Archive for June, 2015

Jurassic World

Posted: June 29, 2015 in Film reviews
Tags:

Directed by Colin Trevorrow. Starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

Clipboard02

Its more than twenty years since the events of Jurassic Park, and despite the initial tragedy InGen was able to open a theme park, named Jurassic World, on Isla Nublar. Jurassic World has been a resounding success, but in order to keep interest and visitor numbers high the park relies on a continuing stream of new attractions. In order to create a new, even bigger draw InGen scientists use DNA from multiple sources to create a genetic hybrid that they call the Indominus rex, something larger and more vicious than even the T-rex.

Claire Dearing (Howard) is in charge of the park, her nephews Zach and Gray have come to visit, possibly whilst their parents split up, but Claire is too busy to spend much time with them because she’s arranging corporate sponsorship for the new dinosaur, so she sends them off to enjoy the park without her.

Meanwhile the owner of the park, Simon Masrani, is concerned about the security of the Indominus rex and asks Claire to get Owen Grady (Pratt) to take a look at the enclosure. Grady is working on a project to see if the Velociraptors can be trained. He and Claire have a prickly relationship having had a very disastrous date and his laid back style is at odds with her more uptight personality. Whilst they’re examining the Indominus rex’s enclosure however, the dinosaur escapes, and before long the island is in chaos. With her nephews in danger, can Claire and Grady save the boys, and stop the rampage of the super dinosaur?
I went into Jurassic World suspecting I’d probably seen the whole film already. It had been so heavily trailed, and the trailer had seemed to give a lot away. Thankfully I can report that the trailer didn’t give away nearly as much as it seemed, and as such much of Jurassic world came as a surprise, mostly, it has to be said, a pleasant one.

I found the first third the least interesting, in part because this seems to be where much of the trailer footage had been culled from, but also because we all know what’s going to happen, so a lot of the scene setting seems superfluous, especially given none of the characters are really fleshed out.

Once the Indominus rex gets loose and all hell starts breaking loose the film gets a lot better. On the whole the effects work is excellent, with only the usual problem CGI has of not always implying weight (which is where model work still has the edge). The action is well paced and what I found particularly pleasing was that I genuinely felt characters were in peril on many occasions, so I was on the edge of my seat.

The plot has much in common with the Indominus rex, because it too is a hybrid, its narrative DNA lifted from multiple sources. There’s a lot of Jurassic Park in there (obviously) but the film also riffs on Aliens, Predator, Raiders of the Lost Ark and a whole host of films in a similar vein. Thankfully though Jurassic World is no Frankenstein’s monster, its mismatched parts fastened together by very obvious stitching, instead the plot is seamless (even if it doesn’t always make sense).

What lets the film down is its characterisation. There’s been a lot of talk about Howard’s character and about sexism. I have to say that I think there is a valid argument there. It isn’t about the high heels (I’m sure there are plenty of woman who can move quicker in heels than without them) as about the general nature of her character. She’s a hard-bitten woman in a man’s world, tough and emotionless and the conversation between her and her sister where the sister starts saying that she’ll learn once she has kids is painful. Yes Claire does get to save the day on several occasions, but even then at times her agency is undermined. On one occasion she saves Grady’s life. In response he immediately reasserts his dominance and masculinity by grabbing her and kissing her. It feels very old fashioned, if not practically Jurassic 😉

On the other hand Claire’s wafer thin characterisation is in line with every other character as no one comes out of this well, and whilst her “journey” from frigid control freak to softer maternal wife/mother material isn’t exactly a positive, at least her character evolves (or maybe devolves) unlike Chris Pratt’s Grady, who starts the film as the wisecracking hero and ends the film as the wisecracking hero. There’s talk about him being the new Indy, and whilst in some respects I can see it, for me he doesn’t quite have that sardonic weariness that Harrison Ford was always so good at.

