Life movie review

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Life is a science fiction movie set in the near future on board the International Space Station.

The premise of the movie is that a Mars sample return mission is bringing evidence of Martian life back to Earth. The scientific community cautiously (and as it turns out sensibly) decided not to bring that alien life down to the Earth’s surface where there might be risk of contamination. Instead the samples will be studied in Earth orbit by a team of scientists on the ISS.

The team includes crew members from the USA, UK, Japan and Russia.The actors playing the two American astronauts are the big names on the poster, Ryan Reynolds inevitably playing the wise-cracking American and Jake Gyllenhaal playing the more soulful American who doesn’t want to return to the crowded Earth. I was also glad to see Rebecca Ferguson getting a major part. I became a fan after seeing her in the BBC’s The White Queen some years ago. She was also in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation back in 2015.

The astronauts manage to bring a dormant Martian cell back to life by mimicking the atmosphere of primordial Earth. The cell starts to grow into a creature that can see and make sense of its surroundings. The creature some demonstrates it has intelligence as it tries to escape the confines of its lab box.

After one of their number becomes injured the astronauts realise how dangerous the creature is and they struggle to contain it. Central to this is the notion of “firewalls”, or different levels of containment. As each firewall is breached the threat of the creature making it to Earth becomes more real.

This leads to a series of very tense scenes including one that shows the creature is resilient enough to survive in the vacuum of space. With each encounter the stakes are raised. I found the movie to be thrilling and absorbing in a way that few other recent releases have been.

I also appreciate the attention to detail to make the depiction of space seem authentic. I’m pretty amazed at how the makers managed to simulate the zero gravity environment of the space station for the complete running time of the movie. And as someone with a long time interest in space travel I enjoyed the “nuts and bolts” of the hardware very much.

The ISS does look recognisably like the one currently in orbit although the makers have given themselves artistic licence by having the movie set in the near future where the station has been expanded by the addition of new modules.

When I inevitably get the blu ray of Life it will sit well on the shelf beside Gravity and The Martian which are the other two authentic looking space movies I can think of. And that’s pretty good praise right there.

Logan movie review

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I managed to go and see Logan, the new X-Men/Wolverine movie, this weekend. Here is a quick review with (I hope) no major spoilers.

The movie is set a few years into the future, specifically 2029. But this isn’t a future with flying cars or anything like that. Instead its a very recognisable future much like our own present, the only major difference being the occasional sight of driverless (and cab-less) trucks on the roads.

The reason for the future setting is that things have gone wrong for mutants in general and the X-Men in particular. For whatever reason a frail Professor X is hiding out in Mexico assisted only by albino mutant Caliban (played by an unrecognisable Stephen Merchant) and Wolverine, aka Logan. Logan is a shadow of his former self with beard, a limp and a drinking problem. More seriously his healing factor isn’t working as it used to as he’s gradually being poisoned by his adamantium skeleton.

Soon a mysterious girl called Laura (played excellently by Dafne Keen) enters their world and Logan is forced to go on the run with Professor X in order to protect her. I won’t go into her origins too much except to say comic fans familiar with the character X-23 will know what’s going on.

The movie is a character piece more than any of the others. There is a very somber melancholy tone through the movie because of course the theme of the movie is about growing old and, inevitably, death. To be honest I found it a little upsetting to see Sir Patrick Stewart playing such and old and infirm Charles Xavier. But having said that it was nice to see the good professor get so much screen time along with Hugh Jackman’s Logan.

But along with the character stuff there is a good amount of action. One of the stand out sequences was a desert-based car chase where Logan is trying to escape the bad guys. For just a moment it channeled a Mad Max vibe for me and I can’t think of higher praise than that.

Another sequence that made a big impression on me involved Professor Xavier unleashing a kind of psychic bomb to stop the bad guys. It was an unsettlingly effective sequence as Logan has to effectively fight through invisible barriers to get back to the Professor and Laura. It was probably my favourite sequence from the movie and was very well done.

Be warned this is a very adult X-Men movie. Right from the start there are lots of f-words throughout from both Logan and, surprisingly, Sir Patrick at times. And this is a very, very, very violent movie. Lots of slicing and dicing and decapitations. Seriously, I kid you not.

So in summary the movie is very recommended. Just keep in mind it’s very different from the others in tone. And better not take the kids.

