Archive for action

Review: Assassin’s Creed

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 1, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

assassins-creed

After a decade of releasing games, the Assassin’s Creed franchise makes its big screen debut. The fact that the games are so immersive and based on real-world characters and events, the question was asked: Will this be the first genuinely good film based on a video game?

The plot follows Michael Fassbender’s character, Cal Lynch, whose ancestor, Aguilar, was an Assassin during the Spanish Inquisition. Cal is sentenced to death at the beginning of the film, but a group called the Templars have doctored the chemicals so that he doesn’t die. Their interest in him is in his genetic memories.

Anyone who doesn’t know the lore of the games may already be starting to feel a bit lost. Essentially, the Assassin’s and the Templars have been engaged in a war for centuries over artifacts from a civilisation that helped the human race on the path to enlightenment. The Templars, now under the name Abstergo, have been using the descendants of Assassin’s to ‘relive’/explore their ancestors’ memories to discover where the Assassin’s have hidden these artifacts, or ‘Apples of Eden’.

To do this, they plug these men and women into the Animus. In the games this is a bed, but that’s not very cinematic, is it? So, in this movie the animus is a huge multi-axis robotic arm that they are connected to via an epidural in the back of the neck, a la The Matrix. It also projects what Cal is seeing in the room in the present. The problem being that the more a person goes back in time (in their mind) the more their brain unravels.

This all sounds very complex, and it is. Fine for a video game that you can explore at your leisure, possibly too complex for a two-hour film. Also, there’s very little in the way of audible dialogue. It’s all beat-em-up action in the past with no dialogue at all and in the present day parts everyone talks in conspiratorial whispers. In fact, there’s a point at which Cal asks Marion Cotillard’s character:”What the fuck is going on?” And the whole cinema laughed, which surely wasn’t the intention of the filmmakers.

The parts set in the past are brilliant and colourful and vital, but the characters don’t have any depth and we don’t get enough time with them. The majority of the film is set in the present day, which is always the most boring bits of the games and though they’ve really tried to put a lot of detail into the characters here, but the problem is that they all talk in riddles and half sentences and never raise their voices above a whisper, which makes it quite hard to follow.

Of course, I am coming at this as a fan of the game franchise, which has had years and multiple games, sometimes more than one focussed around one character. It’s a massive shame that we didn’t get more of the rich history of the past that the games deal so well in, the action sequences set here are brilliant, but they spent too much time flicking between Aguilar and Cal in the Animus. This would have been acceptable once or twice during the film, but not once or twice per fight scene. We get it. He’s acting this out for the Templars to see in the present day, show me the excellent choreography of the scenes in the past!

It’s not a bad film based on a computer game, in fact it’s up there as one of the best adaptations, but it’s not a brilliant stand-alone film. It’s likely that I’m being too harsh on it, so I’d urge you to see it for yourself and if you enjoyed it, whether a fan of the games or not, I’d love to hear from you.

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Review: Doctor Strange

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

doctor-strange

The second of the Marvel films for 2016 is the first new character’s origin story since Guardians of the Galaxy, the difference with Doctor Strange is that it goes back to introducing a single character.

Doctor Strange’s story reflects the, by now, familiar origin arc: Arrogant, wealthy surgeon, Stephen Strange gets into a car accident that damages his hands, effectively ending his career. On his quest to regain his former life he spends his vast wealth on all sorts of consultations, none of which work until he learns about a place in Nepal that helped a crippled man to walk again. He spends the last of his money to get there and is eventually taken in by what look like Buddhist monks where he is trained in magic.

It’s a very familiar arc to Tony Stark in Iron Man, except the Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is quite an unlikable character, shunning the help and support of a, frankly, marginalised Rachael McAdams as the long-suffering, on-again-off-again love interest. He is also dismissive of everyone, much like Stark is, except Stark still manages to keep you on side because he oozes charm. Strange is just a bit of a dick.

There are some amazing visuals in this film, which are based on the city bending visuals introduced in Christopher Nolan’s Inception. The technology has come on leaps and bounds over the last decade, however, at the world-bending that happens in Doctor Strange is almost too much to focus on. But it’s really impressive.

Tilda Swinton is always a class act and largely silences critics of whitewashing with a brilliant performance as The Ancient One. Bennedict Wong’s character, … Wong, is Strange’s man-servant in the comics, thankfully he’s given a more rounded role here as the librarian and keeper of spells, although he is proven to be a little incompetent in this area. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen round off the main cast and lend real heft to both Strange’s mentor, Mordo and the villain of the piece, Kaecilius respectively.