I appreciate that this is a summer blockbuster not an Oscar nominated drama, it’s just a shame more effort wasn’t put into the Claire/Grady relationship and that they didn’t meet halfway. Like I said though, most of the characters are caricatures: evil Asian scientist, nerdy tech guy, nerdy tech girl, sullen teenagers, nefarious military guy…though at least they’re consistent. The worst character is Irrfan Khan’s Simon Masrani, who one minute doesn’t give a damn about profits and is only concerned that the visitors are having a good time, and the next is putting the visitors in danger because he doesn’t want to risk the company’s bottom line by taking out the Indominus rex!

On the whole though this is a very enjoyable experience, it’s fun and exciting and, to my mind, it’s certainly the second best of the Jurassic Park films and, given I was never a huge fan of the original, it might even be my favourite. Time will tell.

There’s talk of a sequel and I look forward to it. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait 65 million years for it…

Advertisements

The Pierced Years

Posted: June 25, 2015 in James Bond
Tags:

pierce-brosnan-in-james-bond

It pains me to put Pierce Brosnan fourth, of all the Bonds he was the hardest one to rank, because you see I like Brosnan, I like him a lot, and to be honest I did um and ah between him and Moore, but in the end Roger made third place purely down to some very specific points. Firstly there’s longevity, Roger Moore made seven films, and most of them I liked, Brosnan only made four, and though I again liked most of them I think the percentages favour Rog. But hang about, I hear you cry, Dalton only made two films, and yes you’re correct, which brings us to the other sad truth about Brosnan…there’s just nothing truly unique about his Bond.

Every other actor before (or since) Brosnan has brought something a little different to the table, but too often Brosnan feels like an amalgam of all the men who went before him. There’s the dangerousness of Connery, the vulnerability of Lazenby, the humour of Moore and the ruthlessness of Dalton, but no element that seems uniquely Brosnan. He’s the identikit Bond, as if all those henchmen who managed to survive encountering 007 over the years finally got together and fed what they knew into that hilarious computer Q had in For Your Eyes Only…

computer

Which, I must stress, doesn’t mean I don’t like Brosnan. Hell Goldeneye is one of my favourite Bond films. The trouble is that after Goldeneye reinvigorated the franchise you sort of got the feeling that the producers weren’t entirely sure what to do with Pierce, which is odd, because he is a decent actor, and he might be amalgam Bond, but he’s still quintessentially Bond, so we got a series of very 90s style techno thrillers that are slickly done yet seem oddly similar. Take the Bond girls, having a good and bad girl, and having one of the two die has been a Bond staple going back to the 60s, but not in every film as they were with Brosnan ( yes technically Paris isn’t bad but she still dies and so is the exception that proves the rule) and you only have to look at the films either side of Bond’s tenure to see a difference; Licence to Kill features two good girls and both live, Casino Royale features two morally ambiguous girls and both die. And then there’s the recurrent theme of hiring American ‘name’ actresses (Hatcher, Richards, Berry) none of whom excel, in place of the more usual continental/relatively unknown actresses.

Brosnan’s films (and by extension Brosnan’s performance) also seem to struggle to balance the gritty and the fantastical, never more evident than in Die Another Day, one minute Bond’s captured and tortured in North Korea, the next he has an invisible car. For the record I actually like DAD but it does highlight the somewhat schizophrenic attitude of the franchise at the time.

Finally it must be said that some of Brosnan’s double-entendres were so bad even Rog might have baulked.

From a purely aesthetic level Brosnan has the right look and definitely the right physicality for Bond. He can be cold blooded, just witness the way he offs Professor Kauffman and Elektra, but he also acts like an over excited schoolboy at times, and that leads to one of the things I do love about Pierce, his enthusiasm. I wish certain other actors in the role had shared it. Too many men who strap on the Walther PPK do so reluctantly, but not Brosnan, there’s a genuine twinkle in his eyes at times, as if he constantly has to remind himself “I’m James Bond, I’m James effing Bond!” Just see the unbridled glee he demonstrates as he drives that BMW from the backseat in Tomorrow Never Dies. He loved playing 007 and maybe, despite what I said earlier, there is something new he brings to the role, the schoolboy glee, but if there is, and much as I love him for it, it isn’t enough to rank him higher than fourth (sorry Pierce!)

