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Best Movies Reviewed In 2014 so far:

Click any of the above posters to see my reviews...


Next anticipated movie (August 2014): Sin City: A Dame To Kill For

Click here for my 2014 movie guide at a glance

Click here for the index of reviews for recommended movies
Click here for the index of reviews for movies not recommended


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Fatpie42

Okay, so I didn't pre-select this group of sci-fi movies for reviews. It was more that I had a lot of movies still to review and many of them happened to be sci-fi. And since sci-fi is my first love as far as genres go, unsurprisingly I've kept checking out new sci-fi movies since then. So here's the latest one I've come across...



+1 (2013)

Oddly titled "Shadow Walkers" in the UK. A title which has absolutely no relevance to the film's content whatsoever. "+1" is a science-fiction film about a group of older teenagers/young adults most of whom are home for the summer after their first year at uni. The party seems to be set up by an absurdly wealthy friend and while this is rather taken for granted, it does at least explain the size of the house in which the events unfold.



A strange comet causes a doppelganger of everyone at the party to appear. Initially no one at the party notices because the partygoers are led to an event outside while the doppelgangers repeat their actions inside.



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Important Documentary: Kidnapped For Christ

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Kidnapped For Christ (2014)

It's actually a misleading title since many of these 'kidnappings' are performed by organisations without a religious affiliation. Nevertheless, this American organisation is fundamentalist evangelical Christian (are we surprised? It's either that or Roman Catholic amirite?) and the filmmaker was (prior to uncovering this hypocrisy at least) a strong believer in that faith.

What's a little more irregular however, is that they are taking those kidnapped children to the Dominican Republic. Many of these organisations are quite happy to run within the US itself.



The odd thing about these kidnappings is that they are actually arranged by the children's parents. While that might sound like sending your child to a holiday camp, in those instances the child is normally informed about the trip in advance. Also these 'camps' don't just run over the holidays. The parents pay huge amounts for their care and tuition so they can stay for months or often years.



So perhaps it is like being forced to go to boarding school? And having the decision forced on you? Sometimes in the middle of the night by complete strangers?

Well yet another aspect of this camp which makes it strange (apart from the way it is located in the Dominican Republic and is importing children from the US) is its bizarre discipline procedures. There is a complicated points system for behaviour. Avoiding picking up naughty points basically involves doing whatever you are told to do without question. That includes regular demands that children do sets of press ups, star jumps and the like. It also involves passing spot checks with bizarre requirements (such as that shirts hanging in the closet must have all buttons done up and must be 'evenly spaced'. Any complaint about conditions will lead to being disciplined. Any calls home are monitored. Any attempt to tell parents about the bad conditions results in a punishment for being manipulative.



If someone is on the highest tier of punishment then there will be a period of time (weeks perhaps?) during which they will not be allowed to talk to other children. The worst punishment of all is the sinister sounding 'quiet room'.

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The Cracked article referred to can be found here
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The Hunter (2011)

Willem Dafoe is a great actor. However, I rarely see him in a leading role.

There is no doubt that Dafoe carries this leisurely-paced indie drama. Even playing such a reclusive character his performance is crammed full of emotion.



Right from the start we discover that he is being employed to find and kill the last remaining tazmanian tiger, yet Dafoe is always wholly relateable. We always sympathise with his character in spite of his questionable motives.
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Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014)

Remember how in the mid-credits sequence at the end of Thor 2, Benicio Del Toro explains that the Ether was just one of six planet-destroying magic stones? Well it turns out he wasn't kidding. Here in "Guardians of the Galaxy" they really do just find another sparkly magic rock with very little to distinguish it from the one we found in 'Avengers' and the one we found in 'Thor 2'. And speaking of indistinguishable, we also get a villain who is basically a stand-in for Loki, only with none of the charisma.



All that being said, "Guardians of the Galaxy" looks gorgeous. The design of the world in which the characters live is fantastic. I feel like I'm damning with faint praise here (just like when I said that "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" was better than "Battle for the Planet of the Apes"), but it has to be said that "Guardians of the Galaxy" comes across rather like a Star Wars movie and, to my mind, it wipes the floor with the Star Wars prequels. We see a variety of awesomely designed environments building a full world in which the characters can exist with flying vehicles and technology for them to use.



Sadly the characters themselves seem incomplete. It seems to me that the more important the characters were, the less interesting they were. The big surprise actually was Groot the humanoid tree-person. Actually one reason why he wasn't as goofy as I'd been expecting is because he's basically Swamp Thing. Sure, he's more like Swamp Thing before John Constantine comes along to tell him he's essentially a nature god, but there's still time for Groot to develop that way. Marvel actually have their own more clear-cut Swamp Thing clone, but that's Man Thing (a name I cannot imagine catching on) and he's already had one of their least impressive movie outings. Anyway, the variety of plant-based powers exhibited by Groot is by far the most creative element of the film. And he's not really the most central of the characters.
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Fatpie42

The Best of Men (2012 TV Movie)

Sure, it's a made-for-tv movie and it feels like it. Nevertheless, the performances are so good and everything is just handled so well that I just felt joy from beginning to end. There's not a lot in the way of impressive directorial flourishes, but there is a good story told well and emotionally engaging as all hell.



