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Film Review: Ex Machina

Ages ago I saw the trailer for this ‘indie’ film – directed by The Beach writer Alex Garland – featuring relatively unknown actors and a really interesting looking plot. Then I completely forgot about it until I was bored over the holidays and accidentally stumbled across it thanks to the suggested watch-list on IMDB. So I watched it and I was not disappointed.

ex machina

I love films about artificial intelligence. All the various forms and manifestations and imaginings these types of stories come up with never cease to amaze me, and lately, possibly bore me, because so many of these stories fall into trope-ish territory and become extremely predictable while trying to be thought-provoking.

Ex Machina starts out feeling familiar but strange, playing with the ‘mad scientist’ theme while giving us a ‘normal dude’ to champion through all the indie-film weirdness. Then comes the main body of the plot, which starts to feel even more familiar and predictable, and I endured with a multitude of sighs thinking I knew exactly where the story was going. Without ruining a rather unexpected and pretty interesting ending, suffice it to say, I did not see that coming and found the twist rather refreshing and genuinely thought provoking about how our humanity could be used against us by more subtle and insidious machines. Honestly, I felt a lot more freaked out by some of the ideas presented in this film than I have with any other AI story.

There was a lot to like about this movie, but I think Garland (writer and director of this movie) still played it safe in presenting male human characters creating and becoming entranced by a beautiful, sexy, sensual female android. There was literal objectification of women going on in this movie and not in a snarky, feminist-undertone kind of way. The entire premise actually relied on the tired idea of an average man being beguiled by a beautiful woman, a femme fatale even. I think it would’ve been fascinating to explore the same story idea with the genders reversed.

That said, this movie still made me think long after the credits rolled and I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as the android Ava. Ex Machina gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Martian

Back in March, I reviewed this book knowing I would eventually end up seeing the film, which I did!

The_Martian_film_poster

It’s a proven fact that any book-to-movie adaptation is going to divide an audience into those you think it was done well to the point of being fantastic and possibly better than the text, and those who think it was done badly to the point of being a travesty against the written word itself. It’s rare that someone who has enjoyed a book – loved it even – will take the middle ground with the film adaptation. Strangely, I find myself feeling about the movie quite the same way I felt about the book, which is that it’s helluva entertaining, but lacks gravitas, and thus I’m in that liminal middle-ground regarding this adaptation.

The Martian is Ridley Scott in high-gear, not quite Gladiator gear given a few peculiar editing sequences (more noticeable if you’ve read the book) and no breathtaking Hans Zimmer score to accompany it (I honestly could’ve even remember the music in the movie – composed by Harry Gregson-Williams who can certainly compose some awesome scores!). I actually went to the cinema to watch this with my husband who has read the book too and a few other friends, none of whom had read the book – so opinions after the credits rolled were going to be interesting, and I suspected, divisive.

So…

I enjoyed the film. It was funny, managing to capture quite a bit of Mark Watney’s humor while maintaining its PG rating, and Matt Damon did a good job of showing a more emotional-psychological aspect of the character. I still wanted more however. The tone of the film was kept light and breezey, at times even lighter than the book, playing up the absurdity of his situation rather than the serious life-or-death nature of Watney’s every action and decision. Consequently, the movie – like the book – was highly entertaining, but was a little disappointing because it seemed to make his journey appear a lot easier than in the book. What made the book exceptional was how it showed Watney’s thought processes and his step by step ‘applying the scientific method’ approach to everything he did. In the movie, much of his space-MacGyvering is whittled down to Eureka moments that never really show just how intelligent, adaptive, and resourceful the character is in the book. Those who have read the book will undoubtedly be disappointed that certain key parts of the narrative and some particularly nasty mishaps on Mars are left out of the film altogether. Because a lot of the method gets skimmed over, if addressed at all, there are certain things that simply are in the film without any explanation – such as the ‘balloon’ on the rover. This frustrated my friends who hadn’t read the book because they felt like they had missed something, and this frustrated me who had read the book because it was clear the movie-makers had missed something! That said, the scenery is spectacular and at no point did I ever not believe I was actually on Mars. For that reason alone, I am extremely thankful I went to see this on the big screen.

The verdict on this film is much like the verdict on the book: entertaining, engrossing while watching, humorous and good press for NASA and science in general, but not a story that will leave me thinking, pondering existential questions, or haunted by the plight of this lonely astronaut – all things I believe this story should and could’ve done without losing any of its cool sci-fi-ness. Still, this scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Jupiter Ascending

The trailer for this looked so pretty and ridiculous, I just knew I had to watch it… and last night, I finally did.

*Warning: Spoilers Ahead*

Jupiter-Ascending-poster

Last week I reviewed the Wachowskis’ foray into Netflix and awarded their efforts with Sense8 five glorious splats. This week, I’m reviewing their latest cinematic offering: the ever so lavish if somewhat over the top, Jupiter Ascending.

Jupiter Ascending is based on a well-worn fantasy trope, that of the ignorant Chosen One being thrust into a chaotic world when they eventually become aware of who they really are and their grand destiny etc. We’ve seen it a dozen times before and the execution here didn’t really offer anything fresh, except that Mila Kunis is a Russian immigrant in Chicago, which added an extra layer – albeit thin – to the Cinderella-esque aspects of this story.

