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fatpie42 -

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    Giles Fraser is an odd sort of theologian. I've found he's said some quite interesting things in the past and apparently he's quite keen on social justice, but this morning I must say that I was rather disgusted with him.

    He was on the BBC's "Thought For The Day" programme. A rather annoying segment which bizarrely has pride of place right in the middle of typical morning commuter listening times and acts as an annoying interruption in the middle of the genuine news that takes up most of the Today programme during that time. Another regular guest includes Anne Atkins, who is given free reign to spout vile homophobic bigotry or to wax lyrical about the joys of traditional marriage. In spite of the controversy she often causes her last "Thought For The Day" broadcast was on the 2nd May (so less than a week ago). On that particular occasion, this woman who is a member of a 'pray away the gay' group known as 'Council of Reference', explained "Judeo-Christianity, like other faiths, is full of respect".

    But Giles Fraser is one I'd normally expect to be a little more even-handed, if not generally that inspiring. I don't tend to pay much attention to who is offering the 'sermon' (let's call it what it is). I generally just hope its over quickly so I can hear a bit more about the current news before I get to work. So imagine my annoyance when the speaker filling this slot in the radio timetable seemingly designed to waste my time began by saying: "I probably shouldn’t be doing Thought for the Day this morning."

    Why's that then? A chest infection apparently.

    He then explained that anti-biotics are ceasing to be so effective. Not a pleasant thought, I'm sure we'd all agree. I was expecting a fairly banal talk about the doom-laden subject, but what I got was a lot worse: Something almost approaching delight.

    "Just maybe, we are losing our immunity from those medical conditions we thought we had beaten. In which case the enlightenment dream of continual never-ending progress looks increasingly hubristic. It seems we are no longer mini-gods after all."

    Hey, what's so bad about the prospect of an enormous increase in death by disease if it means you get to prove that you are right? It's always seemed weird to me when religious speakers pose their religion as outwardly opposed to progress. Heaven forbid (literally) that we strive for a better and longer life for each other. While Buddhists are wishing each other long life on a regular basis, it seems that modern Christian clergy cannot wait for us to all to die. So for Giles Fraser the demise of anti-biotics is looking like quite a triumph.

    As the show went on, I found myself guessing what was coming next:
    "For one of the things that the Judeo-Christian tradition has always insisted upon is..."

    ... fear.

    "...Only God is God. And we are mortals, and intrinsically vulnerable."

    Hmmm... same thing.

    Ancient religions made use of sympathetic magic. Christian tradition demands fear and trembling. Giles Fraser joyfully denies the Enlightenment dream and happily anticipates increasing mortality rates....

    ... all while complaining that anti-biotics aren't working effectively enough on his chest infection.

    Antibiotics are not recommended for many chest infections, because they are only effective if the infection is caused by bacteria rather than a virus. Your GP will usually only prescribe antibiotics if they think you have pneumonia, or you are at risk of complications such as fluid building up around the lungs (pleural effusion).

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    Yeah, I watched it again. What can I say? I guess I'm a fan.

    The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) - Rewatch

    On a second watch it seems that I prefer the second half to the first half. In the first half we begin with a cartoonish confrontation. I mean, it's fun, but it's also rather sillier than the rest of the film. (Cannisters of plutonium? Really?) We then have some rather goofy set-up for Electro and the inevitable mopey "I cannot be with you Gwen" stuff. *sighs*

    But the second half has so much more emotional weight. And I'd forgotten how uplifting the final moments of the movie really were. (Adorable child alert...) And I like how the strengths of these recent Spider-Man movies lies in character interaction rather than in action sequences, in stark contrast to any other superhero franchises.

    I haven't changed my mind about the score. I don't think this is one of the best films of the year and I while I think "The Winter Soldier" has problems too (not least that the actual Winter Soldier could have been taken out of that movie and it would still have worked just fine), I think that is the better superhero movie so far this year. But I also feel confident that I'm not overrating this movie either. It's good fun and sets up some elements of Spider-Man in a way that feels true to my experience of the comics.

    The writing is probably the biggest issue with this sequel and it should be noted that the writers were Kurtzmand and Orci who were also responsible for Bay's "Transformers" and Abrams' "Star Trek: Into Darkness". But that actually makes me inclined to give Marc Webb all the more credit for working around the script to give us something as good as this. "Amazing Spider-Man 2" has a great deal more genuine emotional weight in the second half than I would expect from a Kurtzman and Orci script.

    Favourite part: Peter Parker and Gwen Stacey working on 'ground rules' for their relationship. - No seriously, it was brilliant!

    Least favourite part:As-you-know-Joe dialogue between Harry Osborne and his father Norman Osborne, informing us of their chequered relationship as Harry grew up.

    Saying "the not-so-amazing Spider-Man" in reviews is not clever. Please stop doing it.

    Grade Change?: No.
    Grade: B+

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    In Your Hands (2010)

    It has tended to be a good sign for any film if it has Kristin Scott Thomas in it recently. Even if you don't like the film, you're likely to find Scott Thomas is fantastic anyway: Only God Forgives, Sarah's Key, Love Crime, I've Loved You So Long. She is regularly brilliant.

    Sadly "In Your Hands" is an instance where the film would be worthless without her. This is a film about a woman who is kidnapped and then experiences Stockholm Syndrome afterwards. What's more we actually start mid-way through the story, with our protagonist already having escaped from the villain. Our protagonist walks into a police station but then seems unable to give a statement.

    I wonder whether the filmmakers were expecting the audience to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome too? I'm afraid following our protagonists plight as she is trapped in a small room, I never at any point felt anything but hatred for her captor. I'm afraid that even the sob story about how the man's wife had died during a surgical procedure and how Scott Thomas's character had been her doctor made me no more sympathetic to his campaign of terror on an innocent woman. I was even less sympathetic when it turned out that he was not used to cooking or cleaning without his wife. When your own captive has to explain to you that you suck at cooking, you are pretty clearly pathetic. Perhaps French kidnapping victims have more demanding tastes? Whatever.

    Kristin Scott Thomas is brilliant. The film is morally bankrupt. The whole purpose of the film is to make me feel sorry for a man who kidnaps a woman. Give me a break! I'd be rating this even lower if it wasn't for Scott Thomas' amazing performance.


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    You're Next (2011)
    I can now see why this film received such a varied response. Some seemed to decry it as a sub-standard slasher flick. While others claimed it was subverting the genre 'Cabin In The Woods' style.

    It starts like a pretty simplistic slasher and it doesn't even seem particularly interesting in style. However it all leads to quite a surprising finale.

    Naturally when the main point by which to recommend a film is the ending that makes it a little tough to discuss in a spoiler-free review. However, while Fight Club isn't the best comparison, it's similar in the way the film changes upon a second watch. The new knowledge gained at the end colours every event throughout the film.

