Oblivion Film Review

oblivionOblivion follows repair man Jack Harper – working as a repair man on an abandoned Earth devastated by conflict with invading aliens. Harper must confront his past, which leads him on a journey of redemption and discovery as he fights to save mankind.

Oblivion is a stunning film to look at, director Joseph Kosinski uses beautifully cinematic and sweeping vistas to tell the story.

The visuals are complemented by an excellent score from French electronica band M83. The music delivers a sense of anticipation and awe that perfectly reflects the on-screen imagery of a buried Golden Gate Bridge or a shattered football stadium.

oblivion_stadium

Looks like a smashing game was had here.

Plot wise, the film is a hotch potch of other Sci-Fi tropes. Fans of the genre will spot plot elements robbed from films like WALL-E, 2001 a Space Odyssey, Total Recall and Moon. The story would make for an excellent short story in a Sci-Fi anthology like The Twilight Zone. As it is, the plot is a little too thin when stretched to feature-length and it feels derivative.

Tom Cruise is on-screen for almost the entire film and is provided with support from a very small cast that includes Morgan Freeman, who just phones in his performance. Cruise knows how to lead a movie though and he does a creditable job with what he’s given. Sadly though, what he’s given is the most generic of movie action hero character traits. He likes baseball, he’s good with a gun, is ruggedly good looking and rides a motorcycle. Cruise is like a CG character in a video-game with all the inherent emotion therein. Never is this summed up better than at the films denouement, where he delivers the line “fuck you Sally” with a total lack of conviction, when whats needed is a Charlton Heston like “Damn you all to hell” diatribe.

look

I’ve looked – but there’s no chemistry

The script lacks any warmth, with no emotional drive and there is no humour at all. The film is shot with a bluish hue, lending it an anti-sceptic feel that heightens the emotional disconnect. As a result the audience never connects with Jack Harper, instead we’re all just watching Tom Cruise. Sadly, there is no on-screen chemistry with either of the female leads in the movie, both of whom are merely there to look good.

The second half of the film is a more conventional summer action film which is buoyed by some incredible set design. The special effects work is nigh on perfect and Kosinski creates some genuinely exciting action set-pieces.

Oblivion opens well, gradually immersing the audience into a post apocalyptic world. The film is visually rich but intellectually lacking and emotionally distant. So damning with faint praise then? Well no, at least the film has a story and it’s about big Sci-Fi ideas – something lacking in mainstream Sci-Fi trash like Transformers for example. So, find the largest screen you can and you’ll find much to enjoy.

Rating: 6/10

Star Trek IV: Film Review

Star Trek IVThe Enterprise crew are now renegades. Returning to earth to face up to their crimes, they have no option but to journey back in time to 1984 in order to rescue a pair of humpback whales so that they can talk to an alien probe that is causing damage to the Earth.

Star Trek IV, or the ‘whale one’, was a sizeable hit back in the day and is the film that seemed to have the biggest appeal to the non-trekkie audience. Looking back on the movie today, it’s still an immensely enjoyable film, with some really nice gags.

Nimoy rightly felt that the film franchise required a change of tone after two movies that dealt with conflict and he wanted a film without a main villain. It’s something that I wish the Next Generation had been brave enough to do, namely take a chance with a different type of storytelling.

The special effects in the movie are so good that many people assumed that they were real. I am of course talking about the animatronic whales used in the production. Wildlife groups wrote to complain that the film-makers must have disturbed real whales by getting so close to them. It’s a triumph for practical special effects and this aspect of the movie has held up really well.

The music is scored by Leonard Rosenman and it is probably my least favourite score in the original movie series (though it is still rather good). It has a weird kind of Christmassy feel to it, and whilst it suits the film, it’s a little bit forgettable and light weight. That said, the score does reference Alexander Courage’s original Trek theme, which is underused.

The films ecological message is hammered home without subtlety or refrain and yet the film is not overtly preachy. It is sad that the plight of the blue whale especially is still so desperate.

There are some wonderful ‘fish out of water’ jokes in the film, Nimoy plays straight man to Shatner and they share some of the films best scenes. It’s also great to see that the supporting cast all get sizeable chunks of screen-time and are pivotal to the plot. Shatner appears to be channelling Cary Grant in this film and he puts in quite a charming performance.

imagesCASH99NF

Catherine Hicks is great as the Marine Biologist and has a nice chemistry with Kirk. It is often said that there aren’t enough strong roles for women in the movies. Yet here, Gillian is easily Kirk’s equal and is a confident and knowledgable scientist.

