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Taken 2 - Film Review

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After the events of the first Taken movie, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) is performing a security mission in Istanbul. He is surprised to be met by his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) and his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) at the hotel, who has recently separated from her own partner. They've come to visit him, although he is still extremely cautious and protective of his family. Bryan is also unaware that the bad guys from the first movie are seeking revenge for the death of their brothers and sons at his very hands. He had to free his daughter from a human trafficking organisation by killing these men. Now they are prepared to ambush him in Istanbul by interrogating someone that knows him. While Bryan and Lenore leave Kim at the hotel, they are stalked by the evil Albanians and eventually captured. Bryan must communicate with his daughter over the phone to try and determine his own location, escape and then finish the baddies once and for all.

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If Taken 2 is not one of the worst films of the year because of its primitiveness and xenophobia, then it is because it is an over-produced bit of tosh, somehow more mindless and insignificant than its predecessor. There is nothing at stake in this film, no afterthought and no one to care about. It is so numbingly ingrained in a formula and signposted at every angle that at the end of its meager ninety minutes, it feels like nothing more than incidental. The film's production notes are hilarious. They praise the original as "one the most successful and relatable action thrillers of recent years" and that audiences identified with Bryan's desire to protect his family. It's easy to forget how many parents are secretly ex-CIA, paranoid killing machines. Neither of the Taken films are particularly concerned about family or paternity. That wouldn't be manly enough for this series. It is simply a continuation of Hollywood's unimaginative and archaic revival of the types of action films that were made in the 1980s under the Age of Reagan.

Violent actions films of that bygone era were bred from the political view that one person, separate from government or law enforcement, could save the world. The likes of Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Eastwood were king. But part of why Eastwood and Schwarzenegger have survived this long, post-Reaganism, is through self-reflection. Schwarzenegger's acting was never his strong suit, but comic timing was, eventually learning to parody himself. The genre became so laughably over the top that the violence was, to many people, funny. And as Eastwood's politics have moved from right-wing to less conservative views, his films have appropriated this change. His anti-Western Unforgiven (1992) saw him hang up his six-shooter, reflecting on how violence shapes a person, while Gran Tornio (2008) showed that manhood is bred from sacrifice, hard work and self-respect, not body counts. However, despite the magnitude of various political changes and events, Hollywood in its ongoing creative rut is still intent on reviving the action genre, recycling and repackaging storylines and old stars, often without humour or blood. The Taken series, highly derivative of Schwarzenegger's Commando (1985), epitomises this lethargy and strive towards decadence by offering nothing but senseless killing, if only to appease video game fans, with countless goons being barrelled over like bowling pins, bookended by cringing American hokum.

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It matters not that Olivier Megaton has replaced French director Pierre Morel for this sequel. The template of the first film is lazily copied, retaining its uncomfortable fascist undertones. But if Liam Neeson's Bryan was originally played with conviction, the character now seems possessive and frankly, creepy. Never mind that Kim travelled overseas and survived the wrath of human traffickers (she barely shows any aftershocks from the events of the first film). Bryan discovers an even bigger revelation about his daughter: she has a boyfriend! This leads to some pointless and downright awkward scenes where he reveals that he placed a GPS tracking device in her phone to locate her at her new bloke's house. This is followed by Lenore's insistence that he doesn't run a background check on the poor guy. I didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified. The film doesn't improve once the baddies arrive and the gunfights begin in Istanbul. The film might sidestep condemning Islam and Muslims specifically, but that doesn't stop its grating xenophobic attitude of making all the baddies fat, balding, scruffy, barbarians, whose sole purpose is to torment those poor Americans. Damn foreigners!

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This untimely attitude, uncomfortable considering recent film-related violence against the West, is compounded by a lack of context. The first film saw Bryan's daughter as a smaller component of a larger scheme. Now the narrative and the locations are repetitive and contained. It drastically limits the scope of the story and the action. Everything that happens is either absurdly predetermined or a blur. How lucky is Bryan that his captors only take him so far that he can still determine his location from the sound of a grenade? It's a good thing he packed those maps and hidden microphone so his daughter can determine where he is. Also, beware any bearded men hiding behind newspapers. If you're watching the film expecting a bloodbath you'll be disappointed too. All of the action scenes are distractingly over-edited, amateurishly photographed and near bloodless. But no matter, at the end of the day the most the Mills family has to worry about is driving lessons and the number of milkshakes they've ordered at the local diner.

Looper - Film Review

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In the future criminal organisations have access to time travel, which has been made illegal by the government. Since people are easily tracked, criminals have had to think of new ways to dispose of bodies. They use time travel to send back people they want killed and to have their bodies disposed. The people hired to kill them are called Loopers. If a Looper misses their target they will have only thirty years to live their life before they are killed. One of these Loopers is Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who was taken away from petty crime and given a job by his boss Abe (Jeff Daniels). One day Joe is shocked to see that the person sent back to him is an older version of himself (Bruce Willis). Old Joe manages to escape but then later explains that in the future his wife is killed by the crime boss the Rainmaker. He vows that he is going to track down the Rainmaker as a child named Cid. The younger Joe discovers that Cid is being sheltered by his mother Sara (Emily Blunt) on a farm and that the boy has special powers.

