Review of Jupiter Asending – Just don’t bother

Drink in that picture isn’t it very pretty? Yep it’s lovely. Congratulations you’ve got the best that this film has to offer. Which film is it you ask? Why it is Jupiter Ascending of course the latest offering from the Wachkowski’s of Matrix, Speed Racer and Cloud Atlas fame.

Review

Typically, I put a plot synopsis before these reviews afterall it good to give everyone an idea of the film. I’m not bothering in this case though because, the plot of this one is almost completely non-existent. No one connected with the writing of this film spent anytime looking at the script of dialogue for this one and boy oh boy does it show.

I’m a fan of the Wachowski’s and I’m a fan sci-fi who enjoys space opera. It isn’t a genre that gets put out much in blockbuster form in the cinema anymore. In fact big budget action films don’t get put out anymore unless they are a Marvel properties.

Finding myself unexpectedly with a free afternoon and finding that Ex Machina wasn’t on for hours but Jupiter Ascending in 3D was I took the plunge and stumped up for a ticket plus 3d glasses. I’m not asking for my money back but it was close.

To give the film a brief bit of praise it is visually stunning and if you are going to see it you might as well see it in 3D. The extra dimension whilst not in any way necessary does at least provide an extra veneer of entertainment and as 3D goes it is done really well.

I can’t put it off any longer lets talk about the “plot”.

The main character is a princess who gets to inherit Earth as her birthright. Far enough you think lets run with that only it isn’t that simple because, technically she is a reincarnation of the mother of this family that owns the planet Earth along with thousands of other planets. How is she a reincarnation you ask?

Well as a brief bit of dialogue tells us it is spiritual for these space humans so we wouldn’t understand it but be assured audience that the main character is an exact genetic replica of the ruling matriarch of this space royal family and therefore she can inherit. Do her children like this though? Well the daughter kind of seems to. One son wants to marry his mother so he can then kill her and get Earth (talk about mommy issues) and the other son (Eddie Redmayne) just wants mommy dearest dead.

You might be confused by all that but let me assure I’ve given it as much thought if not more than the film makers did. Theoretically, this reincarnation idea that could be interesting and the directors have certainly shown themselves willing/able to deal with complex issues in other sci-fi films they have done.

In this case though there is no explanation or thought about the plot or Lord forbid any themes. Instead I found myself wondering about incidental things such as how stupid is the dad to fight over and get killed over a telescope when the robbers are leaving? If the main character is meant to be an exact genetic replica of the mother shown in the stature then why doesn’t the statute look more like her? Or even more puzzlingly if the main character has a Russian family but has lived and worked in the USA all her life then why does her Russian/American cousin have a broad Aussie accent? When you are watching a sci-fi film with talking dinosaurs, bee-man hybrids, wolf-man hybrids and you are wondering about such things than you know the film is in deep smelly trouble without a paddle.

If the film isn’t a classic then you might hope to enjoy it either as cheesy fun or as so-bad-it’s-good fodder. Sadly, it doesn’t do either. The actor performances are all very toned down save for Eddie Redmayne who is doing some bizarre low voice thing that might be his attempt at scenery chewing camp but succeeds neither in being entertaining or making you think he is a villain of any note.

The film then lacks any interesting characters, plot or stakes. The characters kind of wonder from one event to another without ever being in any threat.

Even when Channing Tatum’s character is dumped out of an airlock there is no sense of peril. There is no hint at how he will survive but you can’t believe that the film would kill a character off or come up with a clever way for the character to live and so it doesn’t. Tatum’s wolf-man hybrid survives because he kicked off a piece of the space ship as he was ejected and this piece of spaceship apparently doubles as a space suit. So the bad guys are so incompetent that when executing someone by spacing him they leave behind a spacesuit for him to survive! WTF! If I wasn’t so bored by this point that a nap seemed interesting I might have got annoyed.

Jupiter Ascending has little to it apart from looking good. Given how they adapted Cloud Atlas to the big screen one can only presume that the Wachowski’s felt the need to do something more narratively simple as a palate cleanser. Unfortunately, Jupiter Ascending doesn’t cleanse the palate but leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

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Review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar – Great Visuals, High Ambition, Weak Story (SPOILER KLAXON)

THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT ! THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT! THIS IS A SPOILER ALERT! THIS IS A SPOILER aLERT!