In these Star Trek movie reviews, I often mention instances of great dialog and this film is no different.

Spock: [in response to McCoy’s query regarding the afterlife] ‘It would be impossible to discuss the event without a common frame of reference’.
McCoy: ‘You mean I have to die to discuss your insights on death’.
Spock: ‘Forgive me Doctor, I am receiving a number of distress signals’.
McCoy: ‘I don’t doubt it’.

Nimoy as director excels, notably with the tense and desperate dash to stop a whaling ship from killing the humpbacks that they need to return with to Earth. I must’ve seen the sequence a hundred times, but I’m always on the edge of my seat, willing the bird of prey to protect the whales.

BOP

I love the ending of the movie when after the trial, Sarek makes amends with Spock, by admitting that he was wrong to oppose his son joining Starfleet. It’s a wonderful scene, delightfully played by both Nimoy and Mark Lenard and it brings to a close a story arc that began in the original series episode ‘Journey to Babel’.

Looking at the negative side of things, some of the matte paintings on Vulcan look a little rough, as does the one showing the Cetacean Institute and it would have been nice to learn a little more about the probe that was sent to Earth to talk to the whales. As a nit-pick, I obviously don’t like that the bird of prey seems to go to warp inside the Earth’s atmosphere as it contradicts the established logic of the series.

With the huge mainstream success of Star Trek IV, it was pretty much guaranteed that there would be a Star Trek V. Nimoy’s deft hand at comedy would also provide him with another mainstream hit: Three Men and a Baby. It was also around this time that the announcement of a new TV show ‘Star Trek The Next Generation’ was made.

To sum up then, Star Trek IV is a delightful film, in which everyone seems to be having fun. The camaraderie, combined with a genuine heartfelt ecological message makes for a movie that’s impossible to dislike.

8/10

Star Trek III Film Review

Star Trek IIIStar Trek III forms the second part of a trilogy that began with Star Trek II and culminated with Star Trek IV. Star Trek III is generally considered to be one of the weaker films in the original pantheon of Star Trek movies. In many ways, this is unfair, for whilst it does have some weaknesses that we shall examine shortly, the film is arguably the closest in terms of story structure and characterisation to the original television show.

As the film is called ‘The Search for Spock’, a story précis seems unnecessary, and that might be the first of the problems to afflict this movie. With the ending in little doubt, the journey the characters embark on must be as involving as possible for the film to work.

Star Trek III focuses on the relationships and characters of the big three – Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Kirk in particular is well-defined and motivated in this movie, willing to take enormous risks to save his closest friend. Director Leonard Nimoy extracts a powerhouse performance from William Shatner, from his meeting with Sarek to his collapse on the bridge after learning of his son’s death and then later, watching the Enterprise burn in the atmosphere. Shatner is both moving and convincing in his portrayal of Kirk.

Enterprise_destruction

Leonard Nimoy directs with a sure hand and avoids the pitfalls that can plague first time directors. Camera movements are economical, all gentle pans and static one shots. The film is nicely lit and has a gritty Indiana Jones style cinematography to it. If I were to be critical, I would say that Nimoy’s direction is a little ‘workman’ like and does not show particular flair.

The musical score is very good, though not ground-breaking like The Motion Picture soundtrack, nor as pulse-quickening as the music for The Wrath of Khan. Having said that, I do love the music accompanying Kirk’s stealing of the Enterprise, particularly the musical chord that is given to Captain Styles as he rises from his bed.

Star Trek III also has more levelling humour in it than the previous two instalments. Although there are constructed jokes, such as Scotty’s ‘up your shaft’ retort to the elevator computers ‘thank you’, the best comedy is the subtle stuff that comes from the characters and their situation. For example, Kirks ‘how many fingers am I holding up’ whilst flashing a Vulcan salute to McCoy in the brig or McCoy’s nervy ‘are you just gonna walk through them’ comment to Kirk, who is staring impassively at the huge (closed) doors of the Spacedock. The easy going camaraderie, that is so (seemingly) unforced and natural really suckers the audience into believing that these characters are long serving colleagues. For an example of quite terrible line delivery in Star Trek, just watch a few minutes of early TNG, specifically Encounter at Farpoint – it’s cringe worthy.