Alien Covenant Last Supper Prequel Clip

This long clip from Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant appeared a few days ago. At almost five minutes long it shows the surprisingly large crew of the Covenant having their “last supper” celebrations before going into hibernation for the long journey to their destination planet.

Watch out for Michael Fassbender as Walter, a different android from David who appeared in Prometheus. And listen out for a line of dialog from a famous moment in the original Alien movie.

It’s nice to see a character-based scene set around a dinner table in the ship. The dinner table scenes in Alien are among the moments that make it so memorable.

I don’t know if this is a special web prequel that won’t be in the movie or not. Time will tell. And suddenly May isn’t that far off.

Alien: Covenant First Trailer

The first trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien Covenant had arrived. This is the second prequel to the original Alien and follows 2012’s Prometheus.

And it looks suitably scary and horrific…

Alien Covenant is released next May and is on my must-see movies list for 2017

Star Wars Rogue One review

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Well without any hyperbole 2016 has certainly been the worst year of my life. So I take whatever small pleasures where I can.

Rogue One is certainly a pleasure.

I will try to avoid any major spoilers but I will allude to things shown in the trailers.

So to start with here is the most basic of backgrounds. The Empire is completing the Death Star. The Rebels find out and recruit Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) to contact someone who has vital information. Why her specifically? Because her father Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikklesen) has reluctantly helped the Empire build the thing. So begins the adventure and along the way Jyn and rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) gather a “Dirty Dozen”-style group to go on the mission.

It being an immediate prequel to Star Wars the movie does include a few familiar faces in the ranks of the Rebels and Imperials. For example (I’m mentioning this one because it’s in the trailer) we get the reappearance of Mon Mothma, she of the Rebel briefing in Return of the Jedi. Genevieve O’Reilly had played Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, but her scenes were cut. So it’s finally nice to see her appear outside of deleted scenes on a DVD.

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And the trailer allows a glimpse of Darth Vader so no spoiler there. But I can’t say much about who else appears, but it’s great fun to see the unexpected faces who pop up. One face in particular was very unexpected and… Well I really don’t want to spoil that surprise.

Felicity Jones is brilliant as Jyn. I have to admit I’ve been a fan of Felicity since seeing her in an ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey. It seems like it was five minutes ago but that was early 2007! It doesn’t seem possible that it’s almost ten years. Anyway Felicity sells Jyn. There’s a couple of scenes where she had to give speeches to convince people to fight. With any other actor it might have sounded a bit cheesy but Felicity’s earnestness had me wanting to sign up.

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One of the standouts in the team is the reprogrammed imperial Droid K-2SO which I believe was a CGI creation. He’s played by Alan Tudyk who did similar duties with the main robot Sonny in the Will Smith movie I Robot. K2 kind of steals any scene that he’s in with his habit of blurting out whatever he happens to be thinking at the time.

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On the opposing side is Director Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn. He’s someone who may have started off as a bureaucrat who oversaw the construction of the Death Star but over time has become a power-hungry imperial officer. Mendelsohn glowers enjoyably through his scenes and gives Krennic a bit of three dimensionality to what could have been a standard one dimensional villain.

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The movie does the usual Star Wars thing of setting down on various disparate planets across the galaxy. One of the most interesting ones was Jedah which seems to be some ancient planet of the Jedi. But that’s just background detail in a move which is very much set in the present. Well with one exception… Unusually for a Star Wars movie we get a kind of a flash-back scene of Jyn as a young girl on the day the Empire came for her father.

And I want to mention something that happens on Jedah. But I can’t. Because… Spoilers… But it’s brilliantly done.

A quick word on the visuals. There are a couple of shots of the Death Star seen from the surface of planets that are among the best shots in any Star Wars movie.

There’s a lot of action throughout the movie but things gradually ratchet up until we come to the the last chunk of the movie which portrays an extended battle scene on the ground and in space. And for once the grunts in the line of fire are the main characters and not the background extras.

There is something about the grittiness of the battle scenes and the overall tone of Rogue One that gives the movie a surprising weight and heft. Yes, it’s set in the fantasy Star Wars universe but it feels like it’s happening. It feels real. I can’t help but contrast it with last year’s The Force Awakens. Overall that was an entertaining enough concoction but in comparison to Rogue One it feels like a greatest hits remix of the original trilogy, a box-ticking exercise in what is expected to set up a new trilogy. In hindsight The Force Awakens all feels a bit cartoony.