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Hollywood is afraid that we won't "get it". If a film is deemed too confusing, or too ambiguous, it is a failure amongst audiences. The safety net for Hollywood is therefore to reproduce previous successes, through sequels and remakes, because they're already proven with audiences and therefore bankable. It saves Hollywood from the potential embarrassment of funding something that is too risky. This ridiculously naive attitude to mainstream audiences, not only denies them the opportunity to think for themselves and to be tested against new concepts, but also restricts filmmakers from providing something truly unique. Established filmmakers, those who are profitable at the box-office, are granted more creative freedom and control, which means that their work can remain intact. Christopher Nolan's Inception (2010) and Duncan Jones's Source Code (2011), for example, escaped from the net of the studio system and were rightly labelled as the 'thinking man's blockbuster'. Looper has similar ambitions. It is written and directed by Rian Johnson, who made the post-modern noir drama Brick (2005). Johnson says he idolises the Coen brothers and isn't interested in studio projects. Although his film is overflowing with interesting ideas, both old and new, and you can admire it alone for that, there are conventional elements at play that don't allow the film to free itself from the imprint of the modern studio system. It's tense, funny and action-packed, but it could have been better.

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After such an engaging and original opening scene, it's difficult not to be disappointed by much of what follows afterwards. It's a fantastic start because it catches you off guard with something entirely unexpected, providing a wonderful platform for mystery. Why then does Johnson impatiently diminish these feelings of shock and disorientation by explaining exactly what just happened and why through voice over? Were there scenes cut explaining these crucial plot points more organically? Some of the exposition is admittedly useful later in the film, as the shape of the narrative becomes tricky, but this opening is just downright lazy. It is also unusual that as original as the film's premise sounds, the creativity doesn't flow through to the character of Joe. Aside from his unique line of work, he is not a particularly interesting or unique character. His reliance on fast cars and women, as well as his decision to sell out a friend, means that there is a conventional track of progression to follow here. He shifts from heartless killing machine, to surprise, an unselfish nice guy, protector of woman and child and potential love interest. Who would have thought? Comparatively, Old Joe's narrative is at its simplest a tragic love story, which is detached and uninvolving. This brief subplot with Joe and his future wife is presented through montage, reflecting faded memories (a clever stylistic touch). But it also means that not a lot of time is spent developing their relationship, so a significant plot point is more like a minor footnote. It reminded me a lot of Cobb and Mal's relationship in Inception, but that was developed over the course of the entire film, with great dramatic results.

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As conventional as some of the character development is, there are finer details in the screenplay that are small but intriguing, building up to a bigger picture of the film's universe. One of the more fascinating aspects is how impoverished the streets are in the future, which means that scavenging is a necessity for the lower class and those who have guns will use them. The way the film scans through some of these images of poverty, weapons and violence is occasionally more brutal and confronting than you might expect. That is until the last quarter where the film itself relies on these gunfights itself, opting to have Bruce Willis dual wield twin machine guns and wipe out rooms full of bad guys. The point being that as the film becomes increasingly straight forward, with its structural gimmicks and dark themes unravelled, the more it lulls. There is definitely a large dip in the amount of energy in the second half, with a lot of time spent on Sara's farm. It is here that the film also feels strangely derivative of the Terminator films, as two men from different time periods have the conflicting roles of shaping a child's future history. For many of Looper's flaws though, it is still a film of ideas. Some of them contribute to a slickly produced sci-fi story and others merely try to hide the more conventional elements of the script. There is little doubt that it's far more sophisticated and ambitious than the recent Total Recall (2012), but it's also a few steps well short of the craft and the emotional hook of Inception.

Moonrise Kingdom - Film Review

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Moonrise Kingdom is a comedy set in the mid 1960's, where a boy named Sam (Jared Gilman) is discovered to have run away from his scout group. A note is left for Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) who learns that Sam has fled with the equally young Suzy (Kara Hayward). We learn how they met and bonded through a flashback and that Suzy also has a fierce temper problem. Aiding Ward in the search for him are his fellow scout kids, who don't like Sam, as well as Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis). It is also revealed that Sam is actually an orphan and that his foster parents do not want him back in their home. Contrastingly, Suzy's parents Mr and Mrs. Bishop (Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) are angry at their daughter's disappearance and want her back. But it becomes apparent that their relationship is not on steady ground either.

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Moonrise Kingdom is everything I've come to know from director Wes Anderson and yet his film remains impossible to prepare for: it's regularly funny, original to a fault, but overstuffed and self-absorbed, like a never-ending sideshow of ideas and quirks. One cannot enter a Wes Anderson film expecting realism and gravitas. The success of his stylistic imprint is a cocktail of bizarre kookiness and offbeat behaviour, combined with minute observations about families that are in disarray or highly conflicted. His films succeed when they find the balance between these binary opposites, the absurd and the human condition. The Darjeeling Limited (2007) is Anderson's best film because he decided to rein in the chaos, with a deeper resonance established between the audience and the characters. By contrast, Anderson's weakest effort, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), amplifies the director's entrancement with his own imagination and auteurist control, regardless of whether the audience can unscramble its labyrinth of plotlines, characters and gimmicks. Moonrise Kingdom is the director's seventh film and it is as problematic and ambiguous as Anderson's work has ever been. I enjoyed the humour and the quirkiness far more than The Life Aquatic but was still puzzled by its density and occasional inaccessibility. At the very least, the film will evoke discussion between audiences, even if you think that Anderson has lost his marbles.

