jacey: (blue eyes)
HeroWhat a delight this movie is - well worth its Oscar. I'd seen a few mixed reviews, but today is the last Orange Wednesday, so there was no way H and I were going to miss our cinema trip. With Fifty Shades of Domestic Abuse showing there really wan't much choice, so Big Hero 6 it was, and it would have been a shame to miss it. Funny and serious in turns the manga/anime style is attractive without being over-exaggerated and the setting (a Japanese version of San Francisco) works well. The story is tight, the characters appealing and the moral is obvious without being heavy.

Ostensibly it's about the bond that develops between robotics prodigy Hiro Hamada and blimpish inflatable robot Baymax, a medical robot created by his dead brother, but it's about much more than that. It's about the effects of loss, the emptiness of revenge, and the value of friendship (and also the value of nerdship).

After the death of his bother Tadashi in a fire, Hiro is rescued spiritually (and often physically) by Tadashi's robot creation Baymax, and Tadashi's nerd-college friends, as he investigates the fact that the fire may not have been an accident after all.

Highly recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
JupiterThis is a film that poses one huge question: how will Sean Bean die?

I read a couple of bad reviews of this which almost put me off going, but that would have been a pity because although it's fluff, it's entertaining fluff with gorgeous visuals and a sequenmce of events (maybe i won't call it as plot) that fairly zip along. The bad review complained of the plot being hackneyed - poor earth girl, Jupiter Jones, is actually alien royalty: hijinks ensue - but it works on an entertainment level, which is exactly what I was after on a chilly Wednesday afternoon. Yes, Jupiter has to be rescued a few times, but to be fair she's not set up as a kick-ass heroine. She's an illegal immigrant in Chicago who cleans toilets for a living. And when it comes down to it she does manage to rescue herself a couple of times.

There's a lot of explody chase sequences and not too much soul searching even though it's mostly about Jupiter trying to stop her inherited family from harvesting Earth's humans for less than great reasons.

Eddie Redmayne is the scenery-chewing pantomime villain, only slightly worse than his two screen siblings. Mila Kunis does well enough as Jupiter. Channing Tatum is the hero/space cop/love interest, which is a pity because, well, Channing Tatum. Sorry, but personality-wise and everything else-wise he doesn't do it for me, but Sean Bean just about rescues it as Tatum's one time seargeant in the military. He still has a Sheffield accent of course, and I'm reminded of the Dr Who episode in which we were reminded that: 'Every planet has a north!'

So this is a Wachowski sibling movie, so Jupiter's life changes, but ultimately she has a choice of whether to buy into that or to go her own way.

And the big question? Does Sean Bean die? Sorry, you'll have to go and see it for yourself.
jacey: (blue eyes)
KingsmanSince I'm not a comics reader, i didn't know in advance that this is yet another comic-to-movie project, but that certainly didn't spoil the fun. I really enjoyed this. It's fluff, but well-executed fluff, which suits me fine.

The film's blurb says: Gary "Eggsy" Unwin (Taron Egerton), whose late father secretly worked for a spy organization, lives in a South London housing estate and seems headed for a life behind bars. However, dapper agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) recognizes potential in the youth and recruits him to be a trainee in the secret service. Meanwhile, villainous Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) launches a diabolical plan to solve the problem of climate change via a worldwide killing spree.

Colin Firth is nails it as the posh spy, Harry Hart, suave and sophisticated with a very dangerous edge. Playing a character who can kill you with his umbrella requires a deft touch not to tip it over the edge into cartoonish comedy, and Firth is pitch-perfect.  Egerton gives an excellent perfomance, as the dodgy London layabout who is transformed into a mini James Bond. Spies don't usually have mums, but there's a good sub-plot about Eggsy's mother and baby sister and the street gang Eggsy is leaving behind. (Don't dash out the instant the credit6s roll or you'll miss the payoff scene.) There's a potential for this to turn into a series, though as a set-up film or a standalone this works well. Potenial Kingsman recruits have to go through intensive training and a rigoroius selection process. It's lovely to see Marc Strong for once not playing a villain, but rather playing 'Merlin', the recruits' trainer. The villainous Valentine's 'muscle' is Gazelle, a lithe and dangerous young woman with artificial legs, played by Sofia Bputella. It was also nice to see Mark Hamill in a cameo role as a university professor, barely recognisable, looking like an old man and with a credible British accent, which reminds me that I'm so looking forward to seeing what Disney does with Star Wars 7.
jacey: (blue eyes)
IntoWoodsI generally like musicals, but where does a musical stop and an opera begin? Into the Woods has lots of music, but no good songs and only one memorable (9 note) musical hook, which recurred. I confess I'm not a great Sondheim fan (you guessed, huh?). Having said that, the singing was good, especially since most of the participants were actors not usually known for singing roles.

The plot is an original strand about a baker and his wife (the surprisingly effective pairing of and impressive James Corden and Emily Blunt) who can't have a child until they've lifted a curse by collecting three items for the witch next door (Meryl Streep). Into this is twisted a collection of Grimms' fairy tales such as Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood (with a cameo by Johnny Depp as Mr Wolf). The fairy tales were all twisted, of course, deliciously so in some cases. (The prince who was raised to be charming but not sincere, for instance.

I've watched too many Dr Whos recently because I confess that when James Corden's baker eventually got his baby I had to woner whether its name was Stormageddon.
jacey: (blue eyes)
BirdmanWe'd planned to see Into the Woods, but on a whim went to see Birdman instead. Wow, what a movie! Intense, funny in parts (though not a comedy) and gruelling at times it's the story of Riggan Thomson, an actor who twenty years previously was a movie star playing superhero 'Birdman' and who is now trying to redeem his flagging acting career by sinking all he has into a serious Broadway play. Don't whatever you do, assume this is a one-man version of Galaxy Quest. Nothing could be further from hard reality. On the edge of losing it, Riggan is plagued by the voice of Birdman in his head and superpowers that manifest sporadically when no one else is around (or do they?). (The voice and the character costume are a serious echo of Keaton's Batman.) Michael Keaton's self-referential performance as Riggan is little short of brilliant. Edward Norton as the talented but destructively egotistical actor who comes in at the last minute to 'save the play' is powerfully played. Kudos also to Emma Stone as Sam, Riggan's daughter. It's a small cast and all the performances are excellent. One of the stars of the show is the cinematography. Fluid hand-held camera work captures the grim claustrophobia of backstage: scruffy dressing rooms, labyrinthine corridors, peeling plaster and bare brickwork, compared to the frightening openness of the stage itself where suddenly every flaw is in the spotlight.

It's already being tipped as an Oscar contender*. I thought it was brilliant with strobe-like flashes of deeply uncomfortable truthfullness. My cinebuddy, H, hated it from beginning to end. Take your pick.

[Edit]
*
And right after I wrote this it picked up nine Oscar nominations and won Best Movie
jacey: (blue eyes)
NightMuseumI resisted Night at the Museum when it did the rounds of the cinemas because it didn't look like my sort of film, but caught it on TV just before NatM2 came out and was surprised to discover that it was much better than I expected, sweet and funny with a splash of tension and mild peril.  Hence I also enjoyed NatM2 and therefore was prepared to enjoy Night at the Museum 3. If it didn't quite live up to the first two movies it still didn't disappoint.

Ben Stiller is one of those actors I always underrate, but he's actually a very good at creating comedy while playing straight. In the third movie the team of usual suspects set off to the British Museum to try to fix the magic Egyptian tablet that animates the museum exhibits at night. Stiller is Larry, the night guard at the museum. There are good turns from Steve Coogan at Octavius and Owen Wilson as Jed reprising their love-hate relationship as the miniature centurion and the cowboy. Crystal the Capuchin monkey acts her socks off again. This movie is notable for being his last movie appearance of Robin Williams (as Teddy Roosevelt)  before his untimely death last year and the penultimate movie for Mickey Rooney who bowed out last April, age 93.

Larry is having problems with his teenage son who is showing signs of kicking over the traces as he approaches college application stage and his magical job at the museum is in crisis as the Tablet of Ahkmenrah begins to deteriorate, jeopardising the nocturnal lives of the museum inhabitants. The actual solution to the problem comes a little easily but in the meantime there's mayhem ion the British Museum. Effects, as usual, are very well done and the comedy level is smiley rather than laugh out loud funny, but the movie's heart is in the right place and there's a bittersweet ending which wraps up the trilogy reasonably well.

A special mention for Hugh Jackman playing himself (briefly).
jacey: (blue eyes)

My year in film was SEMI-bookended by Hobbits. I saw the Desolation of Smaug (for the second time) in January, and The Battle of the Five Armies in late December. I know fantasy fans are deeply divided about Jackson's take on all things Middle-Earth, but though I've read and enjoyed Tolkien, I'm not such a fan that I recall every word and therefore resent every image on screen that doesn't match up with the pictures in my head. I love the movies (almost) unreservedly. A film isn't a book and though I was surprised when The Hobbit was stretched to three movies, I think Jackson made it work.

I saw 24 films in 2014, slightly fewer than my usual average of 30. Mostly my cinebuddy and I try to see science fiction and/or fantasy, though if it's a slow week we might be persuaded to something non-genre.

