Pacific Rim Uprising (2018)

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Almost 5 years after ‘Pacific Rim’, comes this monster follow up that sees a debut role for Steven S. DeKnight as feature film director. Gladly, Guillermo del Toro has producing credit and seems to have retained some neat apocalypse cancelling world-building in what is otherwise a silly yet joyous popcorn flick.

Ten years have shuttled by since the monstrous Kaiju breached the Pacific Ocean and destroyed many cities. Now, former Jaeger front-runner, Jake Pentecost (John Boyega) is taken out of his scavenging ways to train new cadets. A promising talent lies within Amara (Cailee Spaeny), but is she and the battle station ready for the troubling return of the Kaiju?

I haven’t actually seen the 2013 movie since it was released but I recall it being a tremendous blast on the IMAX screens and enjoyed the moments of del Toro handled monster-lore in between the beast vs robot carnage. This one definitely seems to have a tongue firmly stuck in its cheek with a movie that is more about the fun side of proceedings.

You really don’t need to go into this film remembering many aspects of the first feature, or in fact with your mind on at all, it’s a pre-summer blockbuster kind of film that is as subtle as having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick! If that’s your thing then you’re in for a great treat and I honestly have to say that I enjoyed pretty much the entirety of this film.

How the trainee cadets are ever ready to perfectly mind-meld for duty and fight the Kaiju is a thought to push away, as is the question about never once knowing Idris Elba had a son, oh and the countless helpful convenient plot points. But, this isn’t a film warranting script scrutiny, as said, this is one of these films that doesn’t try to be anything more than the big screen madness of its smashy smashy noise.

DeKnight takes over from Academy Award holder del Toro and you can unmistakably see his TV show – ‘Spartacus’ style. The robots beating the metal crap out of each other, the lighthearted asides, the frequent almost epic slow-mo shots all come from his Starz days, from a show I rather enjoyed to tell the truth and that gladiatorial experience has helped craft an enjoyable sci-fi combat movie.

Boyega excels in a fun role here, bursting almost to the seams with quips to counter any possible predicament. It’s a character with far more energy, engagement and sparkle than Finn from the recent Star Wars movies. Scott Eastwood doesn’t really do much in a supporting role that sees him bark orders at people and twinkle his ‘handsome’ eyes when necessary. Spaeny is a talented up and coming actor, her performance is refreshing, vulnerable and yet brashly confident which works well opposite Boyega. Burn Gorman and Charlie Day resume their characters from before, with the former doing well in a backseat science supervisor kinda way and the latter pulling typical Charlie Day shouting and vague comedy that feels wrong considering where his amped up role journeys.

I was never eagerly awaiting a sequel but now this one has arrived in cinemas I can’t say I dislike the fact it exists. It’s a rampaging delight of big and bold destruction and in the words of the late, great Eduard Khil: “Trololo” indeed, this is a damn fun film to feast upon.

6.5/10

 

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Ex Machina (2015)

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Tremendous, impressive, gorgeous and worrying, this sci-fi thriller is an astounding debut feature for Alex Garland and every second is worth the watch. Tech and futuristic developments are scratched away slowly but surely leaving the fundamental elements of troubling reliance on robotics for all to see.

At work one day, coder Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson) finds out he’s won a lottery, entitling him to visit the quarters of his company’s CEO director, Nathan (Oscar Isaac). There he has the chance to sign a contract letting him see a wondrous new creation of A.I crafted by Nathan. Ava (Alicia Vikander) is there as a test but what other things will Caleb uncover in his week long stay?

I swear that every frame in this movie is beautiful, whether Rob Hardy fills moments with the entrapping progression of Nathan’s home or lovingly squares on lush green landscapes, this film is magnificent to look at. Considering it goes into the thriller genre, it has a calming influence running throughout, a soft almost blur like quality that can be taken as welcoming you into a false sense of security and also in matching the perfect softness of Ava’s design.

This film can draw relations to other movies, as I’m sure it will and as I too shall do. This by no means takes anything away from the story as it does it’s own special thing but the undercurrent of tension and playing God feels the same as ‘The Skin I Live In’ and the far away resort and tech savvy world feels akin to ‘The Machine’. This film however takes these moulds and makes a more interesting take on the motive of generated technology. The will to survive is examined through meetings with Ava and stirring dialogue about power, Turing tests, playing people along or not and the possibility of loving something not human.

The direction is precise and builds to a bubbling and great crescendo, where the end is satisfying, at least I felt it was the right way to have this film go. Alex Garland who has background experience in suspense and thrills from scripting the work of ’28 Days Later’ uses his knowledge to build tension while keeping some seductive romanticism to it all. The film is as smartly constructed as the screenplay is and Garland is to credit for both. A behind the camera presence to keep an eye on for sure.