In keeping with my self-appointed quest to populate this blog with the latest and choicest cinematic morsels I bring you a review of Christopher Nolan’s  sci-fi blockbuster “Interstellar”.

IMBD Synopsis

A team of explorers travel through a wormhole in an attempt to find a potentially habitable planet that will sustain humanity.

Review

Like practically anyone who has seen one of his movies I am a Christopher Nolan fan. Out of all the directors working in film today Nolan is the only director who is consistently making the sort of smart, challenging blockbusters with clever plots that I want to see.

It is fair to say then I was looking forward to see Nolan’s latest offering ‘Interstellar’. I deliberately avoided information, reviews and spoilers. I went into the cinema ‘cold’ and I’m glad I did so because, if ever there was a film whose enjoyment cannot survive spoilers it is ‘Interstellar’.

In writing this review though I am unsure of my feelings. Previous Nolan films like the Dark Knight and Inception left me leaving the cinema with my mind blown.

This emphatically did not happen with Interstellar. Throughout the film’s three hour run time I was intrigued but I wasn’t captivated or gripped. Whilst I saw the Dark Knight in cinema twice and have watched it and Inception many many times on DVD I don’t feel the same way about Interstellar. In fact after seeing it once I have absolutely no desire to see it again but I am glad that I saw it on the big screen.

What worked

So what did I like about Interstellar? It is brilliantly shot. The space visuals were fantastic. I really got a sense of the isolation and scale of space. Furthermore, Nolan doesn’t use CGI too much and therefore when he does use CGI it works. Compared to “Gravity”, which I didn’t see on big screen, I thought the space stuff in Interstellar was far superior.

On top of the visuals there is also the soundtrack which is fantastic and really adds to the film. The scene where Cooper docks with the space station that is wildly spinning is tense and gripping and, frankly, awesome. At least 50% of this awesomeness is due to the score. This bit of the film also has the best bit of dialogue from the film “That’s impossible. No it’s necessary”.

What didn’t work

Unfortunately, there is plenty of stuff that didn’t work. Much of the strength of Nolan films has been the excellent plots that kept you guessing. The plot for this one couldn’t keep a clever 10 year old guessing.

Right from the off it was obvious that the answer to the film going to be the ‘ghost’ in Murphy’s room. This Checkov moment could be forgiven however if it wasn’t for the blatant and explicit use of Dues Ex Machina. Or to be accurate Future Humans Ex Blackholina.

This brings us to the second problem with the plot it is both needless contrived and too simple. There’s a plan A and a plan B and the possibility that plan A is a scam and then there is the ongoing crucial research on gravity and Coopers desire to go home to his children and Brand’s desire to go to her lovers planet.

There is all this going on and yet at the same time the like the ‘ghost’ the characters explicitly say love is the answer just follow your heart. Nolan is a god enough director that this didn’t produce waves of nausea from me but I;m not going to pretend that this hokeyness is good writing.

In short the plot of the film was just poor.

Conclusion

Nolan aims for deep space in Interstellar but doesn’t make it out beyond the moon. Interstellar is deeply flawed and isn’t a classic. Its ambition is so vast though that you’ve got to kind of like it. Plus these are the kind of films that we want to see made. So go out to the cinema and give Interstellar a watch.

Review of The Night Eternal : Part 3 of The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (SPOILER KLAXON)

Plot Synopsis

“It’s been two years since the vampiric virus was unleashed in The Strain and the entire world now lies on the brink of annihilation. There has been a mass extermination of humans orchestrated by the Master—an ancient vampire possessed of unparalleled powers. The future of humankind lies in the hands of a ragtag band of freedom fighters—Dr. Eph Goodweather, Dr. Nora Martinez, Vasiliy Fet, and Mr. Quinlan, the half-breed offspring of the Master who is bent on revenge.”

Review

I don’t say this lightly. I can’t remember the last time I finished a series and regretted reading it but that is how I feel about ‘The Night Eternal’. After a strong first book and a so-so second book the Strain series concludes with The Night Eternal and it’s a complete stinker.

Books, films, poems, games, stories of any type really make implicit promises to the audience that things are going to unfold in certain ways. The story sets up questions that are going to be answered or at least expectations of the type of questions asked and/or the way that are being answered.

