Category Archives: Action

Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

The J.J. Abrams sequel to the 2009 reboot of Stark Trek is a non stop thrill ride, never letting up from its first minutes to its action packed climax. Where once it’s characters debated at length highly intellectual Scientific conundrums, these new incarnations shoot from the hip. This is a near perfect popcorn flick that anchors itself with great characters and a focus on the emotional journey.

 

Set shortly after the events of the previous film, we find Kirk, Spock, and his band of youthful misfits doing what they do best: Breaking every rule in the book. This time however, Kirk has to live with the consequences. Demoted and separated from his pointy ear friend, Kirk quickly find himself back in the spotlight when one of Starfleet’s own detonates a bomb in London, and commits mass murder at Starfleet headquarters. A vengeful Kirk having watched his Mentor gunned down takes command of the Enterprise again to hunt down the perpetrator.

It’s a typical Abrams mystery box, complete with the mandatory layers that are shed slowly through the course of the production. Fans of Trek, or at least those familiar with a certain 1982 film will have a pretty good idea quite early on in the film of where it’s all heading. It’s probably a tad too complex for my liking however, and at times the justification and motivations of all the machinations doesn’t quite add up, but they run with it with such vigor and determination that you’ll find it hard to have time to question anything.

That pretty much sums up the whole experience too, Abrams never gives you a chance to take it all in. It’s definitely suffering a little Attention Deficit Disorder and while that isn’t unwelcome it would have been nice to slow down and smell the roses a few times. You won’t notice the two hours passing by, but when the credits roll you’ll be weary!

If that’s all the film was, then it simply would not have been enough, but what makes this movie are the performances. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are once again marvelous as the central pair of Kirk and Spock, whileKarl Urban will make you think he had played Bones in the original version. Zoe Salanda and Simon Pegg also return, as does their quality, but the hero is Benedict Cumberbatch as the villain. There are a few memorable Trek villains, and Cumberbatch’s performance will mean his will be remembered as one. The hollow eyes, and cold monotone voice bring a weight that Eric Bana’s performance in the first film didn’t.

Into Darkness was apparently not made for Trek fans, but there are a hell of a lot of Trek references in there. It’s essentially a combined remake of an episode from the classic television series and one of the original movies. It’s not as original as I had hoped, but there is enough originality in the twists, turns, and new direction for it not to feel like you’re covering old territory. I suspect however that those who are not fans of Star Trek are going to find a lot to enjoy, while fans will find this movie divisive in their opinions.

There is also the inevitable comparison the film draws between William Shater’s and Leonard Nemoy’s relationship as Kirk and Spock developed in the original series, and the new pairing of Pine and Quinto. It’s unfair because the new pair have not had nearly as much time to develop theirs, but they give it a red hot go and even if they never quite reach the potentially great heights, it is a great spectacle.

This is an action extravaganza not to be missed! It’s a non-stop thrill ride that will not fail to excite, but won’t set your world on fire. It will certainly give heart to the masses out there who are praying J.J. Abrams can resurrect Star Wars. Because if this film is anything to go by, that franchise is in safe hands.

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Review: Ironman 3

Remember when comic books were just for Nerds? Not anymore! The cinema has given a life to these once hand drawn heroes, and they command a serious amount of cash at the box office. Ironman 3 is the latest in a long line of movies from the Marvel comic book universe. It’s not even correct to say this is the third film, because technically it’s also a spin-off from the Avenger’s movie. But who cares right?

In the saturated superhero movie market Ironman stands alone as the more irreverent take on the genre. The first movie was a surprise hit in 2008 because of Robert Downey Juniors  take on Tony Stark and the films ability to weave the threads of the war on terror into its socially conscious plot. It was relevant,  fun, and for many people quite a refreshing take on the genre. Marvel unfortunately stumbled over a half baked sequel that had a woeful script, so does the third film bring any redemption?

Ironman 3 is a throwback to the kind of action movies we saw in the nineties updated to suit the present. I was half expecting to see Jerry Bruckheimer’s name attached as Producer, but instead when I saw Shane Black Director or Predator and Lethal Weapon so it all made sense. It’s a film for those who suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder, with just enough charisma and a few surprises to keep the rest of us happy.

Remember that movie Team America: World Police? Well Ironman 3 is exactly the kind of movie that movie was having a go at. In all these kinds of movies there is some kind of amazing new technology that basically lets the bad guys (or good) do whatever they need to do to get to the next plot point, while also setting everything up for some crazy action sequences. You know, screw logic! The movie moves too fast for you to notice that most of it doesn’t make much sense, but at least the film makers aren’t out to totally insult us.

