Tag Archives: Sci-fi

CINEMA REVIEW: TENET (2020)

CINEMA REVIEW: TENET (2020)

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Produced by: Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Dimple Kapadia, Michael Caine, Kenneth Branagh, Martin Donovan, Clement Poesy, etc.

Music by: Ludwig Göransson

Cinematography: Hoyte van Hoytema

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



I am writing this review from the future while travelling backwards to the past to try and alter events which have yet to occur in the present. Confused yet? Jokes aside, Christopher Nolan’s latest temporally challenging and narratively inverted blockbuster, TENET (2020), is actually not as complicated as some would lead you to believe. However, that’s because I’ve been training my brain with such mind-boggling adventures in time, space and dimensions while watching the third season of the ingenious German sci-fi drama, DARK (2020), this week. Safe to say however, TENET is still rather complex and probably unnecessarily so. Yet, Christopher Nolan is a filmmaker who loves exploring challenging scientific concepts and marrying them to hugely involving plots and stylish spectacular action. All credit to him too for pushing himself and the audience!

TENET opens with a fast-paced set-piece located at a Ukrainian opera house. A SWAT team, that includes our unnamed hero, (John David Washington), is there to save a spy and obtain an unidentified object, which will of course become an integral part of the plot later or earlier on in the story. From then on, ‘The Protagonist’, as he later becomes known, becomes embroiled in stopping the megalomaniacal plans of Russian oligarch, Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh). In order to do so he attempts to infiltrate and stop Sator via his bullied wife, Kat (Elizabeth Debicki). Here the Protagonist builds a bond to Kat and this provides the emotional glue of the film. Although, I’ll be honest, I was too busy thinking about the machinations of Nolan’s head-twirling approach to temporal structure, than actually feel much for the characters.



What the film lacks in emotional depth it more than makes up with spectacular action. There are at least six incredible set-pieces that involve hand-to-hand combat, fast-paced vehicle pursuit, bungee-jumping and all-out combat between various government and mercenary factions. Nolan and his production team twist the action with a visually mirrored trick which, well I won’t say anymore. Moreover, the grandiose style and cinematography are eye-popping. Sharp suits, sharper knives and futuristic masks are adorned by the characters giving the spy thriller a hyperreal edge. Similarly, the stunts and editing are superbly orchestrated and executed. Having said that, the sound design and dialogue could have been better. Far be it from me to criticize, but in striving for verisimilitude in the sound, the constant wearing of masks meant important dialogue lacked clarity. Likewise, in the final amazing set-piece I was lost amidst the bodies and explosions as to who was who and why and what and how. Clearly a second and third watch of TENET (2020) is in order.

While the action was pretty much flawless throughout, the screenplay, unlike say Nolan’s prior high-concept masterpiece, INCEPTION (2010), did lack character depth for me. While I realise this was Nolan’s intention, hardly any time is given setting up the characters. So much so they become cyphers within the plot. Nonetheless, the charisma of the cast, notably John David Washington and the impressive Robert Pattinson, dominates the screen and the two bounce off each other magnetically. Elizabeth Debicki and Kenneth Branagh also bring much to their roles, however their subplot involving domestic abuse felt out of place in such a post-modern spectacle. Moreover, Branagh’s oligarch was, in certain scenes, verging on parodic cliche. I wondered if the villain of the piece could have been a little less B-movie heavy at times and possibly more cultured. This is a minor gripe though. After all, he is the bad guy!

Ultimately, TENET (2020) is a big, brash and confident Bond-type film with bells on. Sure, the rules of the world could have been excavated and presented somewhat clearer. But, Nolan favours a breakneck pace and be damned if you cannot keep up. Indeed, I am certain he has covered all the plot-holes (or paradoxes) I thought I saw and numerous questions I had by the end. While it is not without flaws, on first watch, I once again have to congratulate Christopher Nolan for striving for original thinking and fascinating concepts within a genre film. One may even argue that there are too many ideas here and simplification could have created a more emotionally satisfying film. However, there are many moments of cinematic genius in TENET (2020), notably in the Sisyphean payoffs within the inverted plot structure. Finally, one won’t see a more shiny and beautiful looking film all year. The future is bright: the future is Christopher Nolan.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


AMAZON PRIME REVIEWS FEATURING: THE BOYS (S1), THE EXPANSE (S1) and PREACHER (S1)

REVIEWS OF THE BOYS (2019), THE EXPANSE (2016) & PREACHER (2016)

So, we are now a few weeks into the lockdown scenario caused by the COVID-19 virus and I have been off work for around that amount of time too. Tragically people are dying, and we owe it to be responsible by continuing to follow the rules laid down that will prevent the spread of the infection. It’s tough for everyone including families, employees and businesses. The capitalist system has taken a massive hit, and some will not survive in terms of life and work. I am not a religious person, but I pray to everyone’s God, whoever that may be, society comes through this. We are digging tunnels, looking for light and an escape. It cannot come soon enough.