I’ll tell you something about these old Trek movies, some of the dialog is genuinely gold standard and is one of the few areas in which I thought that the recent (2009) Star Trek film was lacking in. Star Trek III is not quite as quotable as Star Trek II, but there is some great dialog.

Ambassador Sarek: You must bring them to Mt. Seleyah, on Vulcan. Only there can both find peace. 
Kirk: What you ask… is difficult.
Ambassador Sarek: You will find a way, Kirk. If you honor them both, you must.
Kirk: I will. I swear it.

The special effects are marvellous, more money was available for this film after the success of Star Trek II and it’s all visible up there on the screen. The beautiful and iconic Klingon Bird of Prey, the Grissom, the stately Excelsior and the massive Starbase – were all new additions to the series and would be extensively used in other Star Trek productions over the following 20 years.

The Starbase brings us on nicely to the part of the review that looks at the films flaws. Here, Star Trek suffers from the same problem that Star Wars suffered with the ‘super-star destroyer’ seen in Return of the Jedi. The Starbase is just implausibly big, why would the Federation build such a massive structure, one that can accommodate entire starships within its superstructure no less! It doesn’t make any sense really, it just looks cool.

starbase

I much prefer the design of Deep Space Nine, with its docking pylons, that seem more practical and far safer to use. It’s like the Death Star (and it’s ludicrous weakness) in Star Wars, it’s very cool and makes for an excellent visual, but has little founding in reality. It’s OK for Star Wars, which is essentially a modern fairy-tale, but for Star Trek, it takes this viewer out of the suspension of disbelief that one needs to have when watching a Science Fiction film.

I know it’s a particularly geeky nit-pick, but Kirk orders one quarter impulse power as he seeks to exit the Starbase, now this is a fantastic speed and would blast the Enterprise out through those troublesome Starbase doors in the blink of an eye. This is why, as Lieutenant Valeris states in Star Trek VI, ‘regulations specify thrusters only while in Spacedock.’ It’s a very minor pick, but it does disconnect with the series established logic.

There are further problems with the internal logic of this film, for example, why if the Genesis planet is quarantined, why is it not guarded by a combat capable starship? The Grissom is a science vessel, with very limited armament and could not even defend itself against one scout class Klingon ship, not a very effective quarantine is it? Once Kirk has stolen the Enterprise, he can just warp over to Genesis without any obstacles.

Christopher Lloyd plays the Klingon Commander Kruge with broad stokes, his character is not as memorable or as well scripted as Khan. Indeed, his motivations could and should have been better articulated. Nonetheless, the depiction of Klingons in this film would form lay the foundations for the Klingon culture, that would be explored in great detail in Star Trek the Next Generation.

Star Trek III moves along at a nice pace until the destruction of the Genesis planet. This is followed by a nicely played scene with McCoy and a comatose Spock. This quiet little scene ranks amongst my favourite moments in the original movie series as it serves to underscore the unbreakable link between the three main characters. The scenes set on Vulcan at the end of the film are quite dull however, despite some excellent matte paintings that make for some spectacular visuals.

McCoy

We are never in doubt that Spock’s soul is going to be returned to him and that he will be resurrected. It is in these sequences that Nimoy as director should have either been a little more inventive with the camera work or edited the scenes to make them shorter.

In summary though, Star Trek III has a myth building quality to it that would be picked up again in Star Trek VI. Kirk is shown as a shrewd tactical commander who triumphs despite unbeatable odds, Spock is literally resurrected and there is an epic sweep to the story arc. If it’s a cliché that no one really dies in Science Fiction then it’s partly down to this film. Despite the niggles, I have a soft spot for the movie and really enjoy the performances and characterisation in the story.

Rating: My heart says ‘give it a 7’, so we shall – but my head says ‘6’.

Ted: Film Review

TedA lonely young boy is given a teddy bear for Christmas, as he goes to sleep he makes a wish that his teddy were real. When he wakes up in the morning, he and his shocked parents find that his wish has been granted.

