Archive for the Reviews Category

Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015)

Posted in Movie, Reviews, Science Fiction on December 19, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST CONTAINS SPOILERS

After nearly a decade, the Star Wars franchise blasts back on to the big screen in J.J. Abrams‘ long-awaited episode seven.

The film is set some thirty years after the death of the Emperor and follows the search for Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) who has gone into self-imposed exile after the failure of his attempt to resurrect the Jedi Order at the hands of his apprentice, now named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who was seduced to the Dark Side of the Force by Snoke (Andy Serkis), the Supreme Leader of the First Order that arose in the aftermath of the galactic civil war and is attempting to restore the Galactic Empire. With the Senate of the New Republic refusing to acknowledge the threat of the First Order, Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has gone back underground and is the General in command of the resistance within the First Order’s territory and is supported in a deniable fashion by some elements of the New Republic. To some viewers dismay, the original trilogy cast are secondary to the plot and this is very much a ‘passing of the torch’ film, with the new characters taking centre stage as it focuses on Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger on the planet Jakku, and Finn (John Boyega), a defecting Stormtrooper, who meet on Jakku after Finn helps resistance fighter pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) escape from the Star Destroyer he was being held prisoner on, and how they all are swept up in the search for the last Jedi.

As with all Star Wars films, the effects are stunning and the action fast passed and thrilling, but my prejudices against Abrams’ story telling abilities remain very much intact as the plot is a rehash of episode four with Lawrence Kasdan‘s writing efforts seemingly limited to ensuring the original trilogy characters remain true to form. Of the original trilogy characters, it is Han Solo (Harrison Ford) who drives a lot of the action forward as we learn that Kylo Ren is, in fact, his and Leia’s estranged son, Ben Solo. Because the plot is a reworking of episode four, we could see very early on that Solo was the Obi-Wan figure and that he would meet his end at the hands of Kylo Ren in the same way that Obi-Wan died at the hands of Darth Vader. Even so, his death is a genuinely shocking moment as, even though we all saw it coming, it was still a surprise to see that the writers and studio had the nerve to kill off such a popular character.

There are a lot of plot holes and gaps in the storyline such as how Han lost the Millennium Falcon, how the First Order came about and why they’re not using clone Stormtroopers who are programmed for obedience, and who Snoke is and how he came to lead the First Order. I know that there is a trilogy of novels being written by Chuck Wendig to bridge the gap between episodes six and seven, but there’s no guarantee that all of the fans will read them which means the pressure is now on episode eight to deliver a lot of this back story. Having said all of that, the writing is very well done with well-rounded and likeable characters, good action set pieces and an excellent lead in to episode eight in 2017.

One of my biggest gripes with the writing is that it was stressed that this would be a new storyline for the Star Wars universe and that it would not have anything to do with the story lines in the extended universe novels, and yet it certainly borrows from both the Heir to the Empire and Fate of the Jedi series so much so that I have to wonder why they didn’t just film those books. Even with all of the above mentioned flaws I’d still recommend going to see it, but, for me, this was a six out of ten movie that just about escapes being a ‘meh’ moment.

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Review: Mr. Holmes (2015)

Posted in Adaptation, Movie, Reviews on June 20, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Sir Ian McKellen and director Bill Condon reunite for this superb capstone to the Sherlock Holmes legend.

Set in 1947, 30 years after Holmes’ retirement and self-imposed exile to the English West Country, the film focuses on Holmes’ fading memories of his last case and his efforts to come to terms with how and why that particular case forced him to retire as a private investigator. It’s a slow moving film that delves into the mind of the great detective, revealing some of his flaws and weaknesses as well as reminding us all of his intellectual genius and the price he’s paid for it.

In this, McKellen is superbly supported by Laura Linney and Milo Parker  as his housekeeper, Mrs. Munro, and her son Roger with whom Holmes forms a paternal bond, recognising in the boy a like mind and keen intellect. This bond deepens during the film as Holmes comes to terms with the reasons for the failure of his last case and the loneliness he has felt throughout his life as he starts trying to guide Roger into not focusing solely on logic and facts, but to always include the Human elements of compassion, empathy and kindness, which Holmes realises have been absent in his own life. This is a point of focus as, through Holmes’ reminiscing with Roger, we are shown glimpses of his relationship with John Watson and the almost contemptuous tolerance he feels towards Watson’s dramatic retelling of Holmes’ cases. We also see the his somewhat arrogant aloofness from the rest of Humanity who he feels need to embrace logic and fact the way he does. This arrogant assurance in his own intellectual superiority is the main point in Holmes’ character that leads to his fall from grace and is the cause of his prickly relationship with Mrs. Munro who is feeling increasingly threatened by his relationship with her son.