Like Guardians of the Galaxy, I don’t think this movie is meant to be taken seriously, but it could’ve been a lot more awesome had as much time been taken with the story and character development as was clearly taken with the ostentatious sets and costuming. This film is exquisite and attention to detail is excellent, from the way feathers sprout in a goatee on the token black guy to the intricate tribal etchings on the spaceships. This film should win an Oscar for set- and costume-design. But it’s a superficial prettiness, a gilded veneer that adds little sparkle to a lacklustre storyline.

Having recently watched 2010: Odyssey 2 and in the wake of films like Prometheus, I wasn’t super impressed by the idea of a master alien race being the seeds of human life across the universe. The reason why this alien race seeds human life was even more implausible, at least in the way it was portrayed. Here’s where we get into spoilery territory… so apparently, the master race who has a near-religious affinity with genetic engineering, splices their DNA into native populations on planets in order to grow these populations for a harvest which results in an immortality elixir providing the wealthy uppercrust of the master race longevity and youthful appearances. Now this I can totally get behind, but why would said master race leave humans on Earth to their own devices, allowing them to develop nuclear weapons to a point where they might actually be able to defend themselves from an incoming harvest? These master aliens and their various minions are also capable of erasing memories, turning invisible at will, and restoring buildings after Man of Steel-scale destruction in a matter of hours, so why they don’t take advantage of some very real and easy opportunities to kill Mila Kunis’s character and the eponymous Jupiter, I have no idea. Because plot convenience.

Okay, so this film is science fantasy in the vein of Star Wars and John Carter of Mars so I shouldn’t examine the science of this too closely, but a master race that farms and obliterates entire planets, should at least have more effective weapons when they are desperately trying to kill a target. Nope, instead they have what amounts to stun guns allowing the hero to swoop in in the nick of time to save the damsel in distress, again and again and again.

Jupiter’s character is a space Cinderella but instead of a fairy godmother, she has a magical genome and becomes a queen, not a princess. She also gets a genetically spliced space werewolf with wings instead of a prince – the princes here are trying to kill her – which is kinda cool, but Channing Tatum is less wolf and more elf. They give him this whole vicious backstory – that’s never explained – but never show him going full beast (despite allusions to Beauty and the Beast – barf!). In fact, most of the time his facial expressions range between kicked puppy and a dog about to get belly rubs leaving him as a cardboard cut-out, one-dimensional, stereotypical yet reluctant hero. As such, he swoops – literally, given his gravity-surfing boots – in to save Jupiter from her own idiocy time and time again. It becomes so predictable that there is zero tension in this film. Zero. You know he’ll save her and they’ll all survive major explosions and other certain-death moments because this film is all about the happy ending. I’m not against Disney-esque uplifting feel-good films, but I’d like the film to at least throw a few curve balls and maybe have believable moments of angst. It’s not a good sign when you start rooting for the hero to die just to make the film a little less predictable and pedestrian. Also, this love story. Yeah, I have nothing good to say about it. Cute at best, but oh so very trite.

About this hero business. I am so sick of seeing this damsel in distress trope and Jupiter here was the most reactive, idiotic female protagonist ever, who needed constant saving from herself by the big, burly dude. I’m not sure if it was Mila who thought it was a good choice or the director, but to have her utter these little gasps every time something astonished her – almost always – was a bit much. There were precisely two stronger female characters, one was a psycho bitch trying to outwit her brothers who vanished from screen after her five minutes were up and the other was a stoic space captain- hooray for a person of colour! But sadly the only one of any significance in this film. I am absolutely not counting the token Asian and black guy hunters who appeared and disappeared just as quickly without serving much relevance to the plot. In a fantasy film featuring feathered aliens and even sentient dragon-people, why couldn’t the royal house of Abraxas be people of color or even biracial? Nope. Given the aliens’ obsession with genetics, I find this an interesting choice that smacks of Aryan eugenics. Perhaps it was meant to make a statement about the evils of such things. I’m not sure. As a side note, there was no apparent LGBT+ representation in this film either, making it pretty ordinary Hollywood sci-fi fare.

The best part of this film was Eddie Redmayne’s character – a totally unhinged alien royal with some serious mommy issues. He was by far the most complex character, but he hardly got any screen time and when he did, he didn’t have much to do other than be an asshole. There were a few moments where we got to see his more complicated and vulnerable side toward the end of the film and I was looking forward to him developing a relationship – however creepy – with Jupiter (the genetic recurrence of his mother) but that gets cut short in the interest of flashy action scenes that got boring after the first thirty seconds because it’s so painfully obvious Channing won’t die despite getting mauled by a dragon. And he still didn’t wolf out! I feel cheated! *sulk*

Did I enjoy this movie? Weirdly sort of yes. It was brainless entertainment and two hours of eye candy. The score is also pretty impressive thanks to Michael Giacchino. Would I sit through this film again? Not if you paid me. Would I see a sequel? Only if Channing goes full space werewolf! It was ridiculous fun, but these days I’m looking for more than that in my sci-fi. We already get the fun, spectacular, hilarious stuff from Marvel. I wanted a lot more from this movie that seemed to have a huge creative force behind it but lacked the courage perhaps, to blaze a trail into new territory the way the Wachowskis’ did with The Matrix. Perhaps that’s the biggest problem. Every time I watch a film by these siblings, I expect to have my mind blown the way I did with The Matrix, and then I’m left only with disappointment when it doesn’t happen. 2/5 ink splats for me, for being exceptionally pretty and somewhat entertaining.