At the centre of it all is Eddie Marsan playing the true-life figure, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann, a German doctor who is finally allowed to treat spinal patients in Britain during the latter half of World War II. Marsan has a very wide range as an actor, but this is definitely my favourite performance from him so far.


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Labyrinth (2012 TV Series)

Oh dear me Christopher Smith, what happened?

Christopher Smith has become one of my favourite directors. While there's a decidedly annoying decision for one of the scenes in his first movie "Creep" it was nevertheless a pretty cool debut. He followed it up with "Severance" which I saw in the cinema upon its release. Not realising that it was the same director, nor how great it would be, I missed "Triangle" in cinemas (not least because I thought it was about the Bermuda Triangle - which it isn't). And his latest film "Black Death", with Sean Bean, was one of the better "medieval horror" films of late (others being "Centurion", "Valhalla Rising", "Season of the Witch", "Solomon Kane" and arguably also "13 Assassins").



It's been a rather long wait since "Black Death" and it seems that Christopher Smith has tried to transition to tv. (Something it seems that the very similar director Neil Marshall has already successfully managed by directing the excellent 'Blackwater' episode of "Game of Thrones" and starting the series "Black Sails", which I hope will be rather less disappointing than this was.) Unfortunately he seems to have chosen a 'Da Vinci Code' knockoff. I remembered seeing Kate Mosse's book "Labyrinth" in bookshops and I always thought it came before Dan Brown's cheesy bestseller. But it seems I was mistaken.

What's perhaps most annoying of all is that "Labyrinth" is about the massacre of the Cathars in the 13th Century. It's a really interesting historical event to base a drama around. Unfortunately Kate Mosse's book is instead about some kind of mystical books supposedly connected with the Holy Grail. To be frank, I'd rather be watching the bleeding Indiana Jones movie if we are going to go that goofy.



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How To Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

I'm not so fond as most with the first HTTYD movie. I think it's great, but not up there with the best Pixar films. Still these films are actually based on a book series, so there's presumably a fairly wide scope to expand the HTTYD universe.



That being said, while this sequel kept promising to expand the universe in interesting directions, it doesn't really go very far.

It's quite bizarre how HTTYD2 both starts and finishes by saying that their town is special because they have dragons, despite having encountered a whole bunch of other people who have dragons over the course of the story.


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Director Showcase: Ronny Yu

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Ronny Yu is a Hong Kong director who I know first and foremost for his highly entertaining contributions to two 80s horror franchises. On the one hand, there's my absolute favourite entry in the Child's Play franchise "Bride of Chucky", which managed to successfully combine both the horror and comedy elements as well as introducing the awesome character of Tiffany to reinvigorate the series. On the other hand there's "Freddy Vs Jason", a film which combined the Friday The 13th series and the A Nightmare On Elm Street series and acted as an homage to both, establishing itself as one of the better entries in both franchises.



However, Ronny Yu also has some background in martial arts films and perhaps his most revered is "Fearless". I've also now checked out a low budget flick starring Bruce Lee's son Brandon (who so famously died making the early comicbook flick "The Crow") called "Legacy of Rage" and Ronny Yu's latest contribution "Saving General Yang".



Fearless (2006)

An interesting tale about a fighter who stands against western imperialism. I don't know to what extent it could be called a 'true' story, but it's an interesting one all the same.


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Long zai jiang hu (1986) (Legacy of Rage)

I wouldn't say that I exactly hated this action flick with Brandon Lee, but the acting is bad, the storytelling is somewhat confused and our protagonist has the most unlikely friend ever who, early and obviously, betrays him.


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Saving General Yang (2013)

It should be noted right off the bat that this is not a beautiful artsy action film like "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" or "Hero". There's still parts that look good, but it's not going for that same colourful fantasy vision. Things are kept relatively plausible in this film.



While it could be partially a result of the translations used for the subtitles, the dialogue feels a little stilted. Everyone is very uptight and it's rather difficult to identify with the characters. But oddly the character which irritated me the most was the wise Buddhist monk they approach.

There's some political wranglings at the beginning regarding an accidental death during a tournament and some fighting taking place against rival armies. (Our protagonists are serving the Emperor of the Song Dynasty and their enemies are Khitans serving the Empress of the Liao Dynasty.) General Yang is cornered fairly early on in the film during his skirmish with the Khitans and his wife asks a wise monk in the mountains for advice.


