Life


Viewed – 15 August 2017  online rental

Science-fiction has become one of my favourite genres, with such gems as The Martian and Interstellar impressing me.  There seems to have been a bit of a resurgence in such movies, albeit stepping away from the flights of fantasy we’ve seen and instead focusing on a more semi-realistic tone.  The same can be said for this latest space-set thriller starring amongst others, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds.

Life

A team of astronauts orbiting the earth reprieve a probe that has been on it’s way back from Mars, and discover a life form within it’s gathered soil samples.  Nurturing said life form in an incubator, the astronauts try to figure out how it responds and whether it’s harmless or deadly.  I’m guessing you probably know the answer to that one, huh?

I got a serious Alien vibe from this but stripped down to actual realistic space travel and science rather than H R Giger inspired horror aesthetics.   The creature, nicknamed Calvin is initially cute but eventually shudder creepy-crawly, and as the scientists attempt to contain it, this set into action some seriously well done thrills.  It’s not a subject that breathes new life into a tired genre but it’s done well, has some genuinely heart-in-mouth moments and is topped off by decent effects work (but for the occasional obvious CGI monster) and great set design that transported me right there … and I didn’t want to be there.  Gyllenhaal, considering his usual brilliance is a little side-lined and the star of this turns out to be Rebecca Ferguson who is very good.  Ryan Reynolds seems like he’s just playing Ryan Reynolds, but the rest of the cast do a decent job.  It’s also a movie, despite it’s familiarity that still managed to keep me gripped and wondering how it might end, and in this day and age that has to be commended.

Verdict:  4 /5

Patriots Day


Viewed – 12 August 2017  Online rental

I don’t think it can be argued, that we live in scary times.  That also can’t be argued for world history either, but in our modern society, it’s still difficult to accept that such atrocities like 9/11 are even possible.  Aren’t we supposed to be more sophisticated than that?  Apparently not and one such terror incident, the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing is another example of senseless violence in the name of extremist viewpoints and hate.  This latest from acclaimed director Peter Berg (Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon) once again stars his go-to actor Mark Wahlberg as a demoted Police officer on security detail at said marathon when a series of bombs are detonated.

Patriots Day

Wahlberg is probably one of the most likable and watchable A-list stars around and I for one enjoy his performances even if he’s not really going to give say, Tom Hanks cause for concern.  He’s the ideal everyman and well cast in this ensemble piece that gives us several characters to latch onto as events unfold (with appearances from Kevin Bacon, John Goodman and Michelle Monaghan).  Berg’s direction is slick and gritty, offering up a mix of traditional and hand-held camera work for added intensity, a pounding score and an unflinching eye for detail and tense moments.  The scene in the car involving a Chinese guy and a terrorist is particularly unbearable.  The movie itself is eye-opening to what went on and how things played out was fascinating, occasionally shocking and well… humbling.

I’ll never understand the evil that people can inflict on society in the name of their beliefs and it’s something that seemingly has no end or answer.  This was a suitably harrowing watch at times, even if it fails to have anything new to say (leaving the terrorists motives under-explored) … but in our current times, I’d still recommend this.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

The Girl on the Train


Viewed – 05 August 2017  DVD

This is the latest movie adaptation of a best selling novel that seems to be a bit of a trend lately, what with similar suburban-set books like Gone Girl previously getting the movie treatment.  With such things we get the usual, tired reports of ‘its not as good as the book’ yadda yadda.  I am not a big reader so approached this from generally favourable word of mouth and the fact it has Emily Blunt in it.

Girl on the Train

Blunt plays Rachel, an alcoholic who never got over the failure of her marriage and spends most of her life obsessing over her ex-husband’s new relationship and trying to deal with a growing jealousy.  Blunt is one of those dependable actresses, and is incredibly convincing here and after she suffers a black-out following an attack in a tunnel, starts to piece together a mystery involving her ex-husband’s missing nanny.  Offering up plenty of red herrings and clues as to what actually happened … with an alcoholic as the lead anything that is recalled is of course open to question.  So this made for a rather different take on the who-dunnit than I anticipated..  Add to this decent turns from The Hobbit’s Luke Evans and Justin Theroux and I found myself thoroughly entertainment.   Helps that I really felt for Rachel’s plight.