Through McKellen’s subtly brilliant performance, we see Holmes’ struggle to overcome a lifetime of reticence and his horror at the slow loss of the memory and intellect he values so much at the hands of senility and his almost desperate efforts to write down the details of his last case before what he thinks is his imminent death. We are also able to witness Holmes’ change as, at last, the details all fall into place and he realises what has been missing from his life.

There are no really dramatic points, no action set pieces, no long winded monologues and no twists and turns in this film. We are treated instead to a nice story that reminds us all of how a good cinematic piece should be done and is a nice counterbalance to the seemingly endless stream of superhero films, reboots and remakes coming from Hollywood.

And, to top it all off, there’s a nice Holmes in-joke with the casting of Nicholas Rowe as a cinematic Sherlock Holmes that the real Holmes sees in the film adaptation of his last case showing the warm humour that is evident throughout.

Review: Mad Max – Fury Road (2015)

Posted in Movie, Reviews on May 24, 2015 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Australian director George Miller returns to the post-apocalyptic wastelands of his homeland in this fresh take on the rebirth of a broken man.

More a remake of Road Warrior than a reboot, this follows on from the original Mad Max film and more or less discounts Thunderdome. Tom Hardy takes over from Mel Gibson in the title role of Max Rockatansky, an Australian policeman who, after the murder of his wife and child, suffers a breakdown and heads out into the Outback, convinced that isolation is the only way for him to survive. The film presupposes the failure of world governments to tackle the economic and environmental problems currently being experienced, resulting in the regression of mankind to a feudal state with roaming gangs and isolated communities all engaged in a constant struggle just to stay alive.

At the start of the film, Max is captured by a war party belonging to a community led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne who makes his second appearance in a Mad Max film after having played Toecutter in the original) and is kept alive only to be used as a Human blood bank for his War Boys, all of whom are suffering from various forms of cancer brought on by the environmental disaster and are in need of regular transfusions. His chance for escape comes when Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) betrays Joe and heads off into the desert with his wives, one of whom is pregnant and Nux, (Nicholas Hoult) who is recovering from a previous mission and is in the middle of a transfusion, takes Max on the chase with him so he can continue to get his blood.

The relationship between Joe and Nux is based on the religious fanaticism that we see today, with Joe’s forceful personality seeing him elevated to god-like status and who gives Nux purpose in life by promising him a place in Valhalla in exchange for loyal service and death in battle. Since he’s dying from cancer anyway, Nux and all of the other War Boys, are only too eager to take up this offer of a better world. One of the things Miller does extremely well is his portrayal of fallen Humanity, with all of the characters displaying a recklessness and viciousness brought on by their survival instincts which, in this world, have been exaggerated beyond what we have in our world today. This is the thinking behind the unthinking savagery of the characters, including Max, and of the risks they are willing to take for water, fuel, food and shelter. It also shows how Joe, and others like him, can become demi-gods in this kind of environment as people instinctively look to and support anyone who can provide for them and offer some hope for the future, no matter how unlikely that hope is.

The film progresses steadily from there, with Max eventually regaining his freedom and assisting Furiosa in her quest. The really interesting thing is that this is very much a female led film and Max, despite being the titular character, is an almost incidental add-on to the story who spends most of the film being carried along on Furiosa’s quest to return home. The fights between the two are very even with Furiosa matching Max punch for punch and even outmatching him when it comes to marksmanship. Miller has been praised for the strong women in this film and many other reviews have called Fury Road a thumb in the eye to the traditional male driven action movie. All those who have lambasted Hollywood for the lack of strong female roles will find their complaints well and truly addressed here.

Hardy’s performance is stunningly simple. With little to no dialogue (a creative choice by Miller), he excellently portrays a man haunted by his failure to save the people he loved and has shut himself off from his humanity and feelings. When he does speak, it’s in a low monotone with almost no inflection or expression in his tone and who hears the voices of his family demanding to know why he didn’t save them. The use of flashback cut scenes and fast camera changes, enhances the sensation of a man being hounded into the wastelands by his inner demons.

The film ends with Max having regained a little of his humanity and, with a follow up already in the works, there’s more than enough in this film to warrant further exploration.

Review: Robocop (2014)

Posted in Movie, Reviews, Science Fiction on March 2, 2014 by Barrie Suddery

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WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

After much hype and fan-boy trepidation the latest outbreak of Hollywood’s ‘rebootitis’ syndrome has come to the screen with this year’s Robocop remake.