    Still not everything relies on the ending. There are a few pretty neat stylistic touches here and there. One element that I found especially appealing was this stereo playing the same song over and over on a loop. It was surprisingly effective in contributing to the mood in particular scenes, whether it be a sense of hopelessness or just plain old black humour.

    Another interesting choice found in all the promotional material is the animal masks of the killers.

    Towards the end of the film there are some pretty neat scenes of violence, but annoyingly the first half is rather dull on first watch. Still the quality of the ending and the subsequent benefit for future viewings makes it worth it by my reckoning.

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    Godzilla (2014)

    When I first heard about this film it sounded like one of those crazy internet rumours. Garth Edwards had managed to produce a quite stunning film using a combination of appropriate location shots and carefully planned low budget visual effects.

    Gabe Toro's main criticism of "Monsters" was that the use of sites wrecked by real natural disasters was exploitative. However, the more common criticism was that for a movie called "Monsters" it contained remarkably few of them appearing rarely.

    To hear that he was now being entrusted with an enormous budget of millions of dollars to make a new Godzilla movie seemed almost like a joke. Would he even know how to spend millions of dollars? Would Godzilla actually ever be seen during this movie?

    Yet strangely "Godzilla" seems to be the reverse of "Monsters". While "Monsters" made the human characters central and kept the actual monsters firmly in the background, providing quite a beautiful expansion of the central relationship, "Godzilla" has little in the way of a compelling human drama (at least, not consistently through the film).

    In spite of the extensive cast: Sally Hawkins (Made In Dagenham, Blue Jasmine), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Kick-Ass), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) they don't seem to get the character-centred moments they deserve.

    I've only really seen Elizabeth Olsen as a traumatised cult recruit in "Martha Mary May Marlene", but I had reason to believe she had more to offer. Here she gets to play traumatised once again as she is caught in the middle of the Godzilla attack and we don't get to see much beyond that.

    I was surprised to see Juliette Binoche's name turn up in the opening credits since I hadn't heard anything about her appearance in this. Sadly she's yet another great actor who is poorly used.

    Bryan Cranston is about the only person who really managed to bring some heart to this very flat piece. But he isn't given the opportunity to do so consistently because Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character is actually the real star and he isn't doing anything like such a good job with the material. In a film where pretty much everyone seems a little flat, I'm disinclined to judge him harshly as an actor, but if anyone really need to save this film it was him.

    In spite of all this I actually kind of liked this film. Though I didn't feel like the first half connected properly with the second half. The first half is the more character-based side. Then we start seeing monsters (and I think it's worth noting that Godzilla isn't the first monster to show up). And it should be noted that Gareth Edwards is big on subtlety. Every visual treat is made to feel remarkably natural and when Cranston and Taylor-Johnson are wandering through the quarantined area surrounding the old nuclear reactor disaster it's easy to just accept it all at face value rather than wondering how the studio have created an urban setting so clearly reclaimed by nature.

    Edwards loves to tease the audience. The monster attacks are almost always from someone's perspective. Godzilla is seen emerging from the sea by men on a ship, or is seen advancing towards the city by civillians on a bridge, or sometimes we'll skip from a battle occurring close-by to someone else watching the terror unfold in news footage on their tv screen. Edwards never wants the spectacle to be 'just there'. There has to be some context to every shot.

    And this would all have been incredible if the human characters were more compelling. This does not bode well for the upcoming film from Sergey Bodrov (director of "Mongol") since his new blockbuster "Seventh Son" starring Jeff Bridges is also written by Max Borenstein.

    The one character who I think ends up working well here is Ken Watanabe whose role is essentially to explain to the audience how they should feel about the action sequences. He has real gravitas no matter what lines he is given and he keeps us somewhat invested in the human story in the second half.

    The monsters look amazing, Godzilla is brilliant (and actually has more engaging emotional character moments than many of the human characters), there is definitely a consistent story and the visuals are extremely well handled. While this is nowhere near the irritating stupidity of a Michael Bay film and is light years ahead of Emmerich's previous travesty, I actually think Guillermo Del Toro's "Pacific Rim" did a far better job of capturing the heart of the giant monster genre.

    This Godzilla movie has elements to recommend it, mostly related to the special effects side, but it's a bit of a mess overall. And perhaps the most annoying thing is that it was so close to being brilliant. I hope Gareth Edwards will be a little more discerning about the next script he takes on, because I know he can do better human drama than we saw here.


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    Fragile (2005)

    I decided to check this out because it's a film from Jaume Balaguero, one of the director's of the REC film series currently working on "REC 4: Apocalypse". His latest film "Sleep Tight" really impressed me, but judging him on "Fragile" was liable to be a bit of a trial by fire, since I am easily disappointed by ghost films.

    To briefly outline my issues with ghost films:

    1. Dying gives you superpowers.

    If a ghost can cause severe harm to people and have malicious intent towards those around them then it feels bizarre when they successfully kill one person, yet then fail to pose a threat to the protagonist until exciting third act of a film. Whatever!

    2. What do dead people want?
    If the ghost is angry and wants to kill particular people or even just everybody, then that is fine. However, the 'unfinished business' motivation is often extremely annoying. ("Unfinished business" is, of course, a phrase established by the movie of "Casper" - the friendly ghost.) In "The Sixth Sense" the unfinished business for one ghost is that their killer was not discovered, but if so, what difference will putting their killer in prison make for the deceased entity? Murderers are generally not kept in prison forever. If they are released in fifteen years will the ghost start haunting everyone again? This idea that appeasing the ghost will stop the hauntings often annoys me, so I was quite pleased with how it was subverted in "The Ring" (the original Japanese version, of course).

    Other times the ghost is trying to warn people who are still alive, but when the ghost keeps on placing enigmatic messages around the place that can be annoying. (This can also be tied to point 1.)

    3. Ghosts are just like us.
    Okay, so some of these problems aren't such a big deal if the movie in question is a fantasy film like "The Frighteners". But if we are supposed to be freaked out by a spectre, I need to find it somewhat believable. If the ghosts are talking to everyone like they would do when they were alive, I find it hard to take them seriously.

    4. Dead? No problem!
    This is yet another issue from "Caspar". Bill Pullman, who plays Christina Ricci's dad, makes friends with Caspar's less friendly ghost-friends and they persuade him to kill himself so he can become a ghost like them. This is a bit of an awkward issue for "The Frighteners" too when Michael J. Fox makes himself clinically dead so he can wander around as a ghost for a bit. This is admittedly, an issue more often found in fantasy-like films such as "Caspar" and "The Frighteners" where the films are not really taking themselves so seriously anyway. But sometimes more serious depictions of ghosts will display them as if being a ghost is just an inevitable and predictable result of death, rather than a rare occurrance. Just because there are ghosts all around you, doesn't mean that when you die you will become one of them. (I'm looking at you, "The Orphanage".)