We then flash forward to find the young boy all grown up, living with his teddy bear, smoking pot and generally sliding by, whilst watching such classic movie fare as Flash Gordon. Of course, everyone has to grow up sometimes – even if that means parting with ones teddy bear…

Ted is a film that I didn’t really expect to like because it’s a Seth McFarlane movie and I just don’t get Family Guy. I don’t hate Family Guy but I just don’t find it very funny. So it was a great surprise to me that I really enjoyed this film, Ted is a wonderful creation, though he does sound exactly like Peter Griffin, which was distracting for a while.

Ted himself is realised quite beautifully, the motion capture technique used is brilliant – I never would’ve believed that it could be done so well. Ted interacts seamlessly with the real actors and it’s probably the first time that I’ve seen a movie of this ilk where an animatronic creation would not have been the correct way to go. I’ve heard that Gremlins is to be re-made with CGI creations rather than puppets and if it’s done as well as Ted, then I think that it could be pulled off. This is something that I’d not have believed prior to watching this film.

Plot wise, the film is no great shakes and has been done a thousand times already. Slacker boy gets the girl, looses the girl, then redeems himself, wins her back and all is happy. There is another plot thread that sees Ted getting kidnapped by an obsessive fan, but it’s little more than padding.

That said, the film makers know how clichéd the plot is and focus on the characters, relying on their charm to pull the movie off. It works. As far as acting plaudits go, Whalberg is fine as the slacker that needs to grow up, Ted is brilliant and Milla Kunis is the perfect straight-woman to their antics.

Seth McFarlane is clearly a big geek and manages to get Sam Jones, from the 1980 Flash Gordon movie to appear in the film – in costume! It’s great, Sam Jones acquits himself well, he’s quite funny and the Flash Gordon film is not mercilessly ridiculed, but rather lovingly referenced.

Sam Jones

Not only that; but the dulcet tones of Patrick Stewart are employed as narrator at the beginning and end of the movie. In fact, many of the funniest lines go to Patrick Stewart – such as:

Now if there’s one thing you can be sure of, it’s that nothing is more powerful than a young boy’s wish…..except an Apache helicopter. An Apache helicopter has machine guns AND missiles. It is an unbelievably impressive complement of weaponry, an absolute death machine.”

I expected lots of sick humour, but the film doesn’t go for the cheap gags. That said, the script could have done with a bit more polish as most of the jokes are sight gags (i.e. bear drives car, bear wants to have sex with women etc…).

As a Director, I thought that Seth McFarlane put in a competent job, not especially flashy and in some ways a bit old fashioned in the way he framed scenes. That’s not a criticism though, not everyone likes the Michael Bay style of constant camera moves. I did think that the film could have used a bit more colour though (or the reverse – grunged it up a bit more) as the tone of the movie was a little inconsistent.

How does Ted smoke pot and get high without lungs? How does Ted eat or get drunk? Not questions that really need answering according to my wife, but I think that they could have provided some comedy answers.

For what it is, the film is something of a triumph. It says a lot when the biggest criticism I have is that Mark Whalberg’s stoner/slacker character has massive biceps which is not in keeping with his character.

The film is aimed squarely at my generation (30+) who will have fond memories of a lot of old movies like Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Top Gun, Airplane etc… I think that it could have made more money if the creators had toned Ted down a bit and released the film as a more family friendly movie. That said, for me it’s the best comedy film I’ve seen in ages and I’m glad they didn’t opt to go for a safer route that might have led to a bigger box office.

Rating: 8/10

Predators Film Review

PredatorsThis 2010 sequel takes the action off Earth and onto an alien game reserve, where abducted badasses are parachuted in to be mercilessly hunted by the Predator aliens. Adrian Brody’s character sums up the plot nicely:

“This place is a game preserve, and we’re the game”

The films dialog is simply horrible, with lines like ‘Are you prepared to die? I am!’. The poor dialog is compounded by the lead character (Adrian Brody) deciding rather inexplicably to speak like Christian Bales Batman.

Midway through, Lawrence Fishburn shows up as a psychologically traumatised survivor, albeit one that looks a little too well fed. Unfortunately, this extended sequence is poorly acted by Fishburn and pretty much irrelevant to the plot (such as there is). All it does is rob the film of momentum.

The camera work is shoddy, some scenes even seem to be out of focus. Its a mean-spirited movie, with a badly miscast leading man, Vin Diesel would have been a better choice.

