Tag Archives: science fiction

Owen’s 2015 in Film: Part 9 – September Refuelled

As yet another month passes in 2015, it’s time for the next entry to Owen’s year in review series, looking at a selection of the films that he’s been watching throughout September. As with each of the previous articles in the series, the month will be broken down by week, with a review of one arbitrarily chosen film seen during each period.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

everest-base-camp-movieNormally in this series I’d pick whichever movie that I happened to fancy writing about. Be it the one I found the most interesting, the one I loved most, one that I hated, etc. It typically changes with each new entry.

However, having taken a look back through the whole month, it appears that I’ve seen at least one new release in each week of September. Therefore, I’m going to do something slightly different for this month’s article, I think. After all, it’s been a month of new starts for me personally, beginning life as a full time University student.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past five weeks; how to be a better writer, the essence of what being a journalist actually means – and just how much I missed going to work. Seriously. I spent just over one solitary week unemployed, having left employment on Friday 11th September before enrolling at University on Thursday 24th. It was horrible. My expectations were that it would feel like a holiday. A nice, albeit short break before my life completely changed.

Wrong.

It was a tedious, slow, excruciating week of sitting around doing nothing, getting more and more anxious about whether or not I’d done the right thing. I do not envy anybody who has to spend longer than that out of work. But at least it did give me a chance to reflect a little. Some time to think about the decisions I’d made; about what I had let myself in for.

Contrary to the seemingly popular opinion that student life is all about causing queue congestion by paying for everything with a cheque, staying in bed until 2pm and eating Pot Noodles for breakfast, it’s been bloody hard work. Rewarding and exciting. But hard.

It’s certainly threatening to scupper my plans to resurrect my Horrorble Month sequel, the project I completed last October where I watched a horror movie every day in the lead up to Halloween. It’s actually where I conceived the idea of doing this as a more regular thing.

Although, back in September, I did still manage to actually get through a decent number of movies. Starting with…


Week 1 – Tuesday 1 – Sunday 6 September 2015

Tuesday – Star*Men (2015), Welcome to Leith (2015), No Tears For The Dead (2014); Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – [absolutely nothing]; Friday – The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of A Window And Disappeared (2014); Saturday – Area 51 (2015), Blood Lake (2014); Sunday – THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED (2015)

transporterI know it’s weird how I constantly feel the need to defend my preference for action movies; quite frankly, it shouldn’t be an issue. Taste is a subjective thing, of course. However, there is a stigma attached to the genre that suggests those who enjoy mindless action on camera are morons. Personally, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. People are entitled to enjoy whatever the hell they want and it’s not necessarily a reflection on your level of intelligence. Laugh at Adam Sandler if you want, cry whilst watching My Little Pony, ponder the nature of existence during the three hours of motorway footage you found on YouTube. It’s your choice. That said, what an absolutely enormous waste of everybody’s time the latest entry to the Transporter franchise is. From its tacky opening scenes trying (and failing) to revive the swagger that the original Luc Besson movie had in swathes, to its boring and overdue conclusion; I had no fun watching this whatsoever. The only thing more annoying than Ed Skrein’s Statham impersonation is the missing ‘L’ in the movie title. I love the original movie as much as anyone should, but the sequels have been subpar. Even The Stath agrees, given his comments in an interview with Sabotage Times about working with Ben Foster:

“…for me to be able to work opposite someone like that and not some hairdresser cast off the street – which is what happened with Transporter 3 – well, it was fantastic.”

At least The Transporter Refueled wasn’t quite that bad, I suppose. Also in its favour is that it did introduce the always watchable Ray Stevenson as the father of the notorious getaway driver Frank Martin. The plot too is acceptable (if badly structured) for this sort of film, with the delivery package this time being four women enacting their revenge. But it was in essence a dull, unexciting and incredibly stupid crapfest.


