Wonder Woman

June 5, 2017 at 9:33 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Wonder Woman in the weekend. Having seen tGal Gado in Keeping Up with the Jones, I knew it wasn’t going to be kitsch.

Warning: Plot elements discussed.

The film presented the director and producers a number of challenges:

  • Telling the back story of Diana to people who were knew it and who did not – how much of the film’s running time to use? what formative events to show?
  • Keeping the character strong despite the amazons wearing ‘scanty’ amount of armour.
  • Telling a creditable main story.

The film is long, it has to be to satisfy the above. I did not notice the passing of time; I only realised the length of the film, when I looked at my watch afterwards.

Director, Patty Jenkins, and editor, Martin Walsh, opted to not tell Wonder Woman’s story in flashback. Wonder Woman’s early life is better told in one go – the audience is spared going backwards in time and holding the story line in their heads. It also sets the norm for what Amazons wear, and how it does not affect their combat effectiveness. No one complains too much when a male actor like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson appears in The Scorpion King wearing a leather apron / skirt.

The Amazon training sequences would have been at home in any action movie; after a while, that absence of men, stopped being noticeable.

No sooner has Diana finished her training, with a final gauntlet, than Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) turns up in German uniform. This was the biggest moment of confusion – in my universe Steve Trevor should appear in an American uniform – circa World War II; not be a German aviator – circa World War I. Diana is fascinated – finally a male specimen to examine, after second hand stories and book learning. For quite a while, Steve Trevor and his world are something to be examined, and it strange foibles to be commented on. at least, it is until, she can kill Ares – the god of war.

Somehow, Diana and Trevor take one night to sail from the Aegean Sea to London in one night. This caused me more confusion. But, I was soon distracted by a restrained comic commentary on women’s fashion – it lack if armour and contraining cut (“how do you fight in this’).

The main story is how Diana comes to connect with the people outside of he magically isolated island, and how she looses he per-conceived ideas. Despite Steve’s doubts, Ares is real, he is manipulating both sides to escalate and prolong the war. There is a dual climax – Steve must put pay to the attempted escalation, while Diana must deal with Ares – with many twists and surprise.

There are some great fight scenes: Wonder Woman’s classical arts of war training makes her unbeatable in the confined space of urban warfare. Just as the shield works for Captain America, Diana’s shield (supplemented by forearm guards, grieves, and armoured headband) works for her – proof against gun fire and small caliber shells.

One scene that I found improbable was the Amazons choosing to close with the german troopers. Their first flight of arrows showed that the troopers had no armour and no shields. Why not just keep it up? Instead, they charge and give up the advantage – the troopers’ rifles give them the advantage outside of sword range.

Once the Amazons were out of the picture, Diana is one of the few women in the story arc. Steve Trevor’s secretary is there almost there for historical contrast. The only other woman is Dr Maru (Elena Anaya) – the chemical genius making chemical weapons for the Germans. There is a glimpse of a Women PC in London – the Women PCs were sworn in during WWI to police the factories employing women, while the men were in the Army.

Marvel has created the beginning of a series of films set in the extended Marvel universe – if they (and Gadot) wish. Wonder Woman will be appearing in Justice League; the question is will she get anymore appearances? Perhaps they could team her up with the Black Widow?

Oh there is some restrained chemistry between Diana Prince and Steve Trevor. At first Trevor is confused ans Diana is not like any woman he has meet before. Then there is a bit of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ ,until she warms to him. Trevor is the more demonstrative one; Diana is the aloof one; a nice reversal of the man focused on duty and the women attracted to him.

Anyway, a film worth seeing.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

May 1, 2017 at 7:11 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to the sequel of Guardians of the Galaxy – I wanted to know what was on the second Phillips cassette tape!

Warning: plot elements discussed.

This is both a light, and serious movie: at any moment there is wise cracking and humour; but overall there are some big issues examined. There is: nurture over nature; honour; family; and the meaning of life. All interleaved with some great music.

Peter Quill, aka Star Lord, played by Chris Pratt meets his father. Go see the movie to see how complex such an encounter can be. Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, is reunited with her sister – Nebula (played by Karen Gillan). Kurt Russell makes an appearance as a god named Ego.

There some great action sequences and even a giant pac man.

A must see; and stay to the end of the credits – there are all sorts of ‘easter eggs’. As every Rocket and Groot are the best characters.

