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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Olympus Has Fallen - the review

If you had to use one word to sum up Olympus Has Fallen, the new movie with Gerard Butler, 'generic' would sum it up admirably.

As you may have heard this is Die Hard in the White House, one of two films we see this year on the same theme.

Butler is the best mate of US president Aaron Eckhart. We know this because they love boxing together at Camp David. Gerard is also best mates with the President's son and the First Lady. In fact they seem to be one big happy family.

So when a film starts with everyone getting on like a house on fire, you know it's only a matter of time before a house is actually on fire, in this case the White House.

The most famous building in America is compromised in a mere 13 minutes by Korean terrorists who stay one step ahead of the US defence forces, but don't count on Butler, who works in a nearby building and hasn't forgiven himself for the death of a key individual 18 months earlier.

So the generic bad guy is desperate to get his hands on the codes for Cerberus, a top secret mcguffin capable of wiping out most of America.

As the drama unfolds, every attempt by outside forces to stop the terrorists ends in bloodshed, but Butler and bullets get on about as well as oil and water. They just slide off him.

By the third act, Morgan Freeman, Robert Forster and Angela Bassett have spent most of the movie arguing with one another or Butler about how bad things are while hostages are shot on camera. The trio are like a rich bernaise poured over cheap meat loaf in the hope you think you are eating top steak.

The whole thing is excessively violent, the script excessively dull and a bit stupid while the special effects are just plain average.

There are also huge potholes, such as near the finale when Morgan and his colleagues are given a scant amount of information and yet assume the President is dead. At one point Morgan sits back in his chair looking utterly dejected. I know how he felt.
6/10

Monday, 29 April 2013

How JJ Abrams saved Star Trek

If you love a long running film saga and had to sum it up in a three or four minute track, what would it be?

James Bond: Nobody Does It Better perhaps, or the Star Wars theme from that saga.

When it comes to Star Trek, I’d opt for Labour of Love, arguably the most emotional single track from a movie over the past 10 years.

You hear it in 2009 epic Star Trek, marking the birth of James T Kirk, and the sacrifice of his dad, George (Thor’s Chris Hemsworth) in the midst of battle.

Michael Giacchino’s track may have done more to convert a new generation of fans to one of the planet’s most beloved, and loathed sci-fi sagas: Star Trek.

I’m not one of those blokes who dressed in a Kirk-style Wolves top, or dons plastic pointy Spock ears at conventions.
However, I will confess my best man gave me a phaser gun on our stag do, which is ageing more gracefully than its owner.

I’ve spent decades watching Trek movies on the big screen, so to say I’m a little excited about the 12th movie, Star Trek Into Darkness this month is a bit of an understatement.

I won’t bore you with a list of the films, or when they were released, though I could if it came up in a round of Pointless.

Kirk killed off in 1994’s Generations was a bold move, but it left a void at the heart of the franchise, and as worthy as Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard was, the series felt lost in space.

After several years, that black hole was finally filled by Paramount’s golden boy JJ, the guy who’d baffled and amazed us with Lost and Alias, before effortlessly hitting a home run with Mission: Impossible III.

Abrams has that magic touch when it comes to capturing the essence of a show, and is not afraid to upset a few fans in the hope of retrofitting an iconic saga for a new generation, whether it’s destroying planet Vulcan or killing Spock’s mum (Winona Ryder).

Unlike Zachary Quinto, who’s a dead ringer for a young Leonard Nimoy, Chris Pine might not look much like a young William Shatner, but he has that cocky charm.
That’s why his journey Into Darkness matters so much this year after a four year break. It also helps that the Enterprise crew are up against Sherlock himself, Benedict Cumberbatch.

My wife is not a Trek fan, but she is looking forward to the new Trek movie, probably because Abrams and his team did such a good job of tugging at the heartstrings with 2009’s series reboot.

Like James Bond and Star Wars, any saga that has been running since the sixties or seventies is bound have an indelible effect on an adult generation, while mesmerising a new bunch of fans.
Little wonder the recurring themes of time travel, family and healing old wounds touches a chord with any of us who ever ran around a playground making phaser noises for our finger guns.

It may have a whiff of ripe cheddar, but Patrick Stewart seems to have said it best when contradicting old acting mate Malcolm McDowell on their polar opposite views of time.

“I rather believe that time is a companion who goes with us on the journey and reminds us to cherish every moment, because it will never come again.”