2 inksplats

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

Another vampire movie! I actually forgot all about this one and how desperately I’d been wanting to watch it until a friend’s Pin on Pinterest reminded me and what a stunning little indie film it is! I haven’t enjoyed a vampire film this much since… since… maybe ever in fact. only_lovers_left_alive_ver5 I don’t even know where to begin with this film. It was a slow-burning, intoxicating journey into the lives of two immortals, one who is clearly on the verge of yet another existential crisis. The plot is simple in an almost streaming-consciousness type style showing how two people so old, yet still so in love with each other, come to grips with the changing human world. There’s a scene in another vampire movie (Queen of the Damned) at the end where Lestat and Jessica are walking in slow motion while all the humans are rushing past them in fast forward. That was one of the best scenes of that movie, and it was this concept that felt so visceral in Only Lovers Left Alive. It’s rare that a vampire movie manages to capture just how immortality might feel across changing ages and what kind of toll that might take on a psyche that was once very human. This movie is an absolute festival of all things delightfully Gothic. Adam, played by the exquisite Tom Hiddleston, instantly reminded me of 1980s Wayne Hussey replete with untamed black hair and ever-present sunglasses. The all black attire, including leather pants and combat boots, completed the look that paid obvious homage to the Goth rock era. Adam is a reclusive musician, creating brilliant but tortured tracks on vintage guitars and synthesizers – a wet dream for any music tech fundis. The soundtrack for this film is dark and ethereal and pained and perfect, and it’s on youtube over here! Go listen, I’ll wait… (I’m actually writing this review to the soundtrack!) But, as if Adam wasn’t the epitome of awesome already, he also has several ‘heroes’ upon his wall, the portraits of heroes like Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe, Einstein and Tesla. The geek factor here is so nuanced and understated you don’t even realize how nerdy this film gets, even when Adam goes on about quantum entanglement, a theory aptly referred to by Einstein as ‘spooky action at a distance.’ It is this principle of quantum mechanics that is deftly woven into the narrative in a very subtle way, and which left me smiling right up until the final credits rolled. One of the vampires, played superbly by John Hurt, is also Kit Marlowe and the characters poke fun at the Bard and quote Shakespeare in ways that only add to the nerdgasmic effects of this film. And of course, this movie stars the incredible Tilda Swinton as Adam’s wife, Eve. This is a couple that has clearly been through a lot together, that has lived for centuries sometimes enduring, mostly celebrating, all that the world lays before them. There is some ineffable quality about this couple that makes them come across cozy and comfortable while also been electric and passionate. Despite having been together for centuries, they are still very much in love and the chemistry between Tom and Tilda is palpable (interesting, considering the twenty year age gap between them in real life). My only minor criticism of this film is that I would’ve loved to see even more sensuality between these two. What we get, instead, are moments of quiet passion, and some exquisite cinematography hinting at what took place behind closed doors.

Tom Hiddleston as Adam the vampire

Despite the somber setting of this film (in the run-down and abandoned part of Detroit), even more somber color palette, and complete lack of melodrama, Adam and Eve sparkle as a couple because of their dry sense of humor. Further comic relief arrives in the form of Eve’s dysfunctional little sister, Ava. Anton Yelchin also makes an appearance as Adam’s manager-come-lackey and the ribbing of the music industry had me chuckling more than a few times. It’s all very nuanced and sly, and I loved it. While the majority of the film is set in Detroit, there are also scenes set in Tangier, Morocco, which add an exotic flavor contrasting superbly with the grit and grime of the US setting. Did I mention the cinematography was awesome? Well, it is – juxtaposing the nihilism of the characters with exceptionally beautiful scenery! Damn, this director is an artist. My feelings toward this film are no doubt incredibly personal, and other viewers may have an entirely different experience of this slow-moving character study, which eschews all histrionics in favor of introspection, but this movie hit all the right notes for me. Music as a theme – check! Awesome soundtrack – check! References to Goth culture – check! References to quantum mechanics – check! Snide, black humor – check! Tom Hiddleston in leather pants and nothing else – check! It was almost like this movie was made just for me, containing almost all of my favorite things. So, this film gets ALL the ink splats! All of them! I strongly recommend this film to fans of weird indie movies that rely on subtext as much as onscreen action. This film is sumptuously romantic yet raw and understated – really, it’s kind of perfect, and I can’t wait to watch it again, and again! 5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Dracula Untold

I’m a total sucker for vampires (no pun intended) especially when they involve the King of Blood-drinkers, Lord Dracula. Despite my better judgement, I have often found myself watching movies I know are going to be terrible because they’re about my favourite monsters. As soon as I heard about this film, it was a foregone conclusion that I would eventually end up watching it because a) vampires b) The Bard from The Hobbit and c) Vlad Tsepes, better known as Dracula. So, I finally got to see this movie and here are my thoughts about it.