Ghost in the Shell

April 27, 2017 at 8:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I saw this the other day: being a Wellingtonian, I was curious to see if any of my city was recognisable; I wondered about the story; and having heard about whitewashing complaints, I wanted to see for myself whether if it was justified.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Firstly, parts of Wellington were still recognisable, under the post-production CGI. Parts of the Central Police Station and nearby carpark were recognisable, despite a whole lot of ‘matt-ed in’ Japanese architecture.

Based loosely on the manga comics, of the same name, we see Scarlett Johansson in the lead role – Major Motoko Kusanagi. I say loosely, because the plot doesn’t really follow the comics. The film explores the origins of the Major, and how she came to be a cyborg – the first. Or is she?

The Major and her squad work for Section 9 – a paramilitary force reporting to the Prime Minister. Such a concept may work in Japan, but it does not really work outside of Asia. In the end, the company who made her body, turns out to be the villain. It was good to see Juliette Binoche, of The English Patient fame, again. She plays the cyborg scientist, Dr. Ouelet, who’s concern for her patient leads the Major to a final showdown.

The film breaks the manga esthetic: the cast is not Japanese, nor are their faces in a manga way. It made the use of Japanese, and references to Japanese companies (not zaibatsu),  a bit strange.The mixture of spoken English and spoken Japanese was quite disconcerting. There are English subtitles for the Japanese, but no Japanese subtitles for the English.  I thought that Scarlett Johansson fitted the manga esthetic quite well; much better than most  of the cast. Perhaps some things are better left as comics or full animations.

There is some blatant product placement. It would not be manga without a motorcycle, and I wonder how much Honda paid for the privilege of supplying the motorcycles :-).

 

Le Ride

January 17, 2017 at 7:48 am | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I went to see this film of  Philip Keoghan‘s documentary of his recreation of the 1928 Tour de France. The film tells two stories: the remarkable Australasian team who rode in 1928; and Keoghan’s ride of the ‘same’ route in 2013.

Keoghan is inspired by the 1928 ride of New Zealander Harry Watson and three Australians (Hubert Opperman, Percy Osborn, and Ernest Bainbridge) who competed in that year’s Tour de France. This was in a time when teams normally numbered 10 riders; the Australasians would have to work three times as hard on comparatively primitive bikes – they weighed twice model road bikes and the derailleur gears were still two years away.

Keoghan was so inspired that he decides to ride on the original route, to the same timetable – that is 28 days. Keoghan and his friend, Ben Cornell, procure original 1928 bicycles via the Internet, recondition them, spend at least a year scouting their eventual route, training, getting sponsorship, assembling a team of friends and family, and then doing the ride.

Keoghan and Cornell faced a number of significant challenges: the pair are significantly older than cycling professionals, they can’t train at the intensity and manner that professionals can, because they have day jobs; their bikes for all intents and purposes do not have gears; and there are only two of them, so they cannot rest at the back of a team.

The duo must cycle an average of 150 miles a day, if they are to complete the ‘course’ in the target time; some days they will cycle 200 miles; some days they will cycle for 23 hours. The 1928 route was a circumnavigation of the France’s borders, but starting and stopping in Paris.This includes a stage through the Pyrenees mountains and another through the French Alps! The duo did not take rest days!! they can’t ride the original route, because much of it has been turned into motorways; and despite scouting, getting lost seemed a constant threat. The duo are able to utilise the original start and finish lines. Along the way, local riders ride occasionally ride with them and guide them.

The 1928 era bikes weighed twice as much as the modern bikes that our dynamic duo are use to. The greatest physical challenge is that while the bikes have gears, to change gear requires the rider to stop, get off, detach and re-attach the chain on a different cog!

It is an amazing feat: two middle aged men of above fitness ride 3,400 miles in 28 days. Over some of the most physically challenging terrain for cycling.

It is a great feel good movie: a lighthearted documentary about the duo’s adventure; and a fitting celebration of the original team of four Australasians.

Rogue One

January 2, 2017 at 1:10 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I went to see Rogue One, or as I like to think of it: Star Wars III.IX (3.9), the other night.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The overwhelming question in my mind was: “How many will survive?” Pre-release trailers show a small group of rebels stealing the plans to the Death Star – the plans ‘stolen at great cost’ delivered in Episode IV to the Rebel Alliance. The mission is a suicide mission -a forlorn hope.

