Monday, 30 January 2017

Hacksaw Ridge

Haxx0r Ridge is the latest film by Mel Gibson and tells the story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the first conscientious objector in history to get the Medal of Honor (sic) for bravery while under fire.

Desmond is a devout Seventh Day Adventist from Virginia, brought up by a loving mother (Rachel Griffiths) and an abusive alcoholic father (Hugo Weaving) who is an understandable mentally scarred World War 1 veteran.
Due to a series of violent incidences in his life, Desmond has become a pacifist. This causes confusion when he signs up to take part in World War 2, especially amongst his regiment, who regard him as a coward.

The sergeant of his regiment (Sgt Howell) is played by Vince Vaughn, who is obviously trying to channel R Lee Ermey from the Kubrick masterpiece "Full Metal Jacket". Despite this, he manages to be hilarious, and makes the role his own.
There are quite a few actors, many of whom are recognisable, and all of whom are excellent. However, listing them all will take ages, so I won't do it.

The film can be considered in three acts: The first is before he signs up, when he starts his relationship with Doroth Schutte (Teresa Palmer)
The second is while he is being trained, struggling with how he is treated by the people he wants to help, and how that affects his relationship.
The third is once he is finally goes to the front lines as a medic, without any kind of weapon.

I'm not sure how much to describe, as the basis of the film is historical fact which you can look up, but it might spoil some of the gravitas of Desmond's deeds. I imagine that there was some poetic license taken, but regardless of that the bravery of the main character is frankly unfathomable.

Wracking my brains for any negative aspects of the film, all I can think of is that the war scenes feature a lot of quite obvious CG, which does detract from how brutal and visceral the battles are.

Overall I think this film is incredible - the acting is fantastic, and the story is one which I think deserves to be known by everybody on the planet. If this doesn't win an Oscar I'll be shocked.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Moana

Moana is the latest film by Pixar, with a story based on Polynesian mythology and a cast made up largely of actors from the region.

The story is that in the beginning there was only ocean, but then the goddess Te Fiti created islands and life, before going to sleep as an island herself.
Later, the shape-shifting demi-god Maui (Dwane "The Rock" Johnson) steals Te Fiti's heart, but gets defeated by a demon while trying to escape, losing the heart.
Due to the theft, a black miasma is spreading throughout the world, and will eventually envelop it all.

Moana (Auli'i Cravalho) is the daughter of the chief (Temuera Morrison) of a self-sufficient island with a policy of isolationism, surrounded by a reef that means the sea around the island is peaceful. Encouraged by her grandmother (Rachel House), and magically chosen by the ocean itself, Moana goes against her father's wishes to leave the island, find Maui and return the heart.

The songs throughout the film are fairly good, though the one that is nominated for an Oscar is not to my tastes. I greatly enjoyed Maui's introduction "You're welcome!", and felt a little bit disappointed by Jermain Clement's "Shiny" - in that case I found the music drowned out the lyrics, but that might have just been an issue with the cinema.

I cannot find any fault with the actors in the film, but I will say that Dwane Johnson brings his usual incredible charisma to the role.

The script is full of brilliant jokes, including a wonderfully self-aware reference to the fact that Moana will inevitably become a Disney Princess, despite not being a princess. The story is touching, and since I didn't know anything of the mythology involved, the story was fascinating to me (though I imagine there was some artistic liberty at play.)

The actual rendering and character designs are fantastic - they are obviously stylised, yet the skin textures (including the tattoos) are extremely convincing.

I'm not sure what else I can say - it's absolutely a top-tier film, well worth watching.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Passengers

Passengers is a film about the starship, the Avalon, which is on a 120 year trip to the colony of Homestead 2, carrying around 280 members of staff and 5000 passengers, all of whom are in suspended animation.
However, 30 years into the journey something goes wrong, and Jim (Chris Pratt) is woken up.
Being the only human awake on a ship, unable to go into suspended hibernation, and being very restricted in terms of luxuries (such as non-bland food), where your only social interaction is an android barman (Michael Sheen) is an utterly frustrating, hopeless and terrifying concept, which I think the film carries across very well.
It would be enough to drive someone completely insane, which is why is understandable why he eventually elects to wake up Aurora (Jennifer Laurence) - an ethical dilemma that is dwelled upon at first, but somewhat dismissed at hand later on.