*Mild spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned*

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The trailer gave me chills – most probably thanks to that incredibly cool song by Lorde – but also because it seemed to give Dracula a more heroic role instead of having him in skulking in the shadows. I was really excited to see Dracula some into his own and be unapologetic for being a badass. Having scene the film and rewatching the trailer, I’m disappointed because there are scenes and details shown in the trailer that just don’t appear in the film. Other than that, the trailer also shows some of the coolest parts of the movie – typical – thus rendering the actual film experience somewhat anti-climactic.

Now onto the film itself. Of course, it starts off with a voice over and cinematography that seems heavily influenced by Zack Snyder, ala 300 style, only somewhat less impressive. Considering this is the director’s first feature film (according to IMDB) he still did a fairly decent job and I found the film rather pleasing to the eye, if utterly predictable. The predictability of this film might be because I’m overly familiar with these tropes as a writer myself or might be because just about every super-hero and monster movie has employed a variation of these ideas in recent times. Aside from the voice over, my biggest peeve with this film is the glaring historical inaccuracies. I’m married to a Transylvanian, I have been to Romania, and have been to the real Castle Bran (the legendary Dracula castle that is more fortress than Disney.) With every iteration of the Dracula story that gives the monster-legend a historical context – like this film tries to – I always hold out vain hope that they’ll get it right. While this film does build upon a foundation of fact – yes, Romanian children were given to the Turks and used as child soldiers – the history is so watered down and over-simplified. Basically, it gets the Hollywood treatment, and so does our anti-hero Dracula. Can’t have a hero being too evil, now can we?

Dracula in this film is a man with an inner darkness – pretty much Vlad’s penchant for impaling his enemies – and turns to even darker means (does it get any darker than Tywin Lannister?? Charles Dance is in this!) in order to save his immediate family from the Turkish threat. We are repeatedly told about the darkness within Vlad without really being shown it – feeling nothing about how much blood you shed on a battlefield isn’t the same as being a sadistic bastard who revels in eviscerating children, and that’s what I wanted, a film so much darker and scarier than this. Most of the time I wanted to give the guy a hug and tell him everything would be all right, not run screaming in fear. Also, they gave Vlad some pretty awesome superpowers, which he then absolutely squanders and seems to spend more time sulking than kicking Turkish butt. Several times I wanted to reach into the screen and slap him upside the head for wasting time. The climax of this film could’ve been averted had Dracula not dilly-dallied for no apparent reason. Sigh. I guess they needed to manufacture the tension somehow so the anti-hero could reluctantly step-in and save the day by doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

I saw the ending coming a mile away and predicted the outcome almost exactly for the historical part of the film. Then something unexpected and pretty amazing happens, and the last few minutes of the film are definitely the best, giving me hope for what might come next in this franchise, if a sequel ever gets the green light.

In short, if you’re looking for the Gothic romance of blood-drinking and velvet-clad vampires, you’re better off watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Interview with a Vampire. If you’re looking for a more historical take on the vampire legend then you’re definitely better off watching Dark Prince (a criminally underrated series about Vlad Tsepes – still taking liberties with the facts though), and if you want swashbuckling, monster-fighting adventure, you’re probably better off watching Van Helsing. Given the slew of vampire movies and an abundance of those dealing with Stoker’s villain, Dracula Untold simply doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the table. While it isn’t a terrible way to spend 92 minutes (there are some fun scenes, there’s also some artistic camera work, and did I mention the Luke Evans eye-candy?), I think the film would’ve been far more interesting had it started where it ends. 2.5/5 ink splats from me.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Maze Runner

Firstly, I know this film was based on a beloved book and I have not read that book, so this review is based purely on the movie version. Also, there are going to be a lot of spoilers…

maze runner

*Warning: There be Spoilers!*

 

Despite having not read the books, I admit that it was knowing this film was based on a dystopian YA series that made me want to watch the film in the first place, because I’m a total sucker for these stories.

The Maze Runner starts off strong with NO VOICE-OVER!! (does the happy dance). I braced myself for the voice-over prologue explaining the way the world worked, but it never came and I was immediately more intrigued because of this. The film throws us right into the action where our teenage MC wakes up to find himself in a cage, shipped off to a mysterious glade populated by other adolescent males. This has the potential to be all very Lord of the Flies-ish and I anticipated the story to head in that direction. But not so much…

We discover that the boys who wake up in the glade have no memories of their life beyond the walls of their rather picturesque prison except for remembering their name. Convenient and I’m not sure this can be credibly medically explained but okay, I’ll go with it. Second, we discover that the boys have established a mostly self-sufficient community that is extremely well-structured and ordered despite being run and populated by hormonal teenage boys. These boys are prisoners in the glade and have tried just about everything to fine their way out of the surrounding maze. The kicker is that this maze is only open during the day and the huge, imposing gates close every night to keep mysterious nasties out of the glade and curious boys in it. So ‘maze runners’ spend the daylight hours trying to run and map the maze in the hopes of one day getting out. It’s not that simple though, obviously.