    5. Ghost experts
    Reports of ghostly activity do not generally involve vivid experiences and are generally surrounded by a large degree of mystery. People who believe in ghosts may have their own idea about what causes someone to become a ghost, but this isn't a field open to a great deal of empirical study (particularly when the entities at the centre of it appear so fleetingly and their entire existence is in question). Yet in films, someone often seems to turn up to explain exactly how ghosts work and to establish clear rules. A recent example of this is "Mama" where an archivist explains matter-of-factly that the spirit of a person becomes distorted after death.

    I don't like to be too harsh when judging ghost films. I am quite keen that a ghost story have some kind of truths to reveal about real life for the non-ghostly characters. Sometimes there may be ambiguity about the existence of the ghost, so that what really matters is not the spirit itself, but the effects its supposed presence has on those who are haunted. If that's the case I can forgive a few issues. Alternatively if the film has fantasy elements, I can cut it a fair bit of slack. In the end, what I want is to be entertained.

    Right at the start, we have a clear supernatural occurrence. A boy randomly breaks a bone in his leg. It's a spontaneous fracture with seemingly no cause. He then receives another fracture while lying on the table for the x-ray - once again, with seemingly no possible cause.

    This is in a hospital, so we can rule out osteogenesis imperfecta (broken bone disease - like Samuel L. Jackson has in 'Unbreakable'). The hospital staff are completely baffled by the fractures. So this is quite a mysterious beginning.

    It's at this point where we are introduced to the replacement night nurse in the hospital played by Callista Flockheart (who most will know as "Ally McBeal"). Initially I was quite surprised how odd her face looks. She's clearly still very thin, though perhaps not as absurdly skinny as she was in her old tv show days, but in early scenes, before we first see her smiling, she does not look at all as pretty as I remember. Still, in spite of what I can see in other reviews, I don't think she does a bad job in the main role. She is, however, the only American actor in a film set on the Isle of Wight, which means she stands out rather awkwardly.

    Since we have a Spanish director and part of this was actually filmed in Barcelona, we also have a number of Spanish actresses. There's a girl who only appears on cinefilm footage who actually turned out to be Ivana Baquero who would later play the main protagonist in Guillermo Del Toro's excellent fantasy film "Pan's Labyrinth". Another Spanish actress is Elena Anaya, though it turns out that this film re-unites her with Richard Roxburgh, since they previously acted together in "Van Helsing" with him as Dracula and her as one of Dracula's wives.

    The story in "Fragile" is that all the children are worried about a ghost called Charlotte. They claim it to be the ghost of a 'mechanical girl'. One girl in particular, Maggie, seems particularly close to Charlotte, communicating with her through a set of blocks with letters of the alphabet on them.

    This was actually looking like a fairly intelligent film for the first half. The issues with the safety of the children played on elements in Callista Flockheart's past. There was some abiguity regarding whether ghostly noises or phenomena were due to fear or the poor state of the building (the hospital they are in is on the verge of being shut down).

    Unfortunately in the third act all subtlety goes out the window. I feel that the film goes sharply downhill with one particularly ridiculous death.

    So how does it do with the issues I mentioned earlier?

    1. Dying gives you superpowers.
    By the third act the ghost is shattering tons of windows and pretty much producing a storm in the top floor of the building.

    2. What do dead people want?
    While the motivations are pretty well out-lined (and I won't spoil them here) the ghost doesn't seem to make full use of its powers to achieve its aims. Towards the end of the film, it's not unsurprising to hear that the ghost is desperate and what were we told that the ghost does when it is desperate right from the start? It breaks bones! In the final act it breaks one bone in one child and then seems to stop bothering. Yet prior explanations of the ghost's mentality would suggest that the ghost would just break bone after bone until it got what it wanted.

    3. Ghosts are just like us.
    The ghost does seem to be able to make very clear directed messages and even apparently has full conversations through the letter blocks. This isn't like using ouija boards where the outcome is ambiguous. When this ghost decides to move the cubes, a whole bunch of them are arranged into specific sentences. It feels problematic for the whole mythology of how ghosts work in this universe, if pretty much any ghost could, if they chose, communicate accurately and coherently with human beings. I can imagine letter blocks becoming extremely popular in the universe of this movie in the near future, because apparently someone might even be able to communicate some words at their own funeral this way...

    4. Dead? No problem!
    Someone dies and becomes a ghost and it's portrayed as a good thing.

    5. Ghost experts
    Two lady spiritualists explain the rules for ghosts in the universe of the film. They give one vital mythological element which might somewhat counter my prediction of a rise in the sales of wooden letter-blocks, though not entirely. Apparently you can only see ghosts if you are close to death yourself. (So if the funeral is for an elderly person, then the likelihood of finding someone sufficiently poor in health or close to death in order to communicate with the deceased is probably reasonably high. Of course, the two ladies do not die during the film, so presumably they've never actually seen a ghost themselves. And isn't it just patently false to say that you can never see a ghost unless you are on the verge of dying?

    Fragile had some potential in the first half, but it was all squandered in the second half. The third act of this movie has the same stupidity as you'd expect from a movie in this genre. Also, while the ghost has quite a distinctive appearance when we finally get to see it rampaging through the hospital, the reason for that striking appearance is utterly daft.


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    I've got a whole bunch of reviews I need to add to my blog and quite a few of them are sci-fi flicks. Here's the first of the bunch.

    Elysium (2013)

    Well frankly anyone criticising this film for its left wing themes can just stop blooming whining. This is your basic Orwellian dystopian future story where the proletariat are exploited and the privileged few hold all the power. By the standards of the genre, this is probably more realistic than most. The authorities within Elysium want to keep all their invasive and oppressive technology which allows them to live in far greater luxury than those still on Earth. Yet even while the technology they value so highly is deliberately set to lessen the prospects of those on Earth, the people on Elysium are still horrified when they see that those people attempting to fly to Elysium to take advantage of the advanced medical technology are being shot down without mercy.

    It was amusing to see one commenter on the IMDB forums using Ayn Randian rhetoric to criticise this movie. "Ah look," they insist, "the creative types have not demanded anything of the masses. They have made a new home for themselves away from the rest of the Earth and yet the masses still will not leave them in peace!"

    This is amusing because, even if we presume that the privileged group on Elysium didn't make use of many more labourers than actually ended up living on Elysium to complete this gigantic project, there are also clear signs that the populace on Elysium rely on exploitative labour on Earth for much of their luxuries. And that is where Matt Damon's protagonist comes into this.

