Monthly Archives: October 2013

Ender’s Game

Considering the book Ender’s Game was written in 1985, author Orson Scott Card’s work predicted the internet, blogging, trolls and and other such ‘futuristic’ terms. The book is also considered essential reading for the military. Having never gotten round to reading the book I thought now would be a good time to catch the film whose book has inspired so many.

Set in the future, Earth just managed to survive an attack against aliens fifty years ago but fear of another attack loams. As children have the most adaptable minds they are trained from a young age to control the drones that will be used in battle against the aliens. One such kid Ender, whose trying to overcome the stigma of being a third child (now Earth has a two child policy) and is given a chance to enroll in Battle school. We watch Ender’s progress as he rises through the school and looks likely to become Earth’s gretaest chance to win the war.

Those who know nothing about the source material and expecting a typical summer blockbuster will hopefully be pleasently surprised by a film that gives thoughtful contemplation on the ethics on war. Is it ok to do whatever it takes to win despite the consequences or the effect on those having to take part?

As the hero Ender, Asa Butterfield is brilliant. He manages to handle a complicated character and make him engaging and likeable. He is constantly struggling with the two sides of himself represented by his brother Peter (the agressive, violent side) and sister Valentine (the compassionate, empathetic side). Butterfield manages to conveys the different sides to his personality while also displaying Ender’s strategic intellegance and the mental strain that the training for war puts on him.

Harrison Ford and Viola Davis provide strong support as the Commanders of the cadets, it’s interesting watching their characters discuss the morality of what they are doing, especially pushing such young kids so hard. They discuss whether the ends justifes the means school  when it comes to teaching the cadets, especially Ender. These adults are more mouthpieces to talk about the morality of war rather than as properer three dimensional characters buts in the hands of Ford and Davis they make us feel that there are a human, scared side to these people. In their eyes they are just doing what they can to ensure Earth survival after near devestation fifty years ago.

Unfortunatly the rest of the cadets don’t get much depth. Fellow students Ali (Suraj Parthasarathy) and Bean (Armais Knight) shine in their small roles but Haliee Stansfield is wasted as Petra and seems mostly there to be the token girl.

At times it was hard to distance what I knew about the author from the film, but it’s just shame that Orson Scott Card doesn’t extend his themes of peace and tolerance to his views on gay marriage. However the filmakers have tried to distance themselves from the author’s views so if you’re able to do the same then I recomend watching this film.

Rating 3.5/5-worth seeing this blockbuster with a brain

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The Purge

I missed horror film The Purge when it was released earlier this year, however with its bleak depiction of future America and creepy trailer I was determined to watch it eventually. But this year has already seen awesome horror films in the form of The Conjuring and You’re Next, can The Purge be up there with the best of this year’s horror offerings?

Set in the year 2022, America has become a “nation reborn”, employment rates are low and so is crime-for most of the year. Every year all of America engages in The Purge-for 12 hours people can commit any crimes with no fear of punishment. This release supposedly allows the citizens to be normal, productive members of society for the rest of the year. One rich family, the Sandins are locked down for the night using the high security system that patriarch James (Ethan Hawke) sells for a living. But when a bloody stranger calls out for help, James’ son Charlie (Max Burkholder) lets him in, causing a group of teenagers hunting for the stranger to turn up at their door.

It’s an interesting premise at the centre of The Purge. The divide of the rich and the poor is an important theme of the film although it’s a bit heavy-handed at times. The snippets of news we hear before the Purge starts hints at a world where the rich can buy their safety while the poor are left to fend for themselves. It’s also noted that high level government members are excluded from the purge and cannot be harmed.

Although there a few good, jumpy moments in the film it’s never as scary as the trailers suggested it would be. There are hints of layers within the Sandin family but there’s not much to really care about them. Slowly as they start to develope more of a conscience they become more sympathetic but they are sketchy characters at best. Still at least they get more than the stranger gets. We don’t really know anything about him apart from that he’s probably poor, a group is following him and planning to kill him. It would have been more interesting to know more about him but he’s mostly hiding or knocked out for most of the film.

What helps save the film from being a complete waste of time is Rhys Wakefield’s turn as the Polite Leader (we never know his name either). His gang turn up in scary smiling masks, yet he somehow looks more sinister without his mask. He’s all smiles and speaks of good manners in his conversation with James, yet is threatening to kill the whole family if they don’t hand over the stranger. He’s a great villain who belongs in a better film.

Rating-2.5/ Besides Rhys Wakefield disturbing turn, the film is not as terrifying as its premise suggests

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Your Highness

Crude, rude and probably made for teenage boys (or those who have minds like ones 😉 ), Your Highness is a comedy/fantasy film that was widely criticised on its release in 2011. Does it deserve its bad reputation?