Thomas, our MC who remembers a little more than just his name but can’t really make sense of it, being a curious lad starts to question everything in the glade as he should. The answers to his questions boil down to: we’ve tried everything else, the only way out of the maze is through. This is problematic because despite being able to build fairly sophisticated housing structures, including watch towers and trees houses, these boys never think to build scaffolding to help them scale the walls of the maze and approach the problem with an aerial view. The reason for this? The vines only go half way up the walls (please consult the above image which was an official movie poster and take note of the vine placement.) Okay, movie, you clearly want these boys to have to run through the maze. Fine. But I do think they could’ve come up with a better reason for it. Anyway…

Thomas, possessing all the qualities of an intrepid YA hero, starts challenging the status quo and things start going wrong in the glade. At this point, the film really wanted to be a zombie movie but didn’t quite get there. Apparently, the nasty creatures which inhabit the maze at night are suddenly active during the day. A sting from one of these creatures turns the unlucky stingee into a rabid, zombie-esque monster and of course panic ensues. I anticipated a lot more Lord of the Flies like divisiveness in the camp when their leader gets stung and there are a few minor dust-ups – some pushing and shoving – but nothing more than that, and I didn’t buy it one little bit. These are teenage boys in a highly stressful environment, not zen masters! I also wanted to see more of that moral grayness that arises when good people do bad things for potentially the right reasons, but our MC is almost boring he’s so good and decent about everything – even accepting punishment for basically being brave from the jerk of the group far too good-naturedly. To be honest, I found Thomas a tad dull and lifeless. More bad stuff happens and Thomas proves he’s a hero by selflessly putting himself in harms way, running into the maze as it’s closing for the night to help his friend. Fine, but then a terrifying flight from the scorpion-like, semi-organic, mostly robotic creatures ensues and it is shown repeatedly that these creatures can scale the walls – so why have they never scaled the walls at night and terrorized the glade? If they’re programmed not to hurt the boys, why the sudden change in MO? WHY IS ANY OF THIS HAPPENING!? I actually might’ve been grateful for a voice-over explaining some of this to me.

Also, considering this is a camp full of boys, some of whom have been there for years, there is absolutely no discussion about sex or sexuality. It was conspicuous by its absence and was made even more conspicuous by its absence when a girl arrives in their midst.

It’s abundantly clear from the get go that there are external forces controlling the situation and manipulating the boys’ circumstances in the glade, so what person (presuming the external forces are human of course) sends a girl into the midst of an all boy camp? What on earth were they hoping to achieve? With the arrival of the girl, I expected a lot of chest bashing, awkwardness, maybe some lewd looks or comments, or at least some comments about the fact that there was now a girl in their midst but nope, the boys are as passive as ever. After three years of this sort of isolation with no memories of a previous life including no memories of morality or societal norms, I just don’t buy the almost genteel way in which this situation was handled. It’s all very disappointing and unbelievable. I couldn’t help but think back to that fabulous New Zealand-made series called The Tribe where teenagers are left to rule the world and the type of society that becomes. That felt authentic. This glade business? Not so much.

At least the girl’s presence seems to be the catalyst for change and one night, the gates don’t close, meaning the big bad nasties get to tear loose through the camp, which is the final straw for Thomas and crew to find their way out of the maze once and for all. Suffice it to say, they do in a somewhat improbable way, but okay. The explanation they’re given when they reach the control center presumably set up to monitor the glade and manipulate the goings-on, is that the sun has scorched the earth and people are dying. With the future of humanity in jeopardy, the best solution the government could come up with was to stick a bunch of boys together in a glade and conduct increasingly brutal psychological experiments on them, hoping these kids would somehow prove themselves strong enough to survive, thereby proving there was hope for humanity. What the what? So, we’re running low on people and our solution is to systematically maim and murder our future generation because if kids can’t defend themselves against giant robot scorpions with a zombie sting, you’re right, the world is totally screwed. I just couldn’t even at this point, but wait… presumably government agents swoop in at exactly the right time to save these kids from the institution – now defunct considering all the people controlling the glade are dead, thanks to those same goons now swooping in to rescue the kids. Confused yet? I was! How about those government dudes go save the kids still trapped in the glade considering they have flipping HELICOPTERS and could easily have landed AT ANY TIME within the glade to airlift these kids to safety. Also, what’s with the morbid fascination with watching kids die or killing each other in gruesome ways (I’m looking at you Hunger Games).

But the real kicker comes at the very end as Thomas and crew – minus a few members, because of course we needed Thomas to shed a few tears to prove he’s human despite his apparent dissociation from everything that’s happening to him – fly off in the chopper to apparent safety. The film ends with a scene showing the maze mastermind – who we saw murdered a few moments ago – hale and hearty and planning to move the escapees onto the second phase of the trials. Trials for what? Given the amount of sand, I’m guessing the sun did cook the Earth, or perhaps we’re in the Sahara? But if all that was true about the sun and the imminent demise of humanity, why is the government killing children!?!?

This film was incredibly well done – the CGI was fantastic and the cinematography wonderful. It was visually appealing and the soundtrack was great too. The acting wasn’t bad, even if the actor playing Thomas wasn’t terribly exciting. He might’ve doing a great job of recreating the character from the book, but he came across as almost apathetic in the film. What failed most miserably for me was the premise, so basically the entire story. A few weeks after watching this movie, I’m still trying to figure out the why of it all, and without that I don’t know if I should care. Also, where were the rest of the girls? What was the point of having an all boy group, other than to make the story a ‘boy’ story? I just don’t get it. Maybe I missed something. Maybe the movie failed utterly to adapt a brilliant book, but judging the film as it stands, I’m really not impressed. 1.5/5 ink splats from me.