It goes out of it’s way to cleverly fool the viewer and mislead, which was initially confusing, but came together effectively even if I felt rather stupid for not guessing the outcome.  An easy  recommendation.

Verdict:  4 /5

Dunkirk


Viewed – 26 July 2017  Cinema

In 1940 WWII, allied troops stranded on the beaches of Dunkirk are slowly and methodically evacuated using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found. … whilst at the same time fearing an imminent attack.

dunkirk

Now I can’t say I am all that familiar with the historical aspects of this based-on-true-events depiction, so came into this blind with only the prospect of it being directed by Christopher Nolan getting me all that excited.  I’d say at this stage he is one of the best directors around and for me has crafted some incredible cinematic experiences.  So trying his hand at a war movie … well, someone take my money!  So we get the expected awe-inspiring photography and Nolan’s usual reliance on actual practical effects where clearly no expense seems to have been spared … and when we have areal dog fights or capsized ships it’s a sight to behold I can tell you.  Sad then that the surrounding events didn’t engage me as expected, not help by strangely bland characterisation  that even names like Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy fail to elevate.

Told through the eyes of several characters; a young lad who jumps aboard a boat setting sale to bring aid to the stranded soldiers at Dunkirk beach, a wet-behind-the-ears soldier at the beach who finds himself in a group of scared soldiers trying to find safety, and Tom Hardy’s spitfire pilot … this delivered a few powerful moments of dread and excitement but is ultimately let down by a trying to be clever, non-linear structure that’s at first not apparent – resulting in confusion.  Add to this a relentless over-dose of orchestral music that is tie-one’s-stomach-in-a-not intense even during relatively mundane moments and I began to think Nolan was trying to hide the fact he didn’t really have much to say.  It’s an event in WWII history that was significant, but the depiction we get here made it feel like just another day in the war (apparently thousands lost their lives, not that you see much of that).

WWII caused a horrific time in world history and several movies have brought that home and showcased courage under impossible odds much better (Saving Private Ryan).  So… maybe go see this for a bit of a history lesson and some admittedly stunning visuals.  Stay at home if you’re expecting much else.

Verdict:  3 /5

War for the Planet of the Apes


Viewed – 14 July 2017  Cinema

Following an invasion of their home by a military force, ape leader Caesar (Andy Serkis) vows revenge and sets off to hunt down Woody Harrelson’s ruthless Colonel with a small group of fellow apes.  Along the way they stumble upon a young mute girl who may be evidence of a mutated strain of the disease that has already killed off most of mankind.

war-planet-apes

A decidedly strange experience.  I went into this with very high expectations and have to say what I got was a different movie than I was anticipating.  It has the word ‘war’ in the title but it’s not the humans vs. apes smack down the last movie set us up for.  Instead it explores an on-going conflict set at ‘war time’ between said apposing military force and the still attempting to live in peace apes.  However what we do have is once again a movie with a great deal of heart, some very touching character moments, themes of loyalty, family and friendship as well as a little comic relief in the form of an ageing lone ape who turns up half way through.  We get a lengthy prisoner-of-war sequence that is brilliantly played out with echoes of The Great Escape, and some decent action although nothing on par with the last two movies.  This one’s less about explosions and spectacle and more about the search for a safe haven and a potential future, even if that future is hopeless for humans.  As a conclusion (?) to the trilogy, it feels a tad uneventful and drags in places, and that ending was rather a damp squib.

Yet for fans like myself this is still solid entertainment.  It’s superbly acted with again top marks going to Serkis, whilst Harrelson delivers a fine villain.  It’s also absolutely stunning to look at (can these apes get any more real?) aided by plenty of personality and bags of emotion.  I just suppose by a third movie, I was expecting more not … less.

Verdict:  4 /5