Category Archives: Science Fiction

Review – Ghost In The Shell (12a) [2017]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

Cast:

  • Scarlet Johansson – The Prestige, HerCaptain America II & III, Lucy, The Avengers Assemble IIII
  • Pilou Asbæk – A Hijacking, Lucy, A War, Game of Thrones, The Guardian Angel
  • Juliette Binoche – The English Patient, Another Woman’s Life, Godzilla, Clouds of Sils Maria, Dark Glasses
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America II, Independence Day II, A Different Sun
  • Michael Pitt – Dawson’s Creek, The Village, Funny Games, You Can’t Win
  • Peter Ferdinando – The Bill, Snow White and The Huntsman, Starred Up, 300: Rise of an Empire, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword
  • Takeshi Kitano – Brother, Blood And Bones, Beyond Outrage, A Living Promise, Outrage Coda

Music Composer:

  • Lorne Balfe – Ironclad, Not Another Happy Ending, Penguins of Madagascar, The LEGO Batman Movie, Churchill
  • Clint Mansell – Requiem For A Dream, Black Swan, Stoker, High-Rise, Mute

The issue of ‘whitewashing’ in Hollywood (i.e. when a white actor plays a non-white role) is nothing new. In 1931 Warner Oland played the role of a Chinese detective Charlie Chan in Charlie Chan Carries On and in 1956 John Wayne played Genghis Khan in The Conqueror. One would like to think that Hollywood had moved on since the mid-twentieth century. But Christian Bale, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver and Joel Edgerton playing Middle Easterners (with risible fake tan sprayed onto them) in 2014’s Exodus; Tilda Swinton playing the Ancient One in last year’s Doctor Strange (even though the comic-book character is meant to be from the Himalayas); and Matt Damon playing the white saviour of the native Chinese in The Great Wall earlier this year, proves otherwise. And the whitewashing ludicrously continues in Ghost In The Shell.

Major (Scarlett Johansson), on the opeating table, being created.

Ghost In The Shell is a sci-fi film based on the Japanese Manga series and the 1995 film with the same name. The movie begins in the near future in a city that resembles Tokyo/Hong Kong. Hanka Robotics, a corporation, is trying to improve mankind by putting people’s brains into robot’s bodies and enhancing their strengths. One such robot is Major (Scarlett Johansson). The corporation deem her the best of her kind, a super-weapon to fight terrorism.

But Major has feelings and emotions, like a person. What if she does not want to be just a weapon for Hanka? What of her memories that she struggles with? And where did she come?

Ghost In The Shell is a sci-fi action thriller and very disappointing. The whitewashing element is problematical in and of itself as Scarlet Johansson looks incongruous in this Tokyo-/Hong Kong-like city. But the whitewashing is also a convenient distraction for Hollywood and Rupert Sanders (back helming a film for the first time since Snow White and The Huntsman, following his adulterous affair with Kristen Stewart). For a film that is supposed to be a thriller, Ghost In The Shell is anything but thrilling.

Major in action, about to take out terrorists. Alas, the bodysuit is more noticeable than anything she might achieve.

Firstly, one can see where the movie is heading as obviously as a sinner to hell. If one has watched The Fifth Element, i,Robot and Blade Runner (to name but three), a viewer will feel like he/she has seen this film before. Secondly, Ghost In The Shell misses the point of its own existence. Sanders could have even used the whitewashing of Major’s character to his benefit and made the film interesting. For example, he could have explored the issue of identity. Then, Major could have asked herself if skin colour is central to a person’s identity, or if it is her memories, or if it is her characteristics, or her actions (or her sex drive as Alex Garland cleverly did in Ex Machina). But does Sanders do any of this? No, and that is why Ghost In The Shell is so disappointing, plot-wise.

