Blackhat

If I was writing a school report from this movie, I would probably write “Could do better…”. It is not a bad movie, but given who is involved, I was expecting more. Directed by Michael Mann (Public Enemies, 2009), I came away with the feeling the effort that should have been put in to the movie was not used. Despite the name this is simply a police procedural, thriller type movie with relatively little in the way of “techno-plot” indeed given some of the errors and continuity breaks I think those involved perhaps did not have the technical know-how to close out the movie from a plot perspective.

The movie opens with an excellent graphics sequence (possibly a highlight) showing code being sent to a computer which turns off a fan at a Chinese nuclear power station and causes a breach (they said meltdown at one stage, but if it was, there would not have been people running around the site in civilian clothes just days afterwards). Shortly after the commodities markets in New York are hacked and feedstuffs a spiked netting a $75m profit for our bad guy. While working on the nuclear a Captain, Chen Dawai, (Leehom Wang, My Lucky Star, 2013) in the PLA (a rising Princeling judging by his description) he recognises some old code he is responsible for, he along with his old room mate in college, Nick Hathaway (Chris Hemsworth, Thor 2011), who just so happens to be doing a prison sentence for hacking some banks and costing them about $50m, depending on which part of the movie we refer to, he is either doing 13 or 15 years in prison for this.

Long story short, Hathaway is released on furlough after Captain Chen links with the FBI and his Network engineer sister ( Wei Tang, The Golden Era, 2014). Despite initial reservations the FBI lead investigator, Carol Barrett ( Viola Davis, The Help, 2011) sees their worth and backs them as they end up following clues around the Far-East.

Eventually Hathaway puts the clues together, not so much from his cyber skills as from his ability just to stand back and look at the complete picture.

If you ant to look at this movie with any sense of seriousness, you will be disappointed, if however if you like a movie with people running all over the place, shooting everybody and anybody while seemingly never getting in trouble, then you will love this.

There are a number of huger plot holes – if you are trying how to disable a pump PLC system , you don’t need to find one of the pumps at a nuclear power plant, which will raise headlines. Speaking of PLCs (Programmable Logic (not Launch) Controllers are a fairly basic piece of kit that even I was programming when in college a generation ago, so no big challenge there. There are also a number of continuity errors, in Tshirts changing colour, stains on suits suddenly disappearing etc.

Hathaway who is supposedly a SW genius does some funny stuff like use a browser/domain name to indicate an IP address (dodgy) and I’m not going to ask when he got in to an illegal server farm, how he managed to find the drive he needed and hack it.

As a chase-‘em, shoot ‘em up movie it works, but anybody with more than an ounce of engineering or coding skills is going to be entertained much. The closing scenes in Jakarta also strain the imagination, it is noteworthy how many people ignored gun & knife toting westerners as they possessed along the road with their torches. I also have a problem with the “little things”. After arriving in Malaysia (illegally) they seemed to have no shortage of ready cash and indeed in the closing scenes Hathaway actually takes €5000 out of his, supposedly secret Swiss bank account; two things in the few hours he was in Malaysia, how did he mange to get his bank card (there nothing to suggest he had this or other private belongings prior to the last arrival), oh and why use Euro when going to Switzerland, rather than Swiss Francs.

I started off giving this a *** rating but the more I think about it, and how unconvincing the movie was from both a characterisation and technology perspectives I have to revise down to **. This might be a little harsh, but like I said at the beginning “could do better”. A final comment is the effect of mixing the digital and 35mm camera work, hmm – small doses please, it was certainly over used and grated a few times.

Project Almanac

Director Dean Israelite’s first feature length movie works well for him. Opening with High-school kid, David Raskin (Jonny Weston, Insurgent 2015) making a video presentation to MIT for acceptance on one of their college programmes with the help of his two friends Quinn (Sam Lerner, Nobody Walks, 2014) and Adam (Allen Evangelista, Belas, 2013). The film is largely shot in POV (Point of view) format, that is always through a camcorder or such like always used by one of the kids. David’s sister Christina (Virginia Gardner, The Goldbergs. 2013) is the primary recorder. The POV format largely works, even if there are one or two sequences where it is not as successful.

Routing through some old belongings in the attic he comes across a video-camera once owned by his father who was killed in a car accident about 10 years ago. While looking at footage, David notices something, just a frame or two, but he notices it. Reviewing the home-movie in question it is clear David in in the movie as his 17year old self, with his 10yo self also there. Noticing that the David in the film was heading for the basement, they decide to check down there.

Now here is a significant weakness in the film, centred around a young technically gifted student, whose father was an engineer, he (David) only now goes down to the basement and “discovers” his father’s workshop and very quickly its secrets.

Pretty quickly they find the time machine, or at least the workings of it and all of the necessary blue-prints, and as any kids do, they decide to finish building it. With much chaos and experimenting they manage to move something back through time. Of course all of this has the added benefit of entangling one of David’s school mates; Jessie Pierce (Sofia Black D’elia, Born of War 2013), David has a crush on her and as with most young lads of his age, he is totally unable to act on it. A good section of the movie deals with the youngsters building and improving the time machine, often with mixed results.

First the five youngsters experiment with sending inanimate objects back and forth through time, but David is eager to move things on and after much tinkering and adaption, they have a time travel device which they can bring with them, which can transport them to when they want to go (within a limited window of a couple of weeks, but growing as they tinker)

As the movie progresses it starts to take on a slightly darker more sinister hue. After firstly starting off with small things, they decide to “surgically” (my words) interfere with the past, but very quickly learn that one event might have a knock-on effect on another even though the two may not seem linked. After making changes to the time line. On their first trip back they see how the lawas of nature actually kick-in to prevent them from meeting themselves in the past, if they do, bith are removed from nature, no longer existing.

These trips back in time start of light enough, with Quinn using the trips back to ace a pop-quiz in chemistry and then get more intense as they try to undo changes to the timelines brought about by their travel. These changes which seem like nothing much have implications which spread far and wide, the ripple effect being nicely expounded here.

This film is a lot more watchable than I thought it would be and indeed deals with some of the more fundamental aspects of time travel, concentrating on the effects (as thought) rather than on the pure science of the physics. Indeed this is where the film lets itself down slightly, but only slightly.

Without going into the physics of time travel the movie looks to the impacts and how the people involved try to deal with and correct what they have done. One could argue that there is not a whole lot original in the first half of the movie, when even the movie itself draws parallels with some of those time-travelling presentations which came before (even down to video shots of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989).

The second half is where the movie really kicks in and ups the tempo. This is an interesting look at the whole area of time travel and its consequences and might be compared to About Time (Richard Curtis, 2013). Much of the tension surround the undoing of the consequences of even the supposedly smallest actions when they went back in time. One of the issues with Time travel movies is the potential for the heroes to go anywhere, any when in time. Almanac carefully circumvents these issues by building in practical limitations to their device and so keeping the movie on a relatively (sorry for the pun) tight perspective and prevents it from tackling too many physics questions.

Over all it works, with perhaps just a little bit too much time spent on the concert in the baseball stadium, but then again there are implications for the event. It also manages to convey some of the science of time-travel without breaking into applied physics. The movie does have some convenient plot holes but nothing that takes away from the picture overall.

Fruitvale Station

This award winning movie is based on the last day in the life of Oscar Grant III (Michael B. Jordan, That Awkward Moment, 2014) , a young black man from the Oakland/San Francisco Bay area who despite all that is wrong in his life wants to do things better. Directed by Ryan Coogler, this was his first feature length motion picture.

Oscar is a small time criminal who has served time in the near distant past ( the film does not go in to details of why he served time, but that is a matter of public record). Although out of prison a while not, he is still struggling to do this right. Indeed our first scene with him is of he and his girlfriend, Sophina (Melonie Diaz, A guide to Recognising Your Saints, 2006) discussing his having cheated on her with another women. We quickly get an insight into his life; His girlfriend is the mother of his child, but they do not all live together, instead staying with respective families.

Trying to convince Sophina, he is on the right track, he resolves to do things right. With this begins a journey that takes him through his day. I’m not going to recount the day, play-by-play. What we see is a young man trying to make things right and start over. This is at one and the same time the most importantant aspect of the movie and also perhaps in the weakest. Some watching this have thought that the first half of the film tended to paint Oscar in to some kind of Saint who has had his Damascus moment. This is not necessarily the case. At least two of the events in his day have no basis in fact and were added by the director to further build the character of Oscar.

Apart from his girlfriend, Sophina, Oscar also has two other powerful females in his life, his daughter Tatiana (Adriana Neal, Repentance, 2013) whom he adores and his mother, Wanda (Octavia Spencer, Snowpiercer, 2013) who plays the archetypal mother, strong and though when she needs to be and loving at the same time.

In many ways this movie could be a case of “What ifs” but it is not, it is a case of “this was”. The movie takes us through the day in what is essentially a well stitched together set of scenes which culminate with Oscar, Sophina and friends taking the BART to and from San Francisco to see the new Year’s Eve fireworks. Having previously decided to drive in , Wanda persuades Oscar to take the BART, on the thinking that it should be safer.

