Movies of 2017: Ex Machina

ex-machina

A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.

Ex Machina. 2015, a healthy 7.7 stars on IMDb. Written and directed by Alex Garland and starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason. Nominated for two Oscars, it won Best Visual Effects against a strong competition – Mad Max Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (which amusingly also starred Domhnall Gleason and Oscar Isaac).

I *really* liked this film. Super small scale, super tiny budget (a mere $15 million), essentially a three-hander between Vikander, Gleason and Isaac exploring what it means to be human. The cinematography is fantastic given the somewhat cramped setting of the bulk of the movie, with some interesting scenes between Caleb and Ava where he’s conducting his Turing test – even though he’s the one doing the questioning, she’s the one in the larger room with space to move around. It’s a neat touch. I also loved that Nathan had a crazy wall of post-it notes to help him design something as complex as Ava.

I can see why the film won the visual effects Oscar. Most big-budget sci-fi movies rely on massive spectacle, often at the expense of plot – whereas here they’re brilliantly understated, but effectively done.

Highly recommended. I’d give it 9 creepy robot AIs out of 10.

Movies of 2017: Suicide Squad

suicide-squad

A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force. Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse.

Suicide Squad. 2016, 6.3 stars on IMDb. Written and directed by David Ayer and starring Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie and Viola Davis, amongst many others.

Regular readers of this blog may just about remember my movie A-Z back in… crikey. April of 2014. I could have *sworn* it was last year. I had enormous fun doing it and have been meaning to do more movie things for some time now. Slightly more time than originally intended. I blame the books. You may also have noticed that I quite like talking about books. Thought I’d branch out into movies.

So, here we are in 2017 and I finally got round to watching David Ayer’s Suicide Squad.

You know what? It was alright. Better than I was expecting, though a little light on story. Will Smith is hugely watchable in just about anything, as is Jared Leto. His Joker, whilst not up to Heath Ledger standards, was perfectly serviceable. Could have done with a bit (lot) more screen time, and a more developed character arc. Or indeed any kind of character arc.

Most of the other characters get a bit lost in the mix, as is so often the case with these ensemble movies. Killer Croc turned up to do basically one job. Diablo was pretty good, but remarkably easy to talk out of his ‘not doing this any more’ thing. The Enchantress was probably the most interesting character, but again, woefully underused. It did feel a bit like getting all these cool bad guys together, do a Snake Plissken on them and set them loose against an even bigger bad guy. Viola Davis was utterly splendid and ruthless as Amanda Waller.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn was the other character with some semblance of development. Fun to watch, though her relationship with Joker was a bit weird. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not particularly up on much of the Joker/Quinn from the comics, so I can’t say how well it fits with that.

Could have done with being a movie with half the squad and Joker as the Big Bad. Never really felt the menace or the stakes.

Overall, it was a fun popcorn movie. I give it six deranged evil villains out of ten.

Have you seen Suicide Squad? What did you think? Should I do more movie reviews? Answers onna postcard please…

SPECTRE – some thoughts

So, SPECTRE. Mr Craig’s fourth outing as Bond. Will it live up to the promise of Skyfall? Will I be forced to rethink my post on ten reasons why Skyfall is the best Bond movie?

Short version: No, and erm, no.

That said, SPECTRE is good fun. It’s a very good Bond movie. It’s just not a *great* Bond movie.

Some thoughts. Warning, HERE BE SPOILERS.



NO, SERIOUSLY



GO WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST.


Still here? You’ve been warned…

Short version:

Ok, so there were some minor niggles and perhaps I’m about to be (incredibly) picky. Bits of it were quite silly and it could easily have lost half an hour off the running time without really batting an eyelid. The cold open is hugely entertaining (despite the helicopter shenanigans), the middle sags a teeny bit, but the final third is quite splendidly Bond in full effect, throttles wide open.

Slightly longer, rambling version.

The pre-credit scene starts off with a lovely, lazy, super-long tracking shot following Bond and his lady-friend through the streets of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festival, culminating with a fight aboard a helicopter over the crowd.

Question:  Why on earth does Bond try and fight the helicopter pilot AND Marco Sciarra? If he’d managed to knock the pilot out, he’d be left with Sciarra and an out-of-control helicopter really not that far above the square. Sort out the bad guy first, *then* sort the pilot out. Priorities, Bond!