Other than the plot, the acting is OK. The film is dominated by Scarlett Johansson and she plays decently enough. She is not as good as Alicia Vikander was in Ex Machina, but that has probably more to do with the lousy script than Johansson’s acting. (Incidentally, the script was written by Ehren Kruger, renowned writer of trash like Scream 3 and Transformers II, III & IV. In hindsight, Ghost In The Shell was doomed from the start.) But the lousy script aside, Johansson is undone by the gratuitous, nude bodysuit she wears throughout the film. It is so off-putting that even if the script had been as strong as Ex Machina’s, or that of Her in which Johansson terrifically voiced a talking operating system, Johansson still would have been undermined.

Kuze (Michael Pitt), an older version of Major that got away. One wonders: why would this deformed robot have gone rogue…?

Lastly, and by far the best part of Ghost In The Shell, is the world and the special effects. The city is at once neon-lit and futuristic, yet dark and seedy at the same time. None of this is original and much of it resembles Blade Runner, The Fifth Element or Tron on hallucinogens. Nevertheless, it is the most engaging part of the movie and that speaks volumes for how unengaging the storyline and the characters are.

Over-all, Ghost In The Shell is an unsatisfactory film. The movie could have gone in so many fascinating directions, but instead it chose the hackneyed one that audiences have seen before. That would have been bad enough. That Scarlett Johansson plays the main, non-white protagonist exacerbates the film’s many issues. Seriously, Hollywood, we’re in 2017. How is whitewashing still an issue? Enough is enough already! A white person playing a Japanese robot looks as out of place in Ghost In The Shell as a nuclear warhead would in Lord of the Rings.

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Review – Arrival (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Denis Villeneuve – Prisoners, Sicario, Untitled Blade Runner film

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Johann Johannsson – Prisoners, The Theory of Everything, Sicario, The Mercy

Aliens invading Earth is not an original idea. Since 1996, there has been an overabundance of alien invasion movies. From the entertaining (Independence Day I and Men in Black I); to the risible (Mars Attacks! and Battlefield Earth); to the Tom Cruise saves the day flicks (War of the Worlds, Oblivion and Edge of Tomorrow); to a board game adaptation (Battleship, starring deserved Golden Raspberry winner Rihanna); to comic book adaptations (The Avengers I and Man of Steel); to the dull (Battle: LA and Independence Day II), audiences have seemingly seen it all when it comes to this genre. So how can Arrival differentiate itself and stamp its own mark?

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

One of the twelve UFOs. This one has stopped in rural Montana, with beautiful fields and mountains for scenery.

Arrival is based on the short story by Ted Chiang. Twelve UFOs (shaped like giant contact-lenses) station themselves on random locations in the world. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) of the US military asks Louise (Amy Adams), an expert linguistics lecturer, to use her philological skills to help the US government. Louise agrees and together with Ian (Jeremy Renner), a scientist, they try to work out what the aliens are saying, why they have come, and what their intentions are.

Concurrently, Louise keeps thinking of her daughter, Hannah. Somehow, Louise’s interactions with Hannah have a link to the aliens. But what is it?

Arrival is an interesting and original sci-fi film. Unlike the movies listed above, this one has no action sequences. Indeed, it is anti-action and does not depend on mass special effects either. Rather, the movie stresses the need for dialogue between the humans and the great other. This is most refreshing as guns, explosions, and the annihilation of aliens has long since become a sci-fi trope.

The stress for dialogue also enables viewers to comprehend the nature of our own languages and how they have shaped societies, which is interesting. Furthermore, the film gives us insight into a lost past in which peoples who had no common language made peace and worked with one other: for example, when the Spanish and Portuguese invaded Latin America in the late-fifteen century, and when the British began forging an empire in India in the seventeenth century. (Granted, the Spanish, Portuguese and British killed their fair share of the indigenous populations. But they still had to communicate and work with those they didn’t kill.)

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Louise (Amy Adams) looking up in awe at the aliens. Her big blue eyes are so expressive and hint at a plethora of emotions running through her to add depth to her character.