Week 2 – Monday 7 – Sunday 13 September 2015

Monday – Tabloid (2010)Tuesday – [absolutely nothing]; Wednesday – [absolutely nothing]; Thursday – Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002); Friday – [absolutely nothing]; Saturday – SONS OF BEN (2015)Sunday – The Hunted (2003)

sons of benOrdinarily I wouldn’t cover a film in this series that I’d already written a review for on the website and talked about on the podcast. Nevertheless, it: a) fits the criteria I set out in the introduction; and b) is an indie documentary that deserves a bit of extra publicity. As such, here are a few snippets from my original review to give you an overview:

“What happens when you’re a fan of the beautiful game in a country where football is not even close to being in the top three most popular sports on the continent, never mind without half a dozen teams a stones throw from your bedroom window? Well, if you’re in Philadelphia, then of course the only viable solution is to set up a supporters club called the Sons of Ben for a team that doesn’t yet exist. That’s exactly what Bryan James, Andrew Dillon, and David Flagler did in January 2007 hoping that one day a Major League Soccer franchise would open in their beloved home town.

“Director Jeffrey C. Bell tells the entire unbelievable story of this passionate community of soccer fans coming together to support a non-existent team, from its humble beginnings as a conversation at a bar, through to its surprising conclusion.

You can purchase Sons of Ben: The Movie on DVD directly from their website. They have other outlets such as streaming and digital download planned to happen soon so keep an eye on their Twitter and Facebook pages for updates. In the meantime, check out the trailer below.”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqAFIAHox6w]

Week 3 – Monday 14 – Sunday 20 September 2015

Monday – L’eclisse (1962)Tuesday – Mortal Kombat (1995), Legend (2015)Wednesday – Starry Eyes (2014); Thursday – Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994)Friday – Class of Nuke ’em High (1986), Pernicious (2015)Saturday – Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)Sunday – EVEREST (2015)

60ea71a0-dcbf-4e43-92f6-415984fbdbd6-1020x612To borrow an often used football cliché, director Baltasar Kormákur‘s Everest is a film of two halves. The first hour of this adventure-turned-disaster movie is mind numbingly slow. It drags. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on the characters involved in this 1990’s expedition to the summit of Mount Everest, led by Jason Clarke as real-life New Zealander Rob Hall. I understand why the film is purposefully designed to be this slow, as it builds up enough backstory to make you care about the characters involved, hoping that you’ll be bothered by them if something were to happen. Perhaps the reason that this drudges on so tamely is because there are too many characters, each with their own stories to tell. This may be a very slight spoiler, so apologies in advance, but once they finally got to the top of the treacherous mountain, it did occur to me that surely there wasn’t much of the 120 minute run time left. And yet! I was wrong. I glanced at my watch and there was still somehow an hour to go. But what an hour of cinema it was. I was surprised by just how invested I became in these people given the fact that I was certain that up to that point, I’d been bored. I’d have liked to have seen a little more about what Rob Hall’s wife (Keira Knightley) was going through back home but otherwise it was a very emotional 60 minutes. It’s probably the first movie for years that has caused me to well up in the cinema whilst watching. Apparently a lot of the footage was actually taken at camp one on the real mountain too. The film looks amazing for it and between the visuals and the latter half of the story, it’s definitely a film worth seeing and makes up for a tepid opening half.


Week 4 – Monday 21 – Sunday 27 September 2015

Monday – Bride of Re-animator (1989); Tuesday – Dawn of the Dead (1978)Wednesday – Day of the Dead (1985), Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief (2015), Sicario (2015); Thursday – Day of the Triffids (1962), From Beyond (1986)Friday – Invaders From Mars (1986), Return to Oz (1985); Saturday – [absolutely nothing]; Sunday – THE MARTIAN (2015)

maxresdefault-3I’m going to spare your eyes from going even more square whilst staring at your computer screen for any longer and suggest you click the link below and instead listen to my review of Ridley Scott’s latest sci-fi movie:

FAILED CRITICS PODCAST: THE INTERN, THE MARTIAN & SICARIO (29 Sep 2015)

Alternatively, read on below if you’d rather.