If you start off playing Mario you expect to fight Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. If the story starts with a quest to a far off mountain to destroy a magical ring the story better be about getting to the mountain and destroying said ring. If the story starts with John McCain taking his shoes off in a skyscraper then that skyscraper better be taken over by German terrorists and the fact he is shoeless needs to figure in also. You get the point.

The Night Eternal doesn’t understand this. ‘The Strain’ (Book One) set the scene about the type of story that is being told. The book starts off by putting a ‘scientific’ spin on Vampires. Rather than being mythical creatures the main character is the chief scientist for the Centre for Disease Control (CDC).

When he starts investigating the outbreak he is looks at the situation in a rational, clinical way. He is doing autopsies of the infected bodies and we the audience get to see how the virus is completely taking over the host and rewriting its physiology at the most fundamental level.

This is an interesting and fresh take of the vampire myth. Given the popularity of Twilight and other vampire books that are essentially about teenage girls being able to bang impossibly hunky looking guys it is particularly refreshing. These vampires are EVIL, they want to destroy humanity and they have a plan to do it.

Now it is important to be realistic with vampire stories. We are dealing with well worn tropes here. So I’m not expecting things to completely different and I wouldn’t want them to be.

These vampires cannot cross flowing water unaided and they are hurt by silver. I’m fine with this and the vulnerability to silver is nicely explained by the Silver’s well known anti-bacterial properties. The story is fitting the tropes of vampires into the idea of vampirism as a virus that exists in the modern world. This is story that I’m expecting to be told.

In ‘The Night Eternal’ this ‘scientific’ story was completely jettisoned in what is a complete mess of a book. The book decides to give us the origins of ‘The Master’ by making the story about religion. In brief ‘The Master’ is one part of an Angel that came down to Earth when God was dealing with Sodom and Gomorrah. Stuff happens it turns evil.

Then to compound matters the climax of the story is straight up Deus Ex Machina in which it turns out that Eph is a prophet. He gets a vision from God and is miraculously given the answer. It’s really unsatisfying.

Furthermore, the series has set up a whole series of character arcs that it never takes the time to develop and then gets bored of and drops halfway through.

Annoyingly/pointlessly they decided to keep Nora’s Alzheimer suffering mother around only to have her killed off screen. Even worse they set up the relationship triangle with the Master, Eph and his son Zach only to leave it to late to do anything about the issue.

Then as a final kicker the entire story has a huge plot hole. The characters spend much of the book trying to acquire a detonator for a nuclear bomb as a nuke detonated at the right place can destroy ‘The Master’. This is fine but in passing they also decide to say that the UK has survived the vampire apocalypse in tact by flooding the channel tunnel.

It’s nice that they have saved my homeland but they didn’t think this through. The UK is a nuclear power. Its weapons are based on nuclear powered Trident submarines. Wikipedia tells me the UK has around 225 Nukes. I’m not going to go into all the permutations but one way or the other the UK is going to take care of this Vampire apocalypse/ be really really helpful. This avenue is completely ignored though and it is symptomatic of how lazy this book is.

In conclusion, this is one of the most disappointing conclusions to trilogy I’ve read. Given that the authors are really good storytellers on other projects. The Night Eternal’s laziness is inexcusable.

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers? – Review Ep 1 & 2

Synopsis (from IMBD)

The Leftovers “revolves around mysterious disappearances, world-wide, and specifically follows a group of people who are left behind in the suburban community of Mapleton. They must begin to rebuild their lives after the loss of more than 100 people”.

Review

When I first saw the trailer for ‘The Leftovers’ I adamant that I was not going to be watching it.  Sitting at my laptop when it came on however, it did catch my attention and in many ways this was my greatest fear. My fear was that The Leftovers would draw me like the Sirens of ancient Greek myth only to leave me marooned on the rocks of narrative disappointment.

You see I didn’t look at the premise of ‘The Leftovers’ and think that looks uninteresting or that’s stupid. As a lover of fantasy and science fiction I am fully on board with high concept premises. On seeing ‘The Leftovers’ my first thought that is an interesting idea but not for a TV series. In particular not for an American TV series

Why you ask?

