Archive for adventure

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: Star Wars The Force Awakens

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2016 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Star Wars The Force Awakens

The long and eagerly awaited seventh episode of the Star Wars saga picks up around 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, so all the original cast didn’t have to go through any post-production de-aging that made people in The Hobbit look so strange. So that’s one good thing… among many more good things.

JJ Abrams was on a hiding to nothing directing the first Star Wars film since the almost universally panned prequels. Also, Disney needed to make a decent return on the $4billion investment it made buying the franchise from George Lucas.

The idea seems to be: The best way to make a ton of money from this film is to give the fans what they want. What the fans have been clamouring for since it looked like episode seven was on the cards was another film like the original films. And that’s exactly what they’ve got.

The film hits almost every beat from A New Hope; starts with a shot of a Start Destroyer floating across the screen; a droid is given instructions to keep safe; a masked bad guy clad in black; an orphan on a desert planet; an up-himself general; a grand master hologram; a Yoda-style alien figure; a kidnapped central female character; a Death Star/ice planet (I know this is Empire Strikes Back) for the main Jedi to sneak round; there are more, but you get the gist.

Luckily for Abrams, he decided to go mainly with physical settings and stunts, for the most part. So, automatically it looks like it belongs to the same universe as the original films. I don’t even think the amount of references is problematic, though there were slightly too many. The bits that really stood out and don’t work are the fully-CG monsters or characters. For example, the big ball-monsters on Han Solo’s freighter and Grand Master Snoke.

In fact, until it was made obvious that Snoke (Andy Serkis) is a hologram it made me angry that they had some weird giant that looks like a cross between Gollum and the leader of the orcs from The Hobbit. I still can’t get over the look of Snoke and can’t see why he couldn’t have been in prosthetics that were augmented by CG.

The new cast was great, John Boyega’s character, Finn could have had a more interesting arc from stormtrooper to resistance member, but was so charismatic it didn’t really matter. Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a great, strong lead female character, though how she progressed so quickly is a little beyond me compared to those who have gone before her. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a strange one, his entrance was brilliant, but over the course of the film he became more annoying and weaker. Also, he probably should have kept his helmet on.

The best of the new cast, by far, apart from BB-8, was Poe Dameron, played by Oscar Issacs who is on a really strong role at the moment. He was massively underutilised, but it leaves you wanting to know more about him. He almost seems too good.

Some of the original cast were back, can’t say much about Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher has been through some really tough times since the 70s and I’m afraid it shows. It was a bit sad. R2-D2 and C3PO are back, but not quite as you might remember them, though C3PO has one of the funniest moments in the movie. Chewbacca gets a much bigger role in this film, but the greatest turn comes from Harrison Ford as Han Solo, he looks like he was having such a great time, though that’s probably because he knows there’s an end to his contract any he can go and be Indiana Jones again, history repeats itself!

I wasn’t at all bowled over by this film because, for each throwback to the original films it took away the option to create something new, but I think the balance was just about right. It was just a bit of a shame that the plot was so predictable as it stuck so rigidly to the skeleton of A New Hope. Compared to the prequels it’s a breath of fresh air and is exactly what it needs to be and the further away I get from the film the more forgiving I am of it.


I’ve avoided major spoilers until this last section, it’s very hard to know exactly what’s a spoiler and what’s not, which is why I’ve left it this late to post. But I may drop a spoiler in here now, because I need to call out the biggest gripe I have with the film: The treatment of Han Solo in this film.

At the end of Return of the Jedi he has gone through a change from being a rogue who is just out for himself to a caring person who has found a niche and people who care about him and vice versa. Between the sixth and seventh movies he and Leia have had a child (at least one) who has been trained in the Jedi arts by Luke, but turns against him. So, he’s lost his child, lost Leia and has gone back to smuggling, which he still sucks at. So much so that he loses the Millennium Falcon.

Meeting Rey and Finn at the beginning of the film reunites him with all these elements, apart from his son, things are starting to look up, but no. He is then killed by his emo son and thrown into an abyss. The abyss is then blown up, leaving absolutely no doubt that’s he coming back or could be saved. The upcoming Han Solo origin story will be tinged with sadness too as we all know his eventual fate.

