will’s life and projects immediately after his Earth-shattering presentation. Within the first third, director Wally Pfister (Oscar-winning cinematographer for such Christopher Nolan features as the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception) uploads tension and promising characters into the narrative’s perplexing database. With Nolan as an executive producer, Pfister strives for Nolan’s all-encompassing vision and direct touch. The first third is fuelled with convincing moments and momentous concepts. However, after Will’s consciousness is uploaded into PINN’s systems, the narrative becomes as exciting and naturalistic as watching lines of code zoom across a screen (spoiler: it’s dull!). Telegraphing predicable and aimless events, the story’s all-important concepts are picked up and dropped faster than Will’s internet access. In addition, Transcendence jumps from one bizarre and illogical plot-point to another. Will, hacking into the world’s governmental and financial structures, carries out logistically and ethically questionable actions without consequence. Jumping two years into the future, twists, turns, and character motivations contradict one another. Worse still, the final third’s absurd revelations and climactic moments undermine everything laid out within the first-two thirds.

“We’re not gonna fight them. We’re gonna transcend them.” (Will Caster (Johnny Depp), Transcendence).

Morgan Freeman & Cillian Murphy.

Sadly, Pfister, despite being one of Hollywood’s most talented figures, has succumb to Hollywood’s worst virus: studio interference. However, despite the directorial failings, the blame rests with Jack Paglen’s incessant and simplistic screenplay. Despite being influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey and Solaris, Paglen’s work is nowhere near as insightful or purposeful as it thinks it is. At one point, FBI agent Donald Buchanan (Cillian Murphy), one of several underdeveloped characters, compares Will’s Deity-like existence to Y2K. This scene outlines the narrative’s most crippling flaw. Transcendence, aiming for the blockbuster and romantic-drama crowds, doesn’t draw the line between technobabble and valuable exposition. Its convoluted answers will confuse anyone lacking an intrinsic understanding of Computer Science. However, those studying this subject will laugh at the movie’s monumental factual errors and plot-holes. Its viewers can, at the very least, settle for its splendid visuals. Pfister, thanks to his immense background in cinematography, can bolster even the most unappealing of locations. With everything at his disposal, Pfister’s style makes decrepit warehouses, desert-set towns, and laboratories look immaculately picturesque. The action sequences, though nonsensical, do elevate this otherwise tiresome and dour sci-fi drama. Throwing in explosions, car chases, and shootouts, these more enlightening moments overshadow the meandering mid-section. Sadly, by this point, the narrative’s top-heavy structure has delivered a messy, nonsensical, and forgettable effort.

Powered by a top-notch cast, riveting director, and memorable subject matter, Transcendence could, and should, have been an instant classic. Ambitiously, it’s over-arching reach explores concepts many big-name directors and writers are afraid of. But why are they afraid? Is it a primal fear of what they don’t understand? Or are they waiting for someone else to grapple them? Either way, Transcendence is the perfect example of filmmakers, and characters, delving into all the wrong places. This potentially creative and impactful sci-fi yarn ends up being as laughable, frustrating, and nonsensical as Windows Vista.

Verdict: A nonsensical and monotonous misstep. 

I, Frankenstein Review – Dead Movie Walking

Director: Stuart Beattie

Writer: Stuart Beattie (screenplay, Kevin Grievoux (graphic novel)

Stars: Aaron Eckhart, Yvonne Strahovski, Bill Nighy, Miranda Otto

Release date: March 20th, 2014

Distributors: Lionsgate, Hopscotch Films

Countries: USA, Australia

Running time: 92 minutes



Best part: Aaron Eckhart.

Worst part: The wafer-thin narrative.

Hiding in the shadows of Hollywood’s smallest studios, one screenwriter/producer/actor keeps on getting work. Despite the idiocy of the screenplays and productions he creates, his immense power and surprising intellect pay-off more often than they should. This man is Kevin Grievoux. Sound familiar? Nope. Okay, I’ll explain. Grievoux, delivering the Underworld franchise and now I, Frankenstein, doesn’t deserve his notoriety. However, despite my overt cynicism toward his work, his immense stature scares me. Playing a large Werewolf in the Underworld series and a scary henchman here, Greivoux, literally and figuratively, stands by everything he creates.

Aaron Eckhart.

At the very least, he bares commendable intentions. However, despite holding several degrees, graphic novels, and screenplays to his credit, this hard worker delivers nothing but B-grade fluff. No offence Mr. Greivoux, but you don’t deserve anything except for criticism. Judging by the lacklustre marketing campaign, everyone around him must be embarrassed by this dull action flick. Kicking off this ridiculous thrill-ride, the movie’s prologue glosses over Mary Shelley’s original material. As we all know, Dr. Victor Frankenstein created a monster out of 12 parts from 8 corpses. Realising he has conquered God’s true power, he strives to kill the monster (Aaron Eckhart). After Dr. Frankenstein and his wife’s death, the monster takes his creator’s body to the family graveyard to give him a proper burial. Inexplicably, to advertise the target demographic and potential for perplexing action sequences, demons ambush the monster and attempt to control him. However, as soon as the monster escapes his captors, Gargoyles attack and kill the demons. The Gargoyle forces, led by Queen Leonore (Miranda Otto) and bodyguard Gideon (Jai Courtney), invite the monster into their labyrinthian lair. Convinced they can convert the monster (renamed “Adam”, for some reason) into a soulful warrior, the Gargoyles are fighting a losing battle. This goofy fantasy then jumps forward 200 years, and mysterious Benefactor Charles Wessex (Bill Nighy) pushes employed scientist Terra Wade (Yvonne Strahovski) to track down and study the monster. 

Yvonne Strahovski.

There are several reasons why these movies continually become box office bombs. Like the titular character of this uninspired effort, these action flicks are noticeably flawed. To further criticise the movie’s actors, director, and audience, I’m glad to announce that this year’s the Oscar season has overshadowed their efforts. Thankfully, post-Oscar season dreck, like this, is now looked down upon by the masses. Believe it or not, we are evolving beyond I, Frankenstein. The plot, such as it is, is flimsier than the casts’ agents and publicists. Suited for stupid 11-year-old boys, the movie will bore anyone with two braincells to rub together. In fact, those braincells will no doubt develop more chemistry than the movie’s performers. I’ll admit it, I fell for mega-flops like Van Helsing when I was 11. Similarly, I, Frankenstein‘s brainlessness and chaotic nature might bewitch some viewers. However, unlike similar fare, it forgets to have fun. Fittingly, Frankenstein’s monster represents this comic book adaptation’s execution. Like the mistreated creation, the movie comes off like several disparate parts awkwardly stitched together. From the get-go, the movie establishes itself as a no-nonsense action-adventure flick. Unfortunately, inexplicably overlooking its own stupidity, the movie takes itself way too seriously. Unlike Hansel & Gretel Witch Hunters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire, I, Frankenstein doesn’t solidify its absurd plot mechanics or bizarre aesthetic. Hilariously, breaking through the movie’s straight-faced facade, the overwhelming  production issues hinder the final product. Cutting away from action sequences, limiting the scope, birthing generic creature designs, and delivering dodgy CGI throughout, writer/director Stuart Beattie (Tomorrow When the War Began) mishandles the premise’s most intriguing intricacies.

“I, descender of the demon horde. I, my father’s son. I…Frankenstein.” (Adam/Frankenstein’s monster (Aaron Eckhart), I, Frankenstein).

Gargoyle vs. Demon.

Despite obtaining a $65 million budget, Beattie highlights the narrative’s more conventional and laughable aspects (hard to believe he wrote Collateral). Despite his previous screenwriting efforts, Beattie’s work here delivers contrivances, unintentionally laughable moments, and forced dramatic tension. Crowbarring the monster into this silly feud as a Christ-like figure, the movie even throws in symbolism. To be fair, kids would fall head-over-heels for ancient history if the Roman Empire/Barbarian war had involved Gargoyles and Demons. Beyond this, I should be angrier! Shot in Melbourne’s Docklands Studios, it’s nice knowing my taxpayer dollars last year went toward this banal Blade rip-off. Do yourselves a favour, save your money and re-watch the Blade and Underworld franchises. Whilst not being Oscar-worthy successes in-themselves, those movies deliver more intentional laughs, ambition, and memorable action beats than I, Frankenstein. Here, despite Beattie and Greivoux’s commendable intentions, their ideas stall this over-the-top action extravaganza. However, despite placing the best action sequence in the first half, the movie’s first few set pieces deliver slight shades of joy. Featuring sword-wielding Gargoyles and Parkour-loving Demons, these sequences almost elevate this brain-dead material. Sadly, the action and CGI, in the second half, become exceedingly more transparent and monotonous. Depicting Frankenstein’s monster as a baton-wielding vigilante, the martial arts sequences add nothing to the movie’s befuddling mythology. Flaunting his character’s nonsensically rugged aesthetic, Eckhart bolsters his frustrating role. Growling every line, his dark performance is, by far, the movie’s best asset. Unfortunately, the supporting players are underwhelming. Otto, Nighy, Strahovski, and Courtney deliver gormless turns in underwritten roles.

Despite the cheap thrills and fine cast, the movie falters because it doesn’t make sense. There are several questions left lingering after certain twists and turns. How is the human population so oblivious to this ancient war? Why is ascending to heaven this horrible? Why is the love interest’s apartment so decrepit compared to her impressive workplace? Thankfully, there won’t be a sequel charged with addressing these nitpicks. With a diminutive scope, derivative story and character traits, and dodgy CGI, I, Frankenstein‘s lead character is nowhere near as listless and pitiful as the movie around him.

Verdict: A trashy and pointless action-adventure.

Riddick Review – Diesel Injection

Director: David Twohy 

Writer: David Twohy

Stars: Vin Diesel, Matt Nable, Katie Sackhoff, Jordi Molla

Release date:  September 6th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Entertainment One

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 119 minutes



Best part: Vin Diesel.

Worst part: The irritating supporting characters.

For the past decade, Hollywood has failed to decide who should be the next big-name action star. When studios aren’t looking at international talent like Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, they put British and Australian actors in iconic spandex outfits to fight for truth, justice and the American way. Despite this, Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson have fought tooth and nail to become tinsel town’s biggest tough guys. Judging by their efforts this year, I’d take Johnson’s magnetism over Diesel’s gruff persona any day.

Vin Diesel.