There appear to be two types of ‘Ridley Scott’ in this world. There’s the Ridley Scott who makes ambitious, misunderstood or sometimes simply just plain bad movies such as American Gangster, Exodus: Gods & Kings, Robin Hood, Kingdom of Heaven (the theatrical cut at least) and The Counsellor, to name but a few. Then there also appears to be a Ridley Scott who makes exciting, intelligent and often influential science fiction movies with an enticing premise and wondrous, imagination-capturing special effects and plots. Think Blade Runner, Alien and (yes, even) Prometheus. Where that leaves The Martian is definitely more towards that of a studio-led film than a recognisably Ridley Scott movie. There’s very little character in the picture; you certainly wouldn’t guess from looking that it was Ridley Scott rather than, say, Steven Speilberg, Robert Zemeckis, Ron Howard etc. Not that this is necessarily a problem. The lack of identity in respect to its director is moot considering just how enjoyable The Martian is. Adapted from the Andy Weir novel of the same name, the plot revolves around wise-cracking astronaut and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) who is stranded on the planet Mars where his crew have abandoned him, assuming him dead. Although there’s a large support cast of talented actors (Jessica Chastain, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benny Wong(!) etc) the majority of the run time is carried by Damon, whose antics and humour make his time on the red planet seem all too brief. Even though the final third descends into Gravity with pop tunes sound tracking it, the biggest compliment I can think to pay The Martian is that I wish it were a biopic simply so I could spend more time learning about this fascinating and epic adventure.


Week 5 – Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 September 2015

Monday – Vamp (1986); Tuesday – Wolf Cop (2014); Wednesday – SKIN TRADE (2015)

skintradeheaderAh, Netflix. From time to time, you throw up some real gems that I would otherwise have overlooked. Usually they’re films starring Scott Adkins or Donnie Yen. On this occasion, Skin Trade lured me in by plastering martial arts movie icon Tony Jaa’s name all over it. If that wasn’t tempting enough, they only went and got Dolph Lundgren involved too. What the double team that is, eh? But wait! Ron Pearlman, as well? Well, blow me down with a feather (or flaming flying kick – Onk Bak, anyone?). The truth is, Skin Trade is complete and utter tosh. Quelle surprise, right? Maybe that’s a bit unfair as for at least 10 minutes, it’s OK. It’s alright. It’s not horrendous. Dolph plays a NYC cop who teams up with a Thai detective (Tony Jaa) to stop the Serbian crime boss (Ron Pearlman) and his human trafficking gig. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; I’d even stretch that a bit further and say Jaa’s first action scene in a small room was impressively well choreographed and set the bar too high too early. You can see he’s clearly still got it in him to pull out some fantastic moves on screen. Unfortunately, it just gets progressively worse from then on. Its great cast are left to scrape together something resembling a cohesive plot but without fully capitalising on the potential of its concept. I will keep my fingers crossed in the hope that Tony Jaa gets another crack at the lead role in an American movie, Skin Trade somewhat remarkably being his first. He definitely proved he’s capable enough during his cameo role in Furious 7.


And that’s it for another month. Join me again roughly this time in November for part two of my “horrorble month” lists, where once again I aim to watch at least one horror film every day through October. Until then, feel free to comment below on any of my reviews – or send me a tweet!

Project Almanac

AKA Primer For Dummies.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

project almanacProject Almanac is the debut feature of director Dean Israelite, although it’s presumably more well known for having a certain producer attached to it. Regardless of the fact that a producer’s role can be quite vague, particularly ‘executive producers’, whose influence is often disputed by directors and writers alike (here’s looking at you, Raymond Chow). Nevertheless, the name “Michael Bay” being anywhere near the film’s poster will either repel audiences like a fart in a lift, or draw in punters on mass, given how his features are often a license for studios to print money. If only the film’s biggest problem was simply two small words printed on the poster. Alas, it is far more severe than that.