Events unfold on the train, having previously been the scene of good-natured cheers, things turn south very quickly and indeed end almost as quickly. Having stopped the train, BART transport police come on scene, led by Officer Carruso (Kevin Durand, Real steel, 2011). Coming in hard and heavy the situation is tense, Oscar and his friends, defend themselves and react to the police behaviour, vigorously but politely and non-aggressively.

Events unfold as they did and are presented in a tense atmosphere.   The movie, while perhaps trying to find its feet early on, builds up to a crescendo with the scenes at Fruitvale Station, which come to the audience quickly and hard once they come. There is no escaping the emotion of the events of that night and indeed the events of subsequent years elsewhere have pushed this movie in to a very exact focus.

This film has an agenda, to show the needless death of a young man. Whatever your views on these events, this movie shows a young man, trying to make something of his life, despite the challenges he faces, only to be cut down as he looked to start a new life for himself.

A firm 7/10 with some issues regarding the direction, but overall it brings us the viewer along and allows us to be caught in the emotion of the events of that day.

Chappie

Directed and co-written by Neill BlomKamp (District 9, 2009) Chappie is set in The Republic of South Africa in the near future, more specifically in Johannesburg. Faced with ever growing rates of lawlessness and violence the South African police purchase a series of android robots from a local company headed by Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver, aliens 1986), these robots are fully mobile AI’s with human interfaces to help control them. Initial trials and usage are going well. Crime rates in the city fall and criminals are genuinely fearful of them.

The opening sequences tell you straight away that you are in a BlomKamp movie with the by-now familiar camera styles. With his opening shots we see how law and order is being restored. In the middle of this we meet drone 22 (who will become known as Chappie), who is severely damaged in deployment and sent to the scrap heap. As this is going on Deon Wilson (Dev Patel, Slumdog Millionaire, 2008) the engineer behind the androids has been working on a full AI program for the androids and has finally cracked it. He is prevented from trying his latest work on any of the robots. As this happens he is facing competition from inside the company in the guise of Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) who has developed a remote controlled ground drone which is basically a walking tank, full to the gunnels with high grade armoury, however his program is cancelled because of the success of the drones.

If life was not hard enough, some of the local criminals, suffering from the effects of the drones decide to Kidnap Deon to force him to shut down the drones. As luck would have it they kidnap Deon when he has a van load of spare parts in the back of his van, while he is getting out of the Lab so he can build his own full AI unit with his new software installed. Once captured, it becomes clear he cannot help them, but it is discovered that he has the making of an android in his van. He agrees to help them build it so he can fit his own AI software in to the brain.

They agree reluctantly, the leader of the gang, Ninja (also called Ninja today) wants the android for a big hoist. His friend Yolandi ( Yo Landi Visser, Focus 2015) develops a soft spot for Chappie as he grows. After some struggles Chappie (played by Sharlto Copley, District 9, 2009) has his AI brain and begins to learn how to behave in the human world. Ninja feels no emotion for him and treats him like a weapon basically, trying to train him to be an effective killing machine, Yolandi on the other hand develops a maternal bond with the ‘droid.

All this happens against the gang trying to plan their biggest Hoist, Deon not trying to get caught, and Vincent Moore discovering what is really happening and then planning to kidnap/destroy Chappie. As the movie develops is grows into three strands; the relationship with Chappie as he develops essentially following the characteristics of a truculent teenager; the training of Chappie by the gang despite attempts by Yolandi and Deon to “humanise” him and keep him away from violence. The third strand is the rivalry within the company and the attempts by Moore to discredit the androids and have his system used.

This of course culminates is a disaster for the city of epic proportions which ends up with Moore and his robot battling Chappie and his gang. While this is going on Deon’s work on AI have sparked Chappie’s interest and he himself manages to progress it. Ultimately they develop the ability to transfer a human conscience in to an artificial brain, this might be able to help them in their fight to survive.

I am trying hard not to ruin the plot line. I watched this shortly after watching Ex Machina (see below) it is interesting to see the take on artificial intelligence and how we as a society are prepared to live with it. Whereas Ex Machina had science and suspense, Chappie has action and a reflection, despite all that is going on we begin to see Chappie in an almost “human” light.

On the negative side, there are one or two small issues with the film, despite being in South Africa, the majority of the cast is white, Dev Patel (English of Indian extraction), something which considering the film is shot in South Africa was noticeable. One other aspect is what I would consider a hole in the story “Security” aspect. The facility where the robots are made seems to be totally incapable of any type of security (which facilitates the storyline) but this causes a certain weakness in the film. I should also point out the film does nothing to advance Johannesburg’s reputation internationally, rather cementing it as the violent city it is often known for.

That said, the movie manages to capture the discussion on what constitutes “humanity” and the nature of being, having a soul and the next life. Are we humane just because we are human, is the soul the preserve of humans?

6/10 An entertaining movie with some excellent special effects, but still somehow managed to give the feel of a small budget production. Overall quite watchable with some rough edges round the corners, perhaps deliberately.

Ex Machina

At first blush this seems a highly original piece, however as you settle down to it one begins to see very firm shades of Frankenstein. From a cinema perspective, despite the technological bias I was brought back to the 1972 classic by Joseph Mankiewicz, Sleuth where Michael Caine and Laurance Olivier are in a house together and at least one of them has murder on his mind. Although the intention here is not to kill the tension is still there.

The film starts with a young programmer, Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson ,About Time, 2013) who works for the world’s largest search engine “Bluebook” winning a week’s stay with the founder of the company, Nathan (Oscar Isaac, a Most Violent Year, 2014). Caleb is flown up to near Nathan’s home (in deepest Alaska) but has to go the remaining way on foot, due to the helicopter pilot not being allowed to get any closer. After some very awkward first moments and the first greeting , the two eventually settle down to an all-be-it uneasy working relationship. It turns out Caleb was there for a reason.

Caleb is there to help Nathan with his latest creation. At the age of 13 Nathan developed the algorithms for a search Engine called “Blue Book”. Now a silicon valley billionaire he tells Caleb the secret of his success was that while others saw the search engines as a way of knowing what people were thinking about, he saw it as a way of knowing how people were thinking. It turns out Nathan has developed an AI and wants Caleb to conduct a Turing test on the AI to see if she can pass as human.

This of course cannot be a pure Turing test, and as such is the foundation for some very intense and possible disturbing discussions between Caleb and Nathan. When Caleb meets the android Ava (Alicia Vikander, Seventh Son 2014) he quickly realises there may be more to the week.

As Caleb learns more from Ava and gets to know her, he sees that both Ava and Nathan seem to have very different views on each other. As each day passes Caleb sinks deeper in to a rabbit hole which would have impressed Alice on her way to Wonderland. As with the original Frankenstein, Adam or in this case Ava needs to escape. Plans are hatched and the situation quickly descends in to one of survival.

Throughout you get a sense of being trapped in the bunker of house which Nathan has, indeed this is reflected in how even Caleb has access to the house. The person we see with Caleb is the real person, everybody else may not be what or who they seem. Isaac’s Nathan is a perfect example of characterisation; we were never meant to like him and as the movie progresses we are given no reason to actually start liking him.

It is a great tense thriller, the plot is generally tight, although some developments are fairly well sign-posted, if you manage to catch the clues. There are a couple of turns and twists; not all of which predicted.

The tension and edginess of this production make it work, it is dark and the more we learn of Nathan the more we begin to wonder if he shut himself off from the world or did the world discard him. Who will escape the confines of the house, how will the android survive the week by passing the test. Is the android the only person being tested?

The special effects are flawless and seamless, important given the nature of Eva’s android frame. If you are looking for stomach turning violence you will not find it here, but if what you seek is an intelligent piece of cinema, watch this one.

This movie is as much a modernisation of Frankenstein as a reflection on the modern world around us. Written and directed by Alex Garland, this is his directorial debut.

8/10

Mad Max: Fury Road

When George Miller first gave us Mad Max in 1976, I was too young to appreciate it, however as a kid growing up I was one of the many who managed to see them and love them, that said by the time it came to Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome I felt (even at my then relatively tender age) as if the magic had worn off, while discussing the films recently, I recalled that it was actually a number of years before I watched the entirety of Thunder Dome.

Speed forward a generation and Miller has given us a new “episode” is the life of Max Rockatansky. I say episode as that is exactly how Miller described it when asked, it is not a prequel, sequel or other, but a new episode in the continuing adventures of Max

This time round Max is played by Tom Hardy (Peaky Blinders, 2014) who must be one of the busiest actors out there at the moment., He pretty soon runs into Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne, Mad Max, 1979 as “Toe Cutter”) and his band. Immortan controls the only source of fresh water in the district and together with two other local settlements; Gas Town, ruled by The People Eater (John Howard, All Saints 2001) and The Bullet Farm, run by the Bullet Farmer (Richard Carter, the Great Gatsby, 2013) they control the district. Immortan has developed an almost cult based society with those who serve him directly and act as his foot soldiers being given the necessary food to survive, other clanging around outside are left to be thankful for any scraps. As with the previous offerings society is mechanical and post-apocalyptic.