Perhaps the best part of this film is Ben Kingsley as the enigmatic Mandarin. A mysterious Osama Bin-Laden style character that is not only genuinely interesting, but certainly the most surprising villain in any superhero movie. His much needed sub-plot and Robert Downey Jr. give this movie the class the second installment lacked. There is no doubt Robert Downey Jr. owns this character, his own past more than fits the tone and style of Tony Stark. This time out Stark is forced to deal with a kind of post traumatic stress disorder after the events in The Avenger’s (I’m told originally it was meant to be alcoholism but Marvel made them cut that sub plot entirely). I think hero’s are at their best when they’re struggling with their inner demons, and the contradictions of Stark make him a very memorable character.

Much of the films 130 minute running time is taken up with crazy over the top action sequences, none of which really stand out. If you can get past the ridiculous nature of what’s going on, it’s a popcorn thrill ride that is sure to excite audiences but it won’t leave you wanting more. Ironman 3 is at it’s best when it is original, surprising and challenging it’s characters. If there was just a little more of that, and a little less of a relentless mindless action and completely unbelievable science fiction it would have been more than just two hours of fun.

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Review: Oblivion

Oblivion is about as close to hard Science Fiction as a blockbuster Hollywood film has been since Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Drawing inspiration from a vast array of stories and movies from the genre, Oblivion is ultimately a mash-up of just about every science fiction trope you can find. It’s a sleek and sexy production, complete with the amazing visual and audio style of its Director Joseph Kosinski who made his debut with Tron: Legacy. It drives its story with a complex mystery that is engaging and thought provoking, but it struggles to find room for its characters.

Set around 2070 the story focuses on Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) and his partner Victoria (Andrea Riseborough). They are all that remains of humanity on Earth after it was devastated by Nuclear war against an Alien race dubbed the Scavengers or Scavs. They repair drones, automated killing machines that protect giant energy production facilities against what remains of the Scavs on Earth. These facilities are producing energy to send what remains of humanity currently residing in a giant space station orbiting Earth to Titan (one of Jupiter’s Moons). However, when Jack finds Julia (Olga Kurylenko) among the wreckage of a crashed space craft, he questions everything he knows about the war and his purpose.

It’s not a simple story, and the film knows it. It spends an awful lot of time on exposition that I would have preferred wasn’t so spoon fed. The structure of the story is episodic, in that every 20 minutes or so of its two hour plus running time you are drip fed another piece of information. It’s not a bad way to tell a story of this kind, but as you hurtle towards the end the twists and turns start to dry up as the writer clearly ran out of ideas. It’s a shame, because a number of the revelations are quite enjoyable, detailed, and thoughtful. It would have been best perhaps to simplify the entire narrative a little more to just these few, discard the rest, and give a little more breathing space to the characters.

The film does waste its actors, with the likes of Melissa leo and Morgan Freeman in supporting roles that are so paper thin in depth that they may as well not have been there. Olga too is completely wasted, seemingly there for eye candy and to look worried from time to time. Cruise and Riseborough on the other hand do get enough time to develop themselves, and they make a decent job of it. You forget it’s Tom Cruise pretty quickly (which is high praise for him) and Riseborough does her best to cement the emotional core of the film. The ground work was laid, but the Director seemingly didn’t want to delve too deep into any of the characters.

Oblivion is just a cut above your standard Hollywood action film as it strives to tell an intelligent story, albeit with its emphasis on entertainment rather than anything deep and meaningful. There are a lot of heady concepts that could have created a compelling and challenging narrative, but the film steers clear of them. It stumbles towards the end, and ultimately leaves a trail of plot holes and head scratching moments. I think most audiences will enjoy what this has to offer, even if it’s just to marvel at its scope and marvelous visuals.

 

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Review: Zero Dark Thirty

There’s no denying the power of a “true story” when watching a film. The weight of “this actually happened” brings a gravity that you can’t fabricate, even if the scriptwriters have swapped facts for more dramatic elements. Unfortunately Zero Dark Thirty takes a slightly different road appearing more like a journalistic compilation of first hand accounts. The result is somewhere between a documentary without the revelations of any of the real players, and a movie with many dramatic inventions but devoid of entertainment.

Following the decade long search for Osama Bin Laden the film focuses on Maya, a CIA operative whose sole purpose has been to find him. She is depicted as the single-minded driving force behind the pursuit of leads to uncover the whereabouts of the Al Qaeda’s leader, culminating in the raid by SEAL Team Six in 2011.

Much of the films first forty-five minutes is the interrogation and torture of captives under the now defunct American detainee program. It’s hard to know what the point of this was, I couldn’t work out if the film was for or against torture and I also couldn’t work out why the filmmakers had chosen to depict the torture as they had done so. For a film resting on “first hand accounts” the sequences felt contrived, dishonest, and frankly boring. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Zero Dark Thirty gets a lot wrong when it comes to the torture of detainees. To me, this feels like torture-porn, added to create controversy without an honest attempt to ask any real questions.