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The opening quarter of the film is terrifically funny, offering some unique visual stylisation to enhance Anderson's numerous thematic concerns. A piece of music plays and we're told through a voice-over that various instruments are playing the same tune but at different times. We then see the inside of a house, with a child in each room. The camera crabs sideways between them, which reminded me a lot of a dollhouse and the way that each of the individual pieces are revealed and moved by a force exterior from that structure. But what Anderson reveals through his formal control, is that people do not have to be bound by rules or greater beings. We see a deep corridor in the house and expect it to be a long shot. But Suzy walks directly into the foreground so that we can see her up-close. What I could deduce from this was that Anderson is concerned with contrasting perspectives of situations, particularly between adults and children, but also uncontrollable external forces in life, such as love, the environment or the metaphysical. These complex ideas run parallel throughout the entire and it's amusing for the most part. Dressed in military gear, Sam sees his adventure as a chance for deep romance but also to display his survival skills in front of Suzy. Her parents just want their daughter back and expectedly disapprove of their relationship. There's truth to this conflict between the kids and adults. Children often overdramatise and role-play, omitting their sense of reality to create their own world. Look for a funny moment where Scout Master Ward asks the scout about their tree house. The camera retracts to a long shot, showing that they've built it several stories high into the air. The dialogue between some of the children, though some of Sam's conversations are unnecessarily cryptic, is also deliberately over mannered and serious to show how children speak dramatically, like what they've heard in a movie as a substitute for reality.

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What is also interesting about the film and its idea of contrasting perspectives is that it is not limited simply to the children. The adults seem to be as much in conflict with each other too. This induces some thought about the film's title. In very basic astrology, the moon refers to the instincts that are evoked in people. But the kingdom part could also refer to the hierarchy or social order of a land, in this case the island off New England. It seems necessary for the characters in this film to use their instincts in order to overcome the limitations of the social order. One of the more fascinating characters that I sympathised with was Scout Master Ward. His strict, orderly approach is shown through the panning of the camera as he inspects his troops. Yet even he has to answer to a higher scout master, who rips off his badge late in the film. It is only when Ward does something courageous that he can escape from conformity. It is also at this point late in the film that it starts to lose its magic when it tries to engage with both Biblical and metaphysical elements. Sam is struck by a lightning bolt but recovers instantly, a terrible storm also begins flooding the area and there are also people dressed in bird costumes. Is Anderson making allusions to Noah's Ark? Is he saying that like in the Bible story, people can craft their own worlds if they understand and acknowledge that there are uncontrollable forces like God? It provokes thought but I found that I was overwhelmed trying to decrypt not what was happening but why.

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Nonetheless, Anderson has assembled a very experienced and entertaining cast. The new additions as much as Anderson's regulars are well directed and pitched perfectly in delivering their deadpan lines. A lot of the dialogue is spoken straight faced and serious, which makes it hysterical. The only disappointment with the cast is that Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman are criminally underused. Why is it essential for Anderson to cast them if he's barely going to use them? This is the complexion of Wes Anderson as a filmmaker. Few modern writer/directors are as unique or as imaginative in how they represent the disunity of family. He certainly doesn't need to simplify his work. Rather, to build on the foundations of a potentially great filmmaker requires clarity of theme and image for the audience. No matter how much a King might think of himself, he must answer to his people.

The Bourne Legacy - Film Review

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When an unseen Jason Bourne blows the whistle on the CIA and the various projects they are involved with, a crisis point is reached. Colonel Eric Byer (Edward Norton) is employed to shut down Operation Outcome and to eliminate the agents involved. One of those men set to be killed is on a special training mission in Alaska. His name is Aaron Cross (Jeremy Renner) and he has to go on the run. Also under attack is Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz) who survives a shooting in her lab, where special pills are developed to enhance the physical and mental state of an agent's mind. After escaping Alaska, Aaron saves Shearing from being murdered and asks her to help him with a process that will allow him to uphold his enhanced strength. The pair continually avoids capture from all ends, leading up to a deadly chase in Manila on a motorcycle.

