Friday, June 5, 2015

Reviews: Some Recent Films

The Falling (Carol Morley, 2014)
When one of the pupils in a late-1960s all-girls school suddenly drops dead, her best friend starts displaying the same symptoms, her classmates following suit.  Are they sick?  Cursed?  Faking it?  Or is it all in their heads?  This bewitching exploration of teenaged sexuality provides no easy answers to these questions; however, for my part, I would actually have prefered it to be more ambiguous, as I felt the solution too heavily implied, perhaps due to the amount of coverage of Morley's research into mass hysteria.  Still, if you've ever wondered what would happen if Girl, Interrupted met The Devils, this is the film for you.  It's beautifully shot, edited, and sound designed, and the big revelation will leave you stunned.

A Royal Night Out (Julian Jarrold, 2015)

It's VE Day, and all of Britain has taken to the streets to celebrate.  All, that is, except for the royal family.  When Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret finally convince their father to let them go out incognito, it looks like they're in for a dull evening with some stuffy old courtiers, but then Margaret runs off, and it's up to Elizabeth, aided by an AWOL airman, to find her before she causes a scandal.  A cute little film that would have perhaps been better suited to television, A Royal Night Out was filled with a lot more humour than I expected it to be.  I had trouble, though, suspending disbelief for this mostly-made up tale (a recent Channel 4 documentary on the real royal night out suggests that their evening was far tamer); while Princess Margaret's characterisation was wholly believable, it was hard to imagine the Queen as a young princess.

Mad Max:  Fury Road (George Miller, 2015)
When Furiosa, one of the Citadel's most respected tanker drivers, helps the warlord's favourite "brides" run away, it provides the perfect opportunity for Max to escape.  Circumstances bring them together, and Max and Furiosa team up to race across the desert and bring the girls to safety.  A pace that never lets up, strong characterisation, and the effects--mostly done practically, not by CGI--look AMAZING.  You could level the criticism that, for a Mad Max movie, it really isn't about Mad Max, and so why didn't Miller just make a post-apolcalyptic movie about freeing sex slaves?  However, Fury Road delivers a message about female empowerment and liberation that really shouldn't be causing all the controversy it has (Empowered women in an action movie?? Oh, the humanity!).  But don't worry, meninists, there are so many explosions you'll hardly notice the feminism.  It will just seep into your tiny little brains while you're watching shit blow up, and, who knows, in a few hours time you might actually feel like treating women a little bit more like actual human beings. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Review: The Avengers: Age of Ultron

While cleaning up a Hydra cell, the Scarlet Witch, a totally-not-mutant-you-heard-that-20th-Century-Fox? who can do pretty much whatever the script requires her to, puts some bad dreams in Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man)'s head.  So he and Bruce Banner (Hulk's non-green alter ego) decide to use the magic thingy out of Loki's staff to create an A.I., Ultron, that will defend the earth from alien attack, achieving, as Tony puts it, 'peace in our time.'

Now, had Steve Rodgers (Captain America) come into the room at that very moment, this would have been a much shorter film.  Anyway, Tony's project has a similar effect to Neville Chamberland's surrender of the Sudetenland:  aided by his sidekicks Scarlet Witch and her twin brother, Quicksilver, who, despite having the exact same name and ablilities, is totally not the same one from the X-Men, Ultron sets about bringing down his creator and destroying humanity, all the while evolving himself into his ultimate form.  Only the Avengers can bring Ultron down, but that's not an easy task, as they're at odds and on the run (thanks to Hulk's uncontrolled smashing).

Now, I've seen people whinging on social media about how Age of Ultron wasn't as fun as the first Avengers movie, and yes, I would have to agree in a way.  But what Ultron lacks in playfulness, it make up for in maturity, not unlike The Emperor Strikes Back or The Godfather Part IIUltron is a lot darker, but also a lot deeper.  In creating Ultron, Tony plays God not unlike another well-known fictional scientist, and, like Dr Frankenstein, his creation also turns on him.  Meanwhile, Bruce's Jekyll-and-Hyde-like dualism is further explored, as, on the one hand, his relationship with Natasha (Black Widdow) makes him more human, but, on the other, he finds it increasingly difficult to come back from his Hulk state.  Futhermore, Ultron rectifies the first film's under-use of Hawkeye in allowing us a greater look into Clint Barton's private life. 

Age of Ultron provides some great cameo moments, bringing in characters from the Iron Man, Captain America, and Thor franchises, plus S.H.I.E.L.D. favourites like Nick Fury and Maria Hill.  But where were Pepper and Jane?  And it didn't seem like Cap and Thor were given very much to do (perhaps understandable, as they've got their own movies coming up).  Anyway, there were some nice character moments showing just how much the Avengers have bonded as a team, including a great sequence when they all try to lift Thor's hammer, which is brilliantly funny with an even better payoff later in the film. 