Highlights of 2014: Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America - The Winter Soldier, Edge of Tomorrow, Divergent and Interstellar, all hugely enjoyable. X-Men, Days of Future Past seemed to break the previous storylines and inexplicably reinstste Patrick Stewart's Prof X, which is fine by me. Hunger Games 3.1 is worth seeing, especially if you've already invested time in the first two, though making the third book (the weakest for me) into two movies is a bit of a stretch. Katniss has very little agency in the first half of the book and this is a problem which the film struggles to overcome. And while we're on YA dystopias... I enjoyed Divergent enough to put the DVD on my Christmas wish-list. (Thank you, Santa.) Like the Hunger Games it's another YA dystopia though this time with restrictive utopian overtones. It has good performances from the main cast and I look forward to the next two in the trilogy. I wanted to like The Maze Runner and The Giver, but couldn't work up much enthusiasm for either of them. I did, however, really enjoy Belle, which speculates as to how the presence of his black neice, Dido Elizabeth Belle, in his household, affected the ruling of William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England, on the case of the Zong massacre.

I didn't particularly like Maleficent. The idea was sound, but Angelina Jolie didn't hit the spot for me. Ditto Transcendence. I like Johnny Depp, but this movie was instantly forgettable. Spiderman 2 was a storytelling mess. I'm really not sure it was time to remake Spidey. And talking of remakes, I wondered why they really needed to remake Annie, but the updated version will certainly work for a new generation of kids. I can see it becoming a staple afternoon holiday movie on TV in a few years time.

Best SF? Hard to choose between Interstellar, Guardians of the Galaxy and Edge of Tomorrow. They were all good for very different reasons. Honourable mentions: Divergent, X-Men - Days of Future Past, Captain America - The Winter Soldier and Hunger Games 3.1
Best Fantasy: The Hobbit - Desolation of Smaug. Honourable Mentions: How to Train your Dragon 2
Unexpected charmer: Chef, with John Favreau and a load of Hollywood's great and good in tiny cameo roles. This film had tremendous heart. If you didn't see it - get the DVD.
Worst movie of 2014: A Million Ways to Die in the West. Awful, just awful.
Worst genre movie of 2014: Lucy. Plot Holes-R-Us.

My reviews (in reverse date order)


  1. Movie of the Week: Annie

  2. Movie of the Week: The Hobbit - Battle of the Five Armies

  3. Movie of the Week: Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1

  4. Movie of the Week: The Maze Runner

  5. Movie of the Week: Interstellar

  6. Movie of the Week - The Giver

  7. Movie of the Week - Lucy

  8. Movies of the Week - Summer Roundup (covers 9 to 13)

  9. How to Train Your Dragon 2

  10. Guardians of the Galaxy

  11. Maleficent

  12. Chef

  13. What If

  14. Earth to Echo

  15. Movie of the Week: Belle

  16. Movie of the Week: Edge of Tomorrow

  17. Movie of the Week: A Million Ways to Die in the West

  18. Movie of the Week: X-Men: Days of Future Past

  19. Movie of the Week: Spiderman 2

  20. Movie of the Week: Transcendence

  21. Movie of the Week: Divergent

  22. Movie of the Week: The Monuments Men

  23. Movie of the Week: Captain America - The Winter Soldier

  24. Movie of the Week: The Hobbit - The Desolation of Smaug

  25. Movie of the Week: Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit

jacey: (blue eyes)
My last movie of 2014. H is away so S and I went to the cinema on New Year's Eve to see the remake of Annie. We got the last two seats in the house, right down at the front (which is always a bit eye-boggling).

As an adaptation of a stage musical, you know what to expect from a film like this. It was actually very good if you like that sort of thing. Cute kids, feelgood (emotional manipulation), slightly OTT acting, and breaking into song and dance at unlikely moments. You probably have to be in the right mood, take it at face value, suspend disbelief and go with it.

In fact I was in the right mood for something entirely daft and soppy. It's a decent update on the 1982 version. Annie is played by Quvenzhané Wallis who is excellent and already has an impressive list of movie credits for a twelve year old. Jamie Foxx makes a decent job of playing the tycoon who finds his heart thawed gently and Cameron Diaz plays the wicked (foster) step-mom. Musical numbers include updated versions of the Annie classic songs 'Tomorrow' and 'Hard Knock Life' - the latter excellently staged.

It'd definitely a film for kids but the adults who are dragged along kicking and screaming will probably enjoy it more than they will ever admit to.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I've been looking forward to the new Hobbit movie ever since last Christmas, so H and I went today to see the 2D version. We both thoroughly enjoyed it but it seems to be fashionable to give it a bad review. I can understand why Tolkien purists hate this. There isn't really enough plot in The Hobbit to make into three mega-movies, but despite that this movie certainly doesn't drag. 

As usual for a Jackson/Tolkien movie, it's visually gorgeous. There was some good acting, particularly Martin Freeman, of course, though Richard Armitage, Luke Evans and Evangeline Lilly were all very watchable, as was Aidan Turner.

Yes the battle was long, but it wasn't all hack and slash. It was broken in manageable chunks as we hopped from one character to another.

I thought it wrapped it all up rather well. 

We might even go and see it again at the Imax in 3D where we can get far enough back from the screen not to go dizzy, but I certainly didn't miss 3D today.

Basically if you enjoyed the other two Hobbit movies this won't disappoint, though probably it's lighter than the others in terms of plot/content.

I was, however, working out how they managed to get to five armies. Elves, Dwarves men and orcs make four. There are two separate Orc armies and Radagast's creature army -  and that makes six, plus Thorin's small band if you want to count them separately.

One disappointment today (though not with this movie). Now that Orange has been absorbed into the EE mobile phone network, I suppose it was just a matter of time, but the Orange Wednesday two for one cinema ticket offer ends in February 2015. H and I have been taking advantage of the deal an average of 25 visits a year for the last three or four years, that's a saving of at least £450. It has kept me loyal to Orange even though Tesco's mobile phone charges are a cheaper, so we'll see if there's a new offer coming up. If not I may change my phone provider.
jacey: (blue eyes)
This is a really difficult film to review, firstly because it's only half a story and secondly because it's the weakest half of the final book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. Pretty much like the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter) and the final Twilght movie (the title of which has blessedly slipped from my mind) it has the difficult task of making a complete story out of... well, not very much really. My gripe with the book (though I did think it worth reading) was that in the third instalment Katniss doesn't have much agency. She's been a pawn of President Snow for two movies, but managed to show remarkable resiliance, skill and initiative, but now she's broken. She's been rescued and taken to the safety of District 13, but Peta has been left behind in the Capital and Katniss is, quite frankly, broken. She's not the subject of this story any more, but the object. Forces act upon her, but she's reactive, not taking the initiatuve. She knows what she wants, but President Coyne and the powers-that-be in District 13 are not going to take much notice of her wishes as long as she can be of use to them as the figurehead.

While this is entirely consistent with Katniss' story so far, it makes for a difficult movie. I think the movie has managed to beef up Katniss' agency a little bit, and it certainly delivered plenty of explosions and danger, but ultimately the whole thing hinges on what they'll do with the finale when it's released (next summer?).

That's not to say that I didn't enjoy this movie. Now that I'm invested in Katniss' story I want and need to see how it ends. (Yes, OK, I have read the books and I don't expect major changes.) It was nice to see Gale back in the picture and to see how the embryonic romance, is playing out. A three-way emotional triangle is always difficult when one of the members is not actually present.

It's also probably the last thing Philip Seymour Hoffman filmed before his  untimely death.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I not only forgot to blog this, but when I was sitting here desperately trying to remember which movie I'd forgotten to blog I couldn't bring it to mind. I guess that tells you as much as you need to know. It's not terrible, but altogether i found it a bit underwhelming.

IMDB says: Thomas wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. He emerges into a world of about 60 teen boys who have learned to survive in a completely enclosed environment, subsisting on their own agriculture and supplies. A new boy arrives every 30 days. The original group has been in "The Glade" for two years, trying to find a way to escape through the Maze that surrounds their living space. They have begun to give up hope. Then a comatose girl arrives with a strange note, and their world begins to change.

Okay, I admit there's some fast-paced action, i.e. a fair amount of running and fighting. Dylan O'Brien is completely forgettable as Thomas, but that's probably down to my advanced age and thinking most teen/twenties actors in Hollywood (male and female) look like they came out of the same mould. (Is it just me?) There's an interesting twist at the end, but Hunger Games is isn't.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I loved this movie. Was it really three hours long? There wasn't one moment when I felt it was dragging.

OK, here's the blurb from IMDB. I'm going to avoid plot spoilers.
In the near future, Earth has been devastated by drought and famine, causing a scarcity in food and extreme changes in climate. When humanity is facing extinction, a mysterious rip in the space-time continuum is discovered, giving mankind the opportunity to widen its lifespan. A group of explorers must travel beyond our solar system in search of a planet that can sustain life. The crew of the Endurance are required to think bigger and go further than any human in history as they embark on an interstellar voyage into the unknown. Coop, the pilot of the Endurance, must decide between seeing his children again and the future of the human race.

