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 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 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.