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The Bourne Legacy spawns an unwarranted, misguided relative, who at each dizzying turn continues to outstay his welcome. The fourth sequel in the franchise is a result of the banality of Hollywood's imagination: what is profitable must be relived, rebooted and reproduced. With the amount of money spread around Hollywood, films and their directors are being treated like brands. If a film has a fresh idea and an unknown director, it will be deemed less bankable and therefore less likely to attract a higher marketing budget for fear that audiences won't grasp an unknown concept. Hence, riskier films are moulded by studios to include popular but overly familiar staples, like the car chase, or the love interest. The Bourne films, adapted from Robert Ludlum 1980s spy novels, are essentially action-mysteries, but pitched at a slightly more grounded level than the genre usually calls for. They're a profitable brand too because together the first three movies starring Matt Damon earned close to a billion dollars. I loved the gravitas applied to the very first movie but its sequels are outright plagiaristic of its template, and wrapped in a nauseating overcut visual style that people seem to confuse with being innovative. On top of these existing problems, is there anything more foreboding for a series than not having the original talent available? Tony Gilroy takes over from Paul Greengrass as director, having penned the screenplays for the previous films. Troublingly, he's not even adapting a Ludlum story anymore. Ludlum wrote three Bourne stories himself but died in 2001. The series was continued by author Eric Van Lustbader, who has almost annually written seven separate stories. Legacy is the first adaptation of his work and hopefully the last. The most surprising criticism of this film is just how boring it is. Minus Damon, this film is left with a new character that is thinly written and not well established, dumped in action sequences that are big but as overcut as they have ever been. Gilroy describes the film as being on a larger canvas and expanding the universe, but that space is filled deliberately with everything we've experienced before, only not as thrillingly.

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There's a lack of precision in the overall construction of the film. The opening scenes in Alaska, for example, are overextended and intercut with various story threads so that the film is longer (it's the lengthiest of the series, running at 130 minutes), more convoluted and confusing than it ever needed to be. And if you're expecting wall to wall action, the story is bogged down by dense periods of science-fiction jargon, posturing as real conversation. I really felt these conversations dragged and didn't add depth to the characters. When the action does strike it's sloppy because it's so chaotically handled. Faster is by no means better. There is one powerful scene where a brainwashed scientist attempts to shoot everyone inside a lab. I couldn't help but think of James Holmes again and for that alone the scene has an unintentional sense of reality to its merciless nature. It also helps that the spatiality in this scene is clear. Later action sequences though, specifically a numbingly long motorcycle chase, are so overcut and fuzzy that it's never clear where the baddies are in relation to our heroes. The film will also have you believe that you can be shot off a motorcycle, thrown into a fruit stand, and have the strength to continue riding again. And if you were to accuse this film of being ridiculously overproduced you only have to look at the cast. There are hugely talented people here that aren't well served by the script. Rachel Weisz is left to sob and just seems to exist for the scientific exposition. She could be a great emotional hook but they don't know how use her properly. Renner's star power in Hollywood is rising but throwing him into action scenes is no substitute for genuine personality or depth of character. He needed a lot more of both here to utilise his talents. I didn't find anywhere near as sympathetic involving as Damon. Lastly, what is Shane Jacobson (Kenny, 2006), doing in this film? It's a tiny part but rather depressingly, it reminds you of what the local talent here have to subject themselves to in order to be noticed in Hollywood. And that's putting it nicely.

The Dark Knight Rises - Film Review

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It has been eight years since Batman (Christian Bale) took the blame for the death of Gotham's district attorney Harvey Dent. As Batman is now an outcast to the city, Bruce Wayne has become a recluse, rarely seen in public and succumbing to the multiple injuries he has endured as The Caped Crusader. Yet when Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wounded, stumbling upon the sewer hideout of a masked villain named Bane (Tom Hardy), Batman is urged to return. Honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) persuades Bruce to don the mask again, and is given some new toys courtesy of Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman). This is against Alfred's (Michael Caine) wishes, because he wants to Bruce to move on with his life. A lot of Bruce's wealth has gone to waste, due to Gotham's economic downfall when it was meant to be invested into clean energy device, organised by Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard). However, Bruce is also the target of economic fraud, courtesy of a thief in Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who is intertwined with a businessman named Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn).

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The Dark Knight Rises, the third and final Batman film directed by Christopher Nolan, is alone a gripping final chapter but equally an outstanding means of adjoining all three films in the series together. The success of the previous film lay in transcending the comic book world into a gritty crime story. Nolan contrasted the tactility of a post 9/11 universe with the chaotic and unpredictable torment of a clown figure. There is understandable hype about the quality of this film, considering the absence of the Joker here. The narrative could not be described as tidy but neither is it as over populated with characters or as senseless as some have recently claimed. There are numerous threads being upheld, some of which are only clarified as the film progresses and there's some rushed expositional dialogue used to fill in gaps in the story. It is essential to have some knowledge of the previous films because there are huge, surprising ties to both the first and second movie. More positively however, the film is briskly paced and never dull. It's an incredibly intense film, too dark and violent for small children, but never without a sense of purpose. Nolan has stated that this episode is specifically concerned with pain. In a screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan, this is most tangible through both the physical and mental scarring of all the characters. Bruce's reclusiveness stems from losing Rachel Dawes but he is also physically distraught from the numerous injuries he has endured as Batman. Similarly, Alfred remembers the loss of Bruce's parents. Their death drives him not to let his master purge under his self-loathing and nihilistic outlook by embracing Batman again and using his alter ego as an outlet for death.