Like the original, this is the story of Detroit policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) who, is this version, is a Detective instead of a Patrolman. Working with his partner Jack Lewis (the criminally underused Michael K. Williams), Murphy is investigating the activities of Antoine Vallon (Patrick Garrow) who has managed to get his hands on weapons from the police evidence room thanks to two corrupt cops John Lake (Daniel Kash) and Andre Daniels (K.C. Collins).

While this is going on, Omnicorp (yes they renamed it) is struggling to overturn a U.S. senate ban on the deployment of drone technologies inside the country. Headed by the extremely bland and not at all scary Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton), they come up with the idea of placing a man inside one of these drones as a way of getting around the ban and assuaging public concern that drones are unaccountable. After Murphy is severely wounded in a car bomb attack, Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is brought in to turn Murphy into Robocop.

So far, so bland; not great, but not too much of a stinker either.

Unfortunately, this is where the new version goes completely off on it’s own tangent, departing from the source material so much that it’s almost a completely different movie. Some will argue that this is a good thing and I agree, if it’s done well, but from this point the movie becomes a maudlin sci-fi B-movie that tries to pass itself off as a blockbuster.

One of the things that made the original Omni-Consumer Products (OCP) corporation so villainous was that they attempted to strip Murphy of his humanity altogether, wanting to keep his crime fighting skills and killer instincts intact, but remove his compassion and Human judgement. Here, this is only done when, during a simulated hostage rescue, Murphy fails to match the reaction times of the purely robotic drone he was competing against. As a result of this, Dr. Norton reworks the surgery so that Murphy only thinks he’s in control when in ‘combat mode’, giving him and the public the illusion of Human control and accountability. Even then, it’s still very much a Human and emotional Murphy who goes home to visit his wife Clara (Abbie Cornish) and son David (John Paul Ruttan). It’s only after Murphy goes into shock after reviewing CCTV footage of the car bomb that nearly killed him, that Norton reworks Murphy’s brain chemistry to reduce his emotional responsiveness and, even then, it’s only done so that Omnicorp can roll out their new ‘product’ on time.

Comparing it with the original 1987 Robocop movie,  we can easily see that this was a waste of time and money as it simply doesn’t hold a candle to the far superior writing, acting and ideas behind the original which was a biting satire on modern consumer culture and corporate greed whereas this is just an undemanding sci-fi action flick .

Acting wise, I am sure that Kinnaman did his best but he just doesn’t compare to Peter Weller’s Alex Murphy whose acting takes us on Murphy’s journey from emotionless cyborg to Human cop using just facial expressions and the tone of his voice. As for the ‘bad guys’, it’s pretty obvious that Keaton, Oldman and Garrow just turned up to collect their cheques because all of their characters are quite bland, uninteresting and not even remotely frightening when compared to Ronny Cox’s truly amoral and wicked Dick Jones, Kurtwood Smith’s  riotously OTT Clarence Boddicker and Miguel Ferrer’s smarmy, money grubbing Bob Morton.

The producers recently and quite bravely challenged everyone to, “watch it before you shit on it.” Well I have watched it now and wouldn’t want to waste my feces on this garbage.

Do yourselves a favour and grab a copy of the original.

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Posted in Adaptation, Comic Book, Movie, Reviews on July 22, 2012 by Barrie Suddery

WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Director Christopher Nolan brings his Batman trilogy to a stunning, 10 out of 10 conclusion with this movie. Although the script is not entirely original, borrowing heavily from the DC Comics “Knightfall” and “No Man’s Land” story lines as well as Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”, it takes the themes and ideas in those stories in a slightly different direction, creating a story that is fresh, and very relevant to the modern world.

The story picks up eight years after the events of The Dark Knight with Batman still being blamed for the death of Harvey Dent. As per the deal made at the end of The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) has stuck to the deal made and has ensured that Dent is held up as the pinnacle of law enforcement and justice. A new act denying serious criminals parole has been drawn up and named the Dent Act and, as a result, crime has dropped to manageable levels in Gotham to the point that Batman has now retired and hasn’t been seen in almost the entirety of those eight years.

Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) is now living as a recluse in Wayne Manor having lost half of his fortune in trying to develop fusion technology to solve the worlds’ energy crisis and is still grieving for the loss of Rachael Dawes who died at the hands of Two-Face in The Dark Knight. He is slowly drawn back into the world when Selina Kyle, a.k.a. Catwoman (Anne Hathaway), breaks into a safe in Wayne Manor simply so she can take Bruce Wayne’s finger prints which, we later discover, are used to fraudulently make bad deals on the stock exchange during an attack on the stock exchange building by Bane (Tom Hardy).

