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  1. Star Trek Into Darkness

    Posted 10 Oct 2013

    When I saw the last J.J. Abrams Star Trek (let's call it Star Trek 2009 to avoid potential confusion), I thought it was an incoherent mess. It raced along at breakneck speed from inane plot point to inane plot point, allowing no time for anything to register and blinding the viewer with all the lens flares. When it finished, I was unaware of how much time had just passed and left wondering what on earth I'd just watched.

    A fresh start by needlessly connecting it to the previous series? Destroying Vulcan? But hang on... doesn't that planet play a large role in all things Star Trek? Kirk being chased through the snow by a monster clearly designed for a hot climate? Some interminably long scene with Scotty going through water pipes in a beer factory... or was that the engine room of the Enterprise?

    It was a mess. So when I went to see Star Trek into Darkness, I wasn't expected much. Especially since Damon Lindelof was involved and I have no fond memories of his work on Prometheus, which was an even worse mess than Star Trek 2009.

    Surprisingly, I enjoyed it when I saw it in the cinema. It was apparent that it was something of a switch-your-brain-off movie but it was much more coherent, from a story telling perspective, than Star Trek 2009.

    However...

    Here, I need to make two points. When I saw it in the cinema, I knew next to nothing about Star Trek and I was a Star Wars fan (maybe one with little interest in it these days but a fan nonetheless). In hindsight, I'd say that would make me fairly close to J.J. Abrams' target audience (although I'd imagine he'd prefer a less critical viewer).

    The second point is that seeing the movie the first time, I was unaware of what the ground rules were so I couldn't recognise when they were being broken. This is important, as you'll see.

    ...

    Now, between my first and second viewing, I checked out a lot of Star Trek. I've seen all the good movies: Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek VII: First Contact. And I've seen one of the bad movies, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It's necessary to watch this once as a bridge between The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home and it's not that bad. I've also seen some of the better regarded episodes from the original series (Balance of Terror, Space Seed, City on the Edge of Forever and The Trouble with Tribbles to name a few). I checked out the Borg episodes of The Next Generation and Voyager, along with some of the Worf focused stories of The Next Generation. And finally, I've seen most of Deep Space Nine, which - despite its attempts to continually shoot itself in the foot* - is awesome.

    *With that Bajoran religious/Emissary nonsense (I was willing to forget the writers put it in there if they were), Ferengi episodes (with the exception of Little Green Men), the Orion syndicate (yawn) and DS9's sorry attempts at getting in on the fun of the mirror universe (the original series' Mirror Mirror does this best and Enterprise's In a Mirror Darkly does a much better job too)

    ...

    What does this all mean, apart from the fact that my newly found Trekkie credentials are off the charts? It means that my second viewing of Star Trek into Darkness was going to be a very different experience from my first. Now, does this mean that I was now sure I was going to hate it? Of course not. I'd already seen it once so I knew what kind of movie it was and I knew it was very much a different beast from what had come before. To judge it negatively because it's different would be like saying you hated Aliens because it wasn't a carefully paced suspense film like the original Alien. So when I saw it again, I was still judging it on its own merits but seeing Star Trek done better (yes, even in Voyager and Enterprise) certainly changed my perspective.

    The other thing that changed my perspective was seeing it on the small screen rather than in a cinema - and I'll explain why that is as well.
  2. The Amazing Spiderman

    Posted 13 Jul 2012

    Well, with Prometheus, the summer blockbuster season of 2012 got off to a rather shaky start. However, after seeing that abomination, I saw a film that didn't appear to have a lot of build-up and hype but blew Prometheus out of the water, along with a number of other movies.

    I'm talking here about The Amazing Spiderman. If you've read the lukewarm reviews, then I have only this to say: ignore them.

    This movie's fantastic. It's terrific fun and although it may seem rather soon after the previous version of Spiderman, I'm really happy to have it. Perhaps I can express the strength of my feeling in this way - I never was a fan of Spiderman, I found the Tobey Maguire movies entertaining enough but never felt the urge to watch them again... and now, I can't wait for this latest movie to come out on DVD so I can add it to my collection.