Saturday, 27 April 2013

Iron Man 3 - the review

Threequels - always a tricky hurdle to overcome, but the good news is Marvel pulled off a master stroke hiring Shane Black to co script and direct Iron Man 3. King of the blockbuster script, his work on Lethal Weapon and Long Kiss Goodnight injected a freshness to the action genre that many scribes tried to emulate.

Back in the days when Robert Downey Jnr was almost unemployable, Joel Silver gave Black a few million dollars to write and direct Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It was witty, exciting and proved RDJ was a great leading man.

Fast forward to 2013 and the boys are back doing what they do best, creating fun, witty, intelligent, exciting cinema.

By now you know the plot for IM3. Tony Stark (RDJ) can't sleep. Terrorist The Mandarin (Ben Kingsley) is wreaking havoc. Newcomer Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) is a smug entrepreneur keen on mucking about with Extremis, a scientific theory about regeneration, and Jim Rhodes (Don Cheadle) looks like Captain America in an Iron Man suit as government backed defender the Iron Patriot.

When Stark's chauffeur/security head Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is left hospital bound after a Mandarin attack, Stark promises revenge, gives his home address and is amazed when helicopters turn up and level the place. Oh and Gwyneth Paltrow and Rebecca Hall trade dirty looks at one another as Stark's gf and ex respectively.

The second act sees Stark stripped of his suit, teamed up with a smart kid whose snappy repertoire is a perfect match for Tony, and then all hell breaks loose in small town America.

Thanks to a great twist, IM3 takes a sharp left hand turn before the inevitable whiz whiz bang bang finale with dozens of Iron Man suits and explosions.

The last 20 minutes is fun but overkill. However, the closing titles are a supercharged flash frame orgy of clips set to Brian Tyler's hip retro theme. One of the best things about the film.

Yes, there's a credit cookie, so stay for that, and despite a sense of finality about the closing scenes, I'd be amazed if Stark and company didn't return in a few years.

8/10

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Jack the giant slayer - the review

Despite a slow first act, Bryan Singer's update of the legendary fairy tale gets going once the eponymous hero, and a small army of king's warriors reach the top of the bean stalk in their mission to retrieve the stranded princess Isabelle.
Nicholas Hoult, looking like a young Tom Cruise in Legend, does a good job as the brave-hearted hero, and achieves the remarkable feat of enduring most of the movie without suffering a scratch.
Ewan Mcgregor plays his role with just the right amount of Flashheart style bravado, and Ian McShane is suitably noble as the ruler attempting to keep his kingdom in order and protect his daughter from the wrath of giant enemies.
An added bonus is the ever likeable Stanley Tucci as the duplicitous villain who steals every scene he's in.
Despite some ropey cgi in the first few minutes which looks like it belongs to a 1990s video game, once we see the mo-capped giants, we realise how far cgi rendering has come in the past decade. There a depth and heightened realism to most of these characters, though at times you feel like you are watching cut scenes from a video game.
Bill Nighy does a great job voicing the head bad guy, and there's a touch of How to get ahead in Advertising meets Gollum about his conjoined twin head.
The movie may not have shattered box office records around the world, but on a dull Tuesday in Leeds, it ticks many boxes in the entertainment department.
And in a movie with giants as the antagonists, it's worth seeing it on the big screen if you can.
7/10

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Oblivion - the review

Tom cruise's latest big budget epic looks like a mash up of Moon, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Independence Day, wall e, Mad Max and assorted other genre entries. That said it's an engaging, thought provoking yarn with some occasionally touching scenes.
Cruise plays Jack, a repairman fixing robots on a devastated earth. He lives in an elegant pad with his colleague/lover Andrea Riseborough, and tries to avoid Scavs, mysterious bad guys.
However it soon turns out nothing is as it seems.
Don't worry, no spoilers here.
Oblivion looks great, and features solid turns from all, including Morgan freeman. The movie takes its time telling a clever story, and the effects are pretty good.
If you get the chance, pay a few extra quid and watch it Dbox rumble vision. Yes it makes the movie more like a theme park attraction, but like 3d it enhances the storytelling process.
Joseph Kosinski does a better job here than he did with the visually stunning but rather dull Tron legacy. Hopefully he'll land a more original screenplay next time as this version of his unpublished graphic novel is compromised by its nods to some better films.