The first, perhaps 45 minutes of this movie established just how damaged earth has become and sets up the strong realtionship between (widowed) Coop (Matthew McConaughey) and his chaildren, particularly his daughter, Murphy. It is also extremely effective at showing dustbowl earth. When Coop - the last man on the planet who has actual experience of a space mission - is dragooned into flying the desperate mission the wrench away from his family is particularly affecting.

There's been a lot of talk about the science behind Interstaellar and i'll leave it up to those far better qualified than me to judge it against sound scientific principles, but as far as I can gather it has tried to use science and extrapolate from what we know. It uses time dialtion to particularly good effect as a plot device. It certainly has verisimilitude, though when it gets to the last sequence - a representation of five dimensional space on the cinema screen it does get a bit 2001, but all is explained.

Just about the only thing I didn't like was the volume of the background music which obscured some of the dialogue - a beef I often have with movies. I didn't dislike the score, just the volume it was mixed at. There's really no excuse for  intrusive incidental music.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Supposedly 'social science fiction' but with a premise that falls apart on closer examination without inserting the use of magic into the proceedings. In addition it has plot holes you can drive a bus through.

There's a whiff of Divergent in here with artificial communities being created after some kind of apocalyptic war, but this doesn't have the spark that carried Divergent through to a nail-biting conclusion. Premise: all emotion has been suppressed by drugs to protect the isopated [population living in plastic hpouses and seeing everything in monochrome. Only The Giver (Jeff Bridges) sees in colour and has memories of how it was before. When Jonas is chosen to be the next Giver he receives the memories (by some kind of telepathic transference) and stops taking the drugs with predictable results,(starts to see in colour, wants to change the world)  but it seems that all he has to do to set things straight and return the memories to the inmates population is to cross some magical woo-woo barrier at the extreme edge of their known settlement.

I'm sorry but even sticking Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep into a banal film doesn't really lend suitable gravitas. The 'teen' cast was instantly forgettable (why, oh why, do Hollywood teens all look the same?) and the potential of the situation ignored. this is a prettily filmed slice of teen angst which takes far too long to tell its slight story.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I suspect there was one rather important scene in this that ended up on the cutting room floor because the whole plot spectacularly failed to make sense. Unfortunately it was an early scene and undermined the whole thing. And that's without the whole plot premise being based on the 'fact' that humans only use ten percent of their brain.

Scarlett Johansson pouts her way through it all prettily, but credibility is low and special effects can't make up for an inane plot. Save your money or go and see Guardians of the Galaxy again, which is bonkers in a much more satisfying way. If you have a yen for Scarlett Johansson go and see the latest Captain America movie.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Life has been hectic and I've been missing out on blogging my cinematic experiences. In some cases that's good (some disappointments) but in other cases I need to give a shout-out.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
Entertaining animation from Dreamworks with a few dodgy accents. The second outing for Hiccup and Toothless, his dragon, plus the the intrepid Viking dragon riders of Berk. Set five years after the first movie the villagers of Berk are now thoroughly committed to dragons. The children have grown into teenagers and together with Hiccup's long lost mother thwart the evil intentions of Drago Bludvist, his bewilderbeast and his evil dragon army. Some sad moments and a lot of feelgood factor, this is Hiccup's coming of age story. Yes, I know it's a kids' film. Go see it anyway.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Every bit as good as I'd hoped. This is a fun movie (based on the Marvel Comics) with a witty script, an intriguing cast of humanoid and non humanoid characters and some rip-roaring adventure. Chris Pratt is an engaging hero at Peter Quill/Star Lord, an incompetent petty criminal with more panache than sense, but like Han Solo he comes good in the end. The Guardians are a bunch of extraterrestrial misfits, Groot - a sentient tree whose single word vocabulary is Groot, Drax the Destroyer, Rocket the sentient racoon, who seems to be the brains of the outfit Zoe Saldana - green this time instead of blue (Avatar) is Gamora, the assassin who changes sides to keep the Orb out of the hands of the villains. Lots of thud and blunder. Our heroes are pitted against Ronan the Accuser and the titan, Thanos. It's still in cinemas. If you haven't seen it, go! A shout out to Karen Gillan (Amy Pond/Dr Who) as a mean bald villainess.

Maleficent
Oh dear. This didn't live up to its hype, I'm afraid. Angelina Jolie plays... Angelina Jolie in curtain chewing mode. It's a live action replay of Sleeping Beauty with the bad fairy, Maleficent, trying to atone for her mistake in condemning the pricess to the prickly spindle spell, and the dopey good faries trying to bring up the princess out of harm's way. Theres a feminist revisionist backstory which accounts for Maleficent's bitterness towards the king on the occasion of his daughter's christening. It's a bit ho-hum to be honest.

Chef
It was a slow week and the trailer looked mildly amusing so H and I toddled off to see Chef, a movie which seems to have passed most of our friends by, which is a pity because it's excellent. John Favreau writes, produces, directs and stars in a movie which is almost food-porn. Hey, no almost about it. You leave this film hungry. It's incredibly good humoured, has very little in the way of jeopardy or bad humour. Favreau pulls in old mates to take cameo roles: Dustin Hoffman, Robert Downey Junior, Scarlett Johansson. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a brilliant chef who, after falling out with his restaurant-owner boss (Hoffman) and getting on the wrong side of snarky food critic Ramsay Michael (Oliver Platt) in an accidentally public twitter storm, decides to quit his job and get back to basics. he does this in a decrepit food truck supplied by Downey Jnr playing the ex-husband of his estranged wife, Inez (Sofia Vergara). It's a road movie as well as a food movie. Casper takes to the road with his friend (and cook) Martin and his son, Percy, rebuilding his reputation and self-esteem and also the relationship with his son and his ex-wife. A great summer feelgood movie. Catch it if you still can.

What If
Very sweet and worth watching if you want to see Harry Potter grow up. Daniel Radcliffe rom-com. Pretty entertaining.  Radcliffe is reasonably adorkable and doubtless will please all twenty-somethings who grew up with Harry Potter. Set in Toronto, Radcliffe plays Wallace, a chap with a dead-end job and not much in the way of prospects, who falls for Chantry, a girl at a party who already has a long term live-in lover. They agree to be friends and their friendship develops... and develops. There are complications, of course, mostly in the shape of Chantry's boyfriend, but it's a rom com, so I don't need to tell you how it ends, do I? Suffice it to say no one ends up under a train. It's a good way to spend a wet Wednesday afternoon.

Earth to Echo
The promo says it's An adventure as big as the universe'. Yeah, right, A kind of cutesy ET with kids chasing round on bikes and in stolen cars with very good intentions. Amusing enough, but one of those movies you magically forget as soon as you leave the cinema. Tuck, Munch and Alex are a trio of inseparable friends who are about to be separated permanently when their neighbourhood is scheduled for demolition for a Galactic Super Highway err... wrong movie... road. In the last week before moving away they track down strange signals received on their phones and discover a cutesy little alien robot, called ET Echo, stranded on earth. There's a lot of running about, a big reveal at the end, and a message that being separated by distance doesn't destroy a friendship. Yeah, that's about it really without getting into spoiler territory. I'm glad I didn't pay full price to see it.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Not our usual type of movie event - no SF for two weeks running - but oh how this made up for the appalling A Million Ways to Die in the West which we saw last week.

Dido_Elizabeth_BelleInsipred by a painting from 1779 - the first known to show a black person on the same eyeline level and therefore equal to an aristocratic white person - and based on a true story, this is a fictional account of a few years in the life of Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral who is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, then Lord Chief Justice of England. Set in the late 1700s.

Dido grows up in his household, becomes the de-facto sister and best friend of his other ward, Elizabeth. There's an entirely fictional love story, nicely paced and nicely played, between Dido and a young lawyer. The setting is almost a character in itself, beautifully filmed with excellent costumes.

Good performances, too. Gugu Mbatha Raw is delightful as Dido, Sam Reid plays Davinier, Dido's love interest. Special mention to Tom Wilkinson as the sometimes stiff, but always human Murray and the wonderful Penelope Wilton (Harriet Jones, Prime Minister from Dr Who amongst other things) as the spinster Lady Mary

The film is purely fictional, but speculates how the presence of Dido in his household might have influenced Murray's ruling on the Zong massacre. The case was between the insurance company and the ship owners who claimed compensation for the loss of a cargo of slaves who were thrown overboard to drown, supposedly because of a dangerous lack of water, but in reality because they'd been kept in such poor conditions that they were diseased and had no resale value. The ship owners claimed £30 per head for 'spoiled cargo' which the insurance company contested.

Murray's ruling helped to open up the way for the abolitionist movement. It's interesting to note that, although the film makes no reference to it, it was also Murray who ruled on the earier Somersett case in 1772, which held that slavery was unsupported by the common law in England and Wales, and that a person, whatever his status, could not be removed from England against his will. This was one of the significant milestones in the fight to abolish slavery.