    For me, it succeeds where the previous series failed for a number of reasons. One of the most important is subtlety. Peter Parker doesn't have long rambling soliloquies and Aunt May doesn't wax poetic with long anecdotes on every subject in life. Conversations are natural (it scores over The Dark Knight there, as well as the previous Spiderman movies). People fumble around. They talk over each other. It's almost like a seventies movie in that way.

    As a result, the characters feel like real people. And that's another thing I liked about it. Just like in real life, the characters in this movie are allowed to evolve. Even the school bully evolves and in a believable manner too. And there's something clever just in that. There's a scene where that character tells Peter Parker that he's sorry about what happened to his uncle and it's very sincere. And in having that scene, the audience isn't able to see this kid as a boo-hiss character any more. It's not black and white.

    Also, the movie deals with a range of tones and handles the transitions deftly. It is at times quite moving, sad, thrilling, funny and it even had some good scares as well. Nothing too out there but good jumpy moments. I thought the villain was quite scary in certain scenes too - and not always the ones that you would think.

    I'll try to avoid spoilers for a change until I get a feel for whether the regulars here have all seen it or not. However, I will say a few other things:

    - I found absolutely no plot-holes to speak of. None. And the attention to even minor subplots was impressive. Tiny things were followed through to the conclusion of the movie in a way that I just couldn't help but admire. There were some plot-contrivances, sure, but they were all for a good cause - which was damn good entertainment.

    - The action scenes were brief and just did what they needed to do. It's hard to express how good it is to see restrained action scenes in movies these days. BRAVO!

    - There is no Mary Jane and I didn't miss her a bit. The character of Gwen Stacy is wonderful in this. The actress Emma Stone who portrays her does a terrific job, as does Andrew Garfield with the title role and they have great chemistry together.

    - On that note, all the performances are terrific and full credit to the cast.

    - There is no cage wrestling match. The movie scores huge points over the first Tobey Maguire movie for that alone as the cage wrestling match is a major reason why I can't be bothered watching that movie again; I don't want to see the entertainment of the lowest denominator on TV so why would I want to see it in a movie?

    - There's a scene where some citizens of New York help Spiderman. Unlike similar scenes in the previous series, in this movie the citizens actually help him.

    - There is a terrifically tense scene near the end of the movie, with the villain nowhere in sight. Those who've seen the movie will know what I'm talking about.

    - The movie deals with some quite weighty themes and does so in a mature fashion. Yet young children can see it and enjoy it as well. It goes to show that the mentality that heavy issues can only be dealt with if they go hand in hand with 15+ ratings is rubbish.

    - And on that note, for all that the movie deals with quite heavy material in places, and has characters who behave like real people, its not ashamed of the fact that its a comic movie and it relishes the medium. Big points over The Dark Knight there.

    - I found more entertainment in this than in the three Sam Raimi pictures combined.

    The Amazing Spiderman is first-rate entertainment - and while it appears to be something of a hidden gem at the moment, it's sure to become a favourite down the road.
  3. Quantum of Solace

    Posted 22 May 2011

    I've wanted to write about this movie for a while actually. Now, it's been so long since it came out that it's almost topical again - as apparently, if rumour is to be believed, MGM's financial woes are over and a new Bond movie is reportedly coming out next year. Although, how a movie studio can have financial woes when it owns the right to a cash cow like the Bond franchise is anyone's guess. Anyway, I'm glad that they've sorted out their difficulties because, frankly, I think it would be a terrible tragedy if that roaring lion of theirs were to disappear from the cinema.

    Anyway... QUANTUM OF SOLACE is the best damn Bond movie in years, decades even. It may even be the best Bond movie ever. Yet for some reason, the critics panned it, audiences turned away from it and nearly everyone acted as if it were a blight on the franchise. Are all these people nuts? Finally, we've seen how future James Bond movies could be and it was awesome... and now, because of strange audience reactions, we might not see its like again.

    Now, is it flawed? Yes. It has huge flaws. I'm not going to turn a blind eye to them. In fact I will address them in this very post, because that's the kind of unbiased even-handed reviewer that I am. However, find me a Bond film that doesn't have flaws.

