The Geek Awakens

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
I think I may be shamed soon. Why? Because despite my reservations I can already feel the distant drums of geeky excitement in my head, and all because of less than a minute and a half of footage.
Yes, I watched the trailer for the Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, JJ Abrams’ sequel to the original trilogy.
Previously I’d held on to my doubts. I’d been burned in 1999, when, having fallen head over hells in love with Star Wars I had gotten hyped up for the prequels only to be bitterly disappointed.
Sure, JJ Abrams has made some quality stuff in the past, and I’m intrigued by how they’re going to continue the saga.
But there are far too many doubts. Will the ageing cast still work in their roles or will this be another late addition which damages the original (like the last Indiana Jones flick). Mark Hamill has done great voiceover work, but Fisher and Ford are rusty, and Ford hasn’t had a truly great flick in years.
But despite this watching the trailer it got the geek fires burning. X-Wings, old Luke, the Falcon and a tease for the return of Han Solo, one of my first man crushes.
I got sucked into the hype last time, and I’m worried it’ll happen again. Sure I’m older but I still love Star Wars and love makes fools of us all.
I just pray to the geek gods that Abrams pulls this off and the sequels entertain in the way the originals did, but that the prequels failed to.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO

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My Top 10 Films of 2013

Okay, this is how it works- they either had to be released this year or I saw them in the cinema in the last twelve months, so if they were released in December 2012 but I only caught them in January they’re allowed on the list. Anyway, here we go.

Honourable mentions- World War Z, The World’s End.

10. Side Effects

A gripping thriller taking place against the background of America’s drug culture and boasting great performances from Jude Law and Rooney Mara, along with a brittle, cold turn from Catherine Zeta Jones. Gripping and interesting, with a few nice twists towards the end. Review.

9. Man of Steel

Henry Cavill impresses as Superman and Amy Adams is wonderful as Lois Lane in this enjoyable superhero adventure. The final fight is a bit overlong, but there’s plenty to enjoy here, and Kevin Costner is fantastically cast as Jonathan Kent. More than makes up for the woeful Superman Returns. Full review here.

mos pos

8. Flight

Centred around a typically charismatic performance from Denzel Washington, this is a rather entertaining thriller which leaves you in two minds, partly rooting for the hero to get away with it but knowing he needs to mend his ways. It’s a tad predictable in places, but Washington holds the attention and there’s enough humour to keep it fizzing. Review.

7. Warm Bodies

A pleasantly sweet and endearing romantic comedy with zombies, I really dug this movie and it appealed to both my soppy liking for romance and love of the undead. My thoughts here.

warmbodies

6. Star Trek Into Darkness

JJ Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek franchise moves ahead with the second installment, and ups the tension. For newcomers there are plenty of thrills and for old fans like me a few nice riffs on the old universe. The big reveal of who Benedict Cumberbatch’s character wasn’t a massive surprise, but it’s still a great fun watch and expands the Kirk-Spock relationship, although I hope we get more of Karl Urban’s McCoy in later films. Review here.

5. The Hunger Games: Catching Fire

As with the books the second part of the story builds on the first, expanding Suzanne Collins’ fictional world and upping the stakes. Jennifer Lawrence continues to impress in the lead role. Full review.

catching fire poster

4. Pitch Perfect

Hilarious comedy with some nice musical numbers and a brilliant lead in the wonderfully charming Anna Kendrick, even though she has the whole film stolen from under her by the fantastic Rebel Wilson. Review.

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

Scene stealing- Rebel Wilson as Fat Amy

3. Django Unchained

Tarantino’s long anticipated Western finally arrived and was superb, gloriously OTT but with a darker, more emotional edge. Much is played for laughs, but the violence against the slaves is done in such a way that shows it’s callous brutality in painful terms. The script has the trademark QT edge and the performances from Jamie Foxx, Christoph Waltz, Leonardo DiCaprio and particularly Samuel L Jackson. And the “hoods scene” remains one of the year’s funniest moments. More.

2. Iron Man 3

Shane Black takes over the reins and guides it to new heights, with this hugely entertaining superhero romp which cements Robert Downey Jr as possibly the best cast superhero in movies. Deals with the fallout from Avengers and shows us a more fragile Stark. Review here.

1. Argo

Ben Affleck continues to impress behind the camera and his execution of this historical thriller is sublime. Managing to capture the edgy tension of the hostages in Iran and the humour in the CIA’s unorthodox plan to extract them, swinging between belly laughs and nail chewing suspense. Review.

argopos

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Star Trek Into Darkness

J.J. Abrams is a brave dude, back in 2009 he risked annoying a world of Trekkies by rebooting the original line up with new actors in the iconic roles, luckily however he managed to pull it off rather well, creating an interesting spin which took likable, familiar characters and gave them a new spin and changed their universe slightly. I loved the first flick and so was keen to see if Abrams could expand on his success.

stid pos

The movie picks up Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) aboard the Enterprise, where he breaks the Prime Directive (a rule to stop interference in developing civilizations) to save a planet from a volcanic eruption and in the process reveals the presence of his ship to the locals in order to save the life of his first officer Spock (Zachary Quinto), who had told him to leave him behind, angering his partner Lt. Uhura (Zoe Saldana).

