Category Archives: Science Fiction

Review – Transcendence (12a) [2014]

Transcendence - title banner

Star Rating: 3.5/5

Director:

  • Wally Pfister

Executive Producer:

Cast:

Music Composer:

  • Mychael Danna – Girl,Interrupted, Fracture, Capote, Moneyball, The Captive

In 1948, George Orwell wrote the classic 1984 in which he (implicitly) warned of the dangers of a country using technology to the full to create a totalitarian state. Many of Orwell’s ideas are now part of everyday life. States can monitor an individual’s movements by CCTV surveillance, by their mobile phone activities, by their credit card history, etc… and with a computer database at the tip of the state’s fingers to bring such information when required.

Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) with the swagger of a scientist on the verge of something special, and after his shooting before his consciousness is wired up into the computer.

Left, Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp), with the swagger of a scientist on the verge of something special; and, right, sickly after being shot, just prior to his consciousness being wired up to the computer.

The above may be very worrying. But the saving grace is that a person is still needed to activate such technology; for technology cannot operate on its own. However, what if technology could operate on its own? Or, rather, what if a human being’s self-awareness were put into a computer? This is the territory that Wally Pfister’s directorial debut film, Transcendence, deals with.

Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is a scientist intent on creating a conscious computer. His research is at an advanced stage, when he is shot by anti-tech terrorists. With his mind fully functional but his body dying, Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall), desperate to save her husband and against the advice of Will’s friend Max (Paul Bettany), uploads Will’s consciousness to a computer to keep him alive.

But as soon as Will’s conscience has been uploaded, the question arises as to whether it really is Will in the computer, or if it is something else, especially as transcendent-Will becomes hungry for power. And with all surveillance systems, the internet, and data-records within his control, as well as the ability to advance at a logarithmic rate, what can stop transcendent-Will bending the world to his will?

Transcendence has a complex yet stimulating plot, almost entirely devoid of (headache inducing) action scenes. The film’s language might be tough to follow (although not a prerequisite, it certainly helps to have some knowledge of computer- and nano-science to understand the dialogue). But the idea of whether a soul, in general, can be uploaded into a computer, and the moral risks of technology (possibly) going too far ensure that viewers can appreciate the movie all the same.

Bree (Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara), one of the anti-tech terrorists behind the shooting of Dr. Will Caster.

Bree (Kate Mara, older sister of Rooney Mara), one of the anti-tech terrorists behind the shooting of Dr. Will Caster.

The idea of technology going too far is not a new one, per se. After-all, Orwell spoke of the matter in 1948, and countless science fiction films, like The Terminator franchise, The Matrix Trilogy, i,Robot, and Prometheus have dealt with the subject since (mostly dragging it through the sewers in the process). Yet, Transcendence handles the subject with maturity, and delivers it in quite an original way. The movie may seem far-fetched at first. But the documentary series Through The Wormhole, narrated by (Transcendence’s and Hollywood’s moral compass) Morgan Freeman, shows us the (disconcerting) capabilities of present-day technology. This, in turn, suggests that what happens in Transcendence is not as implausible as it may ostensibly appear.

But to focus solely on the technological angle of Transcendence would be to miss the point of the film. In a twopart interview, Wally Pfister spoke of how Transcendence is a human story at its core. Due to the film’s mature handling of the subject of artificial intelligence, and due to Paul Bettany’s passionate performance, viewers can understand what the director wanted to convey.

However, Pfister’s casting of Johnny Depp and Rebecca Hall in the lead roles almost loses him the human element of the tale. Depp and Hall have little chemistry between them and neither look like they understand the scientific language they engage with throughout the film. At least, Hall believes in her character and puts effort into her role. Depp, on the other hand, (in a non-Captain Jack Sparrow-like role for a change) looks disinterested and half-asleep throughout the movie.