Yet, as interesting as it is watching humans trying to work a new language, it is not particularly stimulating. At times, it is like watching someone untie a bunch of tangled wires or put together a complex, multi-piece puzzle. Both of which are fascinating, but become tedious after a while. Arrival does, however, do its best to keep viewers attentive. Principally, this is done by Forest Whitaker’s character (repeatedly) urging Amy Adams/Louise and Jeremy Renner/Ian to find out the intentions of the aliens because the US, Chinese, Russian and Sudanese(?) governments are preparing to launch military assaults on the UFOs/aliens. It is a good method, but one that becomes cheap and wearisome after a while.

Moreover, Arrival’s ending has two elements: one is very clever and satisfying; the other, though, streams into wishful thinking. This leaves audiences with a peculiar feeling. One wants to praise the finale, yet one cannot help but feel that it weakens the film as most of mankind (realists) understand that international diplomacy does not work the way the movie illustrates; self-interest being one of the many reasons for this.

But for all the plot’s problems, the actors perform well; especially, Amy Adams. Her character is multifaceted since Louise is witty, successful and hardworking, but also insecure and in grief. The pressure of trying to understand the Alien’s language rapidly gets at her, as well, and the way it manifests itself makes for curious viewing.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) telling Louise and Ian (Jeremy Renner) to find out why the aliens have come and what they want. And fast. Otherwise, there will be war.

Unusually, the male characters are marginalised. Normally in Hollywood, it is the other way round. But Arrival has smartly inverted this cliché. Renner’s character/Ian is a good support for Louise and they work well together. Whitaker’s character/Colonel Weber is less so. He has one purpose and it is a relief that his character does not stray into the puffed-up general bad-guy trope, like Steven Lang’s villainous army man in Avatar. This is a good thing too for two reasons: one, Whitaker/Weber is not a villain (on the contrary, he is just a man who is afraid of the unknown); and, two, it helps to make Arrival something different.

Arrival is a brave and admirable alien invasion drama. It is distinctive as it refuses to go down the action and CGI route. Instead, it relies on its characters and the quest for dialogue and peace. The movie achieves this with success. For sure, the movie has issues, notably its ending. Nevertheless, Arrival must be commended. It stamps its own mark in a genre that has otherwise become generic and braindead.

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Review – Independence Day II: Resurgence (12a) [2016]

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Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Roland Emmerich – Independence Day, Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, 2012, Stargate

Cast:

  • Liam Hemsworth – The Last Song, The Expendables II, The Hunger Games I-III(ii), The Duel
  • Maika Monroe – The Guest, It Follows, The 5th Wave, The Scent of Rain & Lightning
  • Jessie T Usher – When The Game Stands Tall, Survivor’s Remorse, Almost Christmas
  • Bill Pullman – Independence Day, The Grudge, Torchwood, The Equaliser, Brother In Laws
  • Sela Ward – The Day After Tomorrow, The Stepfather, Gone Girl, Graves
  • William Fichtner – Armageddon, The Dark Knight, Entourage, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, If
  • Deobia Oparei – Thunderbirds, Your Highness, Pirates of the Caribbean IV, Game of Thrones
  • Angela Yeung Wing – Hitman: Agent 47, Ferryman
  • Jeff Goldblum – Independence Day, Jurassic Park I-III, Law & Order, Mortdecai, Thor III
  • Judd Hirsch – Independence Day, A Beautiful Mind, Sharknado II, The Muppets, Wild Oats
  • Chin Han – The Dark Knight, 2012, Contagion, Captain America IIGhost In The ShellMusic Composer:
  • Harald Kloser – The Day After Tomorrow, 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down, Discarnate
  • Thomas Wander – 10,000 BC, 2012, White House Down

Twenty years ago, Director Roland Emmerich made the great disaster movie, Independence Day (ID1). Aliens came from space and blew up the White House. This was innovative and spectacular to watch as no-one had used CGI on such a scale before. Yet, that was in 1996. Could the same ideals that fuelled ID1 to success back then, have the same impact on viewers today?

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It's hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

The aliens, with its enormous space ship, destroying an American city. (It’s hard to know which one as the cities all looked like smoke, ash and rubble after a while.)