I didn't see Twelve Years a Slave, but in a quietly authoritative way Belle makes significant points about the history and horrors of the slave trade and the first steps to overturn it. Well worth seeing.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Gorundhog Day meets Starship Troopers, but don't let that put you off. This is really good. It's time-loop story in which Cage (Tom Cruise) a public relations specialist with a nominal army rank of Major gets on the wrong side of someone with influence and ends up busted to the ranks without ever having gone through basic training. That's a bit of a problem because there's a war on - a war against implacable aliens.

It's a problem for our hero because he's... well... not excatly hero material and certainly not gung-ho. He bumbles his way through the first few moments of a beach landing without knowing how to take the safety off his weapon, but the aliens are overwhelming. Predictably he ends up dead... and suddenly his day resets itself. In fact every time he ends up dead he goes back to the same point in the worst day of his life, learning as he goes.

It's extremely well done, so you see enough of the repeats to get the differences and the forward steps, but not enough to get frustrated with it. Emily Blunt plays the female lead, tough super-soldier, Rita, who understands what's going on when no one else does.

This is an inventive take on the Hiroshi Sakurazaka novel "All You Need Is Kill" with a certain amount of humour injected into a bleak situatiuon. The aliens are convincing, the battle scenes are delivered with sufficient verisimilitude to make them viscerally realistic. The special effects are good but they don't dominate the characterisation. (A bonus for me.)

Go and see it. One of the better movies of the year so far.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Seen A Million Ways to Die in the West? My advice. Don't! Puerile, self-indulgent cobblers. And not funny. Watch the trailer and you'll have seen all the best bits. Not only that, but trailer scenes were actually edited together in such a way that it looked as though it was going to be funny. (And some of the scenes were different in the actual movie.) Talk about bait and switch...

I hope Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson got well paid for this because it would take a lot to suffer having this stinker on your IMDB resumee. In fairness they played it straight, and it was hardly their fault. Liam Neeson was suitably menacing as the bad guy and Charlize Theron as the capable gun-toting Westerner and love interest, but Seth McFarlane wrote it, directed it and starred in it. If it hasn't killed his Hollywoord career stone dead, it should do.

I'm not surprised that Patrick Stewart remained uncredited for his two lines as 'dream voice' but he was easily recognisable and (sorry Sir Pat, but...) IMDB gave the game away.

Imagine a dud Carry On movie with added bad taste, a lot of people saying fuck all the time and subtracted humour. Of course if you like shit and fart humour, go for it...
jacey: (blue eyes)
The movie opens in 2023 with the last of the X-Men being hunted by hugely powerful 'sentinels' who are systematically wiping out mutants and any humans who help them. Professor X (magically alive again with no explanation as if X-Men Last Stand never happened) gets Kitty Pryde to send Wolverine's consciousness back into the body of his younger self in 1973. His mission: to prevent Raven/Mystique from assassinating Bolivar Trask (creator of the sentinels) and setting in motion the war between the mutants and hoimo sapiens. To achieve this, he has to persuade the much younger Charles Xavier to work with his old frenemy Erik Lehnsherr, Magneto. Meanwhile Trask (Peter Dinklage) has been experimenting on mutants and killing them and Mystique is out for blood.

It's fast-paced and engaging. Young Charles is as a low ebb and feeling very sorry for himself. Having been shot and paralysed at the end of X-Men First Class, he's now on his feet again, but the drug that keeps him walking supresses his mind powers and he has a hard choice to make.

At one point they engage the services of teenage Quicksilver (Evan Peters) to get to Erik and then for some reason known only to the scriptwriters they send him home again when almost everything that happens in the final showdown could have been avoided or mitigated if he'd been on-side. Duh!

It's a fun movie, however, and we get all the big guns, Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Hugh Jackman, Michael Fassbender, James McAvoy and this time we have Jennifer Lawrence as Raven/Mystique. There are cameos from all of the X-Men regulars and a nice turn from Peter Dinklage as the scientist/businessman pushing the government to buy into the Sentinel project..

I enjoyed it - despite wondering how Mystique manages to look so good even though she is (in this version) the same age as Professor X and Magneto, and despite the X-Men timelines being irretrievably screwed. It does seem odd, however, when the Avengers and all their contributory individual character movies manage to sing from the same hymn sheet, how X-Men can't seem to decide what's canon and what isn't.

Though the time-travel reset button at the end does give many more possibilities for future movies.
jacey: (blue eyes)
What a mess! More precisely what a storytelling mess!

With Spiderman 3 and 4 already on the stocks this doesn't even have the excuse of being the middle film in a trilogy, but there are storytelling strands unravelling all over the place like an old cardigan.

Amongst other things Spidey toughs it out with Electro, (Jamie Foxx) whose near fatal dip with a tank full of electric eels not only manages to electrify him, but also manages to fix the gap in his front teeth. The Rhino (Paul Giamatti) seems to have been thrown in as an afterthought. There's a real mishmash encompassing Peter's relationship with Gwen, his friendship with Harry Osborn, his discovery of what his dad had been up to, Norman Osborne's mad plans and, apparently, we still have the whole Mary Jane saga to come (in Spidey 3 and 4). At one point Peter finds his Dad's secret workplace/hideout and we discover that his dad's last desperate message, a message he'd managed to heroically and dramatically send in the movie opening (while in the process of seeing his wife killed and being murdered himself), actually had zero significance at all except for the purposes of being found fifteen years later by the son he could never reasonably believe would see it. And then it's never mentioned again... duh!

When the big dramatic moment in the movie happened I honestly couldn't bring myself to care. Oh dear.

I can only think that in trying to pave the way for the plot bunnies in the next two movies they've lost the plot completely with this one.

Maybe it was too soon for a Spiderman reboot. Hey, Hollywood, how about a few more new stories instead of rehashing Superman and Spidey before the previous versions have gone cold? If you're going to redo something that's been done fairly recently, you have to a) bring something new to it and b) do it better than the original. Christian Bale's Batman suceeded because it was tons better than its predecessors. Sadly Spiderman is just... a bit different.

Recommendation? Go and see 'Divergent' instead.
jacey: (blue eyes)
H and I have missed our usual weekly moviegoing for the last few weeks due to a) being busy and b) absolutely nothing we wanted to see, but this week was a choice between Spiderman 2 and Transcendence and we figured Spidey would still be on next week, but Transcendence might... transcend. In fact it's already departed our local Cineworld, so we had to go to Batley to the big Showcase Cinema close to Ikea. (Which, of course, meant a quick trip round the Scabdinavian rat-run of retail delight.)

So Transcendence: some mixed reviews, but it was interesting and enjoyable, if a little slow at times. Slow is not necessarily a criticism, of course, and long as there's something to think about, which there is.

Dr Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is working towards creating an omniscient, sentient computer together with his wife Evelyn (Scarlett Johannson lookalike Rebecca Hall), but an attack on multiple fronts by a radical anti-tech group wipes out ten years of reseach at many different labs across North America and leaves Will dying by degtrees. He has barely a month to live. Desperate to preserve something of her husband, Evelyn persuades Will and their friend Max that though his body may die his intelligence and personality can be uploaded.

Uploading, or transcendence, is only the start of the story, though and when the transcended Will is let loose on the internet, you know things are not going to go as planned.

Much as I love Johnny Depp, who underplays Will beautifully, this film belongs to Paul Bettany as Max, the conflicted scientist who loves Will and Evelyn, but fears what they are doing. There's also a good turn from Morgan Freeman as the older mentor-figure. Maybe starting at the end and then filling in the blanks reduces the film's dramatic tension, but this isn't a movie stuffed full of car chases (thank goodness) but about ethics and consequences... and love.

It may not be for everybody but I enjoyed it.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I wasn't sure what to expect as I haven't read the books and I had only seen one trailer and that some weeks ago, but hey, it's Wednesday, two for one cinema tickets, so it was either Divergent or Noah. No contest.

Shailene WoodleyOK, so it's future YA dystopian SF after some kind of war, so there are bound to be comparisons with The Hunger Games, but Divergent measures up well to HG and leaves Twilight standing. My cinebuddy, H, actually said she liked it better than Hunger Games and I can see why. The emotional kick is stronger, even though it's not the most original plot-line in the world: teen discovers she is different - the kind of different that's going to get her killed in this post-apocalyptic world. She's a divergent, i.e. she doesn't neatly fit in to one of the five factions that society is divided into. Each faction is based on a human virtue: Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), Dauntless (warrior), Candor (honest) and Abnegation (selfless). Basically she's a little bit of all of these when she's required to be only one, and for some reason polymaths/divergents are dangerous because they will upset society's equilibrium.

Yes there are all the usual YA tropes of identity, self-discovery/self determination, developing romance, but they are handled well

The setting is future Chicago a hundred years after a cataclysmic but undefined war. They've built a fence to keep bad things out, or maybe to keep citizens in. Beatrice (Tris) voluntarily chooses to leave her parents behind in Abnegation and move into Dauntless, the warrior faction. After some brutal training and a few nasty brushes with auithority (because she questions) she starts to fall for her instructor, Four, who is initially tough on her, but - hey we're all pretty sure it's because he fancies her something rotten, so the developing relationship is no surprise.