The film follows  lazy and obnoxious Prince Thadeous (Danny McBride) who lives in the shadow of his brave and dashing brother Prince Fabious (James Franco). When Fabious’ bride Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) is kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Leezar (Justin Theroux) Thadous joins his brother to rescue Belladonna. Can Thadous proves theres more to him than his cowardly personna?

The film tries to mix stoner comedy with The Princess Bride. However while that film is a classic fairytale comedy Your Highness  thinks throwing in swear words or dick jokes will get enough cheap laughs to make the audience happy. Unfortunatly the film’s greatest sin is not it’s  use of crude language to get laughs but that it’s jokes are just not funny.

The film’s greatest pull is the supporting actors. James Franco and Natalie Portman (as female warrior Isabel) play their roles straight and look like they are having a ball playing these characters. Its  a shame that the film focuses on Thadeous as its protagonist as he’s the least interesting character in the film. Its hard to care about a character so odious and annoying, and he’s not amusing enough for us to enjoy his exploits on the adventure.

I’m sure it was fun for the actors to film. If only I was having as much fun watching it.

Rating 1/5-avoid this film and watch The Princess Bride instead for a proper fantasy/comedy.

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Black Rock

Black Rock is a 2012 American horror-thriller film about three women who take a trip to a remote island where they use to go as children. But things go terribly wrong when three men turn up and a nasty accident turns the trip on its head.

As far as Black Rock’s plot goes this isn’t exactly original material and the script doesn’t offer much to subvert the expectations of the audience. It also isn’t as gory as fans of these type of films would normally expect and despite giving the baddies a bit of backstory as Iraqi war veterans they mostly come across as cardboard cutout villains. There is also the same old clichés that come into play-the island is mostly deserted and there’s no cell phone reception, what a shock! Honestly why does anyone ever go camping anymore-haven’t they seen The Blair Witch Project?

However I liked the fact that the women were three-dimensional characters. They didn’t fit typically into the female stereotypes for horror films. The tensions between the women felt believable and it wasn’t obvious who was meant to be the heroine of the film (or the Final Girl if you will). The actresses work well together, with Lake Bell (Lou) impressing the most. As peacemaker Sarah, Kate Bosworth gives one of her better performances. Meanwhile Katie Aselton-who also directs and came up with the story-is also strong as the reluctant Abby.

Its clear the girls aren’t as strong or as tactical as the men who are chasing them, so they have to use their own strengths to try to survive. Their advantages are that they know this island as children and have strong survival instincts, doing what it takes to survive. Aselton does making the chase scenes tense as the girls have to hide all through the forest of the island and have to hope the men don’t know the island as well as they do. It’s just a shame that the negatives outweighs the positives, a few good twists would have made the film much better.

Rating-2.5/5-good performances from the actresses aside this film doesn’t have enough twists or chills to match up to the better horror films of recent years

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Filth

Based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh, Filth is a darkly comic/drama/crime film. Fans of Welsh’s book went mad when the lovely James McAvoy was picked for the role of distrubed detective Bruce. Was McAvoy the right choice for the role? And will audiences get Welsh’s story of a mentally unstable and thoroughly horrible main protagonist?

The story revolves around Bruce (McAvoy) a manipulative, homophobic, racist and obnoxious detective who plans to use all his scheming against his fellow officers to secure a promotion while supposedly serving a murder. Along the way he bullies his friend Clifford (Eddie Marsan), makes obscene phone calls to Clifford’s wife and is generally awful to nearly everone he meets.

Ok so that discription may not sound like a fun film to watch, but it’s actually a very funny film.  Lots of black humour of course. We see everything from Bruce’s point of view, where he believes he is supirior to everyone else around him and can outwit his colleagues to get a promotion. As the film goes along the humour only gets darker  as its obvious Bruce’s view of the world is skewered, and as we go along we realise just how messed up Bruce is.

Essentially this is a film about someone going through a breakdown and is in serious need of help for his mental state. I wouldn’t say Bruce ever becomes a sympathetic character but he becomes more complex as the film continues and you do wish Bruce could get the help he so desperately needs but won’t ever admit.

The film goes between the real world and Bruce’s fantasies, and as it goes on you get the feeling that Bruce’s narration is somewhat unreliable. Director John S. Baird does a great job in switching between these sequences. Some of Bruce’s visions have disturbing images and they are brought to the life really well.

The film has a great supporting cast. Jamie Bell impresses as DS Frank Lennox-the butt of a lot of Bruce’s schemes. Imogne Potts is also strong as DS Amanda Drummond, the single sane person on the force and the only one who can see Bruce for who he really is. Jim Broadbent is also great value turning up in Bruce’s dream sequences as a doctor. However this is James McAvoy’s film. Those who had reservations about him taking on the role of Bruce will be pleasently surprised at how McAvoy embodies Bruce. Ok he may not be the exact physical description of Bruce as described in the book but he clearly enjoys playing someone so distrubed. His Bruce is repellant and amoral, yet you are still willing to follow him on his downward spiral. This is a prime example that a film does not need a likeable protagonist, as long as you make his story interesting and compelling enough for an audience to keep watching.

