Monday, 29 August 2011

Cinema Review - Cowboys & Aliens

Ever wanted to see a science fiction flick involving cowboys? Well, Jon Favreau is your man as he's defied all laws of film-making and brought to us a blend never before seen in Cowboys & Aliens.

Arizona, 1873, we wake up with Jake Lonergan (Daniel Craig) in the middle of the desert with no memory of who he is and why he has a mechanical device stuck on his arm only for him soon to encounter individuals ready to apprehend him. Unfortunately for them, Lonergan has some skills when it comes to hand-to-hand combat and immediately disposes of his would-be captors. He heads for Absolution to look for answers, but it is no place for strangers and he eventually finds himself captured by Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) and his men.

No sooner is Lonergan captured than a mysterious set of lights appears in the sky and an attack on Absolution begins, with spaceships flying through the air and creatures terrorising every building. Escaping from his shackles, Lonergan manages to shoot down one of the attacking crafts and it becomes apparent that aliens are on Earth ready for a fight.

On the tail of a wounded alien, Lonergan and Dolarhyde realise they must band together if they stand any chance of surviving the fight and they also gain the help of the mysterious Ella who seems to know a lot about Lonergan. Along the way they recruit more cowboys and head for a pulsating finale to the alien mothership.

What promised to be one of the biggest summer blockbusters this year is ever so slightly disappointing. With a cast consisting of such incredible talent such as Harrison Ford, Daniel Craig and the ever-astounding Olivia Wilde, Favreau's anticipated flick falters with little in the way of excitement or a reasonable plot.

Following the ever-present 'aliens attack, humans fight back and head to destroy mothership' plot in alien invasion movies is hugely predictable and despite some good set pieces and a reasonable amount of action C&A loses its way very quickly. Craig has very little going for him as our antagonist and Ford's villain turns from bad to good without so much as a fight. As for Wilde's Ella, she is a conundrum to start with but her secret is all too predictable from the beginning. Jon Favreau is a genius but his last two blockbuster offerings are a shadow of what he is capable of.

Film rating (out of 5 stars): 3

Closing comments: Cowboys and Aliens tries a little too hard to succeed as a mega blockbuster and instead tends to follow to that all too familiar alien invasion storyline. Nothing new despite the diverse mix of main perpetrators. 

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Cinema Review - Rise of The Planet of The Apes

Of all the characters to grace the silver screen this summer it's hard to believe that one of the most interesting and emotionally involved is actually an ape. That's right, a motion captured Andy Serkis' Caesar is the star of the show in what looks to be the rebirth of the Planet of the Apes saga.

Swiftly distancing itself from Tim Burton's failed attempt at a reboot of the Apes story, Rise takes us to the beginning with scientists looking to find a cure for Alzheimer's, consequently leading us to a lab full of primates picked for testing. In pursuit of this ground-breaking scientific achievement is Will Rodman (James Franco), a man who has a special interest in his project as his father (John Lithgow) has the disease and is deteriorating fast. The main subject of the tests, an ape named 'Bright Eyes'. soon enough though, in trying to protect her baby Bright Eyes turns aggressive and is killed, only for the project to be closed down. 

Will then finds out that one ape is remaining, the baby that Bright Eyes was trying to protect. Reluctantly he takes the ape home and it soon becomes apparent that this is no ordinary primate. Will and his father eventually come to terms with the fact that they have a hugely intelligent mammal living with them and Caesar grows in intelligence with each day (shown superbly in 'through the ages' sequence). 

As Caesar reaches an older age he continues to showcase amazing abilities for an ape but after an altercation between Will's father and a neighbour in which Caesar intervenes, our furry friend finds himself sent to a primate facility to live amongst his own kind. Unfortunately for Caesar he is treated poorly but with time he gains the following of the other apes and manages to forge an escape, along with unleashing the brain enhancing drug developed by Will on his fellow apes. 

On their escape the apes cause havoc on the streets of San Francisco and their presence is felt severely with attacks on the police forces and ultimate chaos. With a finale to behold between the humans and apes on the Golden Gate Bridge the adrenaline cranks to a new level and we are witness to the rise of a new enemy to humanity.