    The classic favourite - and really the only respectable choice for a favourite from the first two decades of the series - From Russia With Love has plenty of flaws. The gypsy camp, while it gives the audience a chance to ogle some beautiful women, doesn't serve the story in any way. Neither does the follow up scene where Kerim Bey takes out that Bulgarian assassin. Then the movie comes to a climax with the thrilling finale on board the Orient Express where Bond battles it out with Red Grant and then the movie... doesn't end, but drags on with a series of dull anti-climaxes, culminating in Bond fighting an old woman with a poisonous shoe.

    Then there's the new favourite Casino Royale. That's got heaps of flaws! It's a good forty minutes too long. It's pacing is off and it manages to have too much action and not enough action at the same time. No, that's not a typo. You read that right. If the story revolves around Bond's mission in the casino and the consequences thereafter, then there are far too many action sequences. If it's an action movie, then it's got problems - because the action comes to a grinding halt and stays there for a good forty minutes or more, and there's a clip from a romance movie near the end. It needed serious trimming. Bond doesn't even get to the casino until the hour mark has passed, when he should have been sitting down at the card table thirty minutes into the movie or forty at the max. Prologues are not supposed to be an hour long. And don't get me started on that awful torture scene. That was put in there for one reason and one reason alone - the filmmakers wanted to seem daring and out there. Well, let me tell you, if their film had been slapped with the R-rating that scene should have earned it, they wouldn't have felt half so clever.

    So go easy on Quantum of Solace. The other films aren't exactly spotless either.

    Now that we've covered that, let's have a look at these flaws first. Then I'll talk about the positives afterwards, which I feel outweigh these. I'm not excusing these flaws by the way - they're inexcusable. However, I think that after a shaky start (literally, as you'll see in a moment), the movie finds its feet and generally moves from strength to strength.

    The very start itself is fantastic actually - not the car chase, mind you, but the way it was established with the camera panning over the water towards the mountainous shoreline. It was very scenic, a little mysterious and then once the cutaways to Bond, cars, bad guys and guns established what we were going to see, it was very effective. Unfortunately, the chase itself was marred by the bane of the cinema going experience - I am talking of course about the shaky cam and the fast cuts between shots. The sooner this is taken out of movies and filmmakers sign agreements with studios never to use it again, the better. It doesn't make you feel like you're in the action to see a camera moving wildly about. If you were in the action, you'd be controlling the way your head moved. You'd also have directional sound and other physical sensations to help keep you oriented. This can't be recreated on film - unless the audience is allowed to control the camera movements directly. As it stands, the shaky cam just makes people disoriented, dizzy and angry.

    Now, the sequence was somewhat easier to follow on DVD but in the cinema, I literally couldn't watch it. So this is a huge flaw. Make no mistake. It's also a shame because if audiences could have seen the chase more clearly, they could have appreciated it far more. The section in the quarry, with Bond driving under the crane, is a beautiful homage to Dr. No - but I doubt anyone would have noticed that in the cinema because they'd be looking away from the screen to avoid getting headaches.

    Then there was the opening song. I don't know what the producers were thinking. Hip hop? Were they serious? I cannot think of a style of music less appropriate to a Bond movie. Now, I have to say that this is just another example of an ongoing issue with the series. The producers have forgotten how to do the opening credits. They are supposed to be a joy to watch in and of themselves and part of this is having a good song playing over them. I think Goldeneye's opening song was reasonable. Tomorrow Never Dies could have been the best ever except the producers, in a moment of idiocy, relegated the fantastic K.D. Lang song to the end credits and threw in a lacklustre Sheryl Crow effort because they thought it was 'trendy' - just as I'm guessing they thought this nonsense by Alicia Keys and some dude was. The key to great music in film is to rise above what is trendy, stick to your principles and use what is good. The instrumental piece at the start of From Russia with Love with the alluring dancer still holds up. Although nothing else in You Only Live Twice can be said to do the same, the opening song there still sounds enticing and beautiful today. Also, note that many of the films from Goldfinger onwards used the same song in the titles and the credits and it was good. That's what the idiot producers should have done with Tomorrow Never Dies as well - bookend the film with K.D. Lang's incredible song. It's called Surrender if you're interested in hearing it - and you should check it out if you've never heard it. It really shows how an opening Bond song should be.