It’s not until we get past the torture that the film gains any kind of momentum and becomes even remotely interesting. It’s about this point in the movie that things are starting to make sense, you actually know the name of one or two of the characters, and the filmmakers start developing them. Yes, that’s right, it takes about forty-five minutes before you get to see the characters do something we can understand and relate to. At 157 minutes, honestly, they should have started the movie here and just summarised the earlier events.

I’ve been quite negative about the film to this point, but it does have two very strong redeeming features. Jessica Chastain as Maya, and the actual raid at the end of the film. Chastain is excellent, she’s the only real developed character in the story and she does justice to her fiery red hair. She’s the films emotional centre, she brings the lighter moments, and she brings all the gravity. I love the concept of a strong independent and well educated woman bringing down the leader of Al Qaeda. Without Chastain I’m afraid this whole film would have been quite boring.

The other major success of the production is the raid itself. Cold, calculating, slow, methodical, and painfully brutal. It’s an amazing counter point to say the Bond or Bourne movies, a reminder of how it works in the real world. I’ve no doubt it will shock a lot of viewers, but probably not come as any great surprise. Regardless, it’s the films best moments, its only source of tension, but I’d love to get the perspective of someone whose life was affected by 9/11 because the movie strongly suggests the end is quite a cathartic moment.

It’s tough to believe everything presented in Zero Dark Thirty. The CIA have issued a fact sheet pointing out factual errors in the story, and many publicly available “first hand accounts” contradict the manner in which they are depicted on screen. There’s also been a tidal wave of criticism about the films depiction of Pakistan, right down to the language being spoken. It seems a great deal of what you see on screen is not even remotely what you would have seen or experienced if you were actually there. The main character Maya is also not a real person but rather a compilation of the many women who helped hunt down Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty is not entertainment, it’s not even entirely believable. It probably does capture the major points in America’s efforts to track down Bin Laden, and it probably does justice to the raid itself. However if you’re going to make a movie like this you need to do more. I would have loved to learn more about the real world players, delved into the politics even if it was speculation, and felt a greater sense of what the killing of Bin Laden meant to the world. I feel this is a lost opportunity, but I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time.

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Review: Django Unchained

Say one thing for Quentin Tarantino, say he does revenge like no one else. Django Unchained is a masterpiece, a bloody epic Western unlike any other. Filled with wonderful characters, equally wonderful performances, and one of the bloodiest gun fights in cinema history. This is a film unlikely to disappoint.

Django (Jamie Fox) is a slave freed by Shultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter who requires Django’s services to track down an outlaw group of brothers. On the journey Shultz learns of Django’s German speaking wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington) who had been purchased by a ruthless Mississippi plantation owner, Calvin Candy (Leonardo DiCaprio). Shultz agrees to help Django free his wife.

There is nothing special in this story, and as usual in a Tarantino movie, it’s all in the telling. You’ll find drama, comedy, romance, and action wrapped up in the old school Western genre but still oozing a modern sense of “cool”. Watching Fox strut on horse back to an African-American Hip-Hop beat could just be one of the coolest moments in any film for a long time. Django Unchained does have wide appeal, but it’s definitively a movie buffs kind of movie.

This is Director Quentin Tarantino’s homage to the spaghetti western, complete with all the cheesy camera tricks and low quality musical recordings. It lacks some of the unconventional story-telling of his previous films, but it oozes his class and it continues his tradition of some of the best characters on-screen. This is a film where characters in extended conversations can be as engaging as the extraordinarily bloody gunfights. At a wopping 165 minutes, the film never once has you looking at your watch remaining riveting from start to finish.

Waltz, Fox, and DiCaprio are all at their best, and while Waltz is the one being recognised with awards I see no reason why the other two should not have been either. They all own their characters right down to their idiosyncrasies and character flaws. Tarantino certainly knows how to get the bets out of his cast, a talent I wish he could pass onto other Directors.

Django Unchained was officially a 2012 production despite its release in 2013, for that reason I’m naming it my film of 2012. My head might tell me that Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director will go somewhere else, but my heart hopes it comes to this movie.

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Review: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Daring, charming, and epic in scope The Hobbit is High Fantasy the likes of which Hollywood rarely does well. The first movie in the prequel trilogy to the very successful Lord of the Rings is every bit as faithful to the source, and unashamedly more immature in its story telling. Be warned, this is true fantasy however, absent of the maturity that make Rings so popular with any audience. If the critical reaction to date is anything to go by then its larger appeal will undoubtedly be debated for some time.

The Hobbit tells the story of a Hobbit named Bilbo Baggins, roped into an epic adventure. The Dwarven city of Erebor has been captured by Smaug, a dragon. A small company of Dwarves along with the wizard Gandalf have set out to recapture the city and its hordes of gold , but to do so they need the services of a burglar. For unknown reasons Gandalf has chosen Bilbo and thus the tale begins. It’s a story that is both a stand alone adventure and one that establishes how the The One Ring came to be in Bilbo’s possession.