I just wish Marvel would realise that there are other ways to end a film other than destroying a city.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Round-Up

Recently I've unlocked the geek achievement of having watched all the Star Trek films.  Here's a round up of all twelve--which ones are classics, and which ones you should avoid like The Borg.

Note:  the number in brackets is my ranking.

The Original Series

Star Trek:  The Motion Picture, Robert Wise, 1979 [7]
Several years after the end of the television series, the now Admiral Kirk takes command of a newly refurbished Enterprise and goes after a mysterious entity known as V'ger that's threatening the planet.  Not quite as awful as its reputation suggests.  If you stripped away all the extraneous special effects (which do look great), you'd have a perfectly workable episode of the TV series... about 50 minutes out of a 2+ hour movie.

Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan, Nicholas Meyer, 1982 [1]
The second instalment of the movie franchise sees the return of a villain from the TV show's first season, the super-human Khan, who's hell bent on revenge.  Kirk and crew have to stop him from using the Genesis Device, a life-creating machine invented by the ex-Mrs. Kirk and her son, as a weapon of mass destruction.  Not only is the plot more focused than in TMP, but Kirk finally has to face up to the consequences of some of the total ass-pull moves he made earlier in his career, consequences that have deadly results for his closest friend.  Said death is the most poignant and tear-jerking in all of Star Trek.

Star Trek III:  The Search for Spock, Leonard Nimoy, 1984 [9]
My attempts to avoid spoilers in the previous synopsis have clearly failed.  Spock is still out there somewhere, so Kirk et al steal the Enterprise to go find him.  Although it does bring Spock back in a satisfactory manner, the film suffers from a lower budget and Nimoy's first-time direction.

Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home, Leonard Nimoy, 1986 [5]
On their way back to face court-martial for stealing (and subsequently blowing up) the Enterprise, Kirk and crew find the Earth being threatened by some space whales, so naturally they have to travel back in time to present-day Earth to rescue a pair of humpbacks.   Yep.  While not quite as charming as, say, "The Trouble with Tribbles", TVH manages to capture the campy fun of the 60s series.

Star Trek V:  The Final Frontier, William Shatner, 1989 [12]
Spock's illogical half-brother steals the Enterprise to go look for God.  Apart from some nice character moments (and so much Ho Yay!), this is pretty awful.  Whose idea was it to let Shatner direct?

Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country, Nicholas Meyer, 1991 [2]
On the eve of the Klingon's entry into the Federation, Kirk and McCoy are accused of assassinating their High Chancellor, and the crew must prove them innocent.  Better direction, better effects (featuring impressive morphs from a shape-shifting Iman), and a solid story, TUC is easily one of the best in the Star Trek film franchise.

The Next Generation

Star Trek:  Generations, David Carson, 1994 [11]
Captain Picard teams up with the thought-to-be long-dead Captain Kirk to defeat this guy who's destroying planets basically just so he can go to his happy place.  While the story wouldn't have made a bad episode of TNG, the addition of Kirk was unnecessary, making his death even more pointless than Lt. Yar's.

Star Trek:  First Contact, Jonathan Frakes, 1996 [4]
The Enterprise-E (yes, they blew it up again) travels back in time to thwart the Borg Collective's plan to stop humans from achieving warp speed.  Lots of  action, good effects, a bit of humour, and plenty of suspense.  It's a really clever way to let us see the most important moment in Star Trek's backstory.

Star Trek:  Insurrection, Jonathan Frakes, 1998 [6]
Picard and crew go rogue to stop a Federation plot to meddle in the affairs of a peaceful planet.  An intersting concept that plays out fairly well, though the silly campy moments aren't handled as well as in TVH

Star Trek:  Nemesis, Stuart Baird, 2002 [8]
The Romulan clone of Captain Picard seeks revenge on his creators, the Federation, and the Captain himself.  Again, an interesting concept that's entertaining, but I didn't like it because they killed off my all-time favourite Star Trek character for real and didn't even give him a funeral.

The Reboot

Star Trek, J. J. Abrams, 2009 [3]
Young Jim Kirk and co. have to stop a vengeful Romulan who's traveled back from the future and messed up the timelines.  Wonderful nods to TOS, great performances (especially from Zachary Quinto as he explores Spock's contradictory half-human half-Vulcan nature), and a perfect way to reboot the franchise while keeping everything from the originals canon.

Star Trek:  Into Darkness, J. J. Abrams, 2013 [10]
Kirk and the Enterprise crew must stop Benedict Khanberbatch from wrecking destruction across the galaxay.  References to TOS seem a bit more forced this time around, plus it continues to draw out the 'how Kirk became Kirk' angle instead of just letting him be Captain Kirk.  Really, it's just a shoddy remake of Wrath of Khan.