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Gotham City is also like a character in the story because it is tested physically and economically by Bane. Bane's plan is not to outright destroy the city, but to isolate it and to test its physical and economical duration. The film could be called nostalgic in the way that it references any number of periods that suffered under the weight of physical and economical repression. The French Revolution, including Charles Dicken's novel A Tale of Two Cities (1859), is a huge inspiration for the film, as seen through some bizarre show trials against the wealthy. There are also nods to the GFC and economic fraud too but there's more fun to be had through the WWII references, as pockets of citizens in Gotham form resistance groups around the city to sabotage Bane's plan. There's a grisly mood to the material, particular when bodies are publicly strung up, but thankfully it's contrasted by moments of quiet humour. As much as people have deemed the film to relentlessly gloomy there are definitely some lighter moments of relief to be found. There are some surprising and humorous scenes early on, with Bruce mimickingHoward Hughes's twilight years, while the state of Wayne Manor could pass for Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu. There is also a very funny moment where Bruce opts for a medical check-up, being told that he doesn't actually have any cartilage in his shabby knees left, but still manages to rappel out of the hospital window anyway.

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As a spectacle there are several big set pieces, using thousands of extras instead of CGI, but I found the more intimate and claustrophobic battles the most effective and involving. The most distressing of which is an early confrontation between Batman and Bane, destined to be a classic scene, offering one of the most brutal melee fights in any comic book film. I found it agonising to watch because of its expert staging, the sense of helplessness, but most importantly because I cared about the wellbeing of the characters. That's a critical feat of this series, elevating it above similar comic adaptations. It also features in other moments of unbearable tension, including a brilliant climbing sequence, which itself acts as a clever metaphor for physical endurance. My involvement was also sparked by the quality of the performances, which are collectively terrific. The old favourites are in great form, particularly Bale and Caine, and it is their conflict which gives the film some emotional weight as they are divided over the uncertainty of the Wayne legacy. The new additions impress too, the best of which is Joseph Gordon Levitt, whose character quickly finds mutual ground with Bruce through his own feelings of loss and abandonment. It is not a showy part but there's great conviction in his work that gives immense weight to the character. Hathaway entirely laps up the various facets of playing Selina Kyle (she's essentially Catwoman, but isn't called that and doesn't use a whip). She roundhouse kick's people in high heels, is entirely untrustworthy, can turn on tears whenever she wants, and yet in moments of danger you really care about her safety. Hardy is a little more conflicting as Bane. A lot has been said about his strange, muffled voice. With a mask covering most of his face, there's less acting and emotion in the character and he's not as fun as the Joker. While his voice and his accent are strange, at least most of his lines are now audible. The physical nature of his character and the menace he provides through is appearance compensates highly for being a less interesting character.

In spite of a few flaws with the storytelling, I enjoyed the film immensely. Once you piece together the story, the characters and their safety matter, which makes the action more meaningful and engaging. As a Batman fan it is difficult to imagine how this series could have been translated into something more intensified, spectacular or human. One final note: is it a lack of imagination or pure arrogance that Warner Bros. is already considering rebooting the series again? Wasn't earning over a billion dollars in profit enough? Rebooting this series, with the standard of all three of Nolan's films to live up to, is a hole that not even Batman could climb out of.

Max Payne 3 Review Posted - Link now included!

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I have just posted my review of Max Payne 3, the first game review I have written since January 2011! :D

The last game I reviewed was Tales of Monkey Island.

I thought that I should review Max Payne 3 because I have been a huge fan of the series since the first game. I think this is likely to be the very last game, given the low sales, so its time to say goodbye to Max in styIe! :D

Here is the link if anyone wants to read it and tell me what a buffoon I am! :(

I tried to keep it balanced. The game has some very good combat but is undone by a weak story and questionable design decisions!

http://au.gamespot.com/max-payne-3/user-reviews/797162/platform/pc/

While I am writing here I just thought I'd remind people to check out my review of the new local film Not Suitable for Children and the Spider-Man reboot too! Both reviews can be found below!

Finally, I am also very excited about watching The Dark Knight Rises next week! I can't wait to see and review it for the site! :D I haven't been this excited for a movie in a long time, maybe since The Adventures of Milo and Otis :D

Not Suitable For Children - Film Review

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Jonah (Ryan Kwanten) lives with his housemates Gus (Ryan Corr) and Stevie (Sarah Snook) and enjoys hosting parties. One night Jonah discovers something is wrong with his body and is taken to hospital. He is told that he has testicular cancer. He only has a limited amount of time before he will be operated on and won't be able to conceive children. Driven into a panic because of the uncertainty of his future, he attempts to call up as many of his exes as possible to see if they will conceive a child with him. Both his housemates are gradually drawn into this mess as they try and warn people about Jonah's mindset. Stevie is roped in the deepest as she reluctantly has to ask someone at work if they will be able to help Jonah.

