Category Archives: Adventure

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: Life of Pi

Ang Lee’s Life of Pi is an extraordinary film, one of marvelous beauty, of deeper meaning, and a reminder of the power of storytelling. In a society where rational thinking and Science dominate and diminish any belief in God, this story stands out (in the words of Barack Obama) as “an elegant proof of God”. There are few films as complete as this one, beautiful to watch with an ending that will stay with you well after the credits roll.

Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Ayush Tandon, Gauten Belur) survives a ship wreck that claims the lives of his whole family leaving him stranded at sea with an Adult Bengal Tiger. Pi had been leaving India for Canada taking all the animals from his family Zoo when their ship sinks in a storm. Pi must survive not just the elements adrift at sea, but live with a fierce animal in the confines of a small life boat.

The events of Pi‘s life at sea are relayed to us by the adult Pi while being interviewed for a book. It’s an essential plot device for the stories ending and it gives the story a sense of realism, much like a documentary. So much of what happens is unbelievable and extraordinary, but this technique helps it from getting out of hand. The film relies so heavily on the awe of the story and its handled very well.

It must be noted this is a particularly special film visually and it deserves to be seen on the big screen. The sea at night, the glowing Jelly fish, all of it it magic and a real treat in 3D. In fact this might just be one of the best 3D films I have ever seen, a film with a real reason to be in this format. I truly hope Ang Lee and cinematographer Claudio Miranda are honored for their efforts.

The film does bog down in the middle, it is deliberately slow paced and towards the end you can feel that it isn’t going anywhere. But hold on, because this is a film with one of the most poignant endings of recent memory. It will stay with you well after you have left the cinema.

Life of Pi is one not to be missed for all sorts of reasons. I would genuinely love to write a lot more about this film, but for fear of spoiling what was a wonderful ending I’ll leave it here.

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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: Brave

Brave is another animated movie from Pixar. It’s a studio that has built its reputation making computer animated movies that have better characters, more heart, and more soul that most live action films, and Brave is no exception. With some of the most stunning visuals and life like animations to date, this family adventure has such a wonderous appeal I doubt anyone would fail to find something to enjoy.

Set in medieval Scotland, Brave follows the story of Princess Merida (Kelly MacDonald) who is wrestling with the responsibilities of her station and her wild and free willed spirit. Bored by her Royal duties and her well managed life she yearns to take flight on a horse, bow in hand, exploring the wild Scottish countryside free of any care in the world. When her parents (Billy Connolly, Emma Tomphson) attempt to marry her off, she makes a wreckless choice that plunges her world into turmoil forcing her to take responsibility for her actions and seek a way to set things right.

The story is not dissimilar to Finding Nemo but instead focussed on the Mother/Daughter relationship, and focussed on the younger of the two making the attempt to repair the broken relationship. It’s refreshing to see stories that address the empowerment of women without perpetuating the myth that one can have it all. The film remains very grounded and reminds the audience that in the age of the individual someone has to accept responibility for the well being of society.

I do have a few elements I take issue with, for starters the film lacks the patience of previous Pixar stories and seems to jump around at a hectic pace more akin to the Shrek movies. Rest assured the comedy is well constructed however, it never reverts to cheap one-liners. There is also a fundamental contradiction in the story. Merida is a free spirit yet she spends most of the film following a pre-destined path set out by a mythical being. It felt odd that she allows something external to her to decide her fate and I was waiting for the moment she decided not to follow the path. She never does, I guess perhaps the film was trying to say that real courage is following your path, not running away from it, but to me that didn’t quite work.

What did work however is the quality of the animation. It’s is utterly stunning, I am always amazed how with each Pixar movie they manage to vastly improve on the visuals and aimation. Scotland is a wonderful country when filmed in real life, and this film certainly does it justice. For this reason alone it’s worth seeing it on the big screen.

Usually the name Pixar is all you need to hear when deciding wether to see this film, but they have stumbled with their last few movies. Rest assured however that Brave is a return to form, it’s not quite the delight of their earlier films but it makes their competition look like amateur hour.

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Review: Snow White & The Huntsman

We’re not short on the reinvention of age old fairy tales on both the big and small screens right now, and if you love the story of Snow White you are swamped right now. So does Snow White & The Huntsman have anything going for it that means you should pay it any attention? In a nutshell it doesn’t. While an interesting take on the tale with some wonderful creature design, this version is a long,  sleep inducing, borefest with few redeeming qualities. The film avoids my worst rating of one star purely for its produciton quality, creature design, and the talents of Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.

In this version of the fairy tale the evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) murders the king shortly after their marriage and imprisons his daughter Snow White (Kristen Stewart) in a tower. When the Queen seeks immortality by consuming her still beating heart Snow White escapes into the Dark Forest. The Queen has no power in the forest and so forces a Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) into the woods to find her in exchange for bringing his wife back from the dead. It’s a much darker take on the original fairy tale, but it’s so poorly executed that you could be excused for dismissing any originality out of hand.

Right from the beginning the film is void of any charisma, it’s slow and without any sense of purpose. Unfortunately it gets worse as the film progresses. There is no character development outside of token segments that are void of anything interesting or revealing. Characters don’t really converse with each other in any depth either, they merely speak exposition to the audience. In a good story, the audience can work things out by taking in the characters and their actions. In this film, there are no actions to understand, it’s just an endless series of statements about what’s going on.

Theron and Hemsworth do their best to bring a sense of depth to their characters and they both achieve a sense of being in a film devoid of any sense of what it is. It’s a pity neither of them is given much material to bring any life to the production. I also need to mention Stewart who gets a bad rap for her roles in theTwilight movies, she’s quite decent here. I am not sure about her appeal as thefairest in the land, but at times she shows a presence I thought she wasn’t able to achieve.