 In fact, that there’s even still a dark side and empire that is so powerful casts a pall over the achievements of the first three films. It renders all the rebel victories completely pointless as it’s all just repeating itself, seemingly straight away.  Even the droid are sad! R2-D2 is so depressed that Luke ran away without it that it shut itself down and now lives under a duty tarp, leaving C3PO’s second line in the whole film – and one of its few – to be “I do miss him so.” This is not what I wanted from this film, it was supposed to be a bit more of a celebration.

It’s not a bad film, and I did enjoy it, I just think that the back story that we didn’t get to see is so sad. In a way, I’m glad we didn’t get to see it. The fans would have would have torn Disney’s castle down.

There’s way more to this, and the best thing you can do is to go listen to my podcast to get the full story.

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: Interstellar

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 12, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Interstellar poster

Interstellar is the story of an intrepid group of explorers who go on a mission through a wormhole put there by a mysterious race looking to help humans to find an alternative planet to colonise after the Earth has started to become a giant, infertile dust bowl.

Christopher Nolan brings back recent collaborators on the Dark Knight Trilogy, Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway alongside Oscar winner, Matthew McConaughey in this epic sci-fi tale of space exploration.

Epic is the only word fit enough to describe Interstellar. Christopher and his Brother, Jonathan Nolan have outdone themselves on scripting another masterpiece after their collaborations on films like Memento and the last two Batman movies, it also follows on from the success of that trilogy and Inception, which had ground-breaking visuals. Interstellar carries on with that tradition, with some of the most striking imagery ever put on film.

From the rolling farmland on Earth where McConaughey and his family live to the depiction of alien worlds, travelling through a three-dimensional wormhole and even the secret to what lies beyond the event horizon of a black hole. A lot of these effects are extensions of the world folding scenes in Inception, but so much bigger.

Trying to explain the plot would take too long and give too much away, but what can be said is that you will experience a range of emotions, heightened by the church organ score which actually manages to instil a feeling of religious reverence at what you are watching and the importance of the mission the characters are undertaking.

The Nolans don’t spell anything out for you as they make blockbusters that imagine the audience is cleverer than other writers and directors. there is comedy among the seriousness, mainly injected by robotic helpers who are installed with human-like senses of humour. The ending is a little mawkish and some of the plot points are telegraphed before you see them, but you probably won’t see the big reveal, or the ways the Nolans tie everything together, coming.

This is a masterpiece and has to be seen.

Review: The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Without doubt one of the strongest directorial and screen-writing forces of all time have collaborated to produce the first successful translation from page to screen of this intrepid Belgian journalist and his out-of-this-world adventures to get to the bottom of a story.

As a lifelong Tintin fan I have been eagerly awaiting this film ever since I first heard of its conception; added to this, it is directed by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson who have been responsible for some of the most visually creative and exciting films of the last 40 years. Then the news that it was being written by a crack team of comedy writers from the UK – Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish – meant that I was champing at the bit to get to the cinema as soon as it came out.

But, a sense of dread fell over me when I found out that I could only see it in 3D at my local cinema as all the 2D showings were during the day. So it was with trepidation that I took my seat with my stupid-looking glasses on and got ready to have my eyes strained and suffer a headache halfway through making the rest of the film complete torture to sit through. I was pleasantly surprised.

This now sits up with ‘Avatar’ as one of the best 3D films I’ve seen; after the disappointment of ‘Toy Story 3’ and its needless 3D this film was a visual masterpiece. Though with Jackson as the second unit director what would you expect? The opening credits scene was a brilliant montage of Tintin’s adventures incorporating many iconic aspects from the original comics. The attention to detail is astounding with characters looking both very real and true to Hergé’s cartoons and the backgrounds could well be real locations they are so intricately rendered.

The story itself is quite confusing as there are strands from about three books interwoven into one film. One of which, the pickpocket strand, doesn’t really need to be there, though is quite amusing and predominantly features the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thomson. The main part of the plot involves Tintin being sucked into a mystery surrounding a model boat he buys which sees him travel from Europe to Morocco via the sea and desert by boat and sea plane. All the while he is either chasing or being chased by a shady character known as Sakharine who is less sweet than his name infers, for they are both after the same clues hidden inside these model boats to find a treasure hidden under the sea after a fierce pirate battle between Sakharine’s ancestor, Red Rackham, and the ancestor of a drunken sea-captain who accompanies Tintin, Captain Haddock. Along the way they are attacked by thugs, shot at by a sea plane, suffer from visions in the desert, take part in a chase through Morocco on a motorbike and then duel with dock cranes!