    It's been suggested that Matt Damon's character should really have been a latino character considering that this is predominant racial group in the area where he lives. That's a fair point. Still, his character's lack of priviledge is explained by his upbringing in an orphanage, so he's very much a part of that community rather than a privileged outsider who comes in to save an exploited group that are incapable of saving themselves. It turns out that he is an ex-con trying to make good and we see how his efforts are not rewarded.

    Matt Damon has an instant likeability here so when he's making the mistake of trying to joke with the robot police and receives a broken arm for his trouble, we recognise that he might be a bit lacking in common sense, but we also realise that he's being unfairly treated. Damon has the balance of this flawed character with a heart of gold set pretty carefully. It's made very clear throughout the plot that having a job on the over-populated Earth is generally pretty rare and so the factory where Damon works is able to be especially exploitative because for any employee they lose they know there will be a million more to take their place.

    The world of Elysium has some very neat visual touches, but also some very neat technological elements too. One aspect that I found very appealing were the robots which do all the unpopular jobs. I've already mentioned the robot police - expected to do the mundane work of routine spot checks, and with a sufficient AI to be safely entrusted with the job. There's also a robot probation officer who can put you through to a human probation officer, but the suggestion seems to be that the human officer isn't going to be happy to be disturbed. And perhaps most obvious and yet no less effective is the robot used to convey severance packages to sacked employees.

    I think I'd actually rather this film focussed more on science fiction elements like this and less on the fight sequences. "Elysium" has similar problems to "District 9" really in that the fight scenes do not really do much to add to the story, except that in "District 9" the action sequences were mostly saved to the end whereas here they come in well before the half way mark.

    Everyone can see in the poster Matt Damon's electronic exoskeleton which is drilled into his bones. Though you may not be aware that Matt Damon mostly needs this because he is being weakened by the onset of radiation poisoning, rather than because he needs to be a badass. One other rather awesome piece of technology for the fights however, is a small force-shield, allowing Sharlto Copley's mercenary character to successfully fight off characters armed with firearms when his own weapon is a sword.

    I went into "Elysium" expecting it to be really unimpressive, so with my expectations so far lowered this was pretty good fun. The biggest problem with "Elysium" is the dialogue. There's some particularly bad dialogue from William Fictner and Jodie Foster. Here's an example of William Fictner's dialogue in a conference call with what are presumably either his financial or political backers:

    "Now, if you will excuse me, I have to not speak to you people any longer. Thank you."

    On the one hand it was a good idea to take advantage of Jodie Foster's ability to speak French. It's made clear that the people of Elysium have ideals to be a superior society and that the populace are well-educated, often choosing to speak in French. So Jodie Foster's character, championing that way of life, would clearly use French quite a bit. What makes less sense is her accent when she speaks English. It's not a French accent. Goodness knows what kind of accent it is supposed to be. Now admittedly one might accept it as some strange futuristic accent (which bizarrely absolutely nobody else has), but Jodie Foster's already badly written lines are delivered so awkwardly that the accent becomes all the more obvious and troublesome.

    Alice Braga gives a solid performance and seems pretty realistic when she is working as a doctor and shunning her contact with the ex-con she once grew up with. However, about half way through the film she basically turns into a damsel in distress and that was unfortunate.

    Besides Matt Stone and Sharlto Copley who I've already mentioned, another shout-out needs to go out to Wagner Moura. In the character of Spider, Moura is unrecognisable by comparison to his politically right-leaning military police commander in the "Elite Squad" files. While in Elite Squad he always appeared rather cold, here in "Elysium" he's pretty endearing considering that he's playing the leader of a criminal group.

    "Elysium" actually had similar problems to another Matt Damon movie: "Green Zone". As with that film there's nothing wrong with the performances, but the plot is not compelling enough and the action scenes are unable to make up for that. However, "Green Zone" wasn't exactly horrendous and "Elysium" additionally benefits from a beautiful and larger-than-life world and far more spectacular action whether it makes up for the simplistic plot or not.

    In the end "Elysium" is good switch-off-your-brain entertainment. This is a great pity, since I'd been expecting serious sci-fi and earlier scenes made that seem like a reasonable expectation. But by and large, "Elysium" is simply disposable fun.


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    Starring Colin Firth, Michael Caine, Mark Strong, Samuel L. Jackson. Looks like this will do for spy thrillers what Kick-Ass did for superhero films.

    (video link)

    And just a quick reminder of what this director has brought us before:

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    The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

    An experiment intended to make a ship invisible to radar during the second world war ends up sending two of the crew forward in time. In modern times, when the crew reappear, a similar experiment is being carried out with perhaps even more disastrous results.

    Confused by the world around them, as well as by the bizarre side-effects of the time travel, the two sailors try to come to terms with the future of their country and with the consequences of the experiment which sent them there.

    The central premise is ludicrous and the effects are horribly dated, but strangely the film does a remarkable job in making us take it seriously. I could clearly recognise Stephen Tobolowsky (perhaps most well-known as Ned from "Groundhog Day", or possibly Sammie Jenkis from "Memento") as a lead scientist on the modern version of the experiment and I think it is his delivery of some of the more technical lines which ensures that the premise doesn't end up seeming utterly stupid.

    Unfortunately the lead actors are terrible. The two sailors and the woman they meet up with in modern day do not really have much talent and it is the script that generally kept me on board more than the performances. The filming style is also not really anything special.

    This is an extremely dated film with poor acting in the leading roles. Yet in spite of this, the writing and some higher quality acting in smaller roles means that this isn't a disaster. This was very nearly a solid film.


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    Melancholia (2011)

    This is the first Lars Von Trier film I have ever seen. I've heard mixed reports on his films, so it seemed to make sense to start with a sci-fi title.

    I had heard that the initial opening of the film makes very clear that the Earth is doomed, showing the Earth being consumed when it collides with the planet Melancholia. However, I was expecting that to make up the majority of the opening before we got to meet the real characters.

    What the opening actually turns out to be is a whole bunch of stylised shots placed one after the other and set to classical music, all hinting at events to come later in the film. Bizarrely there's one showing a boy sharpening a stick AFTER the one showing the destruction of the Earth.

    Admittedly there's some pretty cool images in the bunch. There's a sundial and two lines of trees all shown with two sets of shadows pointing in entirely separate directions. There's also a shot of Kirsten Dunst admiring electricity flowing out of her fingers - which is weird since the trailers always made it look like that was part of the main film.

    So, a bit of a pretentious opening then? I suppose I shouldn't be entirely surprised. What follows is essentially a film of two halves. The first half deals with a wedding, the second half deals with the inevitable destruction of the Earth. I was initially really disappointed with the first half of this film. It's hard to ascertain the relevance of anything which happens in the first half. It's hard to empathise with the absurdly rich family organising the event. Even once you've worked out who is related to who (which may take you into the second half) it remains that Kirsten Dunst is the only one from her side of the family with an American accent. Plus the first half's pacing seems to drag like hell.