They haven't been able to repair damage to buildings in this future, but they have developed technology that allows them to eavesdrop on people's hallucinations, hence their ability to spot divergents. Tris has to keep her secret and learn to think like a Dauntless thriough a series of psychological tests or she'll be killed, but there's more to it than that. Yes, there are a few plot questions such as: why Tris didn't recognise Four because it turns out that not only did they both belong to Abnegation, their fathers work closely together; and how come the impartial psychological testing lady works in a tattoo parlour and then appears to be part of the Dauntless faction. Otherwise it hangs together reasonably well.

Paul; BlackthorneTheo JamesIt's not a short movie and the two leads Shailene Woodley and Theo James (both unknown to me) carry the weight of the movie admirably. Woodley has been modelling and acting since she was four and has a string of TV credits to her name. She's good. Ditto Theo James (left), a young British actor with a face that reminds me of a young Paul Blackthorne (right) - Harry Dresden in the TV series. That's no bad thing at all.

The movie sags a little towards the end, pacing-wise, when people we haven't been given enough reason to care about are put directly in danger, but it's quickly over that and it picks up for the climax. There are two more movies currently in production (the second and third books of the trilogy). Hunger Games 2 surpassed the first movie, so fingers crossed for the next two Divergent ones.

Recommended.
jacey: (blue eyes)
OK, Catching up with Movies of the Week from a few weeks ago.

Nice to see a war movie without too much gung-ho testosterone and a bit of feelgood factor. George Clooney stars and directs. It's not fast-paced but it held my interest. Yes, sure, it's not action-packed, so don't expect a lot of flashbangwallop. Nice to see Jean Dujardin in a speaking role (after The Artist, of course, which was brilliant!). Interesting turns from veteran thesps: Hugh Bonneville, Bill Murray and John Goodman. Matt Damon is the only non-geriatric member of the team of art experts sent to find the looted cultural treasures of several nations as the Second World War is drawing to a close. This is almost exclusively a male biddy movie with Cate Blanchett as the only major female member of the cast. That's understandable, given the storyline.

It's not going to set the world of cinema on fire, but it's worth a look. My knowledge of the art woirld and the true story that this is film based on is minute, so maybe I know a tiny bit more about art than I did before. Maybe...
jacey: (blue eyes)
Firstly... Mea culpa, I've missed blogging a few Movies of the Week. Unfortunately - after a couple of weeks of no movie-going - I've already forgotten which movies I missed putting up here, so that doesn't say very much for them, does it? Anyhow, to resume in the middle...

After enjoying the first Captain America outing I was looking forward to The Winter Soldier, and was not disappointed.

Let me say right from the start I do  not read comics - or, at least, I haven't done since a brief foray into Superman and a few others - mostly DC - etc. aged about 13 many, many years ago. My dad bought them 'for me' and I lost them when my grandma decided I didn't need them any more and threw them out without asking. (That still hurts!) Anyhow. Capt. America was not one of the few that I ever read, so I've come to the Marvel Universe entirely without preconceptions, so the movies not only have to stand alone (which they do) but they also have less chance of pissing me off because they didn't do this or that as depicted in this or that issue of this or that comic. Whatever the film-makers need to do to make a comic into a movie is all right by me, as long as it works.

In Winter Soldier I liked the fact that Steve Rogers is still in mourning for his past while getting on with the present and trying not to think too much about the future. I enjoyed the not-so-subtle dig at America's post 9/11 War on Terror and subsequent freedom-limiting programme of countermeasures. The oft-repeated who-do-you-trust theme is always good value (hey, I've used it myself). I would have preferred a little less crash-bang-wallop, but at least the explosions were not at the expense of the characterisation, which is so often left on the cutting room floor in action movies (George Lucas, I'm looking at you!)

I also like the fact that the movie goes places that it can't easily return from. There's no magic reset button at the end of this movie and the next Marvel movie - and even Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. - will have to take the events into account to remain credible unless Steve is going to do a Bobby Ewing and wake up oin the floor of the shower and it's all been a dream.

One comment, though. After Avengers Assemble, is it credible to believe that with such an upheaval going on right under their collective noses, that Iron Man and Hulk kept out of it. They got a brief mention, but only peripherally. (I'll forgive Thor for not turning up if he was in Asgard.)

Recommended. Go see it!
jacey: (blue eyes)
I sometimes feel as though the strapline for my Movie of the Week posts should be: Seeing films so you don't have to.

This week it was Robocop on the Wednesday afternoon 'twofers'.

I guess if you don't remember the original, this wasn't so bad - though it felt about half an hour too long - but... (You knew there was going to be a but, didn't you?) this Robocop lost some of its mystique of the original because you were never in any doubt that Alex Murphy, played by Joel Kinnaman, was aware of who he was and who he had been before being turned into a robot with a human brain and face. With Peter Weller's 1987 Robocop, you really didn't know how much of the man was still in there and that was the point of the movie.

OK, backtrack... Set in the a near future dystopian Detroit, Omnicorp has ambitions to put robotic cops into every city in the US. Already in use in the military, law enforcement is a tantalising and lucrative market but the American public won't go for it, until Omnicorp boss, Raymond Sellars (an almost unrecognisable Michel Keaton) figures out how to make a robot with a conscience, courtesy of Doc Norton, Gary Oldman (excellent as usual) and fastens on recently injured cop, Alex, as his test subject.

This film asks the big question about drone soldiers, and is fairly heavy handed about it, courtesy of Samuel L Jackson's caracature turn as a super-right-wing broadcaster wholly in favour of the machine, whereas the original 1987 Robocop asked the question is the man inside the machine a man or a machine? (And kept you guessing for much of the movie.)

There were bits in the original that were genuinely scary but I think I have largely become desensitised to the shoot-em-up special effects so common in SF and action movies these days. Loud, yes; scary, no. I did find some of the early scenes (footage of robot drones deployed in a future Afghanistan) genuinely nasty, however. One plus point: though there were some shots of Robocop speeding through the streets on his mo'bike at least there was no interminable car chase.

If anyone remembers the satisfying (airpunch) ending of the original movie when the 'Old Man' makes it possible for Robocop to circumvent his hidden programming - that doesn't happen in this movie, but it does get there in the end.

One thing I found quite worrying, however, was the number of unaccompanied children obviously under 12 in this 12A movie.(Half term week.) Bad form, Cineworld. Movies have age ratings for a reason. Still, kudos to the kids, they were all well behaved.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Moderate spoilers ahead.

This is every bit as cliched as you might expect but - hey it was a slow week and we get the twofers on a Wednesday.

OK, it's not all bad. I mean, we didn't walk out or anything - which means it scores higher than Tron 2. Aaron Eckhart majkes reasonably good Adam - Frankenstein's monster still alive in the present day, but sad to say Bill Nighy seems to dial in his performance from a distance. Scenery-chewing villainy is not really his style.

My lack of comic book savvy meant I hadn't realised this was a comic book movie, but no matter if it's a movie it should be able to stand on its own anyway. Anyhow, the guardians of good are the Gargoyle Order, standing against Naberius who is trying to have legions of demons ascend to be reborn into (currently dead and therefire soulless) human bodies if only he can figure out how Frankenstein made Adam in the first place.

Throw in a pretty human scientist (female, of clourse) and the scene is set for Adam to deside which side he's on.

Yeah, right, I guessed the ending, too.

But it was a wet Wednesday afternoon, so what else were we going to do with a couple of hours?
jacey: (blue eyes)
I missed writng this up - which is odd because we saw it twice, once in December and once in January. Was it that good? I think so. There was certainly enough to see second time around that we missed the first time. Though it's that difficult middle movie there's plenty in it to keep up interest. It's visually stunning with effects so seemingly effortless you don't actually stop to think, Hello, that dragon's not real.

I was a bit skeptical when they said they were going to make such a comparatively slight book as The Hobbit into three movies. The problem with Lord of the Rings as a trilogy was what to leave out. The problem with The Hobbit is what to add in. Since it's a long time since I read the book, I'm honestly not sure what's new and what had slipped my memory, so I'm taking the movie at face value. It woks for me. Of course, Tolkien purists are going to disagree with me, and that's fine.

I have to say that I'd forgotten Bard altogether, so he was a nice surprise, but - is it just me? - doesn't Luke Evans (Bard) look way too much like Orlando Bloom (Legolas) - at least when Bloom's wearing his own dark hair.

Martin Freeman is a perfect Bilbo Baggins and much kudos to Peter Jackson for casting not only Richard Armitage as Thorin, but Aidan Turner as Kili. Nuff said. My friend H also thanks him for Lee Pace as Thranduil.

Looking forward to part three.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Chris Pine, Kevin Costner, Keira Knightly and Kenneth Branagh -- what's not to like? This is a very enjoyable bit of fluff with a nicely rounded out central character (Pine as Ryan) and a good, if slight turn from Knightly. Excellent support from Costner and a believable villain from Branagh who also directed.

This is a Jack Ryan reboot. The character has been played in previous movies by Alec Baldwin, Harrison Ford and Ben Affleck, but so far no one has played the character twice. I'm not familiar with the Tom Clancy books, and only have passing familiarity with the previous movies from seeing The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger on TV years ago, but this movie is an origin movie and takes Jack back to his medical discharge from the marines following a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, his recruitment as an 'analyst' and his first live mission to find out about (and thwart) a high-stakes economic attack on the USA.