In terms of escape it has never been easier to find both the time and formats with which to fill the gap. Thankfully the internet is still up and running, thus I have been filling my time in — aside from some minor administrative work-from-home stuff — writing my film reviews, editing and posting short videos, exercising and watching quite a lot of television and film content. Anything to stop me from becoming a beer monster or functioning alcoholic – AGAIN! The latest focussed viewing has been of Amazon Prime, and the many boxsets they have. So, here are mini reviews of three shows I have seen recently. All with the usual marks out of eleven.

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



THE BOYS (2019) – SEASON 1 – PRIME VIDEO

Based on the comic book series created by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, this violent superhero comedy is the complete antithesis of the Marvel Universe. Taking savage satirical swipes at huge corporations and United States foreign policy, it features a group of vigilantes, led by Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) called ‘The Boys.’ For a variety of reasons, including good old-fashioned revenge, they have targeted the most powerful business in the world, Vought International. Vought control and monetize ‘The Seven’, a group of all-powerful superheroes who happen to mostly be narcissistic, unstable and psychotic arseholes.

The initial episodes started slowly for me and I found it difficult to warm to any of the characters. This could simply be superhero fatigue or certain weaknesses in the writing throughout. However, the spikes of tremendous action, vicious humour and spectacular violence kept me on board. Elisabeth Shue and Antony Starr impress as the nefarious villains, while Erin Moriarty shone as the one decent superhero, Starlight. The least said about the shockingly bad English accent Karl Urban delivers the better. I mean his acting is impressive, but mate – come on!!

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



THE EXPANSE (2015) – SEASON 1 – SYFY/AMAZON PRIME

Usually when I see something is on the Syfy channel I baulk slightly. I mean the shows are pretty decent as a rule, but some right old fantasy schlock can get dumped there. So, with a saturated streaming market offering a plethora of U.S. cable shows, sometimes the Syfy channel shows get short shrift. It’s a shame because The Expanse is a really good science-fiction programme which began airing on Syfy, but is now on Amazon Prime. The sci-fi show hangs tonally between Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982) and the Philip K. Dick-style “Mars v Terra” stories I have read. Indeed, while it doesn’t contain actual aliens or Dick’s surreal explorations of the psyche, it is, in fact, a fantastically plotted and styled industrial, political and humanistic set of narratives.

Based on James S. A. Corey’s (a pseudonym I believe for two writers), The Expanse (Season 1), is set hundreds of years into the Earth’s future and space has been colonized. But it’s not a utopia. Mars, Earth and an outer-planetary system of space stations called ‘The Belt’ are all conflicted on the brink of civil or galactic war. The multiple narratives follow the likes of the always-excellent, Thomas Jane, as a grizzled cop investigating a missing person and a space freighter gang led by Stephen Strait. The latter’s crew go from episode to episode finding life-threatening situations throughout. It’s a space-rock solid production full of twists, action and conspiracies; retaining a cynical, noir and unglamorous edge which makes me want to watch further seasons.

Mark: 8.5 out of 11



PREACHER (2016) – SEASON 1 – AMC/AMAZON PRIME

Developed by Hollywood players Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, along with Breaking Bad writer, Sam Catlin, this darkly comedic post-modern vision of heaven and hell is based on a comic book by Garth Ennis (that man again) and Steve Dillon. Starring the very reliable Dominic Cooper as hard drinking and former career criminal-turned Preacher, Jesse Custer, we find him losing faith in a small Texan town and a dwindling set of hopeless parishioners. That is until one day he is struck by some twisted divine interpretation. Then, literally, all hell breaks loose as Custer battles his inner demons and the local slaughterhouse baron portrayed with callous joy by Jackie Earle Haley.

Like The Boys, I initially found Preacher a little bit slow in terms of setting up the story and characters. But I think that was deliberate as there are so many crazy concepts relating to religion and the afterlife in here, a balance had to be given to combining the fantastic and more realistic elements. I’m not sure they’re wholly successful, however, Cooper is great, and he is ably supported by the effervescent Ruth Negga as his tough-talking ex-girlfriend, Tulip. Moreover, English actor Joseph Gilgun steals the show as the Irish sidekick with a dark secret. While the narrative moves steadily, with arguably too many secondary characters, the bloody gore levels during the fight scenes are absolutely spectacular. If, like me, you enjoy irreverent bible-black comedy which offends most religions and contains lashings of ultra-violence, then Preacher is definitely one to pray to the lords of television for.

Mark: 8 out of 11 (but 10 out of 11 for the gore)

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #13 – BLADERUNNER (1982) – “TEARS IN THE RAIN.”

CLASSIC MOVIE SCENES #13 – BLADERUNNER (1982) – “TEARS IN THE RAIN.”

Directed by: Ridley Scott

Produced by: Michael Deeley

Screenplay by: Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples – based on the novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

Cast: Harrison Ford, Rutger Hauer, Sean Young, Daryl Hannah, James Edward Olmos etc.