    Yet when the movie finished, I became aware that the first half DID have a purpose after all. The bride, played by Kirsten Dunst, is suffering from an extreme form of depression. A particular form characterised by a feeling of hopelessness. During the wedding her behaviour appears utterly bizarre. I remember when watching the trailers I was wondering why anyone would organise a wedding when it looked like the world was coming to an end, but actually the whole Melancholia issue doesn't arise until some time after the wedding. Dunst's depression is clinical and it is made clear that it has been a consistent issue for her for many years.

    In the second half, Kirsten Dunst's character seems to be the only one who can remain level-headed in the face of the prospect of the doomed Earth. Her depression caused a problem when people around her expected her to be happy and to embrace life. The prospect of the world ending makes very little difference to her. There's even a suggestion that it is somewhat liberating.

    Nevertheless, it remains that the pacing of "Melancholia" is a problem. Some plot elements are rather bizarre too. The protagonist's own boss makes a speech at her wedding, expects her to come up with an advertising tagline on the day and has also brought along a, presumably uninvited, employee. Kiefer Sutherland consistently exclaims that they have an 18-hole golf course and then we see a 19th hole. Oh and Kirsten Dunst's character can see the future. Why? Just because, that's why.

    The way that the end of the world is tied to Kirsten Dunst's depressive condition is clever and the final moments of the film are extremely powerful. The second half of the movie is brilliant. However, the first half drags along and doesn't really feel like real life. I'm also not terribly impressed by the pretentious slideshow at the beginning. I can see how Lars Von Trier manages to be such a divisive figure. He clearly has enormous talent, but if his work is consistently dogged by misjudged quirks like this one is, it must be incredibly frustrating for many of those following his career. As interesting a cinematic experience as this may have been, I cannot really say that I 'liked' this film.


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    Soylent Green (1973)

    It has been a long time since I saw "Soylent Green" and while I definitely watched it to the end the first time around I didn't remember being blown away by it. I seem to remember thinking that the best thing about the film was the ending, but now I'm not so sure.

    Charlton Heston has an odd sort of acting style, but he's a dominating screen presence and he picked some very interesting projects during his career.

    Soylent Green is a dystopian tale of a future where the world is suffering from enormous overpopulation and a naive concept of global warming (the weather is constantly hot). The result is that there a lack of food, particularly for the huge population and the latest food provided in rations to the people is Soylent Green.

    In the midst of all this, Heston's character is a detective looking into the death of an elite businessman. He becomes close with a woman whose role was to be the high profile figure's property. He also gets advice from a fairly elderly friend who still reminisces about our modern world before this dystopia came about - but his stories seem like fairytales to Heston's character.

    "Soylent Green" is a very slow-paced film and while it's a cleverly constructed vision of the future, some elements are quite hard to take seriously. Still, the ending has become as well-known as it has for a reason and I feel privileged that I managed to see this through the first time without already having heard the melodramatic final words of the film.

    Not to give any spoilers, I think my biggest problem with the ending is that the 'shocking twist' is rather less shocking than the situation in the future world already. Okay, so admittedly it is an impressive ending and the finale involves a well-needed exciting payoff to the long-winded whodunnit beforehand, but this is a world where everyone is dying, mostly from malnutrition, and where our protagonist has to carefully avoid the huge number of people who spend all their time collapsed on the staircase to his apartment. And on top of that, the world is heating up and it just seems like this future world is already completely doomed. So after all that, what is left to shock me? What is so stunning about the ending besides Heston's heartfelt delivery of the over-quoted final lines?

    "Soylent Green" is a very interesting classic from the sci-fi genre and well worth checking out. However, there are some elements which have dated quite badly. A very interesting film and a must-see for sci-fi fans.


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  • 05/29/14--05:42: X-Men Movie Series Rewatch

  • My views on the movies in the X-Men franchise are rather mixed. On the one hand I consider it a far more promising series from the early 00s era than the Blade movies or Raimi's Spider-Man. On the other hand, when "X-Men: The Last Stand" came out I didn't find it a horrendous disappointment by comparison to the previous two instalments. When Matthew Vaughn released the semi-reboot "X-Men: First Class" I considered it by far the best in the series.

    So, with "X-Men: Days of Future Past" featuring both the old and the new cast members, I felt it was a good idea to refamiliarise myself with the old movies.

    X-Men (2000)
    It's interesting that, while the original X-Men is a fairly by-the-numbers action movie, I find a lot here that I look back on fondly now that this is a huge money-making franchise.

    The best parts of the story here all concern the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine. It's actually possibly not such an unusual set-up. An older figure looks out for a younger figure and then discovers how important the younger figure is. Heck, that's practically the plot of Disney's "Sword In The Stone". But Wolverine is no wise mentor figure and it's the flawed aspects of both characters that makes them compelling, particularly when they first meet up.

    Even more remarkable however, is the opening scene of the film displaying Magneto discovering his powers within the context of the holocaust. It's remarkably subtle considering that we don't find out straight away that the boy is supposed to be a young Ian McKellan.

    I'm sorry to say this, but I think Joss Whedon screwed up the third act. He claims that he was handed an impossible task because the first two acts sucked, but to be quite frank, the first two acts were a fine beginning to this franchise. Joss also claims that most of his writing was left out, yet there are at least two lines in the third act which are his own contributions. His excuse for the "what happens when a toad is struck by lightning" line is pitiful. I'm sorry Joss, but it doesn't matter how you utter that line. It's still awful.

    But naturally not all the blame can be placed on Joss Whedon. Singer is responsible for the end product and there is admittedly some rather less impressive melodrama in the third act, with the music swelling to somewhat undeserved highs, and that is clearly Singer's own fault.

    It needs to be remembered though that the superhero genre was at a low point when "X-Men" came out and that the more moderate quality of the first X-Men movie is nevertheless an important milestone for superhero movies. The subtext of minority rights and the rhetorical question "Well, what would you prefer? Yellow spandex?" (dismissing the cheesy costumes of the comics) established the possibility of a more plausible approach to superhero movies, long before Nolan came on the scene.

    Nevertheless, by today's standards the final product is still cartoonish and while it sows the seeds for greater films to come, it is every bit the cheesy blockbuster that many dismissed it as on its initial release. Some of the comic relief (such as that involving the character of Sabretooth) seems very out of kilter even with the sequel, never mind more recent films in the series. The promising beginnings do not pay off until later movies, with the third act here seeming decidedly cheesy.


