Wednesday, 29 December 2010

The Fantastic Four

It's a while since I saw this now, but I think it was one of those Sunday night, nothing else on kinda films. So it did exactly what it set out to do really; filled in 2 hours of scheduling time. Quite entertaining without being any good. The dynamic of the group didn't really work; though I'm not familiar with the comics so maybe they are meant to be like a dysfunctional family. Still Jessica Alba was nice to look at/not look at (see what I did there?).

Was it not obvious to the Fantastic four that a guy called Dr von Doom was going to turn out badly? I mean, come on! Oh, I just remembered; I particularly liked the way that The Thing was cured by reversing the wavelength of radiation (this kind of made sense), except that they had no idea how much radiation Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis) received in space in the first place. Then, when he wants to be The Thing again, he knows precisely how to work the machine and how to dose himself with the exact same amount of radiation to produce exactly the same results as before!

Oh yes, and Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Mr Elastic or whatever his name was, gave himself a higher dose of radiation which made him become extra-rubbery. But then ten minutes later he was back to regular rubberyness! No explanation! I could probably go on, but I wont bore you.

Who are you? Who Cares?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Tron Legacy

Twenty Seven years ago. That's when I saw Tron, and I remember being really blown away by it. The Light Cycles (in all their right-angle turning glory!), the disc battles and all the state of the art computer graphics! My love of the film was enhanced by my possession of a ViewMaster with the Tron collection, which my Mum was able to instantly put her hand on last week (best Christmas present this year!):

So I was torn between really wanting to see Tron Legacy, and not wanting to get too excited. But I wasn't not going to see it, and I wasn't really disappointed. I did enjoy it, a very fun film which I don't think tried to take itself too seriously, but also tried to tie in nicely with the first film (if we remembered what happened!).

Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges), having escaped from "The Grid" at the end of the first film now has a seven-year-old son. One night while tucking him into bed, Kevin is telling the story of Tron, and promises his son Sam (Garrett Hedlund) that he will take him to the arcade tomorrow. He then goes to "The Office" to work through the night, but disappears!

Not seeing his Dad for 10 years or so, Sam grows up still having a stake in his Dad's company: software company Encom, but not really having a interest in it. That is until his Dad's friend (also on the Encom board) tells Sam about his Dad's arcade. Sam discovers his Dad's "Office" below the arcade (hidden behind the Tron game), and gets zapped into The Grid.

Sam is captured and forced into the Gladiatorial arena, fighting with discs and the notorious Light Cycle chase. He is noticed by Clu (computer programme developed in his own image by Kevin Flynn in the first film) who looks like a younger version of Kevin. Clu tells Sam that he is not his father, but that he is pleased to see him. During the Light Cycle race, Sam is rescued by Quorra (Olivia Wilde) who takes Sam to meet his father.

There is then some exposition where Dad Flynn explains to Sam/us that Clu looks like him because he is a programme created by him to create the perfect world, and now he wants the disc from Pa Flynn to be able to send his army into the real world. By sending the army into the real world Clu of course wants to apply his idea of a perfect civilisation to the world, which would most likely destroy us. The only way to get over this is for Sam to make his way back to the portal which will send him back to the real world, so he can shut down Clu from outside.

Essentially that is the plot. Sam trying to get back to the real world and shut Clu down. That's it, oh and if Kevin Flynn and Clu ever merge, then everything in the Grid will be destroyed. Mmmm, important plot point?! But, despite the plot being fairly thin on the ground, and Garrett Hedlund coming from the Hayden Christensen Attack of the Clones school of acting, the film is still really good fun. And I think that's how the film should be taken, simply as being fun.

Clearly the special effects are better than the 1982 Tron, and the 3D does lend itself to this kind of film (though I don't really think it added anything extra over seeing it in 2D, except perhaps the Light Cycle race). The musical score by Daft Punk was great, fitting perfectly with a digital world, and it was LOUD!

Jeff Bridges was by far the best actor, his performance seemed effortless compared to the others. I know that the Cohen Brothers wrote the character of The Dude imagining Jeff, but it's amazing how much like The Dude Jeff really is; I don't think there will be another film with Bridges in that doesn't make some nod to The Big Lebowski! Of course Bridges has to undergo youngification to appear as Clu; and the effects are brought to us by the same people responsible for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Jeff's face is great, there is no doubt that Clu is a younger version of Kevin Flynn, the only thing that let's it down is the lip sync. Sometimes it is perfect, more often it looks like his lips can't articulate properly; much like women who have had too much collagen put in their lips and consequently can't talk properly! But I guess this is only a minor gripe; far less intrusive than the crap cg cold breath in The Social Network!

I must also mention Michael Sheen who was also great. He just has the uncanny ability to bring credibility to whatever role he plays, whether he is a Werewolf, David Frost, Tony Blair, or in this case Zuse: a club owner/respectable programme with contacts in high places. And he based his performance on David Bowie!!