Having said that, Diesel’s screen presence saves Riddick from being a forgettable and puzzling disaster. It’s not simply that this third instalment is unintentionally laughable and uninspired, it’s that there is nothing special here to separate it from other similarly derivative sci-fi action flicks. Unfortunately, this instalment won’t draw any new converts to this inexplicably popular series. This by-the-numbers thriller begins with stern narration and the titular character being thrown into a harsh wasteland and left for dead. Richard B. Riddick (Diesel) travels across the desert looking for any sign of life. Fixing his broken bones whist adapting to his peculiar surroundings, Riddick must regain his immaculate strength and agility. Setting off a distress beacon, he waits patiently for his ‘saviours’ to arrive. Two ships head to the planet with intent to find the Furyan criminal. Looking to obtain a significant bounty, Santana (Jordi Molla) and his crew want nothing more than to put Riddick’s head in a box. The other ship, captained by Johns (Matt Nable), is searching for answers relating to Riddick’s shadowy past. Everyone quickly realises that, on this planet, the hunters can quickly become the hunted.

The monsters of “Not Furya”.

What follows is a contrived and over-the-top action flick devoid of emotional resonance or suspense. The wafer-thin plot can be seen in far greater sci-fi action movies that deliver greatly on what they promise. Diesel bought the rights to his beloved character when he scorched the screen with his cameo in The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. The charismatic actor’s love for this series’ bizarre universe has turned it into a warped Dungeons and Dragons rip-off (ironic, given Diesel’s love for the game). His influence overshadows this instalment’s slight potential. With Pitch Black launching his career, it’s understandable why he is infatuated with his muscle-bound creation. However, the preposterous and lacklustre sequel The Chronicles of Riddick almost killed Diesel’s once promising critical and commercial prowess. For this third instalment, series director David Twohy has left behind the ridiculous warring factions, video game-like action sequences, and uninteresting characters (sorry, Judi Dench) that plagued the second instalment. Despite his commendable intentions, there is a definitive lack of subtly in this subdued instalment. Riddick kick-starts by looking back on the convoluted Necromonger plot-line from the second instalment. Thankfully, this is only touched upon within the first 20 minutes before Riddick embarks on his next adventure. Despite a brief appearance by Karl Urban, the opening’s overt cheesiness and erratic exposition quickly stall proceedings. Diesel may understand this peculiar backstory, but many viewers will be left scratching their heads. As viciously as Riddick’s attacks, this movie hurriedly throws the one-two punch of repetitiousness and predicability. Following this series’ tradition of deriving from such sci-fi dramas as Mad Max and Blade Runner, this instalment divides itself into three uninspired acts. Scenes and concepts are blatantly copied and pasted from I Am Legend, Predator, and Aliens. A compelling ode to 80s and 90s action/exploitation movies this is not. in fact, nowadays, this type of action movie is ripe for parody.

Katie Sackhoff.

Despite the noticeable plot holes and cliches, jarring tonal shifts, and wavering pace, Riddick is saved by its unique and visceral visual style. The first 25 minutes, in particular, showcase the decrepit landscape this titular anti-hero is stranded on. As soon as Riddick wakes up, everything is irritated by his presence. The Hyena-like wolves and vicious scorpion-like monsters prove to be more cunning adversaries than the gun-toting mercenaries. The cinematography spiritedly captures the sun-scorched nature of this dangerous world and the surrounding planets. Described by Riddick as “Not Furya”, each horizon is peppered with mountainous natural structures, bright yellow and red hues, and bubbling pools. One scene, in which Riddick must hold his breath in a steaming lagoon to escape trouble, emphasises his pressing situation. Coming off of yet another Fast and Furious instalment, Diesel has proven his love for inventive and engaging action sequences. Here, though the hit-and-miss CGI becomes distracting, each set-piece is controlled, shockingly violent, and showcases Riddick’s jaw-dropping talents. Despite stealing visual flourishes from Predator (in particular, the purple-tinged night vision), this movie contains many thrilling sequences. Riddick’s fight atop a mountain, lit by lightning strikes, display shades of the conquering action flick buried underneath this underwhelming final product. The movie’s reach exceeds its grasp in multiple aspects. The production design was obviously battered by the movie’s low budget. Some scenes deliver impressive CGI vistas, while others only deliver cheap, inferior sets. The unconvincing mix of practical effects and CGI illustrate the movie’s rushed production schedule and generic execution. Thankfully, the rumbling score and sound design led tension to this otherwise predictable affair. Since the story and characters are unconvincing, the jump scares and gun-fights are relied upon to deliver the goods.

“Don’t know how many times I’ve been crossed off the list and left for dead.” (Riddick (Vin Diesel), Riddick).

Diesel vs. the rest!

Despite Diesel’s commitment to this flailing franchise, this instalment doesn’t give you a lot of new or exciting information about Riddick himself. The movie wants to have it both ways – presenting a gritty survival story and an ultra-stylish actioner. The movie’s wavering tone affects the character development. At one point, Riddick inexplicably nurses a dying puppy dog back to health – contradicting continual reminders of Riddick’s alarming reputation. Despite Diesel’s charms, this odd-couple friendship is overtly familiar. Having said all that, Diesel’s intriguing performance bolsters the movie despite it taking several silly and confusing turns. Despite the first third’s irritating and useless narration, the gravely voice, charisma and physical presence define his applaudable involvement with the pivotal role. It feels as if we are re-visiting an old friend when the bright blue contact lenses and black goggles are re-introduced. Turning tough guys into kittens as he hauntingly stalks his prey, it’s refreshing to see Riddick toy with his foul-mouthed, over-compensating victims. His murderous methods illustrate that he is as an intense physical and mental force. His clever traps, witty one-liners, and soccer/machete skills establish his an effective and honourable anti-hero status. Unfortunately, the supporting characters are overly macho and offensive to the point of being laughable, and do nothing but become gooey cannon fodder. The baby-oil soaked mercenaries are defined simplistically by threatening poses, impeccable physiques, and silly costumes – turning this instalment into a two-hour pissing contest. The preposterous dialogue doesn’t help. Some characters come off as laughable idiots rather than skilled mercenaries. It’s a problem when the planet’s creepy-crawlies are far more interesting than the humans. Nable and Molla are energetic in conventional roles. Meanwhile, TV icon Katie Sackhoff has her moments as the universe’s toughest female.

Despite its ingenious visuals and solid performances, the ludicrousness of both the premise and execution becomes crystal clear. Plot and character inconsistencies prevent this manic instalment from being the pulsating hyper-kinetic action flick it should have been. The movie is so silly it’s ‘Riddick-ulous’.

Verdict: A sumptuous yet problematic sci-fi action flick.

Gravity Review – Shooting for the Stars

Director: Alfonso Cuaron

Writer: Alfonso Cuaron, Jonas Cuaron 

Stars: Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Ed Harris, Phaldut Sharma

Release date: October 4th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 91 minutes



Best part: The spectacular visuals. 

Worst part: The hokey comedic moments.

Review: Gravity

Verdict: Out-of-this-world entertainment!

Elysium Review – Sci-fi Society

Director: Neill Blompkamp

Writer: Neill Blompkamp

Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga

Release date: August 9th, 2013

Distributor: TriStar Pictures

Country: USA

Running time:  109 minutes



Best part: Blompkamp’s direction.

Worst part: Jodie Foster.

Imagination can be found in strange and enthralling places. In a time of shlock and awe, Hollywood needs to look at ‘foreign’ cinema to see how story, character, and heart can be masterfully injected into a movie. In 2009, a $30 million (chump change by modern blockbuster standards) South African sci-fi drama obliterated preconceptions regarding the ‘popcorn movie’, CGI’s potential, and apartheid. That movie was the surprise hit goo-fest District 9. Director Neill Blompkamp’s follow-up, Elysium, is the inferior yet entertaining big-budget pseudo-remake.

Matt Damon.

I’m not saying Elysium is a lazy and cynical sci-fi action flick. I’m simply suggesting that Blompkamp could’ve, and maybe should’ve, reached higher to justify his immense popularity. Before I piss anyone off, I’ll state my affection for this enjoyable and enterprising sci-fi smash. It’s an underrated and inventive movie unafraid to discuss major 21st century issues. This movie begins with a young boy being punished for stealing. After developing affection for a female classmate, he believes he’ll become Earth’s most important citizen. The movie then jumps several years into the future (2145, to be exact), and Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has become the furthest possible thing from what his younger self had in mind. At this point in time, Earth has become a decayed and overpopulated mess occupied by disheartened people and expansive favelas. The wealthy few have emigrated to a giant satellite called ‘Elysium’, protected by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Suffering police brutality whilst on parole, this skilled ex-con must adapt to the dangerous skeleton-like labyrinth of Los Angeles. Thanks to a workplace accident, a fatally concentrated exposure to radiation gives De Costa five days to live. Hunted by a creepy and vicious government agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), De Costa’s fight for survival has the potential to change Earth and Elysium for the greater good.

Jodie Foster.

District 9 is essentially a powerful concoction of Independence Day and City of God. It addressed South Africa’s on-going issues with flair, potency, and panache. Elysium may not be as resonant or intriguing, but still contains many important messages and ‘f#ck yeah!’ moments. Here, Blompkamp has arguably established himself as this generation’s James Cameron. Taking on powerful stories and entertaining sci-fi action tropes, he stands above other budding sci-fi filmmakers (no offence, Joseph Kosinski). Unlike Kosinski’s Oblivion, Elysium triumphantly establishes itself when, where, and how it needed to. Thankfully, Elysium isn’t bogged down by slow pacing or a disengaging narrative. Like this year’s other sci-fi/apocalypse action flicks, Blompkamp’s film looks at humanity during a time of chaos, dystopia, and war. Unfortunately, considering the immense talent on display, Elysium doesn’t stand above 2013’s blockbuster crop. Blompkamp needed to bring originality and verve to this heavy-handed premise. This movie, if anything, proves he excels with visual composition and action-direction but should give his scripts more time to gestate. Like Cameron and George Lucas,  Blomkmap’s reach exceeds his grasp during the script-writing stage. His screenwriting, though not terrible, throws too many contrivances and cheesy moments at the audience. Blompkamp’s filmmaking idiosyncrasies, however, are immensely gripping and sophisticated. This story, though blunt, is tangible and enthralling due to his purposeful yet glorious direction.

Sharlto Copley.

In fact, Elysium‘s greatest aspects are found in its dialogue-free moments. The movie opens with immaculate sweeping shots of Earth and Elysium. From a thematic standpoint, these scenic, vertigo inducing vistas are conclusive and thought-provoking. Blompkamp’s intention is, obviously, to draw parallels between Elysium‘s universe and our own. The stark contrast between the broken-down, ‘third-world’ Earth and pristine satellite-based ‘habitat’ is obvious yet momentous. From the first flashback onward, there are are a plethora of metaphors and symbols alluding to important events and current affairs. Discussing such issues as military/government control, the 99% vs. 1% feud, asylum seeking, equality, overpopulation, and Obama-care, Elysium is, somehow, more topical and overblown than Blompkamp’s previous works. One standout scene, in which Da Costa is confronted and beaten by robot policemen, looks into the treatment of minorities by authoritative forces. The problem, however, is that Blompkamp throws messages/conversation starters into the story without following through on them. His agenda is nowhere near as emotionally or thematically deep as it was in District 9. However, the movie’s greatest asset is Blompkamp’s attention to detail. Suited for I-MAX, his visual style is awe-inspiring and meaningful. Combing impressive practical effects with expansive yet efficiently used CGI, Elysium is a jaw-dropping and poignant sensory feast. Blompkamp also brings his affection for gore and advanced weaponry over from District 9. Featuring exploding bodies, creative action choreography, and unique technological devices (including an ailment-curing MRI scanner), Elysium may be 2013’s most imaginative big-budget movie.