Whilst the premise of The Leftovers is interesting and the show contains actors I like (Peep Show alum Paterson Joseph in particular is well cast). However, it also has a high potential to combine two tropes I hate.  Even worse it’s two tropes that can feed off each other.

Trope number one – Flashbacks

It’s an American TV drama staple. Lets show why character A is acting in such a way by flashing back five years and spending half the episode in a tedious narrative cul de sac. The Leftovers which is about a mystical event that disappears two percent of the population is ripe for tedious flashbacks.

Person number one wasn’t raptured but their wife was. Que flashback to before the rapturing as the writer drags us through a flashback of an affair or abusive relationship e.t.c.

Trope number 2. Religion/the meaning of life

People have been raptured off the planet what is the metaphysical significance of this? The perfect excuse for vague dialogue which pretends to offer some philosophical insight but in reality does nothing of the sort.

The Leftovers already had some hurdles to overcome in my eyes and then I found out that Lindelof was writing the series. Whilst I have enjoyed some of his work like Prometheus you would struggle to argue that he isn’t the prime propagator of tropes 1 and 2.  This then leads into the question

Do I trust Damon Lindelof enough to watch The Leftovers?

As I said though episode one did raise enough questions to draw me in. I am interested in the guy that is shooting dogs and Christopher Eccelston’s character and the cult of silent people dressed in white.

But this of course just brings me back to Lindelof. No doubt the guy can write interesting premises but they never lead anywhere satisfying.

So what I am coming up against is an odd theoretical issue. As a reader or viewer of stories I tend to without thinking trust that the author is going to fulfill his promises. After all successful writers do this but I’ve been burnt by Lindelof before.

I’m in an odd position. I enjoyed, the first episode in particular, enough that I’m tempted to give The Leftovers. However, I’m reticent to get back onto the merry-go-round with this Lindelof. The Leftovers is on a very short leash.

Review of Utopia Season Two

***SPOILER KLAXON***

It’s been a good long while since I have reviewed any TV on the blog so I thought I would make up for this by reviewing three shows in posts over the next few days. The lucky or unlucky or in reality luck neutral shows that I’m going to review are Channel 4’s Utopia, Amazon’s extant and BBC’s The Honourable Woman. I will kick things off with Utopia (at this point the reader should hum some catchy dubstep to themselves)

utopia

If there is going to be a recurring theme to this posting it is a lack of originality and my ensuing disappointment.

For those of you who missed it last time Utopia is a British science fiction drama. After a somewhat original season one Utopia is getting its inevitable US reboot and of course the original UK version is currently airing its entirely unnecessary second season. In order to cash in on the success of the first.

For those of you who missed the first season a brief synopsis is needed for orientation. Originally, I had a nice two paragraph synopsis here but it didn’t flow very well either because, I’m a poor writer or because the plot of Utopia is too crazy to easily explain. So instead here is channel four’s official Utopia Season One in Three Minutes.

Now onto the review!

This new season has exposed for me “Utopia’s” crippling lack of depth. The striking aspect of series one was how the funky music and the alarming bright colours mixed with the OTT violence to give things a cartoon feel. It was a fresh interesting aesthetic that I really enjoyed. Also when combined with the “what the hell is going on?” narrative hook it made for an enjoyable first season.

With the “what the hell is going on?”/mystery factor settled though (we know what the Network wants to do) the lack of depth to any characters becomes very apparent and very grating. Utopia comes across as something written by a precocious teenage boy who has a thing for manic pixie dream girls.

The corollary to this teenageryness is insufferable manner in which the writers are trying to justify the things the bad guys are doing. Murder on a massive scale is seen as the stuff that noble moral characters do because it is necessary and don’t you just know the necessary acts weigh heavily on their soul. Murder/ genocide is thus alright. We shouldn’t hate the characters or at least the writers don’t seem to.

In Utopia the ends justify the means in the most crass way. In the world of Utopia overpopulation is going to lead to huge wars and mass death even perhaps the extinction of the human race. In the face of this threat no action is too extreme, no action is off limits.

What makes this particularly annoying though is that the authors obviously intend this as a stark warning to the real world. And there is nothing I detest more than whiny politic statement convinced of its righteous.

Personally, though I suspect they are over-egging the pudding. Malthusian predictions of apocalypse have long been the scientific equivalent of “endtime” speak. Even if we accept Utopia’s scenario though the logic of the series doesn’t hold.