1.5 splats

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: X-Men Days of Future Past

The X-Men. These are some seriously awesome comics featuring a diverse range of characters – I was particularly ecstatic to see the inclusion of LGBT characters in the series and in such an un-apologetically romantic light too. But those are the comics, and film adaptations often don’t do the source material justice. While there wasn’t the same amount of diversity in the original trilogy, I’ve got to admit I really enjoyed the films. I enjoyed the Wolverine Origins film even more, which had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Taylor Kitsch as Gambit – nope, not at all – and I adored the First Class film, which of course had absolutely nothing to do with James McAvoy. (I’m going to pretend that the abomination that is The Wolverine just doesn’t exist and never happened to this otherwise kickass franchise). After the trilogy and wicked-cool origin movies, it was with mingling excitement and trepidation that I sat down to watch Days of Future Past.

*Spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned*

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Firstly, I adored First Class. The story was epic, the music was epic, Jennifer Lawrence in body paint was epic, James McAvoy even without the beard was epic – there wasn’t much I didn’t love about the movie. I can’t quite believe I’m going to say it, but I think Days of Future Past might’ve actually been a little bit more epic, although that’s not to say it didn’t have any flaws.

Sadly, the film opened with voice-over exposition, which is my pet peeve, and that did not bode well. However, the narration was short lived and the film kicked off with some intense action sequences. While I’m not entirely sure of the timeline and how the future turned so bleak so quickly – it seems to have happened over night since Bobby looks as baby-faced as ever – it was the sort of cyberpunkish dystopia I love. Couple that with new characters like Warpath (Booboo Stewart sure grew up) and the portal girl (coolest power ever although how does this power come from a genetic mutation, pray tell?) who deserves a far more kickass name than Blink, and I was in serious fangirl territory. Then Ellen Page rocked up and I just couldn’t even any more. Things were off to a good start!

I like Wolverine, I do, but to be honest, I’m little sick of him. I really wish they could’ve given the spotlight to another mutant in this film. The reason why it’s Logan is apparently because few other X-Men were around in 1973 and even fewer could survive being constantly ripped about by the various forces exerted on the time traveler, so Logan it is. But then James McAvoy enters the mix and steals the show, so I actually can’t complain too much about Wolverine’s presence. Right, so the basic premise is that the future has gone to s**t and Logan is sent back fifty years to delightfully retro 1973 to get Xavier and Magneto to work things out so that Mystique doesn’t chart a course toward the apocalypse. This is a great premise with one major, giant, toe-curling problem. If their plan succeeds, it completely nullifies the original trilogy and basically pokes a huge whole in the canon. Let’s ignore that for now and return to the awesomeness that is James McAvoy’s beard…

james

As I said before, James McAvoy steals the show and delivers a great performance as the mentally unstable, possibly PTSD-suffering Xavier. I wish the film had spent more time on his psychological development but there were giant robots to fight and special effects to exploit so, sadly, we got less character development and more CGI. The best new addition to the cast was undoubtedly Quicksilver played by Evan Peters. I can’t really look at this actor without seeing deranged Tate from American Horror Story, but Peters was wonderful as Quicksilver, lending some levity to a rather dark storyline. That said, it was an absolute sin of the director/producers to only have Quicksilver on screen for a handful of minutes. I want to see more of this character and would love to see his origin film because he’s witty and fun and seems a lot less broken than many of the other tortured hero types proliferating the X-Men universe.

The rest of the film unfolded as expected with no twists to the plot whatsoever except that according to the new timeline, the first trilogy could never have happened. This brings me to the biggest flaw in this film: the whole concept of time travel and changing history. Very few sci-fi films get time travel right because it is a notoriously complex concept – ask your local quantum physicist to explain – and any attempt to change the past immediately obliterates the future unless you’re in a separate time stream (as attempted by the short lived series Terra Nova). But ‘because science’ Logan goes back in time and achieves the impossible by giving the middle finger to physics and I’m mildly okay with that because the film was extremely entertaining and, to be fair, comic books in general have a tenuous relationship with the laws of physics.

Like all Marvel movies there’s a final scene that comes after the credits. Like all Marvel movies this final scene is almost completely meaningless except to those uber geeks au fait with the franchise. The final scene was creepy cool but I didn’t understand the relevance until I googled it. Now I understand the title of the next X-Men movie – X-Men: Apocalypse.

So Days of Future Past presented dubious science and destroyed their own canon, but they did so with kickass awesomeness and I loved every minute of this film. Days of Future Past scores 4.5/5 ink splats for me. It lost half a splat because of that unnecessary voice over at the beginning and for under-utilizing Quicksilver.