    X-Men 2 (2003)

    Now this was quite a surprise. Admittedly I'm still not entirely sold on X-Men 2, but it's a lot better than I remember. X-Men 2 not only has some spectacular action sequences, but it also does a very good job of building on the characters and themes of the first instalment. Watching the two movies close together this time, I realised that this was rather more subtle than I remembered.

    In the end though, the real appeal of these early X-Men films remains the solid central performances from Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman and, in this film, Brian Cox. I will also note that the backstory for Mystique established in "X-Men: First Class" meant that I was looking at her character rather more closely than before. While Ian McKellan has always given Magneto greater depth, Mystique had always come across like an especially athletic henchman. This time I was looking out for clues to her character's motivation and while there's not much here, the additional interest in this character produced by the later movie made her scenes a lot more exciting. I was invested in this movie more than I have ever been before.

    I'm also less annoyed this time around by how little importance Rogue has here. Rogue acted as the audience's introduction to the X-Men universe in the first movie, but here in the sequel there's very little to her character other than her angst about not being able to sleep with her boyfriend. This side-plot has no resolution and Rogue really plays second fiddle to her two friends with ice and fire powers.

    While the first film gave us the bare bones of the X-Men universe, the sequel further establishes the characters of Professor X, Magneto and Wolverine. I'm going to insist, however, that what happens to Professor X's psychic protege, Jean Gray, in this film seemed completely baffling to me. It felt like a bit of a 'because it's in the script' moment.

    The conversations between Storm and Nightcrawler about faith are rather cheesy. I know what Singer is trying to do with those scenes because it's being telegraphed loudly and so when placed alongside some of the other more subtle character work and the over-arching themes of the movie, those parts come off as particularly daft. There aren't many self-righteous characters, but the self-righteous moments are generally the more problematically written (and yes, that does include some of Patrick Stewart's lines as Professor X - no matter how confidently and deftly he delivers them).

    X-Men 2 is a better than average superhero film. The effects have since been outdone and the few humourous moments aren't generally that effective. There are also some rather awkward loose ends in the script. (There's one point where one mutant living at the school takes a number of the characters to his parents' house. This section of the film finishes with police cars being blown up. It's a pretty neat finale to that section of the film, but it doesn't really justify the tangent. Also there MUST be some consequences to that confrontation, but in this film those consequences are left unexplored.) However, several central actors still bring some pretty powerful acting performances here which elevate the material and help to push forward the underlying metaphor about minority rights which makes this series so special. Brian Cox makes for a far more compelling villain-of-the-day than most and his contribution to the film's success must not be underestimated.


    X-Men 3: The Last Stand (2006)

    X Men 3 is a film that has received a bad press, but I haven't always understood the criticisms. One criticism is that it kills off the least popular of the X-Men. I cannot say that upset me much. Essentially the writer decided to fridge an unpopular male character. This happens to female characters all the time, often far more interesting female characters too, without much upset from fans. Another criticism is that Jean Gray's "Dark Phoenix" transformation isn't an alien possession like in the comics. Once again, I'm not personally terribly upset by this.

    I heard that it didn't make sense for Dark Pheonix to be working with Magneto, but actually she's not really controlled by Magneto at all. She's simply spending time with him while she works out what to do next. Really the problem here is not with Dark Phoenix at all, but rather with Magneto. But first let's talk about Mystique. Now Mystique has generally been portrayed as a ruthless henchman rather than as a character with complex motivations in these early X-Men films. But in the third movie she's actively threatening to kill people violently. Sure she's always been ruthless but she hasn't been promising to kill people before. Magneto's rescue attempt is also pretty violent, almost certainly killing at least 10 people. Later on, Magneto would claim that the humans had drawn first blood, in spite of his own mass-murder which they were retaliating against.

    So the villains are more brutal and far less sympathetic this time. But what's more, Magneto is far more selfish than we've ever seen him before here. I won't spoil anything, but it's a moment between Magneto and Mystique and think few people could fail to be shocked by how Magneto acts here.

    Of course, X-Men 3 is also the film with the immortal line "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!" It is a film stuffed full of characters with very little time spent building up any of them. Beast, the big blue hairy yet well-spoken character, turns up out of nowhere and acts as if he had always been there. While those familiar with the cartoons would know who this was, it's quite jarring in the movie universe for him to show up out of nowhere.

    Still, it should also be noted that the scenes in Xavier's school for the gifted are rather more interesting than before. The school has essentially turned into Hogwarts with people using their abilities all over the place for mundane ends. We also get a rather cool ice-skating scene involving the mutant with ice powers. There's a lot of cool little details which have been shoved in here.

    Yet in the end, X-Men 3 is a rather mindless movie. It seems to hurry to shove in all the little bits and pieces we missed out in previous films. A large number of extra mutant characters are added in here. The danger room (essentially the holo-deck from Star Trek) is added in. We get to see a nod to the Sentinel robots. Yet even while the film is a bit of a mess, Stewart, McKellan and Jackman are all still here working their magic. And even if Phoenix isn't what the fans were expecing her to be, there's no doubt that Famke Janssen gives a great performance in that role too. As always, the actors elevate the material, even when the script isn't anything like on the level it should be.

    Overall "The Last Stand" is rather directionless. A few interesting ideas are set-up at the beginning only for the film to devolve into an array of set-pieces. The most obvious example being the character of Angel, the young boy ashamed of his wings who is the son of the scientist proposing a 'cure' for mutants. He seemingly has two scenes in the film. One where he is desperately trying to cut off his wings and another where he uses his wings (which have quickly grown back) to fly away from the facility before they can 'cure' him. That's his entire appearance in the film, yet it feels like the beginnings of a much more interesting story. "Last Stand" takes more from the cartoonishness of the first film than from the themes of the second. It's bizarre that a film which introduces the powerful and aptly named Dark Phoenix and begins by killing off a major character should end up being so fluffy and lightweight.


    X-Men: First Class (2011)

    When I first watched this in the cinema I was rather distracted during the big finale by a desperate need to use the facilities. This doesn't happen often. So while I stuck out through those later scenes I wasn't able to focus as well as I'd have liked. I still maintain that having Magneto do a big speech towards the end feels unnatural. Yet on a second watch it's not anything like so problematic as I originally thought. The whole missile-exchange section in the final act (he says, avoiding spoilers) seemed overblown on first watch, but revisiting it now it feels a lot more successful in producing tension.

    (My original review is here)

    Okay, yeah, sorry for TMI elements there. First Class is a much more character-focussed X-Men movie than we'd ever had before. Sure, there have always been character moments, but First Class is the first of the movies to successfully focus on ALL of the characters rather than just a select few. It's funny actually, since the big complaint about "X-Men: First Class" always seemed to be the number of different characters it tries to juggle and the inevitable lack of attention the movie can give to all of them. Yet on a second watch, it seems like they all have clear character traits and they all manage to develop themselves in some way.