    Now, I don't know if this was made for the movie or not, but there is a song doing the rounds on You-Tube called Forever, I Am All Yours by Eva Almer that captures the essence of a great Bond theme beautifully. Now, it may have been written and recorded after the fact but if it was written beforehand and turned down by the producers, then that was a big mistake.

    If you're interested in what makes a great Bond theme, consider this point. Could elements of the theme be incorporated into the score for the film as motiffs? John Barry did it with the Bond themes in the old movies (except for Octopussy - but he didn't score anything for that rubbish, bless him). Actually, in The Living Daylights, John Barry not only did it with the theme song, he even did it with the song that Necros was always listening to on his walkman - that's how awesome John Barry was. With Goldeneye, Eric Serra didn't incorporate the song into the score. However, that wasn't any fault of Tina Turner's. That was just because Eric Serra is an idiot - and his score actually makes the film almost unwatchable today. David Arnold (who I will talk about more later as well) took over from Serra and his scores are brilliant. Movie goers with keen ears like myself will instantly hear how he utlises K.D. Lang's song throughout the score to Tomorrow Never Dies (not Sheryl Crow's song, which those idiot producers failed to notice). And he also used that noisy little pop number for Casino Royale to great effect as well - and like A-ha's theme song for The Living Daylights, that wasn't even much of a song. However, it was still usable. The Alicia Keys one was not - and David Arnold, to his credit, didn't use any of it for his score for Quantum of Solace.

    Now, you may wonder why I've talked at length about the theme song but the fact is that the theme song is a big deal. Get it right and the audience will be primed and ready for your movie. Get it wrong and you'll put the audience off-side. Now, I'm a defender of this movie, but I was actually one of those who was put off by the theme song in the cinema (I skip it on the DVD so it doesn't bother me any more) but it made me very resistant to the rest of the movie... so resistant in fact that it wasn't until I saw it again on DVD that I could really appreciate it. So if the opening song put audiences off, that's a big deal and it's a mistake the producers should take great lengths to avoid repeating.

    Next, the criticisms that this film tried to copy the Bourne films a bit are valid and they're no minor charge. The Bourne films were a fad and a fad that's already fading, thank goodness. No slight on those books by Robert Ludlum. I don't care of anything else he wrote but the Bourne books are really great entertainment. The movies however are bleak, lifeless and full of form but no substance. Take away the stunts and Bourne's telephone calls and there's not much there. They're basically like the way MacBeth views life - full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. The Bond movies shouldn't be imitating these things. It's another example of the producers trying to be trendy again - and it's pathetic. Also, by trying to mimic others, the producers put themselves behind trends, when surely it'd be a far better thing to be setting them.

    So, where is the Bourne-ification of Bond in this movie then? I see three main offenders - the shaky cam at the start, the overly long and rather uninteresting scene where Bond chases Mitchell (again, with that obnoxious fast editing and shaky cam) and the uninspired and silly little fight Bond has with that small-time hug in Haiti.
  4. Predator

    Posted 17 May 2011

    Following the phenomenal success of my Alien thread, and in an attempt to keep this forum alive just a little bit longer, I thought I'd start a thread for its imitator.

    Today, I think I'll just talk about the original movie in the series, and the best. With the Alien series, despite the first being obviously superior to its sequel, there still seems to be a surprisingly large divide in opinion over which one is best. For Predator, such dispute appears to be non-existent.

    Now, it was only very recently that I saw this movie for the first time. There'd been a handful of movies in the eighties that I wanted to watch as a kid but couldn't because I was deemed too young (oddly enough, when I was old enough and I was watching things like Alien and The Terminator, I had clear forgotten about things like Predator). Anyway, recently, I started catching up on those eighties movies I'd missed. I saw Robocop and it was absolutely brilliant (although I realised why I hadn't been allowed to watch it when I was a kid). And then I remembered that I had wanted to see Predator as well, so I could find out why it was such a popular cult hit, so I checked that out too.

