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 Emperor (2012) – If only Aaron Sorkin had written it

Plot Synopsis (from IMBD)

As the Japanese surrender at the end of WWII, Gen. Fellers is tasked with deciding if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Influencing his ruling is his quest to find Aya, an exchange student he met years earlier in the U.S.

Review

Emperor falls into an odd category for a film that is ostensibly based on true events. The more you think about it the less the narrative fits together.

Emperor starts off very strongly before the script loses its way. The premise of Emperor is so fecund with socio-political and historical nuance that setting the scene could be near impossible.

Emperor however, succeeds in doing the near impossible by setting the scene very quickly using historical footage of the dropping of the atomic bombs and maybe a two paragraphs of narration from Matthew Fox.

It then brings in some tension into events with a strong opening scene. Supreme Commander Douglas McArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and a small group of soldiers are flying into Japan to begin the US led occupation. Are they flying into a trap though?

McArthur summons his advisors around him including General Fellers (Matthew Fox’s character) and on Fellers advice decides that they are going to land despite the risk. The scene is dramatic and tense.

It is at this point also that the writers made their last good decision by placing a clock of 10 days on the film. This ticking clock then provides all the impetus to the narrative as the writers abandon the premise of the story for Hollywood cliche.

Trust the audience

Where does Emperor go wrong then? Take your choice it is either that they  didn’t trust the audience and/or understand the material themselves.

You see the premise of the film is both fascinating and complex.  How much was the Emperor responsible for execution of WW2. Theoretically, he was a living God. In practice his advisers ran the show as the Emperor was lived a cloistered existence. But were they still following his orders?

The political machinations that brought such a system about and how it played into the events of Pearl Harbour, the invasion of Manchuria, the rape of Nanking, the treatment of POWs. All this could be fascinating but the film never goes into these details in anything approaching the detail it deserves.

Instead of setting up and examining the key players of pre-war and war Japan the film creates a dull love story and makes General Fellers a traitor in a way that insults the memory of the man.

The love story

In Hollywood nobody could be interested in something because, they find it interesting. No General Fellers (who in real life was about twenty years older and twenty years happily married) only finds himself interested in Japan because, he wants to get into the pants of a hot Japanese woman. Then when she leaves American to return home Fellers chases after her because, love.

This plot line might be forgiven however did the film not decide that the love was so deep as to make General Fellers commit treason. You see it is casually mentioned that in an attempt to protect his love Matthew Fox’s character directed bombing raids away from the area of Japan he believed she was in.

That folks is treason. If that had actually happened (an internet search of the real Fellers finds no evidence that it did) then Fellers would have been responsible for the deaths Allied soldiers.

This a big deal. It’s court-martial and execution stuff. When McArthur finds out about this though he decides to simply ignore it. Why? I can only presume that the tragedy of their unfulfilled love was just too beautiful to him.

Conclusion

I don’t expect historical accuracy from Hollywood. These are the people after all that made the rescue of the enigma codebooks a US operation rather than the British operation it actually was.

However, the problem with Emperor is that they make so many changes that I have no idea if anything they actually depict is true. At least when someone watches U571 you get the basics of the narrative i.e. sinking submarine, codebooks, mission to get codebooks.

In the brief bit about the actual Emperor that is covered the story gives some fascinating details such as an attempted army coup on the throne just before the Japanese surrender is announced. Is it true though? Who knows?

Emporer  is a case of great premise, strong initial setup, weak execution. If only Aaron Sorkin had written it then we could have had a classic because, this story deserves to be told and Sorkin is probably the only writer who could have come to grips with such a huge topic.

Guardians Of The Galaxy is the big budget Farscape film I’ve always wanted

***SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON SPOILER KLAXON ***

So in keeping with my self-imposed quest to fill this blog with nothing but the latest film reviews I bring you what is no doubt going to be, or at least deserves to be, the biggest blockbuster of the summer.