Depp and Hall might be Transcendence’s most noteworthy problems. But the dialogue is not great either (irrespective of the difficult language used). In addition, parts of the plot are given away daftly, and are contrived, and are unexplained; then again, it should be noted that Inception suffered from similar unexplained-plot problems, so maybe such issues are to be expected when a film deals with inexplicable elements.

FBI agents, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Buchanen (Cillian Murphy) giving Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) sage advice on her husband's transcendence plans.

FBI agents, Joseph Tagger (Morgan Freeman) and Buchanen (Cillian Murphy) giving Evelyn Caster (Rebecca Hall) sage advice on her husband’s transcendence plans.

Nevertheless, like Inception, the cinematography in Transcendence is first-rate. From Transcendence, one can see why Christopher Nolan employed Pfister as his cinematographer for many of his movies, including The Prestige, The Dark Knight I-III, and Inception (in which Pfister won his Oscar). Indeed, if Transcendence’s script and acting would have been as good as its cinematography, Pfister would be in line for a directorial Oscar-nomination in 2015.

Over-all, Transcendence is a brave film for a director to make his debut. It is an interesting and thought-provoking movie, with phenomenal visuals and cinematography. Transcendence has its flaws, not least with its plot, its dialogue and its two lead actors. But to some extent, one should overlook these problems and concentrate on the film’s treatment of the possible dangers of modern day/near-future technology. For, like Orwell in 1948, these matters are handled in an ambitious, innovative and refreshingly adult way.

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Review – Elysium (15) [2013]

Elysium - title banner

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Director:

  • Neil Blomkamp – District 9, Chappie

Cast:

  • Matt Damon – True Grit, The Adjustment Bureau, ContagionInterstellar
  • Jodie Foster – The Silence of the Lambs, Flightplan, Carnage
  • Alice Braga – I Am Legend, The Rite, Kill Me Three Times
  • Diego Luna – The Terminal, Criminal, Milk
  • William Fichtner – Crash, The Dark Knight, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  • Sharlto Copley – District 9, The A-Team, Chappie
  • Emma Tremblay – The Judge

Music Composer:

  • Ryan Aman

Science fiction films set in the future have a knack for painting a bleak picture for humanity. That is, until an American hero decides that he’s had enough and rips up the regime as he knows it. In I Am Legend, a cure for cancer led to a mutation that practically wiped out humanity, bar Will Smith who tried to save mankind; in In Time, the poor scrounged in squalor in confined areas until their short-lived clocks ran out, while the rich lived forever in their luxurious areas, until Justin Timberlake broke the system; and in Oblivion, a victorious war against aliens led to the Earth being uninhabitable, until Tom Cruise saved it. Elysium also portrays a depressing picture for mankind, only this time it’s Matt Damon playing the predictable protagonist.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Los Angeles in 2154, depicting a run-down, third world city in which crime is rampant and dogs must eat dogs to survive.

Elysium is based in the year 2154 and centres round Max (Matt Damon). Max lives on the overcrowded Earth, along with all the poor people, while the rich live on a luxurious space station called Elysium. Working in a factory, Max sustains an (avoidable) injury at work. He is told he has only five days to live.

But there is an alternative. Max must go to Elysium, where his ailments can be cured because the rich on Elysium are so far advanced that they have found cures for all health problems. The difficulty for Max is getting to Elysium as he can only travel there illegally. But to do so, he has to get past the aggressive androids that control Earth, as well as Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), the Secretary of Defence for Elysium, who kills anyone attempting to illegally reach Elysium by using her mercenaries on Earth, such as Kruger (Sharlto Copley), to do her dirty work.

The premise for Elysium is good. Issues like why Elysium was built; how people came to be on Elysium; as well as class divisions and the practicalities of class mobility are fantastic starting points to engage audiences. Moreover, the special effects are brilliant. They look natural and give one a true feel for the world that director Neil Blomkamp has created.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

The space station, Elysium, in which the crème of the crop of humanity dwell, with an awesome view of Earth to marvel over instead of a landscape.