The result of all of this is that Wayne ends up broke, Wayne Enterprises gets bought out by a competitor and the weapons and technologies that Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) had developed for use by Batman and had been keeping off the books in the Wayne Enterprises Applied Sciences Division are now in danger of falling into the hands of Wayne Enterprises’ competitors. The theme of trust, or in this case Bruce Wayne’s lack of it, is explored quite heavily in this movie as we discover that the fusion technology does in fact work and that Wayne kept in hidden for fear it would be turned into a weapon.

In addition, the events surrounding Harvey Dent’s death come back to haunt Wayne in the form of rookie Gotham cop, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who has figured out that Wayne is Batman and doesn’t believe that he killed Dent. Commissioner Gordon is also having a crisis of conscience as he believes the time has come to tell everyone the truth about Harvey Dent and his death.

Fearing that Gotham has been lulled into a false sense of security by the relative peace they’ve enjoyed, Batman comes out of retirement to take on Bane and ends up being soundly beaten as it turns out that Bane is a former member of the League of Shadows, the organisation founded by Ra’s al-Ghul (Liam Neeson) that trained Bruce Wayne in the first place. As a result, Bane has always known Batman’s identity and, in revenge for the death of Ra’s al-Ghul, breaks Batman’s back and sends him to the sinkhole prison in Mexico that Bane himself was born in.

With Batman out of the way, Bane seizes all of Wayne Enterprises weapons and the fusion reactor and then cuts Gotham off from the rest of the U.S. by blowing up all but one of the bridges to Gotham island. Under the guise of a people’s revolution, Bane frees the prisoners in Blackgate prison and turns the city over to the people of Gotham encouraging them to take revenge on the wealthy and seize their share of the wealth of the city. This ties the movie in brilliantly with the current world-wide economic crisis and the general ill feeling the public has toward the banking/business community.

Throughout all of this, Alfred (Michael Caine) finds himself unable to continue working for Bruce Wayne as he fears that Wayne is pushing himself on a deliberate path of self-destruction and is troubled by his inability to keep his promise to Thomas and Martha Wayne to keep Bruce safe. In acting terms, this is Caine’s movie as his performance is easily the best out of the whole cast and he demonstrates his range to good effect during some very emotional scenes.

In order to get the best out of this movie, you really should re-watch the  first two parts of the trilogy before going to the cinema as The Dark Knight Rises references both quite heavily and really links in with Batman Begins to tie off this trilogy in an exciting and emotional way. The ending gives Bruce Wayne the satisfaction of seeing his goal of inspiring the police and people of Gotham to stand up on their own against crime and injustice finally fulfilled as well as giving the audience a sense of both closure and a new beginning as a Wayne passes his secrets to John Blake who, by this time, has quit the police force.

This movie, and the trilogy itself, is what Hollywood should be producing on a regular basis. It is intelligent, complex, it requires the audience to pay attention, remember the stories of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight to some degree and has been written, produced, filmed and acted all with an assumption of audience intelligence, as opposed to what we usually get these days, which is lowest common denominator movie making which leaves me feeling really insulted and disappointed at the lack of scope and vision.

No-one will ever be able to say that about The Dark Knight Rises.

If you see only one movie this year, do yourself a huge favour and make it this one.

Review: Captain America – The First Avenger (2011)

Posted in Adaptation, Comic Book, Movie, Reviews on July 30, 2011 by Barrie Suddery

WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

Hollywood shows up its inability to always successfully transfer comic book heroes to the big screen with this messy and unfulfilling effort.

Having been deemed unfit for military service, young patriot Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) has a chance encounter with Dr. Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who, impressed by his desire to serve, recruits him into a top-secret project to create the oft-mentioned “super soldier”.

Those familiar with the character will know what happens next. Erskine is killed by a Nazi plant played by Richard Armitage (continuing the Hollywood tradition of British actors playing villains) and the formula for the super-serum dies with him, leaving Rogers’ a one-of-a-kind soldier.

It’s at this point that the screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely starts to go wrong because rather than make use of Rogers’ enhanced abilities, his C.O. Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), chooses instead to head out to the Italian front without him. Thus deprived of his ability to serve, Rogers is talked into joining a nationwide tour to promote war bond sales for the U.S. government. As part of this tour, the character of Captain America is created for Rogers to play and the tour becomes a massive success.

Meanwhile, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) has taken the Nazi top-secret scientific research division, Hydra, independent of the High Command with a plan to, you guessed it, conquer the world. It turns out, that Schmidt had forced Erskine to give him the super-serum first before it was ready and his skin was burned off as a result, leaving him severely disfigured and being nicknamed the Red Skull.