“The only thing I can do to help you is leave, I promise you.” (Max (Matt Damon), Elysium).

Interstellar UFC.

This nostalgic yet competent fusion of 80s, 90s, and 00s sci-fi action flicks – specifically Total Recall, Blade RunnerTerminator 2: Judgement Day,  and Children of Men – is bolstered by engaging action set-pieces. Blompkamp keeps the silliness to a minimum as the ‘junkyard meets Apple Store’ aesthetic, shaky-cam, and slo-mo push each sequence along. The shootouts and fistfights, making good use of Da Costa’s peculiar and iconic back-brace device, are thrillingly handled. Shot and edited with precision, the final set-piece becomes a sci-fi version of Mortal Kombat. Despite the explosions and lavish settings, it’s the performances that make Elysium whole. Despite Elysium‘s discomforting lack of wit and depth, the A-list actors, for the most part, elevate their archetypal characters. Able to inject magnetism and sympathy into any role, Damon becomes a likeable screen presence here. Despite his character’s abrasive personality, Damon’s physicality and compelling performance perk up the conventional role. Embodying polar-opposite characters in 2013 thanks to Elysium and Behind the Candelabra, his range and ambitiousness are commendable facets. As a desperate, lonely, and angry ex-government attack dog urgently needing a leash, Kruger is one of Elysium‘s many magnificent creations. His uncontrollable rage and psychotic tendencies liven up this earnest affair. Copley delivers another quirkily dark turn under Blompkamp’s direction. Unfortunately, Foster is under-utilised in a one dimensional and over-the-top role. It doesn’t help that the character’s villainous socio-political motivations are as bafflingly silly as her wavering accent.

Like many of 2013’s low-four-star blockbusters, Elysium has several outstanding concepts and memorable sequences. Making Blomkamp and Copley even bigger names, it pushes boundaries and showcases some talented individuals. Hopefully, Blompkamp will stay behind the camera rather than in front of the keyboard.

Verdict: An ambitious and jaw-dropping follow-up to District 9.

The World’s End Review – Ales & Aliens

Director: Edgar Wright

Writers: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg

Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Martin freeman, Rosamund Pike

Release date: July 19th, 2013

Distributors: Universal Pictures, Focus Features

Country: UK

Running time: 109 minutes


Best part: Pegg and Frost.

Worst part: Its repetitiveness.

I could’ve sworn I reviewed this movie a couple of weeks ago! I recall that it starred a bunch of popular comedic actors whom cracked jokes and banded together to out-live the apocalypse. My point here is that the disaster-comedy I’m describing, This is the End, and the movie I’m currently reviewing, The World’s End, are entirely similar. This disaster-comedy double-up suggests that many big-name comedic actors, producers, and directors, no matter what side of the Atlantic Ocean they are from/on, are fascinated by the apocalypse.

Simon Pegg.

Although it’s a major step up in quality from the aforementioned Seth Rogen-starring farce, The World’s End is a significant step down from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz (the previous instalments in the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy). Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing creative actors, writers, and directors going out of their way to deliver ambitious movies/TV shows/web-series’ etc. In fact, despite my nitpicks, I gladly admit this third instalment has many unique and commendable aspects. similarly to this series’ previous instalments, The World’s End starts out small. Alcoholic layabout Gary King (Simon Pegg) is blissfully unaware that his best days are far behind him. Sporting the same black, leather coat and manic persona he affably displayed throughout high school, King’s latest idea may forever change his life. King rounds up his old, and now successful, chums – Andrew (Nick Frost), Oliver (Martin Freeman), Steven (Paddy Considine), and Peter (Eddie Marsan) – to conquer a pub crawl, they tried and failed to complete back in high school, known as ‘The Golden Mile’. Heading back to Newton Haven (their old stomping ground), the five of them aim to reach the twelfth and final pub, fitting titled ‘The World’s End’, before the town’s inhabitants can halt their quest.

Nick Frost & Paddy Considine.

Writer/director, and pop-culture icon, Edgar Wright (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) puts 110% into every project he’s involved with. Similarly to Joss Whedon and Shane Black, his clever and snappy filmmaking style has developed many memorable cinematic moments. He, Pegg, and Frost hit the big time with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. With that in mind, I realise it would be difficult to forge a movie comparable to the two aforementioned cult-classics. Here, Wright and co. have created a kinetic, satirical, and witty sci-fi-adventure romp. Moving at a consistent pace from the wacky prologue to the bizarre epilogue, the movie smartly discusses the biggest and scariest adventure imaginable: life itself. The movie delivers an understandable tale based around friendship, honour, humility, and regret. I’m guessing we would all love to sit back and relax all day, every day (like Pegg’s character). The movie, however, suggests that we should forever be looking for something, and someone, worth fighting for. Along with its positive messages, the movie is an intelligent and reflexive ode to such sci-fi creep-fests as Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live, and The Thing. But with Hollywood currently going gaga for nostalgia, The World’s End also proves that reminiscence can be a misguided an uninspired thing. Centred around a damaged yet intriguing lead character, and a Big Chill-esque reunion, the movie states that looking back on the past can grievously harm the present and future.

Martin Freeman.

This enjoyable and hysterical farce takes several dark and demented turns along the way. Despite using the From Dusk till Dawn method of showing first and explaining later, This is the End, unfortunately, isn’t as reckless and surprising as it wants to be. Several plot points are picked up and dropped without warning. Also, the movie has a peculiar reliance on video-game-like action set-pieces and chases. Despite the quality of each bar-room brawl and pulsating montage, there are, perhaps, too many – hurriedly shifting the tone from darkly comic to gleefully silly and vice versa. When the action kicks in, tension and pathos are instantly sucked out of this otherwise heart-warming movie. The World’s End also succumbs to repetitiveness in the second two thirds – rushing from one dingy, small-town pub to another. Despite the movie’s issues, the key ingredients, needed to make an instant action-comedy classic, are all here. The action sequences are expertly shot and choreographed – rivalling many set-pieces from this year’s big-budget extravaganzas. Applying similar directorial ticks to those seen in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Wright’s poised and awe-inspiring visuals illustrate his potential to tackle much larger projects (seriously, when is production on his Ant-Man movie going to start?!). The alien/robot creations, which show up at the film’s halfway point, are also perplexingly nuanced. These blue-bloods may not rule the commonwealth, but they do pack a punch! Speaking of ‘hits’, the laughs also come thick and fast. Despite the movie’s fair share of poignant moments, the clever back-and-forth dialogue becomes the movie’s most memorable aspect.

“A man of your legendary prowess drinking f*cking rain?! It’s like a lion eating Humous.” (Gary King (Simon Pegg), The World’s End).

The big reunion.

It’s obvious that Wright, Pegg, and Frost work extremely well together. Beginning their careers back in the late 90s/early 00s with sci-fi satire Spaced, their shared love of ‘genre’, subversion, and referencing is heartily injected into The World’s End. Here, the references and in-jokes are evenly scattered around each homely, comforting setting. Despite the movie’s cynical and dour outlook, the cast does a grand job of lifting the viewer’s spirits. Here, Pegg shows he’s more comfortable working with Wright and Frost in lowly British towns than being on Starship Enterprise voyages and impossible missions. Playing against type, Pegg proves he can inject likability and quirky charm into any role. His role, as the group’s leader and foul-mouthed, manic man-child, could easily have become grating and shallow. However, Gary’s personality traits, some more pleasant than others, are exposed in an enlightening way. Frost, the yang to Pegg’s yin, is a charismatic and engaging presence. His character is a realist who, fittingly, fights on his own terms. Punching windows and hitting robots with bar-stools, his character becomes a total badass at the opportune moment. Like with Wright’s previous movies, the supporting players are also top notch. Freeman, fresh off his portrayal of Bilbo Baggins, livens up his otherwise conventional role. Character actors Considine and Marsan are refreshingly chirpy. As is Rosamund Pike as Gary’s old flame/Oliver’s sister.

Featuring smash cuts, smash zooms, and smashingly enjoyable moments, Wright and co. deliver a messy yet indelibly creative ode to notorious sci-fi/horror flicks and action-comedies from their youth. It may be the lesser instalment of the trilogy, but it has enough discernible qualities to warrant a trip to the cinema with your mates.

Verdict: A flawed yet pacy, witty, and clever conclusion to the Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy. 

Upstream Color Review – Writhing Romance

Director: Shane Carruth

Writer: Shane Carruth

Stars: Amy Seimetz, Shane Carruth, Andrew Sensenig, Thiago Martins

Release date: April 5th, 2013

Distributor: ERBP

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes



Best part: The enigmatic performances.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

Every so often, an independent movie comes along that changes the face, and audience preconceptions, of American cinema. Travelling from SXSW to Sundance or Cannes, the movie may reach out to multiple generations and give us new reasons to watch indie features. I’m not one to support indie flicks over blockbusters, but I will say that indie films are more likely to tug the heartstrings than most big-budget productions. This year’s festival favourite, Upstream Color, is, despite its relatively minor issues, significantly more thought-provoking than anything currently playing at your local cineplex.

Amy Seimetz & Shane Carruth.

Upstream Color is a perplexing and mysterious trip into two subject’s psyches. It may be puzzling, but it has enough emotional and narrative resonance to be considered one of 2013’s greatest works. Like most sci-fi movies of this type, it slowly reigns in the audience before delving into something greater. It starts with a hurried leap into Carruth’s seemingly sinister world. There are many storied scenes indicating that the creation and use of a new experimental drug is in full effect. The drug’s latest victim is a struggling young woman named Kris (Amy Seimetz). After spotting her at a downtown club, one of the experiment’s creators, listed only as ‘Thief’ (Thiago Martins), targets and forces Kris to take the drug. The drug, as you will quickly find out, has qualities that separate it from anything we’ve seen before. After being released from this peculiar test, her life quickly begins to unravel. Strange occurrences and bank withdrawals suggest that the scientists were looking for much more than just a mindless test subject. She then meets a young man, Jeff (Shane Carruth), who has also been affected by the tests. We are also subjected to strains of a much larger story (including short stories involving entirely different people). Kris and Jeff form a surreal bond that may reshape the fabric of their shattered existences and the future.