While a prisoner of Immortan, Max is to be used as a “Blood bag” for the one of the War pups – these are the (usually dying from radiation poisoning) young people under Immortan’s rule. Immortan has developed a psuado-religion with his War pups/dogs willing to die for him and go to Valhalla. In Max’s case the War Pup in question in Nux (Nicholas Hult, warm bodies 2013). Life is complicated when Imperator Furiosa , (Charlize Thron, Prometheus, 2012) one of Immortan’s more senior people, escapes with one of his war wagons ( a large fortified petrol trailer -which seems to be broken in to containers carrying water and human milk- and tractor) and, most importantly his 5 wives, all of whom are fit and healthy and capable of producing children, with at least one of them currently pregnant. Alarms are raised, and the war pups/dogs are sent out to capture them, indeed the neighbouring settlements are brought in and together the three leaders and their mechanical armies hunt down Imperatur Furiosa, here war wagon and as they discover the hidden wives. Max is attached to one of the war pups as a blood transfusion supply, however undaunted, the war pup, Nux (Nicholas Holt, Warm Bodies, 2013) volunteers to join the chase.

And now the fun really starts. As the chase begins Immortan Joe brings his warriors together, in a fantastic display of post-apocalyptic engineering right down to the booming sound truck with its own rock guitarist hanging from cables as he riffs to the assembled wildness. What follows is a genuinely edge of seat sequence of set-piece stunts which come off brilliantly.

Eventually Max manages to not only free himself from Nux but also get to the war wagon, its water and fuel and along the way discover the real cargo. Furiosa is taking them to The Green Place an almost mythical land she remembers from growing up. To add to his troubles, Nux is not too pleased to have lost his blood supply and to have done so in such a public manner, seeking to gain Immortan Joe’s approval he volunteers to get on to the war wagon and rescue the situation, Immoratan Joe promises him Valhalla and the brainwashed pup goes to his death. However he does not die and actually contributes greatly to events, though not as Immortan would have liked.

The chase continues and of course many are killed along the way in fantastic displays of destruction and mayhem. Eventually they come to Furiosa’s homeland where they meet a group surviving women, one of whom, the Keeper of the Seeds (Mellissa Jaffa, Komodo, 1999) manages to nicely convey how much life has changed. I don’t know if it was intended but the spirit of the women of the Green Lands was reminiscent of the characters and their strength shown in the 1956 classic A Town Like Alice (Jack Lee).

Things of course don’t exactly go to plan, but as with any good story, things have a way of working out to everybody’s (mostly) pleasure.

This movie might be an “episode” but from the perspective of popularity, it is effectively a reboot bring the franchise to an entirely new generation. I’ve tried not to say too much, the movie is visually spectacular, with a great cast and some witty dialogue, enjoy it.

To those who say the role of max has been diluted and there is too much of a female lead, I would simply say; no, you’re wrong.

San Andreas

I went to this one with open views, having seen it get some fairly poor reviews, that said I came out of the cinema thinking some of the reviews were perhaps a bit harsh. Brad Peyton’s movie is quite entertaining and almost immediately manages to stand on its own without the 1974 classic earthquake (Mark Robson) looming over it. Like the “original” there are two central strands, the scientists and the hero. The film opens with the scientists in Cal Tech led by “Lawrence” (Paul Giamatti, sideways, 2004)discovering they may be able to predict earthquakes, events quickly over take them and as the movie progresses the team at Cal tech essentially becomes something of a conscience for the movie as well as the vehicle for explaining what is coming and what effect it will have, this sounds rather mundane but Giamatti and Co. deliver a good support plot.

The movie proper starts of by giving us a background of the hero, chief pilot Ray, who works with the LAFD and is separated from his wife and daughter – we learn later the reason for the separation, something which might just be reversible. We meet his ex-wife Emma (Carla Gugino, Watchmen, 2009), daughter Blake (Alexandra Daddario (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, 2013) and emma’s new beau, the billionaire property developer, Daniel Riddick, (Ioan Gruffud, The Fantastic 4, 2005) who happens to be building the biggest and strongest high-rise in San Francisco.   This extended family gathering ofcourse causes the usual tensions which play to the plot.

So the family safely in LA, now has daughter Blake and step dad off to San Francisco , while Emma stays in LA to have lunch with Richard’s ice-cold sister; Susan (Kylie Minogue, Holy Motors, 2012). Then of course all hell breaks lose. As it happens our hero is in his LAFD copter and first things first goes to rescue his wife (ex). This is where the action sequences start to quickly roll in. As it happens Emma was at a restaurant on the top floor of a sky-scraper when the first quake strikes. Through much survival against falling building, explosions and general mayhem, Emma survives and manages to be rescued by our hero.

Pretty quickly they learn that Blake is trapped in San Francisco, separated from Richard and trapped. Trapped she may be, but she is rescued by a young man, Ben (Hugo Johnstone-Burt, Goddess 2013) and his little brother, Ollie (Art Parkinson, Dracula Untold, 2014).Through Blake’s smart thinking they manage to raise her father & mother in LA. What does dad do, only turn his copter around and flies directly in San Fran. Of course life is never easy and Father Ray’s copter runs out of fuel, the road is split in two, the tsunami is on the way and meanwhile there are the various shocks and after-shocks to deal with. Just as Ray and Emma struggle to get to their daughter, she and her two friends also struggle to survive. In a moment which reflect current movie trends, the boys decide to stick with Blake after young Ollie asks his big brother is he had any of the survival skills Blake has shown, No! they are staying with her.

Needless to say both parties eventually reunite and after much struggle manage to make it to safety. This is not a bad movie, but it is not a great one either. If is suffers in any area it is in editing. I felt watching it that it was rather episodic, moving from one scene/challenge in to another. As I mentioned at the time to a friend, I am not sure if Ray is the most unlucky person in the world or actually the luckiest on the basis everything he tried either ran out of fuel, broke, died, blew up or suffered another such fate and he manager to not only survive but reach his daughter and with the help of his wife (in a very Rambo moment) mange to actually rescue them.

I would give the movie a fair ***, not the greatest movie, but not the worst by any means. I’m not a great fan of Dwayne Johnson, mainly on the basis that nothing he has done has inspired me, although this is no Shakespeare, he does manage to act and deliver some good lines. The Stars of the show are however, the two leading women, Mother and daughter Emma and Blake.

Watch it and enjoy it, it does exactly what it does on the tin.

Spy

What a relief to watch some good old fashioned fun. Written and directed by Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, 2011) the premise of the film is simple; the bad guys have a bomb they want to sell and the good guys have to stop them. Sounds easy but there are some problems. The star of the show is Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy, The Heat 2013) a desk bound CIA analyst who works with her super-suave field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law, Sherlock Holmes 2009).

However things go badly wrong when the daughter of the terrorist they were tracking (and accidently killed) takes out Fine. In the process The agency discovers there may be a mole and the identities of its field agents may be compromised. The CIA section head responsible for recovering the situation is Elaine Crocker (Alison Janney, The West Wing, 1999). Opinion is divided on how best to continue, their other super-spy (self-professed ) Rick Ford (Jason Statham, Wild Card 2015) Ford adds a comedic balance to Cooper providing us with a character more like Inspector Clouseau, than James Bond. Knowing that all of the best agents have been compromised Cooper volunteers to go into the field.

Despite initial objections, Crocker eventually agrees to put Cooper in the field. It turns out Cooper is actually quite good at what she does regardless of what here friends and foes think of her. Ordered to track only their main suspect in order to find where she is selling the bomb and who to. Pretty quickly all of her plans collapse, largely as a result of no fault of hers.

Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne, Insidious 2010) has the bomb and has engaged Sergio de Luca (Bobby Cannavale, The Station Agent , 2003) as her middle man to sell it. Out in the field Cooper is supported back at HQ by her friend Nany Artingstall (Miranda Hart, Miranda 2009) an equally frustrated analysis.

Through a whole host of challenges Cooper repeatedly survives and gets closer to the bomb, despite the best efforts of colleagues who through their general incompetence or in-experience prove to be more than a hindrance. Agents like Aldo (Peter serafinowicz, Guardians of the Galaxy, 2014) sent in to help here continue to provide chaos.

This is a cut above the usual spy comedy. It quite happily pokes fun at itself without compromising the production. There will of course be the inevitable comparisons with 007, James Bond with the movie itself contributing to this with some subtle and not-so-subtle homage to the above names super-spy. Casino Royale springs to mind – not just the 2006 version by Martin Campbell (Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Judi Dench) but strangely enough the 1967 version by Ken Hughes staring David Nivenm Peter sellers and Ursula Andress.