But, oddly, Elysium fails to engross its viewers. The dialogue is cliché-ridden from three minutes in to the final scene, none of the above-mentioned matters are dealt with properly (if at all), and much of the plot is unoriginal and has been seen before; for example, emotionless (anal) robots controlling whole populations. This was handled in i,Robot (and Will Smith sorted out the problem back in 2004).

Apart from being derivative of other movies, Elysium’s plot rapidly descends into farce before the predictable futuristic ray-gun fight between the hero and the villain, and all the antagonists (all white as it happens) are unimaginative, one-dimensional swines.

The fact that all the villains in Elysium are white raises another problem with the film: its shamefully contrite thinly-veiled racist elements. All the poor, the ill-educated, and the criminals are either Mexican or black (bar Matt Damon), while the elites on Elysium are white with either English, French or white South African accents. Haven’t we moved on since the 19th-century? (Colonialism has ended after-all.)

Matters of racism aside, the acting is mixed by the cast. For the protagonists: Matt Damon does a decent job as the central protagonist without being noteworthy; Alice Braga plays okay as Max’s love interest/damsel-in-distress/the caring mother of Matilda (Emma Tremblay); and Diego Luna is fine as the leading gangster of the illegal (Mexican) underworld.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

Max (Matt Damon) trying to help Frey (Alice Braga) and her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) from aggressive androids and others.

For the antagonists: Jodie Foster gives an unusually wooden performance, adopting an unnecessary English accent that looks like it has been bizarrely dubbed post-production (evidently her lines were not contrived enough first time round); William Fichtner is awful as… (I’m not really sure what his role was meant to be); yet, Sharlto Copley is absolutely brilliant as the psychopathic henchman. Granted, his role is that of a sadistic villain that one has generally seen before, but Copley plays it frighteningly well and makes his audience feel uncomfortable whenever he’s on the screen, which is an achievement. Unsurprisingly, Copley is the star of this average movie.

Over-all, Elysium is alright. The film has superb special effects and a solid basis with which to make a genuinely interesting movie, even if it is a miserable portrait of a future for mankind. However, Elysium fails to build on its strong foundations and, instead, is stuffed with clichés, subtle racism, standard storyline developments and stereotypical characters for the genre. And to top it up, Elysium has Matt Damon playing the role that Will Smith and Tom Cruise have made their own: the all American hero.

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Review – Star Trek II: Into Darkness 3D (12a) [2013]

Star Trek 2 - title banner

Star Rating: 3/5

Director:

  • JJ Abrams – Lost, Star Trek I-III, Star Wars: Episode VII

Producer:

  • Damon Lindeloff – Lost, Prometheus, The Leftovers

Cast:

  • Chris Pine – Unstoppable, This Means War, Jack Ryan
  • Zachary Quinto – Heroes, Margin Call, The Invitation
  • Zoe Saldana – Avatar I & II, Colombiana, Blood Ties
  • Karl Urban – The Lord of the Rings II & III, The Bourne Supremacy, Riddick
  • Simon Pegg – Paul, The World’s End, Mission: Impossible III-IV & V
  • Alice Eve – Entourage, Men In Black III, Cold Comes The Night
  • Benedict Cumberbatch – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Sherlock, The Hobbit II
  • Bruce Greenwood – Barney’s Version, Super 8, Devil’s Knot
  • Peter Weller – The Sin Eater, 24, Dragon Eyes

Music Composer:

One of the most striking and farcical features of action movies is that there is much shooting, running and chasing, in one form or another, with key aspects of the plots taking place under such circumstances. The Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and the Furious franchises all have this odd and surreal symptom. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff, despite creating an enjoyable and watchable film, have taken this symptom to its zenith in Star Trek II: Into Darkness.

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) mulling over whether it would be a good idea to take Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) on board.

Captain James Kirk (Chris Pine) mulling over whether it would be a good idea to take Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) on board.