4.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 20, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Mr Nobody

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to post a review about what is likely my favourite science fiction film ever, so here it is…

*There be mild spoilers ahead*

mr_nobody This movie took my breath away, and continues to do so every time I watch it, which isn’t nearly as often as I would like given it’s almost three-hour run time. The entire film hinges on a single existential concept, that of choice and that in the moment before we make a choice, everything is possible. Nemo – our protagonist – is introduced to us as a very old man on his death bed in a futuristic city where he is a fascination being the last human being to die of old age. Through a series of interview questions, Nemo gradually starts to relieve and reveal his complicated life story, which hinges on a single moment in his childhood. As a kid, Nemo is presented with an impossible choice – to stay with his father or go with his mother when his parents split (a horrific choice no parent should force a child to make) – and because he is unable to choose, everything becomes possible. This is where the movie spins out into the tangential and convoluted, dipping into quantum theory and various structuralist and deconstructionist philosophies as we follow the various paths Nemo’s life might’ve, could’ve, did and didn’t take. Some lead to happy marriage, others to emotional instability, disfigurement and even homelessness, yet another leads Nemo to Mars! I knew Jared Leto could act after seeing him in Requiem for a Dream and as Mark Chapman in Chapter 27 (this all prior to his Oscar-winning performance in Dallas Buyer’s Club), but he excels in Mr Nobody by playing not one version of the character, but no less than 12 unique iterations. It is a wonder to watch the actor realize each version of Nemo as life choices mold and shape who he becomes. Of course, these various life trajectories becoming increasingly complicated and interwoven, becoming entangled with each other as Nemo’s choices continue to change and distort reality. If you’re looking for an action-orientated sci-fi flick, look elsewhere. This film is higher grade, requiring constant concentration – and it is not a short film – and probably a second or third viewing to catch all the subtleties and nuances present not only in the obvious story, but happening in the background thanks to some truly fantastic cinematography. This movie is at times contemporary romance, YA love story, sci-fi action (with some amazing scenes on Mars), sci-fi thriller, high drama and family saga. All these threads weave together to create an epic tapestry that is difficult to digest all at once. I strongly suggest multiple viewings of this film. It’s so beautiful with a stunning soundtrack, and so sincerely acted by Leto who transforms physically and psychologically between the roles so effortlessly, that I don’t think setting aside three hours for this film more than once is such a tall order. Mr Nobody is quite easily my favorite film of all time and I strongly recommend it to those who enjoy sophisticated science fiction, which delves beyond the superficial aesthetic of a dystopian future. 5/5 ink splats for this one of course! 5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Film Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Firstly, I apologize for the lack of Tuesday reviews the past couple of weeks. I was busy packing for the move, then moving, then unpacking and sorting out my new life in Sweden hence the lack of posts. And this leads me to today’s review. Given that I spent most of December 24th unpacking the last of the boxes, Christmas Eve – which arrived with a delightful flurry of snow – was spent with a bowl of chicken soup in front of the PC watching Guardians of the Galaxy.

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To be honest, I haven’t read that many actual comics and my childhood was spent devouring Tolkien-esque epic fantasy not pages by Marvel and DC. That said, since discovering the wonder of the graphic novel as a slightly older young adult, I’ve been fully committed to watching everything Marvel has to offer. (I’ve been less ecstatic about DC offerings thus far) so of course Guardians of the Galaxy (from now referred to GoftG) was a film I knew I was going to watch regardless what the reviewers said.

Turns out, this film got rave reviews and that left me a little skeptical. I tried going into this film having no to low expectations and I think that certainly helped me enjoy this film a lot more than I might have otherwise. Humour is a bit of a hit and miss with me. Much of what passes as comedy with general movie-goers falls flat with me and I tend to outright avoid comedies because of my… let’s call it ‘quirky’ sense of humour, so after reading reviews calling GoftG ‘hysterical’ and ‘laugh out loud’ funny, it was with much trepidation that I settled down to watch.

With baited breath I awaited the accursed voice-over giving me a run down of the world and how space politics came to be yadda yadda and surprise surprise, it never happened! Kudos GoftG for not pandering to your audience with narration! Five stars awarded in the first three minutes! But what wasn’t explained to the audience with clunky narration was sneaked into expository dialogue that made my eyes twitch a little. Still, it wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been so I’ll forgive these moments of exposition because I was definitely being entertained.

While others criticized films like Battleship and John Carter, I found both extremely entertaining and really funny. GoftG joins these two on my shelf of ‘highly entertaining when you don’t really want to engage your brain.’ For two hours, I found myself snickering at the jokes – particularly those by Rocket – and rooting for the unlikely bunch of misfit heroes. Yes, cliches abound and much of the movie could be seen as a patchwork borrow/steal from just about every other science fantasy film ever made, but I still enjoyed it immensely. It’s good old-fashioned swash-buckling space adventure with a lovable, if hardly smart, bunch of underdog heroes and a creepy villain who is also less than competent most of the time. I did, however, feel that Lee Pace was under utilized here. He took my breath away in The Fall and is pitch perfect in The Hobbit so I would’ve loved more from him here as the villain.

With a two hour running time, I was afraid this movie would feel long the way certain X-Men films have, but GoftG managed to keep up the pacing and keep me enthralled until the very last scene at the end of the credits. While some of the other Marvel films have taken a turn toward darker themes, GoftG keeps things light and frivolous with blood conspicuous by its absence despite a fair bit of violence, jokes mostly clean – sadly, I think some more ribald humour for the adult audience ala Shrek would’ve worked well given the characterisation of Starlord – and the general ambiance of the film one of feel-good adventure. I’m not sure how the tone of this film will fit into the greater Marvel picture given the bleak undercurrent in the Captain America films, the darker characterisation of Tony Stark, and the corrupt – and awesome – villainy of the likes of Loki, but it definitely feels like a much needed breath of fresh air given the sometimes overbearing canon into which it fits – well, sort of fits.