The cast is excellent, the script witty, the jokes (including the visual ones) are fast and many, this movie quite simple works where other descend in to a swap of stupidity.

I saw this movie as a preview and the audience loved it. so it should do well.

Spring

Written and directed by Justin Benson (resolution, 2012) , with additional co-direction by Aaron Moorhead (ditto), this is one of the more different movies you will view in a while. This is a film which reward you for sticking with it. It has been described by some as a little weird, I would npot go that far, but it certainly has echoes of HP Lovecraft.

The film revolves around Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci, Evil Dead, 2013) who is having a fairly depressing life back home in theUS. His mother has just died after a long illness and on top of that he has just lost his job as a chef in a bar as a result of a fight. Not knowing what to do withhimself and fearing arrest, he decides to leave and settles on Italy as a destination.

He quickly meets two other backpackers and falls in with them as they spend time around the Naples area. It is during one evening with them that he meets a mysterious woman, (Nadia Hilker München 7, 2013) who toys with his affections. Evan meanwhile decides to stay for a while as the other continue on their tour. He finds a place to stay with an equally enigmatic old farmer (Francesco Carnutti, The Order 2003)He eventually tracks down and wins over the hand of the woman in question.

As their relationship progresses, there are certain restrictions and mysteries. Just as we are putting the pieces together Benson throws us just enough to answer the immediate questions. The “love affair” element is not in and of itself sufficient to keep our interest, so the additional mysterious slant adds to the story. Without giving any plot lines away, there is an interesting twist to the woman’s secret which will impact on their future time together.

As the movie progresses, the focus becomes more on the future rather than the past or present and the dark secrets associated with both.

One drawback is the stereo-typical presentation of rural Italy, I watched this film with an Italian friend (by coincidence) and he was a little put out by this usual practice ( I had to point out how this is also done with regard to Irish based films, sadly)

As the end nears and the horror element shows itself the movie continues at the same pace, forcing us to investigate more, what is happening? The movie ends with a big question hanging over them both. Will somebody have to sacrifice a life? Just how much is love worth.

This is not the fastest movie in the world and you will not have to suffer too much bloody carnage, but you still find yourself being brought along by this original story. The direction is a little rough in places but over all a solid *** production.

22 May 2015 and how it impacted.

Ireland says Yes to Marriage equality, the Global Impact

The Vote Itself.

There are a number of questions and impacts arising out of the historic Yes vote in Ireland on May 22 . I want to look at the very issue of the vote itself. Many LGBT rights/civil rights campaigners are totally against the proposal of putting such rights to a popular vote. Reasons against voting include fears around running the risk of losing the vote, which is fair enough, the other is that many are against putting the granting or rights to a vote of the population, why should rights be at the discretion of others.

With regards to the fear of losing the vote, this is a real fear, as we have seen recently in other European jurisdictions. In Ireland the discussion has been on-going with broad political approval. In Ireland the time for the discussion had come, it was now. The vote now was not as risky as people might consider. Although all political parties were in favour of the proposal, the support for the move was often less that total with a number politicians not campaigning (especially those local/ municipal level politicians).

The issue of putting a rights issue to a vote is more contentious. There is the philosophical argument for/against, but in Ireland there was a practical reason which required us to have a vote. The Irish Constitution strongly protects the rights laid-down in it. As it stands Article 41 deals with concepts surrounding the Family. Legislation could have been brought in directly, however there would have been the very real potential for any legislation to be held-up in the courts as the constitutionality of such legislation is debated, relevant to the Irish Constitution. This scenario is quite likely as we have a long history in Ireland of challenging legislative provisions with respect to their constitutionality. The end result of legislation would have been months or years judicial wrangling.

The Nature of the Debate

Perhaps one of the most striking aspects of the 22 May vote was the campaign and how it essentially turned the usual rules of campaigning on its head.

The Religious/Catholic aspect: Although many reports from around the world show Ireland as a deeply Catholic country, the reality of the situation is that the Church no longer has anywhere near the moral “authority” it used to have. Also there is a more fundamental point. The generational understanding of religion has changed. In the post Vatican II Catholic world, the attitudes of ordinary Catholics has changed. Gone is the fire and brimstone, burning fires of Hell Catholicism. Modern Irish Catholics have a religion based on the basic principal of Love, love thy neighbour.

Yes there was a rejection of Catholic teaching by many who as a matter of basic attitude would vote against anything supported by the Church, but there were others who saw a Yes vote as the decent Christian thing to do, you’ll see why in a minute. It should be noted that although a number of bishops came out against the Vote, many stayed relatively silent. The Archbishop of Dublin was at pains to stress that his position was not anti-LGBT.

Another aspect of the religious question was that of the lay fundamentalist organisations. These people had to be met straight-on and dealt with objectively. Where they quoted the bible, there is always another Bible quote to support a yes position. So a lesson, before you deal with a fundamentalist, learn their position and make sure you have your counter argument. A rights advocate will never win against a fundamentalist because they will not be open to discussion and changing attitudes, what does work though is to meet their arguments with fundamental “love” . It would seem that quoting scripture passages back at them, not only annoys them but also throws them out of kilter.

The difference between a No voter and a fundamentalist: many who voted No did so for personal reasons with the greatest respect for all involved and while I might disagree with their position, I respect it. A fundamentalist NO, is somebody who just spouts out religious dogma and refuses to entertain discussion. These people are often also homophobic, despite what they say. One interesting aspect of the debate was that, people did not debate the pro’s and cons of being gay, acceptance of LGBT people was taken as a given and any talk against such people was unacceptable.

What is the topic? There was much discussion around family related subjects such as surrogacy and adoption and the supposedly negative effect same-sex marriage would have on the family through use of these avenues. Many saw the basic untit of a family as being mother, father and children, with many saying that the purpose of marriage is procreation and a marriage with out “natural procreation” between both parties is not a valid marriage. Needless to say such an argument not only insults LGBT voters, but also childless couples, single parents and any right-thinking person. Where topics, designed to be contentious were brought up, they were met with a common cry, of that’s not the issue, please go back on topic. Although associated with marriage, these topics were not exclusively subject to the discussion at hand. These are separate matters governed by separate legislation that would still be needed/in force regardless of the referendum vote.

Discussion rather than argument

Own the discussion: do not let fundamentalists get you down. Time and time again people had to take a moment and simply walk away, not presenting a fundamentalist with a platform, removes their ability to communicate. A perhaps extreme example of this is the folks in Westboro Baptist “church” – You cannot have a logical conversation with these people so don’t.

Respect: The high moral ground is a great place, we have it and should keep it. Denying fundamentalists the opportunity to spout their nonsense is a valuable asset. As a nation people stood and refused to listen to extreme language, and simply said, “We do not recognise what you are saying”. It should also be remembered that the vast majority of those who voted No are good and decent people, motivated to do so for personal or religious reasons. While certain Yes voters were voting so, purely (or as a bonus) against the Church (indeed some proposed No as an anti-government vote, but more on that later).

Objectivity: by the end of the campaign the No side were complaining that they were not being listened to and were being ignored by the Yes side and the “Establishment”. This was because when the campaign started out came all the wild statements about what the gays would do and how the institution of marriage would be destroyed for ever (not to mention all the other doomsday predictions, and some were actually doomsday predictions), rather than argue the point , the Yes advocates took an objective approach when a wild statement like 100% of gays do this or that, the response was “prove it”, “where is the evidence” “quote your sources”. When faced with objectivity many could not deal with it.

Love is the word:

Why vote Yes? Because it was the right thing to do, but why was it seen as the right thing to do? A key aspect of the discussion was why should same-sex marriages be allowed. The simple answer was “Equality”. As a result of living in a constitutional republic one of the cornerstones of the Yes position was that ALL CITIZENS ARE EQUAL, and so should be afforded the same rights and protections. The love of one individual for another is as valuable of one person as it is for everybody, regardless or sexual orientation.

As the campaign progressed and indeed never more so than in the last days, the discussion stopped being about the rights and wrongs of same-sex marriage itself, but how we as a society wish to be treat each other in respect to this right or any other. For many it became a moral imperative not just to vote Yes, but to vote, period.

Not about spite: As I mentioned earlier, some people announced they would vote no, just to spite the government. Such a move spites nobody only your LGBT neighbour. In the Irish situation, Constitutional politics should be above party politics and so should not reflect our opinions of the government. This may seem theoretical, but when it could cost the referendum it is a very serious concern.

Keep it simple: Among all of the theory and theology the key was to keep it simple. Why vote Yes? To extend the definition of marriage, why? Because it is the right thing to do? Because we are a republic and all citizens are EQUAL, in this respect and all others.

Discussion not campaigning: One possibly unique aspect of this campaign was the discussion aspect. While the No side campaigned for their wanted outcome, the Yes side had a discussion with the voting public. While the No side told us why we should vote No and everything bad that would happen . The Yes side asked mother, fathers, brothers, sisters, friends and colleagues is they would deny the happiness they have to their LGBT family members and friends.   Why should you be able to marry the person you love and I not. This discussion appealed to the basic nature of the Irish spirit.