Right off the bat Guardians of the Galaxy had me on side. Why you ask? From the trailer I’ve seen the movie hasn’t been spoiled. Unlike say the Avengers where the trailer showed the Hulk catching a falling Iron Man the trailers for Guardians of the Galaxy gave little to none of the plot away. Instead the trailers focused on introducing the characters and the tone of the film.  Let us hope this begins a new trend for trailers.

If you were unaware then Guardians of the Galaxy follows Peter “Starlord” Quill, Gamora, Drax the Destroyer, Groot and Rocket (the racoon although I wouldn’t recommend calling him that to his face) as they first fight over an intergalatic orb of world destroying power, then they join forces to escape space prison, try to sell orb to “The Collector” and then complete the transition to heroes/friends by joining forces to stop the genocidal Ronan from committing genocide on a galaxy wide scale.

As you might guess from that brief synopsis the plot isn’t anything fancy. We aren’t talking about Momento here. Things are pretty much just a linear progression from A to B to C to D.

The thing is though this doesn’t matter because, unlike hundreds of other awful films Guardians of the Galaxy goes from A to B to C to D at 10,000 miles per hours in an adventure that is crammed with actions scenes, genuine laugh out loud moments and characters that have there own unique and believable motivations. Plus thanks to the walkman that Starlord carries with him everywhere the film has a jazzy 1970/80s upbeat pop score.

No doubt Guardians of the Galaxy is being compared to the original Star Wars and Firefly but a more accurate comparison for Guardians of the Galaxy is to the late great sci-fi series Farscape. The characters, tone, humour and vision of space are all much closer to Farscape than Star Wars or Firefly and I loved it.

Like Farscape there are great setpieces (although Guardians of the Galaxy has much better effects). Like Farscape there are humourous moments that border on the adult and like Farscape there is believable violence. We actually get to see alien blood something which apparently was cut from the Avengers to stop it receiving an 18 rating. Even the characters kind out fit into the Farscape archetypes.

Witness

Gomara is Aeryn Sun (Kickass love interest) Aeryn Sun

gomara

Rocket Racoon is Rygel (mouthy ass with heart of gold)

rocketDominar Rygel XVI

Drax is D’Argo (angry warrior wanting vengeance)

draxd'argo

Groot is Moya (clever non-verbal being that protects them)

groot moya

Ronan is Scorpios (scary bad guy)

ronan scorpio

and Peter Quill is John Crichton (cocky hero)

quill crichtongun

Aside from the humour, action and Farscapeiness Guardians of the Galaxy does a good job of pulling back and giving a better understanding of the scale of the Marvel universe. In particular it was great to see them begin to set up what a huge and scary villain Thanos is. In many previous Marvel movies the villains have been pretty flat characters (with the exception of Loci) and this always robbed them of being properly menacing.

In the interests of being fair and balanced (although not in a Fox News sort of way) though I must criticise one thing about Guardians of the Galaxy and that is Glenn Close’s character. Glenn Close is a great actor. She was great in The Shield she was great in Damages. In Guardians of the Galaxy though her, thankfully, brief appearances on the screen brought the film to a screeching halt. She didn’t seem to be sure whether she was playing her role for laughs or playing it straight. Furthermore, she did not seem to want to be there. Glenn Close was doing the good old cash grab in a film that everyone else seemed to be really trying in and it annoyed me.

Overall, then Guardians of the Galaxy is a very good to great film. I saw it in 2-D but I kind of think the visuals were so good that it would be worth seeing it in 3D (and that is high praise because 3D is a mostly rubbish Glenn Close style cash grab). For me Guardians of the Galaxy is now the benchmark of success for future Marvel pictures. I had a great time watching it.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Robocop (2014)

robocopRight off the bat I feel I should warn you that there will be spoilers in this review. I’m not going to go out of my way to provide spoilers and I don’t think the plot is one which is going to be ruined by discussion of the plot but if you want to see the film completely fresh don’t read this.

Also I have never seen the original Paul Verhoven Robocop so I am going into this blind without any nostalgia for the franchise. Although I suspect this might work to the film’s advantage.