There's plenty of shoot-em-up action and the inevitable car chase through crowded Moscow streets, but Ryan's character is believable and certainly not an invincible hero.
jacey: (blue eyes)
H and I went to see this on a whim. It's Wenesday. Twofers day. We usually see every SF movie we can, but this week we'd not much to choose from as we've already seen Catching Fire etc. So it was a toss-up between The Family and Saving Mr Banks. I'm so pleased we picked Mr Banks.

On the surface it's the story of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) persuaded PL Travers (Emma Thompson) to sell him the film rights to Mary Poppins, but beneath that lies the story of Travers' own childhood in Australia and her relationship with her charismatic but troubled father, played brilliantly by Colin Farrell.

The story flips back and forth between 1906 and 1963. I've seen some reviews that suggested this was a mistake, but for me it was the whole point of the movie and yes I admit that I had to quietly wipe away more than one tear. As both PL Travers and Disney point out, Mary Poppins purpose in the book is not to save the Banks children, but to redeem their father. (That's not a spoiler, it's in the trailer!)

It's an intelligent script. Emma Thompson is brilliant as the tetchy, author determined that Hollywood will not have her star character despite her agent's cajoling as her money runs out. Tom Hanks gives a nuanced performance as Disney. I shouldn't be surprised by this as he's done some brilliant work in the last few years, not least in Cloud Atlas. There are plentry of excuses for snatches of the sings from Mary Poppins, some genuine feelgood moments and appropriate catharsis at the end.

Highly recommended, even if it doesn't look like the sort of movie you'd usually go and see.
jacey: (blue eyes)
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (2013) PosterThough I enjoyed the book, I was a little disappointed that it seemed to be an excuse to put Katniss and Peeta through another round of battling to the death, i.e. offer the same book again, but dressed in a slightly different outfit. The movie is excellent, however, better than the book and better than the first movie (which I rated pretty highly).

Yes, it's more of the same, but I'm not giving away too many spoilers if I say that Katniss and Peeta's flouting of authority at the end of the first movie has put them in direct conflict with the Capitol and President Snow (played by an extremely creepy Donald Sutherland, and what a good villain he makes). Tension is mounting and the movie's pacing draws that out very effectively. Katniss doesn't seek to be the symbol for resistance to the regime, but it happens anyway. All she wants to do is protect those she loves but as Snow's forces increase their stranglehold on the districts, that becomes more and more difficult.

In the 75th Quarter Quell all the tributes are drawn from previous winners, some young, fit and lethal, others now elderly or in some way damaged. Yes they are supposed to fight to the death, leaving only one winner, but this doesn't play out the same as the first round of games. It's fairly faithful to the central story from the book, while condensing out a few of the sub-plots and more minor characters.

The love triangle between Katniss, Gale and Peeta is well played and utterly believable. All the actors are strong, particularly Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson (Katniss and Peeta). Liam Hemsworth makes the most of his relatively short on-screen time as Gale and special nod to Woody Harrelson playing Haymitch, the booze-sodden former winner who is Katniss and |Peeta's mentor. There's a newcomer this time as Sam Claflin steps up to the plate as Finnick, one of the returning tributes and someone Katniss refuses to trust. There's excellent support from Elizabeth Banks as the hideously OTT but perfectly nuanced Effie Trinket, and Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, Katniss and Peeta's stylist who is responsible for their impact on the public of Panem.

Of course it doesn't end very neatly as it's the middle movie in a trilogy. In fact, I gather it may be the second in a quartet as like other major movie franchises they seem to be splitting the final book, Mockingjay, into two movies, which I think is a mistake (as it was with Deathly Hallows and the deeply irritating final pair of Twilight movies).

Well worth seeing.
jacey: (blue eyes)
I've been looking forward to this for some time and it didn't disappoint. It's the second Thor movie, the third in which Thor has appeared and if I've counted correctly, the eighth in the Marvel Universe movies which converged with Avengers Assemble and are now diverging again to see various chareacters dealing with the aftermath.

Two years have passed since Thor's first outing to earth and Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is somewhat pissed off that she missed out on his return during the fracas in New York (Avengers Assemble), but she's soon up to her ears in trouble when she discovers a gravitational anomaly, gets transported to another world and is infected by the Aether - super-weapon of the Dark Elf Malekith (an unrecognisable Christopher Eccleston) who intends to destroy the nine worlds so that the universe can return to its state of darkness. Thor, who has been busy pacifying the nine worlds since the rainbow bridge was destroyed and rebuilt is alerted to Janes disappearance and goes to the rescue, but no one knows how to part Jane and the Aether. The nine worlds will soon come together in a rare convergence and the boundaries between the worlds are becoming unstable. Malaketh makes his move and Jane is swept up into the fight as Thor goes head-to-head with the dark elves, recruiting Loki who has has been imprisoned since trying to take over earth

Chris Hemsworth makes Thor his own, (it's a role that suits him down to the ground), but Tom Hiddleston is superb as the untrustworthy and bitter Loki, driven by both sides of his nature.

Well worth seeing. Niote that there are two easter eggs in the credits, so you have to watch right to the very end.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Wow, despite not liking 3D, H and I decided to see this not only in 3D but at the Imax in Sheffield. Glad we had the Wednesday twofers, but even so it was fifteen quid with the 3D supplement and Imax prices. But it was well worth the money. Perhaps because of the size and proportion, the couple of 3D Imax movies I've seen have been much easier to watch than 3D on an ordinary sized screen.

This is a two-hander with Sandra Bullock playing the payload specialist on her first space mission and George Clooney the experienced pilot on his last. When when they are caught in a debris field from a satellite disintegration, the pair of them are left in a seemingly impossible get-out-of-this situation. The movie is all about what happens next. It's a linear story carried entirely by it's two excellent actors and the incredible third character - space itself. The conflict is in the human-versus-the environment scenario and if you think there's not enough plot to last for 91 minutes, then you'd be dead wrong. The time just flew by.

Only two actors appeared on screen (though there were some voices from Mission Control) however the art department and visual effects people were multitudinous. They did a fine job. It not only looked real, it felt real, too.

One of the best movies I've seen all year. Highly recommended. Go and see it while you still can.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Yes, I know some folks didn't see this movie because of Orson Scott Card's somewhar dubious politics, but I read the book before I knew anything about that and was curious - eager, even, to see the movie. It didn't disappoint.

Asa Butterfield, previously seen (by me at any rate) in Hugo, made an excellent Ender Wiggin. Fair enough the time span encompassed by the novel had to be compressed because 14 year old Butterfield essentially didn't age through the film, (though apparently he did grow two inches during shooting), but Ender learned his lessons, (life and tactical), essentially growing up through a series of lessons administered by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford, who had a lot of screen time) and Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley). Briefly the Earth has had a very near miss, almost being wiped out by bug-like aliens (Buggers in the original books, but later changed to Formics.) and the current administration believes that the only way to defeat them if (and when) they return, is to raise a generation of children to be warriors and strategists. Is Ender the one they're looking for? Can they train him to be so ruthless that he'll put the fight before his humanity? Graff thinks he is. Ender is tested and pushed until he becomes what they need him to be and the film deals with the consequences.

If you've read the book you'll know where this leads. If not, no spoilers. Though it's thirty years since I tread the book it seemed to stick pretty closely to what I recall of it though the very end (I think) is taken from one of the later Ender books.

Well worth watching.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Apologies, my movie blogs have been sparse. I had a few weeks when for one reason or another I missed my regulasr Wednesday movie trips with H, but I'm playing catch-up with these reviews, however brief.

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters
Boring and formulaic despite having Nathan Fillion and Anthony Stewart Head doing just about as well as anyone could with their respective supporting roles. I quite enjoyed the first Percy Jacksion outing, so this was a bit of a disappointment, especiially since we went out of our way to find a movie theatre still showing it. Logan Lerman is personable enough but somehow failed to sparkle in this..

RIPD
Rest in Peace Department. A cop (Reynolds) makes a dangerous mistake, tries to correct it and the results are fatal. He finds himself assigned to the afterlife police department where his new partner is a crazy western lawman. Not as bad as it sounds. In fact, quite watchable for a Wednesday afternoon.outing, but the memory of it is fading fast. Ryan Reynolds is a bit forgettable, but Jeff Bridges adds a bit of sparkle to his role as the dead lawman. Kevin Bacon plays a convincing villain.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Not sure what to expect but it was good, if violent and dystopic.

Earth is ruined. The elite live on a space station called Elysium where theirpicture perfect lifestyle in maintained. Everyone else grubs for a living amoingst the remnants of cities. The lucky have jobs that will probably kill them, the unlucky just go hungry.

Max has a factory job, but one day when somethig goes wrong he gets a fatal dose of radiation and is told he has five days to live. He's always dreamed of getting to Elysium, but now it becomes the only option if he's going to libe. Their wondrous medical machines can deal with what ails him. Just getting there is difficult enough and he ends up with his childhood sweetheart and her (sick) daughter in tow, but Max can make changes not just for himself, but for the world.