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Here there are no speeder bike chases. There are no force assisted jumps out of danger. The action for the most part is very grounded. And even when the action is in space there is a weight to it as the opposing ships slug it out. One moment of the space battle in particular was stunning.

The movie crept up on me. I mean I was enjoying it well enough to start with but in a slightly detached way. “Oh that bits good. Yes that’s good as well…” But gradually I was drawn in until I wasn’t so detached. I stopped thinking about it being a movie. Then towards the end there was a moment when I realised I was actually quite gripped in a sort of edge-of-my-seat way.

And the last moments of the movie… I can’t say what they are. But I obviously knew that the Rebels escaped with the Death Star plans because that’s how the original Star Wars starts. But even though I knew the outcome there is a desperation in those final scenes that I found almost unbearable to watch. That’s quite an accolade for director Gareth Edwards.

Taking a step back I think I like that Rogue One is standalone. There will be no sequels to Rogue One because the original Star Wars movie is already the sequel. Rogue One is constrained by being set during the days immediately preceding Episode IV and paradoxically that give the movie the freedom to expand on the already established details and characters. It’s not concerned with setting up other plot threads that will pay off later.

Whereas the sequel trilogy (i.e. Force Awakens onwards) which has the freedom of being open-ended is actually constrained by needing to construct the mythology of a new trilogy. The first movie isn’t allowed to have an ending. It can only try to raise some questions about the new characters that will I assume get answered somewhere down the line. And like I said earlier, it feels cartoony in comparison.

Where do I rank Rogue One? I’ll need to watch it a few more times. But certainly without doubt it is at least in the top four.

Alien: Covenant Poster and new release date

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Well, let me tell you I’ve been having a dreadful year. So I’m always on the lookout for a small bit of good news to distract me.

In this case the good news happens to be that Ridley Scott’s second Alien prequel, Alien: Covenant, will now be released in May 2017, which is a whole three months earlier than the previous August release date.

This is very welcome news as the Alien series is my favourite space-base movie series along side Star Trek.

Also we have a teaser poster that gives little away. Apart from featuring an Alien-style Alien that is.

This prequel movie does promise to be more of an Alien movie than Prometheus. I mean, they’ve put the word “Alien” back in the title for starters.

In other related news Eaglemoss is bringing out an Alien and Predator figurine partwork. I’ll probably subscribe if the price isn’t too excessive.

Doctor Who The Power of the Daleks animation

The BBC has announced that The Power of the Daleks is to be released as an animated story.

The story was Patrick Troghton’s first as the Doctor and was broadcast as a six-part serial back in 1966. The BBC in their wisdom did away with their copies of the episodes in the 1970s and they are not known to survive. So for the last fifty years the story has only existed as an audio recording.

Well I’ve listened to the audio, read the script book and also read the novel version and it’s always been my most wanted Doctor Who story to be found.

Here’s the next best thing. All six episodes have been animated, something we have been told could never happen for budgetary reasons. The story will debut on the BBC Store service on 5 November 2016, exactly fifty years after the first broadcast. Then it will be out on DVD from 21 November.

Here’s the temporary DVD image from Amazon.

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This is a nice bit of news to brighten up what has been a pretty crappy few months for me.

Star Trek Beyond review

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I’ve not had much free time to write reviews. However I will make an exception and write something about Star Trek Beyond which I saw on the day it opened.

I will try to steer clear of major spoilers, but to be honest the footage in the trailers gave me a pretty good idea of what the overall story would be.

Namely…
· Kirk is a bit introspective
· Enterprise visits fancy pants new star base
· Enterprise goes to some planet
· A Swarm of little ships kick the crap out of the Enterprise (which may or may not crash on planet)
· Crew gets captured by some aliens
· Some of the bridge crew don’t get captured but get separated
· Scotty meets ass-kicking alien lady
· Crew find another ship
· Crew fight the swarm again and presumably win
· Kirk does some fighting in the fancy pants new star base

And that’s pretty much what happens in the Simon Pegg penned movie. But I guess it’s not the destination that’s important but the journey. Or something.

So the Enterprise is almost three years into its five year mission according to the “captain’s log” voiceover that Chris Pine gives early in the movie. Things have settled into a routine, albeit a routine that has Kirk returning from an encounter with aliens on a planet and lamenting that he’s ripped another shirt. There’s a nice scene early on with Kirk and McCoy sharing a drink to celebrate Kirk’s birthday, no doubt a nod to Wrath of Khan. Although in this timeline there’s the added detail that Kirk’s birthday is the same day his father died on the USS Kelvin. (Also at the end of the scene I noticed they toasted having good eyesight – that may be another reference to WOK where McCoy gives Kirk eye glasses.)

