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Review: Cowboys & Aliens

This is definitely a film that I had heard about but for one reason another I never got around to actually watching before today. It’s a high concept big budget mixed genre film with a quality cast and yet the reviews were very mixed. I thought it was exactly what it set out to be and I had really fun time watching it.

A man (Daniel Craig) wakes in a desert scrub with no memory of who he is or where he’s been. He has no idea how he got wounded or how he acquired a strange hi-tech bracelet that he can’t remove from his wrist. He gets clothes, a horse, a dog and a gun from three thieves that he kills, all Jason Bourne style, when they decide to annoy him so we know he’s a bit of a badass. The stranger arrives at few buildings that pass for a town out on the frontier where he gets his wound stitched-up by the local preacher Meacham (Clancy Brown). The town’ name is Absolution and it was a gold mining town but there’s no gold so now the only successful business in the town is cattle herding by the local rich guy Woodrow Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford).

One of the unfortunate consequences of their dependence on Dolarhyde is that his spoilt brat of a son Percy () gets away with almost anything but when the bar owner Doc (Sam Rockwell) has had enough of his drunken freeloading Percy starts shooting up the town then passing his hat around to take collection to pay his bar bill. He tries this on the stranger and gets his nuts crushed for his cheek. When Percy manages to get up and lift his gun to shoot the stranger in the back he ends up hitting a deputy who just arrived with the Sheriff John Taggart (Keith Carradine). Percy protests it was an accident and then starts trying to threaten then with his daddy but Taggart doesn’t really have a choice and locks him up.

The Stranger goes to the bar where Doc’s wife Maria (Ana de la Reguera) let’s him drink on the house in gratitude for his standing up to Percy and kicking him in the balls. A woman Ella Swenson (Olivia Wilde) comes up to him and seems to know something about him but The Stranger isn’t interested. She doesn’t want him to leave town so she gives Taggart a wanted poster. The stranger is Jake Lonergan, a dangerous outlaw and leader of gang of outlaws. Taggart gathers all his deputies and the go into the bar and after quite bit of trouble they manage to arrest him. They lock Jake up in a coach with Percy to take them to the state capital.

Dolarhyde has been told that Percy was arrested and he’s heading into town to get his son along with many of his men. Just when he arrives strange lights approach the town from the sky. These turn out to be small flying craft with grapples that they use to seize many people and fly off with them. Eventually Jake gets free and shoots down a ship with his bracelet weapon but the other ships have gone. Taggart was taken by the aliens, along with Percy and Doc’s wife Maria so Doc, Dolarhyde and Taggart’s grandson Emmett (Noah Ringer) all want to go after the aliens to get their loved ones back and Dolarhyde wants Jake to use his bracelet to take them there. Jake isn’t sure at first but some memories start coming back and he joins them hoping to learn more about himself.

This is s a pretty straightforward adventure film and I thought they did a good job blending the science fiction adventure with the western genre. The only weakness for me was the aliens’ motivation for kidnapping people since I couldn’t see the benefit to them being worth the risk. That part really only seemed to serve the plot more than making any real sense. Anyway on the upside the cast were great and special effects were pretty good. This film really delivered exactly what I expected, which is a fun big budget adventure film.

Rating 8/10

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Posted by on August 18, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Avengers Assemble

There has been a lot of preparation for this film with origin stories for four of the main characters or five if you include Loki’s introduction as the villain in Thor so now the film has finally been released it is a great relief that the preparation has really paid off in a film that the delivers the best translation of a comic book into a film so far.

In a continuing comic book series the job of setting up the characters and some of the plot has been done in previous issues or even in issues of separate solo series. This film is in that same position so it can get straight down to the plot from the start. Villainous Asgardian Loki (Tom Hiddleston) plots with the leader of the alien Chitauri race. He offers them a tesseract if they give him army to conquer Earth, the planet it is on. This tesseract is a source of almost limitless power and was left on Earth by Odin, king of the Asgardians and Loki’s adopted father. The tesseract was tracked down by Johan Schmidt, a Nazi scientist better known as the Red Skull who used it to power his own attempt to create weapons he would use to conquer the Earth for himself. His plans were thwarted by Captain America who crashed Red Skull’s plane into the Arctic where he was frozen in ice for 70 years. A search at the time failed to recover Captain America’s body but they did recover the tesseract.