Cinematography: Jordan Cronenworth

Music: Vangelis

*** CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS ***



Philip K. Dick’s dense, dystopic and futuristic novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968), is an ugly, beautiful, depressing, obtuse, hypnotic skip-through-treacle read full of incredible concepts relating to: Artificial Intelligence; robot technology; android simulacra; animal husbandry; apocalyptic disease; virtual reality/empathy mood tech; extinguished humanity; and ultimately, of course, mortality and death. The fact that Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples were able to fashion a workable screenplay for Ridley Scott to direct is a creative miracle. Moreover, it is testament to the writing and Scott’s incredible production team that, Bladerunner (1982), is held in such high esteem among cinema fans now.

The original Bladerunnerdespite bombing at the box office and subsequently going through a number of cuts, re-cuts, final cuts and re-re-re-releases, has become a bona fide science fiction cinema classic. I watched the original theatrical version recently and despite the deadpan Harrison Ford voiceover and spurious, tacked on “happy” ending, it actually has a lot going for it. Obviously the ‘Unicorn Dream’ re-edits released under the guidance of Ridley Scott are the purer versions but the film holds up notably because of Ford’s gruff, depressive and world-weary performance as Rick Deckard; the imperious psychopathy of Rutger Hauer as android assassin Roy Batty; Scott’s glorious tech noir rendition of our desecrated future; as well as the evocation of Philip K Dick’s thematic existential power.

Such existential power is demonstrated in one of the final scenes where Batty has pushed Deckard to the edge of a building and death. The rain falls and the majestic soundtrack swells. A stripped down Batty, rather than let Deckard die, saves his life. It’s an ambiguous decision, but one of redemption for a replicant that is more used to delivering death. Perhaps, it proves that Batty does indeed have human qualities and Deckard will take up the cause. Delivering one final heartfound speech, Batty regales and laments the beautiful things he has seen. But they are gone – just like tears in the rain. It is a moving epitaph and amazing end to an incredible science-fiction classic. Batty closes down for good, but his demise and Hauer’s incredible performance will live long in the memory.


THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020) – MOVIE REVIEW

THE INVISIBLE MAN (2020)

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Screenplay by Leigh Whannell – based on H. G. Wells The Invisible Man

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie du Fresne

Main cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Harriet Dyer, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Michael Dorman,

Music: Benjamin Wallfisch

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***



Many a work, home, pub, dinner party and school conversation has started with the following question: what would YOU do if you were invisible? Depending on the company it’s something that can descend into wild fantasy territory. Being invisible will allow you the freedom to spy and become the ultimate voyeur. You could also become a criminal and creep into places without being seen to thieve. You could be a prankster and play tricks on your friends and family. You could become a superhero, battle crime and help people. You could simply just disappear not just literally, but philosophically from society. The possibilities are endless.

H. G. Wells original novel is an absolute genre masterpiece. Arguably the most famous version was filmed in 1933 with incredible practical effects and an exceptional performance from Claude Rains. In this new version the conventional invisible scientist-goes-mad story is twisted successfully into an exhilarating horror suspense film with themes relating to toxic masculinity and abusive relationships. Here invisibility is used to control and instil fear, as the recently deceased Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is, according to his ex-partner, Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss), targeting her from the grave.


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Leigh Whannell has great experience writing and producing low-budget horror films including: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). His last directorial release, Upgrade (2018), was a fantastic mix of 1980’s B-movies, sci-fi and horror cinema. Building on the crowd-pleasing thrills of Upgrade, Whannell has crafted a paranoiac classic with Elisabeth Moss giving a fantastically nerve-shredding and physically adept performance. From the tense opening scene, we empathise with her desire to escape a controlling and malevolent force. Building slowly throughout the first act, Whannell’s script brilliantly picks up the pace and plots Cecilia’s descent into a living hell. Consequently, Cecilia’s anxiety reaches peak stress as no one believes she is being set up by a gas-lighting, unseen and venal monster.

It pays to see this film on the big screen with the finest sound quality available. I watched it on an IMAX screen where the sound design and Benjamin Wallfisch’s amazing score really enhance the fear-inducing visuals. How the production team made this film for a reported $7 million dollars is beyond me. Yet, Whannell is an economical and highly efficient filmmaker. His writing is lean and mean, as the script is full of fantastic set-pieces and plot reversals. Moreover, the story is very relevant, exploring the themes of the day relating to domestic abuse, depression and mental illness. However, it’s not an overbearing message movie, but rather a smart and surprising thriller.

Overall, The Invisible Man (2020) starts strongly and proceeds to deliver a series of gripping and, at times, heart-in-the-mouth cinematic moments. There are none of the usual scientific and over-expositional set-ups that can slow down such films. The visuals, sound, score and performances deliver the story most effectively. I felt like there were a few fuzzy plot moments that Whannell could have explained in more detail, however, that could have hindered the pace of the story. Finally, with Elisabeth Moss imbuing her character with resilience, energy and steel, we get an individual who will never give up. She sees through her ghosting nemesis and will fight to the last breath to prove her innocence and remain in control.