As visually amazing and full of top-class actors as Doctor Strange is, it is let down by the formulaic origin story, too many quips from characters that don’t feel like they should be quipping and the treatment of its female characters, something Marvel really need to sort out after nearly a decade. Rachael McAdams is largely sidelined and Tilda Swinton’s character is killed off. The only strong female character Marvel has is Black Widow, it amazes me that they keep writing out virtually all their female characters. But that’s another blog altogether.

One of the things that does make Doctor Strange stand out from the rest of the superhero genre is that the final battle, for all it’s CG-ness isn’t a big laser battle where two big machines/monsters level a city, it’s more a battle of minds. Yet it certainly isn’t a thinking person’s film!

The inclusion of multi-dimensional travel will make the future films very interesting indeed and could be the way Marvel reboots after the contracts of the original actors expire. Though I’d still rather see Deadpool kill the Marvel Universe!

Review: Star Trek Beyond

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 31, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Star Trek Beyond

The third installment of the new Star Trek franchise is the first not to be helmed by JJ Abrams, with Justin Lin stepping into the rather large shoes of Abrams. Lin has been best known for the Fast & Furious films from Tokyo Drift through to the sixth installment of a franchise that is safe to say has been completely rejuvenated under his stewardship. But, does he have what it takes to carry on the stellar work already done by Abrams?

If the trailers were anything to go by, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that Lin had the writers destroy the Enterprise (it’s in the trailer, it’s not a spoiler. The Enterprise is constantly being blown up!) so he could shot a load of motorcycle chases. Happily, there’s slightly more to it than that.

This time around we find the crew of the Enterprise a couple of years into its five-year mission exploring space and Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) is starting to wonder what the point is of exploring infinity. “Life has started to feel episodic” is one of his lines, which is the first in quite a few call-backs to Star Trek’s televisual origins.

As previously stated, due to a trick, the Enterprise is destroyed by the main villain and a seemingly unstoppable wave of an army. Due to the evacuation process, the various members of the team are split up which makes this film much less of a team movie than the previous offerings. But this, and the fact they are severely under equipped to fight such a large army, forces the crew members to put their heads together and think their way out of the various situations they find themselves in. Again, this is more reminiscent of the TV series, which was always based more on diplomacy than action.

It’s clear that Simon Pegg, as one of the writers, gave himself a prominent role in the plot as his character, Scotty, is partnered up with Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), the latest kick-ass alien in the Star Trek universe. Her character is the most interesting, the most fleshed out and the most exciting, as the rest of the original cast seem to be coasting somewhat with only one or two other actors to bounce off for most of the film and not much in the way of development. With the exception of the relationship between Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Bones (Karl Urban) whose bickering and misunderstandings mark some of the comedic highlights of the film.

There are some fairly sizable plot holes in the film, it is a blockbuster sci-fi that has been written by five people after all. For example, who is the henchman of the villain, Krall (Idris Elba), and what’s his back story? Also, there was a distinct lack of emotion from the crew of the Enterprise after the destruction of what had been their home for the past three years, which detracted from what could have been a much more emotional scene.

Another, possibly slightly less important, issue is why would you cast Idris Elba as the main antagonist and then bury him in full prosthetics? Eric Banner was recognisable in the first of the reboot films and in Into Darkness Benedict Cumberbatch and Frank Weller had none at all.

Overall, Star Trek Beyond is better than is has any right to be on paper. It’s probably a little less enjoyable than the previous two films, but still more than watchable and one of the closest in tone to the original films and TV series. A laudable effort, that has seen the green light given for a fourth installment already. Can Justin Lin do for Start Trek what he did for the Fast & Furious franchise? He’s not definitely attached to the fourth installment, but don’t bet against it.

Review: London Has Fallen

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

london has fallen

Look at that poster. I mean, really?

There’s not much point reviewing this film in any serious way, it’s much the same as Olympus Has Fallen except even more overblown. In fact, you may as well just go and read my review of that film and replace any mention of ‘the White House’ with ‘London’ and ‘North Korea’ with ‘Pakistan’.

The plot is ludicrous, Gerard Butler’s accent is all over the shop, especially when he’s in scenes with another Scottish actor, Aaron Eckhart grimaces and grits his teeth through his scenes and Morgan Freeman is clearly only here because he needs to pay for a new kitchen.