Independence Day II (ID2) is basically the same film as ID1. The key differences are that this one starts in outer space. While there, humans learn that the aliens have awoken after twenty years in hibernation (or whatever aliens do whilst in a state of torpor). Now, the aliens are returning to destroy the Earth again (for reasons that are never explained).

Only, this time, the aliens have even larger spaceships and more powerful weapons than first time around. All the nations of the world, across all the continents, must unite and work together if they are to stand a chance of defending the human race from extinction.

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven't we seen this sight before?)

The aliens unleashing their arsenal upon London. (Haven’t we seen this sight before?)

Yes, ID2’s plot is as laughably corny as that. It is also entirely predictable. One can draw the arc of the film before going into this two hour-long action, Sci-fi, disaster fest. This is because: one, disaster movies tend to have (very) similar storylines; and, two, the plot for ID2 is an inconvenience to the special effects.

Ninety-plus percent of the film is special effects of one kind or another. Arguably, the most enjoyable part of ID2 is spotting from where Emmerich has gained his inspiration for the CGI. The aliens look remarkably similar to those from the Alien franchise and Prometheus; the space ship looks the same, just larger, than the one from ID1; and the destruction of the White House and London look like those same events in ID1, Deep Impact, Olympus Has Fallen, Thor II: The Dark World and London Has Fallen. Suffice to say the effects in ID2 do not look as innovative or inspire the same awe as they did in 1996. And that is despite the CGI being in a different league to what Emmerich had to work with twenty years ago.

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), filling the boots of Will Smith, and flying a fighter jet into toward the aliens to try and take them out. I wonder, will he succeed?

Nevertheless, while watching ID2, one spends less time wondering about the contrast in the quality of the CGI, compared to the giant hole in ID2 known as the lack of Will Smith. Smith was the hero of the last film and ID2 does not feel right without him. (The reason for his absence differs depending upon the source: Smith claims he could not work on ID2 as he was already committed to Suicide Squad, which filmed at the same time; while the studio claims Smith asked for too much money and told him to get lost.) In Smith’s absence, Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T Usher and Maika Monroe decently fill the void without being anything remotely special. Yet, somehow, the three of them can’t quite capture Smith’s panache, and that is even with all the clichés that Emmerich has dumped into this unimaginative, by the numbers movie.

Over-all, ID2 is a standard, semi-enjoyable disaster movie. It tries to repeat what occurred in ID1, only on a gargantuan scale and with a plot that gets in the way of the CGI. All of this is done without Will Smith and the movie cannot get past it. Indeed, if anything, Smith’s absence emphasises how important he was to making ID1 so entertaining and successful in 1996. Without him, ID2 underlines how unoriginal and dull humans fighting (technologically superior, yet paradoxically primitive-minded) aliens has become.

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Review – The Martian (12a) [2015]

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Star Rating: 4.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Harry Gregson-Williams – Shrek I-IV, Kingdom of Heaven, Unstoppable, Blackhat, Life Briefly

On this blog, much has been made of the paucity of Ridley Scott’s films over the last fifteen years. For a director who once made Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator, it is astonishing that Scott has made terrible film after terrible film since Gladiator was released in 2000. So going into The Martian, what was one to expect? Another terrible film to add to Scott’s bloated collection? Actually, nothing of the sort: a pleasant surprise.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with the NASA crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, sitting down), before they go out to explore.

Mark Watney (Matt Damon) with the NASA crew, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain, sitting down), before they go out to explore.

The Martian is based on Andrew Weir’s 2011 novel with the same title. Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is exploring Mars with a NASA team, led by Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain). The team are out on the Red Planet when a freak storm occurs, knocking Mark away. Believing that he is dead, and fearing that the storm will destroy the team’s means of getting home, Melissa orders an evacuation.

However, Mark is not dead and wakes up to find that the team have left Mars without him. Considering that the next NASA flight mission to Mars is not for another four years, Mark knows he’s going to be stuck on his own on Mars for a while. Yet, he only has enough food for a few months. So how will he survive?

