Category Archives: Sci-Fi

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: Dredd

If I had an alternate star rating purely for B-Grade movies, Dredd would score five stars. It might just be one of the best B-Grade movies I have ever seen. It has all the hall marks of the genre complete with a nondescript every man hero and wall to wall ultra violent action. But what will come as a surprise is that it has characters and a narrative that hold water. It won’t be winning any awards, and by no means is it anything more than an action movie, but its entertaining. Its something critics don’t celebrate often enough, there is a place for pure popcorn escapism and this is a great example of it.

America is an irradiated waste land. On the east coast lies Mega City One, a violent metropolis containing 800 million residents where 17,000 crimes are reported daily. The only force against this chaos are the “Judges”, who act as judge, jury, and executioner dispensing justice instantly in the streets of the city. One such Judge named Dredd (Karl Urban) is tasked  with evaluating a rookie name Anderson (Olivia Thirlby). Anderson is a psychic who has failed the tests to become a full Judge. While on the field test they arrest a drug dealer, one of the Ma-Ma gangs henchmen. Ma-Ma can’t afford to have her dealer interrogated about her operation, so she seizes control of the tower’s security and seals the building. There is no way she will let the two Judges leave alive.

As a character Dredd is essentially one-dimensional with no back story. Urban plays him as a glacier, and unstoppable force with no emotion that calmly and without fear puts criminals down at his own pace. It’s a credit to Urban that he can bring some life to this character and give you the feeling he has far more depth to him than is available in the narrative. You only see his mouth and chin for the whole film, but somehow he’s very effective. As a counterpoint to Dredd, Anderson stands as a person of great empathy and struggles to balance her role as a judge with her compassion. Being able to read minds makes the black and white way Dredd sees the world a far more grey experience. Then comes Ma-Ma (lena Headey) who like Anderson grew up in the slums, but has led a different path in life. She’s played like a crack addict, and Headley does a great job of being ugly both on the inside and out. It’s clear someone has put a decent amount of time developing at least these three characters, because they work very well together on a number of levels.

It’s wonderful I can talk about these characters like this, this is B-Grade for crying out loud. The movie even manages to create a symbolic journey for the character Dredd as he comes to understand Anderson and ultimately, ever so coolly, he grows a kind of affection for her. The film’s high points are not just it’s well shot action sequences, but the small interplay between the characters of Dredd and Anderson. It’s not like there isn’t bad dialogue or an absence of cliché, it’s all there, but its forgivable because the film is so appealing on a certain level.

The action is designed well and shot adequately, of particular note are the very violent slow motion action sequences. Director Pete Travis has done a decent job bringing the world of Dredd to life in a believable way but without any artistic flair. The screenplay is essentially by the numbers, but it suits the mood of the story quite well. I would have liked more tension and story telling from the visuals, but I still think this is still such an appealing movie that I will purchase it on BluRay when it’s released.

Dredd is the ultimate action B-Grade movie. At 98 minutes long it won’t bore you, and it won’t disappoint if you want to turn off your brain and be entertained. There is enough there to ensure it isn’t insulting your intelligence, and if you’re a fan of the comic books I don’t see how you can be disappointed either.

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Review: Looper

Original and genuinely unpredictable, Looper is a movie you’ll want to see without knowing too much about it. That might seem counter-intuitive to writing a review, but if you have the willpower then stop reading right now and go and see this movie. Marketed as a Science Fiction Action film, Looper is actually a character based thriller that just happens to be set in  the future. This is one of those unique films that manages to bridge the gap between genres to weave an excellent thought-provoking story that doesn’t fail to entertain. It’s the season for remakes these days, there is well over fifty in production from what I can tell so to find a movie as original and entertaining as Looper is a luxury that I hope everyone exploits.

Set in 2042, Looper is the story of Joe (Jason Gordon-Levitt) and his unique profession. Time Travel is invented in 2072, but in that future technology has effectively made killing someone impossible, so the mafia of that future send their victims back in time to be killed by assassins like Joe called “Loopers”. They’re called “Loopers” because when their contracts are up, they themselves are sent back in time to be killed by, well, themselves. This is called “closing the loop” and when it happens they get a golden payday and have 30 years to do whatever they wish. When that time is up, someone shows up, hoods and gags them and sends them back in time.