Mark: 9 out of 11


TO BOLDLY REVIEW #8 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1989 – 1990)– SEASON 3

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #8 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION (1989 – 1990)– SEASON 3

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 3 writers (selected): Michael Piller, Michael Wagner, Melinda Snodgrass, Richard Manning, Ronald D. Moore, David Kemper, Hannah Louise Shearer, Sam Rolfe, Robin Bernheim, Richard Danus, Ed Zuckerman, Joseph Stefano, Rene Echevarria, David Bischoff, Sally Caves, Susan Sackett, Hans Beimler, etc.

Season 3 directors (selected): Jonathan Frakes, Winrich Kolbe, Rob Bowman, Robert Becker, Les Landau, Robert Scheerer, Joseph L. Scanlan, Cliff Bole, Robert Legato, Tom Benko, Chip Chalmers, Timothy Bond, David Carson, Gabrielle Beaumont, etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Whoopi Goldberg, Colm Meaney, Michael Dorn, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, John De Lancie, Dwight Schultz etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**



Thus, my ongoing viewing project of watching ALL the Star Trek series and films in order of release date continues. I have already covered the pro-genesis of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION here. So, I won’t cover the same ground again. With Season 3 we saw the return of Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher, replacing the sterner virtues of Doctor Pulaski. Other than that, the established crew of the Enterprise were all present and correct.

The season as a whole continued, and even improved, the consistent qualities of Season 2. Indeed, there was a great balance between romantic, comedic, dramatic, tragic, action and sci-fi genre storylines. The appearances of Romulans, Klingons and the Ferengi further cemented their place in Star Trek lore. Yet, there was also space in the bumper twenty-six episodes for new species, beings and aliens to appear. Plus, not forgetting the return of that very formidable foe, The Borg.

I especially thought the narrative balance was very good throughout. All the Enterprise crew got episodes dedicated to their characters and a chance to shine individually and as part of the ensemble. We also got some fine guest appearances as new characters were introduced. Anyway, here are six episodes from Season 3 that I particularly enjoyed.


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THE VENGEANCE FACTOR – EPISODE 9

Here Riker finds himself romantically entwined as Picard attempts to broker peace between two factions hellbent on a blood feud. I enjoyed it because of the murder mystery aspect. Also, Jonathan Frakes impressed as Riker in the leading romantic hero role.


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THE HUNTED – EPISODE 11

This fast-paced and action-packed episode found the crew meeting their match, as they face off against a genetically enhanced soldier portrayed by Jeffrey McCarthy. With echoes of Universal Soldier (1992), the episode has emotional depth too because it explores the disregard of veteran soldiers by the ruling classes once war is over.


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YESTERDAY’S ENTERPRISE – EPISODE 15

The writers deserves a lot of praise for constructing such an imaginative and intelligent alternative-timeline narrative. A rift in space and time creates another version of the Enterprise. In this timeline war rages with the Klingons and moreover reveals Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) to still be alive. Only Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) senses something isn’t right and what ensues is a complex story; thoroughly enjoyable from both plot and emotional perspectives.


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THE OFFSPRING – EPISODE 16

One of the big story questions that hung over the series for me was: why didn’t they try and replicate Data in some way? This concept is explored in this very moving episode when he constructs another android called, Lal (Hallie Todd). Brett Spiner is on great form as Data faces a difficult choice,; having to choose between his “daughter” and Starfleet regulations.


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SINS OF THE FATHER – EPISODE 17

Any episode with Lt. Worf (Michael Dorn) as the lead protagonist is always intriguing. Here Worf must face potential death in defending his family honour against the Klingon High Council. Tony Todd appears as Worf’s brother and the chance to further explore Klingon culture amidst a conspiracy plot leads to a really good episode.


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THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS – PART 1 – EPISODE 26

I can only imagine what emotions the Star Trek fans felt at the time when they witnessed Jean Luc Picard’s transformation into the Borg known as Locutus. In what must be one of the greatest cliff-hanger TV moments of all time, this episode had strong writing and incredible conflict. The addition of Elizabeth Dennehy to the crew of the Enterprise, as the ambitious and formidable, Lt. Commander Shelby, also added to the overall quality of this brilliant episode.


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MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #1 – SARAH CONNOR

MEMORABLE FILM CHARACTERS #1 – SARAH CONNOR



**CONTAINS SPOILERS**


Having briefly explored what makes up film character personas in this article here, I thought it would be fun to start a new feature which looks at memorable film characters. So, with Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) in the cinema, I wanted to look at one of the greatest character narrative arcs ever in my opinion. When I say character arc, I am talking of the transformation of a character throughout a film or films. Because for me, the arc of Sarah Connor is absolutely brilliant.

I haven’t seen Terminator: Dark Fate (2019), as for me, the Terminator franchise is a spent force narratively speaking. I’m sure it’s a great spectacle, but I am more interested in speaking about James Cameron’s first two genre masterpieces. I am specifically intrigued by Sarah Connor movement from timid waitress to hardcore rebel fighter. Thus, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke’s turns as the character are ignored here.