Bond somehow manages to spot that Sciarra is wearing a strange ring and nicks it before shoving him out of the helicopter. A CLUE!

Cue woefully underused Monica Belluci as Lucia Sciarra.

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It’s not long before he picks her up at her husband’s funeral, seduces her and promptly abandons her to (hopefully) get picked up by his old mate Felix. Ah, we miss you Felix. Come back for the next one! Whilst it was nice to see a lady Bond’s age (roughly, Monica is 4 years older than our Dan), it was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance. Disappointing.

There are some shenanigans with C, played by the quite brilliant Andrew Scott who is all DASTARDLY and EVIL, the it’s not long before Bond is off to Rome. He infiltrates a Top Secret meeting of SPECTRE where we meet the delightfully creepy Oberhauser.
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Slightly disappointed to discover the weird device on the table which I speculated could be some kind of VR headset is just a headset for translating the interminable financial reports from the SPECTRE minions. Yawn.
spectre13 - glasses

Anyhoo, before long Mr Hinx turns up. Dave Bautista is one of the highlights of SPECTRE for me, kind of a cross between Oddjob and Jaws, saying nothing but crashing through the scenery like a runaway train. He’s brilliant. More of him pls.

Then there’s a car chase. Bond in his absolutely delicious Aston Martin DB10
spectre09 and Hinx in… oh, something else. Who cares?

The car chase goes on through the streets of Rome, which seemed… oddly light on traffic. The chase goes on…

and on…
and on…

waaaay too long. Long enough to squeeze in Amusing Italian In Tiny Car Comedy Light Relief. Oh dear.

Bond gets away (of course) and  goes to meet Mr White, who’s looking a bit poorly…
spectre12

Then we’re off to Austria. Proper globe-trotting, this Bond outing. There are shades of OHMSS going on here. Splendidly silly chase scene with Bond flying(ish) a plane after White’s daughter Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and Hinx which results in Bond managing to somehow steer a wingless plane down a mountain, through a wooden chalet and into the escaping cars.

Well, he *is* BondJamesBond, isn’t he?

They meet up with Q who finds out via some handwavingly bonkers computery thing that Sciarra’s ring links Oberhauser to Bond’s previous outings, and identifying Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva as agents of SPECTRE.

So it turns out that Quantum is just the super-secret organisation fronting an even super-secreter organisation? REALLY? Hello screenwriters. Can we have a word?

Whatever happened to Quantum, by the way? They had tons of potential, and could easily have been the proto-SPECTRE. Turns out they were just the executive wing of SPECTRE then? Last seen running in different directions following a super-secret meeting at the opera, they must surely all still be at large. Apart from Greene, obviously.

I note with interest that SPECTRE doesn’t go for the whole secret-meeting-at-the-opera approach to secret meetings. They hold their (entirely more boring) meetings in central Rome?

Bond and Swann swan (sorry) off to Morocco where White has somehow managed to build a secret room in a hotel (erm, how?).  Swann fends off Bond’s advances, plans are uncovered (in the aforementioned secret room) and they’re off again into the desert to find the Top Secret SPECTRE base. There’s a classic Bond-on-a-train fight with Hinx, Swann changes her mind and is now madly in love with Bond.

See? I told you this was classic Bond territory. Quite why Oberhauser wanted to build his top secret base in the middle of NOWHERE (yet hold his meetings in Rome) is beyond me. There was a random meteorite though, so perhaps that had something to do with it.

It’s a great Evil Villain Lair though. Not quite up to Ken Adam‘s legendary works, but pretty good nonetheless. The meteorite was a nice touch.

Oberhauser: Why did you come?
Bond: I came here to kill you.
Oberhauser: And I thought you came here to die.
Bond: Well, it’s all a matter of perspective.

Bond is tortured (eww) by Oberhauser. It’s pretty hard to watch until you get distracted as I did by the fact that Oberhauser, for reasons best known to his evil self, isn’t wearing any socks. WHY ARE YOU NOT WEARING SOCKS?

And what is that white cat doing there?

