Monday, 30 September 2013

Atlantis – Episode 1 Review

It may be that I'm just too old, but it’s been a long time since anything in BBC One’s Saturday tea-time slot has managed to hold my attention. Though ‘Doctor Who’ did, up to a point, ‘Robin Hood’ and ‘Merlin’ left me pretty cold and, unfortunately, so has their latest offering, ‘Atlantis’.

Maintaining the BBC’s strange fixation with mythological retellings, Atlantis, tells the story of Jason who’s zapped away to the famous lost city whilst in a submarine searching for his supposedly drowned father. Why and how that happened is set up as the show’s key mystery and, as expected, it involves a lot of talk of ‘chosen ones’ and ‘prophesies’. This very basic premise is understandable, as a similar set-up worked so well for Merlin, whose viewing figures remained impressive right through its run, but it's pretty dull.

However, to keep things fresh, we have a new setting – Ancient Greece, to be exact – which entices me far more than Medieval Britain. But even that didn't manage to draw me, with the writers choosing to play so fast and loose with the mythology that it lost a hell of a lot in translation.

So, all in all, I was left disappointed. I mean, it wasn't terrible, just totally uninteresting.


Friday, 27 September 2013

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1.01 – 'Pilot' Review

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has finally arrived . . . and it’s a promising start.

There’s a lot of set-up in this opening episode; the bringing together of the team, the first threat etc. etc. and that is done efficiently, but rather mundanely. But the benefit of pacing through foundation-building is that by the second half of the episode we can finally get to the nitty-gritty Saturday morning cartoon-style villain of the week. This structure, though simplistic, actually works surprisingly well and the second half is thoroughly entertaining.

There were still a number of rough edges, though, most notably the dodgy hit-rate of the gags. Some worked well, keeping the mood light and playful, but some fell totally flat, which is surprising as Joss Whedon (co-writer, director and the man behind ‘The Avengers’) is usually an expert when it comes to witty quips. And it’s not that the jokes were always that bad, it’s just that some of them felt totally out of place. But that is something that can easily be fine-tuned as time goes on.

I also had an issue with the over stylised look of the episode, with the lens flare feeling totally unnecessary and, ultimately, distracting. Admittedly, the show has a lot to live up to aesthetically because it’s big-screen counterparts look so damn gorgeous, but I would prefer that Marvel owned up to the fact that a network TV show is never going to look like a $200m blockbuster.

But, despite an uninspiring first half and some minor niggles, the balance of action and emotion in the second half set up a world of gods and men that I can’t wait to explore.


Thursday, 26 September 2013

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back – Pure Escapism

The Empire Strikes Back's legendary status is unquestionable. Its glorious blend of action, adventure and romance has rarely been matched, before or since, rightfully earning its place as one of the seminal blockbusters in movie history.

We join the action post-‘A New Hope’ and Darth Vader is on the search for Luke Skywalker. What ensues is joyously pulpy sci-fi so far removed from the politically po-faced prequels; instead of mind-scrambling galactic conferences we have space cowboys blasting their way across the galaxy. Pure, simple and inescapably exciting.

However, through all this escapism, there are a firm set of morals and, though unsophisticated, they promote an admirable message of nobility and honour to younger viewers; something so often lost in the blockbusters of today.

The effects are impressive, the music extraordinary, the characters charming and the twists and turns memorable; making for one of the most popular films of all time . . . and deservedly so.


Monday, 16 September 2013

Planet of the Apes – Important Science Fiction

Archaic direction can so often make old films hard to watch for people used to modern cinema. Even great films fall prey to this and, consequently, struggle to find a 21st century audience. However, the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ does a damn fine job of avoiding this pitfall; Franklin J. Schaffner’s direction is assured and, even by modern standards, the film features some beautiful cinematography.

This is all supported by an engaging and thought-provoking plot of three men crash landing on an alien planet that puts forward social questions that remain relevant over forty years on. This stands as a great testament to the films writers and, taking it even further back, Pierre Boule, the author of the 1963 source novel. The film balances its argument exquisitely, in the sense that any message never becomes preachy and it never overshadows the action and the drama.

Striking visuals, charming characters (both human and simian) and a thoughtful social commentary combine to create what can certainly be considered a landmark of science-fiction cinema that still remains watchable to this day.


Friday, 13 September 2013

A Nightmare on Elm Street – Seeing as it’s Friday the 13th . . .

Even now, nearly thirty years after his introduction, Freddy Krueger still has some serious scare-power. 

This mainly stems from the work of writer/director Wes Craven, who managed to tap into some of the society’s most primal fears when he created this jumper-wearing, dream-stalking monstrosity.

Watched now, the original film could be easily be considered laughable, but instead it gloriously blends visceral horror with an old-fashioned playfulness which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable watch.

Craven’s intelligence shines through in his understanding of human fear and he perfectly tapped into it with this 80s horror classic in which the traditional rose-tinted dreamscape is transformed into a terrifying, soul-encompassing nightmare.


Monday, 9 September 2013

Mean Streets – A Classic This is Not

‘Mean Streets’ is a far cry from most of Martin Scorsese’s work and stands as an early black mark on his otherwise extraordinary career.

His inexperience is most apparent when dealing with the films misjudged religious undertones. The movie opens with a lesson in forgiveness (‘you don’t make up for your sins in church’) and then regularly revisits Harvey Keitel’s character’s prayers to God. However, the film does nothing to make you either agree or disagree with that opening statement, which negates the whole driving force of the film. Scorsese seems to want us to have an opinion on the matter, yet he never gives us any justifiable reason to because the films so dull and uninvolving.

Mean Streets does little to hint at Scorsese future greatness, especially in the crime genre, but he must have learnt a thing or two from the films failures . . . and thank God he did.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Point Break – Kathryn Bigelow is Amazing

There’s something magical about flicking through channels late at night and unearthing a hidden gem. It adds a sense of surprise that is too often lost when watching movies in this day and age, and probably the greatest example of this, for me, has been Point Break.

The first hour or so is amazing; it’s exciting, funny and beautifully shot. Kathryn Bigelow (director) brings a real sophistication to the action, with some beautiful camerawork paving the way for some truly exhilarating sequences. But the film also has a message, of sorts – a message of living life to the full – which is admirable.

Admittedly, the second half does tail of a bit, but it does nothing to nullify the one lesson I learnt from the film; that Patrick Swayze is one cool dude . . . and that sky-diving’s awesome.