Andrew Sensenig.

As you can tell, this movie requires the utmost attention throughout its 96 minute run-time. Despite not being as smart as it thinks it is, there are multiple elements that still make it enthralling. This is a story all about regret, hope and survival. Carruth (the movie’s director, writer, producer, composer, and lead actor) understands how sci-fi’s intricacies operate and fit together with one another. Carruth, known primarily for his previous indie hit Primer, creates sci-fi stories that don’t need aliens, action set-pieces or an epic scope. The result is a proudly earnest and existential look at the human condition. Beyond the movie’s slight aura of pretentiousness, it delivers a timeline that is intricate and enthralling. We see the drug being passed on from one life form to the next. Pigs, nematodes, and plant life are a large part of this dour narrative. This may seem weird, but this movie describes how every cell, DNA strand, and personality trait can affect everything and everyone around us. Unfortunately, the only people who might be exposed to, or interested in, this profound movie will most likely be undertaking a university-level screen arts course. Its strange and complex narrative harks back to the 80/90s sci-fi/drama films of Davids Lynch and Cronenberg. This story is original yet slightly familiar. Look closely for elements of Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind and Inception as they both strongly relate to Carruth’s work. However, unlike most psychological sci-fi features, Upstream Color‘s universe becomes increasingly claustrophobic (smaller) as time passes. Carruth also balances violence and philosophy – drawing comparisons between him and Darren Aronofsky (specifically The Fountain).

“There are two approaching armies: hunger and fatigue, but a great wall keeps them a bay. The wall extends to the sky and will stay up until I say otherwise.” (Thief (Thiago Martins), Upstream Color).

Seimetz taking control of the movie.

The film’s puzzle-like narrative may seem intelligent, but Carruth’s style distracts from the movie’s story and pathos. I wouldn’t mind his Steven Soderbergh/Terence Malick-esque cinematography and editing styles if they weren’t so repetitive and typical. Despite the beautiful sunshine-filled settings, many shots are hollow and unending. Carruth – intercutting the love story with footage of two pigs interacting with one another – relies too much on his complex understanding of physics and biology which quickly alienates viewers. Meanwhile, Carruth’s strict focus on angst and moodiness restricts his film to feeling like a 96 minute montage. With this style, the characters come off as self-centred and vaguely unlikeable. We are unable to see anything beyond their blank faces and romantic journey. Their romance, though convincing, is infinitely more interesting in movies such as Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind. But this ‘Sex, Lies and Videotape meets The Adjustment Bureau tale is hauntingly intimate and delicate. The dour love story is crafted out of pain and misery. Thankfully, Carruth and Seimetz’ charming yet disturbing performances elevate this portion of the narrative. Overcoming the limited amount of dialogue, their characters’ wavering emotional and mental states soon become fascinating to watch.

Upstream Color is a cloying, atmospheric, and moody indie film that is unafraid to reach for the stars. Carruth’s auteur approach has delivered one of 2013’s most intricate and touching sci-fi dramas. Despite its minor flaws, Carruth and Seimetz’ performances help to develop the intriguing and angst-filled narrative.

Verdict: A complex and touching sci-fi drama/romance.

Pacific Rim Review – Rock ’em, Sock ’em, Love ’em

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Writer: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro

Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day

Release date: July 12th, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes


Best part: The Jaeger vs. Kaiju fights.

Worst part: The stereotypical Aussie accents.

Pacific Rim‘s tagline ‘Go Big, Or Go Extinct’ can easily be applied to every blockbuster released in 2013. This year, Hollywood has laid waste to cities, countries, and the box office. People turn out in droves to see these horrific events and refuse to take these images seriously. Thankfully, they will always be allowed to. In recent months, Hollywood has gone apocalypse crazy. Movies like Oblivion, World War Z, and Pacific Rim are visually splendid films that deal with mass destruction and the end of time.

Charlie Hunnam & Rinko Kikuchi.

Unlike the other apocalyptic actioners released this year, Pacific Rim never falls into melodrama or overblown seriousness. It’s a fun, kooky, and occasionally laughable (intentionally and unintentionally) sci-fi movie. The plot may be filled with silly elements, but it’s still solid. In the not too distant future, according to this movie, a portal at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean will open up and allow gigantic monsters, named ‘Kaiju’ (Japanese for ‘giant beast’ as described in the introduction), into our world. After decades of fighting a losing battle, the world’s governments and military forces pool their resources to create monsters of their own. Their creations, automatons called ‘Jaegers’ (German for ‘hunter’), match the Kaiju in speed and brute force. Jaeger pilot Raleigh (Charlie Hunnam) seeks a new life after his brother is killed in action before his eyes. Five years later, Raleigh’s former boss Marshall Stacker Pentecoast (Idris Elba) talks him into one last mission to save mankind. Joined by aspiring Jaeger pilot Mako (Rinko Kikuchi), and scientists Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Gottlieb (Burn Gorman), Raleigh will need to prove himself worthy of completing this terrifying assignment.

Idris Elba.

This film’s surprisingly high quality is due to its visionary director. Guillermo del Toro (Pans Labyrinth, the Hellboy movies) is one of the most prolific and unique filmmakers working today. Similarly to Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, del Toro creates movies that contain exciting blockbuster tropes and many elements of a signature style. Pacific Rim is a guilty pleasure that’s much better than it has any right to be (it’s also Cloverfield x1000!). Pleasantly, the first half contains dramatic weight and many cute interactions. We are gently introduced to this cartoonish world so the audience can adjust to its many intricacies. Del Toro gleefully lends a balance of drama, action, and kineticism to every one of his films. However, his direction is far superior to his screenwriting. Judging by the silly dialogue, it’s entirely obvious that English is del Toro’s second language (Pans Labyrinth is by far his best work). As you can tell from my plot synopsis, the story is very straightforward. In fact, the movie somehow contains more cliches than destroyed buildings. This is yet another del Toro movie to feature a lead character joining a secret organisation to fight fantastical enemies (Blade 2). Some plot points are telegraphed too far ahead of time and others are silly and completely unnecessary. I would normally feel disdain for the fact that these problems can still occur in a multi-million dollar production. However, the film vastly excels when and where it needs to.

Charlie Day & Ron Pearlman.

Del Toro is clearly in touch with his inner 10-year-old. His toy-box has been flung open and every elaborate toy is now flying onto the big screen. This may sound cool, but his zany ideas and ambitiousness have caused major production issues over the past few years e.g. dropping out of directing duties for the Hobbit trilogy. Like his previous movies, Pacific Rim is breathtaking from beginning to end. Del Toro’s wonderfully quirky style is applied in an effective and imaginative manner. Like in the Hellboy movies, the characters and story are eclipsed by everything on screen. Clearly influenced by classic Japanese Kaiju movies (1954’s Godzilla in particular) and the original King Kong, del Toro has provided a nostalgic romp and intelligent modern blockbuster. Del Toro knows how to deliver truly original visual effects. The production design has to be applauded. Every setting, costume, and contraption is elaborate, inventive yet slightly familiar. This sensory experience is heightened by del Toro’s visceral, tangible, and gooey creations (especially the Kaiju body parts). This cartoon/anime/blockbuster excels in the gigantic set pieces that surpass anything seen in the Transformers trilogy. Shot, edited, and choreographed with flawless technical precision, every action sequence, ironically, packs a punch! The camera is pulled back far enough to capture every stab, punch, and grapple inside these video game-esque smack-downs. The Jaegers and Kaiju even interact seamlessly with the waves and skyscrapers in their path. Thankfully, the cargo ship/baseball bat scene doesn’t disappoint.

“Today, we face the monsters that are at our door and bring the fight to them. Today, be are cancelling the apocalypse!” (Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), Pacific Rim).

Gipsy Danger.

Commendably, the film’s epic sense of scale allows other countries, cultures, and ethnicities to get in on the action. The film’s ethnically diverse cast is unique and indicates just how important del Toro is to Blockbuster cinema. Despite being overshadowed by the awe-inspiring visuals, the cast does an acceptable job bringing these broad characters to life. Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) is acceptable in the lead role but fails to distract from his character’s many generic traits. With his excellent fighting skills and swagger, Raleigh is little more than a typical action hero. However, Hunnam has a nice rapport with Kikuchi. Kikuchi delivers a sweet performance as the emotionally disturbed yet ambitious Mako (it’s refreshing to see an Asian actress in a Hollywood leading role). Her doe-eyed expressiveness brings levity to this damaged character. Hunnam and Kikuchi’s best scenes involve ‘The Drift’ (a system linking two minds so the Jaegers can be successfully operated). Mako’s flashbacks are hauntingly beautiful and terrifying. Day is a fun comic relief. Finding the link between humans and Kaiju, his character is much more interesting than the two attractive leads. Day’s chemistry with Ron Pearlman (playing a black market Kaiju organ dealer) makes his sub-plot exciting and pacy. Elba delivers Pacific Rim‘s best performance. His charismatic screen presence elevates his archetypal role.

Despite the hammy dialogue, simplistic characters, and its slightly tedious length, Pacific Rim is an engaging and inventive sci-fi romp. Del Toro has applied his creative side to this ‘been there, done that’ premise. The result is a blockbuster that eclipses 2013’s other epic sci-fi action flicks.

Verdict: A big, broad, and creative sci-fi action flick. 

Oblivion Review – Cruise Control

Director: Joseph Kosinski

Writers: Karl Gajdusek, Michael Arndt (screenplay), Joseph Kosinski (graphic novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Morgan Freeman, Olga Kurylenko, Andrea Riseborough

Release date: April 19th, 2013

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 124 minutes


Best part: Tom Cruise.

Worst part: The slow pace.

With two blockbuster movies under his belt, Joseph Kosinski has now established himself as an auteur. After his first Hollywood flick, the electrifying Tron: Legacy, Kosinski moved on to his pet project. He has now adapted his own graphic novel into a feature film. Written and directed by Kosinski, Oblivion is filled with wonder but is too derivative and contemplative to be as good as it should’ve been.

Tom Cruise.

The film starts off with an exposition-heavy prologue. Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) explains everything we need to know before we are sucked into his post-apocalyptic world. He, and partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), are stationed on Earth after the apocalypse. They’re in charge of drone security and maintenance. They pick up the scraps that invading Alien forces have left on Earth. The human race is a mere two weeks away from jetting off to Titan (one of Jupiter’s moons).  Every day, Jack is sent out into the wasteland to search for survivors, fix damaged drones, and eradicate alien scavengers. He wakes up in a cold sweat every night, experiencing the same dream about a woman he may or may not know. One day, a strange spacecraft crash-lands on Earth. After surveying the scene, Jack changes his entire outlook on existence and humanity itself. Jack, reluctantly teaming up with resistance leader Malcolm Beech (Morgan Freeman) and crash survivor Julia Rusakova (Olga Kurylenko), must find out why his existence has turned out the way it has.