Oberhauser: [stroking the white cat]    Franz Oberhauser died twenty years ago, James. In an avalanche alongside his father. A man you’re talking to now, a man inside your head, is Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Oh, you’re Blofeld after all? Splendid! NOW we’re getting somewhere. Ed (14) was *very* confused at this point though. I forgot that he has essentially no frame of reference for this revelation and only knows the Daniel Craig era Bond. I wonder how many other people in the audience were going ‘err, who?’ at this point.

I really did like Christophe Waltz in this movie, a lot. Barring the odd fashion choices, obviously. He was deliciously evil in a perky, louche sort of way. I hope we see more of him in the future.

There are more shenanigans back in London. M, Q, Moneypenny and Tanner all step up and get involved in the plot before the final climactic showdown (and if that’s not a tautology, I don’t know what is).

It was great to see the gang working together. Moneypenny had Useful Things to Do, Q had some great one-liners

[Q hands Bond a watch]
Bond: What does it do?
Q: It tells the time.

and M is suitably M-ish. C gets his Comeuppance and there’s a thrilling finale where Bond races against the clock (literally) to save Swann.

Phew! Bond, of course, will return. Will Daniel Craig though? Or is it time for another incarnation?

Spectre – trailer review

Ah, Mister Bond. We’ve been expecting you.

[CUE DRAMATIC MUSIC]

The new teaser trailer for Spectre (or is it SPECTRE?) has been released. Let’s take a look, shall we?

spectre01

We open with a shot of the destroyed MI6. Clearly we’re hot on the heels of Skyfall here. I’ve rambled on about what I think about Skyfall before, and the tone of this trailer feels *very* Skyfall-esque. I’m a happy Bond geek at this point.

spectre01 - Moneypenny

Moneypenny is back! Hurrah. Let’s hope that we see her back in action again. Having rebooted her character in Skyfall, I’d really like to see her away from the desk and in the thick of it with Bond.

spectre02

“Personal effects they recovered from Skyfall. You’ve got a secret…”

(note M’s china bulldog on the table)

spectre02 - bulldog

Bond looks over the paperwork. Guardianship forms and an old photograph.

spectre03

spectre03 - Oberhauser

Interesting – the name on the guardianship form is one Hannes Oberhauser. Now, in Octopussy and The Living Daylights (the book, not the movies) Oberhauser taught Bond to ski when he was in his teens and Bond very much regarded him as a father figure after his own parents were killed. We know that Christoph Waltz is playing Franz Oberhauser. Could he be the son of the late Hannes Oberhauser?

“Something you can’t tell anyone. Because you can’t trust anyone.”

spectre04

The photo is interesting too – I’m assuming that this is the young Master Bond with Oberhauser. Who is the figure on the right though, and why is their face obscured?

Cut to Bond, on a boat. He does like standing on boats, doesn’t he?

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“I always knew that death would wear a familiar face. But not yours.”

That voice does sound rather familiar…
spectre06

Cut to a funeral. First sign of Lucia Sciarra (Monica Belluci). At fifty, she’s the oldest woman to play a Bond leading lady.

spectre08

“I was in a meeting recently and your name came up.”

And the obligatory Aston Martin shot. The utterly beautiful (is there any other sort?) Aston Martin DB10, created especially for the movie. I’m not complaining. It’s gorgeous.

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“I’m flattered London are still talking about me.”

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“It wasn’t MI6.”

And now we see the Spectre octopus ring. We’ve seen SPECTRE rings before in From Russia With Love and Thunderball and we’ve already seen there’s a link to Octopussy with Oberhauser. Coincidence? Interesting to see that this octopus only has seven tentacles. And is that some kind of gem (or, knowing Bond, some kind of micro spy camera gizmo?)

spectre11

Ah, Mister White. We meet again. Last seen in Quantum of Solace hotfooting it away from Bond after escaping interrogation. Again, I’ve talked about Quantum of Solace before, and recall wondering if the shadowy Quantum could turn out to be SMERSH or SPECTRE. It looks like we might find out!

Jesper Christensen looks a little more dishevelled this time around though.

spectre12

“You are a kite, dancing in a hurricane Mister Bond.”

And the payoff. A truly Bondian shadowy villain. All that’s missing is a cat. White, of course.

spectre13

“Welcome James. It’s been a long time.
and finally, here we are.”