Star Trek II begins with the galaxy under threat from John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former Starfleet agent. Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) is ordered by Admiral Alexander Marcus (Peter Weller) to lead the USS Enterprise ship to Kronos and kill Harrison. Kirk takes with him Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto), Lieutenant Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Dr. Leonard ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban), Montgomery ‘Scotty’ Scott (Simon Pegg), and Dr. Carol Marcus (Alice Eve) for assistance.

In essence, that is the plot for Star Trek II: Into Darkness and it makes for an easy and entertaining 132 minutes, irrespective of whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, in the same way as the 2009 Star Trek film did. Moreover, the special effects in Into Darkness are terrific, and the 3D works a treat as well, especially in IMAX, which was designed for such films.

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) talking with his girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Commander Spock (Zachary Quinto) talking with his girlfriend, Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

While Into Darkness has much in common with the 2009 Star Trek movie, the sequel has many more contrived aspects to its storyline than the prequel. One can almost draw the plot arch as the film goes along. Fans, though, are more likely to forgive such plot problems than non-fans. That is, if fans and non-fans have a chance to think about the issues with the storyline while watching the film. JJ Abrams and Damon Lindeloff have made every plot detail and element in Into Darkness be done either on the run or in the midst of a shoot-out. It is as if they knew that the movie’s storyline makes as much sense as Lost did by the end. Abrams (with his trademark lens-flare) and Lindeloff constantly distract viewers from being able to realise the plot’s deficiencies, here, in the same way that shoot-outs, explosions, chase scenes and stunts divert audiences’ attentions from the flaws in the various Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, and Fast and the Furious movies.

Provided one does not focus too much on the storyline of Into Darkness, one can enjoy the contrast in personalities between the impulsive Captain Kirk and the cold, rational Commander Spock, and both Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto play their respective roles very decently. There is also more humour than expected between the two of them, which is always welcome. The same can be said for Karl Urban’s performance as Bones and Simon Pegg’s as Scotty, as they play their roles well without being anything special.

Alas, the same cannot be said for Zoe Saldana as Uhura this time, or Alice Eve as Carol Marcus. Uhura’s role in Into Darkness, unlike in the prequel, is too peripheral and meaningless to be remembered, and Saldana does not do herself justice when on screen; and sad to say, the only thing of note that Eve does as Carol Marcus is to stand in front of Kirk in a bikini. (And the point of that scene was…?)

The villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting against his adversaries who are out to kill him.

The villain, John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), fighting against his adversaries who are out to kill him.

Yet, the real star of the film is Benedict Cumberbatch. His acting, as the villain, is head and shoulders above the rest of the cast. When Cumberbatch speaks, it does not matter what he says or how ludicrous it may sound because it is stated with authority to the extent that implausible matters are believable. Regardless of whether one is a Star Trek fan or not, one should almost watch Into Darkness for Cumberbatch’s performance alone.

Over-all, Star Trek II: Into Darkness is an entertaining film for Star Trek fans and non-fans alike. The special effects are excellent, the relationship between Kirk and Spock is funnier than ever, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the villain is outstanding. Indeed, one does not even need to get over the movie’s virtually non-existent storyline and the ridiculous way in which everything is done at a hundred miles an hour to make up for the plot’s numerous shortcomings to fully appreciate the movie for what it is.

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Review – Prometheus 3D (15) [2012]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

With the exception of American Gangster, the last decade has been a poor one in terms of quality films for Ridley Scott, the three-time academy award nominated director/producer. Kingdom of Heaven, Body of Lies and Robin Hood are just three of many terrible movies that he’s created, even if he has made lots of money from them. Prometheus continues this downward trend, even though it is a return to the theme of his highly successful revolutionary 1979 movie Alien.

Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) with the captain of the Prometheus vessel, Janek (Idris Elba).

Prometheus is the prequel to Alien. In 2089, archaeologist love-birds Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace – The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes II: A Game of Shadows, The Drop) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall-Green – Brooklyn’s Finest, Devil, Black Dog, Red Dog) discover a star map among several unconnected ancient civilisations. Believing that they can discover the origins of humanity, they join a crew on the space-vessel Prometheus bound for the moon where they hope to unearth the answers.