At its core, The Martian has a simple premise: how Mark, all on his own, is going to keep himself alive. One might ask oneself how interesting such a plot could be. Yet, surprisingly, The Martian is an entertaining, innovative and engaging movie. Undoubtedly, it is Ridley Scott’s finest film since Gladiator! (Then again, with Kingdom of Heaven, Prometheus, The Counsellor and Exodus among his recent films, that is not saying much at all.)

The sudden (contrived) storm that knocks Mark away.

The sudden (contrived) storm that knocks Mark away.

Part of the reason why The Martian is so good is because the desert scenery of Mars (or, rather, of Jordan, where the movie was filmed) is beautifully shot. Seeing the landscape of this foreign planet is as wondrous as any awe-inspiring place on Earth, as evidenced in The Way Back, True Grit, Sanctum and Macbeth, to name but four. Moreover, The Martian is an extremely interesting film. Our main character, Mark, is a (genius) botanist, and it is fascinating watching him carry out scientific experiments using natural elements in order to survive.

But while the scenery is wondrous and the experiments are ingenious, The Martian would not have been half as engrossing without really good acting. Matt Damon has such a magnificent screen presence that he, alone (quite literally), can hold audiences’ attentions. Sean Bean is good as the honourable (Ned Stark-like) man, as is Chiwetel Ejiofor. Jeff Daniel’s is also decent as the NASA director, with the (legitimate) counter-arguments to Bean’s and Ejiofor’s suggestions. And, lastly, the crew (headed by Jessica Chastain) play decently enough with the little time that they’re given on screen.

Assisting the cast, however, is a really good script, which ensures that The Martian surpasses recent, phenomenal space films such as Gravity and Interstellar. This is because the former was let down by a B-movie script, while the latter suffered from an incoherent storyline. The Martian, by contrast, has all the best elements of those movies, plus humour. The humour, in itself, warrants that viewers empathise with the characters and (cleverly) enables audiences to ignore the scientific technicalities if they don’t understand them.

Upon waking up and returning to the base, Mark sits alone and wonders what he is to do. Not least, what will he do about food as his supplies are low?

Upon waking up and returning to the base, Mark sits alone and wonders what he is to do. Not least, what will he do about food as his supplies are low?

Scott gets a lot right with The Martian. Nevertheless, that is not to say that the movie is not without its faults. First, the storm at the beginning of the film is massively contrived to get the plot moving. And, second, the movie is predictable and the ending is an utter cliché. Yet, if these are the main flaws of the film, they are quite trivial, thereby emphasising just how well Scott has done with this movie.

All-in-all, The Martian is a very entertaining film. It has no significant faults, it is innovative and it is funny. To think that the movie is predominantly about a man stuck on Mars on his own, trying to survive against the elements, underlines how impressive The Martian is. It also highlights that Ridley Scott still can direct excellent movies, despite his atrocious recent record. Let’s hope that The Martian can inspire Scott to cease making films of the poverty of Prometheus and Exodus, so that he can return to making films of the brilliance of Alien, Blade Runner and Gladiator.

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Review – Ex Machina (15) [2015]

Ex Machina - title banner

Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

  • Alex Garland

Writer:

  • Alex Garland – 28 days Later…, Sunshine, Never Let Me Go, Halo

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Geoff Barrow
  • Ben Salisbury

For decades, mankind has had a continuing urge to create and enhance artificial intelligence (AI). This has been reflected and taken to all kinds of extremes and dangers in science fiction films, such as the Terminator franchise, A.I., i,RobotHer and Transcendence. Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut, smartly deals with the issue of AI again and the possible consequences of it.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finding out at work, to his delight, that he has won the competition to be part of a break-through experiment.

Ex Machina is about a programmer called Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson), who wins a competition at work to go to a remote facility to be part of an experiment. Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the man behind the experiment, wants Caleb to find out if his human-looking robot, Ava (Alicia Vikander), can pass the Turing Test. But neither the experiment nor Nathan is what they seem.