An Unexpected Journey runs at roughly two hours and forty-five minutes covering only the first six chapters of the book. It manages to fill up its running time by reveling in every detail and expanding upon it by exploring the wider story as it relates to the events in Lord of the Rings.  It’s the kind of detail you don’t need if you didn’t know the events of Rings, but seeing as most people now do, the additions do a nice job of tying the two movie trilogies together.

The film has been slammed for being too long, if you’re not in love with the source material then you’ll feel that it’s roughly thirty minutes too long. But the crime is not as great as the drawn out ending of Return of the King, at least the “extra” material comes at the start, so by the end of the film you’re not feeling its running time at all. Regardless, it doesn’t make the movie bad, not at all.

It’s an astounding achievement to bring this story to life in all its glory. The locations of Erebor, Rivendell, The Goblin City, and a host of others feel authentic and magical at the same time. The gorgeous New Zealand landscapes are again the perfect place to put Middle Earth. There is much more Fantasy this time round. It’s thick, and fast! Swords have names and the enemy cower at their sight, Elves ride giant Elk, and the Dwarven kings wear more bling than a modern day hip-hop artist. It’s also thick with the childish fun of the book, but it never quite becomes absurd and it’s always enjoyable.

Martin Freeman is a delight as Bilbo, he is as believable as the Hobbit as you could expect and his timing is impeccable. Ian McKellen returns as Gandalf and he is just as good as I remember, while Richard Armitage makes a noble leader of the Dwarves. The rest of the ensemble cast are adequate, but they never quite fill out with the depth of the ensemble in Fellowship of the Ring. The real star however is again Andy Serkis as Gollum, he steals the show when he arrives. I really hope the Academy can find a way to reward him, he’s crafted one of the most memorable characters of all time.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film for its entire running time. I loved that it took the time to revel in the little things, a theme of the story, and that it wasn’t ashamed of its Fantastical elements. The film never quite reaches the emotional peaks of Fellowship of the Rings for me, even though it follows it format quite exactly. I appreciate this will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but The Hobbit always was a small but fun children’s book. This is likely the best film adaption we’ll ever get, and considering the way the Tolkien estate regards films this trilogy is likely to be the last Tolkien films made in our lifetimes.

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Review: Skyfall

The Bond franchise has had its fair share of ups and downs. From classics like From Russia With Love to the utterly woeful Die Another Day. To last 50 years however is a testament to the ideas that drive the stories, and its these ideas that make Skyfall the best of the twenty-three Bond films to date. This story ditches the wall to wall action that plagued many of its lesser incarnations including the last film Quantum of Solace in favour of deep and engaging characters. Its a classy film, an instant classic. You will be hard pressed to find someone walking out of this movie without a sense of satisfaction.

The film opens with a rare Bond failure. Shot, presumably killed he leaves MI6 in a deep hole with the names of every agent embedded in terrorist organisations around the world in the hands of an unknown enemy. It’s a very modern plot where the enemy is unseen, unknown, and not easily categorised. This leads to significant conflict between the Government and M at MI6 after their headquarters is hacked and bombed. Bond and M must not just discover who their enemy is, but what it is that they want.

There are a lot of themes that are thrown about in this very heady yarn. Old versus new, modern terrorism and public discourse, not to mention a not so subtle dig at politics. These themes support the strength of the plots core and provide a wonderful relevance to our society. In possibly the films best scene Bond meets the villain. Issues of globalisation, modern espionage, sexuality, and the temptation of modern evils are woven into a very personal and classic encounter. It’s a credit to the numerous writers and it’s delightful an action movies best moments are in its conversations.

Director Sam Mendes was an unusual choice for a big budget action movie, but he brings some much needed drama. It can be easily argued that his deft touch is what provides the film with its most appealing features. Cinematographer Roger Deakins also brings his A-game with some stunning visual moments in the film. There are several sequences that are visually creative and downright fantastic to watch.

Daniel Craig returns as Bond and continues his edgy take on the character flaws and all, and Judy Dench as M scores a great deal more screen time which is very welcome. But the films best performance goes to Javier Bardem as the villain. He’s as threatening as his role from No Country for Old Men perfecting that vacant stare, but he brings a very camp touch that was unexpected and very enjoyable. With such a personal story the villain was always going to be the critical point for the film to get right and the casting of Barden seems inspired.

Other critics have described Skyfall as Nolanesque, which is just a way of saying that a big budget blockbuster has decided to emphasise it’s characters and its drama. Christopher Nolan didn’t invent this, but it cannot be denied his Batman trilogy is a wonderful example of it. Regardless, if this is a sign that Hollywood has rediscovered the magic of story telling then it is very welcome.

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