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Not Suitable For Children, a delightful Australian film, is miles away from the local comedies produced in the early noughties. The earliest part of the decade was a major setback for Australian cinema, as the numerous comedies produced were idiotic and unfunny. Last year Red Dog was released and people went in droves to watch a film that was clever, funny and accessible. This film deserves the same response. It is one of the most entertaining local films I have seen in several seasons. There's utter professionalism about director Peter Templeman's work here. Photographed around Newtown in all her glory, the film is shot with utter clarity and precision. There's such detail and verisimilitude in the photography that we recognise this as a world that is familiar and continually vibrant. Thematically, that's important because it shows how the world is perpetual, refusing to slow for the characters in the story. This energised world is most evident in an early party scene, where Jonah moves aimlessly between people, connectionless. This also feeds into the idea of the uncertainty of adult life as you solely drift between stages, with no one waiting for you on either side. This concept of belated maturity rests steadily on an original premise and a pitch perfect understanding of comedy. The film might be about testicular cancer but the brand of comedy is low-key, observational and subtly drawn. The script and performances opt not for the cheap laughs or gross-out gags but to provide the audience with enough time and space to think for themselves.

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Take a scene where Jonah and Stevie talk to a lesbian couple about conceiving a baby. One of the women is attractive to Jonah, the other is clearly not. Listen to how loaded Jonah's dialogue is when he asks which one will be carrying the baby. We have a situation grounded in reality, as all good comedy should be, and what Jonah says is the punch line. The straight-faced comedy is further complimented by Stevie's confused facial expressions, making it a hysterical scene. The humour is masterfully controlled and I enjoyed the film a lot for that reason and laughed aplenty. Adding sophistication and humanity to the rest of the film are the performances. Kwanten is in fine touch as the dopey and spaced-out Jonah and Ryan Corr (Coby from Packed to the Rafters) provides wonderful moments of pure comic timing. Yet Sarah Snook as Stevie (who looks not unlike Emma Stone) gives a star-making performance, bringing genuine feeling and plausible motivations to the narrative. She's caught between her work life and a friend in need, meaning that there's a frustrating inseparability between those once neatly divided identities. If there is some degree of predictability about the narrative and the relationships, it doesn't matter because there's tension and humour that makes it feel involving and anew again. I think if this film attracts audiences like it should it will speak to the young adult generation as profoundly as modern films like Garden State (2004) have.

The Amazing Spider-Man (3D) - Film Review

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This is a reboot of the Spider-Man franchise, tracing Peter Parker's (Andrew Garfield) upbringing from a small child. Feeling his family is endangered because of revelations in his scientific work, Peter's father Richard decides to leave his son to be raised with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). Growing up as a teen, Peter is an intelligent but isolated and bullied high school geek. He is also too shy to try and grab the attention of Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). Intrigued by a document he finds at home, Peter decides to investigate his father's work, leading back to the scientist Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). Connors worked with Richard, preparing a cross species breeding program that is meant to allow people to regrow their limbs like reptiles. When Peter is bitten by a spider in the lab, he obtains incredible feats of strength and agility. Soon after, an argument breaks out at home one night, which sees Uncle Ben searching for Peter, only to be shot dead by a street thug. Looking to avenge his uncle's death, Peter uses his new found powers to track down the criminal. Yet he also realises that in between his personal revenge and eventual romance with Gwen, there is a greater threat to the city awaiting him.

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"We'll meet again, Spider-Man," the Green Goblin once said. 'And again and again,' he should have added. Marvel's most famous superhero dates back to the 1960s and has survived crossing into numerous mediums, from comic books, animated TV shows and several film adaptations. The webslinger's invention by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko coincided with the popularity of the 'teenager' at the time. The comics were designed to appeal to a specific demographic by giving a superhero a set of teenage problems that were relatable to the readers. However, it took an alleged twenty-five years of development trouble, which included a script treatment written by James Cameron at one point, before the first film arrived in 2002. Sam Raimi's films proved to be outstanding adaptations of the comics because he found the balance between the action and the humanity too. All of his characters were ordinary people, fitting their heroics into their ordinary lives, and not the other way around. That's an immensely appealing aspect for anyone easily bored by computer generated fight sequences. Like it or not, Sony have decided to reboot the franchise just a decade since the start of the original trilogy. Raimi was originally meant to make an additional number of sequels but withdrew due to scheduling. Replacing him, Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, is director Marc Webb and his young cast. Webb emerges from a background in music, directing videos for artists like Miley Cyrus and Green Day. He made his first feature a few years ago with the romantic comedy-drama (500) Days of Summer (2009). I don't have the same admiration for that film as others do and his limited cinematic filmography makes him an unusual choice for a blockbuster. With a relatively inexperienced film director, Sony has opted to take the safe route as far as a reboot is concerned. The film is not as great or as radical a reimagining as Casino Royale (2006) and Batman Begins (2005) were to their respective franchises. This is because it does not stray heavily from the trajectory of the '02 film. It presents familiar events with a darker tone, running into a few bumps along the way, but successfully introducing a handful of attractive new elements.