The plot revolves around a group of clever teenagers and school chums: Sam Lerner (Quinn), Allen Evangelista (Adam), Jonny Weston (as David, the closest thing the film has to a lead actor) and Virginia Gardner (David’s sister Christina and frequent camera-person). They all work together to help David get enough money together to afford to get into MIT. Unfortunately, $40,000 isn’t easy to come by unless your widowed mother decides to sell her enormous house and downsize, or apparently if you’re the son of a super-genius and can invent something that will earn you a lot of money.

Whilst rummaging  through his deceased dad’s old junk in the attic, David and Christina discover an old video camera with some footage of David’s seventh birthday party still on it. It’s this point in the film where things promise to get interesting, as the older, current teenage David is seen wandering about in the background of his younger-self’s party. Lo and behold, David’s father was working on a time-travel device before he passed away, which the group discover securely locked in a box in the basement, and begin to use it to start playing around with time.

Whilst the plot is an intriguing mash-up of genre movies like Primer, The Butterfly Effect and Looper, there’s only one way I’d describe Project Almanac and that is as an aggressively found footage time travel movie. It constantly reminds you via various gimmicky methods and invasive camera angles that it is, at all times, unequivocally a Found. Footage. Movie.

I don’t inherently hate that style of film making. To be perfectly honest for a second, I’ve repeatedly and unashamedly admitted to being a fan of the style on numerous occasions. It’s been used fantastically well in slightly bigger budget films such as Cloverfield, Chronicle and End of Watch, as well as smaller budget indie movies like The Sacrament and The Bay, never mind the glut of b-movie horrors like [REC] and Grave Encounters and classics like The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity. I’m aware just how unusual a thing that is to admit to; for a lot of people, it’s an immediate cinematic turn off. As long as it’s used in an innovative way (or even in an unoriginal way, so long as it’s done well, such as in The Borderlands), then I don’t have a problem with it. As a method of film-making, I firmly believe it has gone beyond simply being a gimmick. It is now a creative choice made by directors who want their story to be told in a particular style, to put you ‘the viewer’ in the shoes of a character (or characters) as opposed to simply being about making it stand out from the crowd and/or more marketable.

So take it from me when I say that Project Almanac is a bad example of a found footage style movie. It may not always be apparent and I’m aware of my tendency to drift off on tangents in reviews, but I usually try to remain impartial and objective as often as I can. I know what I do and don’t like, but try not to let that colour my semi-professional opinion too dramatically. For this movie, I will throw all of my self imposed rules out of the window and drift into areas of outright subjectivity.

I have never, ever felt physically unwell because of a film before. The sound of cracking ankles in Audition came close and Antichrist made me feel uncomfortable in ways I can’t explain, but Project Almanac is a first for making me feel so nauseous that for a moment, I was about 90% certain I was going to throw up. In my haste to take off my jacket, roll up the sleeves of my jumper and unbutton my shirt to try and cool myself down a bit, I kicked some bloke’s foot (accidentally, of course) next to me, causing him and his chums to giggle like a gaggle of idiots. “Hur hur he touched your foot did you see that?” I probably did look like I was dying, which I suppose is quite funny. Right? I don’t know. It’s not kicking some bloke in his elevated foot that I’ve taken exception to.

Instead, it was the bloody intolerable rotating, swaying, spinning and wobbling shaky-cam that was causing my sudden rush of queasy stomach and throbbing temples. Have you ever been on a National Express coach on a warm summers evening that is overcrowded, where all of the windows are dripping with condensation, the stench from the chemical toilet is polluting the carriageway and all of a sudden the bozo next to you decides to eat a tuna sandwich that has been in their bag all day long? Well I have. And it wasn’t pleasant. It was that same feeling that was gripping me again. It got to the point that I (and the chap sitting in the isle over from me doing exactly the same thing) had to cover my eyes with my hand (obviously he covered his eyes with his hand, not my eyes with his … never mind) so I couldn’t see the screen. I just couldn’t stand to look at it any further.