Piloted by David (Michael Fassbender – X-Men: First Class, Shame, 12 Years A Slave), a haughty human-looking android with supreme amounts of knowledge, the spaceship arrives at their destination. After being given a telegrammed video by the elderly Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce – The Hurt Locker, The King’s Speech, Iron Man III), the patron of the trillion-dollar expedition, and a speech by Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron – Monster, The Road, Snow White and the Huntsman), a Weyland Corporation employee sent to monitor the mission, the crew set off to investigate the nearby mysterious site.

They are told to avoid contact with any unknown substances. But with some people falling behind, and other members of the crew deceiving others, the humans do come into with the unknown substances. And to dire consequences.

Charlie, Elizabeth and David exploring the cave to find the origins of humanity. Will the statue in the background give them their answers?

The premise on which Prometheus is based is not a bad one and there are some good, refreshingly 1980s-style sci-fi horror moments to keep one in suspense. In 1979, these were innovative, but now the Alien vs. Predator genre has become so abysmally cliché that all of the horror in Prometheus looks samey and unoriginal.

And as is typical of the above-mentioned genres, little of Prometheus’ dialogue or plot makes any sense. (Even Ridley Scott has admitted that the movie leaves some questions unanswered, which suggests that tying up loose ends was not half as relevant to him as making a fortune.) The very beginning of the film (which I have not mentioned) bears no relevance to the rest of the film; with the exceptions of Elizabeth and Charlie, the reasons and motives of the various crew members aboard the Prometheus expedition are unclear or not mentioned at all; and the very end of the movie is as biologically possible as mating a bear with a piranha and producing a wolf.

Worse, Prometheus gives us virtually no insight into the origins of Alien. For a movie that is a prequel to the series, it is inexcusable. Imagine if Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins had not explained the origins of Batman? What would have been the point in it? The same questions must be asked here.

As Prometheus’ storyline nosedives, the cast do the same. All of the actors have poorly-explained, two-dimensional characters and none of them have any chemistry between them on set. They create such little empathy that viewers are unlikely to care when they start to drop off. Even Noomi Rapace, who was brilliant as Lisbeth Salander in the Swedish versions of The Girl With The Dragon series (aka The Millennium saga), struggles in Prometheus to keep audiences interested (despite spending a percentage of the movie running around wearing not much more than a tankini). Only Michael Fassbender, as the emotionless and enigmatic robot, has the ability to maintain viewer’s concentration. But Fassbender’s character has too many holes to be plausible.

Wounded, Elizabeth is limping round the Prometheus vessel in little clothing to find some help.

Actors and characters aside, at least Prometheus has some decent sci-fi-style special effects. They are not spell-binding, though, because one has seen similar CGIs in God knows how many other movies in the genre before. What is a pity though is that the 3D is so pathetic. For a movie like Prometheus, there should have been more effort put into the 3D aspect of the film to make it worthwhile.

All-in-all, Prometheus is another appalling film to add to Ridley Scott’s recent movie-making collection. Almost nothing works in the film, from the storyline to the cast to the 3D. For a director/producer of Scott’s capacity, whose diverse range of films over the years have been of high quality, it is simply not good enough.

(PS. Read my review of 2014’s Exodus: Gods And King for more on Ridley Scott.)

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Review – Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D (U) [2012; originally released in 1999]

Star Rating: 2.5/5

Star Wars, the saga that revolutionised special effects, has returned to the cinema. Thirteen years after it left the big screens, and now poorly adapted into 3D, Episode I: The Phantom Menace provides viewers with a convenient excuse to review the franchise from the beginning, and once more enjoy enlarged lightsaber v sith duels and mesmerising sci-fi-style battle scenes. (Warning, spoilers in this review.)