    Initially, I have to say I was a little underwhelmed. It wasn't particularly scary and I'd been under the impression that it was supposed to have been. The characters weren't all that interesting at first and a lot of the story revolved around them being idiots. The scene where Mac starts firing madly into the forest and the others join him (without knowing what he's firing at!) and waste all their ammunition comes to mind. Mac's inability to tell the others what happened is also frustrating. At least Anna's smart enough to notice the blood on the leaves that they find afterwards but she's the only one.

    I was also underwhelmed by the creature itself. I think however that was because I'd heard many fans going on about how cool it was and how it was an honorable hunter and always hunted opponents on equal ground, using only what weapons its prey had. However, what I saw was a cowardly critter who hides behind an invisibility cloak, shooting people who don't even know he's there.

    Although, a little while after I'd seen it, it started to grow on me a bit more - then I remembered that it was an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie... or more to the point, I remember what that meant. Arnie had been in one movie above his station, The Terminator, based largely on the fact that he had almost no lines and all he had to do was look mechanical and unfeeling (something which his inability to act well lent itself to perfectly). When you think about other Arnie movies, there all pretty terrible for the most part. Arnie is eighties B-grade royalty. Also, it's going to be interesting when kids in the future ask us why we all liked this guy so much at the time. Like many eighties actors, he's not as charismatic as we thought he was and we might have a hard time explaining to kids why a former bodybuilder of all people was a mainstream Hollywood star. Anyway, it's an Arnie movie and as such, I realised I had to judge it by a slightly different standard.

    So I watched it again, this time being sure to switch my brain off beforehand, and found that once I got into the spirit of the thing, I had a lot of fun. While it's not scary, there is tension and the pace is really solid. It is also very atmospheric and as Mr. Pye mentioned in the Alien thread, the jungle setting in Predator is gorgeous. I also discovered that it's smarter than it pretends to be. It starts like one of those embarrassing and forgettable 80s action flicks that were a dime a dozen, right down to the strange steroid fetish. Seriously, why were musclemen so popular in 80s movies? When you see unnatural physiques and people strutting and flexing where there's no logical reason to, it knocks down the quality of the movie a lot. When Arnie and Carl Weathers have that stupid arm wrestling match, Predator lost half a star right there (then another half with Hawkins' terrible jokes). However, after the silly but immensely fun attack on the rebel camp where these characters are playing typical invincible 80s action movies, they are all slowly picked off one by one and somewhere along the line, they start to feel like human beings.

    Also, more surprisingly given the fact that they were pretty unlikeable for the most part, by the time the predator starts picking them off, we do start to care about them. Maybe the movie's teaching us something about tolerance. Yes, guys who go around claiming to be thought-to-be-extinct Sexual Tyrannosaurs might not be the kind of guys we'd like to sit next to on a bus but we don't want them to get blasted into pieces, do we? Or even guys who tell god-awful vulgar jokes. However, we do start to care about them as people and you want them to survive. I always feel sad that Dillon and Poncho don't make it, even Billy - since he almost got to this mysterious chopper.

    The chopper is weird. When Arnie tells Anna to get to it, we cannot see it anywhere, so I wonder how Anna would know where it is. Also, Dillon points out earlier that if they don't make it to their rendezvous on time, the chopper isn't going to wait for them. Yet, the chopper waits a whole day for Arnie to muck around with his boyscout traps. Finally, what exactly did Anna say to the general when she got there? "Oh, hi. You don't know me but..."

    Now, onto various observations...

    First, a theory. Near the end, Dutch surmises that the predator is hunting his group because they're carrying weapons. However, the predator did overhear one of Hawkins' jokes. He also must have realised that the rest of the group were friends of Hawkins, except for Anna (and you notice he never tries to attack her), so it makes you wonder. Don't know about the poor dead guys they find before they reach the rebel camp though, which leads us to...