Our story kicks off when Joe’s future self (Bruce Willis) is sent back to be killed by himself but he shows up without a gag, without a hood, and young Joe hesitates just enough for old Joe to get away. Letting yourself get away isn’t a good thing, and now Joe must close his loop before the mafia find him and, well, you’ll have to see the film to find out what happens to guys who don’t  close their loop. That’s really only scratching the surface of the plot of this movie, but to explain any more would not just ruin the movie but without proper context would not make any sense whatsoever.

With such a complex plot and a lot of room for confusion it’s a testament to Director and Writer Rian Johnson that it never gets out of hand. This is also due in part to the performances of Gordon-Levitt and Willis as well as Emily Blunt who plays a farmer named Sara. All three remain grounded and bring a great sense of depth to their roles, something usually missing from modern science fiction. Gordon-Levitt produces probably the performance of his career almost impeccably imitating the idiosyncrasies of Willis to make a convincing effort at playing his younger self. Blunt also steps out of her comfort zone showing she’s more than just a female version of Hugh Grant.

The star of the show however is the unique twists and turns in the story that I couldn’t see coming and I doubt anyone would. There’s a myriad of moments in the film where you just don’t know where it’s going or what is going to happen next. It’s a shame that in the end Johnson couldn’t quite nail the inevitable climatic action sequences because the first two acts of the film deserved a fantastic conclusion. That isn’t to say the end is poor, it’s quite good, but those less inclined to enjoy character drama would probably be disappointed with the action.

There is also of course the inevitable discussion around time travel and the paradoxes created by changing the past. The film stays away from this discussion and quite openly admits that it doesn’t care, it’s clearly just about telling a good story. Regardless, the film prescribes to a very linear idea of time travel, which many might call lazy because it conveniently dismisses any paradox but to be honest, why let that get in the way of a really good movie?

Do yourself a favour and go and see Looper, even if you don’t enjoy it then at least you know you’re contributing to the box office of an original movie which might help convince studios to bank roll more original material. I saw last week that they intend to remake The Crow, I don’t know about you but there is only ever going to be one movie called The Crow and I’d rather see an original story try to recreate it then a remake destroy it. In a parallel universe I’d like to be giving Looper a lower star rating because it should be the “average” standard of cinema. Perhaps one day this will be true, but until then, just go and enjoy this film.

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Review: Total Recall

The original 1990 Total Recall is a cult classic, its pure popcorn science fiction that is charismatic and clever enough to hide its many faults. Unfortunately the new Total Recall is anything but, ditching anything even remotely appealing from the original and replacing it with wall to wall shootouts and special effects. No doubt someone thought in these slower economic times something familiar might make us part with more of a hard-earned cash, but in this post Nolan’s Batman era of blockbusters audience expect character and plot to be just as prominent as the explosions.

Douglas Quade (Colin Farrell) is a disenfranchised Factory Worker married to a seemingly disinterested wife (Kate Beckinsale) and stuck in a unrewarding job, Douglas wants more from life. Lured by this dream he goes to Rekall, a service that can implant fake memories as convincing as your own of anything you can dream of. Douglas chooses to play out the fantasy he is in fact a spy and as the implant begins all hell breaks loose. What follows are the revelations he is a spy and the implant has opened a memory cap implanted to convince him he isn’t one.

It’s the same plot as the 1990 original, albeit set in a completely different world. There is no Mars, instead its conceptual equal is the “colony” of Australia and instead of a space flight people take a train through the center of the Earth to get there. If that sounds stupid, rest assured it is. It’s one of many “what the” moments in a story that takes nothing of interest from the original, and adds pure nonsense with a dash of farce. At least the original tried to explain why a woman would have three breasts, in this version she just does, so you know, deal with it.

It didn’t dawn on me at the time, but the film starts by flashing the title of the production company Original Film. Excuse me while I swallow that giant bit of Irony because this movie is anything but. Honestly, it’s as if the six writers (yes six) had a pizza night and watched as many popular Science Fiction films as they could. It probably went something like this … Writer #1: “Hey what should our world look like?” Writer #2: “Lets watch Blade Runner” Writer #3: “Hey everything is Asian in this movie, lets copy that”. And so it goes with just about every element of the film … If it’s not a rip-off of Blade Runner, then it’s I Robot, or Minority Report, or Star Wars.