Rogue One is a difficult film to make: it must fit within the canon of the existing seven films, and not constrain (nor contradict) the two remaining films. It cannot be a re-boot: so the clothes and technology must be exactly the same as Episode IV, V, and VI. This means that the the storm trooper’s armour is useless as ever: it offers no protection against blaster fire, offers no protection against blunt force, and offers no protection against fragments. Also, the storm trooper’s marksmanship is deplorable as ever.

Since Rogue One leads directly into Episode IV, some characters from IV need to appear in this movie – some of the original cast are still alive, and some are there is spirit through CGI. One day, not too far away, CGI will be so good, that once an actor has created a sufficiently large body of work – provided enough samples for the computer – the actor can appear in films forever.

It is not quite ‘The Seven Samurai’, ‘The Guns of the Magnificent Seven’, nor ‘Ice Pirates’, but it is close. A bunch of misfits lead by Jyn Erso (played ably by Felicity Jones), another misfit, leads a bigger band of misfits against the might of the empire – albeit composed mainly of inept storm troopers. The tie-fighter pilots are pretty good though. Despite loosely following a classic plot line, Rogue One makes a refreshing change from the cyclic repetition of episode III, IV, and V; and I, II and III.

So Rogue One  is the back story of how the plans for the Death Star were stolen; the back story of why Jyn Erso is the best operative to steal the plans is the real story of Rogue One. We see the forces unleashed at the end of Episode III continue to fracture the republic. The Death Star is intended to re-unite the republic and bring peace to the galaxy. The rebels disagree!

We see Jyn rescued from an imperial prison colony; a band forms around her; and then a one-way mission to a library archive! It is an information manager’s heaven – the rebellion can only be saved by ‘getting out the right book out’.

The are the obligatory gun fights and space battles; but there are many of the same elements as Episode IV: a switch, trapped in a passage with no other way out, fighter bomber runs on a heavily defended target, trust in the force, a talkative droid, Darth Vader walking through blaster fire (the Force works for him too). It is a prologue for Episode IV.

Felicity Jones is no longer the ‘chalet girl’, but she still wears a helmet, and she still has that determined look – just before the last run down the hill and about to enter the heart of the imperial archive.

As to how many of the little band make it out the other side: go see the film.

Suicide Squad v Ghostbusters(2016)

August 15, 2016 at 9:32 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I m comparing these two movies – a comic cast made real and a remake of a classic because I realised the only thing I want to talk about is  Dr Harleen Quinzel  and Dr. Erin Gilbert.

Dr Harleen Quinzel is better known as Harley Quinn – the Joker’s crazier girlfriend. Dr Quinzel appears for less than a minute, but she is the Joker’s psychiatrist, who after some serious mis-treatment, casts aside her lab coat, dons skimpy tight bright clothes, develops a fondness for blunt instruments, and joins ‘the darkside’. Margo Robbie’s portrayal of Harley Quinn absolutely steals the film (Suicide Squad); in an ensemble movie that is quite a job. But Harley Quinn is the most interesting character; and Robbie, assisted by a rumoured rigorous pre-filming workout regime, and fishnet tights and skimpy sequin shorts, is a nerd fantasy come to life. Harley Quinn is crazy and zany and sexy and … and … and; the audience is hangs onto her every move and word –  wondering what she will do next. The romance between Harley Quinn and the Joker provides the bedrock of the film – Sid-and-Nancy meet Bonnie-and-Clyde.

There is something deeply disturbing when the glammed up abused white girl with violent tendencies character makes such an impact.

Dr Gilbert is Dr. Raymond Stantz from the original Ghostbusters re-written as a women. Kristen Wiig plays a dedicated women physicist struggling in a man’s world to make tenure. Erin, to her friends, eventually breaks out, when passed over, casting aside her tweeds for overalls, develops a reluctant fondness for proton packs, forms the Ghostbusters with her friend Abby Yates, and wrangles ghosts. Kristen Wiig has to compete for mind-share and screen time with Melissa McCarthy, Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, and Chris Hemsworth; its tough going. McKinnon’s character – Jillian Holtzmann –  is the more interesting gadget genius on steroids – looking like Scarlett Johansson meets Tank Girl.

Erin is much closer to the reality for many professional women. It is good to see her have some fun, and turn the tables a little on the men. She is much more PC.

Go see both films: if you don’t like chicks with attitude, Suicide Squad, has lots of bullets, violence and a killer sound track; unless you can’t stand the idea that a woman can do as good a job as a man, the Ghostbusters re-make provides a modern perspective on an old story, plus many of the original cast make cameo appearances. [I thought that they overdid this, and it made it hard for the older members of the audience to let go.]

