The Force Awakens

December 20, 2015 at 12:03 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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After re-watching the early episodes, I took myself to the midnight session of Episode VII of the Star Wars saga: The Force Awakens. I count myself lucky to be in the first wave of general release viewers. Yes, it was worth staying till midnight, driving home at 2:20 AM afterwards, and getting only three hours sleep, to watch it.

Warning: plot elements discussed.

The movie opens with a homage to Episode IV and Alien: there are two moons above a desert planet; one of the moons is occluded by a massive space ship. Then we are introduced to two new characters:  Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). Poe is the Resistance’s top pilot. Ren is the new ‘Darth Vader’ – he even has a breathing mask!

Then comes Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley). Finn is a storm trooper who has goes AWOL and eventually joins the resistance. Rey is the new ‘Luke’ – she even grew up on a desert planet (Jakku). Then we re-introduced to Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).

The level of marksmen ship has improved: there is less ‘spray and hope’, and more coolly aimed shots.

There are some amazing flight sequences. Special effects and audience expectations sparked mainly by Episode IV has come a long way from Episode IV.

Final comes Maz (Lupita Nyong’o) and Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), going by her working title of General Organa. Maz is a new character – she runs a bar – whether she makes it into Episode VIII remains to be seen.

There are some great fight sequences: much grittier that in Episode IV, V, and VI.

Along the way there is also two other new characters: General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis). They represent the latest manifestation of the dark side – the First Order. General Hux represents a new element in the story: he is not (apparently) a practitioner of the dark side, but through sheer competence is in competition with Ren for the Supreme Leader’s favour.

There are the odd surprises and of course there is a final battle.

This is a difficult movie to make. It needs: to grab a new fan base, not disappoint the existing multi-generational fan base, to set things up for Episodes VIII and IX, and remain true to what has gone before. I think J.J Abrams (and Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt) succeed.

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Ender’s Game

December 31, 2013 at 7:41 am | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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I have read the book (by Orson Scott Card) and most of the sequels and prequels, so it was with some trepidation that I went to see the film.

Warning: Plot spoilers.

The premise remains the same: aliens will destroy the Earth useless we find a brilliant commander; no stone is left unturned, and children are selected and trained from an early age – just like the Spartans, and it is no coincidence that the top commander has the title of Stratos. Ender Wiggin is one such child-military prodigy.

The film shows how rich the book is. Quite a bit of the book had to be cut to get everything into the book.

The book builds up tension by taking Ender through a series of simulated battles – each of increasing complexity and increasing force imbalance. In the book Ender is often hugely outnumbered and in a bad tactical situation. Most of these are missing from the film. Instead, Ender’s genius is explained to us by Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford). Consequently, the ‘final’ trick on Ender, is not set-up properly.

Abigail Breslin makes an appearance as Valentine Wiggin – Ender’s sister. Though it was interesting to see how she is developing as an actor, post Nim’s Island and Little Miss Sunshine.

The film focusses on the human side. Ender, ably played by Asa Butterfield, is put through many emotional and psychological tests. Ender passes, but, his humanity is stripped away from him.

I was disappointed in the way Mazer Rackham (Ben Kingsley) turned out. The richness and sadness in his character did not make it to the screen. The book created a love-hate relationship between Ender and Mazer – which set Ender up for his graduation simulated battle. Not much of this made it to the screen. Finally, Mazer ended up with a South Africa accent: his speech was too clipped, and lacked the slower deeper drawl more common to New Zealanders.

If you have read the books, and really like them, and Ender, then wait for the DVD, or free-to-air. Or if you are ‘brave’, then go see it on the big screen and enjoy the special effects. With Orson Scott Card as the other co-writer, it is not another ‘Starship Troopers’ – which completely inverted the philosophy set out in the book, and ruined the opening chapter.

If you haven’t, it is a reasonable science fiction movie.

Cowboys and Aliens

August 15, 2011 at 10:40 pm | Posted in Film Review | Leave a comment
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A cowboy movie and a science fiction movie rolled into one – how could I resist? So I went to see Cowboys and Aliens.

Daniel Craig is “the cowboy” – Jake Lonergan – “Jake”; and the aliens are extras. Jake wakes up without any memory, a picture of a young women, and a strange bracelet on his left wrist. We are shown a glimpse into Jake’s nature when three bounty hunters try to take him prisoner; Jake kills them all.

The other main characters are: Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and Ella (Olivia Wilde). For awhile, the film flirts with the audience: is Harrison Ford actually going to play a bad guy – wealthy cattle rancher who abuses his position? Ella, turns out to have a very mysterious past and is crucial to the final outcome – of course the aliens are vanquished.

The film uses the aliens in the traditional role played by indians – ruthless, brutal, and two dimensional. The film is then challenged to work the actual indians in; the film could have omitted them, but they seem to serve to develop Ford’s character.

It is a very busy film: Jake is an outlaw who had set himself on the straight and narrow, prior to him loosing his memory; the colonel actually cares, but because of his experiences in the civil can’t show it; there is new found respect between cowboys and indians; alien invasion; a boy becomes a man; another boy gets another chance; on and on.

Some very nice action sequences. I thought the film was based on a computer game, but it turns out to be adapted from a graphic novel (a comic).

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