There was one clever little plot twist; the fact that Sam believes that the new Encom OS should be freeware and that the company should not charge for it. Nicely echoed by the fact that Clu wants his army to break out to the real world and that his perfect world would be available to all.

There are only a few niggles about this film regards plot, wooden main character (much like Christian Bale in Batman); but the chance to see Tron, on a  big screen, in 3D, with a pumping soundtrack, just like I imagine Tron should have been (I think seeing original Tron now would shatter my illusions of how good it was), is just great.

Light Cycles. Cool!

Olivia Wilde. Very Nice!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


Spoilers! By the Way!!

Northface, is the story (based in truth) of a ill-fated attempt to climb the North face of the Eiger in 1936 by two German climbers Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas). They are followed up, hindered by and then perish along with two Austrian climbers. The story is also told through the eyes of Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), a photographer for a Berlin newspaper (Morgenpost?) who travels to the Swiss town at the base of the Eiger along with her boss Henry (played by the excellent but slimy Ulrich Tukur).

Luise is an old friend of Toni and Andreas, and so is far more emotionally connected with the events than Henry who is just there for the story. He only cares if there is a heroic victory for Germany "Conquering the final problem of the Alps" or a tragic accident. As she has a mountaineering background, Luise even ventures out on the mountain herself to try and make contact with Toni and Andreas as they are stuck on the mountainside. She eventually stays out all night to keep Toni company, as by this point he is the only survivor. The next morning a rescue team arrive with a rope that is too short, so there is the tragic final scene with Toni hanging in mid air, tantalisingly close, but exhaling his last breath.

I have seen this before, but had forgotten that all four of the climbers died. The film is great. The characters are all developed well, with enough backstory to explain their actions (of course it helps that the characters are based in reality), but doesn't feel thrown it for the sake of it. The dynamic between Luise and Henry works really well; Henry's story arc from father-figure to Luise; to impatient patronising boss; to an un-caring colleague that Luise wants nothing to do with is very believable.

The action on the mountain is all very well done, edge of the seat stuff that makes you cringe when they are so cold their fingers and faces are black with frostbite; and can only imagine how it must feel not to be able to use your fingers at all when your life depends on it. It is in fact very reminiscent of Touching the Void. The final climbing scene with the death of Toni is heartbreaking (Luise has always fancied Toni), he tries one last effort to get off the mountain, but it is so cold his clothes are creaking with frost, and his frostbitten fingers can't cope with the knot in the rope caused by the rope being too short (some rescue!).

I do think this is a great film. Great characters; great action; brilliant the way the freezing action on the mountain is contrasted with the decadence of the press etc in the hotel at the bottom of the mountain, and the kind of film that completely absorbs the viewer, and sticks with you for a while afterwards.

On the Face of The Ogre.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

So, one of the reasons I think I enjoyed HP and the DH part 1 is because it had been quite a while since I read the book, and so I'd forgotten a good deal of it (not that it stopped me being a bit critical of it). However, I had only finished reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest the day before I saw the film! "Muppet!" I hear you say; "What a colossal mistake!" Fair enough. However, I had enjoyed the first two films, my wife had read all the books, I had already read the first two books, and I wanted to read at least one without knowing how it was going to end! This didn't ruin the film for me, I still enjoyed it, it just lacked the depth of the novel (not unusual).

Noomi Rapace is still perfect as the sullen, introvert Lisbeth Salander (though her character is less upwardly mobile in this outing, as she is confined to a hospital bed for a lot of the film), and Michael Nyqvist is good as Blomqvist (though he just doesn't come across as being quite right for the part, he's meant to be a handsome ladies man!).

The story continues directly from the previous film, with Lisbeth being helicoptered into hospital having been shot, buried alive, and having whacked her Dad on the head with an axe! The ins an outs of the plot are far too detailed to go into here (for a detailed description see The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson!). Suffice to say the climax (well the first one) is a court case where all the people who have messed up Salander over the years get their comeuppance (turns out there was a government conspiracy to keep a defected Russian spy out of trouble (Lisbeth's Dad!)).

Finally, having been acquitted of attempted murder of her father, Salander confronts Niedermann (the psycho who doesn't feel pain who tried to shoot her at the end of The Girl who Played with Fire (actually Salander's half brother (seriously, read the books!))). The action is maybe a bit clumsy, but it is entertaining to see Salander shoot several nails from a nail gun to fix Niedermann to the floor!

There was some messing around with the order of events around the court case, and the spurious appearance of a character who is only ever present online in the book, but I guess this was to add to the drama of the court case, which still works well. Then there was the incident of Erika Berger (Editor in Chief of Millennium magazine, played by Lena Endre), who doesn't move to a rival newspaper, as in the book, but still receives crank offensive emails. Who from? No-one knows in the film, as it is never resolved! Sloppy.