The films highlight however are the creature design and special effects, they are utterly amazing. From the Troll to the fairy sanctuary, this world is a wonderous place full of things I’ve never seen. It’s the kind of visual treats that a film like this doesn’t deserve to achieve. Clearly the film makers have a great eye for it, but it makes you wonder how they can get those things so right and fail so completely at almost everything else.

Snow White & The Huntsman as a concept has a lot going for it, and on paper I have no doubt it looked a winner. The reality of it however is far from something worth paying for. My wife fell asleep around the middle of the movie, when she woke up asked what she had missed, I said “well nothing really” … I do have to add however, as I left the cinema a man behind me mentioned to his partner that he really enjoyed the movie. I don’t get it, but to be fair, at least someone enjoyed it.

 

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Review: The Avengers

Every now and then a big budget special effect extravaganza gets the formula right and delivers genuine fun action filled entertainment. The Avengers is one of these movies. It’s the perfect blend of a clever script, great dialogue, and classy actors with great delivery and timing. It’s not Shakespeare and it’s plot doesn’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny, but you won’t care about that by the time the credits start rolling.

Marvel have been building to this movie for some time, laying the groundwork in the films Ironman, Thor, The Incredible Hulk, and Captain America. It’s not just the characters that come across into The Avengers but some elements of the plot too. The strange glowing cube from Captain America called the “Tesseract” is the target of Thor’s bad guy Loki who seeks to use it to open a portal to Earth allowing aliens to invade and enslave us all. Loki also wants revenge for the events in Thor by attacking the planet his Brother loves so dear. It’s nothing special, in fact it’s the exact same plot (save for minor differences) with the absolutely terrible Green Lantern of 2011.It just goes to show that plot is not really what these kinds of blockbusters are all about.

Director Joss Whedon manages to bring all these superheros and weave them all into a very clever character-centric popcorn action flick. It’s really quite refreshing and surprising to have the major players in a special effects extravaganza base their digital beatings on meaningful character development. The movie doesn’t get carried away with itself and manages to build clever scenes together based on the strengths and weaknesses of each comic book hero. It really is a bit of a comic book nerds dream, but it’s done in such a way that anyway can really enjoy it.

The script however, and the sheer number of players, makes it very difficult for anyone to really shine and frankly no one is bringing their A-game here. There is enough passion in the delivery to be proud of the performances, but sadly you won’t remember any of them after the credits roll. Speaking of which, stay until the end of the credits for a sneak peek at the bad guy for the sequel. Yup! That’s right, Marvel clearly have a second movie in mind even before screening the first.

That should indicate to you this movie is really about getting you to part with your hard earned cash, rather than any artisitic merit. At least this time, unlike many Hollywood blockbusters, it’s really worth it.

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Classic: Blade Runner

Ridley Scott’s science fiction masterpiece was released in 1982 to a very poor reception. It flopped at the box office and polarised critics who felt the movie was painfully slow, and the story had taken a back seat to special effects. Over time however these criticisms have largely faded and the film has become one of the biggest cult classics with great praise for it’s complexity and it’s ability to remain relevant even thirty years on. The film continues to attract more fans and increase it’s reputation as the greatest science fiction movie of all time.

Based on the based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick, the story revolves around Deckard (Harrison Ford), a furturistic cop called a Blade Runner who tracks down and “retires” bioengineered humans called replicants. He has been forced out of retirement to track down several advanced models known as Nexus 6, who have come to Earth in what appears to be an attempt to find a way to extend their limited four year lifespans.

Deckard is called in after the previous Blade Runner was executed while performing a test that measures a persons emphatic responses to emotionally provactive questions, the idea being that replicant will struggle with the responses. Unsure if the test works on the new models Deckard is sent to the Tyrell Corporation, the makers of these bioengineered humans, to test it on a known model. Instead Deckard discovers that Tyrell’s (Joe Turkel) assistance Rachael (Sean Young) is a replicant who believes she is human. Thus the story begins.

As Deckard hunts down the replicants he becomes increasingly conflicted by the nature of his assignment. He begins to feel for Racheal who believes she is human and is quite upset when she discovers she is not, but he also struggles with his own humanity drowining in the bottom of a bottle struggling to free himself of a depressive state of mind. To live in fear, fear of death, fear of the unknown is the ultimate theme at play in this story as both the Replicants and Deckard struggle to find a sense of meaning in their lives.

In one of the more poignant scenes in the film Deckard guns down a running replicant as she spirals through the glass windows of street shops in a vain attempt to escape. In any other context it’s cold blodded murder and the viewer should be outraged, but the cleverness of the direction leaves you conflicted. Are these Replicants human? Do they deserve my empathy? This is Deckard’s job, to kill off these abominations, so why do I feel so uneasy? It’s these themes and the way they are explored that make this film more than just a cool Science Fiction story, it’s something that will stay with you after it’s over if you’ve bought into the premise.

Blade Runner is also Director Ridley Scott’s best movie, with the original Alien as a close second. He claims that artistically it’s his most complete film, something which I didn’t really appreciate without multiple viewings. It’s that complex in it’s structure that you really can’t take it all in, in one single viewing, which may explain it’s poor reception when originally released.

Regardless, if you haven’t seen Blade Runner then you’re missing the finest that Science Fiction has to offer. There is also confirmation that a sequal is underway, so at the very least you’ll be getting the background on what will be a very anticipated film.

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