Young Anakin (Jake Lloyd). It is hard to see him as the masked villain of the saga at this point.

The Phantom Menace begins with turmoil engulfing the Galactic Republic. The Trade Federation has put up a blockade around the planet Nabu, due to a new taxation in trade routes. The Trade Federation wants to bring Nabu’s queen, Amidala (Natalie Portman – Black Swan, Thor, Lawless), to her knees and make her yield to their demands, using any means at their disposal.

Unknown to the Trade Federation, the Jedi Council have sent two Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jin (Liam Neeson – The Next Three Days, Unknown, Wrath of the Titans) and his apprentice, Obi-Won Kenobi (Ewan McGregor – Star Wars I-III, Beginners, The Impossible), to rescue Amidala. That way she can bring her case to the Senate. Yet, as they fly past the blockade, their starship is damaged and they are forced to land on Tatooine to repair the ship.

On Tatooine, a planet outside of the republic’s orbit, Qui-Gon and Amidala come across a cute, little slave boy, called Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd – Jingle All The Way, The Pretender, Madison). Qui-Gon sees something in Anakin, believing him to be the one who will bring balance to the Force.

After buying Anakin’s freedom, via the young boy’s pod race success, Qui-Gon takes him to the Jedi Council, where he hopes the council will allow him to train Anakin as his second apprentice. But the council is wary of Anakin. Yoda (Frank Oz – Star Wars I-VI, Sesame Street, Monsters University) and Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson – Star Wars I-III, Coach Carter, The Avengers Assemble) sense ‘great fear’ in him. They’re not wrong because Anakin fears for his mother’s survival. But, still, fear can only lead one way: the dark side.

Simultaneously, the unknown (phantom-like) Sith Lord and future emperor, Darth Sidious (Ian McDiarmid – Star Wars I-III & VI, Crime & Punishment, Margaret), urges his stooges in the Trade Federation to find Qui-Gon and Obi-Won. When they fail, Darth Sidious orders his apprentice, Darth Maul (Ray Park – X-Men, Heroes, Avarice), to find and kill the Jedi knights.

Queen Amidala/Padmé (Natalie Portman) leading from the front in the fight for the freedom of her planet.

The plot for The Phantom Menace is enjoyable and surprisingly intelligent. The film has a thrilling pod race tournament and the second best lightsaber v sith battle of the franchise (second after the epic duel between Obi-Won and Anakin/Darth Vader in Episode III: Revenge of the Sith); yet, the disputes over the trade blockade also make for a fascinating insight into the political workings of the republic.

More than anything, the disagreements in the republic reveal the cunning of Senator Palpatine (also Ian McDiarmid), as he slowly lays down the foundations for his arrogation of power. Behind the scenes, Palpatine commands the Trade Foundation (which will become the Separatist movement later in the series) to declare war on Nabu. To Queen Amidala, though, his advice is to go to the Senate and urge Chancellor Valorum (Terence Stamp – Wanted, The Adjustment Bureau, Big Eyes) to take action against the Trade Foundation. But knowing that the chancellor is incapable of doing that, due to being hamstrung by ‘bureaucrats’ (most likely Palpatine’s cronies), Palpatine recommends Amidala to call for a vote of no confidence in Valorum in the Senate to pave the way for a ‘stronger’ chancellor. (And guess who Palpatine might mean by that? Isn’t it a coincidence that he just happens to be voted in next?)

At the same time, Palpatine promises young Anakin that he will ‘watch over’ his Jedi training and be a father-like figure to him. The kindness of the gesture is unsettling to watch, knowing that Palpatine intends to exploit Anakin’s vulnerabilities to groom him as his long-term apprentice.

Ian McDiarmid plays well as the duplicitous Palpatine, despite the character’s crudeness. Yet, the star of the film is undoubtedly Liam Neeson. Even the most ridiculous of lines seem (almost) plausible when he speaks, and nothing looks (overly) contrived either. The same cannot be said for Natalie Portman or Ewan McGregor, who both give very poor and detached displays; whilst Jake Lloyd’s performance is passable at best. His enthusiasm and confidence (obnoxiousness) is refreshing at first, but becomes repetitive and annoying after a while.