I doubt there would be any chance McAvoy will be up for an Oscar next year, although he clearly deserves it. Perhaps Filth would have better luck at the Bafta as it deserves to have some recognition.

Rating-3.5/5-dark, disturbing and James McAvoy on top form, if you’re easily offended stay well clear

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Sharknado

The Syfy original movie Sharknado has now become infamous for its ludicrous plot, poor special effects and its knowing sense of  humour. With a sequel Sharknado: The Second One on the way I decided I had to see what all the fuss is about.

For some reason sharks are being lifted out of the ocean and falling from the skies eating the poor people below in L.A. (I can’t remember if the film tried to give any explanation for this but I’m sure it really doesn’t matter). Bar owner Finn (Ian Ziering) tries to stay alive aided by his friend Baz (Jaason Simmons) and waitress Nova( Cassie Scerbo). Can they survive they attack and rescue Finn’s estranged family?

It’s hard to compare a Syfy movie to normal films as they are just  hilariously bad. However I can see why Sharknado seems to have gotten a cult following. Everyone involved in the film seems to be in on the joke and the script knows exactly how ridiculous the premise is, so most of the actors play it for laughs and give knowing winks to the audience. So we have our heroes armed with guns and a chainsaw fighting off sharks that are raining down from above with increasing speed. Body parts are torn, sharks are found in swimming pools and all sense of credibility has gone out the window in amusing fashion.

The film would have been much more enjoyable if we had been left in the company of Finn, Baz and Nova as they chop up sharks left, right and centre. Instead half way through we have our trio of bad-ass heroes meet up with Finn’s annoying ex-wife April (Tara Reid), and daughter Claudia (Aubrey Peeples), whose main purpose is to whine and moan at Finn. Ok maybe he’s been a rubbish husband and father in the past but he trying to rescue you as SHARKS ARE FALLING FROM THE SKY! give him a break.  Bizarrely enough April even has a problem with Finn helping a bus full of young schoolkids escape from the sharks. The fact April is played by a barely present Tara Reid doesn’t help.

What else can I say about this film? The special effects are laughable. Sharks can somehow appear in drains and swimming pools and survive. But if you’re watching a Syfy film expecting logic then you’ve got no one to blame but yourself.

Rating 2/5-terrible but in the it’s so bad its good variety. Best watched with your brain turned off!

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Prisoners

Prisoners is an American thriller that tackles every parents worse nightmare and what horrors they are prepared to commit for the sake of their children.

After their daughters go missing during Thanksgiving, two families the Dovers (Hugh Jackman and Maria Bello) and the Birch (Terrance Howard and Viola Davis) are looking for answers. When Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) releases a suspect Alex (Paul Dano) due to lack of evidence, Keller Dover (Jackman) decides to take  the law into his own hands to find his missing daughter.

From the moment the girls goes missing the tension in Prisoners never lets up as we follow Detective Loki in his investigation and Keller as he conducts his own source of interrogation. The audience watches as Keller’s techniques to extract information from his prisoner escalates to the point that you’re not sure whose side you’re suppose to be on. The film doesn’t give you any easy answers instead posing a series of questions to its audience. If your child went missing what would you do to go them back? Would you resort to torture? Is Keller justified in what he’s doing? If Alex is guilty does that make Keller’s actions acceptable? Theres also the matter that Alex has the IQ of a ten-year old, so can he be held responsible for anything he may have done? It’s a tough watch, and although not particularly gory, there is some serious violence  and threat involved which makes for uncomfortable viewing.

The cast that has been assembled is incredible. However at times it feels like the female cast members are a bit wasted. Viola Davis at least gets a few meaty scenes to get her teeth into (and anyone who saw her stirling work in Doubt knows that she only needs one scene to grab everyone’s attention). Maria Bello fares less well, with her character mostly drugged out by grief for the majority of the movie.

The male cast fare better. Howard is great as the reluctant father pulled into Jackman’s schemes although his character does get sidelined as the film gets closer to the end. Dano is brilliant as main suspect Alex, able to turn from creepy, to vulnerable and childlike within the same scene. The standouts however are Gyllenhaal and Jackman. Both are men are desperate to find the girls using very different means. Jackman’s performance in particular is mesmerizing, both men deserve to be showered in awards come the Oscar season, whether Prisoners is too grim for the voting committee is another matter.

What makes Prisoners such a good  thriller is that is can raise these serious issues about morality and tell an engaging story at the same time. You are kept on edge the whole way through, hoping some kind of happy ending can be salvaged somehow among the darkness.

Rating- 4/5 -an uncompramising thriller about the horrors people do featuring fantastic performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal.

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