The other mildly irritating thing are the subtitles! No, not like that. Subtitles are fine with me, I'd much rather watch a film in its original language and read, than have awful dubbing. No, in this case, as is the case with the first two films, the subtitles are white with no background or shadow. This hardly seems a crime; except that there are surprisingly numerous scenes that are white or very bright at the bottom of the screen, at which point the subtitles are illegible! Duh!

Overall, good film, great series, great books.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now, I'm imagining that most people reading this will have read the book (otherwise why are you searching for blogs on Harry Potter), so my synopsis of the plot can be mercifully brief.

Harry has now come of age, and will no longer be protected from Voldemort at his muggle home. He flees this home with the help of Order of the Phoenix members, and arrives at Ron's house: The Burrow. While at The Burrow, one of the elder Weasley brothers, Bill, marries Fleur Delacour, but the wedding is plunged into chaos as a Patronus arrives from the Ministry announcing that the Death Eaters have taken over. Harry, Ron and Hermione immediately disapparate to escape.

Essentially the rest of the story involves the threesome moving around the country, camping in out of the way places to stay away from the Death Eaters, while trying to figure out a way of destroying the Horcruxes, which Dumbledore had informed them would destroy Voldemort. That doesn't sound especially interesting, but the story doesn't drag. Amidst this escaping around a damp countryside (though there are some lovely location shots) are the main exciting set pieces, ie The visit to Godric's Hollow, Breaking into the Minsitry, and being captured by "Snatchers" and the escape from Malfoy Mansion.

Being an HP fan, I did enjoy the film; I knew enough background to know what was going on, so if things were not clearly explained I wouldn't have noticed. Of course this is also a curse, because I end up fixating on the things that are left out; though I don't think this happened too much in this film. I thought David Yates did an abominable job of Order of the Phoenix, was much improved for Half-blood Prince, and also did well for this number. As well as getting a lot of the interpretation right (though of course that's completely subjective) he managed to get very mature performances out of the main cast. Particularly the scene where Harry dances with Hermione in the tent after Ron has run off. I think it could easily have been laughable/creepy or a will they/wont they moment, but I thought it was played perfectly; a very tender emotional moment between two friends. Hey, even Fred and George Weasley were alright in the few scenes they were in, and they've been really shite in the past!

I think there was only a couple of things, well maybe only one thing that I felt was missed out that was crucial. When escaping Privet drive on Hagrid's motorbike, Voldemort is alerted to the "real" Harry by the fact that he uses "Expelliarmus!". This becomes very relevant at the end of the book I thought, so to miss out this point in the film was odd. Otherwise, I was disappointed not to see Fenrir Greyback, I was sure he was one of the Snatchers who takes them to Malfoy Mansion. But overall I really enjoyed the film, very dark and moody, and I'm looking forward to the finale, whenever that is!

                                                          Isn't that on a Led Zeppelin Album?

Monday, 6 December 2010

Sucker Punch

I'm not really too sure what to expect from this film (I guess I will be unprepared), but anything that starts with "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin must be good. Given that it is reportedly very hard to get any sort of rights to reproduce a Led song (to my knowledge the only other film is School of Rock, and only then because Jack Black begged the Led; and School of Rock is ace), then Sucker Punch must be good!

Is it a kind of Matrix thing, or are they all just dreaming? No idea, but I know I'm looking forward to it! I didn't really like 300 at all (fairly poor acting, bad cg backgrounds, David Wenham as narrator!? Though the fights were good), I did think Watchmen was great, so I'm hoping Zak Snyder continues his good work. Maybe he will out do himself and the climax will be Mr T punching them all saying "Take that Suckas!"

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Science on Film

On my twitter profile I claim that I am a scientist (true), evil genius (probably not true), and part-time movie blogger (true). So it is in my capacity as a scientist (Microbiologist to be exact, though I have dabbled in Biochemistry as well), that I wanted to be critical of, and in praise of how science is shown in films. Of course due to my biological science background, a lot of what I’ll say reflects this; I’m sure a chemist or a physicist would come up with a completely different set of examples, maybe even a different conclusion.

Generally I don’t think science is portrayed well/accurately in films. Though to be honest this can probably be said of various media, and of various topics. I think for the sake of an exciting film/TV programme/newspaper article, technical accuracy isn’t always 100%, whether it is scientific, historical, or biographical. Perhaps the difference is that science is logical, experimental, and (should be) based on unbiased facts; ie things are done for a reason. Consequently, when it is obviously done wrong, at best it’s like a slap in the face, at worst it’s just laughable. This of course is a problem (should be a problem) for the filmmaker, because as soon as a punter laughs at something that is supposed to be serious (now I’m not thinking of Yoda at the end of Episode II at all!), then in their eyes the film loses all credibility.