 

The big question

Ask one question get another answer. Although the question being voted on was simple in its wording, simply looking to extend marriage to all regardless of their sex, what happened was the country gave a greater answer. Although opinion polls gave possible results of up to 70% for Yes, very few believed them because in Ireland conservative no voters tend to either not declare in opinion polls or say they will vote, Yes. An example of this which hung over the heads of all, was the Divorce referendum, when an opinion poll 70% Yes vote turned into a 50.28% to 49.72 % win for Yes. This was a critical question because it shaped the final days of the vote. More and more the No voters were shouting on to deaf ears, so much so that they started to say they were being bullied and intimidated by the huge wall of yes supporters. One of the more pleasantly ironic aspects of the debate was when the no campaign started to campaign on the grounds of equality, they were entitled to be heard equally, how the wheel turns. Asking the question of family and friends made the question personal to everybody not just the LGBT community. Pretty soon, it became a moral question, not around whether two people of the same sex should marry (or raise children) but rather, what right does one person have to deny a basic freedom (to marry) or the chance to be happy to another. Many say this as a defining question of a generation. The debate had without people noticing, grown and changed in to a discussion about who we are as a people. Such was the nature of the discussion that many thousands of emigrants returned home from various parts of the world just to vote on that day (Under Irish law, your vote lapses if you are out of the country more than 18months and to use it you have to vote in person). In the six months before voting date over 100,000 people added themselves to the voting register (a sizeable number when you consider the total electorate is 3.2m).   The Yes Equality badge became an iconic symbol worn by many.

People asked themselves how do we want to shape the country we live in. Phrases like “Republic of Equals” became popular, people were asked to “vote for Love”. One of the significant messages in the dying days of the campaign, was “bring the family out to vote”. BelongTo’s video for this has received international attention. The HomeToVote online campaign also should this. Essentially the appeal was to people to not only vote but also to ask how would you like to be treated, how would you like your family and friends to be treated. It came down to love and respect rather than pro or anti- gay attitudes.

Why such a shift, Why such compassion?

Age: Many observers have said that the scale of the Yes vote is down to the youth, the students, of the country coming out to vote and indeed returning to the country to vote in huge numbers. “If somebody can travel half way around the world to vote, I can walk down the road to do the same thing” . Yes the youth vote played an important part but so did the other demographics. Electoral districts known for their conservative voting patterns returned yes votes (sometimes barely) with only one of 43 electoral districts actually returning a No vote. The youth voted Yes, but also large numbers of older voters are voted the same way, as did people across the economic and political divides.

International

Different laws and ideas of constitutional settings. In Ireland we put the question to a popular vote by way of referendum in order to ensure there would be no Constitutional challenges to legislation. This may not work, or be needed everywhere, but it was here and it did work. In the few days since the referendum we see , how MPs in Australia are considering their position in relation to same-sex marriage legislation; a Presidential candidate in Taiwan has spoken on the need for action, the opposition in Germany is now asking for a referendum there also etc. The fact of the matter is that what happens in one country can affect and inspire others, all the better when the message is one of happiness.

Republic of equals: I am not sure how this plays out internationally but it shaped how we reacted in Ireland and how we celebrated the outcome of the vote. Many people voted yes because it was the only way to vote. As has been pointed out the LGBT community is by the nature of its numbers always going to be a majority, but when you took into account family friends, colleagues and strangers who all stood together with their LGBT fellow citizens, then you get a majority. People were happy to vote yes, because the discussion had become one of how we treat all citizens in our republic. By the end of the campaign we were not looking at how we deal with an LGBT issue but how we as a people saw ourselves as part of a constitutional democracy. Equality as a principle was a guiding one. What we ended up doing was giving an statement on how we saw ourselves as a nation. Situations in other countries are often different depending on the nature of the legal and social structures , the people of Ireland did not set out to make a global statement, but the statement made went around the world. The simple statement was, is, one that; all citizens are indeed equal. From our definition of equality come rights such as freedom – when we are all equal we are all free.

As important as the debate and vote were, the result and the response to the result were just as important. How the country reacted to the vote, made as much a statement as the vote. When the result was announced (and expected) those present in and around Dublin Castle started to sing the Irish National Anthem. The question and the answer may have started being one of LGBT rights, but ended with us looking to see who we are as a people.

If somebody, anybody elsewhere in the world is better-off in any way for this, then, win.

 

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

I was tempted to start by saying this was not the best of the Avenger’s movies, but that might give a false impression, this is a classic Avengers/Marvel movie, what it lacked was the sense of something new, which the others had. Written & directed by Josh Wedon (Cabin in the Woods, 2012). Set post the battle of New York and the disintegration of SHIELD, the Avengers team essentially continues where SHIELD left off. While the operation is financed by Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr. (The Judge 2014) it is lead in the field by Steve Rogers/Captain America as they battle the forces of Hydra under Count von Strucker (Thomas Kretschman, Dracula 3D, 2012).

Indeed the opening scenes set the tone for the movie – set-piece action sequences, interspersed with some dry comedy from the team. The comedy is verbal, rather than situational slap-stick.

As expected the team, win the day and capture their prize, but only after learning of the existence of two new “enhanced” humans, the Maximoff twins; Pietro/Quicksilver with his speed (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Godzilla, 2014) and his sister Wanda/Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olson Red Lights, 2012). Whedon gives us an interesting play with these characters and works them well into the story line and set-up the narrative for the ever increasing numbers.

The plot to the movie is nothing strenuous, while hunting down Hydra and recovering various artifacts, they recover Loki’s staff and Stark decides to use it for tests and to see if it can be used to restart a dysfunctional planetary defence system, he enlists the help of Dr. Banner/The Hulk (Foxcatcher 2014) but keeps the work quiet. This of course queues up the inevitable disaster and low and behold a super AI is created who – first sets-out to destroy the digital mind that is Jarvis (Stark’s AI)takes over the body of one of the fighting legion of Iron robots which fight with Iron Man. The creation is revealed to the world when it basically gate-crashes the Avengers and friends having a party.

What continues is the usual high-octane Marvel-fest of graphics, stunts, disasters and battles. As Ultron continues on his way to destroy the world using Hydtra assets, he works to transform himself from an electrical circuit to a living electronic being with a mind. He will do this using technology Dr. Helen Cho ( Claudia Kim, Marco Polo 2014) is developing to help the Avengers recover from injury using cell regeneration. This is interrupted as the team take back the initiative and out of the mess is created Vision, who is the “solidification” of the virtual mind that was Jarvis. The robot/AI has developed from being a comic foil for Downey to being an Avenger. The part is excellently played by Paul Bettany (Priest 2011), who having given the character voice now gives it form.

Needless to say, after much near death, a few heavy soul-searching moments and lots of near impossible stunt work the team eventually get their way. What is important is what happened along the way. We learn that Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner Kill the Messenger, 2014) has a private life outside of the Avengers, and also of a possible growing relationship between Natasha Romanoff and Dr. Banner/The Hulk.

The humour is laugh-out-loud in places while in others it is definitely for the fans with the occasional “in-joke” which works. It is clear from the start that this is a movie which knew it could not take itself too seriously and so deliberately added the necessary humour. Being part of a greater narrative means that they have quite a support cast to call upon. Don Cheadle, Idris Elba and Stellan Skarsgard all reprise their roles to support while we also have appearances from Anthony Mackie; Sam Wilson/the Falcon (Pain & Gain 2013) and Heyley Atwell’s Peggy Carter. (The Sweeney 2012).

I recently learned that there is actually no set number of Avengers (there is about 50 of them in total) and we see hints of this with the ever increasing number of Avengers and their supporters.

Judging by this movie, there is no hint of the franchise slowing down anytime soon, it might be picking up if anything.

7.5/10

Horns

I came to this movie with an open mind, having read mixed reviews. I can see now why they were mixed. In essence we are looking at two movies, the horror-comedy-thriller and the romance. Although fresh and original, there were moments when I felt the film was deliberately playing to an audience segment, probably the younger audience who wanted to watch Harry Potter.

There is also an element of the old morality play about the film. I’ve noticed that a number of Hollywood productions carefully throwing in a moral lesson for the younger audience members, something, I’m not overly in favour of, there is a difference between entertainment and learning.

Directed by Alexandra Aja (The Hills have Eyes, 2009) and based on the screenplay by Keith Bunin (In Treatment, 2009) and the novel by Joe Hill. Following the death of Ig Perrish’s (Daniel Radcliffe, what If, 2013)childhood sweet-heart, Merrin Williams (Juno Temple, The Dark Knight Rises, 2012) under mysterious circumstances. Mysterious circumstances which have him as the prime suspect in her death. Pretty soon he notices he is growing horns. And this is where the film takes its first twist. We learn that Ig’s horns actually come with a gift/curse people do not notice them unless looking at them and then have an urge to focus on anything else but them. Being in Ig’s proximity also causes those around him to reveal their darkest secrets and desires. Using this he works through, the night of the accident and his various friends, people he has been friends with since childhood.