It's difficult to discuss too much of the film without spoiling what happens, so I'll leave the story description there.
The film is part psychological horror film, part romance, and mainly sci-fi. The unhelpful artificial intelligences on board, unable to reflect on the cognitive dissonance of the two narratives (pods cannot malfunction, someone is awake too early) were a refreshingly accurate representation of both how difficult it would be to create an AI and how arrogant some people are when it comes to their creations (i.e. completely ignoring the fact of "mean time to failure"); While relativity had no place in the story, it was also nice that communication with Earth was represented realistically.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the film was not only accurate (or at least convincing) when it came to the majority of the science involved, but it was also very accurate to the human aspects of that technology. There were some excellent scenes to do with the consequences of space travel, especially when the artificial gravity fails.
The characters were (mostly) believable, and very well acted.
The story was gripping and moving.
The CGI wasn't distracting (with the exception of a very brief attempt at fabric, which we still suck at), possibly because the rest of the film was good enough to maintain my suspension of disbelief.

I loved it.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Assassin's Creed

Assassin's Creed is a film based upon the video game franchise of the same name, starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, Jeremey Irons and Michael Kenneth Williams.

I have only played some of the first game, so I went into this with only a slight familiarity.

If you have absolutely no knowledge of the franchise, don't worry! The film is here to treat you like an idiot, and tell you the entire plot to the film via a text crawl at the start!

The plot is that the Templar Knights are searching for "The Apple of Eden", which will allow them to eradicate free will in humanity. The only people who know of this and are trying to stop them are a guild of assassins, imaginatively called "The Assassins"

In modern day, Michael Fassbender is killed by lethal injection, but it turns out that it was faked and that he has been "not imprisoned" by the *mumble* company. I'm sure that the company has a genuine name, but no one in the film can say it clearly.

This company has a device called "The Animus" which allows Fassbender to relive the memories of his ancestor, an assassin who guarded the McGuffin. The Mumble company hopes that through this process, Fassbender will lead them to the free will McGuffin, so that they an eradicate violence from the world.

I think that the general plot of the film is actually very good, with lots of interesting and not-completely-unbelievable ideas to explore.
However, my main problem with the film is the opening text crawl. Had that not been there, the story would have evolved fairly naturally. Cotillard talks about eradicating violence from the world, but there is obviously something sinister and underhanded about the company she works for. This builds, until we see scenes where Irons explains about the McGuffin controlling free will.
This could have been a fairly satisfying reveal - the sense of something sinister building into a climax of moustache-twirling villainy... had it not been for the text crawl explaining it at the start of the film.

That's not to say that's the films only problem:
Towards the beginning there is some strange editing choices, especially one scene where it flips between four or five different shots. About half are in a yellow colour, the other half in teal. Of those, one of the teal and one of the yellow shots are extremely bright (including lens-flare), the others are darker. The shots each last for a bit over a second, but it is very disorientating to switch between drastically different colours and brightness levels, repeatedly.
Normally disorientating the viewer is done in order to distract them from something (hence shaky-cam being used in lots of action films), but this seemed pointless. Even more so because some of the shots were also unnecessary.
It's a bit like Battlefield Earth, which uses dutch-angles all the time without understanding what purpose they serve in film-making.

Also during the first act, some of the stunts characters perform are CGI, but it's almost unnoticeable. In a way that's not a good thing, as it creates a little sense that something is wrong, but it was better than normal.
What is fair less forgivable is quite a few shots in the same action scene which are meant to be quick (e.g. riding a horse full-pelt to catch up with a speeding wagon) are quite obviously much slower, and then sped up to give the illusion of speed. Which they fail at. Completely.

My final major complaint is that, in order to service sequel-baiting, a character does a complete 180 degree turn at the very end. The change in attitude is not built up to or earned in the slightest.


I did enjoy myself, and I think there is a very decent sci-fi film in there, but unfortunately it's book-ended by sections with complete and utter contempt for the audience, ridiculous ineptitude at film-editing, and a distinct lack of ability at convincing writing.

Forced to give a score, about 6/10

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Interactive Legacy of Kain Timeline

A few months ago (back in July, actually) I added an interactive variation of the Legacy of Kain timeline, which might be more readable than the tabulated version.

So, why am I posting about this now? Well, I've added an FAQ to it, which will hopefully compensate for some of the questions that people have asked me, as well as covering more general questions about the lore.

You can find it either in the side menu, or here.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One is the first Star Wars spin-off film in out post-episode-seven world. It bridges the gap between episode 3 (Revenge of the Sith) and episode 4 (A New Hope), telling the story of how the rebellion gets its hands on the plans for the Death Star.