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Fatpie42


Under The Skin (2013)

I've heard a lot of mixed impressions of this film, with some lauding it as one of the best films of the year. So, as a sci-fi fan, I realised there was a possibility that I could love this. I heard it was a bit artsy and possibly rather dull, but I mistakenly believed I knew the story it was based on, which meant that I was convinced that the climax would definitely be exciting regardless of what came before.



After some hard searching I've found the story I believed this was going to be adapting and I do admittedly feel a little silly. My mind was immediately drawn to a short story called "Hitch-Hiker" from a collection of short stories entitled "Break of Dark" by Robert Westall. Westall is perhaps best known for "The Machine Gunners" and is a children's writer. But "Hitch-Hiker" was a story about a man travelling around near Glasgow who is surprised to find a beautiful naked woman stranded outside his tent. It becomes clear as the story progresses that she is an alien.



Now looking at wikipedia plot summary for the book "Under The Skin" it appears that the film isn't a particularly faithful adaptation. But the themes are a little different. This isn't quite as simple as an 'evil alien' plotline.



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(Robert Westall's book of short stories "Break of Dark" containing the story "The Hitch-Hiker" is on Google Books here, but unfortunately it is missing a huge central chunk of the story. Still it's enough to get a good taster for it and to see why I associated it with the basic synopsis of "Under The Skin".)

Ranking The 'Planet of The Apes' Movies...

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When "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" started getting some positive buzz I made a point of working through the previous movies in the series. Having now seen the latest entry, it's time to rank the series:



8. Planet of the Apes (2001)



I didn't think this was all that bad when I first watched it, but then again I was less critical of movies in general back then anyway. This has not aged well. The first thing I noticed was the very obvious actors-on-springboards effect being used. I know that apes can jump higher than humans and clearly Burton thinks this effect is very dramatic, but it was so over-used that it quickly started feeling comical.



Even Paul Giamatti's orangutan character, who I remembered quite fondly from seeing this when it came out in the cinema, seems way too cheesy here. The purpose that Mark Wahlberg's protagonist serves is also hard to understand, not just because of his ridiculously uncharismatic and boring performance, but also because all the humans can speak and all the humans think being enslaved by apes is a bad thing. It's not at all obvious why he would be able to shake up the social status quo.



Burton clearly wanted to use this movie as an opportunity to shove together a bunch of quirky visuals, but I have to say it now looks particularly obviously like a set. And to be frank, I wasn't keen on his little touches. The ape with the music box getting his human with dwarfism to dance? It might have been a nice touch if the rest of the film was well-handled, but in this film it's just one more groan-worthy element among many.



The big thing to complain about here is the ending, but there's a very simple change which could save the ending. Take General Thade's name off the monument! General Thade is the big villain in the film and at the end of the story the apes are nowhere near mastering advanced human technology like computers and Thade is pretty much traumatised by his misuse of a ray gun. The idea that Thade could have flown a spacecraft in his lifetime (never mind all the other stuff that we are expected to believe he could have done to make the ending possible) is ridiculous. But the idea that apes could eventually master these things is perfectly reasonable. And you've got to give Tim Burton some credit in that, regardless of how little sense it makes, the ending IS a powerful visual. I immediately wanted to see the original movies to understand what it all meant.



Talk about unnecessary remakes... I mean, frankly ALL remakes and reboots are unnecessary until the point where they turn out to be good. And it turns out that Tim Burton's remake is frikkin' appalling.

E-

7. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)



It's confusing how so many of the Planet of the Apes movies have low age ratings. Admittedly the UK rating wasn't quite so confusing. Planet of the Apes was given an "A" for 'adult' (which meant children might need adult supervision). But in the US the movie had a 'G' rating. This low age rating wasn't consistent though. Somehow 'Beneath', in spite of moments of pure nightmare fuel, still kept the G rating and it wasn't until, Conquest, the movie preceeding Battle, that the rating finally went up to PG. But with Battle the rating went right back down again.



The reasoning was that the series had always been aimed at children and Battle was supposed to mark the end of the movies and the beginning of the tv series. So as a result, Battle, a film which really ought to feature a big violent conflict, is far tamer than Conquest before it. The budget also seems to reflect the tv quality that would come later.



All this being said, there's a reason why I prefer this to Tim Burton's remake. Burton's movie might be prettier, but Battle still has Roddy McDowall playing the character of Caesar and the characters still feel endearing. Battle retains the heart of the series, even if it lacks the excitement and the brains. I would argue that "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes" owes a lot to the basic set-up provided here.



With all that being said, let me just make clear that "Battle" is a load of rubbish. But endearing rubbish. It's a terrible way to end the initial 5 movie series, but as a low point in a series now spanning 8 movies, it's not all that shameful.

D+

Click here to read the rest of my rankings for the "Planet of the Apes" series...Collapse )

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