The tesseract is currently in a SHIELD research facility, being worked on by physicist Dr Eric Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) when it starts putting out bursts of energy and drawing the attention of SHIELD director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) The tesseract has the power to open portals to other worlds and Loki uses this to teleport himself right into the lab. He uses his power staff to attack Nick Fury and the SHIELD agents guarding the lab. He also uses his staff to turn Selvig and several agents into his obedient slaves, including sharp shooting hi-tech archer Clint Barton or Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). With his new slaves he escapes with the tesseract.

Fury needs help to retrieve the tesseract from someone as powerful as Loki and to that end he first calls in his best field agent Natasha Romanov or Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and sends her to bring in the world’s foremost expert in gamma radiation Dr Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo)  and the Hulk to help them find a way to locate the tesseract by tracing the gamma radiation it gives off. He also calls in billionaire hi-tech manufacturer and Iron Man Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Captain America Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) to take down Loki when they find him. It doesn’t take long for Stark and Banner to locate the tesseract and it’s very easy to trace Loki when he attacks people at a wealthy dinner party in Germany. Iron Man and Captain America manage to capture him but not the tesseract so they are taking him back to the SHIELD heli-carrier to be interrogated. Suddenly they get attacked by Thor (Chris Hemsworth) Loki’s adopted brother who wants to take Loki back to Asgard. Iron Man and Thor battles for while but Captain America interrupts the fight and talks some sense into them. There really is fantastic interplay of the characters of this very mismatched team and there is a lot of big egos and butting heads before they pull together at the end to fight to save Earth from Loki’s mad schemes

This story could be lifted right from an issue of the Avengers comic and the film really is the closest I’ve seen to a film with the authentic feel of a comic book. The whole thing plays out just the stories in the comic books and the characters are very well written and directed by someone who understands how to translate the insane action sequences of a comic book like The Avengers onto film. There is a so much going in the climactic battle but I managed to follow everything easily.

Like a comic it spends very little time on back story, diving straight into the plot with the luxury of having most of their character development done on earlier episodes but this shows the characters learning to interact as a team. We learn a bit more about Hawkeye and Black Widow and we get to see how even though they are “only” highly trained humans they get to play a part in team of powerhouses like Iron Man, Hulk and Thor. In particular I’d say the surprise for me was really how right the Hulk and Banner are in this film and I’m glad that Mark Ruffalo has agreed to do more films featuring the Hulk. As Banner he is very carefully calm and quiet with a wry humour. As the Hulk we get to see him on a raging rampage but also later as the calmer powerhouse easily ripping through the enemy ranks. He also has more brutal sense of humour with some excellent scenes that really stand out and I’m not surprised the general reaction after seeing the film is a desire for more Hulk.

This really is a must see film for fans of superhero comic books as well as anyone who enjoys big science fiction adventure films. The dialogue is full of humour but nothing goes too over the top.

Rating 9/10

 
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Posted by on May 2, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: The Adventures of Tintin – the Secret of the Unicorn

As a kid I read Tintin books and enjoyed the adventures of the young reporter and his dog Snowy so when I heard that Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson were making a Tintin film I was very excited. Then I heard the script was written by Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), Steven Moffat (Dr Who) and Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) and I could not see how this could be anything but brilliant

Tintin (Jamie Bell) is at a market in the town where he lives and he spots a model ship being sold at bric-à-brac stall. Just after he buys the model a gruff American tries to buy it from him but Tintin doesn’t want to sell it. The American warns him that possessing the model is dangerous and he seems genuinely scared and runs off before he can say anything else. That’s when the creepy Mr Sakharine (Daniel Craig) appears at the stall and he also tries to buy the model but Tintin insists the model is not for sale and takes it back to his flat, where it gets broken by the neighbour’s cat in a fight with Snowy, Tintin’s pet terrier and sidekick. The interest shown by the two men has Tintin intrigued so he looks into the story of the Unicorn, the ship the model was based on, a 17th century warship that was lost in a battle with pirates in the West Indies.