So one Bond left and one slot, I bet the suspense will be killing you until I reveal who’s at #2 next week!

Bond #001           Timothy Dalton

Bond #002           TBA

Bond #003           Roger Moore

Bond #004           Pierce Brosnan

Bond #005           George Lazenby

Bond #006           Sean Connery

 

 

Give me Moore!

Posted: June 19, 2015 in James Bond

movies-60-years-of-bond-gallery-11

There’s a snobbery that afflicts a certain section of Bond fandom, people who only want Bond to be like he is in the books and who pine for the halcyon days (i.e. the Connery era) when Bond films were gritty realistic spy films. Usually (but not always) the chief target of this ire is Sir Roger Moore. He’s a joke, he’s too lightweight, his films are ridiculous…etc. etc. etc.

As with most people with an axe to grind (myself included on occasion, let’s be honest) they pick and choose the facts that back up their argument. So Rog going into space in Moonraker is the nadir of the series and utterly ridiculous (just don’t mention that Connery nearly went into space ten years earlier, you know in the gritty realistic spy film about the man with a hollowed out volcano and a spaceship that ate other spaceships…) they’ll mention Rog dressed as a clown in Octopussy as the very epitome of life imitating art and a moment that completely demeans the character (but again forget Connery in yellow face as the world’s least convincing Japanese man) And let’s be honest here, whilst Roger Moore did make several of the more fantastical films, he also made For Your Eyes Only, which is probably more of a realistic spy thriller than anything in the Connery canon excepting From Russia with Love.

Personally I think Roger Moore is underrated; in particular his early films are very good, The Man with the Golden Gun is the weakest of the first three, but it’s still good fun, which I think is one of the things I do enjoy about Rog, his films, even at their silliest, are fun, and there’s a lot to be said for that. Ok Moonraker is utterly preposterous, but so what, it’s fun and utterly preposterous.

Yes Moore is less obviously dangerous than Connery, and yes Moore opted for a lighter, more humorous portrayal, yes he was in the role too long and yes the whole eyebrow thing did become a bit of a joke, and he did end up becoming something of a parody of himself (see also William Shatner, another who’s a better actor than you might think), but there’s a lot more to Moore’s portrayal than meets the eye.

For starters I think he’s more brutal and coldblooded than people imagine, and the fact that he’s suave and lightweight with a nice friendly smile actually makes his brutality more shocking than say Connery, who never does anything really unexpected.

Take his “I certainly wouldn’t have killed you before.” to Rosie and basically tricking Solitaire into shagging him(which isn’t a great moment but preferable to Connery’s ‘I’ll just lie on top of you till you give in, Pussy’ tactic), to slapping Andrea Anders around in The Man with the Golden Gun and dropping a man off a rooftop with an effortless flick of his tie in The Spy Who Loved Me, and of course there’s him dispensing with the man who killed the countess in For Your Eyes Only. He may not be as remorseless as Dalton or Craig, but the fact that he’ll kill you with a smile is almost unsettling. In fairness it’s worth noting that often Moore was against the more brutal elements of the character, but that said those characteristics are there, and for anyone who doesn’t think Moore can be nasty I suggest you watch The Wild Geese where he makes a villain swallow a consignment of heroin laced with strychnine (ok it’s not a Bond film but still, his Shawn Finn is quite 007ish.)

His acting gets a bum rap, but again I’d argue he’s a better actor than people give him credit for. Obviously he’s no Ralph Fiennes but check out his reaction when XXX mentions Tracy in The Spy Who Loved Me, or his disdain when Scaramanga implies they’re very similar, and don’t forget the weary look when a Universal Exports’ helicopter arrives to pick him up whilst he’s trying to grieve at the start of The Spy Who Love Me.