During the trek through the desert there is a brilliant flashback sequence of the battle between Red Rackham and Sir Francis Haddock where the latter’s treasure was lost. This battle is the best action sequence in the film and ten times better than any of the battle sequences in any of the ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’ films.

As confusing as this all sounds it is pulled off with all the feeling of an animated ‘Indiana Jones’ film and never feels like it is moving too fast or dragging at any point. This is a testament to both the directors and the writers, but also to  the stunning voice cast comprising Jamie Bell as Tintin; Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the detectives, as well as absolutely stellar vocal performances from Andy Serkis as the drunken Scottish Captain Haddock and Daniel Craig who plays Sakharine with a brilliantly light, pantomime villainesque feel.

This is a triumph and must surely be one of the best films of the year so far as the 3D didn’t distract me at all from the visuals and the story line. My favourite moments were the interesting segues between scenes and one small reference to ‘Jaws’ as Tintin swims up to some thugs just under the water leaving only his trademark quiff sticking above the surface like Spielberg’s iconic shark. One criticism I do have is that because it is clearly an origin story which will be followed by at least one sequel; it ends with a cliffhanger where Tintin, Snowy and Captain Haddock hatch a plan to go after the treasure it seemed they had been searching for throughout this film. Which is a bit of an anti-climax…but at least there will be another one for me to wait a few more years for.

Review: Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 31, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

The forth film in Disney’s ‘Pirates…’ franchise sees Captain Jack Sparrow embark on yet another swashbuckling adventure to find the Fountain
Of Youth.

I was looking forward to this chapter in the saga a lot more than after first hearing about the fact it was being made. My enthusiasm was stoked by noticing that it was going to be the shortest in the quadrilogy, a huge plus point as ‘At World’s End’ was the best part of 3 hours long…and a bit boring to boot. But mainly because the watery Orlando Bloom and Kiera Knightly were not to be brought back after their storylines were finished off in the previous film.

 Along for the ride this time round is Penélope Cruz as Angelica Malon playing the old flame of Jack, which is strange as she hasn’t been mentioned in the previous outings even though they apparently  loved each other, only for Jack to get cold feet and leave her at the altar.

Angelica appears to be the daughter of the infamous pirate Blackbeard, played brilliantly by Ian McShane, who has been warned that he will be killed by ‘the one-legged man’ and must find the Fountain Of Youth to grant him immortality before his impending death. The one-legged man –  in this case Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), is now in the employ of the King of England as a privateer in the Navy. He lost his leg by narrowly escaping during an attack on the Black Pearl by Blackbeard.

Also in pursuit of the Fountain are the Spanish, for no discernable reason other than that they are Catholic and feel the need to destroy this blasphemous pagan artefact, as only the Lord can grant immortality. And it gives some excuse to place Cruz in the female lead.

As usual there are a number of giant action sequences, though luckily it all seems to be kept under stricter control by Rob Marshall than the films by Gore Verbinski, who couldn’t direct this one as he was working on ‘Rango’, also starring the voice of Johnny Depp. There is a brilliant opening
escape scene after he frees Gibbs (Kevin McNally) from the stocks where he surfs on the top of carriages through the streets of London to escapes the army before being saved by his father, Captain Teague (Keith Richards), who is heavily featured in the trailer, but only appears here for a couple of minutes.

There are lots of sword fighting scenes too, which are well-paced and clear. Though it did seem that a lot of them were made specifically for 3D with swords being thrust into the camera (and Jack swings through trees on a rope confusing matters for his adversaries). I’m sure that it looked great in 3D, but I decided to view the film in 2D (the proper way to see a film). I was not alone. It seems that the greater public has started to finally tire of 3D;  the official figures show that more people have opted to see it in 2D so far. But this is a rant for another occasion.

The best action scene by far though is the mermaid scene, because for an extremely confusing ritual at the Fountain the tear of a mermaid is
required. To this end, Blackbeard uses some of his own crew as bait for the sirens who attract men for their own carnal pleasure before drowning them. Seeing a row boat full of men being picked off one by one by mermaids was a genuine spectacle.

