INTERSTELLAR

November 12, 2014

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CANDLES 7

DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan

May Contain Spoilers!

CINEMA REVIEW

Will we be adding this to our collection? YES

The long awaited Christopher Nolan film, Interstellar arrived with bang, not a whimper, on the November 7th. Clearly wearing its inspirations on its sleeve, from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Contact (1996) and an array of 70′s Sci-Fi flicks. Moon (2009), which is in itself an homage to 70′s Sci-Fi also looms large over this epic.

Set in the near future, the world has been ravaged by a “Blight” which is systematically destroying the world’s food supplies. Corn is the last grow and Cooper, Matthew McConaughey, is one of those farmers still able to produce it. But through a series of strange events, “Signs” as it were, M. Night Shymanan’s Signs (2002) clearly another inspiration, Cooper finds himself piloting a mission to explore new words through a wormhole just off Saturn, with an aim to relocate humanity on a new world.

Firstly, I jumped at the chance to see this in IMAX, 2D, which was a nice change and not something I do often. In fact, I have a limited experience of IMAX and to be honest, I’m not really impressed having never left a screening particularly happy. Yes the large screen and the candle extinguishing sound is good but not spectacular, not when a background bass rumble was so distorted that I struggled to hear or understand the dialogue.

interstellar.black_.hole_ But the visuals were stunning, and evocative of the genre at its most elegant, basically pre-Star Wars era, in which due to technical limitations, made space travel graceful and space feel vast and empty. No air equals no sound but this real life detail only works with certain movies, but this 2001 inspired epic is one of them. Alot of the photography is fixed cameras on the hull of the space craft to give a sudo-documentary feel, clearly evocative of IMAX docs themseleves but with the added drama and Hans Zimmers Straussian score, this is a bold and ambitious take on the space opera.

But space is only half of the movie and in many ways, disposable in favour of its core plotting. This is about the love between a father and daughter across the vast distorting and perverted span of interstellar time, effected by worm and black-holes alike.

So this needs to be a tight story… and it is far from it.

Baggy is word and this is where Interstellar’s problems lie. Basically, Copper seeming chooses to leave his 10 year old daughter and 15 year son in order to pilot a mission to save the world. But it also clear that he is doing it because he WANTS to. He is only a farmer by fate, not by choice, with his real passions being engineering and flying in world which needs little of either.

interstellar_aSo in real terms, Cooper is fed up with his lot in life and abandons his to motherless children to pursue a life which he would prefer.

Deadbeat dad anyone?

Is this civic responsibility of parental irresponsibility? Are we supposed to get behind this man? Well, here comes the argument that will no doubt upset a few readers, but in my mind, there was more logic and empathy to get behind in Michael Bay’s Armageddon (1998) in which we are expected to believe that it is easier to send untrained oil drillers in to space than train astronauts to dill a hole!

At lease when Bruce Willis and his crew risk and sacrifice their lives for mankind, there was some, if not troubled logic justifying their dissensions beyond simply wanting to go. But here, we are expected to believe that Cooper was needed to pilot the mission which was already manned and pretty set to go but had no pilot? What?

And this is the issue. The film is built around several elements and the plot details were clearly contrived later. Taking a realistic look at worm-holes and black-hole theory was clearly one of them, attempting to remake 2001 was clearlly another. Trying to make time tangible and bring the unquantifiable emotion of love into quantum physics was another.

But the plot contrivances to bring these element together were clumsy at best, with a baggy story and reasonable characters but nothing spectacular beside the visuals and some of the scope. But time has always been a key factor in Nolan’s work, namely his debut film, Memento (2000), The Prestige (2006) and more recently, Inception (2010).

But if you took out all the references to space travel, you would have had a nice, neat little indie flick about time and the fractured relationship between an abandoned daughter and her regretful father. And that’s the point. It’s quite episodic and fails to bring these elements together tightly enough for my liking.

But the ambition is laudable, as Nolan continues to redefine the blockbuster with every film, bringing mind-bending Sci-Fi to the masses and successfully dramatising some pretty complex ideas in very palatable way.