There is some knowing fun to be had as the characters are picked off one by one, but it’s hard to care when they die. Also, there is nice, though clumsily articulated idea, where one character asks whether if by survivng they are loosing their humanity.

Ultimately though, the film is devoid of the suspense and tension that made the original Predator movie so good. This is a dumb, mindless action film, with pretty much nothing to recommend it. Avoid.

Rating: 2/10

Star Trek: The Motion Picture Film Review

The Motion PictureThis will be the first of my Star Trek Movie reviews in the build-up to the release of the twelfth Star Trek movie, Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released on my birthday, September 28th 1979. Cruelly dubbed ‘The Motionless Picture’ by some critics, the film eschews Star Wars style spectacle and opts for a languid screenplay more akin to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

An unknown alien of unprecedented size and power is approaching Earth, destroying everything in its path. The only starship in range is the USS Enterprise, which must intercept and eliminate the threat to Earth. The story bears a strong resemblence both in plot and structure to the original series episode ‘The Changeling’.

Beyond the plot, the film bears little resemblance to the TV series which inspired it. The tone is somber almost, with Shatner delivering the most restrained performance of his career. There is almost no humour and scenes such as when Kirk is delivered to the Enterprise drag on ad naseum. This robs the film of any sense of momentum or urgency in responding to the threat to Earth.

The films major themes concern growing and evolving, indeed, the film superficially explores the next stage of human evolution. At the films conclusion, V’jur merges with Decker to become a transcendent being, fusing man with machine.

All future Star Trek’s would be character based, rather than focusing on really big Science Fiction ideas. Only Spock has a real character arc in the movie, as he realises that he cannot acheive Kolinhar – the purging of all emotion. Similarly, the probe realises that in order to evolve, it must meld with a human, because logic and knowledge are not enough to answer the question ‘why am I here’.

The film features incredible visual effects, which hold up even today, as well as a superb musical score, both of which were Oscar nominated. The sets and style established in this movie would continue to be employed until Star Trek Nemesis was released. Indeed, the film has a grandeur and scale that would not be matched until the 2009 Star Trek movie.

The Jaguar e-type of starships.

The Jaguar e-type of starships.

Having the greatly respected Robert Wise to direct the film speaks to its importance, yet the direction feels detached and workman like. Robert Wise also employed split-diopter lenses, where one side of the screen will be focused on the foreground while the other side of the screen will be focused on the background. This can result in a visible line demarking the two. This effect isn’t used much in modern movies, and the sudden drop-off in focus between the two sides of the screen can be very distracting.

To summarise then, this is an important and under rated film. It has serious flaws in that the pacing is too slow and there is not enough focus on the characters and relationships. That said, this is a proper, grown up and intelligent Science Fiction movie that does not pander to the lowest common denominator. I also love the films tagline of ‘the human adventure is just beginning’. Unusually for a Star Trek movie, I would recommend the novellisation of the film. It’s the only Star Trek novel written by Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry and it conveys concepts and ideas more fully than the film.

Rating: 6/10

Men In Black 3 Film Review

MIB3MIB3 lacks the must-see originality of the first film, but is a vast improvement over 2002’s lame sequel. In the film, J must travel back in time to prevent the Earth from being invaded by Boglodites and in the process save his partner from being erased from time.

Colorful, fun and inventive, this film see’s Will Smith return to the scene of a former glory, after a series of lacklustre movies. Smith kinda phones in this performance, he lacks the young, fresh spark that characterised his early film career. Its Josh Brolin that delivers the standout performance as a younger version of Tommy Lee Jones’ K.

Rick Baker’s brilliant alien designs are given a 60’s feel, to complement the time period. The late 60’s are beautifully realised and the film is a riot of colour and does not take itself too seriously. Barry Sonnenfield’s direction is good, and he handles the action set pieces well.

The capper to the story is a heartfelt twist, that gently tugs at the heartstrings and was quite unexpectedly poignant. The film does feel a little inconsequential though, and its strange to think that its been 10 years since MIB2. I’m not sure that the world needs an MIB4 though, especially as the touching ending rather effectively wraps up the buddy-buddy plot. This film was way better than I expected it to be though and is a good, fun popcorn movie.

Rating: 6.5/10