You see The Network has been spending billions of pounds/ dollars and rubles and billion of man hours developing the Janus virus. Janus will reduce the worldwide human population to about 500 million. Now there are much cheaper, easier and more effect ways to achieve this. For example, education and the mass distribution of contraceptives coupled with investment in clean energy tech and new farming techniques (i.e. grow meat in petri dishes). Given their resources, political control and the fact that they only want to kill because it is necessary these acts shouldn’t be a problem for The Network. They should embrace them wholesale.

None of this is sexy however, it isn’t an edgy TV show. This is the crux of the matter of course. Sometimes cool ideas like Terminator or Jurassic Park are made just because they are cool ideas. The plausibility of the story doesn’t matter. Give me Robot Arnie riding a T-Rex and I’m there.

The difference is that Jurassic Park, Terminator and my upcoming Jurassic Park/Terminator fanfiction got away with their silly ideas because, they were executed really well. Utopia doesn’t do this. The two dimensionality of its characters don’t allow it to.

The second season of Utopia is a real let down that has tainted my enjoyment of the first. It is not on the same level but the following point is analogous. Tarantino said of the Matrix sequels that they ruined the mythology of the first film for him. Well, this second season of Utopia had the same effect.

Review of The Hydrogen Sonata by Iain M. Banks

ImageI’m a fan of Iain Banks’ works I haven’t read many of them but what I have read I have really enjoyed. In particular I am enjoying working my way through his Culture series which since I am a big sci-fi fans is really in my wheel house. So when I began listen to ‘The Hydrogen Sonata’ off audible my expectations were high.

Recently, I’ve enjoyed and would recommend ‘Surface Detail’ and ‘Player of Games’. The concepts in this were interesting and gripped me. I wish I could say the same of “The Hydrogen Sonata” (THS).

THS deals with the ‘subliming’ of the Gzilt race into the universe i.e. the ascension of an entire race into the spirit world. This is initially an interesting idea but quickly runs into the fact that the ether or the land you sublime into is inherently unknowable.

So you have a central concept which cannot be explained but everyone makes clear that subliming changes everything completely. It renders former animosities and rivalries as pointless. This of course makes it difficult/impossible to care about the actions of both antagonists and protagonists. Which in turn makes the story hard to care about or be interested in.

The idea of subliming is interesting enough if it was in the background rather than the main thrust of the story. One of the side issues is the ‘scavenger’ races waiting to pick over the corpse of the Gzilt civilization.

If these has been made the central feature of the story it could have been a really gripping story. Space pirates fighting over each other to loot the super-tech of a galactic super-power. Sign me up!

Instead we got this slow boring story with no real stakes. I couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to finish the final fifth of the book so I am going to have to regretfully give this a 1 out of 5.

I’d still recommend Banks as an author. I recommend almost any other of Iain M Banks’ works. Steer clear of the Hydrogen Sonata though.

Welcome (some entirely non-essential instructions about reading this blog)

The writer. I'll let you decide whether I'm Harry Potter or Daniel Radcliffe

The writer. I’ll let you decide whether I’m Harry Potter or Daniel Radcliffe

You know writing an interesting welcome page isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do so why don’t you just imagine that this blog is filled with all the things that you find most interesting on the internet (excluding boobs).

Provided that the things you find most interesting are reviews of films, books and the occasional post about sports then this is the place you. If you aren’t interested in any of those things though you should read this blog anyway because, it will make you richer, more intelligent and more attractive*.

If the above doesn’t convince you to read you may wish to consult a doctor about your sanity. If you have done this and the doctor has affirmed you are sane though but are in need of some more specifics about what is actually going to be posted then here it is.

You can expect a steadyish diet of blockbuster movie reviews (these may or may not be mostly superhero related don’t blame me blame Hollywood), the goodreads widget should give you some clue about what books I am going to be reviewing. And finally I am going to be posting up a reread of the Discworld series and a rewatch of the Farscape series in the near future i.e. when I get over my mild Mario Kart 8 addiction or more likely smash my controller in frustration at being beaten by seven year old kids again. Damn you red shell!

This is going to hurt!

This is going to hurt!

*Some parts of the above text may be lies. Not the kind of lies that send you to hell, but lies nonetheless.