Morgan Freeman.

It’s an overwhelming mix of action and sci-fi tropes. It’s derivative of such influential sci-fi films as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, I Am Legend, The Terminator, 12 Monkeys and Total Recall. It smashes together so many ideas and concepts from other films that it forgets to craft its own identity. However, there is still joy to be had with this by-the-numbers sci-fi adventure. Kosinski’s new movie has many of the same problems that his previous film had. Both are visually sumptuous but display Kosinski’s lack of care with story-telling and character development. The first third of the film contains many nods to the Pixar classic WALL-E. Unlike the lively, musical-loving little robot of that film, Jack is a dangerous and contemplative individual. Both characters are fun to watch. Jack looks for scraps on the Earth’s surface whilst asking questions about existence and memory. Both he and WALL-E also find the last plant left on Earth. The film’s glacial pacing is a questionable choice. A film such as this should move quickly to keep its audience excited at every twist and turn. Instead, Oblivion spends too much time on strained relationships and philosophical questions. Thankfully, Oblivion doesn’t become pretentious, dumb or muddled like many modern sci-fi flicks (Prometheus).

Olga Kurylenko.

Oblivion has a focused first half and a confusing and plot-hole-filled second. Despite my complaints, it’s nice to see an up-and-coming director with a keen eye for both sci-fi stories and kinetic visuals. The visual style elevates this film above mediocrity. Kosinski’s love of slick lighting and colour patterns brings both Tron: Legacy and Oblivion to life. Every special effect looks smooth and streamlined. Its Apple-like production design beautifully contrasts the Icelandic settings. These atmospheric and multi-layered scenic vistas are gorgeous to study when the camera lingers on certain images. Oscar-winning cinematographer Claudio Miranda (Life of Pi) livens up this cold narrative. Every shot is precise and touching. The movie is particularly effective when the action sequences kick in. Kosinski loves vehicle chases and futuristic weaponry. He re-invented the Tron franchise with an impressive motorbike chase. Here, the aeroplane/drone battle in the canyons is a stand out sequence. Jack’s jet ducks and weaves through every crevasse in spectacular fashion. However, the action only briefly distracts from the exposition-heavy dialogue sequences. Every-time a dull and derivative cliche pops up, there is an intriguing plot point that is left to the waste-side. However, credit should go to Kosinski for providing yet another thumping score. Much like Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy soundtrack, M83’s music adds both intensity and scale to nearly every scene.

“I can’t shake the feeling that Earth, in-spite of all that’s happened, Earth is still my home.” (Jack Harper (Tom Cruise), Oblivion).

The movie bats you over the head with its environment and political messages. Oblivion soon becomes a haunting reminder of nuclear warfare and enemy invasion. Hopefully, life won’t imitate the events of Oblivion any time soon. Jack is a fascinating character. Despite his philosophical crisis and mental instability, his earnestness and humanistic tendencies make him a likeable character. As usual, Cruise provides enough charisma and magnetism to lift his role. Cruise is lively in some moments and heartening in others. His recollection of the final Super-bowl is a fun moment. Like Solaris, the lead male character falls for a mysterious girl. The love triangle between him, Victoria and Julia could’ve been interesting, but the script fails to develop the female characters. Julia should’ve been a prominent and alluring love interest. Instead, Kurylenko delivers the ‘deer-in-headlights’ look throughout the entire film. Riseborough provides a saucy performance as Victoria. Playing Jack’s friend with benefits and work colleague, Riseborough is much more energetic than Kurylenko. Morgan Freeman makes the most of his underwritten character. He proves that there are many eclectic performances still left in him.

For the most part, Oblivion is a rollicking sci-fi flick. If you can avoid the flaws scattered throughout the film, you may fall for the charismatic performances and glorious aesthetic. Kosinski has a unique eye for visuals, but let’s hope that his next film will avoid jarring tonal shifts and pacing issues.

Verdict: An energetic yet problematic sci-fi actioner. 

Cloud Atlas Review – Mysticism & Make-up

Directors: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer

Writers: Andy & Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer (screenplay), David Mitchell (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving

Release date: February 22nd, 2013

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Countries: Germany, USA

Running time: 172 minutes



Best part: The interweaving story-lines.

Worst part: The laughable make-up effects.

Have you ever stared up at the stars? Or studied the patterns embedded in your fingerprints? Or even truly embraced the people close to you? Don’t worry, these actions are completely normal. This behaviour is considered to be ‘philosophical’. Throughout history, man has strived to answer life’s big questions. Cloud Atlas is an ambitious and enthralling examination of the human condition. It’s an extraordinarily difficult film to analyse. This review may only cover a small fraction of what the film has presented.

Tom Hanks & Halle Berry.

This complex movie covers the past, present and future. The narrative is made up of six stories, each with their own significant plot-points. The first plot-thread is set in the South Pacific Ocean in 1849. An American Lawyer, Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess), arrives in the Chatham Islands during the California Gold Rush. He befriends a poorly treated Slave, Autua (David Gyasi). At the same time, his friendship with Dr. Henry Goose (Tom Hanks) takes a frightening turn. The next story, set in 1936, follows a young bisexual musician, Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), journeying from Cambridge to Edinburgh. He gets a chance to work with one of the greatest composers of all time. But their partnership is far from ideal. The next story, set in 1973, depicts a journalist’s gruelling search for answers. The Journalist, Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), finds herself in more trouble than she ever could’ve imagined. The next story, set in 2012, finds a London-based book publisher, Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), in hot water after a run-in with British gangsters. Searching for a place to hide, he finds himself locked up in a nursing home. In Neo- Seoul (2144), a dainty female clone, Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae – the film’s stand-out performer), may hold the key to Earth’s survival. A resistance agent, Commander Hae-Joo Chang (Sturgess again), must release her from a life of servitude. The last story is based in a post-apocalyptic world. Zachry (Hanks again) leads a peaceful tribe. He must guide Meronym (Berry again) across a wasteland known as ‘The Valley’. However, he is threatened by an evil spirit known as ‘Old Georgie’ (Hugo Weaving).

Jim Broadbent & Ben Whishaw.

The Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) have created the biggest independent production in film history. Their new film will struggle to make a profit. However, it’s nice to know that Hollywood directors are still willing to try new things. This is, as you can tell, a unique and expansive narrative. The writer/directors have inventively adapted David Mitchell’s book of the same name. The six story-lines are vastly different in both setting and tone. Bringing these contrasting stories together is a startling achievement. They are all bound together by certain ideas and character types. The 1849 story is seamlessly juxtaposed with the Neo-Seoul story. It takes a while for every story to intertwine. After a rather confusing prologue, I spent over two-thirds of the film trying to figure out how every story was connected. The film is bold and ambiguous (both very rare traits nowadays), but it could’ve been comprehensible at the same time. It becomes bogged down by pretentiousness in certain sections. The poetic dialogue and heavy handed messages are, to a certain extent, distractions. If you judge some of the story-lines on their own, you may notice that they are rather hollow. The nursing home story-line, for example, is shallow and easily could’ve been excised from the film.

Hugh Grant.

It’s a film that is both famous and infamous. It has already been placed on ‘Best of 2012’ and ‘Worst of 2012’ lists (if you hate my review, you should read Time Magazine’s write-up!). However, Hollywood films of this magnitude and complexity have always been met with mixed reactions. Despite minor flaws, it’s a film with so many positives. The use of metaphor and symbolism is nothing short of mesmerising. Cloud Atlas discusses how one person can change the entire universe. Our actions can shape time, space, identity and/or culture. The post-apocalyptic story-thread is poignant and rich. This Apocalypto-style world enthrallingly bursts into life. This story-line pushes the film to its enthralling climax. It discusses the fact vs. belief debate. This debate is de-constructed; proving that both fact and belief can lead to hate, betrayal and/or suffering. The editing is Cloud Atlas’ saving grace. All six story-lines are welded together; turning this delicate sci-fi drama into a roller-coaster ride of gargantuan proportions. Certain story-threads interweave in a light-hearted manner. For example, characters in Neo-Seoul will watch video footage featuring events from another story. These transitions relieve the many jarring tonal shifts. The film distracted me by hurriedly switching from a slapstick comedy to an intense corporate espionage thriller.

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” (Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), Cloud Atlas). 

Doona Bae.

This 3 hour examination of humanity and fate gets bogged down by its own hubris. The writer/directors have, in the past, created some remarkable achievements. But they have also created some stinkers. They put too much of themselves into this film. At one point, one of the characters throws a critic off of a balcony. This was an unsubtle and slightly offensive way of expressing an opinion. The Wachowskis are clearly still bitter about their last three critical and commercial bombs (the Matrix sequels, Speed Racer). Pet projects of A-list directors have failed in the past (Sucker Punch, Southland Tales, The Fountain). This film does succeed, but there are still some truly laughable elements. Lana Wachowski (formerly Larry) has drastically changed throughout her many years in the spotlight. The Wachowskis believe that anyone can change. The actors are forced out of their comfort zones to fit the ‘identity crisis/genetic experimentation’ theme. Caucasian, Black and Asian actors switch between varying classes, races and genders. The make-up effects are, for the most part, extremely unconvincing. Certain actors have genetic qualities that continually shine through the prosthetics (Keith David in particular). Some characters look like they’ve stepped out of a bad Saturday Night Live sketch.

Ambitious, excessive and intensive; Cloud Atlas carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. It’s a tale unlike any other. The Wachowskis and Tykwer have created a beautiful movie about environmentalism, politics, capitalism, love, philosophy and sociology.

Verdict: A moving and ambitious work of art.

Looper Review – Futuristic Felon

Director: Rian Johnson

Writer: Rian Johnson

Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis, Emily Blunt, Jeff Daniels

Release date: September 28th, 2012

Distributors: TriStar Pictures, FilmDistrict

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes



Best part: Levitt’s cold yet charismatic assassin.

Worst part: An over abundance of slimy henchmen.

Imagine this possibility; you are handsomely paid to kill the scum of a futuristic crime-filled world, but your superiors decide to flip your life upside down and inside out. This is the premise of the fun sci-fi action flick Looper. The idea of meeting your future self has always been an alarming thought, what would you ask them? Or even more intriguing; How could it effect the future? Looper recovers quickly from plot flaws to create a largely satisfying and breezy character study of an assassin gaining a parallel identity and quickly losing time.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Joe explains that time travel has not been invented in his world of 2044, but it will have been in the future. Slick, leather clad assassins known as Loopers are a vital part of major crime syndicates using time travel to eradicate people from 2072, completing assassinations when their targets arrive in the past. When the mob have finished with said hired assassins, they ‘close the loop’; making Loopers kill their older selves for a satisfying reward. Joe’s life is livened with strip clubs, riches and drugs, but still wants out of his murderous existence. When his time is up however, his older self (Bruce Willis) escapes his execution. For younger Joe this is Bad news! Now hunted by his mobster superiors, younger Joe must escape their clutches, while protecting farm girl Sara and her son from his older self.