And though it’s not really relevant, you kind of get the feeling that, all things considered, he’s a fairly unpretentious and decent chap into the bargain. So go on, give in and admit that, sometimes, safari suits, judo chops and raised eyebrows are cool!

He’s also the Bond who got revenge for Tracy, which is just icing on the cake.

Four down, two to go, but who will be in fourth place and who’ll be second only to Dalton?

Bond #001           Timothy Dalton

Bond #002           TBA

Bond #003           Roger Moore

Bond #004           TBA

Bond #005           George Lazenby

Bond #006           Sean Connery

 

The Three

Posted: June 14, 2015 in Book reviews

By Sarah Lotz

index

On a day that will go down in history as Black Thursday four passenger planes crash across the globe, there are four survivors. Three of these are children, but the fourth is an American woman named Pamela May Donald, a housewife from the American south on her way to visit her daughter in Japan. Pamela dies soon after the crash, but not before she leaves a cryptic voice message that her local pastor interprets as a message about the end of times.

Told in a series of documentary extracts that form a book written by a woman named Elspeth, the novel tracks what happens after Black Thursday, as the mystery of why four planes crash on the same day is quickly set aside for a deeper mystery about why those three children survived, and whether they’re still the children they were or have been replaced by something else. Is it a government conspiracy, is it aliens, are they ghosts or are they, as Pamela May’s pastor believes, horsemen of the apocalypse sent to usher in the end of the world?

I should warn you in advance that this review may be a little spoilery, mainly because it’s difficult to review without addressing the elephant in the room, so if you’ve bought this book and haven’t started reading it yet and you don’t want to be spoiled you might want to stop here! 🙂

Ok then, here we go!

I’m self-aware enough to know that a lot of books are optioned on the basis of the premise, obviously the author needs to be able to competently write it, but if the pitch is good enough this can make the difference between “It’s a nice idea but…” and “Here’s a big cheque”.

The premise behind Three is a doozy, and it’s fair to say the blurb on the back hooked me in very quickly.

But…

Having a great premise is one thing, you have to follow through on it. I’ve always been a fan of Dean Koontz and that man is a master of the great premise, now even though I like his work I’ll be the first to admit that often his resolutions don’t live up to the premise, but this is a common problem not limited to Koontz (Take Lost or any similar grand mystery). Of course on occasion Koontz has delivered an ending that’s actually better than the premise (the fairly dull until the end ‘Your Heart Belongs to Me’ for example), but this is the exception that proves the rule.

Give Koontz his due however, he will give you an ending. Three meanwhile meanders around for four hundred old pages before limping to a vague “conclusion” that leaves it up to the reader to decide what actually happened.

Ambiguity is fine, but you have to give the reader more than Lotz does here.

Part of the problem is the documentary style narrative, because most of it is after the fact there is a fair amount of foreshadowing about what’s going to happen, and as you know gentle reader, this is something that can irritate me. It also prevents some of the characters from really coming alive, especially when we’re presented with the chat logs of two Japanese characters.

Lotz is obviously going for a creepy vibe about the surviving children, but on the whole it never really comes off because they never seem that dangerous. Yes they’re a little odd but the story never quite feels unsettling enough, certainly there’s nothing about the three survivors to quite justify the reaction against them, especially by American evangelical Christians, and it’s these end timers who Lotz almost seemed more interested in, portraying an America leaning so far to the right it’s going to fall off a cliff which again doesn’t quite seem to hang true. Sure the surviving Japanese boy insisting on only talking through a robotic facsimile, and the American child who seems to be behind his Grandfather’s partial recovery from Alzheimer’s are odd, but they hardly justify the hysteria they seem to generate.