The way characters are studied, not just the robotic element of Ava, is fascinating to watch. The flaws of us as people are stunningly done and both Caleb and Nathan are subjects of science in seeing how they work against one another. Ava is amazingly executed and the visual effects of her body are glorious, the make-up team behind this work must be applauded, their prosthetic achievement gives Ava a unique look making her a sci-fi character to remember.

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury are to credit for a skin-crawling score that can switch from placid and misty, echoing the other wordly lush mountains surrounding Nathan’s building, to a more buzzing troublesome sound as the film twists into the horror realm. It’s certainly plays on the electronic element and as the music rises at points it puts goosebumps over your arms.

The only little weakness that I came away with is, that a couple of developments in the script are predictable. It doesn’t lose the cleverness it just lost any shock factor a better twist could have given. But this is honestly the tiniest of critiques, the story is just as thrilling and thoughtful knowing the danger around the corner.

Domhnall Gleeson gives a great performance in this ‘Black Mirror’-esque tale of suspicion in technology. Facial tells and held gazes all play into his role as he begins the journey of discovery into what an A.I can do to someone. The more nervous side of things plays nicely against the muscular scheming Nathan. Oscar Isaac is powerful and keeps giving off degrees of menacing intent through his towering way of trying to charm. The silent glances or flips in how he speaks to Caleb make him a worrying Dr. Frankenstein figure to witness. Alicia Vikander is a star to look out for, her quiet approach to Ava makes her instantly likable and her plight as the real victim is played brilliantly, though the unflinching stare and half smile of Vikander never make you forget the unpredictability of her desires.

This dystopian sci-fi has many subtleties to admire as the tension of tech terror is explored. A sexy, intelligent tale with three riveting performances and a creative shifting tone from debut director Garland.

8/10

The Machine (2013)

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Cool, slick and a different enough kind of movie to the heavily saturated sci-fi zone that speaks volumes for British cinema and a debut outing for director and writer, Caradog W. James. The threat of robo-intelligence may not be a fresh thing but in this film it somehow feels like it is. The look this film achieves is very cool indeed.

‘The Machine’ finds two scientists striving to help severely wounded soldiers with implants to make them stronger. After one goes rogue the surviving scientist Vincent McCarthy (Toby Stephens) tries using the same technology to create a fully integrated machine for good to assist his ill daughter. The creation of The Machine (Caity Lotz) comes about through sly military interference and sets up the back and forth tipping balance of war versus peace.

Some parts of the plot may be slightly confusing at times and perhaps, however odd it is to write this, too far fetched in this land of robots and technical miracles. The lead character himself struggles in a bleak and bloody opening scene yet somehow survives, it’s a little too much to swallow considering how hurt he gets. I was hoping for some awesome twist in this story progression but alas that never comes, not that it ruins the actual ending sections of the movie. Another weakening factor is it takes a while to get into the pace of the film and not really until the machine starts being created do you really gain any thrills or momentum to entice you into the land of this film.

The film has moments where you feel like you’ve seen it all before and that does nothing to make this the un-Hollywood movie you want it to be but there are some scenes and ideas that keep you from feeling like you’re voyaging on a sci-fi trip of deja vu. The chilling torture with clowns and spiders or just the machine being pumped full of blood are stark images to stay in the mind. The glowing oranges vibrating around her body as she explores makes for good character exploration. The film may be predictable in terms of guessing at an ending but you can attempt to overview this negative in the dynamic appearance of the story.

Tom Raybould’s score is suitably futuristic and electronic in sounds. It rises and falls in perfect parallels to action in scenes and in general the whole vibe is cool as this film is. There’s a sense of a classic 80’s keys feel to the music and the numerous synths set the necessary atmosphere of this troubling environment the film is in. I suggest listening to the soundtrack even if you’re not tempted to see this greatly different movie to what is normally released all the time.

This film is seared with burning lens flares and soaked in a cold electric blue that gives it a fantastically bold stamp of identity, it’s a glaring wash of lights that J J Abrams would be proud of. The dark corners of danger in this underground bunker and science lab make for some thrilling shadowy shots and really help blow up that sense of paranoia and claustrophobia as mute machines constantly give Victor looks and a controlling man named Thomson who likes to get right into the mix concerning the actions and whereabouts of Victor. The visuals give this movie an edge of coldness and uncomfort as is needed for a film about this God complex kind of topic. It translates the message of tech being used for either good or bad in easy yet stunning elegant imagery.

Toby Stephens plays the scientist with a confidence and nicety to keep you on his side though it’s a pretty uninteresting character aside from wanting the best for his little girl. The real amazing star here is Caity Lotz who plays the bubbly helpful assistant and the twitchy learning and sometimes unnerving machine with brilliance. The subtlety in flicker of her mouth or glimmers in her eye as plays the machine is second to none and you get wrapped up in believing she is some built up piece of tech, beautiful but deadly nonetheless.

A cool idea cooly handled that only stumbles in a couple of places leaving us with a shiny piece of sci-fi filmmaking with enough smarts to forgive the downsides.

7/10