Assuming that this is Oberhauser Jr, could he and Bond have spent some time together when they were in their teens? Could be an interesting angle.

What’s that on the table next to him? Looks like it could be some kind of VR headset? Intriguing!

spectre13 - glasses

Gunshot. Fade to…

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And there we have it. One minute and thirty seven seconds of Bond.

Rumour has it that Spectre and Bond 25 have been plotted with a multi-film arc. Much like Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – and if we’re seeing how Quantum and Mister White fit in, could they all make up a four movie story? Will SPECTRE be formed from the remnants of Quantum?

Could it be that at the end of this one we find out that Oberhauser is merely the right-hand man of one Ernst Stavro Blofeld…?

I guess we’ll find out later in the year…

all images taken from the official trailer and copyright EON Productions

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation trailer review

Ohhh, Mission: Impossible. How I love you so. Welcome back, Ethan.

It’s true. I’ve been a huge fan of the M:I series since we met Ethan back in the first Mission: Impossible back in… 1996? Crikey, has it really been nearly 20 years? M:I-II was a little shambolic in places but I will argue at great length[1] that M:I-III is one of the finest examples of an action movie, period.

And I’m right. But more of that in another post.

Even M:I – Ghost Protocol was a huge amount of fun, with Ethan & Co larking around on the Burj Khalifa.

And now we have M:I – Rogue Nation. It’s going to be a banner year for spy movies, what with Spy, Spectre (yay!), Kingsman (really must go see that soon) and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (also looks awesome).

As for the trailer, it’s chock-full of delicious IMF cheesy action flick goodness. The gang are all here – Jeremy Renner, Ving Rhames (he and Tom are the only two actors to appear in all five movies), Simon Pegg.
Tom onna motorbike![2] Tom runs! See Tom run! Tom has lost his shirt! Poor Tom.

Mysterious shots of Washington. Oh NOES. The IMF has been disbanded. AGAIN.

Tom is stuck in a tiny room! FX: EVIL SMOKE CURLS UPWARDS. Will Tom escape?

Tom is shirtless (again) but has clearly been WORKING OUT. Nice muscles, Tom!

Fighty fight scene! Tom does a FANCY KICK thing and ESCAPES. YAY TOM!

Spot of flirting.

Benji gets his Kingsman specs! Where’s Colin Firth? Tom inna phonebox, explaining the PLOT.

Oooh a rogue nation! Trained to do what they do! EXCITEMENT LEVEL: HIGH

Lots of serious looking dudes with serious guns and protective eyewear. This must be serious.

“This may very well be our last mission.” NOOOOOOOOO.

Random bikini. So, we’ve done Kingsman, now we’re channeling Bond? THIS IS NOT A BAD THING. CARRY ON CHAPS.

“You want to bring down the Syndicate? It’s impossible.”

Tom smirks. He’s already done SIX impossible things before breakfast. Wait, wrong story.

Tom drives! FAST! He does a cool spinny thing and takes out two dudes on motorbikes. Daniel Craig, are you watching this? I expect MORE from Spectre. LOTS MORE.

A flute gun? Very M:I. Tom stops a GIANT KNIFE with a curtain. He’s that impossible.

Jumpy two-foot kicking seems to be very de rigueur in this movie.

Lots of VERY FAST cuts between scenes.

Tom jumps (again) into a GIANT WHIRLPOOL SWIRLY THING. That looks dangerous, Tom! Be careful!

Ah, comedy one-liner from Mister Pegg. Nice.

Tom really *really* wants to catch that plane. Like, really. A lot. Apparently he did that scene for reals. They strapped him onto a perfectly good plane and took off. Cor.

In short, it’s a Mission: Impossible. It looks brilliant. I, for one, can’t wait!

[1] with anyone who’ll listen, especially if we’re in a pub.
[2] sudden M:I-II flashback! *recovers* *flails*

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The new Star Wars trailer came out today and the internet REJOICED[1]!

Mainly because George didn’t write it, and it’s highly unlikely Jar Jar Binks is in it. Huzzah!

Some thoughts.

Ooh, desert. Deep gravelly EEEVIL voice.

“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?”

Clearly this is some kind of Batman crossover. Intriguing. Maybe it’s Smaug.