The start of this film is gripping. The MGM lion appears and instead of the usual thunderous roar you get this weak growl. This certainly got my attention. What was happening? The ‘roar’ becomes vocal exercises and we fade in on Samuel Jackson.

So right off the bat the film has got my attention. I’m watching it in Imax. Middle of the row Friday midday and Samuel Jackson appears on the screen. Things are going great.

Jackson begins doing his Fox News slight parody. I say slight as it is not far out enough to make you laugh but is instead close enough to the truth to make you ever so slightly uncomfortable. Again well done film.

The Novak factor (Sam Jackson’s show) has an exclusive report inside the US Military’s Combat Machine program. Novak gets passionate but not quite ranty (yet) about how great the machines have been in bringing ‘freedom’ to the world and what a shame it is they cannot be used in the USA to increase freedom at home.

Again this is great. It is the kind of provocative stuff you wouldn’t see from a typical Blockbuster. It is at this point you realise that this film is set maybe at most a decade into the future if that. The exact date is never revealed but what you get is our world today but with electronics more interlinked into the home and holograms on TV. This is a smart choice from the film-makers. Given the increasing use of drones and technological surveillance in the world today. Setting the film a few years into the future is a great way to make it seem more believable and relevant.

A special report from downtown Tehran begins where the US military is “bringing unprecedented levels of freedom” to the area. The citizens of Tehran come out onto the street to be scanned by these machines.

Now this is the best scene of the film. Stealth drones rush over head and US military machines pour down the street. It is a scary display of force. Meanwhile the news-reporter talks about how happy the Tehranians are to have this force in their city. How it has increased their freedom. It is obvious 1984 ‘doublespeak’ and you see an attack begin to develop as the terrorists sneak along the roofs.

Their goal is to not kill the reporters but to “die on film”. They attack the machines and are just wiped out. The son of one of the attackers runs out brandishing a knife at the drone. He is just annihilated. It is shocking. It is great film-making. Like Hitchcock in Physco they have got you rooting for the ‘bad’ guy. You don’t typically want terrorists to win but I would have been quite happy to see the machines get blown back to circuit breakers.

This is the high point of the movie. The rest of the film never quite demonstrates just how powerful these machines are. As such it is never that great an action film or that great a film that is trying to make you think about the use of machines.

In large part this is because, the film draws back from the international side and world building to focus on the use of machines for domestic law enforcement. As it does this there is no focus on whether civil liberties and freedom are being crushed and the consequences. The politics is stripped out and we are left with a by the numbers action film.

So just a few thoughts about this. Firstly, Michael K Williams aka Omar from the Wire omarappears in this film as Robocop’s partner. I struggled to believe that Omar would get put in hospital whereas the guy from the Killing, who becomes Robocop, would survive long enough to be blown up. Omar would have been a much more better Robocop.

Secondly, Gary Oldman really does carry the film along and give you a reason to keep interested. His acting is fantastic. His acting is also necessary because after one Robocop action scene its all a case of been there done that.

Robocop fight scenes are essentially just massive amounts of force bullets flying everywhere as Robocop walks through the raining ammo to slay with brutal efficiency. This is all a bit dull after the first time. Plus this film is a bloodless so you don’t even get the pleasure of seeing bit of brain splattered everywhere or ridiculous over the top deaths. One scene in particular is just darkness lit by muzzle flashes. It wasn’t the most exciting.

Lastly, although the film does stray into the cliched man’s wishes versus the programming of the machine it did this better than most other films. Why it happened was explained instead of it just being a triumph of the human spirit; humanus ex machina.

I would give this film three out of five. It is decent but not good.

I wasn’t bored watching it but I was only gripped in the fantastic first scene. That first scene showed me why Robocop was worth remaking. If they have continued to push the boundaries of comfort by making the film explicitly political it could have been a great film. The action would have mattered more as there would have been stakes behind it. It’s hard to care too much about robots or faceless criminals.

It’s worth seeing for that first scene and Samuel Jackson though.

So overall, a missed opportunity. Oh and the Imax gave me a headache.