 

Captain America: Civil War

May 23, 2016 at 7:56 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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The third film in the Marvel Film-verse. This film picks up from the second film – The Winter Soldier.

This film is definitely worth seeing: its well put together; it does overdo the action (restraint in an action movie; and it raises a basket-load of ethical and moral questions.

The cast consists of most the those from the second film with some additions: Paul Rudd (Ant-Man), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Tom Holland (Spider-Man), and Marisa Tomei (Aunt May). Of course Chris Evans (in the title role), Robert Downey Jr (Iron Man), and Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) return; as does Sebastian Stan (Winter Soldier), who’s character Bucky cause the big split-up.

Spider-Man  gets the shortest reboot on record – 10 minutes in his bedroom. Marisa Tomei was a surprise choice for Aunt May. Good luck to her and newcomer Holland in their upcoming Spider-Man movie.

I am not going to talk about the film, because the plot is available on IMDB. For a large ensemble film, it managed to hold it together – staying to a story that threw moral dilemmas everywhere. The film was over two hours long, but things moved quickly.

So the dilemmas:

  • Must one act within a recognised legal framework?
    • After all, such a framework grants a mandate for actions, and a form of oversight.
    • In a self-referential way, a legal Framework grants legitimacy.
    • All actions and collateral damage within the Framework is sanctioned.
  • Can a legal framework ever work against the interests of the wronged? Therefore, staying out of  Frameworks preserves the freedom to act for those wronged (or in peril).
  • Should one stand by one’s friends? in all situations? And by extension, are there times when the unity is preferred over all other considerations?

Steve Rogers (Captain America), Paul Stark (Iron-Man), and Natasha Romanoff (Black Widow) all fall on different sides of these dilemmas; and so there is tension, and ultimately fisticuffs! Honourable friends become honourable unfriends. How are they going to put things back together?

Worth a go at the cinema for the big screen and surround sound.

Eye in the Sky

May 7, 2016 at 11:41 pm | Posted in Film Review, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2057392/ ostensively a film about drone warfare, but really, the Trolley/Tram Dilemma brought to the screen – the ethics of killing one innocent in order to save many.

Helen Mirren in Colonel Katherine Powell, British Army, in command of a mission to capture two British Islamic Terrorists in Kenya. The Kenyan Army and Security Services are proving ‘boots on the ground’, and the US Armed Forces are providing air support (a Predator with two Hellfire missiles and amazing optics) and targeting assessment.

Terrorism may have gone global, but so too has the response to it. It is a bit alarming: smiting the enemies of the state as a video game.

The film sets out the issues, and leads the viewer down a nice ethical and moral corundum.

Mirren/Powell is the calm voice in the drone pilots ear: “do it now lieutenant” and “fire again”. The film also explores the outcome versus the process debate; the people participating in the mission are not necessarily bad people, they are doing their jobs, they push back as much as they can. Another chestnut is explored: following orders – legal orders. Being a multi-national mission, there are many outcomes, differing risk appetites, and processes to satisfy. The whole mission is an exercise in consensus building – both before the mission is approve and as the mission proceeds.

The mission moves very quickly from ‘capture for repatriation-and-trial’ to ‘shoot-to-kill’; the terrorists are not just meeting, they are about to launch a multiple suicide-bomber attack.

Worth seeing: the film creates tension through the actors being confronted by an ever more narrow and harrowing set of options, the drone effects are amazing, Mirren does a fine job, and this was Alan Rickman’s last film (before he died).

Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

March 28, 2016 at 1:25 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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As I watched the movie, I wondered why Dawn of Justice? It became clear at the end of the movie. I hadn’t thought too much about it prior to sitting down, focussing on Batman v. Superman.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

Batman (played by Ben Affleck) thinks that Superman (reprised by Henry Cavill) is too powerful; that being capable of burning the Earth to a cinder, makes him an existential threat to mankind, and needs to be killed. This is not the classic Batman of old; who when he finds the robber who killed his parents, spared the man. Affleck does a good job, but this is a harder Batman than ever before – he routinely employs deadly force, he is prepared to execute someone (Superman). There is one scene where he disables a roomful of bad guys, 13, but it looked too choreographed. Interestingly, Superman considers that Batman’s vigilante actions lead to unnecessary harm.