Ex Machina is an interesting and stylish movie. Alex Garland successfully contrasts the beautiful and open nature of a remote location, with the claustrophobic feel of being based there. This creates a natural tension that never truly leaves viewers. It might be allayed for parts of the film, but at the slightest change in circumstance, this tension (re-)tightens one’s muscles, reminding viewers of how terrifying remote locations can be.

In addition to this natural terror, Garland, who has written a superb script, tackles some thought-provoking (and disquieting) topics concerning AI, to augment one’s terrors. Some of the topics have already been done with varying levels of success in Transcendence and Her which dealt with the (disturbing) issues of consciousness within AI and having a relationship with AI, respectively. But Ex Machina arguably takes these issues to higher (and more alarming) levels by blurring the lines between people and machines; notably, by giving AI robots sexual desires and the capability to act on and enjoy them.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Nathan (Oscar Isaac, unrecognisable with a beard) talking with Caleb about the purpose of the experiment.

Ostensibly, the issue of sexual desire within an AI robot may seem far-fetched and ludicrous. But watch the documentary series Through The Wormhole, plus appreciate the intelligent ways that modern technology can respond to requests, and it might dawn on audiences that what we see in Ex Machina is not so far-fetched or ridiculous and that the lines between people and machines is genuinely being distorted. Bearing all this in mind, Ex Machina enables audiences to believe in this distortion because of Alicia Vikander’s astonishing performance as the AI robot, Ava. Ava’s (arousing) physique and general movements are robot-like. But her facial features and her observational and intellectual sharpness are so human-like that one almost forgets they’re watching an AI robot.

Yes, it helps that Ava/Vikander is an attractive woman and that the special effects on her are outstanding. Equally, though, it helps that Caleb and Nathan, played well by Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, respectively, buy into Ava’s supposed realness and respond to her (human?) personality in differing but very human ways. Indeed, their responses say something about their personalities. Yet, while audiences learn about Caleb’s background and why he is the way he is, the same cannot be said for Nathan. This is unfortunate as there is undoubtedly more to Nathan than he lets on; his brooding face, alone, tells us that.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

Caleb having one of his sessions with Ava (Alicia Vikander), to determine if Ava has human-like consciousness.

However, the lack of information given about Nathan is not the only element of Ex Machina’s plot that weakens it. The film is slow-paced; so much so, that for much of the movie one may wonder where the film is going. Moreover, the ending leaves itself open to scrutiny, not to mention out of kilter and jarring to the rest of the film. Nevertheless, one should not stress too much on the movie’s faults because so much of it is impressive.

Over-all, Ex Machina is an intriguing, weird, and noteworthy film. The movie is slow and the ending is questionable, but all the same Alex Garland has made a striking piece of work in his directorial debut. He deals perceptively and philosophically with important issues regarding AI. These are extremely pertinent considering mankind’s disconcerting hunger to further enhance AI. For heaven knows that these issues will not be isolated to the realms of science fiction films for much longer as it is likely that the world’s first Ava will be created in the not-too-distant future.

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Review – Interstellar (12a) [2014]

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Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

There are some directors whose movies are simply a cut above the rest. Steven Spielberg, David Fincher, Alfonso Cuarón and Martin Scorsese do not necessarily make films often, but when they do their films are invariably of the highest quality. Christopher Nolan rightly has a place among these filmmaking giants and his latest movie, Interstellar, confirms this despite the film’s problems.

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Professor Brand (Michael Caine) explaining the mission and its purpose to Cooper (Matthew McConaughey)

Interstellar is set in the not-too-distant future. The Earth will soon be unable to sustain life due to crop failures. Mankind needs to find a new planet in order to survive. With the situation desperate, Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) leads a team of astronauts into space so as to find another planet that can sustain habitable life.