The fantastic three-way fight scene between Qui-Gon, Obi-Won and Darth Maul. Who will not survive?

The acting and dialogue may not be noteworthy, but the special effects are enthralling (even if they’ve been touched up considerably since 1999). It is just a shame that the 3D is hardly visible. The three-way duel at the end would have been even more of a spectacle had it been properly adapted; especially, with the atmospheric theme ‘Duel of the Fates’ for accompaniment.

Although the 3D is inadequate, The Phantom Menace is an entertaining movie. Once more, audiences can enjoy the impressive battle scenes and pod races; be dazzled by the special effects and lightsabers; and be intrigued by the way Palpatine abuses his powers for his ultimate goals. But most importantly of all, The Phantom Menace starts to explain how and why Anakin becomes Darth Vedar.

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Review – X-Men: First Class (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 4/5

There is a theme currently in Hollywood not only to remake films, but also to make prequels of blockbusters, such as Batman and Hannibal. (Although, whether one would call Planet of the Apes a blockbuster is questionable.) X-Men: First Class is part of the wider X-Men Origins series that began with Wolverine two years ago. First Class is not as dark and gothic as Batman Begins; yet, it is an entertaining movie with strong moral messages.

Erik, Sean/Banshee (Caleb Landry Jones), Charles, Moira, Raven/Mystique and Cyclops’ younger brother, Alex/Havoc (Lucas Till) all making observations during their time in CIA Headquarters.

Set mainly in early-1960s America, the film centres on the mutants Charles Xavier (James McAvoy – Atonement, Wanted, Trance), the future wheelchair-bound Professor X (played by Patrick Stewart in X-Men I, II & III), and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender – 300, Inglorious Basterds, Shame), the future renegade Magneto (played by Ian McKellen in later films).

Whilst the storyline is about how the US and Soviet governments need their respective mutants for espionage and to avoid going to war over Cuba in the run up to the Cuban Missile Crisis (October 1962), the mutants spend much time discussing how they just want to fit into mainstream society, despite being different: ‘mutant and proud’ they say (sounds similar to ‘gay and proud’ if you ask me). Oh how such slogans must make Lady Gaga happy! Nevertheless, one cannot help but note the political message here in First Class. The movie takes place at the same time as black people in America were starting to demonstrate and riot for equal rights. That mutants would want the same rights is understandable.

Yet, despite the civil rights aspect and the revising of history with a fantastic conspiracy theory about how the Cuban Missile Crisis played itself out, First Class is more about the contrast in mentalities between Charles and Erik: two friends who would become adversaries.

The mutant Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon), formerly the Nazi, Mengele-like doctor who experimented on Erik when he was a boy, casually chatting with the beautiful Emma Frost/White Queen.

James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender both play well, without being brilliant. As a wise professor with little baggage, McAvoy has the easier of the two roles. Fassbender, without being crude or cliché, illustrates well Erik’s transformation into Magneto. (Arguably, more time could have been given to this, and it could have made for some fascinating psychological viewing. This is just a personal opinion though.) Alas, much of what Erik says is true; yet, undoubtedly, the crucial message of the film – ‘that killing will not bring you peace’ – is put across emphatically by Charles, who fears for his friend. If one thinks about an angry group of hate-filled people against the West in our own age, we might get a true understanding for who that message is really aimed at.

Charles and Erik are not, though, the only mutants seen in First Class. Although many of the bigger names of the later films do not feature, there are still some mutants that audiences may recognise. However, with exception of the beautiful, but insecure Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence – Winter’s Bone, The Beaver, The Hunger Games), none of the lesser characters are given much screen-time. Note though that all the women in the movie are gorgeous and sexy: Dr. Moira MacTaggart (Rose Byrne – 28 Weeks Later, Get Him to the Greek, Bridesmaids), Angel Salvadore (Zoe Kravitz – The Brave One, Californication) and, especially, Emma Frost/The White Queen (January Jones – Mad Men, Unknown, American Pie: The Wedding).