The genius of James Cameron’s original film The Terminator (1984) is how it is both simple and complex at the same time. It takes time travel tropes, which while very familiar today, were extremely fresh and exciting back in the 1980s. Mashing up ideas from literary science fiction, Star Trek , The Twilight Zone and films like Westworld (1973), Cameron gave us one of the greatest bad guys and heroines ever committed to film. Plus, he did it all on a $7 million budget!!

At the heart of the sci-fi, war and thriller genres is an intriguing character study and even a love story. The Terminator (1984) introduces Sarah Connor as a waitress who is having a bad day. It’s about to get worse. She has been murdered and it’s on TV. Well, it’s not her, but someone with the same name as her. Very quickly she is confronted by a man from the future, Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn), claiming she is the mother of the person who will be a future saviour. How do you process THAT?!? Mind blown!!



Kyle Reese and Sarah Connor then find themselves pursued by a futuristic cyborg (Arnold Schwarzenegger), hell bent on her destruction. Here she learns more and more about the future and how machines will take control, but her son, John, will lead the resistance. Thus, over the course of the film, as Sarah learns about her fate, the audience learns too. Sarah begins as a conduit and passive, before transforming slowly into an aggressive and battle-hardened fighter.

When the events of Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), come around we meet a whole different kind of Sarah Connor. She has transformed into a muscular and angry revolutionary. Not surprisingly, her narratives about future robots and the apocalypse find her sectioned. But, we know she is telling the truth. Moreover, due to her toughness, guile and resourcefulness, she is now very capable. No four walls will hold Sarah Connor.

Finally, Linda Hamilton’s performance must be praised too. In the first film she is a small character, quiet, likeable and lacking confidence. Over the course of the two films her physical, mental and emotional transformation is very impressively rendered. Cameron’s writing and Hamilton’s commitment to the role make Sarah Connor a highly memorable film character for me.



I AM NETFLIX – UNOFFICIAL FILM FESTIVAL! REVIEWS OF: EL CAMINO (2019), PADDLETON (2019), WILDLIFE (2019) and many, many more. . .

I AM NETFLIX – UNOFFICIAL FILM FESTIVAL!

I am still perplexed how the Netflix business model works, however, the amount of viewing I get for my subscription fee is quite incredible. In the last month or so I have squeezed even more value out of it too.

Having caught up with some Amazon, Netflix and Sky television shows of late, I realised I had missed a number of film releases on Netflix. I have since rectified that by watching loads of them in an unofficial Netflix Film Festival.

So, here are some quick-fire reviews of newer film releases, ones I missed on initial cinema release and some re-watches too. All are marked out of eleven and organised in order of enjoyment.

**SPOILER FREE**



HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

BLACK 47 (2018)

Excellent chase thriller set in Ireland during the famine of the 1840s. Like Rambo meets Irish historical drama, it was both gritty and compelling throughout. Mark: 8 out of 11


BLINDSPOTTING (2018)

This excellent urban comedy-drama impresses with humour, poetry and adroit social commentary. Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal excel as friends trying to steer clear of the law – Mark: 8 out of 11


COLOSSAL (2016)

This quarter-life crisis drama meets monster movie is tonally uneven, but full of fantastic ideas. Anne Hathaway is great as the party person trying to get her shit together! Mark: 9 out of 11


EL CAMINO (2019)

Did you ever wonder what happened to Jesse Pinkmon (Aaron Paul) after Breaking Bad finished? I didn’t. But this neo-Western fills in the gaps in an entertaining and solid fashion. Mark: 8 out of 11


THE GUILTY (2018)

Danish thriller findsan emergency call handler (Jacob Cedergren), striving to save a woman’s life. Tense, claustrophobic and full of twists, it’s low budget but high in suspense. Mark: 9 out of 11


PADDLETON (2019)

Starring the affable Mark Duplass and the brilliant Ray Romano, this low-key story of friendship is both funny and moving in equal measures. Mark: 8.5 out of 11



PRETTY GOOD!

AT ETERNITY’S GATE (2018)

Pretentious, elegant and beautifully told story of the last days of Vincent Van Gogh (Willem Dafoe) Mark: 7 out of 11


BETWEEN TWO FERNS: THE MOVIE (2019)

Sporadically hilarious talk show parody, with Zach Galifianakis asking dumb questions to a host of celebrities. Mark: 7.5 out of 11


I AM MOTHER (2019)

Almost brilliant science fiction film, full of great concepts and visuals. It’s let down by a very confusing ending. Mark: 7 out of 11


IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOON (2019)

Very effective mixture of sci-fi and B-movie thriller genres, finds Boyd Holbrook’s cop chasing a serial killer. Mark: 7.5 out of 11


WILDLIFE (2018)

Interesting portrait of a dysfunctional 1960s U.S. family. The acting is great but the story rarely catches fire. Mark: 7 out of 11



NOT TOO BAD!