Bruce Willis.

Bruce Willis.

The second collaboration between director Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom) and superstar Joseph Gordon Levitt brings weight to a genre previously considered to have run out of originality. Time travel is a major staple of the genre. Influenced by entertaining ideas of time travel from films like the Back to the Future series, The Terminator and 12 Monkeys, Looper finds its own sense of style while paying homage to classic 80’s sci-fi cinema. The film delivers on its intriguing premise, ceasing the ongoing number of underwhelming action flicks this year. ‘What if?’ is the film’s most important question, as the characters delve too far into their own motivations and soon struggle to see beyond them. Levitt’s Joe is a smooth character pushing himself to the edge. His repetitive lifestyle seems fun to the average Joe (no pun intended) but he becomes adamant on a life away from a technicolor drug trip. Willis’ older Joe is given a considerable amount of depth. His affect on his younger self creates a profound exploration of how one’s future can change with the pull of a trigger. The witty script works to Willis’ effect, creating instant chemistry with Levitt from their first dialogue sequence. Looper slows down to a considerable extent when Blunt’s single mother and her son are brought into the film. The plot switches from the chase to Joe’s interaction with country life, diverting from the breakneck pace of the first half to focus too much on Joe’s new way out. 

“I don’t want to talk about time travel because if we start talking about it then we’re going to be here all day talking about it, making diagrams with straws.” (Older Joe (Bruce Willis), Looper).

Emily Blunt.

Emily Blunt.

The chemistry between Levitt and Blunt however proves why they are two of 2012’s hardest working actors, with English actress Blunt fitting into the country girl role with a convincing American drawl. Levitt, despite having to work around annoyingly distracting prosthetic make up, captures Willis’ mannerisms while creating a gritty interpretation of the cliche assassin character. While Jeff Daniels (the half of Dumb and Dumber who isn’t Jim Carrey) proves to be one of the best character actors in the business, with his intense performance adding to his already stellar year on screen after TV series The Newsroom. This neo-noir exploration of the ‘professional assassin on the run’ story is also grounded by creatively shot and violent action set pieces along with a techno score, subverting the monotony of modern action films. The style of Johnson’s biggest flick to date is heavily focused on the works of Stanley Kubrick and Christopher Nolan. Not reaching the glittery, lurid and clean visuals of Total Recall and In Time (thankfully), its grounding in a dirty, third world environment is a chilling reminder of a slipping economy desperate to avoid gangster control. The use of dark colours and stylised costuming creates a believably contrasting and enviable world in which the wealthy try as hard as possible to avoid the grime-covered and brutal poor.

Certainly, Looper exists to boost Johnson and Levitt’s careers from indie to mainstream. Playing with interesting sci-fi concepts, this projects succeeds in taking us on a long, lost thrill-ride. In addition, with Willis back in full force, more movies like this need to be made.

Verdict: A mind bending and energetic sci-fi actioner.

Resident Evil: Retribution – Overworked Corpse

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Writer: Paul W.S. Anderson

Stars: Mila Jovovich, Sienna Guillroy, Michelle Rodriguez, Bingbing Li

Release date: September 14th, 2012

Distributor: Screen Gems

Country: USA

Running time: 96 minutes


Best part: Its tech-savvy visuals.

Worst part: The acting. Yeesh!

It’s 1968. A filmmaker by the name of George A. Romero has a dream of making the big time in Hollywood. He creates an idea for a new monster to unleash upon terrified audiences. Night of the Living Dead, the first true iteration of the ‘zombie’ is born. 44 years later, his legacy has led to one of the most immortal series’ of our time. That’s not a good thing in this case, as the Resident Evil saga has more than officially outstayed its welcome.

Mila Jovovich.

Mila Jovovich.

It’s fifth instalment can be described simply as a watered down Romero zombie flick for the iPhone generation. Tearing apart every seemingly interesting opportunity, what is left is merely a shadow of the fun 2002 original and some mildly entertaining sequels.The plot of Resident Evil: Retribution is as frustrating as teaching a child how to solve a rubik’s cube; it’s messy, tedious and forces you to give up after 10 minutes. The moustache twirling baddie-spitting organisation known as ‘Umbrella’ is once again interfering with failed test subject and spandex-clad warrior queen Alice (Mila Jovovich). Recoiling from the events of previous instalments, her capture leads to a series of simulated obstacles, each more trying than the last. Alice, a collection of allies and her fragmented mind must defend themselves against the horde of undead creatures and the vicious Red Queen.

Michelle Rodriguez.

Michelle Rodriguez.

Based on the hugely successful series of video games (now up to no. 6), the relentless and blood-curdling antics of the games far outweigh anything put forth by Jovovich and her hack-director husband Paul W.S Anderson. Anderson (known for such ‘classics’ as Alien vs. Predator, The 2008 Death Race remake and last year’s silly re-imagining of The Three Musketeers) places his lack of filmmaking prowess in full view (along with his wife’s naughty bits). A man clearly interested in the alluring aspects of video game creation over the basics of film production and script writing, his mindset for direction works like a stoner with a sudden rush of ideas for the next great invention. If you missed the last few instalments, everything is unnecessarily explained in minute detail, hopefully getting audiences to revisit the better points of this undead nightmare (specifically Resident Evil: Extinction). This series is clearly his baby, and he intends to prove that with every idea based on a simple “I love this element from the game, we’ll throw that in here!”. Sadly for him Resident Evil: Retribution fails on every level. The fun, violent, techno-action allure from the original becomes sanitised in a film filled with bright lights, simulations and an over abundance of touch screens. The elements of video game story and characterisation have never worked on film, nor will they if Anderson keeps his filthy hands on every adaptation. 

“Waiting for a written invitation?” (Alice (Mila Jovovich), Resident Evil: Retribution).

Jovovich & Li Bingbing

Jovovich & Li Bingbing.

Resident Evil: Retribution suffers from repetitive story and action beats, ripped not only from better parts of this series but from completely different movies. Alice’s simulated memories turn her life into the most basic of video games. The elements of surprise, suspense, original action/chase sequences and character interactions are ruined with every contrivance and predictable jump scare hastily thrown in. She wakes up in Dawn of the Dead, Sucker Punch, Aliens, Escape from New York and finally The Terminator, as Anderson once again reveals to have a lack of original thought. Though not surprising given his mindless filmography. All the ‘W.S Anderson’ touches are thrown in for good measure. Long hallways with on-coming obstacles, creatures leap over and over again at the screen, silly special effect-laden set pieces and charisma-less characters are part of the ensemble of bad decisions in this cliche ridden extravaganza. Even his action style, although fun in rare moments here, is a bland hybrid of John Woo’s hyper-violent gun play and Zack Snyder’s slo-mo. The performances from Anderson regulars don’t help much either. Without a suitable reason for bringing in characters from previous instalments, Michelle Rodriguez (Resident Evil), Oded Fehr (R.E: Apocalypse and Extinction) and Sienna Guillroy (R.E: Apocalypse) provide nothing but clones devoid of personality. While Jovovich, despite looking good in black spandex, is all but sinking with this ship.

Despite Paul W. S. Anderson commitment to his own creation, Resident Evil: Retribution marks the beginning of the end for the franchise. Thanks to the nightmarish acting, derivative style, and bland story, this corpse should be put out of its mystery!

Verdict: This undead series should rest in peace.

Total Recall Review – Taste Eraser

Director: Len Wiseman

Writers: Kurt Wimmer, Mark Bomback (screenplay), Phillip K. Dick (short story)

Stars: Colin Farrell, Kate Beckinsale, Jessica Biel, Bryan Cranston

Release date: August 3rd, 2012 

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


Best part: The action sequences.

Worst part: The generic plot.

The problem with both 2012’s Total Recall and many remakes of its type, is that they ask the audience to endure a completely useless and unoriginal experience. Straight from the Hollywood cash machine, this interpretation of  Phillip K. Dick’s short story ‘We can Remember it For You Wholesale’ is ironically forgettable and lifeless despite its interesting and relevant premise.

Colin Farrell & Jessica Biel.

Colin Farrell & Jessica Biel.

Borrowing straight from the original 1990 film at every turn, Total Recall presents a familiar story with shallower ideas. factory worker and loving husband Doug Quaid (Colin Farrell) is sick of being the average workaholic struggling to move around a cluttered, favela-like environment. Working for the upper class in one of two remaining districts on Earth at the end of the 21st century, his trip to a memory recall clinic reveals more to his life story. A spy in hiding now brought back to the surface, His deadly conflict with wife Lori (Kate Beckinsale) and ongoing war with Cohaagen (the ubiquitous Bryan Cranston) over both cities will reveal Quaid’s importance in the crumbling remains of 21st century living.

Kate Beckinsale.

Kate Beckinsale.

This action packed yet dull and humourless interpretation loses both the campy fun and thought provoking subtext of the Paul Verhoeven satirical version. Total Recall is a strange broth of other Phillip K. Dick adaptations, CGI effects, action set pieces and wacky mise-en-scene, none of which congeal to create a worthy sci-fi entry. The film represents the problem with most sci-fi flicks in modern Hollywood; it loses the grit, violence and ambiguity of its 80s and 90s predecessors. without the witty humour, brutality and mutant-filled weirdness of the revered original, the film creates a lurid feeling with every multi-layered green screen sequence. While the lack of emotional depth throughout this chase story leads to a confused and bland final third. The settings of Blade Runner, chases of Minority Report and The Fifth Element, and plot twists of I, Robot  create nothing but this prime example of derivative and uninspired blockbuster filmmaking. Len Wiseman (UnderworldDie Hard 4.0) directs with eyes set on visual flair but sorely forgets brains, brawn or heart. The ambiguity behind Schwarzenegger’s character “gettin’ his ass to Mars” created a puzzling and entertaining sci-fi actioner once before.

“Trust me, baby, you’re gonna wish you had three hands.” (Three-breasted woman (Kaitlyn Leeb), Total Recall).

Bryan Cranston.

Bryan Cranston.

Wiseman, however, loses this tone, explaining everything to you in its simplest, spoon-fed form. Quaid is a character simplistically lost in existential crisis, struggling to create emotional resonance between every thrilling car chase and gun fight. Awkwardly proposing Inception-like questions separating reality from fantasy, this version loses every chance at tension and grit with Quaid’s gruelling search for identity. Jessica Biel, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Nighy, Bokeem Woodbine and John Cho try their best with the tiny character development given to their bland, small roles. While Farrell, suitably intense in dramatic roles from films such as Tigerland  and In Bruges, struggles here to maintain any charisma, attained comfortably by Arnie in the original. This noisy and explosion-friendly version also loses the thematic subtlety significant to the sci-fi genre. The two districts themselves create visual metaphor as obvious as a man’s attraction to a three-breasted woman. Featuring a war for living space between an over-populated and decaying society known as ‘The Colony’ (‘cleverly’ representing Australia) and the United Federation of Britain, Bryan Cranston’s Cohaagen is nowhere near the only over-the-top, underused and stupid aspect of this unnecessary and simplistic questioning of reality itself.