And this is the problem with the continuing franchise: there are only so many times you can see an overblown action sequence or a multi-way sword fight or Johnny Depp pretend to be Keith Richards before it gets repetitive. Also how many extra elements can you squeeze out of an idea based on a boring ride at Disney Land? We’ve had swashbuckling adventure, dark arts, giant sea monsters, sword fights, galleons firing cannonballs through each other (in the third film we had both these last two points happening while in the vortex of a
whirlpool!) – and now mermaids. The films have also covered the myths of Davey Jones and his locker, and Blackbeard, so how much further can it be pushed?

That said, this is probably the best in the series since ‘Dead Man’s Chest’ and is short enough to hold your attention without your mind wandering as to how uncomfortable your seat is. The CG is very good and the script is tight (even if the plot is a little bewildering) with a couple of funny lines including Jack professing to “support the missionary’s position”. There is also a tongue-in-cheek poke at ‘Basil Exposition’ moments with Jack
explaining the story behind a ship he is set to plunder only to turn to camera and exclaim “oh, there’s no one there”.

This film is a return to form for the franchise, but hopefully they won’t devise another sequel or, worse, a prequel.

Review: Thor

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 2, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Thor is the latest in the slew of Marvel films leading up to ‘The Avengers’, coming out next year, and the first of the massive budget blockbusters of the Summer.

This is a slightly different beast than its superhero predecessors in that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) isn’t actually a superhero; he is the eponymous Norse God with the magic hammer, Mjöllnir. Though rather than Conan-style loin cloths or Hagar the Horrible furs and horned hats, these Norse Gods wear futuristic fantasy armour and chainmail. Thor even manages to get away with wearing a cape.

The premise is that Thor is banished to Earth from Asgard after invoking the wrath of a race of Ice Giants from another realm, Jotunheim,  by his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). Upon his arrival he is hit by a car carrying a group of scientists who have been studying strange weather patterns in the desert near the U.S./Mexican border. Now lost and hospitalised Thor has to redeem himself to regain his powers, which have also been stripped from him.

Meanwhile, S.H.I.E.L.D. agents find Mjöllnir in the desert and begin to confiscate the work of the scientists who ran him over. This team is led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman, who is having a very busy year), or possibly Erik Selvig (Stellen Skarsgård) and accompanied by, for no obvious reason, Darcey Lewis (Kat Dennings). Portman becomes the love interest in a tender scene on top of the building she works and lives in where Thor explains where he comes from.

So Thor helps them to get their work back just as the rest of his pals (whose names I didn’t catch and weren’t repeated enough for you to remember them, which was a shame) from Asgard beam down to Earth to warn him of foul play back home involving his mischievous brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleson). Loki has sent a behemoth down to smite them all and the obligatory ridiculous giant robot fight scene starts with Thor eventually regaining his powers after seemingly giving his life for the fate of the world…or the shit-splat desert town he has found himself stranded in.

The Gods and Goddesses beam back to Asgard to face-off against Loki who has taken the throne, and whose motivations become slightly blurred at this point. But after a fist-fight and destroying the Rainbow Bridge, which connects Asgard to the other realms, and therefore from Jane, the film ends with both of them trying to find a way back to each other (Jane having been recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D.) which will obviously happen as it is stated in the credits that “Thor will return in The Avengers”.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, the film’s visual style is breathtaking. The quality of the landscapes of Asgard and the Ice Giant’s world of Jotunheim are incredibly well detailed and textured. The costumes are worthy of note as well, though if the acting wasn’t as good as it is they could have run the risk of looking camper than Christmas.

The acting isn’t so serious that the film loses sight of the fact it’s a comic book adaptation; there are some genuinely funny moments of slapstick where Thor is hit by a car, tasered and sedated by a large group of doctors while trying to escape a hospital. The scene-stealer though is Anthony Hopkins as Odin: he is a larger-than-life actor who clearly relishes hamming it up to play the king of the Gods unlike Stellen Skarsgård, who barely manages to conceal his bewilderment with the storyline. But top marks to Hemsworth who resembles and acts like a more muscular Brad Pitt circa ‘Troy’ with a real knack at comedic acting like later career Pitt.

This is a big, big blockbuster where everyone involved in the film is having a lot of fun and this genuinely rubs off on the audience. After a slow start, with a lot of back story explanation, you find yourself getting more involved as the story kicks off and unfolds. By the end you realise you’re having a brilliant time as is everyone else. Instead of feeling like a prequel to ‘The Avengers’ I feel this film stands up well on its own alongside the likes of its Marvel counterparts.