The first thing to note is that the opening and music are both noticeably different and similar to the core films, helping cement the fact that this is a spin-off.

The film has 3 distinct acts, each of which is focused on a different planet, though there are more than 3, the others bridging or being repeated through the acts.

The first criticism of the film is that I spent a lot of the first act trying to decide which was less convincing - the lead actress, or a particular CG homunculus.1

The overall Nazi imagery has subtly increased again - "They have a child, find it!" cries the villain.
I greatly appreciate the addition to the Star Wars lore that the film provides - e.g. the Empire are mining Kyber crystals (which power Lightsabers) in order to power the Death Star (so is it essentially a moon-sized Lightsaber?)

There is a huge attention to detail evident - from the fantastic sound design of rain pinging off of weapons and armour, to the changing ranks on the uniforms of soldiers over time. There was a lot of perfectionism involved in the production.

The actors are all good (even if some of them take a while to warm up) - the villain is particularly excellent, and it's fantastically refreshing to see Mads Mikkleson cast as a good guy.

The script is a brilliant mix of drama, tragedy, and hilarity. Though everyone gets a fair share, the comedy show is undoubtedly stolen by the droid H2-SO. I don't think anyone could watch this film without laughing.

You may notice that I'm mostly referring to the actors rather than the characters - it is in part because, despite seeing it twice, I can barely remember the character names. I in fact noted that Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang's names are only mentioned a handful of times, and are difficult to hear at those times. Which is a shame, as they were great characters who deserve to be better known.

On the note of Donnie Yen, his fight scenes are particularly impressive and visceral. Unlike some ignorant professional writers, I appreciated that some of those staff blows could shatter bone, even through armour (which was also visibly breaking apart under the barrage of attacks.)

There is some aerial combat, but the vast majority of it is from the perspective of people on the ground. You may recognise this style of direction from the 2015 Godzilla film, which I also liked and was directed by Gareth Edwards as well.

Despite the stellar script and direction, there are some definitely predictable cliches that occur, and on my second viewing I noticed some blatant continuity errors in relation to Forest Whitaker's costume.

Overall this is an excellent film, despite some flaws, with an utterly brilliant ending.

A very strong 8 out of 10.


SPOILERS




1The aforementioned CG homunculus is Peter Cushing, evidently being dead is not the disability it once was. It's just a shame that the textures are so completely unconvincing.

Another issue that I feel I have to state is that C3-PO and R2-D2 have a cameo towards the end, on Yavin-4. This means that Princess Leia would have to travel there to specifically pick them up, and then rendezvous with the fleet at Skariff. I'm not convinced that the timing for that actually works. To me, it's a humongous plot hole that could have been avoided by not having the cameo in the first place.


My final major criticism is that there is absolutely no Kyle Katarn cameo, despite the fact that the beginning features a shot that was very reminiscent of the Dark Forces box cover:



0 out of 10.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Fantastic Beasts and Where to find them

Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them is a Harry Potter spin-off where Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander (who I really want to call Scaramanga) visiting New York in 1926 with a suitcase full of magical creatures.
Due to a mix up with a wannabe baker (Kowalski, played by Dan Fogler), some of the beasts escape, and Newt needs to get them back.

Also in New York at that point in time is a religious cult, some almost-Amish people, referred to as "The Second Salemers" - as you can probably tell from the name, they claim that witches and wizards exist, and they hunt them.
At the same time, the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA) have rules to prevent normal people (NoMaj-es) from finding out about the magical community. this division is under threat due to the dark wizard Grimwald and his followers, who are causing havoc that is difficult to cover up.

As such, it's rather critical that Newt finds the beasts, both to prevent muggles finding out about magic, and to prevent the creatures getting hurt by people who don't understand them.

The film has a lot of interconnecting plot-threads, all of which get a decent amount of pacing and development. It's quite full, yet never feels particularly rushed. Rowling did extremely well, thanks largely in part that this was written directly as a film rather than adapted from a book.

The acting is excellent, with both a lot of drama and some extremely funny lighter moments. The special effects are fairly good - as is often the case with CG, it's not convincing itself, but the rest of the film is so enjoyable that my suspension of disbelief was not broken.

The only real weak point, in my opinion, was the ending. It had hardly any foreshadowing, and was blatantly done to set up for the next film.

Overall, it was a very good film. The ending feels like a let-down, but largely because we don't have the other films yet. As a standalone film, the ending is poor, but everything else was hugely enjoyable.