ZULU

November 11, 2014

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DIRECTOR: Cy Endfield

May Contain Spoilers!

Zulu: One of the greatest war films of all time. Period:

Following the true story, with reasonable accuracy, of a small contingent of British soldiers based at a Swedish mission in the heart of Zulu territory during 1879, Zulu one of the purest demonstrations of British grace under fire that there ever was. With the entire British column decimated, a plot dealt with in this film’s prequel, Zulu Dawn (1979) it is left to this group of mis-match troops, many of which were hospitalised, to defend not only the last British outpost, but their own lives from the onslaught of the 4,000 strong Zulu army marching against them.

There is the build up, the preparations and then they arrive. But after the first hour of build up, their arrival has been much-anticipated and they certainly live up their hype. What follows is a methodical display of both Zulu and British tactics, with a much grater force being repelled and repelled by a minuet one at that. It’s hard to image a war film which doesn’t do this now, but it is thanks to Zulu that we have films in which the true professional nature of soldering is well represented, where films take their time to establish the details of the events and to create a neat and subtle arch in which characters and the historical events can be mashed together to become something more theatrical. Nothing seems to be forced here, everything seems to fit into place, not least the respect for both sides.

This is summed up in the closing act in which the Zulu’s accept defeat and withdraw but not before honouring their counterpart’s bravery. The Zulu’s never come across as the bad guys yet we are clearly on side with the British, which is the result of skillful screenwriting and direction, let alone John Barry’s underrated score, which I would count as one of his very best.

Africa is the star of this too, but this can be said of any film set there at that time, as the Travelogue was big at the time and Africa was the place to go, virtually at least, but all the pieces fit together to create a flawless film and a timeless classic, let alone a war movie to which ALL other war movies need to be judged. The Zulu model has been well used since with nods as far into deep space as Starship Troopers (1997) and closer to home with my favourite war film, Black Hawk Down (2001). I’m sure that there is no doubt that Ridley Scott had seen Zulu once or twice in his life before making his also, underrated masterpiece…

An unreserved classic.


OBLIVION

July 23, 2014

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DIRECTOR: Joseph Kosinski

NOT A PART OF OUR COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? YES

Decades after the world has been invaded and those invaders have supposedly been driven off but at the cost of the planet itself, Tom Cruise and his partner/lover, Andrea Riseborough, are the last humans on the planet, maintaining a series of vast machines which are draining the oceans in order to convert the water into a power.

This power will then be sent to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon which is now the home of humanity. But things may not as they first appear but that’s hardly a surprise.

Underrated: Was my first thought whilst watching this movie, which let’s face it, was hardly heralded as huge success at the time of its release. Granted, it is not perfect, its pacing is off, it feels derivative, most notably from the superior Moon (2009), but that said, this was an entertaining, old school Sci-Fi thriller, with a palpable threat, interesting characterisations and highly defined style.

Kosinski’s other notable project was the long-awaited sequel to the classic and ground breaking CGI adventure Tron (1982), Tron Legacy (2010), another underrated piece of highly stylised cinema, though like this, the story was thin and the substance was left wanting but there’s a lot to work with and a lot to enjoy. But the biggest issue it that Oblivion is so reminiscent of so many better Science Fiction films, such as Moon (2010), Solaris (2003), Planet Of The Apes (1968) and even Independence Day (1996) if the finale has anything to do with it, then your mind is wandering to other things, but that is shame as Oblivion has plenty to offer in own right.

Recommended for fans of real Sci-Fi but this is not the blockbuster that many would hope for and when it does descend into those tropes, such a high-speed air chase, the film actually falls into its weakest moments, which, to me, says a lot for the narrative. Back handed though that compliment may be.




GRAVITY (3D)

July 14, 2014

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DIRECTOR: Alfonso Cuarón

May Contain Spoilers!

Nominated for the Best Picture gong at this year’s Oscars, but winner of Best Director, Gravity was a breath of fresh air, though be it in the vacuum of space, as for the Academy’s vision. Short and simple in both premise and execution, this is also one of the most stunning visual feasts that many of us will ever see.