His best friend Lee (Max Minghella, The Social Network, 2010) seems to be immune, he is also his defence lawyer as nobody in the town believes him, his closest friend in the town is his brother Terry (Joe Anderson, The Grey, 2011) who he thought he could rely on, but there may be an issue. His parents are not much help and the horns allow him to hear so home-truths which don’t help him much. Indeed the relationship he has with Merrin’s father (David Morse, The Green Mile, 1999) is a far more honest one which despite what is happening actually develops.

The childhood relationship shared by the main protagonists helps us get a feeling of who and what is involved pacing the movie just one step ahead of us, not far enough to lose us, but not sufficiently far away to have us suffering from the suspense.

The horror elements come to the fore as the movie progresses, one of the things which make the horror element work is the non-use of stylised cinematography, the seeming normality of it. There are some specific comedy plot devices but it does not take from the presentation. The Role of Eric Hannity (Michael Adamthwaite, Sucker Punch, 2011) gives us both background to the childhood but also how it plays out in adult life as Eric is also the local sheriff, under the spell of the horns, Eric reveals certain facts about himself which play to the movie. His own parents Derrick (James Remar, Dexter , 2006) and Lydia (Kathleen Quinlan, Event Horizon, 1997) are no support to say the least, his father cannot relate to him and although trying to help may be doing more harm than good, while his mother is painfully honest with him.

Well worth watching, in only falls slightly in the extended “romantic” memories – fine we get the message, move on…David Morse, by the way, is notable for his understated approach, working well against his more usual type.

6/10 worth watching even if possibly aimed at the teen/twenties market. Who is telling the truth? Sometimes what we think of as a curse may be a blessing…

The Seventh Cross (1944)

The Seventh Cross is probably one of the more under-rated movies out there. It is at once haunting and challenging. The challenging nature is not the quality of the production but the subject matter. Released in 1944, this film deals with the subject of the Nazi concentration camps, the victims of those camps and society’s reaction to the camps, the people in them and the ruling regime. You are immediately reminded of the writings of Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984), also we see reflections Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic “M” with the use of the public in hunting down the suspect.

Directed by Fred Zinnemann (A Man for All Seasons, 1966) and based on the book by Anna Segher, the film is based in 1936. In the one production we see the how the Nazi infrastructure had already subsumed German culture within a few short years, those who dared to stand were removed, all others either turned a blind eye or betrayed those most at risk, rather than subject themselves to the regime. Although released in 1944 and viewed from the early 21st century where we can understand the evil to the Jewish people and all those others who suffered. In the early 1940’s this would not have been so appreciated, a fact that strengthens even more-so the power of the movie.

The film is narrated by Ray Collins (Touch of Evil, 1958), who plays the part of one of the recent escapees. Zinnermann uses this device to introduce our seven heroes and give us the background of their lives, including the events which brought them to this point. The film opens with the aftermath of their escape. The seven crosses are for each of the escapees, each will be crucified by the camp commandant.

One by one they are hunted down, caught and tortured. Against this George Heisler (Spencer Tracey Look Who’s Coming to Dinner, 1967) must continue to run to freedom. As he makes his way to his old home, he sees how Germany has changed, how the people have changed. Helped by a little girl, betrayed by a bar keeper, contacts gone. Alone and without help he finds himself in Meinz and tries for help from a former girlfriend, Leni (Kaaren Verne, All through the Night, 1941) who although having promised to wait for him, is now married and refuses to help. Again alone he witnesses one of his fellow prisoners being dramatically arrested. Knowing one of his contacts Heisler goes there for help, which he receives. Despite this things do not improve and he soon learns he has been betrayed by an old neighbour, he is running again. Not knowing where to turn, he calls to an old friend, Paul Roeder (Hume Cronyn, Cocoon, 1985) but turns away before the door, only to meet the friend approach. Welcomed in to Paul’s home he meets his wife Liesel (Jessica Tandy, fried Green Tomatoes, 1991) Paul initially does not realise Heisler is on the run, but when he learns the truth, he still helps. This is a turning point.

From here help is found, willingly given in some cases and reluctantly in others, one old friend, Sauer (George Macready (Peyton Place, 1964) only helps after being forced to do so by his wife, played by Katherine Locke, People Will Talk, 1951). Heisler through the help of other old friends and underground movement members eventually gets a passport and the way to The Netherlands looks clear…

It is interesting to note that when this was made, the US was at war with Nazi Germany. We see not just the usual war movie but the conflict from the perspective of the civilian population, those that supported, feared, detested the regime.

Seven Days In May (1964)

The political thriller based on the 1962 novel by Fletcher Knebel & Charles Bailey with the screenplay by Rod Sterling and directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, 1962). The original book is set in a short time in to the future (early 1970’s) the film does not do this, however there is one indication on a screen that it might be set in 1970. It does however have echoes of the famous John F Kennedy clash with General Edwin Walker – who had to be removed from office given his political statements.

Against this political background a senior aide, Marine Colonel “jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas, Paths of Glory, 1957) who works for Airforce James Mattoon Scott, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (Burt Lancaster, (Zulu Dawn, 1975) in the course of events Jiggs starts to uncover certain inconsistencies and transfers and when he starts to ask questions he is calmly told there is nothing and eventually gets sent on leave. Limited in where he can turn, he pulls in favours and goes straight to the President (Fredric Marchand, the Iceman Cometh, 1973) and his Chief of Staff (Martin Balsam, 12 angry men, 1957), after some discussions the President agree to quietly look in to it through back channels, assembling a small group of people he can trust. As they begin to investigate, they come up against stonewall responses with friends like the senator Raymond Clark (Edmond O’Brien, D.O.A. 1950) being detained at the secret military base he “discovered”.

As the tension mounts the President has essentially hours before a believed move by the General and his supporters in the guise of a large scale military exercise which the President was due to attend. The President cancels his attendance and then also the exercise at the last minute. The stage is set for the final showdown and hours before the General is about to make his move on national television the President addresses the nation and publicly requires the resignations of many of his top generals. In the face of such opposition the other all resign leaving Scott to decide his own future.

This is a tense well-constructed thriller which through the use of CCTV, video conferencing etc . subtly gives the futuristic hints owed to the book. I’ve not covered some of the finer point, that would take away from the thriller aspect. Watch it.

8/10

Local Hero (1983)

Some movies can have a long review just to explain them, others can be written in a few short sentences, this is one of the latter. This is not because of it being bad, but rather the opposite. It is a straight forward, well written and calmly directed piece which drags you in from the start and keeps you entertained until the end. Having watched it once, you will find yourself happy to repeat the experience as it pops-up from time to time.
Written and directed by Bill Forsyth (Gregory’s Girl, 1981) the cast is made up of some very understated stars. Peter Riegert (We Bought A Zoo, 2011) stars as the hard pressed executive sent to Scotland by Burt Lancaster’s (The Leopard, 1963) character Felix Harper. Harper the company’s CEO (Knox Oil & Gas) sends Riegert’s character (Known as “Mac”) partially because Harper thinks “Mac” has Scottish ancestry. This opening also shows how Harper can be truly narrow minded, focused on a result and dragging everybody else along, regardless of how they feel about it.
Harper has plans for an oil refinery and the townland of Ferness in Scotland is the perfect place, only problem is, he does not own it. Mac’s job will be to go to Ferness and convince the locals to sell-up. Adding an extra angle to the story Harper gives Mac an additional instruction to watch the clear night sky in Virgo and let him know back. Mac having a life in Texas tries to organise for all this to be done over the phone, but Harper insists on him being in Scotland.
Upon arriving he meets with Knox’s local man; Oldsen (Peter Capaldi, Dr. Who, 2014) and of course to add interest there is the local marine biologist, Marina (Jenny Seagrove, Judge John Deed, 2001)
Not being the biggest town in the world, Mac stays in the local bar/hotel which is owned by Gordon Urguhart (Denis Lawson, The Machine, 2013). As with many of these films being exposed to the locals and their way of life causes Mac to start to have reservations about the refinery project and the impact it will have on the local population. Of course things are never quite as they seem. Gordon not only runs the hotel but he works with some of the various fishermen who visit the port to actually manage their investments, none more so than with Victor, (Christopher Rozycki, Truly Madly Deeply, 1991) the Soviet trawler man who is a regular visitor to the town. Using parallels to Whisky Galore (1949) we see that life is hard enough for the locals and to be honest, they would be more than happy to sell up, but being who they are, they are putting on a long face and trying for as much more money as possible.
Mac and team soldier on with all the usual love and commercial complexities as the movie progresses, but then there is a twist, it turns out buying-up the town is one thing but when it comes to the beach and foreshore, there is a complication. The owner. He happens to be an old beachcomber by the name of Ben, (Fulton Mackay, Porridge, 1974) who actually lives on the beach in a self-made shack. Caught up in this and what looks like increasing issues with the locals it is starting to look like the purchase may not take place. In to all this Harper arrives and through a series of pleasant misunderstandings and his ability to effectively ignore what is being said to him, he actually manages to progress things. The dialogue with Ben, Mac and Harper is fantastic with some great one-liners. Sides are set, Ben does not want to sell, Harper wants the land and Mac is caught in the middle. Negotiations look like going nowhere. Faced with this Ben and Harper start to talk on the beach and well kindred spirits reveal themselves and a solution is found.
Movies like The Grand Seduction (2013) clearly owe a lot to Local Hero. Such is the quality of this film that it is one of those which is used as a bench-mark against others are measured. This is a case-study in how to write a story, direct the image and not over complicate or distort the output to a level which ruins and causes a lesser offering. This is simply a well-crafted story with a great ensemble cast.
8/10

