OBLIVION

July 23, 2014

oblivion_xlg2013

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

transformers_age_of_extinction_ver12_xlg2014

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

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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…


COMPARISONS IN DESIGN… ENTERPRISE MEETS HINDENBURG

June 25, 2014

Whilst watching the 1975 Robert Wise movie, The Hindenburg, it struck me that there were a few design elements which have bled over from one movie to another Wise project, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). This interested me, well, the geek within and I felt the need to read up on this and see if anyone else had anything to say about it online. And considering that the internet is filled with some of the most useless knowledge imaginable, I was surprised to find nothing, absolutely NOTHING on the subject what-so-ever.

So, this may well be the first article about this subject, small footnote really, but what the hell, online. The main design similarities were in the secondary hull of the U.S.S. Enterprise (Refit) from the 1979 Star Trek movie, in which the overall shape was less cylindrical as it was in the TV series and more oblong, not dis-similar to an airship. Also, at the bottom/front section of the drive section has a row of large windows, behind which the warp drive is housed and glows blue, which is striking similar to the passenger cabin windows on the ill-fated Zeppelin.

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U.S.S. Enterprise Secondary Hull (ST: TMP)

Then, on the wall of the dining/bar compartment of the Hindenburg, are a set of pictures which depict the evolution of the airships, from the earliest prototypes to the grand Hindenburg herself. This is remarkably similar to the recreation deck on the Enterprise, which has four images on the wall, showing various incarnations of the Enterprise, starting with the then, recently christen N.A.S.A. shuttle, Enterprise, and ending with the Re-fitted Enterprise from the movies. This concept continued through Star Trek spin-off series throughout the 1980′s, 90′s and 00′s.

Hindenburg's dining room windows located on the lower hull

Hindenburg’s dining room windows located on the lower hull

Now, maybe it’s just a series of coincidences and I can more easily accept the pictures for previous ships as being a naval tradition, though I don’t know to be honest, but the now more Zepplin-esk shape of the secondary hull and the windows, which make little structural sense on the Enterprise if I’m honest, though they do add scale, I feel that this is a conceptual choice. Maybe not a conscious one, but still, one which means that designs from his historically accurate, in terms of design at least, thriller have bled through into his science fiction epic four years later.

But you might also conclude, is that the design of what I would argue is the best looking Star Trek ship ever, is somewhat influenced by the pride of Nazi Germany! Oh dear…

But Nazi influence or not, there’s no doubt that the German’s have always been a world leader in technology and Nazi or not, the Zeppelins and the Hindenburg, in spite of its horrendous safety flaws, such as allowing smoking on board and aircraft which is filled with hydrogen gas, was a bold technological breakthrough and something be proud of, even though it ended up being little more than a fad.

Just a thought…


A BEAUTIFUL MIND

June 23, 2014

beautiful_mind2001

DIRECTOR: Ron Howard

May Contain Spoilers!

Winner of 4 Oscars in 2002, including Best Picture and Director for Ron Howard, a hit and miss director who when he gets it right, he gets it right with films such as Backdraft (1991) and Apollo 13 (1995), A Beautiful Mind follows the real life journey of John Nash, a renowned mathematician who battled with schizophrenia to eventually win a Nobel Prize in 1994. The film begins in 1947, as a young Nash (Russell Crowe) enters Princeton University and we are introduced to a man who finds it difficult to relate to others and is obsessed with making his mark, in-spite of his unwillingness to conform or even attend classes.

And this is how it seems that the film will play out, as he must prove himself against the odds, but no. He makes his mark quickly, publishing an equation which will eventually win him the Nobel Prize, with the help of his room-mate, Paul Bettany. From there, he graduates and before we know it, Nash is being summoned to the Pentagon to break a top Secret code. He then meets Ed Harris’s C.I.A. man, who enlist his help with decoding more communist codes but things take a dark turn as he is discovered by the “Reds”, or is he?

It soon becomes apparent that his is suffering from delusions and his espionage work, beyond that of the initial Pentagon visit, has all been in his head, as was his room-mate, Bettany. The film’s next turn is showing the suffering of his wife, Jennifer Connelly and the long and only so much successful journey of Nash to control his delusions and return to something of a normal life. In the end, he achieves this but the film takes several leaps, for example, jumping from his return to credibility at Princeton in 1978 to the Nobel Prize awards in 1994. It just feels a bit rushed, uneven and even though Crowe was praised heavily for his performance, earning him an Oscar nomination, I feel that he’s delivered better, The Insider (1999) springs to mind, but this feels nothing more than a traditional biopic of man and his family braving adversity and coming out the other side.

A decent, interesting and somewhat engaging film but Best Picture of 2002? I think not. And Ridley Scott (Black Hawk Down (2001) or Baz Lurman (Moulin Rouge! ( 2001) were robbed too!




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