It’s billed as a horror novel but it really isn’t, in fact it’s hard to pigeonhole, a conspiracy thriller would seem a safer bet, though it isn’t that thrilling. Perhaps the most telling portion of the book is an epilogue that follows Elspeth as she follows up her book for more about the story. She finds some new facts that completely contradict what we were told earlier, and then has a mysterious, but utterly disappointing, conversation with one of the three. It feels like it was tacked on because the book was too ambiguous, the trouble is it doesn’t actually clear the water very much.

It’s actually an enjoyable read up to a point, Lotz keeps you interested, it’s just that the further into the book you get the more you realise you might end up disappointed, and I certainly did. Read it by all means, just prepare to be underwhelmed.

The Dalton Minimum

Posted: June 12, 2015 in James Bond
Tags: ,

The-Living-Daylights

Fun fact, the Dalton Minimum was a period of reduced solar activity which coincided with a period of lower-than-average global temperatures, so it seems an appropriate title for the coldest of Bonds, even if he also manages to be the angriest of 007s. Volcanoes on the verge of eruption lurk behind Timothy Dalton’s eyes; they’re just really icy volcanos.

I told you I wasn’t necessarily going to do these in order, and whilst there’s an argument for saving the best till last I’m not going to follow it.

Timothy Dalton is my favourite Bond.

There’s a convention applied to Doctor Whos that suggests your first Doctor is always your favourite and I guess the same convention could be applied to Bonds. It doesn’t work for me in either case*, because Dalton was far from being my first Bond, although he was the first I saw on the big screen, and perhaps this provides a smidgen of reason why The Living Daylights is one of my favourite Bond films, and why Dalton’s my favourite 007, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

To a lot of people Dalton is one of the worst Bonds, to many others he’s perceived as the right man at the wrong time and whilst I don’t completely agree with this there is a lot to this argument. Like Daniel Craig he’s perceived as a ‘proper’ actor, and like Daniel Craig his Bond went back to basics, to the character’s literary roots, essaying a much harder edged version of 007 than the man who preceded him (be it Moore or Brosnan). Of course there the similarity ends, because Daniel Craig is lauded for his take on Bond, which has smashed box-office records, whilst Dalton ended up fronting two of the poorest entries in the Bond canon from an inflation adjusted money making perspective (but that list has the borefest that is Thunderball at #2 which tells you everything!)

For me Dalton has all the attributes necessary for being a top drawer Bond. For starters there’s physicality, following on from an aging Roger Moore for the first time in a while 007 actually looked like he could handle himself in a fight. Dalton is a big guy, and has a forceful screen presence. He also has the darkly handsome good looks that one might associate with the character, though he is very different from any of the men who came before him, there’s more than a hint of the raffish matinee idol about him (little wonder he ended up playing such a character in The Rocketeer) and this works to his advantage, because however ruthless he is he always convinces as a romantic lead, and certainly his romance with Kara in The Living Daylights must rank as one of the sweetest relationships in the whole franchise.

Of course Bond’s main focus is problem solving, or more specifically as Dalton puts it in Licence to Kill “more of a problem eliminator,” and he utterly convinces. He’s a man with the steely eyed gaze of a man who’s spent a lot of time staring down the scope of a sniper rifle. He’s cold blooded and ruthless, and when he tells Pushkin that if he believed Koskov …”we wouldn’t be talking,”  you believe him. This is quite clearly an agent comfortable in making a man kneel before putting a bullet in the back of his head, and yet for all that he’s cold blooded there’s a boiling rage just beneath the surface and a disdain for this job that mirrors Fleming’s original character. Take his assertion that if M fires him he’ll thank him for it, or his relentless quest for vengeance in the aftermath of what happens to Della and Felix, this isn’t a man you’d ever want to piss off. Which isn’t to say he’s not vulnerable, this is a Bond who bleeds quite a lot by the end of LTK.