Rogers just happens to be in Italy trying to entertain the troops when the unit his friend from Brooklyn is in is captured by Hydra. Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes (Sebastian Stan) and Rogers go way back and when Rogers learns of his capture, he disobeys orders and goes to rescue him with the help of Phillips’ assistant Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) the soon-to-be father of Tony Stark who goes on to become Iron Man.

Naturally, Rogers, clad in his Captain America costume, pulls off the rescue and, naturally, no charges are brought against him or Carter for disobeying orders. Finally convinced of his abilities, Phillips promotes Rogers to captain in the U.S. Army and Stark creates a new costume for him complete with his recognisable shield. Assembling a crack unit made up of Barnes and some of the other prisoners he rescued, Rogers leads them though a series of battles against Hydra, slowly destroying their bases until only their base in the Alps remains.

Rogers goes up against Red Skull beats him and, in an effort to save New York from being bombed, diverts the plane he’s on to crash in the Arctic where he remains frozen for nearly 70 years until revived by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents.

I don’t want to go into too much detail here as the story doesn’t really matter as it’s pretty much what we’ve seen before in these kinds of underdog-makes-good kind of movies. However, one of my biggest gripes against the script is that the equipment used by Hydra is beyond even todays technology, let alone that of the 1940’s and saying that it’s powered by an ancient device left behind by the Gods simply makes it even less believable. Now I know that the key to enjoying a super-hero movie is the suspension of disbelief, but energy pulse weapons, modern-day looking APC’s and a massive bomber that looks like a B2 batwing, but has rotors on it for extra thrust, is just plain ridiculous.

What is really disappointing is that the whole movie is spent in WWII rather than the modern-day and this annoyed me as one of the more intriguing things about the Rogers character is his 1940’s innocent belief in the infallibility of America coming up against the modern-day world opinion of his country which makes his role as the embodiment of the best of the American way even harder and, for the U.S, much more necessary and relevant.

Watching him deal with that as well as the fact that everyone he ever knew is now dead, would have made for a much better character drama, which is what Marvel characters are really known for; real life people dealing with extraordinary abilities and/or circumstances.

All in all, a very dissatisfying movie and a waste of a really good character in what is little more than an extended teaser for the upcoming Avengers movie.

Review: Priest (2011)

Posted in Adaptation, Movie, Reviews on June 5, 2011 by Barrie Suddery

WARNING: POST MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS

This movie is a rather intriguing take on the Man vs. Vampire story that has been a staple product of both Hollywood and British movie making for the last half century.

Starring Paul Bettany as the Priest of the title, it’s a story set on an alternate Earth where the war between Humans and Vampires has raged for centuries with Man taking ever-increasing losses until the Church, which by now has risen to rule the world, creates a class of warrior-priests to hunt down and destroy the Vampires in their hives. This they do so successfully, that within a few years the few remaining Vampires are confined to underground reservations and Humans have retreated into massive walled megalopolis’.

The surviving Priests are so feared by the Church, they are stripped of their authority and forced to eke out a living as manual labourers (because they have no other applicable skills) in a society that fears them.

The trouble for Priest begins when his brother’s farm, in the wastelands where the clergy have no real authority, is attacked by a Vampire pack. The brother and his wife, played by Stephen Moyer and Madchen Amick, are both brutally slaughtered and their daughter Lucy, played by Lily Collins daughter of musician Phil Collins, is abducted by the packs’ leader Black Hat who is played by Karl Urban in another superb performance.

Priest is approached by Hicks(Cam Gigandet), the local town sheriff who asks him to help rescue Lucy. Priest goes to the clergy backed by Monsignor Chamberlain (Alan Dale) and asks to be restored to duty, but is dismissed by Monsignor Orelas (Christopher Plummer) who wants to believe the Vampire menace is over and won’t allow anyone to cause a panic.

Obviously, he goes rogue and hunts down the villain and saves the girl etc etc, but for me, the appealing thing about this movie is the realisation of Vampires as an entirely different species of life. Depicted here, they are clearly not Human and move with a Cheetah’s speed and grace.

On the downside, this film does preach quite a bit about how our power “comes from God not the Church” and how the Church is corrupt and out-of-touch with ordinary people as evidenced by the Monsignors living in clean, luxurious comfort while the masses live in an overcrowed steam punk nightmare.

Plot wise, there’s nothing really original here and the movie isn’t what I would call thought inspiring. There are a few surprises and frights for the horror fans, but this is more an action-adventure movie than a horror one.

All in all, a worthwhile investment of 90 minutes if you have nothing better to do.