When Tintin gets home from his research he finds the model has been stolen. He goes to Sakharine’s home to retrieve his property and finds there that there was more than one model of the Unicorn and Sakharine is desperate to acquire all three. How desperate Tintin quickly discovers when the American that tried to buy the model from at the market gets shot to death on his doorstep while trying him about the danger he’s in. The dying man does manage to leave Tintin a clue to his killer but since the police that he reports the murder to are Thomson (Nick Frost) and Thompson (Simon Pegg) there’s little chance of them catching the killer. Thomson and Thompson are fully occupied with hunting down a pickpocket that has plagued the city which is very handy because Tintin’s wallet containing a parchment with an important to clue to the Unicorn mystery has just been stolen.

Tintin gets kidnapped and taken aboard a rusting cargo ship where Sakharine has his men search Tintin for the parchment. They fail to find it and Tintin refuses to tell them anything so they leave him for now. Fortunately Snowy comes to his rescue and they escape and find Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) kept inebriated in his cabin with a constant supply of whisky while his first mate Allan runs the ship under Sakharine’s command. Tintin, Snowy and Haddock are in a race against Sakharine and Haddock’s crew to track down the next piece of the puzzle but the last clue is locked in booze-addled memory of Haddock himself.

I just love this film and I regret that couldn’t get to see it in a cinema in 3D. The action and adventure could put Indiana Jones to shame with amazing stunts and thrilling incredible chases. The motion capture animation was just fantastic and the character designs are lifted straight from the Hergé books. I really want to see more Tintin.

Rating 8.5/10

 
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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in Entertainment, Film

 

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Review: Captain America – The First Avenger

 Steve Rogers (Chris Evans in a really weird-looking body swap CGI) is a weedy little guy who desperately wants to join his buddies in the army fighting against the Nazis during the Second World War. Unfortunately he’s just not fit enough. After trying several times and being rejected as medically unfit he is spotted by a scientist Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci) who is impressed by his relentlessness. He has him recruited to a special scientific division under the command of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones) in the care of sexy English agent Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell). Rogers is picked for a pioneering experiment to create a super soldier. Using a mixture of Erskine’s super-soldier serum and technology provided by Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper) (Iron Man Tony Stark’s father) weedy CGI Rogers turn into a big beautiful pumped-up Chris Evans.

Erskine is German but he fled from Germany when his super-soldier experiments there went badly wrong and transformed the Nazi Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) into the megalomaniacal Red Skull. Red Skull is determined to take over the world for himself and to do this he acquires the Cosmic Cube an artefact left by Norse ‘gods’ which his pet scientist Arnim Zola (Toby Jones) uses to create weapons. He also forms his own fanatically loyal army of followers called Hydra.

To prevent the Americans destroying his advantage Red Skull sends an agent to kill Dr Erskine and destroy his experiments. He manages to kill Erskine but is too late to destroy the experiment. However without Erskine the super-soldier experiment is abandoned.

Rogers is recruited to front a publicity campaign for war bonds, touring the country with dancing-girls in a cheesy Captain America costume. But it is not enough for Rogers and he wants to get involved in the fighting. When he hears that Red Skull has captured a large number of allied troops including his childhood friend Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan). Rogers goes behind enemy lines alone to the Hydra base and rescues almost 400 troops, including Bucky.

The story continues with Rogers being equipped with a leather Captain America costume, being given his iconic shield and hand-picking a squad of men to go around Europe wrecking Hydra’s bases and trying to stop Red Skull’s plans to dominate the world by destroying huge chunks of it.

This is film is a fine lead in to next year’s Avengers film and it really does a great job of setting up Cap’s back story. The wartime setting was pretty well done and I wouldn’t have minded seeing another Captain America film set back in that time but I doubt that will happen very soon. Red Skull was a bit of a one-note villain and his only motivation seems to be that he is mad and evil (which just like the comic-book character I suppose). It may not as good as Iron Man but it is better than Thor and the Incredible Hulk and has raised the stakes for The Avengers . After all this build up that film had better be spectacular

Rating 7/10

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Entertainment, Film

 

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