La Grand Illusion

Set during World War I is tells the story of two French Aviators, their capture and subsequent confinement and escape. This film is as much about class and background as it is about war. Indeed one could argue that the war is only a vehicle to carry the story of class difference and how it impacts on the lives of all those concerned. It was directed by the great Jean Renoir (Madame Bovary, 1934) who co-wrote it with Charles Spaak (Justice is Done, 1950). Centred around our two heroes the two aviators; Captain de Boeldieu (Pierre Fresnay, The Man Who Knew Too Much, 1934) the aristocrat of the pair and his working-class lieutenant, Maréchal (Jean Gabin, Le Jour se Leve, 1939). Having gone out to further photograph a site which they filmed on a previous flight (but was too blurred to be of use) our aviators are shot down. As it turns out they are downed by a German aristocrat, a one Captain von Rauffenstein (Eric von Stroheim, Sunset Blvd. 1950). In the earlier part of the war the aviators saw themselves as the last of the gallant military and often observed social niceties across the divide, as in this case. After shooting them down, von Rauffenstein has the two men found and brought to him, where they are invited to be his guests. During the course of the dinner it is realised that von Rauffenstein and Boeldieu actually have mutual acquaintances, reflecting the nature of the trans-national lives European aristocrats often lead.

The two aviators are subsequently sent to a POW camp where they fall-in with a number of fellow prisoners. During their incarceration here we see how Maréchal is given solitary confinement as a result of a commotion; we also see how badly it affects him. Out with the main population the two are fully involved in escape attempts, which ultimately come to nothing as the prisoners are transferred and Maréchal cannot let the English prisoners know of a escape tunnel due to his lack of language.

Transferred to various camps they arrive at Wintersborn, a camp under the command of the now injured and promoted von Rauffenstein. Once again escape is on their minds and along with the rich aristocratic Jew Le Lieutenant Rosenthal (Marcel Dalio Donovan’s Reef, 1963) who they know from their previous camp, they plot to escape. As part of the escape Boeldieu climbs to a highpoint and gets the guards attention. His fellow aristocrat, von Rauffenstein, stops the guards from shooting him and tries to get him down, meanwhile the other make a run for it and climb out/down using the usual home-made assortment of rope/cloth. Von Rauffenstein, aiming for Boeldieu’s legs shoots him in the stomach and fatally wounds him. While dying Boeldiue comments on their place in society and what might be the place for those such as them in the new post-war world.

Meanwhile the others escape through Germany on their way to Switzerland. On their way there they have their share of upsets and even separate, with Maréchal leaving the injured Rosenthal, only to return. They eventually take shelter in a small farmhouse owned by Elsa Parlo, (Dito Parlo, L’Atalnte, 1934), her husband and brothers have all been lost in the war, yet she helps them recover and treats them with kindness, even keeps them safe from her fellow Germans. Eventually leaving the two make their way to Switzerland, only to come under fire from a patrol as the approach the Swiss border, they escape.

We see from the connections such as with Boeldieu and von Rauffenstein that regardless of nationalities, society can, given the right environment function at a level which is unrelated to that of nation-states and indeed should make war obsolete due to the effects it could have on those of that class, the Grand Illusion. Renoir had a message here, clearly filmed against the rising tide of Nazism and fascism in Europe we look to see how Jewish and coloured characters are treated. We could analyses the movie from hindsight, rather we should watch it and perhaps ask what lessons do we still have to learn.

Much has been written about the decline of the aristocratic or ruling families of Europe after the war and the rise of a “new world order”, one where the common man and not the landed gentry would look to guide the world they lived in. Interestingly, only 20 years after the end of WWI Renoir had sufficiently clear a picture of this decline and change that he was able to write one of the best and earliest depictions of this changing Europe/world.

I’ve held off on mentioning a comparison to Kubrick’s Paths to Glory (1957). Again we see elements of the class struggle and the changing face of humanity brought on by the war. The other obvious comparison is All Quiet on the Western Front (based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque) directed by Lewis Milstone (1930) which focused on the physical and mental suffering of the ordinary soldier in the conflict. In deed it is quoted that one of the reasons Renoir made this film was because he felt no other movie, apart from All Quiet on the Western Front, sufficiently told the story of the ordinary soldier.

La Grande Illusion is as strong today as it was in 1937, perhaps even stronger for our failing to learn from it and other writings/productions form “ordinary people”

9/10

R100

A lot was made of the potential content of Fifty Shades of Grey ( I saw it and refuse to write a critique of the tripe), this movie, being Japanese does not concern itself with western tastes and just gets on with the film. Takafumi Katayama (Nao Ohmori, Ichi The Killer, 2001) is a husband and father struggling under the pressures of life. His wife is in a coma with no prospect of waking, he deals with this while bringing up their young son (Haruki Nishimoto), with the help from his own father-in-law (Gin Meada, Midsummer’s Equation, 2013). To release some of his own pressures he joins a Bondage club. This club is not like any other. On entering he is met by a lone man (Suzuki Matsuo, Otakus in Love, 2004) behind a desk (in a very seedy looking building interior) who introduces Takafumi to the club and its rules; all contact is outside, none in the actual club, at mutually agreed times. Membership is only for 1 year, contact is non-sexual. Through a series of flashbacks we see the various girls from the club (various Queens specialising in S&M/Bondage disciplines. He is forced to eat squashed sushi in a bar when one queen makes him eat it, another attacks him in the street, at a fountain etc. As the time goes on, the visits get darker and his home/family become involved. This is beyond the limit for him. He goes to the police to complain where he meets a very jaundiced police officer played by Hitoshi Matsumote who also directed the film (Saya-zamurai, 2010) who basically tells him that at this stage no laws have been broken. Things go down hill from there. Not long after a Queen visits him at home, ties him up and begins sensory torture on him. At this juncture the film take a very disturbing turn, Takefumi’s son witnesses events and in the next scene we see the boy tied up in rope, suspended from a ceiling and gagged with the bondage gag. Thing go south with the accidental death of another Queen (Queen Saliva..) With the help of a mysterious government agent who shows up (Atsuro Watabe, The Flowers of War, 2011) and helps with his son. Knowing that his son is safe he goes to his father-in-law’s home believing he is in danger form the group behind the Bondage Club. He is. Indeed things have gone so badly wrong as far as the club is concerned that their CEO flies in to deal with things. Before I describe the closing scenes, it is only right to say that this movie is so far “off-the-wall” that the director engineers breaks within the movie, we are not told what these are first and are left to wonder, it quickly becomes obvious by the second “break” that these are producers coming out of a screening of the movie and are in shock, they cannot understand some of the more strange aspects of the movie – This is an interesting vehicle as it shows the director is still in touch with the viewing public and this adds to the comedic nature of the film. The denouement is a battle scene at Takafumi’s father in law’s house (at this stage it should be pointed out that both his wife and father-in-law have been killed by a “Queen” who ate them (yes!). The CEO of “Bondage” (Lindsay Howard) having flown in an struck fear in to all involved now leads the attack on the house. The scene is at times a mix of “Monkey” (1978) special effects with an approach which (to my mind at least) is nothing short of an homage to the works of Akira Kurosawa, particularly reminding me of (Ran, 1985) . The culmination of this is a 1:1 fight (not shown) between Takafumi and the CEO, it turns out he might be more of a sadist than a masochist and as a result a new sadist is conceived in him – you can guess what that means. Allow yourself to accept the cultural differences and you will enjoy the film. An interesting aside which make the movie work on another level is that it is set in the 1980’s/90’s so no PCs, laptops, smart phones or neon all over the place. A challenging but quite good comedy which will not be for everybody. The title itself “R100” is a view on the Japanese movie rating system (R18 etc.) and indeed near the endone of the “producers” during a break explains to his boss that the fictional director (himself aged 100) sys you have to be 100 to understand the movie – which of course causes them to ask how many 100 year olds are there who would go see the movie . Entertaining, funny and very watchable, if you are able J

Big Eyes

I bought this movie a while ago and not looking too closely when I put it on over the weekend I had it in mind that it was a Coen brothers film, rather, it is courtesy of Tim Burton; either way we sat down expecting something a little different. We had to sit back and think when was the last live-action (relatively mainstream and not involving too many dead people) movie Burton made, it has been a while and all compare to what I consider an under-appreciated classic; Big Fish (2003).