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The craft of the film alone is superb: the action is excitingly staged and the story is told with great confidence. Yet at 136 minutes the film is overlong and opens with a problematic first half. The tone shifts sometimes jarringly between melancholy, dwelling on Peter's isolation from his parents, and the slapstick transformation into the webhead. It also takes close to an hour into the film for Peter to don the suit properly, which means that some key plot points, including Uncle Ben's fate, are visible but longingly withheld. Yet once the film establishes itself it allows for a funny and entertaining payoff. In spite of much of its predictability, a significant factor in the enjoyment of the film is the new relationship between Gwen and Peter. In the comics Gwen Stacy, who predates Mary Jane Watson as a love interest, didn't actually meet Peter till he was in college. Webb has chosen to bring her arc in early to freshen up the story. It's a masterstroke. The chemistry between the leads, courtesy of Emma Stone's infectious energy levels and boundless charisma, is warm and very satisfying. Is there a more charming young talent in Hollywood at the moment? Her presence is faultless. Garfield grows steadily into the film because at first he really is a teenager: not much of a talker and slightly difficult to embrace. But when he transforms into Spidey he's funny and playful with the role and that's much more enjoyable to watch. Additionally, Martin Sheen gives his experience and class to Uncle Ben and Rhys Ifans has access to a rounded villain too, one who is interested in genetic engineering, which adds touches of science and moral questions about genetic engineering against natural evolution. Is the film a necessary inclusion though? Not really. Those who haven't watched the original films will find it most engaging but it is still well-made, convincingly acted and fun. I just hope that the inevitable sequel has a few more surprises.

Brave (3D) - Film Review

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In the Scottish highlands of DunBroch Princess Merida (voiced by Kelly Macdonald) is constantly being ushered about how to act in her life. Her parents are King Fergus (Billy Connolly) and his wife Queen Elinor (Emma Thompson) and it is the latter that is most controlling towards Merida's behaviour. Merida enjoys adventuring by herself, including horseback riding and firing off her bow and arrow. Yet her life comes unstuck when her mother announces that she is arranging for her to be married. A number of rival suitors are invited to prove themselves as worthy but Merida is bored by all of them. After an argument with her mother, Merida finds a witch (Julie Walters) and purchases a spell that she hopes will change her mother's mind about the marriage. Yet it has unforeseen consequences that forces Merida to take responsibility for her actions.

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They've done it again. Since their first animated feature Toy Story in 1995, the animation giant Pixar have continued to show a maturity towards characters that few other studios can understand. Brave is Pixar's 13th feature film and is credited to three directors, one of which was Brenda Chapman. She originally conceived the film, planning for Reese Witherspoon to voice Merida, but she was replaced by Mark Andrews and Steve Purcell. A lot of has been said about Chapman's involvement and the significance of Merida as the studio's first female heroine too. Is gender politics relevant here or just a naive attempt to push this openly liberal company towards political correctness? Pixar have never catered to the boys club and their films should never be considered gender specific either. They have had numerous female characters in almost all of their other films. Boo (Monsters, Inc.) and EVE (WALL-E), for example, were highly significant parts of their respective films. Similarly, Mr. Incredible (The Incredibles) was frequently accompanied by his entire family, which included both his wife and his teenage daughter. Pixar have openly stated, quite accurately, that they don't make films for children: they make films for everyone. In a period where an increasing number of Hollywood features are aimed at young teenage boys, I have long been fascinated by this statement. The company strives for universal appeal in their work, which is why all of their films are so popular. Upholding this standard is Brave and it's a bullseye. The film might rest in the palm of a spritely red-haired Princess who does it her way, but there is no limit in her appeal or the spectator's ability to emphasise with her. Consider a scene where Merida fights with her parents about who she wants to be and what she wants to do with herself. How is a moment of conflict like this not universally applicable?

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I think 'Brave' would also be a title fitting for the studio itself. There would be few others willing enough to include scenes of domestic disputes, like Merida telling her mother that she does not want to be like her, or parents fighting amongst each other for the path they individually believe their children should take. There are clever scenes that carry this subtext, meaning that Pixar continues to push the envelope, challenging the audience and allowing us to form more meaningful attachments to these characters because the situations are relatable. Their earnestness is fitting because today under the Obama administration the rest of Hollywood is also beginning to distance itself from conservative messages like 'be yourself,' in favour of family films such as Tangled (2010), We Bought a Zoo (2011) and How to Train Your Dragon (2010), which rightly encourage children to take chance and more risks in life. Brave is a wonderful continuation of this message, as Merida looks for her freedom, but like all great fairytales it also about how personal hubris forces change in both adults and children alike. This progression is embedded in a narrative that does take its time to warm up but builds excitingly into a cautionary tale that is incredibly touching. As with all great Pixar films there is an emotional attachment to the story that is born through the clarity of the characters motives. Smartly, the film also refuses to ling too long over its more dramatic moments.