Interstellar is an ambitious, innovative and stimulating movie. Like The Dark Knight Trilogy, The Prestige and Inception, Interstellar is a film full of ideas such as Murphy’s Law, gravity, love, and how time bends in space to name but four. These ideas keep viewers fully occupied throughout the film’s 167-minute running time. As in the above-mentioned films, Nolan again illustrates his intelligence by writing an ingenious script that holds much realism and does not fall into the generic (and dull) intergalactic ray-gun war between men and monsters. Nolan must be applauded for it and for not patronising his audience (harrumph Michael Bay).

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Cooper saying goodbye to his little daughter, Murphy (Mackenzie Foy) before he goes on the mission.

Granted, most viewers probably will not completely comprehend Interstellar’s dialogue as one may need to be a quantum physics professor and an astrophysics nerd for that. If viewers are neither of those and find the dialogue difficult to grasp, they can still easily enjoy the film simply by sitting back and admiring the awesome sceneries, the breath-taking special effects, and the phenomenal music. The CGI and the music, in particular, make audiences feel like they’re on a wonderful rollercoaster ride through space, and the length of the film enhances this riveting sensation.

However, not even this terrific sensation can override or conceal the gaping holes in Interstellar’s storyline (as a train could fit through them). These holes stem from moments of tension that are there solely for the sake of tension (and filler) rather than advancement of the storyline; and from the ending being too rushed and contrived for the movie to make sense. With most directors, viewers would generally accept these plot holes as par for the course. But with Nolan, viewers expect better. Scenes of tension in his previous films have had consequence(s) upon the storylines, and he has given us some of the most original, thought-provoking and satisfying endings in movie history. To see his film suffer from similar problems as those of (cheesy) action films and (second-rate) sci-fi movies feels wrong as Nolan is too smart a man to fall into such holes.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Cooper speaking with Amelia (Anne Hathaway) as they try to determine what to do next as they search for a habitable planet.

Yet, the above-mentioned holes are not the only issues staring back at Interstellar. Like Inception, Interstellar is so plot heavy it has no time for character development. For any film, it is excusable not to give peripheral characters proper story-arcs since that bloats the film’s running time unnecessarily and can render a film with a terribly swollen cast (like Interstellar) impractical to make. But what is not excusable for any film, including Interstellar, is for the major characters to not have proper story-arcs. This is because one of the most fascinating parts of a film is the journey the main characters go on and watching how the journey affects them, for good or ill. Without such story-arcs for the major characters, Interstellar feels like a large plate with little food on it: somewhat unsatisfying.

Over-all, Interstellar is a very ambitious, intelligent and challenging movie. Yes, it has plenty of plot problems. And, yes, it does not give its characters enough time for sincere character growth. On the flip side, though, the movie is made worthwhile by the stunning landscapes, the spectacular special effects, the spellbinding music, and the interesting ideas that are seldom explored in films. Suffice to say, Interstellar does not make for an easy 167-minutes and the film would have ended up as a total mess if it were to have been directed by anyone other than a master of his/her craft. This underlines why Christopher Nolan is such an extraordinary director and why he rightly stands among the best in the business in Hollywood.

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Review – X-Men: Days of Future Past (12a) [2014]

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Star Rating: 4/5

Director:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • John Ottman – X-Men II, House of Wax, Fantastic 4 I-II, Valkyrie, Non-Stop, X-Men: Apocalypse

The Batman and X-Men franchises have undergone similar arcs and reboots in relatively recent times. 1997’s Batman & Robin and 2006’s X-Men 3: The Last Stand were so bad that the franchises were torn up and magnificently re-started in the form of 2005’s Batman Begins and 2011’s X-Men: First Class. And just as 2008’s The Dark Knight was a great sequel to Batman Begins, so Bryan Singer’s return to the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future is a great continuation of First Class.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

Storm (Halle Berry), Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Blink (Blingbling Fan), Magneto (Ian McKellen) and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) decide upon their plan of action, whilst watching in horror as the Sentinels attack.