Two good friends happily playing chess. It is here that Charles voices his grave concern to Erik, regarding the latter’s desire for vengeance.

If the women and the differences between Charles and Erik are not enough to keep one entertained, the action scenes and the mutants’ supernatural powers should do the trick. The training sessions, wherein Charles teaches his mutant pupils how to control their abilities, are very funny. The special effects are not bad either. They may not always be great, but they adequately enhance the scenes.

All-in-all, First Class gives the viewers what they would want from this sort of film. It may not be as dark as other prequels; nonetheless, the movie has action, a good-looking cast, and poignant moral messages. Most importantly, the director, Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake) shows us how Charles and Erik became enemies and sets up the context for X-Men I, even if some of the major characters have yet to join.

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Review – Source Code (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

A friend of mine billed Source Code as ‘The Matrix meets Minority Report.’ While this may be a tad broad, it is not an entirely inaccurate explanation of Source Code. Although a Sci-fi film at its core, Source Code is more enjoyable to the general public than many other titles in its genre and will leave one thinking afterwards too.

Source Code is about sending someone into a computer-regeneration of a specific incident in the past in order to find out (useful) information. Throughout the movie, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal – Rendition, Brothers, Nocturnal Animals), a US soldier in a helicopter unit, is constantly sent into the Source Code for an eight-minute stint. Each time, Colter finds himself on a train sitting opposite the cute-looking Christina (Michelle Monaghan – Mission Impossible III, Eagle Eye, Due Date); and at the end of the eight minutes, the train blows up. Himself included.

Earlier, a bomb went off on a train in Chicago and it is rumoured that another one will go off in the middle of the same city later that day. Colter’s task is to find the bomb and discover information about the bomber. His superiors, the pretty Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Up in the Air, The Judge) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright – Casino Royale, W., The Ides of March) believe that the information could be crucial in deterring the next attack. Yet, after going into the Source Code a few times, Colter’s motives change. He intends not only to complete his mission; but also to save the passengers on the train and ask out Christina.

Source Code’s plot has numerous holes that one can pick at without difficulty. It can also feel quite repetitive at times. The director, Duncan Jones (Moon), a relative novice to the industry, puts forward some interesting ideas that bring to mind tenuous comparisons to The Matrix for de facto teleporting someone into a computer-generated world; and Minority Report for preventing an incident from occurring by using highly futuristic and technologically advanced methods. Yet, Jones also leaves several aspects of the plot with a lot of explaining to do; most notably the paradox of time-travelling and the ending.

One thing, however, that works in Source Code’s favour is that it does not descend into a mushy love-story like so many other films. The dialogue is not bad either and there are humorous moments too. Again, Jones fails to explain the quantum physics behind the invention of the Source Code; but, speculatively-speaking, he has done this deliberately knowing that the majority of the film’s viewers will neither understand nor be interested in such terminology.

Captain Colleen Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge urging Colter to go back into the Source Code so as to unearth more information about the bomb and the bomber.

That Jake Gyllenhaul plays well as the main character gives the movie the credence the plot lacks. He is not given a particularly challenging role, but he still performs decently enough. The same can be said for the other members of the cast. Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright may act competently; however, they are not given enough screen-time for their characters to be anything other than two-dimensional.

Alike the acting, the choreography is fine. For a movie that is cyclic and teleports the main character suddenly and regularly, it does not feel overly jerky to watch. This takes some skill and credit must go to Jones for this.

All-in-all, Source Code is a surprisingly entertaining film. It has a decent cast, some good jokes and clever ideas. Nevertheless, the storyline is deeply flawed and the ending rubber-stamps it. Ironically though, the film’s very flaws are what will keep viewers thinking long after the film finishes.

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