Spock’s report lands Kirk in hot water and he is stripped of his command, but old friend Pike (Bruce Greenwood), the Enterprise’s new commanding officer, sorts it that he will serve as his first officer.

Meanwhile, a mysterious figure orchestrates a bomb attack on a Starfleet facility in London, killing several. This leads Kirk, Pike and Spock to attend a meeting with Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller), where the culprit is revealed to be John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch) a Starfleet agent gone rogue. Harrison attacks the meeting, killing Pike in the process before he flees to the Klingon home planet.

Kirk asks to pursue Harrison and is sent out with brand new long range torpedoes to destroy the uninhabited area that Harrison is hiding out in. The new payload causes a rift between Kirk and his chief engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg), who resigns his commission and leaves the ship. Kirk is also arguing with Spock, who believes that the mission is not morally right and Harrison should stand trial.

Kirk also meets a new science officer, Carol Wallace (Alice Eve), who he finds attractive, but whom Spock regards with suspicion.

Kirk changes the mission and leads a small team onto the planet, risking war, and after saving them from Klingons, Harrison surrenders and is taken aboard.

Harrison (Cumberbatch) imprisoned aboard the Enterprise.

Harrison (Cumberbatch) imprisoned aboard the Enterprise.

Once aboard Kirk orders an investigation into the new missiles and begins to realize that all might not be as it seems, and that Harrison might be more than just an agent. Can Kirk expose the conspiracy and safeguard the lives of his crew?

I came out of this movie with a big grin on my face, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m a massive fan of the original Star Trek and it’s characters, but I think Abrams has done a great job in rebooting them and it’s lots of fun for older fans to see the new spin on old features of the universe (the new Klingons are badass) and the cast are fantastic.

Chris Pine in particular is great as Kirk, capturing the swaggering, womanizing aspects of the character, but also allowing signs of weakness and uncertainty to creep in, making him a far more human and fallible. Pine ticks all the right boxes as the heroic lead and does a brilliant job of bringing new intensity to the vengeance seeking Kirk as well as showing a more fragile side as he battles a crisis of confidence.

Pine as Kirk- crisis of confidence

Pine as Kirk- crisis of confidence

It’s a more mature Kirk than in the previous film and while still fun and reckless, as the film progresses the captain is forced to make tough choices and deal with the less pleasant aspects of command.

He’s ably supported by Quinto’s Spock, who’s a delight, bringing a lot of deadpan humour to proceedings and it’s nice to see the friendship between the two develop. Quinto also manages to allow little flashes of emotion to emerge before Spock’s self control locks them down and conveys a lot in small fluctuations in facial features.

The rest of the crew do well, even if several feel underused, although it’s nice to see Simon Pegg’s Scotty get a bit more to do this time around and Zoe Saldana does well with what she gets, continuing to make Uhura a more strong willed and vital part of the ship’s crew. Her scenes with Quinto as they play out the characters’ romance are done well, with Spock’s logical exterior causing problems for them, and there’s an adorable moment where Uhura goes up on her tiptoes to kiss him.

Karl Urban’s Bones could still be used more, but he does very well in capturing the character’s sarky, world weary side and is used to good comedic effect.

But the big story is the villain, played by man of the moment Benedict Cumberbatch. Cumberbatch does a brilliant job, playing the villain with quiet intensity that then explodes into flashes of intense savagery. He manages to bring menace to the character and plays it with a cool, enigmatic touch and detached arrogance. He doesn’t steal the film by any stretch but he definitely succeeds in holding the audience’s attention and presenting a realistic threat to the goodies.

The plot is handled well and the film’s pacing is on point, and for once the current trend of “going darker” for a sequel works, with cracks starting to appear in Gene Roddenberry’s idyllic vision of the future and the sign that despite technological advantages, mankind’s greatest threat comes from human failings and weakness.

But the film never loses it’s sense of fun and the script has some great, funny dialogue. Abrams executes the explosive action sequences with great aplomb, and keeps it moving along nicely.

There are a few flaws in the movie, with a few plot points being telegraphed fairly early on, and a couple of the twists are easy to see, and as I mentioned, several of the characters are underused, but on balance it’s a massive success and I personally think that Abrams might be better served sticking with Trek over Wars.

Verdict: A great sci-fi blockbuster which expands on the first film and benefits from a great villain. The cast are all on fine form and there’s a real sense of humour to proceedings. Captures the spirit of the old series while delving a little deeper. The plot is solid if slightly predictable, but it’s fantastically fun.  8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


RetroReview: Cloverfield

Warning! SPOILERS AHOY!

So, at the weekend I finally got around to seeing this flick. I remember the build up before it was released and thinking, I might check that out but then I missed it at the cinemas and I kind of forgot about it. I hadn’t heard mixed reviews, but given the involvement of JJ Abrams I was confident it would be alright as I’m a massive fan of the stuff he’s been involved with (Alias, the Star Trek reboot, Mission: Impossible III, What About Brian? and the first series and a half of Lost. And just found out he wrote one of my favourite movies, Armageddon).