With photo realistic CGI and 3D effects, which would even challenge the likes of Avatar, the 90 minute plot follows the plight of astronauts, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as they find themselves adrift in orbit of Earth after their routine shuttle mission is devastated by a catastrophic debris shower, caused by a chain reaction of satellites crashing into one another.

The visual style is what makes this movie, that and the growing tension as we wait for the next shower to strike. But whilst this film works on that level, its script is pretty clichéd, and the conclusion in which a capsule lands safely back on Earth, reduces the impact of the realism, both scientific and visual, leaving us feeling like we’ve watched just another regular Sci-Fi thriller.

But if you can look past Clooney and Bullock’s passé characterisations and several plot conceits which do enable the plot to fulfil an arch of sorts, this is the most realistic look at 20th/21st century space travel since Apollo 13 (1995). A 3D treat though, that’s for sure.



TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (3D)

July 11, 2014

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DIRECTOR: Michael Bay

May Contain Spoilers!

CINEMA REVIEW

Will we be adding this to our collection? YES

We thought it was all over with Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, as they destroyed Chicago, killed off most of the main characters and generally wrapped up the Trilogy, but here we are with what has been toted as a reboot. But it’s not, It’s a soft reboot in tone but the narrative carries on naturally, with a progression from the devastating events of the last three films.

The world is as post Chicago as we are post 9/11, with the Autobots being secretly hunted down a destroyed by an elite CIA unit, Cemetery Wind in a supposed effort to rid the world the Transformers threat. But in fact, this is really a ploy to build our own Transformers etc… But let’s face it, the plot is only here to serve as set up for action sequences and both serve each other perfectly.

The action is huge, exiting and varied, with a new transforming effect for the earth based Transformers and there are a stronger and better defined set of Transformer characters than we’ve had before, but why we have a Cockney and Samurai Transformer is beyond me. But from the start to protected finish, with run time clocking in at over 160 minutes, this is an adrenaline filled ride.

The action does not become boring, the human characters might not offer too much depth but enough to service the plot and the overall tone is different yet familiar. This is, in many ways, what I would have liked to have seen as the first sequel, instead of Revenge Of The Fallen, in tone at least, but as it stands, it takes its place along side an ever-growing franchise. Though having said that, it is my second favourite behind the first movie.

Many would criticise the film’s pandering to the Chinese market, with the Eastern power coming off as good whilst the Americans are the bad guys but it hardly matters in the long run, as the kids will lap up the action for years to come, the politics will become nothing less than a trivial footnote.

Yes, its ludicrous and leery but it is also incredible fun and looks fantastic. But it was difficult to understand quite how to be feel when we’re told that our heroine, a supposed 17-year-old girl is not to be looked at as sexy young woman and we’re all paedophiles for even looking at her, whilst Bay’s 3D camera leers at her throughout! Mixed messages Mr Bay?

But overall great fun, take it as such and you should have whale of a time. Take it more seriously on the other hand, and you’ll be in for a disappointment. It’s called Transformers to god’s sake!


ARLINGTON ROAD

June 30, 2014

arlington_road_ver11999

DIRECTOR: Mark Pellington

Contains MAJOR Spoilers!

Arlington Road is a small time movie which if you blink and you missed it back in 1999, but may come across late one night when nothing else is on. But this offers more than that. This film is attempting to flesh out the persona of those responsible for domestic terrorism in the U.S., a hot topic coming two years before 9/11 and at a time when there was a lack of understanding as where terrorism in any guise was heading the U.S. in the 1990′s.

1993 saw the first World Trade Center bombings, with 1996???? the Oklahoma I.R.S. attack, the most relevant to this story and that at round the time of release, the Al Quada attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. Little did we know that when films such as Arlington Road, The Seige (1998) a year earlier, the most relevant precursor to 9/11 where being made that this film’s tagline telling us that our next door neighbour could be a terrorist, that it may well be true.