X-Men: Days of Future Past is loosely based on the comic-book with the same title. The movie starts in the apocalyptic, present day or the near future. Led by the reunited Charles Xavier/Professor X (Patrick Stewart) and Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Ian McKellen), the last handful of mutants are trying desperately to hold out against the invincible, changeable Sentinels.

With the situation hopeless, Professor X, via Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page), sends Logan/Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) back in time to 1973. Professor X’s hope is that Wolverine can persuade a younger, mentally-broken Charles (James McAvoy) to re-establish his friendship with Erik (Michael Fassbender) and stop Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) from creating the Sentinels.

X-Men: Days of Future Past has an engaging storyline that interlinks the two time-periods within the film nicely, if not without problems for some of the other X-Men films. Indeed, Days of Future Past may come at the expense of some elements of the three original X-Men movies and may even black-out the existence of the two Wolverine spin-offs (but that is probably for the best).

Moreover, Days of Future Past involves itself in crucial events in history, in the same way that First Class did with the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Civil Rights movement in America in the 1960s. Like with its prequel, Days of Future Past does this in a smart and hilarious way. This, combined many in-jokes and phenomenal special effects, makes Days of Future Past very enjoyable to watch.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) finds Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who finds out that she is still furious with him about something that happened off-screen in the past.

Nevertheless, what makes (First Class and) Days of Future Past so interesting is that it is not about a showdown between Good and Evil; it is about the friendship/rivalry of Professor X and Magneto. These two characters may not have the depth or the darkness of Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, but their personalities and differing ideologies make for a refreshing change to the crash, bang, boom nature of other superhero movies like all five Spiderman films, Iron Man III and Captain America II among countless others.

Additionally, the dialogue and acting in the latter two X-Men films is significantly better than in those above-mentioned superhero movies, with the exception of The Dark Knight Trilogy. All the actors in Days of Future Past (old and new) are brilliant without fail. Whether it is Sir Ian McKellen or Michael Fassbender, Magneto is played with the same vigour and damaged personality as in First Class; Jennifer Lawrence is wonderful as the vulnerable Mysterique, whose unhappiness in her own skin has led her to take vengeance against anyone who takes a dislike to mutants; Hugh Jackman once again shows that he owns the Wolverine character; Patrick Stewart and James McAvoy play magnificently as Charles Xavier, although McAvoy undoubtedly has the more demanding parts of the role; and Peter Dinklage is great as Dr. Trask, even if his accent switches from his normal New Jersey accent to Tyrion Lannister’s English accent for no obvious reason.

The above-mentioned characters may dominate Days of Future Past, but they are only a minority of the swollen cast. Consequently, a great many characters are not given much screen time, including new mutants like Blink (Bingbing Fan), Sunspot (Adan Canto) and Warpath (Booboo Stewart). These mutants have a back-story and it would have been good to hear it.

Otherwise, in the eleven years between the end of First Class and the beginning of Days of Future Past (1962-73), viewers are told of many interesting developments that have occurred off-screen. It would have been nice to have been shown these. (Then again, another film in between these two movies would have been needed for that.)

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels.

Dr. Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) explaining why he needs to create the Sentinels (which come to look remarkably like the machine-monster Thor fights in Thor I).

And, lastly, the film deviates quite significantly from the same-named comic-book; for example, in the comics, it is Kitty Pryde who goes back in time, not Wolverine. But if comic-book geeks are honest, even they would accept that Kitty Pryde cannot dominate the screen (or hold viewer’s attention) in the same way that Wolverine can. And besides, these alterations should not knock down a film that achieves so much by way of its ambition and is so entertaining.

Over-all, X-Men: Days of Future Past is a really good film. It has its flaws and it would have been nice to learn more about the non-central characters, and to see some of the events that happened off-screen. But, on the whole, Days of Future Past is amusing; it deals well with its two competing time-periods; continues the conflict maturely between Charles Xavier and Erik Lehnsherr; and is a credible sequel to X-Men: First Class. Now all the franchise needs, like with The Dark Knight Trilogy, is a satisfying conclusion in its third instalment, X-Men: Apocalypse.

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