ADRIFT (2018)

Love, disaster and survival set on a yacht – Mark: 6 out of 11


A FUTILE AND STUPID GESTURE (2018)

Amusing look at the history of satirical magazine, National Lampoon – Mark: 6.5 out of 11


CHARLIE WILSON’S WAR (2007)

Hit and miss historical satire about the war in Afghanistan. Mark: 6 out of 11


HUNTER KILLER (2018)

Efficient Cold War B-movie with dodgy plotting, but decent action set-pieces – Mark: 6 out of 11



KILL THE MESSENGER (2014)

Interesting but undramatic profile of a journalist who uncovers a US Government conspiracy. Mark: 6 out of 11


MURDER MYSTERY (2019)

The cast get a luxury holiday as the audience get a frothy and silly Agatha Christie knock-off! Mark: 6 out of 11


RATTLESNAKE (2019)

Entertaining and tense, race-against-time thriller which finds a mother with an unenviable dilemma. Mark: 6.5 out of 11


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THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER AND THEN BIGFOOT (2018)

Sam Elliott excels in this weird, slow-moving drama, which in no way lives up to the fantastic title. Mark: 5.5 out of 11


THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT (2019)

Great cast and worthy narrative cannot save this political thriller from falling short by the end. Mark: 5.5 out of 11


SHAFT (2019)

Samuel L. Jackson acting talent cannot quite save another reboot of the classic 1970’s private investigator. Mark: 5.5 out of 11



AVOID!

HAPPYTIME MURDERS (2018)

Gross out puppet comedy which is horrific in every way! Mark: 2 out of 11


IN THE TALL GRASS (2019)

Decent horror story, ultimately gets lost in the weeds! Mark: 4 out of 11


SUBURBICON (2017)

Two narratives fail to gel in this 1950’s set misfire! Mark: 4 out of 11


TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1 (1987 – 1988)

TO BOLDLY REVIEW #6 – STAR TREK: NEXT GENERATION – SEASON 1

Based on Star Trek & Created by: Gene Roddenberry

Season 1 writers (selected): John F. Black, Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Kathryn Powers, Gene Roddenberry, Joseph Stefano, Tracy Torme etc.

Season 1 directors (selected): Colin Bucksey, Rob Bowman, Cliff Bole, Les Landau, Kim Manners, Win Phelps, Mike Vejar etc.

Main Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, LeVar Burton, Denise Crosby, Michael Dorn, Gates McFadden, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Wil Wheaton etc.

Music/Composers: Alexander Courage, Jerry Goldsmith, Dennis McCarthy, Ron Jones, Jay Chattaway

Production Company(s): Paramount Television, CBS Television

**THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS**

“MAKE IT SO. . .”

So, my cultural journey beyond the stars continues with a review of the first season of Star Trek: Next Generation. It took some serious time for what was originally known as Phase II to take off. Indeed, they finally hit warp speed during the late 1980’s. Roddenberry, the original Enterprise crew, plus swarms of Paramount employees had kept themselves busy with the ‘Original Series’ cinema releases, but, in 1986, a new TV series was announced.

Then, almost a year later in September 1987, Star Trek: Next Generation was released. TNG featured: a new crew, a more advanced class of Enterprise, and a variety of new aliens, planets and galaxies to boldly explore. While there was an initial decree to avoid all the old enemies from the original series, the Klingons, Romulans and more, slowly bled into the show as it was further developed.

FIRST CONTACT

Much has been written about Star Trek in general and the internet is brimming with articles, features, interviews, podcasts, fan films and documentaries which would take an immortal’s lifetime to read. So, my approach to this piece is to concentrate on the characters, narratives, themes and concepts which leapt out while watching it.

Overall, I really enjoyed most of Star Trek: Next Generation – Season 1. I have read that die-hard fans were resistant to the idea their favourite show from the 1960’s was getting a makeover. However, Paramount/CBS Studios chucked $1.3 million at each episode and shot on 35MM film, thus demonstrating a commitment to a quality product.

Even watching it now I am impressed by the production values, cast, direction and science fiction concepts. Obviously some of the effects are a bit dated compared to what we experience today but I always prefer in-camera effects and prosthesis, anyway. Having said that Star Trek has always been about strong ideas and themes for me.

In terms of story and character there are some very strong episodes and some pretty weak ones. Gene Roddenberry, his producers and raft of writers were, reported to be consistently at loggerheads throughout the production. So much so very few of the original TNG writing team remained by the end. It’s a testament to the rock-solid formula of the show that such issues did not hinder the ultimate consistency of entertainment while I was watching.

My main criticism is that some episodes felt like first drafts. Plus, there was, on occasions, a few episodes which were top heavy in set-up and rushed toward the end. Nonetheless, Roddenberry’s original format is always fascinating and you could certainly feel that when they successfully married: the science fiction concepts, characters, tone and dialogue you got many great episodes.