With an interesting new take on the Planet of the Apes story, we have a feasible origin story in the form of Rise and characters that you can really relate to. Franco's Will is a likeable individual and instantly audiences will have a connection with him, feeling compassion and sorrow for someone who has the difficult task of coping with a father with Alzheimers. John Lithgow is also impressive as the suffering father but Freida Pinto's love interest for Will is totally unnecessary and could have easily been written out.

Lest we forget the main reason this film works so well, Andy Serkis' Caesar. Finally we have a character with massive emotional value and remarkably he's not even human. The work that Weta Digital have done to create such an astoundingly realistic ape on the screen is beyond belief but this is second to the emotion and feeling that Serkis brings to the main protagonist, seeing is believing for what is one of the best character performances of the year.

Film rating (out of 5 stars): 4

The lowdown: Rise manages to reboot a classic franchise in one great big swoop and kicks Tim Burton's effort firmly into touch. Great emotion, action and plot and the year's best character make this a must see. 

Monday, 1 August 2011

Cinema Review - Captain America: The First Avenger

So, we've had two shots of Iron Man and Hulk, a recent outing with Thor and cameos from Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye, and the final piece of the jigsaw has finally entered the foray. That's right, one of the most significant characters in the Marvel Universe, Captain Amerixa finally has arrived on the big screen. Possibly one of the toughest heroes to bring to the film stage, the Cap is a big favourite in the Marvel universe and his entrance was one hugely anticipated by fanboys. But was his transfer to cinema a successful one?

It's 1942 and the Nazis are in full force trying to take over the world under the orders of one Adolf Hitler. But secretly there is another notorious villain looking to seize power, Johann Schmidt aka Red Skull (Hugo Weaving in his familiar evil persona) has assembled his own army, under the organisational name Hydra. Redeeming a powerful blue cube, Schmidt suddenly possesses an immense power, one that could end the war with one sudden attack. 

Luckily for the Americans they have their own plan in action, involving a very familiar name of Howard Stark, who has had a hand in creating a super soldier serum for one lucky applicant. That man happens to be the puniest possible soldier but one who has the determination and honour to match 1000 men, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans). Once injected with the serum Rogers becomes a one man wrecking machine, ripped, incredibly agile and extraordinarily more powerful than any other man. 

At first, Rogers is seemingly unappreciated by those around him and is just cast off, only to tour as costumed hero Captain America, with his job being to rally the troops and ensure that their spirits are kept to the highest possible degree. Eventually love interest Peggy Carter and Stark come to realise that the Cap is needed to lead the forces from the front and take down Red skull for good. The Cap soon assembles his team, including Dum Dum Dugan, and heads to infiltrate the HYDRA base. It is a race in time to stop Red Skull before he unleashes the full potential of the crystal, can the Cap prevent the impending armageddon or will they all perish?

At first glance, Chris Evans seemed a little bit of a sceptical choice for Marvel's First Avenger but once on the big screen and fully into the boots of Steve Rogers it seems odd not to have him in the famous outfit. Commanding and ultimately believable, he brings a great charisma to the character and works remarkably well with his co-stars, especially in the film's first act where we first experience the Cap's origins. In addition, the supporting cast are to die for, with the likes of Hayley Atwell, Dominic Cooper and an outstanding Tommy Lee Jones (delivering perfect one liners throughout) all playing their parts with ease. 

Ultimately, with several references to the extended Marvel universe, this specifically is the film that sets up the impending Avengers movie and this is possibly where the film lacks slightly. With a villain in possession of the power cube featured in Thor it feels as though the Cap's battle with nemesis Red Skull is only a miniscule thought in the mind compared to setting up a pathway to enter into the world of Nick Fury and his team of incredibles. Maybe a little more effort into the main story of HYDRA and Cap's battle with red Skull wouldn't have gone amiss but essentially this is a summer blockbuster worthy of your attention. 

Film rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The lowdown: The Cap's introduction into the Marvel film franchise is a welcome one and with performances of a high calibre and plenty of action to keep you awake this is a success story, albeit not to the standard of say, Iron Man. Good summer fun and a brilliant set-up for 2012's Avengers.