The pain doesn’t end there either, the performances are basically phoned in, and I found it hard to distinguish between the female characters in the story too. Kate Beckinsale and Jessica Biel were basically the same person as far as I was concerned, I even wondered if they were computer generated at one point. I mean the Director Len Wiseman is married to Beckinsale, which probably explains why she looks more like a model in the movie with the right lighting, make-up, body pose, yeah well you get the idea.

Total Recall is pretty much the bottom of the barrel as far as remakes go. It offers nothing outside of special effects, which are quite good, and it looks like a pure and simple cash grab. How these kinds of projects can continue to find the funding they do is really beyond me. I know audiences tend to see movies they are familiar with, but surely there is more money to be made in credible film making even if the concept is recycled? My suggestion is to go and see a different movie, or if you really want your science fiction fix then go out and hire the original.

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Review: Prometheus

From watching the trailer for Prometheus you would think you’re about to see the prequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 masterpiece Alien. The man who Directed the classics Alien and Blade Runner would surely return some maturity to a genre that hasn’t reached any great heights of late. Prometheus looks and feels like a prequel to Scott’s Alien, but it really isn’t, which will come as a dissapointment to some.

Instead Prometheus is more akin to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 2001: A Space Odyssey in tone and depth with a dash of the biological horrors that made Alien so famous. It has some very strong foundations, ideas, and concepts, but it stumbles over its poor script and. It’s a good movie, but its a lot less than what it promised to be.

The film opens with a homage to Kurick’s 2001  declaring that the inhabitants of Earth are really the genetic descendants of an Alien species who seem to have deliberately brought us into existence. Skip forward to 2089 (roughly 30 years before the events of Alien) and a team of explorers have travelled to a distant star on the back of evidence they found on Earth. This evidence suggests what the opening sequence already confirmed, that we were not created by a mystical being called God.

To go any further with a plot description is to ruin the film, because this is a story not based on suspense and bloody thrills but instead on tension brought about through mystery. Needless to say, what the explorers find is not what they expected and it certainly is not going to lead to a happy ending.

The film is shot exquisitely, Scott has an extraordinary eye for detail and scope and every sequence is littered with eye candy and a seemless blend of computer generated effects. He is a master when it comes to the visual components of story telling and the film exudes his signature brand of imagery.The screenplay and script on the other hand, by Jon Spaiths and Damon Lindelof (of Lost fame) is simply not good enough and littered with too many faults to match the brilliance of Scott’s Direction.

The basis of the story, if you manage to get a handle on it, is essentially brilliant. However the details, characters, and components that go into developing an interesting story for a two hour movie are simply not there. It feels rushed with too many characters who don’t get enough screen time to develop. As a result they all fit into stereotypes who seem to behave as if they are exaggerating their characters traits ten times over. It makes you feel like they aren’t real, and their decisions are even less so. The film probably reaches its most absurd point when a character goes through an incredible trauma but because the plot needs to move on quickly every other character behaves as if it never happened.

Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Michael Fassbender deserve a mention for bringing what they could to their roles, despite the aforementioned issues. Fassbender especially steals the movie playing an android who attempts to mimic human behaviour to make those around him feel more comfortable. He is very unnerving and believable and displayed the only real charisma in the film, which is strange considering he was playing a robot.

I did enjoy this movie, despite it’s faults. I felt the tension and I was hooked on the mystery of what was playing out. The grounds are here for a fantastic film, but it never really takes off and kept managing to break the tension with a few absurd moments. The film also doesn’t end very well, either the scriptwriter didn’t know what you should see when the curtain was drawn back or he’s already written a sequel. Either way, the films ends as if there is going to be one. Personally I think a film needs to stand on its own, so that is a little disappointing.

I’d recommend Prometheus to anyone who enjoys their Science Fiction or Horror movies, its an above average film in that respect, but really it could have been a whole lot more. It has me hooked however, I want to know more, and there is plenty to talk about in terms of it’s larger meanings and spirituality. If there is a sequel (and there will be) then I will find it hard to stay away.

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