THE FAMILY UNIT

Holding the narratives and show together was an exceptionally brilliant set of actors. I mean, in the cold light of space, Star Trek: Next Generation could be deemed just men, women and aliens in silly outfits. Of course, we know it’s much more intelligent than that. So with acting heavyweight Patrick Stewart leading the way, all the cast were committed to their roles formidably. They had to be for it to work so well.

To me TNG was structured around a quasi-family unit, as opposed to the naval/military hierarchy of the ‘Original Series’. Captain Jean-Luc Picard majestically leads from the front with authority and a keen sense of fair play. Dr Beverly Crusher is the pseudo-matriarch, both professional and caring. Further, the other main members of the crew are, very loosely speaking, the children.

Riker I’d suggest is the first son and heir apparent, closely followed in the hierarchy by Geordi. The likes of data and Wesley are the younger, gifted children, full of intelligence and enquiry. The sensitive, Troi and tougher Yasha represent the older daughters, while I’m not quite sure how the Klingon, Worf, fits in. Perhaps, he’s a bastard son or long lost cousin seeking affirmation of the family unit. Thus, these characters as a ‘family’ support the spine of the show, all combining with varying strength and characteristics to form a whole that propels both drama and emotion.

THE REST IS HISTORY. . .

Star Trek: Next Generation consisted of TWENTY-SIX episodes!! While no doubt well paid, this remains an incredible workload for the cast and crew. Initially, the season got off to a difficult start in terms of ratings and reviews. Nonetheless, by the end of the season , the class of the production and format shone through. Furthermore, it would be nominated for seven Emmy TV awards. Ratings would also improve and it became the highest rated syndication series by the end of the run. To conclude, I would like to look at six episodes from season 1 which I felt stood out while I watched them.

THE BIG GOODBYE – EPISODE 12

The ‘Holodeck‘ plays a huge part in the series as a whole. It’s a fantastic way to marry the past and future together. In this clever episode Picard attempts to escape into one of his favourite film noir simulations but gets more than he bargained for. Then when the holodeck malfunctions, Picard and his crew find themselves in the midst of a simulated “real-life” and perilous gangster mystery.

DATALORE – EPISODE 13

I love a good Jekyll and Hyde story and this one explores the origin of much respected android, Data. Brett Spiner is such a good television actor and he nails both roles as Data and his “brother” Lore, who, as genre conventions require, is basically bad Data and hell-bent on taking control of the Enterprise.

HEART OF GLORY – EPISODE 20

Obviously the stories involving the Federation are always interesting but often I really enjoy the more personal narratives. In this episode Michael Dorn as Worf finds his allegiances between the Enterprise and fellow Klingons tested. It’s a fine character exploration as we get to see Worf’s warrior persona versus the more reasoned Starfleet side.

THE ARSENAL OF FREEDOM – EPISODE 21

War, or threat of war has always been at the heart of many great episodes. The concept that a planet of arms dealers who are killed by their own hi-tech product was a great idea. It also gave the crew and Enterprise major threats on the planet they visit and in space. The action, character development and suspense make this a very thrilling episode all-round.

SYMBIOSIS – EPISODE 22

Social commentary was a key component of the ‘Original Series’. Many episodes tapped into the zeitgeist of the 1960’s issues relating to war, race, religion and gender etc. TNG continued this tradition with Symbiosis which expertly explores the nature of narcotic addiction and how it can be exploited to negative effect by an alien race. I especially enjoyed the grey ending where the ‘Prime Directive‘ comes into play.

CONSPIRACY – EPISODE 25

A major rule throughout Star Trek is that the Federation is not to be shown as corrupt. There have been exceptions to this in certain feature films and they get around this in Conspiracy with the Federation top brass invaded by parasitic aliens. The narrative was very strong and felt like a feature film story in scale. I also loved the David Cronenberg-style monsters appearance in the gory finale.

DOCTOR WHO –S11 – EP. 10 REVIEW – THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS (2018)

DOCTOR WHO – REVIEW – THE BATTLE OF RANSKOOR AV KOLOS (2018)

Directed by: Jamie Childs

Written by:  Chris Chibnall

Cast: Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, Bradley Walsh, Tosin Cole, Phyllis Logan, Mark Addy, Percelle Ascott, Samuel Oatley, Jan Le 

Produced by: Alex Mercer

Executive producer(s): Chris Chibnall, Matt Strevens, Sam Hoyle

Music composer: Segun Akinola

**SPOILER WARNING**

Notwithstanding the New Year’s Day special coming on the first day of 2019, season 11 of Doctor Who came to an end with an episode which was certainly a big improvement on the last two episodes. As a whole this season has been very hit-and-miss and despite the lofty title, The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, promised much but just about delivered more hit than miss. Arguably, it was a pretty simple narrative of return and retribution as the Doctor and companions came face-to-face with an old adversary.