The film’s awesome teaser poster

The film is done in the found footage style, with all the action being filmed on a handheld camera wielded by the character, I missed the first few minutes, which seemed to be build up and background, and also include a disclaimer that the footage was found after the “Cloverfield” case.

The film starts with various clips caught on the camera of a young dude, Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and then settles in for the major events of the film which start at his going away party before he leaves for Japan. At the party his friend Hud (T.J. Miller) is given the camera to record testimonials and interviews various party goers, including Rob’s brother Jason and his girlfiend, Lily (Mike Vogel and Jessica Lucas respectively). Another friend of Rob’s, Beth (Odette Yustman) arrives and despite having been shown friendly and having slept together there is tension between them. They argue and Beth leaves.

Shortly after this there appears to be an earthquake and the guys go up to the roof where they see various things crashing down into the city, striking nearby. They leg it down to discover all sorts of mayhem is engulfing the city and outside the head of the Statue of Liberty smashes down. A large creature is spotted rampaging through Manhattan.

The four main characters, along with another party guest Marlena (Lizzy Caplan) decide to head for the Brooklyn Bridge, where they join a massive crowd of people. Rob receives a call from Beth, who is trapped and unable to move after the wall in her apartment collapsed.

Bewildered- Rob (Stahl-David), Marlena (Caplan) and Lily (Lucas) watch as the world goes to hell

The bridge is attacked and Jason buys the farm. The others leg it and Rob decides he’s going to go get Beth. They head across town, catching brief snatches of info from television which reveal that “parasites” have fallen off the beast and are snacking on New Yorkers. They get trapped in the subway where they come across the parasites and manage to fight them off, although Marlena is injured. They then run into the Army who are trying to launch a fight back. A Sergeant (Billy Brown) who explains to them that the situation is getting bad and they can go for Beth, so long as they’re back in time for the evacuation because the Army is planning to destroy Manhattan with their “Hammer Down Protocol”.

Can they rescue Beth? Will the Army stop the creature? Will Beth and Rob get it on? Will they get out of the city in time?

Here’s the thing with “found footage” flicks, it kind of robs the film of any tension because it implies that the camera has been discovered because whoever filmed it has kicked the bucket. Knowing that most of the characters at least will have bitten the dust makes it hard to invest too much in them.

However, I did find myself warming to some of them, especially the major cameraman Hud, who’s kind of a geeky loser who makes lame jokes, hmm, I wonder why I warmed to him the most.

Often with found footage the issue is why they’ve recorded everything and here it kind of makes sense, Hud was documenting the party and seems to enjoy the freedom the camera gives him. Later as things start to fall apart he keeps filming, almost as a way of coping but also states that “people need to see this”. Its a natural urge, as evidenced in all the footage and photographs people take during disasters, some kind of human need to document and record things for the future.

Lizzy Caplan as Marlena was the only actress I recognized, the rest being relative unknowns to me, which kind of helps with the feeling that these are normal folk and aiding the suspension of disbelief. Caplan does very well though as the sarky and slightly bitchy Marlena who seems irritated by Hud’s clumsy attentions, but whom she slowly starts to warm to. I found myself more engaged by Marlena and Hud than by the film’s central romance.

All the cast do well, playing it in a naturalistic way which feels unforced and capturing the sense of bewildered regular Joes trying to make their way as the world goes to hell around them. The one thing that felt a little flat was the Rob and Beth romance, while it drove the story and Stahl-David does a brilliant job playing the devoted and determined protagonist.

He provides one of the film’s best scenes, a heartbreaking moment, where he talks to his mother on the phone and has to break the news of his brother’s death. Until that point they’ve been on an adrenaline fuelled race through the city, but stranded in the subway the adrenaline ebbs away and in a moment of quiet the emotions finally catch up with them. The long distance shot shows his isolation, Lily joins him after a time, but Hud seems unwilling to go over, telling Marlena he wouldn’t know what to say and also, seeming to respect his friends’ need for privacy at that moment.

One of the movie’s best moments.

There are other great scenes, especially a creepy scene in the tunnels where a horde of rats stream by them. It hints something terrible is coming and a moment where Rob and Hud work out the night vision setting and the parasites are revealed is expertly done and heightens the creepiness.

The parasites are one of the film’s nicest touches. It makes sense that a massive beast would host them and its fun that while to the monster they’re a minor irritation but against humans they’re lethal predators.

All in all, I quite enjoyed that movie. It was an interesting take on the Godzilla style monster movie, pulling back from the military side or the scientists and instead focusing on a small group of normal people just trying to get out of its way. There are some well handled moments and in a way the low key hand held makes the spectacle and destruction more powerful and stunning when it kicks off.

It has flaws, a few characters could be shaded in more and the central love story could’ve been handled better, but for the most part I thought it worked, even if never fully engaged on an emotional level.

Verdict: One of the better found-footage movies, with some decent, natural performances and some good visual effects. A nice spin on the traditional monster movie. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.