So a slap in the face for me is my pet love/hate; Radioactivity. This is the warning sign for radioactivity:

It is so because the chemical elements that are radioactive are unstable. Due to this instability they break down and release radioactive particles. Therefore the warning symbol shows two “objects” balancing on one, an unstable design. Therefore, to show the symbol upside-down is not only meaningless, but implies the complete opposite of what is trying to be conveyed; “This substance is stable, no danger here”! Actually there are specific rules as the dimensions of the symbol:

                                                         Unstoppable: All sorts of wrong

                                                              Back to the Future: Correct

While we’re on the subject of things being just plain wrong, here’s another corker. This time from The Matrix. And I quote:

Agent Smith: I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not.

WRONG! If only the Wachowski brothers had taken 10 seconds to check Wikipedia, they would have found that mammals are so called because the female of each species possesses mammary glands! And last time I checked, humans fall into that category!

Smith then goes on to say that we are actually viruses. Well, we’re not, but viruses are very interesting. Not least in the context of this article as they possibly (though I have no evidence for this - bad scientist!) inspired Alien, at the very least. We all know the life cycle of an Alien: Queen lays eggs, eggs hatch, facehugger jumps on unsuspecting passer by and impregnates, chest-burster bursts out killing host, and Xenomorph can then grow up and lead a healthy and fulfilling life!

In many ways a bacteriophage virus is very similar. A bacteriophage is a virus than infects bacterial cells. When the virus finds a bacterium, it will attach itself, and then “impregnate” the cell with it’s own DNA. The virus then exploits the host cell processes to make many new copies of the viral DNA; new viral particles are then assembled within the host cell, until it eventually bursts releasing all of the new viruses.

As can be seen from this video, the bacteriophage even look fairly horrific.

The video may be a bit over-dramatic, but you get the idea! So we should tip our hat to H.R. Giger, and Ridley Scott for making a Sci-fi film about an alien with accuracy; because few things are scarier than nature! And as if to confirm this, watch this video of the Cordyceps fungi that infect insects and then grow out of the host body!

So some of those horrific Sci-Fi creatures may have some basis in science and nature, though it may not be intentional some times. And while we’re at it, if you thought that The Thing was a bit too far fetched, then you really don’t have to look any further than Dictyostelium (Slime Moulds):

Then from the sublime to the ridiculous. That special breed of film that contains that particular branch of science: Spacker Science! Whether it be trains of molten phenol in Unstoppable, or toxic waste melting Paul McCrane in 10 seconds in Robocop! But all pale into insignificance when compared to Deep Blue Sea! Ah yes.

“Scientists” discover the cure to Parkinson’s disease; a protein that causes neurons to fire again (which happens instantly in a petri dish!). So, shall we copy the gene for the protein into E. coli, so that it can be propagated and produce loads of protein in the lab (standard practise, even I do this in the lab)? Or shall we breed giant sharks, with giant brains, so that we can pipette the protein directly out of it’s brain?! I’m sure there was a reason for the sharks particularly, but I can’t remember what it was. Of course, giving sharks larger brains makes them super-intelligent! Of course we all know that this is true; larger brains = greater intelligence. That is why the elephant is the most intelligent mammal!?

I could sit here all day and pick holes in this film, but then that’s not it’s point is it. As I said earlier, to make something like a film more entertaining, there has to be a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief, especially when it comes to science. Let’s then be honest, who wouldn’t find Samuel L. Jackson being eaten by a giant shark, or Saffron Burrows stripping down to her knickers and bra so she can electrocute a shark, or L. L. Cool J telling us how to make an omelette entertaining?

I think science generally comes off quite badly in films; if it is not accurately done, then scientists themselves are usually portrayed as socially inept nerds who live only for their research and barely see daylight. There are a few good examples of films, but I don’t really have the time to go into Contact (written by Carl Sagan), or 2001: A Space Odyssey, or Sunshine (Professor Brian Cox was scientific advisor), and I’m sure more films that escape me right now.

As I said at the beginning, there are reasons for scientific theories and ideas. Research, experiments, and drawing the most likely conclusions based on evidence (almost Occam’s Razor) is how we progress our knowledge. Perhaps the conclusions may not be completely correct at the moment, but this is the point of research, to question accepted dogma if we have reason to doubt it, or in the light of new evidence. This is why when it is done badly/wrong in films it just looks silly because it just doesn’t make sense.

I should finish by saying this doesn’t necessarily ruin films for me, despite perhaps being “pulled out of the film” by some stupid science, I still think the like of Deep Blue Sea, Robocop, Watchmen, The Thing, AVP, The Matrix are all still great/very entertaining films (I’ll let you decide which of those you think I think are great or just very entertaining!). It would just be nice if Directors/writers/producers/set designers could just do a little bit of research themselves to make sure their film was slightly less silly!