Firstly, I must say it was a gorgeously shot with the craggy locations of the planet contrasting impressively with the futuristic spacecraft and alien technology. On the whole the series has, despite some very dodgy CGI in a couple of episodes been lovely to look at. Likewise the guest stars in many of the episodes have been very good and in The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos seasoned character actors Mark Addy and Phyllis Logan bring resonance to the drama.

Answering a legion of distress signals brings the Doctor and the Tardis crew to Ranskoor Av Kolos circa year 5425. There they find aplanet ravaged by conflict and an amnesiac soldier Paltraki (Addy) who has lost his mind and crew. Soon the Doctor comes face to face with an ancient race called ‘The Ux’; an all-powerful duo able to build worlds with their minds.Basically they are like a telepathic Minecraft player but dealing with complex chemical and physical reality rather than computers.

More dramatically, however, is the nemesis of the piece. Having dispatched the ‘Predator’-like villain – from the very first episode of this series – the Tzim-Sha into dimensional space they find him now wreaking havoc on Ranskoor Av Kolos. He exploits The Ux’s incredible power and religious naivety to create a weapon of mass destruction and terrorize the galaxy. But who will stop him we ask? The Doctor of course!  Well, with revenge on his mind (for the death of his wife, Grace) Graham has a moral choice of killing Tzim-Sha/Tim Shaw or being the better man. It’s this emotional conflict which gives the episode its’ most interesting aspect. Indeed, once again Bradley Walsh gets the most to work with out of the companions.

 

Overall, Chris Chibnall’s writing has been criticized on social media by irritated fans, however, I don’t actually think the concepts and general writing of the show are as bad as people say. What I think has been flawed is the rewriting and development of many of the scripts. I actually think ten singular episodes are probably too many, and like some of Capaldi’s episodes, they set-up excellent dramatic situations but had rushed endings. I believe they should go for say five stories (over ten episodes) at maximum and develop the characters more so we feel for them and the stories have a chance to breathe. Lastly, I think Jodie Whittaker has been excellent carrying the show but I never liked her costume and the direction of the Doctor as a breathless, wacky primary teacher sort did not gel with me. But as Sunday entertainment goes The Battle of Ranskoor Av Kolos, and the series as a whole was enjoyable, if slightly underwhelming television.                  

Mark: 7.5 out of 11

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW – a tremendous B-movie-sci-fi-cult-classic!

UPGRADE (2018) – MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Leigh Whannell

Produced by: Jason Blum, Kylie Du Fresne, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones

Written by: Leigh Whannell

Starring: Logan Marshall-Green, Betty Gabriel, Harrison Gilbertson

Music by: Jed Palmer

Cinematography: Stefan Duscio

Edited by: Andy Canny

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For me Australian filmmaker Leigh Whannell is one of the best screenwriters out there. He has been involved in the writing of TWO fantastic horror originals: Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). Furthermore, he has written and directed a brilliant sci-fi-horror-B-Movie in Upgrade. He is a great writer because he brings conceptual invention with strong style and tight economy. What he shows is that you don’t need billions of dollars to make an entertaining film but rather a decent script with focussed ideas and great twists at the end.

I watched his latest film Upgrade (2018) at a Fright Fest 2018 preview and its blend of science fiction, body horror and bloody gore was lapped up by the packed crowd. The director, Leigh Whannell, did a Q & A afterwards and spoke of his desire evoke the spirit of the 1980s low budget films like The Terminator (1984) and he certainly achieved that in my view. His budget of $5 million dollars was stretched by incentives from the Australian government and what it lacks in scale, the movie more than makes up in a look and style which echoes that of those 1980s sci-fi classics.

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Upgrade’s story is very simple and similar in some ways to Death Wish (1974) and also the recent assassin shoot-em-up-actioner John Wick (2014). But the joy is not so much in the plot but in the exceptionally well devised character arc our hero, Grey Trace (Logan Marshall Green), goes through. Left a depressed, suicidal and a quadriplegic by a vicious robbery he is given the opportunity to revitalise his body by a computer genius, Eron Keen (Harrison Gilbertson). Hell-bent on finding the killers of his wife he agrees to surgery which will implant an artificially intelligent programme into his body and enable him to walk again. After which the story moves at some pace as he first comes to terms with the new technology, before his descent into the criminal underworld really gathers speed.

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STEM itself is a fine supporting character too. There is much humour in Logan Marshall-Green’s performance and his interaction with the “HAL9000-like” computer in his head. Marshall-Green also excels physically during the brutal and fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Indeed, the bloody violence is a joy and I actually wanted more gore as less definitely WAS NOT more. But, overall, this is a fantastically enjoyable B-movie mash-up with an incredible look for such a low budget film. Shadow, fluorescent light, darkness, blood, metal and strobes all co-mingle to startling effect. The score by Jed Palmer is a brooding classic and some of the technological concepts relating to bionic and Nano-technology were very inventive. Above all else, it’s Whannell’s lean and mean machine of a script that wins the day; he certainly deserves to work on a bigger scale no doubt!

(Mark: 9 out of 11)