There have been some damning reviews criticising the film for being overtly racist. I didn’t find that to be the case, certainly the antagonists are no more caricatured than the Korean terrorists in Olympus Has Fallen. But, right now nonspecific terrorists from the middle-east with no proper affiliation to internationally recognised countries are the ‘bad guys’ at the moment, just like North Korea was the ‘enemy’ of America when the first film was made.

Overall, it’s the same film, but more unwieldy. The first worked because it’s basically Die Hard in the White House. It was confined. London Has Fallen falls down – so to speak – because it has fewer restrictions. This kind of action film needs restriction to keep it on track.

If you like big dumb action films, this is fine. If you’re looking for cinematic excellence why are you reading a review of London Has Fallen?

Review: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 28, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

mockingjay prt 2 poster

The finale to the Hunger Games trilogy is, as has become the norm for huge franchises, the fourth film in this particular series of movies based on books. It picks up right after the end of Mockingjay Part 1, which lends the last two films to being watched back-to-back. This leads some to wonder, why not just release one film? It’ll work, there’ll be less bagginess. But money wins every time in Hollywood.

The film itself is serviceable, it does exactly what you expect it to, but it is based on the most difficult to visualise book in the series. It has been an interesting series; the first film is comparable to Battle Royale, the second and third are a bit more like Running Man or Rollerball. This fourth film is more like a Vietnam movie.

We’re back in the world of the downtrodden districts and the opulent Capitol that rules them. Only this time the districts are rallying together because of the actions of the Mockingjay, Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen, whose actions have proven that people power can overcome tyranny

This is the big showdown that Katniss has wanted with Donald Sutherland’s President Snow since the opening of the first movie. But she doesn’t get it all her own way, the president of the district housing her and the rebels, Coin (Julianne Moore) doesn’t want Katniss to be on the front lines as she doesn’t play by the rules. But Katniss stows away  to the Capitol anyway because she wants the pleasure of killing Snow herself.

What follows involves some urban warfare action scenes mixed with the terrifying traps of the Hunger Games, including flamethrowers, machine guns and a tidal wave of an oil-like water that kills anything it touches. There is one great scene in the sewers where a hoard of mutant lizard-people are hunting the rebels which is as tense as it could possibly get for a 12A certified film. In fact, it was a bit of a rip off of Alien, in that there are a team of people with flame-throwing weapons being hunted by a monster through claustrophobic corridors.

The big emotional surprise in the book is almost glossed over, but then, maybe that’s because I knew it was coming. It just didn’t have the impact it did on the page.

The end of the film suffered from Lord of the Rings syndrome in that it had about three endings, luckily it didn’t drag on for half an hour but the final scene was syrupy sweet and felt at odds with the tone of the entire series, especially as I’m pretty sure the book didn’t end that way. It left a slightly bitter taste at the end of this set of films that has, until the last couple of minutes been so strong.

The film itself, as stated at the beginning of this review, is fine. It does what it needed to do in a way that made sense of the strangest book of the series. The feeling of mistrust of everyone was realised effectively, everyone did a fine job of acting and there were some really effective scenes. It just sagged in a few places, where it could have done with steam-rolling on. And there wasn’t enough Stanley Tucci.

The tragic death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman was noticeable from the last part of the film, especially as he is replaced by a letter in what would have been his last scene, though it was poignant. Perhaps so much so that it pulls you out of what’s happening on-screen… just as it did to see him in his first scene right at the beginning of the movie.

Had it ended five minutes before it did, it would have been fine. As it is, being shorter – possibly even parts 1 and 2 could have been one film – and more consistent would have made it better, but it feels like it would still have been an anti-climax.

Review: Jurassic World

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

jurassic world

22 years after the events of Jurassic Park and, coincidentally, 22 year in real life too, the four film in the franchise that refuses to go extinct picks up. Without a trace of continuity referencing The Lost World: Jurassic Park or Jurassic Park III. So, finally, we can disregard those films.

Jurassic Park has been re-opened, despite the horrors that happened there in the past and the warnings of Dr Ian Malcolm and Dr Alan Grant. Apparently, the world has become blasé about dinosaurs and what the punters want now is bigger, louder animals with more teeth.

The scientists at the park have decided to appease the focus groups and the park’s sponsors by creating a hybrid from various strands of DNA from other dinosaurs and animals. The result is the Indominus Rex, a giant, aggressive, intelligent, colour-changing predator. What a great idea! This’ll give the adults nightmares, never mind the kids says the astonished park manager, Simon Masrani (played by Irrfan Khan).