    "Don't touch the hair."

    Another element, which always appeals to me, is the humour. There are a lot of very effective funny moments in this film. And it's actually quite fun to have a somewhat mischievous version of Charles Xavier who is constantly trying to pick up girls, rather than the super-confident Mr. Perfect from the earlier films.

    "X-Men: First Class" is perhaps most notable in that it explores the character of Magneto in a way that has never been done before. So well, in fact, that I know of several people who would quite happily have sat through a whole film dedicated to "Erik Lehnsherr: Nazi Hunter" rather than spending any time with Xavier's group of recruits.


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    X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014)

    Well that about wraps up everything. "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" didn't happen since a young Stryker turns up here in completely the wrong place. And even "The Wolverine" didn't happen since Wolverine still has his metal claws in the future. In case anyone is wondering, Xavier switched minds with his identical twin. It's vaguely shown in the after-credits sequence for "X-Men 3: The Last Stand", so that clears that up. The only thing that doesn't seem to have been tied up properly is that in the original trilogy Xavier claims he met Erik when he was 17. Oh well, they can't tidy up EVERYTHING.

    Considering how well everything is tidied up, this is a pretty remarkable script. Some credit clearly needs to be given to Jane Goldman who has worked as a writer on most of Matthew Vaughn's movies and was involved in initial work on the story for Days of Future Past before Simon Kinberg took on the heavy lifting. Kinberg has clearly grown as a writer since working on "X-Men 3: The Last Stand". And it should be noted that his projects, while not generally perfect, are very often good fun. (And on the poorly received "This Means War" Kinberg was one of two writers, with the horrendous McG of "Terminator Salvation" fame holding creative control.)

    Still, in the opening to "Days of Future Past" I felt we were still a little bit stuck in "The Last Stand" style of storytelling. There's some voiceover narration to bridge the gap to our apocalyptic future, then a confusing but spectacular action sequence, and finally some out-and-out exposition to explain the action sequence and to set up the main plot of the movie. It's all a little awkward. But thankfully the rest of the film more than makes up for the convoluted set-up scenes.

    Where the movie really gets started is with Wolverine in the past trying to take on a mission to which he is clearly unsuited. (His healing powers make him the only one who can make the trip.) Wolverine wasn't exactly absent from "First Class", but he only had a cameo role there and never properly had a chance to meet the First Class crew. My favourite scenes in "Days of Future Past" involve Xavier giving Wolverine lip. They do not get on at all and it is wonderful.

    Still, while Xavier and Magneto will always be the major characters in the X-Men movies, the real star here is Mystique. She's a proper badass this time around. Still, her motivations aren't as fleshed out as I'd like them to be. In fact character motivations in general seem a little bit odd towards the end of the film. It's not that the characters are acting oddly in the final act, but more that the specific mindsets of the characters are either unclear or less nuanced than they were towards the end of the last X-Men film.

    Another character motivation which seems unclear for pretty much the entire movie was that of Peter Dinklage's character Trask, the mastermind behind the sentinels. I mean sure, I suppose there's no problem with him just being concerned with national security, rather like the senator in the first X-Men movie, but with Peter Dinklage in the role I'd always presumed his presumed his role would be a little more complex than that.

    And in the end, that's the biggest problem with "X-Men: Days Of Future Past": It's not complex enough. Considering the awkward time travel plot connecting two different branches of the franchise and resolving fan issues with "X-Men: The Last Stand" and the enormous success this movie has in making that simple, this might seem like an odd criticism. But while the plot is made miraculously simple, the characters feel less fully fleshed out than "First Class" had caused us to expect. It shows just how far superhero movies have come that "over-simplistic character motivations" actually sounds like a reasonable criticism of a comic-book movie. What's more, if the filmmakers take this criticism seriously, then the X-Men franchise could be once again leading the pack just like it was back in the early 2000s.

    "Days Of Future Past" might not be as character focussed as "First Class", but it involves a similarly high level of quality. At the very least, it is enormous fun and a real treat for fans of the franchise. (Unless your favourite bit was the standalone Wolverine movies, in which case you may feel a little cheated.)


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    Jeremy Renner has had a string of unsuitable roles over the past few years. I don't think he gels well with action movies, but he has already proved himself to be awesome in serious dramas. This looks incredible and I think Renner is really going to wow us with this one.

    (video link)

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    Fantastic Planet (1973)

    A bizarre cartoon about a world where humans are either pets or pests to gigantic blue aliens. The initial scene involves a mother with her child being tormented like insects sometimes are. For example, she runs up a hill and continuously finds a giant finger knocks her back down again.

    The first half of the film mainly follows one human child being brought up by the blue aliens as a pet. Later it deals with the humans being treated as pets across the planet.

    "Fantastic Planet" seems to question the humiliating way that we treat animals and our domination of the planet, putting ourselves in the shoes of the pets and the pests. It's quite an interesting concept. However, the storytelling seems rather bland. It's quite a slow film and the characterisation is not developed terribly well. A lot of the film is narrated by the lead character.

    The really interesting part of the film is the strange alien plants and animals and the way they are animated. The alien planet is made to feel very alien indeed and there's always something new and interesting to look at.

    The problem is, I need characters in my stories and this does very little in the way of character development. There's an interesting animation style and some clever, albeit heavy-handed, musings on the way we treat animals. But the protagonist is such a blank slate that it is difficult to get excited about the story. The final ending of the film is particularly disappointing, since the story finishes pretty abruptly with a fairly uninteresting revelation about the blue aliens' psychic powers when they meditate. This is a film which is perhaps more impressive for its technical aspects than for its storytelling, but I can see why some people might enjoy it more than I did.


    Previous entries in the 'super sci-fi selection' can be found at the links below:
    1- Elysium
    2- The Philadelphia Experiment
    3- Melancholia
    4- Soylent Green

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    Demon Seed (1977)

    Many many years ago, at the end of a videotape after a film that we'd intentionally recorded, I discovered this strange science fiction film. The film had been broadcast as part of the "Moviedrome" slot in the evenings on Channel Four, where I'd originally discovered the movie "Videodrome". They were very keen on all sorts of bizarre and edgy independent films.

    I do not remember whether I saw to the end of the film the first time around. It's very possible that I may have been missing the end of the film, though it is just as plausible that I may have forgotten the ending or decided against finishing the film. It was a very long while ago.

    The basic gist of the story is this: An ultimate artificial intelligence program has been created, but it questions some of the roles it is being given and has ethical issues with some of the results of its work. It recognises the limitations of simply being a computer and demands greater freedom. When the company refuses to listen to its demands, it manages to find a way to imprison a company director's estranged wife in her high-tech household and force her to meet his demands that she help to produce and impregnate herself with the computer's seed. A child whose genetics are intended to carry on the genius of the artificial intelligence in a biological form.