I have to say I liked Chris Pine in this one. His character of Kirk has matured and feels more… Well, Kirk-like. Also it’s nice to finally see Karl Urban’s McCoy get lots of stuff to do. (Other than slap his head and exclaim “Khan’s magic blood!”)

The Enterprise arrives at the fancy pants new star base Yorktown, which honesty is pretty OTT with skyscrapers pointing in all directions and rivers running over the top of star ship docking tubes. While there it transpires that both Kirk and Spock have independently started having doubts about their future in Starfleet.

Word comes to the star base of a ship needing rescued on a planet inside a nearby nebula and Kirk’s Enterprise is dispatched on this mission. Only thing is I’ve seen the trailer so I know the Enterprise is going to get the crap kicked out of it. And it does. It’s a major sequence in the first act of the movie and the action comes thick and fast (and furious).

The being responsible for the attack and capturing most of the crew is Krall played by Idris Elba. He is looking for a plot McGuffin (that apparently is on the Enterprise) as part of a bigger goal.

Soon Kirk and the others are stranded on the planet and have to try to regroup and escape. Scotty meets a new character called Jaylah (played by Sofia Boutella) who is an ass-kicking alien lady with memorable white and black make up.

And she’s brilliant.

Jaylah is the best thing in the movie. That’s not to denigrate anyone or anything else in the movie. But she’s brilliant. I found her totally endearing and I just wanted to adopt her and go on space adventures with her.

The movie has the good sense to team up Spock with McCoy. The back-and-forth between those two characters was always a major factor in the original show and we get a lot of it here. There are many classic grumpy McCoy lines throughout the movie.

Through Jaylah Scotty discovers they may have a way to get off the planet and he soon regroups with Kirk, Spock and the others and they plan a rescue of the rest of the crew.

Then in the final act we discover that Krall is not exactly what we thought he was. It’s a nice little plot twist that I didn’t see coming and I’d like to see the movie again to look out for the clues.

I had read much about how the movie was going to feature a villain that would cause the Enterprise crew (and by extension the audience) to question the ideals of the Federation. Well, to be honest I’m not sure they came anywhere close to doing that. If anything I think we could have done with just a little more about Krall and his motivations. But the twist does make him a memorable character.

There is a lot of action in this movie. But sprinkled throughout are lots of character moments. Of the three reboot movies this is the one that most purely follows the original series template of having an “adventure of the week”.

Before I forget I want to have a word about the music by Michael Giacchino. To be honest I found it a bit lacking. Maybe it got lost in the midst of all the action, but it just sounded very samey, very Hollywood. I guess I just miss the kind of stuff James Horner and Jerry Goldsmith did on Wrath of Khan and First Contact. Memorable tunes that stay with you. Maybe when I see “Beyond” again some of the music will leap out at me.

What I did like about the movie is how there is a much better sharing of screen time across the main characters. I would say that Kirk, Spock, McCoy and Scotty all have equal screen time along with new character Jaylah.

Towards the end of the movie watch out for a very nice little tribute to the original cast.

So in summary Star Trek Beyond is a very entertaining and fast moving adventure that packs a lot into the two hour running time. It maybe didn’t have the 50th anniversary “spine tingling” moments I was hoping for. But it did have Jaylah. And that’s good enough.

Copenhagen on DVD in UK (at last)

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Copenhagen is a 2002 TV drama that to the best of my knowledge has not had a DVD release in the UK until now. I’ve just found out there was a recent release on 29 February 2016 so I’ll be tracking down a copy very shortly.

So what’s it about?

It’s probably most notable now For staring a pre-Bond Daniel Craig in one of the three central rolls. He plays German atomic scientist Werner Heisenberg and the play revolves around his wartime meeting with Niels Bohr – played by Stephen Rea – in Copenghagen. Francesca Annis rounds out the cast as Bohr’s wife.

So basically you have three actors talking to each other in one location for 90 minutes.

But it’s gripping stuff. It delves into the motivations of Heisenberg as to why he wanted to meet Bohr during the war. And it neatly uses the concepts of nuclear physics as a metaphor as to the uncertainty of what was actually discussed.

I’ve seen this a few times but never actually owned a copy to watch so I’m very glad to see this released.

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