Khan’s character is a mix of John Hammond’s heart and a corporate number-cruncher, in that he still has a wide-eyed child not too far under his business-like exterior. Whereas Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is all about the focus groups, numbers and contracts.

Claire’s nephews are visiting the park while their parents go through a divorce and Claire has no time to show them round, so entrusts them to her assistant. They give the assistant the slip and go off on their own to have fun. Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Chris Pratt’s ex-navy-turned-Velociraptor-trainer, Owen, who – it’s obvious – has a past with the cold Claire. Owen saves an intern who falls into the raptor pen and shows off his mutual respect with the beasts who don’t instantly rip him to shreds. He is also having a back-and-forth with Vincent D’Onofrio’s InGen security manager, Hoskins. Hoskins is looking to use the raptors in the field of war rather than drones or robots, which is a ludicrous idea even for a Jurassic Park film.

All this happens in the first half an hour before the Imdominus Rex escapes to wreak havoc on the dinosaurs and humans alike. So there’s a heck of a lot of set-up before all the action takes place, which would lead you to think that the script would be quite complex. It isn’t. It’s a Jurassic Park film.

After the I-Rex escapes things start to pick up quite drastically with all the elements that you’ve come to expect from these films in the last two decades; tension, jump-scares, implied gore, loud roars, running and driving and screaming, with a decent amount of humour thrown in.

There are some brilliant set pieces that take you right back to the first time you saw that Brachiosaurus for the first time. The visual effects are, expectedly great and it’s great to see these animals back in the cinema again and Chris Pratt is a charisma machine, but there are a few things missing. For one, John Williams is sorely missed. Michael Giacchino is a great composer, but Willliams’ shoes are too big for him to fill. There’s a distinct lack of T-Rex, which is a shame and the plot is so predictable that you can spot all the big reveals coming a mile off.

It’s big, loud fun while it’s happening, but after you leave the cinema you’ll have forgotten the majority of it, which is a shame because it’s actually the second best of the four films. It has a meta quality to it where it excuses what’s going on by highlighting the ridiculousness of its plot and calling them out, and this is the reason it scores higher the other two films. However, no one will ever touch the original.

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 8, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Mad Max Fury Road Poster

There has been a lot said about the ‘feminist agenda’ of Mad Max: Fury Road, that issue won’t be touched upon after this first paragraph, because it really isn’t an issue. Some of the best action films have strong female leads: the Alien quadrilogy, Terminator and T2, Kill Bill Parts 1 & 2, Hanna, The Hunger Games, Kick-Ass and the Resident Evil movie to name but a few. Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them.

That said, there has been almost nothing but praise from all right-minded people. But, does the film deserve it?

There is absolutely no question that it’s a visual spectacle, made all the more impressive when you take into account that a lot of the on-screen action is real – flipping cars, people strapped onto poles being swung in an arc through the air while racing through the desert, fighting on top of moving vehicles. It makes a huge difference to see stunt being performed by real people, on camera and not a group of pixels added in post-production.

The look of the world is visceral and fully formed with no particular back-story to explain it, which is also a breath of fresh air. Too many films take too long to set up the world so you can believe in it before the plot can kick in, director, George Miller throws you straight into the story after just a couple of minutes and if you aren’t up to speed, that’s tough.

And, action there is. In abundance. The film is pretty much a giant car chase up a road and back down it again, but so much goes on you barely notice the fact there’s hardly a plot. Add to this that Miller is 70 years old and the scale of the ambition of this film is almost too much to take in. How does a man that old have the energy to make this?!

This is, however, not a perfect film. It is a B-movie after all and despite the praise heaped upon this film there are a few things that are wrong with it. Firstly, it’s very difficult to understand what virtually anyone is saying because Max (Tom Hardy) is mumbling incoherently, or characters are screaming at the top of their lungs over the sound of the engines, or Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has a mask over his mouth the whole time, or the fact they all speak in A Clockwork Orange’s Droog speak. It also grates that neither Hardy or Theron can be arsed to do an Australian accent. Hardy gives it a go at the beginning, but less than halfway through stops using real words altogether, relying instead on grunts and facial expressions instead. Theron doesn’t even attempt to change her American accent.

There, those are the only gripes I have with the movie. Well, that and the character who gets blinded. That was a bit much. But, as stated earlier, this is a B-movie.

Thank whatever god you pray to for directors like George Miller. Mad Max: Fury Road is an absolute treat for the senses. It’s loud, garish and not ashamed to spray you with shiny chrome and send you into the eye of an apocalyptic sandstorm strapped to the front of a car.

Oh yeah, …those car designs! Wow.