The story is based on the life of the artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams, American Hustle, 2013) who leaving a destructive marriage sets off to the San Francisco bay area where she tries to get by with the help of friends such as DeeAnn (Krysten Ritter, Search Party, 2014) selling her existing paintings and sketching people without much success. Then one day while she and her daughter were selling her work at a flea-market they are met by the charismatic Walter Keane (Christoph Waltz, Carnage 2011). Keane recognises a certain something in her works, while he essentially discards his own works of Parisian Street scenes. As their relationship develops he takes the opportunity to sell her work along-side his at a jazz club. By this stage they have married (rather quickly) As they are married, both sign their works “Keane” and pretty soon people start to take notice of the works, with the Big Eyes paintings selling at the expense of his.

Walter had always sold himself as an artist, who having had a career, gave it up and became an artist living in Paris, and so now his speciality is Parisian street scenes.

Rather than tell the world that they are his wife’s (“women’s work does not sell”) he passes them off as his own. When Margaret finds out about this she is not too happy but he convinces her to go along with it. As it happens Walter is a superb sales man and engineers the sales of her works (as his) . the works take off and to the world Amy does not paint, it is Walter. As the years progress and they become more successful, the pressure builds with Amy. What does not help is Walter’s engineering of sales and publicity opportunities ably assisted by his gossip-columnist friend Dick Nolan (Danny Huston, Masters of Sex, Dr. Douglas Greathouse, 2014) . Walter is a celebrity and uses his celebrity status to further advance the sales of their/his works. Amy eventually feeling the frustration starts to paint in a new style so that she can be seen in public as an artist, but these works are not as successful, partly because she is not as good a sales person.

As they progress with the big-eyes works, with the gallery and image licencing rights bringing in the money, the edges start to fray around Walter’s grand deception. He needs to bring out a coffee book, but for that he needs a back story. And so was born the fiction of the starving children in 1949 Berlin with their big sad eyes. His art is not without his detractors, none more so than John Canady (Terrance Stamp, Valkyrie, 2008) who has been a strident critic of the works form the start – they are not proper art in his view. This comes to a head when Walter promises a large work to the UN for their stand at the New York World’s Fair. This of course has to be painted by Margaret, much against her wishes. Just as his professional career is coming to a head so is his home life.

Canady, learning that the painting for the Un is about to be exhibited, gets a preview. Upon seeing the work he writes a critique of it which totally destroys it. The picture is later removed from view. Alongside this is Margaret’s growing unease at keeping her talent a secret from everybody, but then she makes a discovery – Walter has been faking even his own paintings for years, he has been buying landscapes from a particular artist in Paris for years, then painting his name over the original artist’s name, Margaret discovered a crate of the originals, that of course sparked the great reveal.

Having had enough, Margaret and daughter run away to Hawaii and begin to make a new life for themselves. Trying for a divorce Walter makes it clear that if she tried to divorce him on terms other than his own (he keeps the rights and she has to present him with 100 more paintings), he will reveal she was part of the fraud by letting him sell the paintings.

Finally having enough she sues Walter and his media supporters, arriving to court Walter is certain he is going to win, given his media company backing, however they quickly remove themselves once they are cleared of any defamation on their side. What follows is Walter’s attempt to use is show-boating to sway the court, the judge is having none of it and orders certain activities to determine who the real artist is…

A very engaging, funny and at time poignant movie, it is well worth watching and enjoying, and other reason why Tim Burton is in a class of his own. 8/10

Big Hero 6

Firstly, I enjoyed this movie, I’m not quite sure which demographic it was aimed at (as many as possible I suspect) but it worked. I’ll get thje negative out of the way first. The World of Big Hero 6 is a Japanese San Francisco called San Fransokyo. This is my issue. I spent the first few minutes of the film trying hard to forget Philip K Dick’s “Man In a High Castle” which was set in a post-WWII environment where the axis powers had been victorious and among other things was the Japanese governed west coast of America. Once I managed to get that behind me, I was able to sit back and enjoy the film.

This is a Disney production of Marvel characters and is essentially a similar movie to Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) which also gave us a new screen introduction to an all new breed of super-heroes. This is the first of the Marvel characters to be released as an animated movie in this current reboot of all things Marvel. Disney developed software for the graphics and it has to be said the graphics here as good as they get.

Brothers Hiro (Ryan Potter, Supah Ninjas 2011) and Tadashi Hamada (Daniel Henney, the Last Stand, 2013) are parentless orphans living with their aunt. Young Hiro, at 14 is a technology genius who I spends his time developing fight-bots much to his older brother Tadashi’s objections. Tadashi himself is no slouch and it enrolled at a special robotics class at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology. Tadashi takes Hiro to his lab in the hope of inspiring him. In the course of the visit he meets Tadashi’s friends and professor who inspires him to enter a competition to gain entry to the course, even at 14.

Hiro designs revolutionary micro-bots which he presents at the exhibition to great reaction, however the exhibition hall goes on fire which resulted in Tadashi being killed trying to rescue the professor.

Mourning Tadeshi’s loss Hiro realises that Tadeshi’s medical robot “Baymax” (Scott Adsit St. Vincent, 2014) is actually in the house with him. Activiating Baymax results in the discovers of Hiro’s micro-bot which he thought were destroyed. The microbots are revolutionary in that they can be controlled by mind-control.

After finding the microbots it is obvious that there is trouble afoot. Baymax, thinking Hiro needs the company of Tadeshi’s pals from the Lab calls them, which is just as well as Hiro is trying to escape the masked villain. Together using Hiro’s super genius they design super-hero weapons and gadgets reflecting their areas of expertise. Like with Guardians the individuals on their own are far less than the synergy of the group. Fred T.J. Miller is the “mascot” of the group who is a spoiled rich kid who essentially funds their experiments. Then there is Go Go (Jamie Chung, Premium Rush2012) the speed merchant and Wasabi (Damon Wayans Jr. The Other Guys, 2010) the giant of the group who is also a hypochondriac, who are supported by Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez, Tusk, 2014)who creates the sticky coloured paint bombs. Hiro’s upgrading of Beymax helps things along.

As with any superhero plot the team goes after the masked villain (James Cromwell, Still Mine, 2012), gets a bloody nose, regroups and then we have the big show-down. Nothing new here. As standard as the plot is, the script actually supports it well and provides us with a good story. If you are a fan of the Marvel reboots then you will enjoy this. Nothing too heavy but not childishly light.

7/10

Poitín, 1977

Poitín, for any of you who do not know is a distilled beverage produced in Ireland ranging from 40% – 90% ABV which comes from a small pot still using ingredients such as potatoes, grains etc. Though produced legally under licence, it is more often than not produced illegally with no excise paid. It is against this background that we look to Poitín.

Poitín was the first feature film produced entirely as Gaelige (in Irish) here in Ireland. Directed by Bob Quinn (The Bishop’s story, 1994) with the screenplay by Colm Bairead (based on his short story), it is located in the “wilds” of Connemara, as our hero tries to go about his living while avoiding the police (the Gardai) while at the same time fending off the unwanted threats from two local thugs who want his business.

By measures both dark and hilarious it evolves around Labhrás (Donal McCann, The Dead, 1987) and Sleamhan (Niall Toibin, Far and Away, 1992) who give a hard time to Michil (Cyril Cusack, The Quiet Man, 1952)) the local poitín maker (moonshiner), often threatening violence on him and his daughter, who shares the family home with him. Entirely in Irish and subtitled the movie does not waste time, every scene shows us a small group of people each out to succeed in their own way.

When the movie was released originally in 1977 there was quite an outcry as it was seen by many as pandering negatively to Irish stereo-types, such as had happened previously with Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World (1911) where people thought the “stage-Irish” element was offensive. This could be a case of being over sensitive.

What makes this film work is the superb acting by the legends Cusack, McCann and Toibin and others who were to emerge as legends of stage & screen, at least here in Ireland such as the late great Mick Lally (The Secret of Kells, 2009). The cinematography is bleak, ably capturing the nature of stony, exposed, desolate Connemara.

A number of the supporting cast were locals and not professional actors, this adds to the production in that all of the actors were fluent Irish speakers, achieving the correct tones and styles, giving us a very natural conversation.

It is a stark, well-acted film, which despite its world-class leading actors may not travel well outside Ireland, but, here at least it, is now recognised as the classic that it is. Originally met with a partially negative reaction because of the story-matter, it is now actually approved as a support to the school language curriculum.

9/10 – partially out of a sense of romanticism, but generally because again 20+ years after watching it for the first time it still resonates.