Which brings us, finally, to humour, and the notion that Dalton’s just not funny, which is a trifle ridiculous really, because he is (just see Hot Fuzz if you don’t believe me), it’s just that he’s not Moore/Brosnan or even Connery funny, instead, like Daniel Craig, his wit is dry and understated, unfortunately where Craig is catered for by the script too often Dalton is just handed a Moore’ish pun. He still raises a smile or two though, aided by the twinkle in those steely eyes and sly grin of a man quite clearly in on the joke.

Maybe he plays it a smidgen too straight at times, but frankly so does Daniel Craig and it is odd that people trumpet him for it whilst dismissing Dalton.

And you should never dismiss Dalton…

Three down, three to go!

Bond #001           Timothy Dalton

Bond #002           TBA

Bond #003           TBA

Bond #004           TBA

Bond #005           George Lazenby

Bond #006           Sean Connery

 

*if you’re interested Matt Smith, Peter Davison and Patrick Troughton are currently fighting it out for the #1 spot whilst Tom Baker was my first Who.

 

By George!

Posted: June 5, 2015 in James Bond
Tags:

1753-2

Let us start with an expression of pure, unadulterated honesty. George Lazenby is not a very good actor. In fact it might not be too much of a stretch to say he’s barely an actor at all, although given he has acting credits we really should at least give him that.

He was a male model who suddenly got elevated to one of the most iconic roles of the sixties. A man with no acting experience, a man who had to be dubbed during the production, presumably because he couldn’t affect the upper class accent required for impersonating Sir Hilary Bray, and whether it was down to him or those around him there’s a perception that the set of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was not always a happy place to work. And however much one has to admire his chutzpa in nabbing one of Connery’s suits for the audition and actually punching a stuntman out during his screen test, this bravado is completely undercut by his decision to walk away from the role after one film, which has to rank up there with Denise Crosby leaving Next Gen after a handful of episodes and all those publishers who turned down JK Rowling’s book about a boy wizard as really bad moves.

And yet…and yet…

There is a lot about George’s portrayal that I like, and some things that I like a lot.

Physically he looks the part, and he more than holds his own in any fight scene. You could argue that he’s more of a conventionally handsome leading man than Connery, and he’s certainly the most square jawed of all the Bonds. Despite his lack of experience there’s also a lightness to his portrayal which, for better or worse—you decide, foreshadows Roger Moore.

In my commentary on Connery I made it clear that I couldn’t always empathise with him, and that he never seemed vulnerable. Well Lazenby’s Bond has vulnerability in spades, and I’m not just talking about that ending. This is a man who starts the film failing, at least by the standards Connery set up, he goes to the aid of a damsel in distress and all he gets for his trouble is beaten up and left clutching the lady’s shoes as she runs away from him. This most assuredly did not happen to the other fellow. Soon afterwards he’s kidnapped by Draco’s men. Held at knifepoint in the back of a car he quips, but this isn’t a cold Connery one-liner, he seems genuinely nervous. Lazenby’s Bond is more out of his depth than any other Bond, certainly more so that Connery who never seemed as vulnerable (except maybe when his nads were about to be lasered). Now I can see the argument that this vulnerability is just another thing that make Lazenby rubbish, we don’t want a vulnerable Bond after all, and perhaps that point has some validity— not that I want Bond to be some superhuman terminator, I know he isn’t going to die but I need to know he can at least be hurt— and perhaps if Lazenby had done more films that vulnerability would have increasingly led to a law of diminishing returns, but in OHMSS it is absolutely perfect, and yeah, now we can talk about that ending. It is ironic that the man pretty much universally derided as the worst Bond, has arguably one of the finest moments in the history of the franchise. It would be interesting to have seen each of the other Bond’s play that scene, and I realise time and the fact that it was so unexpected help make it so powerful, but I’m really not sure any of them would have done a better job.

Which is why Lazenby gets bumped to #5!

Paul’s rundown of the Bonds will return…

Bond #001           TBA

Bond #002           TBA

Bond #003           TBA

Bond #004           TBA

Bond #005           George Lazenby

Bond #006           Sean Connery