The film does a good job of showing the elements that created Batman: his parent’s death during a botched robbery; his discovery of the bat cave; and his need to protect the vulnerable. Superman is shown are as someone searching for themselves; someone who is unsure of his place in the world. He is adored everywhere; but there are those who think he causes as much destruction and death as he averts. It is a strange take on ‘blame the victim’.

Throughout Superman’s angst, he is ably supported by the two people most dear to him: his girlfriend, Lois Lane (reprised by Amy Adams); and his adopted mother Martha Kent (Diane Lane). More on this ‘support’ later.

This film has a number of threads: re-boot Batman; use Superman to re-introduce him to a new audience; introduce a new ‘Alfred’ (played by Jeremy Irons); re-boot Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg); and re-boot Wonder Women (Gal Gadot). Here’s where the Dawn of Justice comes in: apparently DC is using this film to launch a franchise; to launch the Justice League of America.

The original DC storyline was very different: Batman’s beef was not with Superman, but with an increasingly authoritarian government; Batman never set out to kill Superman, he just wanted to distracted him long enough for ‘some’ people to go into hiding.

I don’t mind the change in storyline too much; but re-making Batman into a killer? Batman was always different kind of superhero: he had no super powers – just will power – and he never ever used lethal force.

The film makers missed an opportunity to re-make Lois – to give the character a more modern spin. At the end of the film, during the various fights and what-have-you, Lois could have done more; but her character is left in the past. Adams does her best, but the script doesn’t give her much. This is the 21st century, why should she plead with Batman? she should just have a go kicking his butt! Why couldn’t she retrieve the spear and pass it to Superman? No the script chooses to perpetual the idea that women need protecting: Lex Luthor successfully manipulates Superman through threatening Lois and his mother.

Wonder Women doesn’t get enough screen time. She is almost an after thought. When she first appears in a red dress, to thwart Bruce Wayne’s hacking attempts, there is no real chemistry between her and Bruce Wayne; it was all a bit hurried. Remember, last time we saw Bruce Wayne and a mysterious women – she turned out to be Cat Women.

This is a long and at time very violent film – there is a lot of anger going around – so not the best for young children. At times, the film got a bit laboured – some of the fights went on too long, and the conversation between Wonder women and Bruce Wayne – after Clark Kent’s burial – seemed unnecessary.

But worth ago if you have not read too much of the original comics; and if you have, go anyway – that what being a fan means. The bat gadgets are really cool.

Lastly: there may have been a burial, but no true fan of Superman believes he is dead; especially when the director helpful shakes the dirt off the casket.

Graceful Girls

December 31, 2015 at 10:01 pm | Posted in Dance Review, Film Review | Leave a comment
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Having upgraded my O/S and iTunes, I am exploring the films available on the iTunes store. The other day I found, and watched, Graceful Girls. This is a film about an Australian dance discipline of ‘Calisthenics’ – though in Olivia Peniston-Bird’s feature length documentary, it is referred to by one-and-all as a ‘sport’. I see it as a dance discipline because the vast majority of the competitions are based around dance – an endearing mixture of ballet, rhythmic gymnastics (without the ball and skipping rope), and commercial dance.

What I found attractive about calisthenics, was that the senior practitioners had normal bodies – trim and toned, as opposed to hyper thin. The dancers are able to execute all of the classical ballet repertoire – technically and gracefully. There is no pointe work, so more dancers can stay in the sport. Unlike ballet which creates a natural ‘gate’ with its near total emphasis on pointe work.

The film follows the lives of some of the dancers and their mothers though a competition year. It is centred around the Regent Calisthenics calisthenics school – a school run by successive generations of the Synnott family. The school was founded by Enid, then run by her daughter Diane, and currently her daughter Brooke. This school has dominated, and influenced the direction of, the sport.

Calisthenics has a much greater emphasis on teams – to win the division, a team must dance/execute eight different routines. Calisthenics is strongest in the State of Victoria; and each year the ‘nationals’ are held in the Ballarat Theatre.

The film also follows the fortunes of Brianna Lee – who is a three time runner-up to the only solo event, known informally as ‘Most Graceful Girl’. Brianna is a sunny primary school teacher who has done calisthenics (and ballet) from a young age, and she really wants the title. Incidentally, both Diane and Brooke have won the title. Brianna’s routines are a picture of beauty and strength – effortless grande jetes (off a one-step take-off), splits (both vertical and horizontal), and wonderful stability (or should one say poise).

Worth ago.

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