Yeah, OK, there are some big questions, like why did they bolt the exoskeleton to Max's bones through his clothes? Good job he never had to change his T shirt. What keeps the atmosphere in the station when it seems open to space? How do they expect medical machines that have been developed for a space station of ten thousand souls to suddenly fix the ailments of seven billion people? But I'm carping. It's worth watching if you just go with the flow..
jacey: (blue eyes)
The trailer looked good. Sandra Bullock in another Miss Congeniality type cop movie (without the bathing suits).

Sadly...

All the best bits were in the trailer. 'Nuff said.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Clary Fray is dumped in at the deep end when she thinks she witnesses a murder in a New York nightclub. It's not an actual murder but a demon-slaying and she's seen and been seen by a group of young shadowhunters, invisible to mundane eyes. Which means Clary is not the ordinary human she's been brought up to think she is. When their apartment is ransacked, her mother abducted and a demon set on to Clary, she turns to the shadowhunters for help, dragging her mundane friend , Simon, into the search with her. They meet Jace (whom she is attracted to) and brother and sister, Alec and Isabelle. The search takes them from Luke, her mother's (werewolf) boyfriend (dishy Aidan Turner) and the witch in the downstairs apartment to Magnus, a powerful warlock. They are both hunter and hunted because Clary's hidden memories hold the secret location of a magical artifact that can create more shadow-hunters. There's a frenetic climax with all the good guys fighting a multitude of bad guys in several different places at the same time and a revelation which doesn't turn out too well for Clary and Jace, romance wise.

Clary is well played by Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell-Bower broods prettily as Jace. I quite enjoyed the book, City of Bones, by Cassandra Clare and this was essentially the same story with bits slimmed down to movie length and with Jace's essential jerk-ness minimised, presumably to make him a more appealing hero. It may have been  because of the distracting, giggly, fidgety teens sitting right behind us, but for some reason I didn't quite like the film as much as I thought I was going to, though it was sumptuous to look at with plenty of eye-candy for all. (Aidan Turner, like I said, and Jonatrhan Rhys Meyers if you like that kind of thing, plus a very under-used Lena Headey and a gaggle of pretty teens.)

But, hey, don't I remember a flying motorbike in the book? The film wasn't short of SFX but this bike kept its wheels on the ground. Perhaps they are saving that special effect for the next movie. City of Ashes is in pre-production right now. I liked this well enough to go and see the next one.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Why all the rotten reviews of The Lone Ranger? H and I saw it yesterday afternoon and despite the small child kicking the back of our seat and the loud popcorn bag rattler over H's right shoulder, we had a great time. I have to say the movie is utterly bonkers, has plot holes you can drive an iron horse through, and makes very little sense at times, (How did Tonto get out of that jail cell?) but it's hugely entertaining and we came away smiling.

Armie Hammer's comic timing is excellent and Johnny Depp plays Captain Jack Spa Tonto as slightly broken, but not stupid. Sure, he's no Jay Silverheels (who came from Brantford, Ontario, by the way) but he brings his own charm to the role despite the dead bird on his head and the layer of face goo. Tonto is much more savvy than the Lone Ranger. In fact to start off with even Silver is more savvy than the Lone Ranger. (Kudos to the horse trainer.)

So, Armie Hammer plays John Reid, lawyer brother of lawman, Dan, who in the 9 years that his brother has been back east has married the girl they were both sweet on. John doesn't believe in guns, which is slightly unfortunate when he gets swept up into a posse of Texas Rangers along with his brother, to recapture escaped outlaw Butch Cavendish. If you remember the original you can guess what happens next and as the last surving (Lone) Ranger together with Tonto who is also hunting Cavendish, he sets out to recapture the bad guy. Of course it's more complicated than that and Dan's widow and son get scooped up into the mess but... yeah, of course it's OK in the end and the Lone Ranger and Tonto live to fight another day, presuming the film didn't lose the execs too much money after the undeserved bad reviews.

Plenty of CGI and big setpieces and Hammer and Depp work well together. Ruth Wilson plays the Widow Reid. I remember her from the TV version of Jane Eye about 6 years ago, but what has the poor woman done to her lips? Botox? She looks like you could wet them and stick her to the wall. She never looked like that as Jane Eyre.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A thoroughly enjoyable couple of hours in the company of Hugh Jackman as the iconioc (Marvel) X-Men character, Wolverine. Set after his final run-in with Jean Grey, Wolverine is haunted by the events in X-Men three and as the movie opens has taken himself into the wilds to live alone. Yukio (Rila Fukushima) catches up with him to deliver a message, an old Japanese man Wolverine Saved from the Hiroshima bombing wants to repay hisdebt before he dies. But all is not as it seems.

The action mostly takes place in Japan and sees Wolverine facing deadly enemies stripped of his invulnerability and pushed to physical and emotional limits.

Hugh Jackman delivers his usual good performance despite the terrible whiskers. (Yes, I know they're in the comic book!) There's a good supporting cast, particularly Fukushima, with Famke Janssen putting in a guest appearance as the ghost of Jean Grey.

It's a long movie but fast paced and well worth watching.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Twenty years on from their school-leaving celebration (an epic twelve-pub crawl), which they failed to complete, Gary King, a man who has nothing in his life, tries to get his childhood friends back together for one more try. Gary cajoles his reluctant comrades back to their hometown and mayhem begins. Their final destination, The World's End, is more apt that they first assume, especially when they notice that something has changed and the townsfolk are behaving very oddly. Motto, never start a fight in the gents with a yobbo who proves to be a blue-blooded (literally) robot.

I really like Simon Pegg and Nick Frost so it's a pity that this film wasn't quite as clever or as funny as it thought it was. Pegg plays King brilliantly, a sad man destroyed by drink and drugs, trying to recapture what he remembers as the last good time he had. Reminiscences about old times reveal some painful truths.

Definitely a split personality movie, but for me the serious undertones didn't mesh comfortably with the comedy overtones and too many gags relied on finding barfing over your shoes hilarious.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Brenda Clough's review of Pacific Rim says it all and better than I could. See here. Yes it's full of plot holes,  it defies the laws of physics and materials science and it's full of cliches, just as she says. There's something deeply weird going on with the scale of the monster machines. In the hangar (or whatever they call the base) they look pretty big. Outside they look enormous - much bigger than they seemed before. It could have been Cineworld's speaker system, but the sound is terrible. As soon as the action starts, everyone seems to communicate by shouting at each other and that loses clarity, so on occasions I pieced together the plot (plot?) by hearing one word in three and guessing the rest.

Having said all that, it wasn't actually as bad as I expected it to be.

Why did I go if I expected it to be bad? Well, H and I do the Wednesday twofers whenever we can and this week was a thin week. It was either Pacific Rim or one of the animations (Monsters University or Despicable Me 2, and we missed DM1). Besides that H said she was curious enough to want to see it. So...

I expected Transfiormers-on-speed, but there was a plot... sort of...
The writeup says: When legions of monstrous creatures, known as Kaiju, started rising from the sea, a war began that would take millions of lives and consume humanity's resources for years on end. To combat the giant Kaiju, a special type of weapon was devised: massive robots, called Jaegers, which are controlled simultaneously by two pilots whose minds are locked in a neural bridge. But even the Jaegers are proving nearly defenseless in the face of the relentless Kaiju. On the verge of defeat, the forces defending mankind have no choice but to turn to two unlikely heroes-a washed up former pilot and an untested trainee who are teamed to drive a legendary but seemingly obsolete Jaeger from the past. Together, they stand as mankind's last hope against the mounting apocalypse.

Rinko Kikuchi was fine as the female lead, the only female in the film, in fact (another gripe). Charlie Hunnam is an engaging enough lead, but Idris Elba's East End accent felt out of place. Charlie Day was quite sweet as one of the geeky scientist researchers, in a double act with Burn Gorman who was so OTT that I think they were meant to be the light relief. Nothing in this film was light relief, however. With a body count in the millions (or possibly billions) the tag for 'moderate violence' seems a little misplaced.

I could say more but, oh yeah, OK, Transformers on speed just about covers it.
jacey: (blue eyes)
This managed to slip into the cinema with no fanfare and no trailers, but it was a slow week last week, so we decided to risk it... and I'm glad we did.

The writeup says:
During their performances, the world's greatest illusionists known as "The Four Horsemen" pull off a series of daring heists against corrupt business leaders. The super-team of illusionists shower the stolen profits on their audiences while staying one step ahead of an elite FBI squad in a game of cat and mouse.

It was slick and enteraining with Mark Ruffalo playing the almost-Columbo-like FBI agent who's always a day late and a dollar short in the investigation, Morgan Freeman playing the ex-magician who exposes other fake magicians and Michael Caine playing the millionaire impressario and wheeler dealer who sponsors the Four Horseman's show - at first, anyway, because the tables soon turn. The Four Horsemen are on a mission, but there's someone else in the background. It all turns at the end and I think I'm still a little annoyed by the final twist because the director obviously led the audience up the garden path. I'd need to see it again to check if there was something I missed that might have given me a clue.