Sadly, despite the exorbitant budget and A-list performers thrown at this production, the Total Recall remake is a bland, cumbersome creation. With Len Wiseman’s hack direction sinking this space craft, adaptations like Minority Report and A Scanner now look a helluva lot better!

Verdict: Yet another spineless sci-fi remake. Yawn.

Prometheus Review – Alien-ating Sci-fi

Director: Ridley Scott

Writers: Damon Lindelof, Jon Spaihts 

Stars: Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, Idris Elba

Release date: June 8th, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Countries: USA, UK

Running time: 124 minutes


Best part: Michael Fassbender.

Worst part: The unanswered questions.

Whether Prometheus is seen as a prequel or brand new adventure in the Alien universe, one thing is certain; no one does sci-fi quite like Ridley Scott. Scott, the director of memorable, smart blockbusters such as Blade Runner and Gladiator, not only excels in different genres but creates fascinating cinematic moments that will live with you forever. As the director of the 1979 classic sci-fi horror flick Alien, Scott’s highly-anticipated return to this universe is a philosophical and shocking account of the search for our beginnings.

Noomi Rapace.

Noomi Rapace.

We follow many characters, each with their own views of humanity and the mission itself. In 2089, Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green) find a star map etched into different archaeological remnants from vastly different civilisations. This constellation, highlighted by the appearance of a large figure pointing to the sky, may in fact symbolise the dawn of man.  Landing on the distant moon LV- 223 three years later, the accuracy of this theory is what everyone on the spaceship ’Prometheus’ is searching for. Shaw and Holloway must encounter hostile sceptics including inquisitive human-like android David (Michael Fassbender) and hardened Weylan Corporation executive Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). There discoveries will however change the course of human history (for greater and worse) while creating scarily affecting problems for the ship’s largely scientist based crew.

Michael Fassbender.

Michael Fassbender.

Ridley Scott knows how to deliver truly smart sci-fi. While not as groundbreaking as Blade Runner or Alien, Prometheus carefully and uniquely asks the big questions no one has found the answers to. The screenplay by Damon Lindelof (co-creator/writer of Lost) and Jon Spaihts, based sparingly on Stephen Hawking’s recent theories on the discovery of hostile beings in the universe, uses important questions, suggesting different yet believable theories based on our evolution and of creationism, as the basis for its many character arcs. A believable relationship between this story of our beginnings and murky horror flick reminiscent of the Alien universe is executed in Prometheus, creating a truly dangerous sci-fi adventure, subtly using both references from the Alien films and the seeds to create its own universe. Many of the supporting characters feel two dimensional, developing largely predictable problems for the main characters. The performances, however, as usual with Scott, are all top notch. Rapace once again creates a strong female protagonist; this time noticeably similar to Ripley in the original Alien films. Theron and Idris Elba as the ship’s captain are charismatic in their smaller roles. While the stand out is Fassbender as the peaceful looking android with creepily ulterior motives. Fassbender creates the most fascinating character in modern sci-fi, depicting a strange, multi-functioning automaton with a curiosity for the existential questions his human ‘superiors’ ask. Several small touches, including his accurate impersonation of Peter O. Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, display a fascinating and in-depth depiction of a soulless being in search of a human connection.

“Big things have small beginnings.” (David (Michael Fassbender), Prometheus).

Charlize Theron & Idris Elba.

Charlize Theron & Idris Elba.

Despite this search for answers leading to a frustratingly ambiguous final third, each character’s motivations and theories delicately and assuredly create the themes of the film, culminating in a search for the reality of existence through hostile and tension filled terms. The film, for the most part, is emotionally powerful. You feel excited when Prometheus lands, while ultimately feeling a strange void in the pit of your stomach with knowing what comes next. Not really surprising to one who knows the brutal story behind the name ‘Prometheus’. Scott isn’t afraid to push the MA15+ rating. The beautiful yet bloody practical effects and creature designs match the violent intensity of the Alien series. The shockingly realistic and blood curdling penetrative deaths are part of the emotional core that will be longingly set in your mind. One scene in particular will have you questioning the practicality of Caesarean sections. The film’s visual appeal is also stunning. The holographic and touch screen applications of their operations and discoveries create several dimensions, using different pix-elated and CG creations to develop an appealing contrast with H. R. Giger’s influential and practical alien spaceship designs.

Does Prometheus live up to expectations? Yes and no. Yes, Scott’s streamlined direction delivers several wondrous set-pieces and visual flourishes. No, the big questions it so-eagerly asks in the first third aren’t given answers. Overall, we might have to show up next time for one ‘final’ adventure.

Verdict: An ambitious and glorious sci-fi actioner. 

Men in Black 3 Review – Neuralyzed!

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Writer: Etan Cohen (screenplay), Lowell Cunningham (comic)

Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Jermaine Clement

Release date: May 25th, 2012

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


Best part: Josh Brolin.

Worst part: The goofy humour.

Fifteen years after the original, and inexplicably popular, Men in Black introduced the world to noisy crickets, neuralyzers and the buying power of mega-star Will Smith, Men in Black 3 proves this series has out stayed its commercially successful welcome. Despite the cleverness of some of its many zany ideas, both sequels have now illustrated that the original was nothing more than a fluke.

Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones.

Will Smith & Tommy Lee Jones.

The controversy surrounding the unwritten script and muddled ideas thrown into the film’s production has proved costly for the finished product. Its confused story somewhat establishes nothing more than a hate-filled maniac villain and a time travel premise. After the smiley yet deadly Boris the Animal (Jermaine Clement) breaks out of jail, his path leads him to agents K (Tommy Lee Jones) and J (Smith). After K is sent packing due to his murder in the 1960’s, its up to the perplexed J to travel back to 1969 to prevent Boris’ reign over mankind via alien invasion. Enlisting the services of the younger K (Josh Brolin), Boris is not the only thing he may re-discover in an era of outrageous costumes, clunky technology and Andy Warhol.

Jermain Clement & Nicole Scherzinger.

Jermain Clement & Nicole Scherzinger.

Men in Black 3 unfortunately makes many of the same mistakes as the utterly mediocre 2002 sequel. Director Barry Sonnenfeld, director of both previous instalments and Smith’s biggest flop Wild Wild West, shows off his skills and major failings. His biggest fault is the lethally unfunny comedy throughout. Everything feels like the punchline to bad satirical joke. A wink and nudge at the camera may have been fine in the glory days of Ghostbusters and The Naked Gun, but this film straddles awkwardly between sci-fi actioner and slapstick comedy. Sonnenfeld’s tired humour isn’t helped by Smith. Despite delivering his usual alluring charisma, his constant mugging at the camera, given no brakes by Sonnenfeld, quickly tires. Involving nothing more substantial than constant jokes about K’s grumpiness and old age and Smith’s ‘hilarious’ funny faces when faced with the film’s many reaction shots, prove just how uninspired this series has become. The costume design is also a huge letdown. Despite being the work of make-up effects master Rick Baker, the glaringly fake, plastic look of the practical make up also gives the impression of the punchline to a cheesy joke heard too many times before. The set designs and cinematography do however lend an allure of creativity to this otherwise pointless affair. Fluid scene transitions and constant tracking shots are impressive at the best of times, but Sonnenfeld knows how to immerse the viewer in J’s baffling experiences.

“O? No, I call ladies “O”. To me O is feminine, and K is masculine. You know, I see a couple, I’m like, “O-K”.” (Agent J (Will Smith), Men in Black 3).

Josh Brolin.

Josh Brolin.

The stand out of Men in Black 3 is the time jumps. J’s leaps off tall buildings prove to be the film’s ‘highest’ points, as the special effects fluidly transition from one important historical event to another. Its the only time one may ever see the dinosaurs, the end of WWII, and the moon landing placed in the same context. The action set pieces also prove to be a fun relief from the film’s consistent cheesiness and unfunny, conventional dialogue. The unicycle chase through Manhattan streets and the fist-fight atop the tallest point of Cape Canaveral are filmed flawlessly and provide plenty of fun distractions. Thankfully the performances also strive to defeat the film’s conventional yet confusing plot hole filled narrative and character arcs that seem to have ably fallen into a black hole. Despite constantly hearing about K’s issues in the first half, the chemistry between Smith and Jones as partners, with their yin and yang relationship, is still as palpable as it was in previous adventures. Brolin is a standout here as a perfect representation of K and Jones himself. Capturing is speech, facial twitches and chemistry with Smith proves he is worthy to take over the reigns in future time warping instalments. Predictably however, the miscast Clement (one half of Flight of the Conchords) is uncomfortably over the top as the slimy, ugly antagonist; with his Kiwi accent shining through every gravely line.

Coming out a whopping one and a half decades after the original, Men in Black 3 comes off like an unearthed tomb hidden under layers of Hollywood schlock. Sadly, like a lot of sci-fi staples, it’s better to leave the tomb underground. This sequel takes a big step backwards for franchise filmmaking.

Verdict: An underwhelming and unwarranted third instalment. 

Battleship Review – Battle: Pacific Ocean

Director: Peter Berg

Writers: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber

Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Rhianna

Release date: May 18th, 2012

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 131 minutes



 Best part: The first action sequence.

Wort part: The jingoistic flair.

Starting off by saying Hollywood is out of ideas is obvious when applying that statement to Battleship. With a ridiculous concept in creating a special effects extravaganza based on the popular yet plotless board game of the same name, It makes you wonder what Hollywood may decide to adapt next. This film provides some visual stimulus but little beyond that to satisfy either film aficionados or even fans of the classic board game itself.

Taylor Kitsch & Tadanobu Asano.

Taylor Kitsch & Tadanobu Asano.

We begin our descent into nostalgia and mind numbing stupidity with renegade and good for nothing slacker Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch) and his brother Stone (Alexander Skarsgard); celebrating a birthday, family ties and Naval prowess. When Hopper tries to impress Samantha (Brooklyn Decker) and ends up breaking the law, he is forced by Stone to join him in the Navy. We then join them in full uniform and unlimited egotism as the annual Naval war games between the USA and Japan get under way in Hawaii. Due to scientists sending a signal to a planet much like ours in another galaxy, a strange cluster of objects fall out of the sky and into the Pacific Ocean. Disrupting the fleets in action, this alien group reigns war upon them and threatens the imminent destruction of mankind. Its now up to misfit Hopper and a sole Naval fleet to set aside differences and save the world from an overwhelming enemy.