But this film focuses much more on the domestic avenue, the idea that “normal” people with an atypical political agenda in the U.S. could be conspiring to commit atrocities right under their noses and there is no way to read them. But the other issues here are to do with the way that agencies, such as the F.B.I. gather their intel, using the Red Flag principle of people attracting attention themselves by buying large consignments of guns for example, whilst failing understand the nuances of the situation.

This is told through the perspective of Jeff Bridges, a college professor teaching Terrorism, but his first wife was an F.B.I. agent who was killed because of F.B.I. intel errors. This has left him somewhat disillusioned about the agency but not against it. Meanwhile, his new neighbour, Tim Robbins and his family raise his suspicions that he may be an extremist but he is not raising any Red Flags. He is perfect but Bridges refuses to give up trying to pursue the truth.

He is of course a terrorist and part of a larger movement who will frame Bridges and set him up to commit the atrocity at the end. The film then takes his profile as a man, bitter against the F.B.I. for the death of his wife as he is turned by the media into a “lone nut”. The ideas that the lone nuts probably do not really exist and that they are just “patsies”, as Lee Harvey Oswald claimed.

This is well conceived thriller with strong messages about misinterpretation and the idea that media’s villains my not be as presented, but is let down by its direction at times. Mark Pellington seems to take a stagey view too often, quite literally at times, as he uses some very dubious lighting techniques to emphasise some of the films more poignant moments.

I like this one, it’s small, driven by strong performances by the leads, especially Bridges,who the film ultimately hangs on, but the writing is good too. If anything it is somewhat over directed and I feel that it a lesser actor guiding us through, this would be unduly forgettable. But in light of the events of the intervening 15 years, this is well worth and watch and offers a startling insight into how we view terrorism.

And it’s right…



SHORT CIRCUIT

June 27, 2014

short_circuit_xlg1986

DIRECTOR: John Badham

NOT A PART OF MY COLLECTION

May Contain Spoilers!

Will we be adding this to our collection? NO

As a child of the 1980′s, Short Circuit seemed to be the biggest thing on the planet at one point. I was collecting stickers for it even though I wouldn’t see until the film until late 80′s and the robot seemed to be the embodiment of modern technology. But what strikes me now is that John Badham, who is one of my favourite 80′s director’s was behind this. It makes sense as he was the mastermind behind to of my top rated movies of the decade with War Games (1983) and Blue Thunder (1984), both of which took advanced but real technology of the day and pushed into new limits.

War Games was about early computer hacking, whilst Blue Thunder was challenging Big Brother tech and here we have Robots and there potentially worrying applications. But that’s not the big issue of this family classic, it’s more to do with the idea that Artificial Intelligence can become sentient. But is that the real story here either? No.

This is basically E.T. but with robots, but not being an E.T. fan, this is better. Number 5, a robot which is struck by lightning and gains sentience, escapes and befriends a young woman, Stephanie (Ally Sheedy) and the pair try to save the robot from being returned to base and reprogrammed.

Steve Gutenberg, a staple of 80′s comedies but long forgotten now, is the designer of the robots, yeah, seriously! He is obviously going to fall in love with Sheedy and the pair must join forces to save the rogue robot. The 80′s was filled with robotic sentimentality; we can thank Star Wars for that, and this is no different except for that fact that this is probably the go to movie for the robo-sentiment.

But I will say that the robotics involves are good, certainly for the time. It seemed that in the 1980′s we accepted that robots were the future and now, 28 years in the future, they just seem to have stagnated and become toys. So looking back at this tech in its heyday, I can’t fail to be impressed by how convincing they look, as film robots of course. Not sure how they would hold up in a war zone to be honest, as they were intended, but still.

But in the end, it works. It’s thoughtful, funny and establishes likeable characters, but the only problem is that I should have uses the words “used to”, as this is very 80′s. It’s dated badly in a way, with all those key elements failing to carry forward into the 21st century without looking hokey. It’s real shame but if the film fails to offer anything timeless and just play to the blockbuster ethos of the day, then this is what you end up with.

Great in its day, but forgettable in ours. Johnny Five is not alive, not any more…


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