OMG. BATSMAUG AND HAN SOLO.

Stormtrooper! He’s lost his helmet somewhere, poor chap. Looks a bit confused. MAYBE BATSMAUG ATE HIS HELMET!

Rolling droid. Beeblyboop!

More stormtroopers. This lot still have their helmets on. Exciting ramp opening! Smoke!

Speederbike girl on some kind of funky chunky, errr, speeder bike. She appears to be in a hurry to get somewhere. Good job she’s got a speeder bike, eh? WHY IS IT SO SQUARE? Do they not have aerodynamics in a galaxy far, far away?

X-wings! They’re flying awfully low, in what appears to be Scotland. Stay on target! Watch out for Nessie!

Right, we’ve had sand and water. Must be time for… snow!

Batman again.

“The dark side…”

OOOH. RED LIGHTSABER. With odd cross bar pieces. Looks a bit more… flamey than we’re used to. IS THAT DARTH MAUL PLEASE LET IT BE DARTH MAUL OMG BATSMAUG AND DARTH MAUL HERE TAKE MY MONEY.

Or maybe it’s Darth Jon Snow. WHERE’S GHOST, JJ? Will Darth Jon Snow and BatSmaug team up?

lightsaber

“… and the light.”

MILLENNIUM FALCON! Doing fancy spinny flying things! Probably trying to avoid BATSMAUG and DARTH MAUL.

*falls over with excitement*

oh. Lens flare.

SERIOUSLY JJ, STOP IT WITH THE LENS FLARE. 

oooh, TIE fighters.

CREDITS:
STAR WARS
THE FORCE AWAKENS
DECEMBER 2015

FX: lightsaber noise.

So. That was… short. And dark. And tells us very little.

Current excitement level: OMG SO VERY EXCITED.

(I wonder where it will fit with the proper running order of the movies, as I talked about at some length in my E is for Empire Strikes Back post. [END OF SHAMELESS BLOG PIMPING])

[1] ok, not ALL of the internet. Some of them were shopping

Movies – an A-Z roundup

So, April is done. My movie A-Z is over. I had a lot of fun writing it (and watching the movies).

Our alphabetical journey through film took us from Alien (and its sequels) through to Zardoz (and *that* photo). Along the way we stopped off in the eighties for Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club. We dallied in old-school animation with Miyazaki and Howl’s Moving Castle before going more high-tech with Pixar’s Up and WALL-E and Jack Black’s turn as Po, the Kung Fu Panda. We caught fire with Katniss Everdeen in the second Hunger Games movie and talked Bond old and new – Connery’s Goldfinger (to counter his Zardoz), Brosnan’s GoldenEye and Daniel Craig’s Quantum of Solace – not as bad as people make out, especially if you consider it the second half of Casino Royale.

Brosnan also gave us The Thomas Crown Affair, whilst Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen turned up again as the mute Viking warrior One-Eye in the acid trip that is Valhalla Rising.

We journeyed into space, firstly for the big budget blockbuster The Empire Strikes Back (a thinly-veiled cover for me to wax lyrical about Star Wars) to the smaller films: Pitch Black and Moon. We got to Moon from Labyrinth, featuring Moon’s director’s dad in some splendidly scene-stealing trousers.

Speaking of scene-stealing trousers, Burt Reynolds’ jeans in Smokey and the Bandit could give Jareth’s a run for their money any day of the week. Throw in Bob Peck’s thighs in Jurassic Park and you’ve got quite the party. Something you’d only see in a cheese-induced dream, which leads us nicely onto Inception.

Back to reality with a bump (and a claw hammer) for Oldboy and The Raid, two superb examples of their genre. The action turned more Hollywood for National Treasure (featuring GoldenEye’s Sean Bean) and Die Hard (which had the Breakfast Club’s Mister Vernon). See? I did try and link this lot together!

Some letters were harder than others. X was only ever going to be The X-Files or X-Men. This time it was the former. Next time, the latter?

We finished with some laughs, courtesy of Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. And, of course, Mister Connery. That photo always raises a smile. Oh, go on then. Here it is again.

Zardoz

That was my A-Z. I know I missed out a ton of really great films, and had some brilliant suggestions along the way via Twitter and in the comments. I may turn this into a regular thing. What do you think?