If I wasn’t watching the film so I could talk about it on this week’s Failed Critics podcast, it would’ve been the first film I’d walked out on since abandoning an outdoor screening of The Exorcist in Reading a couple of years ago due to an unusually freezing cold night, a lack of promised barbecue (seriously, that was bang out of order) and faulty headphones picking up interference from a local radio station playing an interview with ZZ Top. But that is what Project Almanac did to me. It made me so unwell that if not for dashing out of the screen to drink some tap water from a squeaky polystyrene cup, I might have just fainted there and then in the cinema. It was like torture.

Well, probably not torture. I’m sure trivialising torture as being like subjecting yourself to a poorly shot film is a bit over the top. But you know what I mean.

The thing is, even with missing about 5 minutes worth of plot at a crucial point in the film as I sorted myself out before returning to finish the rest of the movie, it did not have any effect on my overall impression. Nor did it hinder my understanding of anything that had happened. Such is the nature of Project Almanac that you are never in any doubt whatsoever about what is happening and why at any particular point during proceedings. If you didn’t get it the first time, don’t worry, they’ll be going over it again later.

As for the story itself, the beginning of the film isn’t bad. As paper thin as the characters are, they all have moments that will make you smile, if not laugh. The hijinks they get up to as they work out various means of acquiring some cash and how best to use their new found technology seems true to form for a bunch of carefree young adults. Cheating on the lottery, going to festivals, that sort of thing, although playing the stock market is swiftly dismissed in what is but one of many references to Primer.

No one individual character is especially irritating either, which already makes it one step up from of a few of its contemporaries. You know which role each character is going to fulfil from the moment we meet them and the introduction of Sofia Black-D’Elia as Jessie, David’s crush, is timely and adds a much needed new dynamic to the group. Simply by way of association, Jessie makes David infinitely more interesting than the bore that he had been previously too, which is handy.

As unconvincing as the leaps in logic happen to be that lead to the jump from the group building a remote control drone powered by a mobile phone, to assembling a time machine from bits of old Xbox 360 and crap from the local DIY store – as Steve once said on an old podcast, you have to forgive shit like that in 90 minute time travel movies. There’s always going to be paradoxes, inaccuracies and stupid or unrealistic decisions. It doesn’t completely excuse some of the film’s faults, however, Project Almanac doesn’t purport to be anything more than it is. It clearly isn’t desperately trying to redefine what science fiction movies are. Instead, it feels like an homage to those movies it borrows heavily from. It’s firmly in that teen-to-mid-twenties age bracket demographic and it knows it. You may have seen Primer and found that graphic online that illustrates how faultless the film’s ideas around time travel are, but the audience Project Almanac is going for are those who may not have seen it. If they have, great, they’ll spot a few references, but if not then it doesn’t really matter. And that’s perfectly reasonable. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to understand the science aspect of its fiction, but it’s not exactly Sarah Palin levels of dumbing down either.

Aside from the dizzying shooting process, the shallow (albeit occasionally amusing) characters and jumbled references, the other problem the film has is its pacing. 40 minutes had passed when I checked my watch and barely anything of any note had happened yet aside from about two montages of machine building. Whoop-de-doo. There wasn’t even a Vince DiCola soundtrack! It took a further 10 minutes for any real dilemma or tension to exist at all, which was basically solely related to how the time travel was affecting the relationship between two of the excitable young teens; how it was forcing them to break their own set of rules and the consequences of doing so. But every scene that has something remotely clever in it is milked for all its worth, which also made the whole thing drag.

The crux of it is, if you’re looking for something on TV one night a year or two from now and stumble across Channel 4 at about 11pm, or if you’ve spent half an hour looking around Netflix and nothing stands out, then there are worse films than Project Almanac to waste 90+ minutes of your time on. Particularly if you have a pack of travel-sickness tablets going out of date but aren’t planning on going anywhere soon.

Project Almanac is in cinemas right now and you can pick up motion sickness tablets from most reliable pharmacists (and probably a few unreliable ones too.) Why not listen to Owen talk about the film on our latest podcast with Steve, Matt and Paul on your way there?