Overall, GoftG didn’t impress me, but it definitely didn’t disappoint and was exactly the sort of brain-vacation entertainment I wanted. This scores 3.5/5 ink splats from me and I’ll probably – definitely – be watching the sequel.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2014 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Byzantium

My first introduction to all things vampiric was at the hands of Anne Rice with her fiendish brat-prince Lestat and ever so melancholy Louis. Rice’s books laid the foundation for my love of the blood-suckers, a love which continued to grow thanks to the dark, grotesque and romantic writings of Poppy Z Brite. Given the recent YA rendering of the bloody beasties into sparkling boyfriend material and the rather ridiculous True Blood (I know I’m in the minority with that opinion) I’m still very much a fan of vampire stories ala The Black Dagger Brotherhood and even the Vampire Diaries TV series (which is only marginally less ridiculous than True Blood, but somehow far more compelling to me – I think it’s all Ian Somerhalder’s fault). Anyway, point is, while I’m still a fan of vampires, it takes something really fresh and well-done to impress me, something like the Swedish Let the Right One In for example, which is why I haven’t rushed to watch Byzantium. However, being rather enamoured with Saoirse Ronan, I finally sat down to watch.

*Mild spoilers ahead*

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Residents of a coastal town learn, with deathly consequences, the secret shared by the two mysterious women who have sought shelter at a local resort.

I don’t know who writes these IMDB descriptions, but could they get any more boring than this? How not to get viewers excited! Thank goodness the movie poster is stunning. With all that black on red, it just screams blood and horror and romantic vampire – yum! This movie started out by introducing us to a centuries-old, teenage-looking protagonist who writes down the story of her life and then literally tosses the pages to the wind. This almost cliche example of teenage angst made me a little squirmy. I know the girl is 16 but she’s been 16 for two hundred years, surely she’d be over teen angst and the inevitable coming-of-age existential crisis? I know the centuries-old teen is usually kept ‘teen-like’ in order to keep the character relatable for a YA audience, but it’s not very accurate. I can’t help comparing these characters to that of Claudia, Anne Rice’s child vampire who matures and ages, finally becoming frustrated that her physical appearance doesn’t match her psychological and emotional age. In Byzantium, however, the 200-year-old teenager becomes entranced by a very human teenage boy. I’m not even ten years out of my teens yet, and I’m already irritated/frustrated by teens and cannot imagine choosing to date one (aside from the potentially icky pedophilic connotations) as I simply don’t have that much in common with teens any more. I cannot imagine a 200-year-old vampire who has traveled extensively and lived through changing eras finding true love in a modern teenager, even if they are an ‘old soul’ – another tired trope often trotted out to justify the interest between immortal and hapless human.

Despite the cliches and the associated pitfalls, Byzantium had a lot going for it with the creepy vampire powers-that-be hovering menacingly in the background and the under-stated vamping that occurred. These vampires don’t tear out throats – they don’t even have fangs! – and the feeding they do is all rather sedate and civilized (wait, is that a good thing in what should be a horror movie?). The few moments of gore and horror in the film seem there merely for shock value without serving the overall aesthetic, which is rather disappointing.

Ronan shines in her role – as she usually does – and so does Caleb Landry Jones who plays her freckled love interest. Her mother, however, seems almost a caricature of the ‘bad mother’ stereotype, considering she’s a prostitute, who – despite two centuries of life experience – can’t think of another way to earn money. The rebellious teen-crappy mother dynamic seems totally contrived here. After two hundred years together, surely they’d be over that by now and would’ve established a more adult bond?

The way the plot unravels also wouldn’t be possible without Ronan’s character’s desperate need to establish her identity, to declare ‘I AM’ to the world and find herself – all very teen-like behaviours that are less convincing given that she’s two hundred freaking years old! The plot was definitely the weakest part of this film, a film that would’ve done better as an artsy character exploration with Lynch-ish overtones. At 2 hours long, the movie felt its length and was at times almost boring since there wasn’t a lot going on except for the angsting, and even when the menacing elder vamps did show up, their appearance was underwhelming and far too short lived to make an impact.

This movie could’ve been an intriguing character study keeping the paranormal stuff in the background, but at some point the film seemed to remember it was meant to be about vampires so cue the magical waterfalls of blood (literally) and ill-conceived, poorly explored paranormal arcanery. The explanation for the existence of vampires was paper thin and the lore the film tried to create was baffling and extremely sexist. I would’ve enjoyed this movie a lot more had we never found out how humans became vampires. Also, they’re vampires. They’re murdering, blood-sucking fiends – the attempt at moralizing them in this film didn’t add much except more confusion about the world-building. Last gripe? Voice overs. Can’t stand them, rarely need them, never ever want them in a film especially not when the voice over tells what’s been shown on screen anyway.

Dammit, Byzantium, I really wanted you to be brilliant. While the film was atmospheric and had some beautiful moments of great acting, overall I just didn’t buy the character dynamics or the world-building. This movie scores 2.5/5 ink-splats from me.


2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2014 in Reviews

 

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