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There's as much tension as humour and personality here too, including a hairy scene involving an escape from a bear that might be a little scary for very small children. There is also fun to be had with the film's supreme visual design too. Watching the film in 3D, it is a lavish argument for how the extra dimension benefits from wide open spaces. Recently, I was critical of Prometheus's superfluous use of 3D. This is because narrow corridors are often too contained for the 3D technology to be effective. The open spatiality of Brave allows for more fluidity in the camera's movements, providing a spectacular sense of flight. This sense of freedom, reflecting the frivolity of Merida's escape from the kingdom, is enhanced by long shots and sweeping camera motions. In effect it provides the frames with a visible sense of scale, height and depth. The colour selection is impeccable too. As Merida walks through the forest, her bright red hair contrasts the greenery of the woodlands and faint blue lights glow luminously in front of her. By contrast, there is also a special moment where Merida crosses over some fallen ruins and the frame is purposely desaturated, removing the colour and replacing it with a hazy fog that disrupts our sense of geography. It is a shame that the later scenes are quite dark, meaning there is less opportunity to enjoy the colour and proves at odds with the lenses on the 3D glasses. It is a minor complaint in an otherwise impeccably crafted film. Pencil it in for a Best Animated Oscar.

Prometheus - Film Review

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Prometheus is a prequel to Ridley Scott's Alien (1979), opening with a creature disintegrating itself into the Earth. Forwarding to the year 2089 and archaeologists Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie (Logan Marshall-Green) discover that a map has been left by the alien as a signal to another planet. A few years later and both archaeologists are onboard the spaceship Prometheus. The ship is sponsored by the rarely seen Weyland (Guy Pearce) but is captained by Janek (Idris Elba) and manned by the tough talking Meredith (Charlize Theron). There is also an android on the ship named David (Michael Fassbender), who is occasionally taunted for not being human. Interest arises when the group lands on a moon and discovers that there is a direct correlation between human and alien DNA. Problematically however, some of the crew become separated from Shaw and the rest of the group, forcing the others to retreat from the safety of the ship to find them.

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Prometheus is bigger, louder and flashier than Alien ever was, but not as effective. Where director Ridley Scott once relied on pure minimalism, including the use of silence, deep shadows and selective glimpses of the alien creatures, he deters instantly from the 'less is more' approach from the very opening of this disappointing prequel. The immediate vision of an alien badly in need of a suntan, with a UFO hovering above him, is the result of the impatience of both contemporary films and modern audiences. After all, Prometheus was delayed to make way for the likes of Alien vs. Predator (2004). Interestingly, that Razzie Award-nominated feature became the highest grossing film between both franchises worldwide. What has followed is a lack of restraint in Scott's film, particularly in the visual design, which compromises his unique styIistic imprint. The clear, white, sterile tones of the ship's interiors, along with the tight fitting grey uniform of Meredith, hint at a fascist regime. But the emphasis on digital technology upsets the mood and the isolation. The ship is comprised of see-through computer screens and sophisticated touchpads, while in the caves the crew can use flashing red scanners to search through darkened areas. If this is a prequel to the retro, low-tech Alien, how is it that they have access to such advanced gadgetry? The illogical choices in design also flow through to the narrative, which is unresolved and emotionally hollow. Potentially fascinating ideas surrounding destruction as a form of creation and facing our creators are squandered by deliberate obtuseness. Rather cynically, the film's main questions, specifically the relationship between humans and aliens, seem purposely unanswered if only so audiences will have to tune in for the next episode.

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Furthermore, the characters in this film are noisier and more talkative than in Alien but still have little to say. The film is painfully short on characterisation and the cast is underused. Rapace is perhaps the strongest because she's intense and visceral but she is not much of a conversationalist. Idris Elba, Guy Pearce and a barely seen Patrick Wilson, are all fine actors but they aren't well served by the script because they're largely excluded from the action and substantial details about their characters are scarce. The plot struggles around the midpoint because the motives and the goals of many of these characters feel sketchy. Similarly, there are few actresses better at playing ice-cold than Charlize Theron but she's unusually heavy-handed and the part feels underwritten because it limits her range of emotions. The most elusive member is Fassbender's David, who seems to recognise when he is being taunted, which adds some much-needed tension, but his bizarre actions make it difficult to tell whose side he is on. These characters are also drawn into dumb plot points, courtesy of even dumber actions by the expendable side characters. There are moments where you'd like to scream 'don't split up' and 'don't touch that alien' but these events unfold with predictable outcomes, thanks to an intrusive music score that cues us in on when to be frightened. The thrills are meant to be amplified but everything is performed with little self-awareness for the genre. There's a laughable scene where a character undergoes the world's fastest caesarean and after the alien came out all I wanted to hear was Agent K say: "It's a...squid." The aliens, including but not limited to an enormous tentacle beast, might be more visible and more violent but that doesn't mean the film is more exciting or enjoyable because of it. After the screening, I wondered why Scott had taken so long to make the film. On top of a proposed Monopoly movie, based on the board game, and the recently announced sequel to Blade Runner (1982), I questioned whether Scott was officially short on new ideas. Watching Prometheus, the answer seems simple. In terms of design and direction, it is a product of our times and not in a complimentary way.

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NOTE: I watched the film in 3D but aside from Hugo (2011) I am now convinced that there are few films being released that can justify the additional costs, including this one. If you must see it, watch it in 2D. Or better still, rent Alien again.