    ... an oddity. Why does the predator skin some guys and take the skulls from others? Is it a matter of hunting some people for food and some for trophies? It doesn't really make much sense. Also, it seems like that scene is there just because the filmmakers desperately wanted to have something with the shock value of the chestburster scene in Alien. However, they should have known better than to try to outdo the movie that influenced them.

    On another subject, Dutch's claim that his men are a rescue team and not assassins is hilarious - and not just because they're delivered with Arnie's trademark er... style, I guess you'd call it. No, it's also hilarious because when you see how Dutch's team work - firing indiscriminately into the compound without ascertaining the whereabouts of this 'other' hostage we heard about and basically blowing up everything in sight - one has to wonder whether they're actually any good at rescuing people. I'd think that a hostage would probably prefer it if anyone else but Dutch's men were hired to rescue them. When Mac tells Dutch that he found the other guy and that he was dead too, one can't help but wonder whether this guy was knocked off by the rebels or whether a stray bullet (or several hundred bullets) from Blain's mini-gun got him.

    Finally, a mystery - when the predator comes out of the river at the end, with his cloaking device malfunctioning and with him finally switching it off, it is a great reveal. It also could have been a fantastic moment of finally seeing the creature that has been stalking them all along - if we hadn't already seen it uncloaked twice. Also, at the very start of the movie we see his spaceship come down to earth - and then in large letters during the opening credits we see 'Creature designed by Stan Winston', which is also something of a tip off. The mystery I'm driving at is why did the filmmakers show their hand so early in the piece? One can't help but wonder how much surprise value the creature would have if we hadn't seen the ship, hadn't seen the predator's infrared vision, or the creature uncloaked right until the end (okay, maybe the infrared vision could have stayed). Just a thought.

    Anyway, that should be enough to get the ball rolling for now. Over to the rest of you.
  5. Movies we've changed our minds about

    Posted 25 Apr 2011

    I think this thread is fairly self-explanatory. However, here's a brief run down just for the hell of it. I don't intend this to be a source of great debate, but that's probably inevitable given the way most of us here are like. If it happens, it happens - but the basic premise of the thread is to discuss movies we once thought were brilliant and have subsequently changed our minds about, and of course what made us change our minds.

    The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

    For a time, I thought these movies were it. I thought they were the next Star Wars. I bought all the DVDs, then I bought all the extended editions. I watched all the various extras and tidbits that came with them - and while my intention for a trip to New Zealand was just to see the beautiful sights that little country has to offer, I have to admit I got excited when I recognised a bit of landscape that was used in the movies.

    Recently, I realised they just didn't do it for me anymore. They felt flat, the running time which before had felt luxurious just felt tedious - and I knew that I was in trouble when at the end as when Frodo was holding the ring over the cracks of doom and Sam asked "What are you waiting for?", I thought to myself. "Yes, what are you waiting for?" and fast forwarded the scene.

    Afterwards, I put on my analysing cap and tried to work out just why these films that I had loved so much didn't hold up anymore, and I think in the end, I just realised that there's not a lot of substance to them. Sauron's forces are never a real threat. The ring, as much as they go on about it, is a little trinket, and the idea that throwing a piece of jewellery into a fire could save the world is simply preposterous. In addition to that, the films take themselves too seriously (in their defense the book does too - although the book doesn't do anything for me either). They're heavy, laden with long speeches, but in the end they all add up to nothing.

    They're still absolutely gorgeous to look at, no doubt about that. The scenery, the sets, the costumes. There is no denying that they are magnificent in terms of bringing an imaginary world to life down to every last detail. The people who brought these things to life deserve every accolade they are given. This was a truly monumentous task, and I think every audience member who saw these films, down to the youngest child, would know that and appreciate that for the incredibly painstaking effort it was.

    Unfortunately though at the end of the day, all of this immense effort was undertaken to bring a trilogy of films to life that unfortunately never had that much life to begin with. Then factor in the excessive running times, the fact that there were extraneous sub-plots thrown in simply for the sake of padding the films out (particularly in The Two Towers when Peter Jackson opted to hold back events from Frodo and Sam's journey until the third movie) and you've got an exhausting empty movie experience on your hands. Beautiful to look at, sure, but the loud parts wake you after you've dozed off.

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