Anyhow, unreliable narrator's apart, this was well worth seeing.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Yeah, OK, not our usual style of movie I admit, but H and I were curious and, having grown up with Liberace on TV, thought it would be interesting. And it was. Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his (much younger) lover, Scott, were both brilliant. The story was slight (as biopics often are) concentrating on the relationship between the two men, but the exploration of that relationship was fascinating.

Kudos to the makeup department. Michael Douglas looked uncannily like the Liberace still skulking in my memory and the transformation of the faces, before and after plastic surgery, was very well done, as was the makeup in a later scene which I can't really mention without spoilers.

Well worth seeing.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Not just Much Ado About Nothing but Joss Whedon's Much Ado About Nothing, reputedly shot in a couple of days, in modern drsss, black and white, in Joss' own home, with a cast of his regulars more often seen fighting vampires or running illicit cargoes through the 'Verse. And it's fun.

My only complaint is that this movie has such limited release that we had to trek to a little-known part of Sheffield to find an art-house cinema with one showing, luckily on a Wednesday. It was, however, worth the trek.

You probably know the storyline: a pair of young lovers being messed about by malicious intent while the two people trying to set things right, despite their own relationship being somewhat gladatorial, end up finally admitting they are in love, due initially to a jest played on them by friends. It's not a play I'm overly familiar with (I don't think I've seen it since my school days) but it's not difficult to grasp, especially since it's played so well, with lovely touches of humour and a modern take on the songs.

Amy Acker (Angel/Dollhouse/Cabin in the Woods) plays Beatrice while Alexis Denisov (Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse/Avengers Assemble) plays Benedick. They are an engaging pair of leads with good chemistry and an excellent delivery of Shakespeare's words combined with great body-language. Fran Krantz (Dollhouse/Cabin in the Woods) plays Claudio while Sean Maher (Firefly/Serenity) plays the wicked Don John, responsible for deliberately setting two young lovers against each other.

Kudos to a much beefed up Nathan Fillion (Buffy/Firefly/Serenity/Doctor Horrible's Sing-along Blog) for his beautifully comic take on the wonderful Dogberry, played as a classic comedy double act with Tom Lenk (Buffy/Angel/Cabin in the Woods).

There are few faces here that you haven't seen in a Joss Whedon production, but it's great to see them all grasping the chance to do something different with both hands. They are all excellent , but this really is Amy Acker's movie.

Thank you, Joss, another hit.
jacey: (blue eyes)
Catching up on movies of the week from 2 weeks ago...

Well, we all know the Superman origin story and this is yet another take on it in which Superman never wears his underpants outside his trousers, but instead ends up in a heavy rubberised suit more reminiscent of The Dark Knight. Costuming issues aside, the visuals on this are superb, especially the scenes on Krypton. Russell Crowe gets plenty of screen time as Jor-El and much kudos to Kevin Costner in the smaller role of the ill-fated Pa Kent, but it's Henry Cavill's movie as the dour and troubled young Clark Kent coming to terms with himself and his powers and finally donning the (muted) blue suit and (dark) red cape.

I enjoyed the new aspects of the character, hiding himself away, bumming around, bearded, as an itinerant worker until finally coming home and accepting who he is.

Comparisons with the Chris Reeve Superman movie are inevitable and the big difference is that Man of Steel takes itself very seriuously. There aren't any laughs or light moments. Chris Reeve played it very subtly but the sparkle was always there. Henry Cavill is straight up serious all the way through. Amy Adams is fairly bland as Lois Lane, but at last they've given her credit for being able to keep a secret.

Question: If Superman can grow a beard what metal on this earth can shave his chin clean again?
jacey: (blue eyes)
Catching up with Movies of the week from three weeks ago. After Earth is Will Smith and his son Jaden as father and son Cypher and Kitai Rage in a science fiction deep-space setting when man has spread amongst the stars, but found deadly danger from aliens. The father is a legendary warrior, the son a youngster on the brink of manhood who hasn't yet found where his skills lie. Desperate to be a ranger like his famous dad he pushes himself further and faster than all his classmates, but still isn't deemed to be ready. Disappointment ensues. His father is hard to please and not terribly understanding.

When a deep space mission goes wrong Cypher and Kitai are the only human survivors of a wreck on an inhospitable planet. The other survivor is one of the aliens that was being transported in a now-defunct containment shell. With Cypher badly injured it's up to Kitai to cross the deadly jungle planet, avoid the alien and set the beacon in the tail end of their ship which has broken apart and landed far away.

And yes, the jungle planet is long-deserted Earth.

So this is a father and son movie, and a coming of age story at the same time with Will Smith happily playing second fiddle to his son who probably has a lot of potential but mainly plays this on one note. There's a lot of Will Smith sitting around looking pained and trying to offer advice long-distance and Jaden running, jumping off things and squaring up to personal fears. It's an OK way to spend 100 minutes of your time on a wet Wednesday afternoon.
jacey: (blue eyes)
A great big YES!

Oh, sure there were probably plot holes, but this movie grabbed me, sucked me in and didn't let go until the credits rolled.

I am once more reminded of how Zachary Quinto's portrayal of Spock is perfect and Chris Pine makes an excellent Kirk. In fact all the casting is well done, especially Simon Pegg as Mr Scott. Benedict Cumberbatch makes an excellent villain and the unexpected role reversal between Kirk and Spock in a mirror image from a certain iconic scene from the earlier movie was a brilliant stroke.

I can't say too much without major spoilerage, so just go and see it. I think we're probably going again next Wednesday as it seems to a be a pretty slow week next week for anything new and exciting to watch.
jacey: (blue eyes)
For some reason I forgot to blog this a couple of weeks ago and now I find I can barely recall anything about it except that it wasn't as bad as I feared it might be. Aliens have invaded Earth by taking over human bodies, so on the surface everything looks the same,at least in the USA, I'm not guessing what the slims of Calcutta look like. They behave like super-civilised humans, except they are still looking for the few unconverted humans and replacing their personalities with tiny alien controllers. The heroine, whose name I can't remember, sorry, gets taken over, but instead of wiping her original human personality it continues to exist alongsiode the alien one, causing the alien to have a crisis of conscience even though it's the one in control of the body. The alien/our heroine escapes to find one of the last bunch of human survivors, meeting up again with her pre-takeover boyfriend and her little brother, but understandably they believe she's not the origonal person but the thing that killed her. Predictably the little brother 'gets it' first and the alen begins to integrate with the group.

Anyhow, trying to avoid major spoilers, complications ensue and resolutions are found. The eventual outcome is positive if not earth-shattering. There are a few plot-holes. It's generally quite bland, but watchable.

Um... that's about it really.
jacey: (blue eyes)
What can I say? Certainly worth the ticket price. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise, and if you like what he does that's recommendation enough. (I swear he's got a picture in the attic!) The script is decent, the twists and surprises wholly satisfying, (I certainly didn't see them coming), but I'm not giving them away.

To begin with, then:
Earth has been damaged beyond repair and the survivors of an alien war are on their way to Titan, or on the space-station waiting to go. They are harvesting Earth's water to take with them. Jack is number 49, a maintenance engineer looking after the droids who protect and maintain the water harvesters. He's partnered with Victoria, living in comfort in their tower home above a ruined landscape. They both had an obligatory mind-wipe before starting this tour of duty, something which does not seem to surprise or upset either of them.

But it all starts to fall apart when a battered human spacecraft falls out of the sky and Jack rescues Julia who has been in stasis sleep for the best part of sixty years. She recognises him, but how can that be, he wasn't even born then? More worrying, however, is that he recognises her from his dreams.

When Jack discovers a group of human survivors led by Morgan Freeman and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones) everything he knows about who he is and what he's doing is challenged. If I say more than that and there would be too many spoilers. Just go and see it.
jacey: (blue eyes)
We missed this the first time round but after the Oscar win a few movie theatres have brought it back again. It was certainly worth seeing. Very tense. A nail-biting finish even though you more or less knew the outcome. Did it deserve the Oscar for Best Movie? Probably not, but that didn't make it any less entertaining.

It's a caper movie taken from actual happenings during the American Embassy siege in Iran in 1980. Six embassy staff escape the siege and have to be extracted from their sancuary in the Canadian ambassador's house through an Iran filled with hate for all Americans. The least bad option is to disguise them as film crew making a SF movie in the mode of Star Wars (then a recent phenomenon). Ben Affleck (director and star) is the CIA agent who makes it happen together with some substantial help from a couple of Hollywood insiders. (As an inappropriate aside: Ben Affleck with a beard = good!)

It's a fairly straightforward linear plot - which is actually to the film's advantage. It's all scene setting and tension with not much room for deep characterisation. The stakes are hugely high and the situation in Iran at the time is shown with no punches pulled.

Recommended.

Though it did serve to remind me of Forough Koocheck, a young Iranian woman I was at Library School with, who was from a fairly well-to-do family in pre-Ayatollah Iran. She returned home in the seventies to take up a career as a librarian. Chris, her particular friend, had a few letters through the seventies, but none of us heard from her again after the revolution. I'm guessing a career woman from a family involved at some level with the Shah's government did not fare well.

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