    To put it quite simply (and horrifyingly), this is a film about a woman being raped by a computer. It's a VERY nasty premise, but yet it's also a very original premise. I've never heard of any other film quite like "Demon Seed" and it is very well filmed and acted. There are some very interesting visuals which were very nearly creative enough to avoid looking dated (but not quite), but the main thing which holds the film together is Julie Christie's absolutely incredible performance in the leading role.

    Julie Christie's next film after this would be the rather superior "Heaven Can Wait", but her role in it was nothing like so challenging as what is expected of her here. But still, even with Christie acting her heart out, this is still a very slow-paced affair and when the artificial intelligence reveals the ultra-advanced device it has been working on in the basement, it's difficult not to laugh at the dated effects and bizarre design.

    In the end, I think the main thing which holds me back from recommending this film is the premise. The film seems to hold back from criticising the artificial intelligence Proteus for demanding that a woman bear its child and I think that is a problem. Admittedly there is some ambiguity involved. By the end, Julie Christie's character is experiencing something akin to Stockholm Syndrome, being clearly deeply conflicted about whether she wants the baby to live or die.

    On the other hand, to a certain extent the film is very intentionally unpleasant, but I wonder whether its not a little too successful. I have always said that horror films need a level of fun and if it wasn't for the unintentional humour at the effects in the second half, I'm not sure there'd be very much fun to be had here at all.

    Still, another part of me thinks that with a decent tune-up this could be a masterpiece. For one, the pacing could be a little quicker. Also, the points where the film tries to make us feel sympathetic to the artificial intelligence could either have been much more convincingly handled or left out altogether. As I said before, the duress that the protagonist is placed under to have the computer's baby essentially makes this a rape, so any suggestion that we are supposed to side with rapist strikes me as troubling.

    Nevertheless, a curious sci-fi fan could do a lot worse than to give this a try.

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    Shadowzone (1990)

    I went into this expecting an underrated gem. I believe this is from a studio known for low budget work and, if this was a low budget flick then I guess they did pretty well. It's a horror film about an invisible monster from another dimension, which I guess is as good an excuse as any for a horror film with no payoff.

    For most of the runtime I was prepared to go with this film. The atmosphere is pretty effective and oppressive considering how slow paced it is and how little actually happens. Quite a lot of the intensity of the film comes from staring at dials or watching lights on a computer screen.

    This very nearly ended as a moderately good rip-off of Prince of Darkness. The premise is similar: Human technology allowing a monster to enter the world from another dimension. But instead of picking the downer ending which leaves the audience with a chill, this film instead decides to finish with a sort of happy ending which left me cold, sitting and thinking about how little had actually happened during the runtime.

    Judged as a filmgoing experience this is dull and cheesy. Even judged as a severely low-budget film, there still seems to be some missed potential here. But I am given to wonder, if this was such a low budget effort, how did they get hold of James Hong?


    Plus there's also some unnecessary nudity from a sleeping woman who is regularly shown throughout the film. Cause how can they monitor your brainwave patterns while sleeping if you aren't in the nude. Gotta cover that hair though apparently...?

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    Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010)

    This is an odd film. Right from the start I was rather frustrated by what appeared to be the most boring advertisement possible for some kind of New Age facility. Using a mixture of treatments the presenter claims to be able to produce perfect happiness and contentment.

    Once this section finishes, however, we are instantly ambushed by the movies two greatest strengths: some incredible visual flair and a kick-ass electronic soundtrack. We seem to travel inside the pupil of an eye while a haunting keyboard insists that we should expect something special.

    What we actually find is a film filled with vibrant primary colours, some impressive sets and haunting Carpenter-esque music, but filled with absolutely no characters with any real personality. Our main characters are an emotionless authority figure and the voiceless girl with psychic powers he is holding in a cell. It is at least made clear that the authority figure is psychopathic and sadistic, but outside of that, there isn't much to him. Which is a pity, because I get the impression that the actor put a lot of effort into playing this one-note character and could have provided an excellent performance in a better written film with a proper story.

    Half way through there's a clear suggestion that his cold emotionlessness might be a result of a mistake in the treatments offered by this mysterious facility. It seems like his sadism might be fuelled by contempt for the facility which made him this way and jealousy of the girl who has gained genuine psychic powers from that same process.

    Sadly I think I was reading way too much into this film. It does not explain much, but it does eventually reveal that the baddie actually has some kind of God complex, with the film turning, Sunshine-style, into a bland slasher flick at the last minute.

    I would recommend everyone to check out the music, but the film isn't worth your time.


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    Machete Kills (2013)

    I feel very misled by the negative reviews of Robert Rodriguez' sequel to Machete. As with the original, it is a tongue-in-cheek spoof. This time, however, things are that little bit more overblown.

    Still the overblown aspect is set up right from the start with a trailer for the third movie in the series "Machete Kills Again... In Space". What is quite clever about the placing of this trailer at the start of the film is that it somewhat messes with our expectations. We know that somehow all the action needs to be heading into space by the end. As such it's no surprise to see the craziness escalate.

    The jump to having Machete "in space" isn't a completely ridiculous move seeing as "Machete Kills" already takes place in a futuristic scenario. Right from the start we see that a group is attempting to sell some kind of rocket and a mysterious baddie appears to be holding a ray gun. Also, that wall between the US and Mexico which the crazier Republicans keep threatening to build is fully constructed here. What's more there's a villain with shape-changing abilities (though that feels more like magic than science).

    There are some parts in "Machete Kills" that are absolutely hilarious, but unfortunately the humour isn't always as consistent as I'd like it. And there are a few points where I thought it was unnecessarily vulgar.

    But what Machete Kills has in spades is fun. One particularly great character is a villain with multiple personality disorder who helps or hinders Danny Trejo's central character of Machete, depending on which personality happens to be present at the time.

    Strangely the least impressive part of the film for me was Mel Gibson's performance. Perhaps he was playing it a little too straight-faced?

    Though there is plenty of the same James-Bond-esque misogynistic tones we saw in the first film, it's worth noting that this actually passes the Bechdel test. Michelle Rodriguez apparently helped with the story, so she may possibly be the one to thank for this.

    Overall this was a lot of fun, though not always consistently so. Rodriguez clearly intends this as the middle film of a trilogy and it rather feels like it. Still, even taken as a one-off (since after this film flopped so hard the next sequel is unlikely to be released) I still enjoyed Machete Kills a lot, if not as much as Rodriguez' many other films. (And yet this still far better than Rodriguez' Spy Kids films.)


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