Battleship is a prime example of the slapdash effort both directors and screenwriters put into blockbusters such as this each year. With the Transformers sequels and Battle: Los Angeles also suffering from major script and directorial failings, providing nothing more than a cash grab for a general audience is becoming more noticeable with each one of these cliche sci-fi action flicks. Peter Berg (The Kingdom, Hancock), who should be able to provide a convincing level of flair as acclaimed director Michael Mann’s protege, leaves behind entertaining characters and clever moments of comedy seen particularly in Welcome to the Jungle in order to achieve the conventional. This film may stand as one of the most generic blockbusters in recent memory. Even when looking down the cast list we see the who’s who of popular culture, several trying to make a name for themselves in one way or another. First off, Kitsch, fresh from the recent fantasy adventure epic John Carter, provides his usual emotionless delivery for another bland lead character role. While pop-star Rhianna, essentially playing Vasquez from Aliens, is unable to hold off her Caribbean accent when spouting several of the film’s many unnecessary one liners. Also suffering is an unconvincing Brooklyn Decker as Hopper’s girlfriend and soon to be fiancee. While phoning it in is Liam Neeson as Admiral Shane, who seems wasted in a role involving little more than a glorified cameo.

“We are going to die. You’re going to die, I’m going to die, we’re all going to die… just not today.” (Alex Hopper (Taylor Kitsch), Battleship).

 One of many Naval battles.

One of many Naval battles.

In their defence however, the dialogue throughout is solely based on endless references to Sun Tsu’s The Art of War, corny speeches proclaiming America’s ability to do anything and eye-rollingly tedious one liners. Battleship‘s moments of comedy fall flat and border on offensive; particularly when providing a one sided view of the Japanese. While the jingoistic view of American accomplishment is irritatingly pumped into this film, along with the unsubtle commercialisation of the Navy and Marine Corps. Loving shots of naval vessels and obvious metaphors for peace created by the US try too hard to convey a flag waving subtext. The noisy, special effect driven action sequences may look beautiful, but fail to provide any real creativity. Buildings fall down, people are needlessly killed in large quantities, free ways are crushed by Transformer-esque alien burrowers and battleships fire endlessly at alien spacecraft while being fired upon themselves. This repetitive and monotonous level of destruction does however start off promising. The first battleship sequence, one of few elements resembling anything from the board game, is choreographed, paced and photographed to create a thrilling 10 minute fight to the death against overwhelming and unknown odds. The aliens themselves, despite possessing some of the weirdest spiky beards in memory, are one dimensional at best. Their Halo-like jumpsuits along with conventional grey, slimy designs provide an uninteresting enemy for our heroes to bravely face.

With Hollywood scrambling for ideas, we’ve reached the point where Battleship is the biggest blockbuster on the menu. Sinking the director, cast, and Universal Pictures, this bomb destroys all the ships on the board!

Verdict: A mind-numbing and excessive blockbuster. 

John Carter Review – Kitsch’s Catastrophe

Director: Andrew Stanton

Writers: Andrew Stanton, Mark Andrews, Michael Chabon (screenplay), Edgar Rice Burroughs (novels)

Stars: Taylor Kitsch, Lynn Collins, Willem Dafoe, Mark Strong

Release date: March 9th, 2012

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 132 minutes



Best part: The Tharks.

Worst part: The cliched narrative.

The perfect way to describe this adaptation of the Barsoom series by Edgar Rice Burroughs is by comparing it to every classic action adventure film of its type. Charming yet tedious, John Carter is a sci-fi fantasy flick that will leave you underwhelmed, as great actors and a beautiful visual style are dragged through a slow pace and unoriginal script.

Taylor Kitsch.

The clichés begin with a young Rice Burroughs (Daryl Sabara) reading from the memoirs of civil war veteran and all around badass John Carter (Taylor Kitsch). Suddenly we are taken back to the end of the civil war, with Carter looking for lost treasure while trying to avoid both the cruel american forces and savage native american indians. Carter’s dangerous discoveries and run ins with the law of the land lead to his transportation from Earth (Jarsoom) to Mars (Barsoom). With the realisation of his new home comprising of warring factions not resembling any nationality on earth and a spiritual alien tribe, its up to Carter and feisty princess Dejah Thoris (Lynn Collins) to save the dying planet from the forces of evil, with their hearts skipping a beat for each other along the way.

Lynn Collins & Ciaran Hinds.

John Carter is Avatar, Star Wars and Dances with Wolves all rolled into one. The film wears its cliches and influences on its sleeve, without displaying an even vaguely imaginative sci-fi action fairytale simultaneously. Despite this series of books being written in the early 20th century, this film was clearly the result of box office successes such as Avatar and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Carter’s exploration of Mars is surprisingly dull due to the very simple quest our characters are placed in. Unlike Avatar, the film quickly loses focus and spends little time with its most unique characters. Whereas Avatar saw to the detailed exploration of a planet’s native inhabitants, The ‘Tharks’ in John Carter stand only for plot devices and comic relief. Unfortunately, the film focuses almost entirely on the warring Romanesque factions. Despite several clever moments of comedy, the human characters throughout are two dimensional at best while bland performances from British actors Ciaran Hinds and Dominic West prove costly for this already unenterprising adventure. Mark Strong is charismatic as the snarling, shape shifting Thern but suffers from a one dimensional character used specifically as a plot contrivance. This film proves that Hollywood’s fresh crop of young lead actors aren’t up to the task of carrying major Hollywood blockbusters.

“When I saw you, I believed it was a sign… that something new can come into this world.” (Tars Tarkas (Willem Dafoe), John Carter).

Mark Strong.

Kitsch and Collins are completely dull. Their thick accents and lack of expressions add to the tedium as they soon become uninteresting to watch. Their developing relationship also feels forced upon finding out Carter’s recently troubled past. This largely predictable quest and tale of love among the stars is not without its share of enjoyable moments. The technical aspects of the film reign supreme, especially when dealing with the alien characters. The Tharks are depicted as war ravaged and spiritually guided praying mantises. Their tusks, four arms and slender figures create a wonderful interpretation of the ancient Earth bound tribes from Africa to North America. While their strange body movements and reactions to  John Carter himself create many fascinating character interactions. Willem Dafoe, Samantha Morton and Thomas Haden Church provide their usual screen prowess in their motion capture turns as tribe members Tars Tarkis, Sola and Tal Hajus respectively. The setting of Mars is also used to full effect. The idea of undiscovered worlds carved into the bright red planet is expressed through giant mechanised cities, flying machines, scary creatures, gigantic battles and alien inhabitants sticking to the old ways; brought to life through impeccable special effects and sickeningly harsh desert landscapes.

John Carter, for all the bravado and good-will of its typical summer blockbuster vibe, can’t help but trip over its own two alien feet. Despite the epic scope and fine cast, the movie comes off like a slap-dash studio decision. Sadly, Avatar‘s shadow is still too big!

Verdict: A perfunctory and uninspired sci-fi blockbuster.

Chronicle Review – Snotty Supervillains

Director: Josh Trank

Writer: Max Landis

Stars: Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly

Release date: February 3rd, 2012

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 83 minutes



Best part: The comedic hijinks.

Worst part: The tonal shifts.

With the current popularity of ‘found footage’ with box office hits such as Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise, Chronicle should be seen as an original and natural progression for the genre. This documentation of the darker side of the super-human character cleverly identifies many connections to the inner workings of the teenage psyche.

Dane DeHaan.

Told via home video camera, we follow Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a moody and shy high schooler struggling to fit in. Beaten by his drunken dad Richard (Michael Kelly) and looking after his dying mother at home, his salvation is in his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), the most popular guy in school who is somewhat reluctant to communicate with Andrew. Their discovery of an alien specimen with their friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) leads to strong changes in their evolutionary charts. Their development of telekinetic powers makes Andrew the most popular guy in school due to his incredible manipulation of objects. However, his fall from popularity back down to the bottom of the high school spectrum leads Andrew to unleash his powers on others, drawing out his disturbing darker side.

DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan & Alex Russell.

The three teenage leads are very identifiable. Their views on pranks, high school popularity, and girls relate to the world of the crass teenager in a very realistic way. Russell and Jordan are very likeable as Matt and Steve respectively. Matt’s story of becoming a better person, while trying to impress cute video blogger Casey by quoting poetry, defines his changing views of humanity while adapting to his super humanity. The major draw to Chronicle is both Andrew’s descent into the dark and Dehaan’s performance itself. His portrayal of this emotionally scarred yet sympathetic character fixated on the destruction of the dark side of humanity is shockingly disturbing. Scenes depicting Andrew explaining his method of pulling out teeth and his description of the ‘apex predator to man’ define Dehaan’s creepy and saddening performance as instantly captivating. Despite the enigmatic performances and chemistry between the three leads, Andrews family life could have been focused on to greater degree. The plot surrounding his kind, dying mother and highly abusive dad feel forced into this film compared to the delicate story of personal torment surrounding Andrew in high school and his friends trying desperately to help him. While Casey is a wasted character only used to bring another camera angle into important scenes. First time director Josh Trank depicts his view of superhuman teenage angst as an allegory for puberty. Despite their bodies changing in very different ways to normal, the training and control of their abilities make these characters identifiable.

“Yes, it was the black guy this time.” (Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), Chronicle).

Our plucky super-humans.

The rules they set down after a freak accident describe their realistic view of great power coming with greater responsibility. Despite their strict rules, the moments of comedy, based on their fascination with their unbelievable powers, hit on every level. Tricking people around them using their telekinesis, particularly when Steve starts up a leaf blower to lift up a Girl’s skirt, becomes instantly funnier than it already was due to the reactions and witty quips by the three boys. This very unique take on the superhero genre is defined by its cinematography. Chronicle‘s use of handheld camera footage, to capture every second of their developing stories, makes it an intelligent and provocative thriller. Switching camera angles from different handheld sources, manipulation with the single camera by Andrew’s powers and scenes of exhilarating tracking shots, documenting the boys’ newly discovered flying abilities, are a thrill to watch. The first person view of their flight through the clouds is completely immersive, making the viewer feel they’re travelling faster than a speeding bullet. While the special effects are used to clever effect in many scenes, at points its use becomes too obvious. This is a situation where less would have been more as the glaringly fake effects and over the top final battle, complete with an over abundance of camera angles based on the number handheld sources, feel out of place with the rest of the film’s clever almost entirely single camera style.

In this ultra-slick era of remakes, reboots, and irritating trends, Hollywood has finally delivered its first truly phenomenal found-footage flick. Fitting its enjoyable lead performers into its tiny lens, Chronicle is sky high entertainment.

Verdict: A powerful and enjoyable found-footage drama.