• Film reviews

    #487 – Mantera (2012)

    Mantera (2012)

    Film review #487

    Director: Aliyar Ali Kutty, Miza Mohamad

    SYNOPSIS: At the Weston Technologies research lab, a prototype exosuit is destroyed and the lead researcher is kidnapped. The remnants are accidentally shipped to a high school student named Azman, a computer genius. Unsure of what has been delivered to him, he asks his friend to help rebuild it, and they find it is a motorcycle that turns into an armoured exosuit. As Azman gets used to this new power, he quickly finds himself caught up in a battle of good and evil for the fate of the world…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Mantera is a 2012 science-fiction film. The film opens up with a break-in at a research laboratory, where a prototype exosuit armour is destroyed. The wrecked parts are shipped accidentally to high school student Azman, who reassembles the suit with the help of his friend, and gets dragged into a battle for the fate of the world: that’s a pretty threadbare explanation of the whole plot, but also captures everything you need to know. The whole film feels like something you’ve seen before: every scene feels like it’s ripped off from a better movie. There’s superhero themes and adolescent drama which makes me think of the Raimi Spider-Man films above everything else. Nothing about the story is believable: the “accidental” shipping of a prototype exosuit of armour to a high school student (which the film handwaves away later as some form of destiny), and the appearance of the love interest, who straight away remarks she is a robotics expert and by amazing coincidence can help Azman to get the suit to work. Everything just falls into place a bit too easily, and makes the film always feel scripted, forcing everything to fit into the genres and movies the film is copying.

    The characters are, like the story, unoriginal and barely develop out of their foundational tropes. Azman is the typical nerdy high school student, his friend is a mechanic who it just so happens can rebuild the parts Azman was sent, and as mentioned Deena plays the romantic interest, and just so happens to be an expert in robotics to help Azman get the exosuit to work. The characters are just so conveniently placed within the film to justify the narrative that there’s no room for any development. The “mentor” type character also fulfils their role exactly as you’d expect, including being killed off near the end to give the main character motivation. The two secret organisations fighting for control of the world being the “Alliance of Light” and the “Legion of Darkness” is just so incredibly reductive and bereft of imagination that it is barely worth mentioning. The villain is just some guy who does a “Dr. Claw” and always has his back to the camera: I don’t think he’s actually any of the other characters, so hiding his identity is redundant, and also the film ends without him even meeting the hero, instead just promising “revenge” in a sequel which we never got. Utterly pointless.

    The effects and CG are all feel like a student’s university project: the exosuit is all CG, and moves awkwardly. Alongside this, the battles with it in are difficult to follow when the screen fills up with all the CG. The English audio dub is atrocious, with the characters all having very very cartoon-ish voices, like Azman’s best friend having the cool kid surfer accent, and the villain having the voice of a sandpapered throat. A lot of the sound effects are all stock sounds that you have probably heard many times before, and continue to add to that overall feeling of unoriginality and amateurism that constantly reminds you that you’ve seen everything done better in other films.

  • Film reviews

    #486 – Christmas Twister (2012)

    Christmas Twister (2012)

    Film review #486

    Director: Peter Sullivan

    SYNOPSIS: Ethan Walker, a meteorologist, detects a tornado in Texas that he believes is a herald for much stronger tornadoes that are about to ravage Texas over the coming day. His wife Addison, a local news anchor, is initially sceptical, but believes him as more tornadoes start to appear. As the storms worsen, it is a race against time as Ethan and Addison try to get their kids to safety, and convince the local TV station to warn people to seek shelter…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Christmas Twister (Also known as F6: Twister) is a 2012 TV disaster movie about a twister at Christmas time (unsurprisingly). The film starts off introducing Ethan Walker, a meteorologist who detects a tornado in the Fort Worth area of Texas, which he believes is a precursor to a much more devastating series of tornadoes. However, his modelling, which accounts for climate change affecting the frequency of tornadoes, is not used by others, and has gotten him into trouble before by causing mass panic in Chicago when no tornadoes happened. He calls up his wife Addison, a news anchor at the local TV station, to warn her, but she is initially sceptical, but more tornadoes happen, and she is convinced to help him. The film revolves around the Walker family, as Ethan tries to get their kids to safety, and Addison tries to convince the news station that the danger is real and to get the public to seek shelter. This very typical made-for-TV disaster movie offers up a disaster of relatively mild proportions, with character arcs that are predictable and without interest. The premise of the main character having the only accurate weather modelling because his accounts for climate change is a bit absurd, and his explanations are loaded with jargon that makes little to zero sense. The typical three act structure is present, but doesn’t really build the story up to a climax, and just repeats the same set-ups throughout. Probably the worst thing about it is there’s no real scale of the disaster that everyone talks about: the death count is mentioned off-hand as being about 20-30, and there’s only around three to four on-screen deaths, with only one of those being an established character. As it stands, there’s no real sense of danger to the main cast. Also, there’s the fact that nearly every building has a tornado shelter so it’s hardly a mammoth task to get everyone to safety when they see a tornado coming. Ethan going to pick his kids up from school just seems a bit pointless when the schools will obviously have tornado shelters in an area that is frequently hit by tornadoes.

    For a disaster movie, there’s not a lot of destruction to see: the film uses obvious stock footage of the aftermath of a tornado, but even that doesn’t look too bad. The images of people rolling away tires and other debris in the aftermath is just so contrived it’s hilarious. Most of the film also doesn’t take place during a tornado, rather it just deals in the aftermath of them, and the danger seems to mostly consist of just rescuing people from underneath rubble. The budget of the film clearly doesn’t have the capacity to have whole scenes be blown about and destroyed, and so we are left with some mild shaking and some really bad CG renders of tornadoes that don’t really look that impressive or strong: for example, you see people within about ten metres or so running away from the tornado, which at the strength it supposedly is, would suck them up right away. Again, this makes the tornadoes seem much less threatening than they are. The characters do have their own story arcs and purposes, which I guess is a positive, but it’s all very standard stuff that you’ve seen plenty of times before. None of the “jokes” are particularly funny: the one scene with tornado chasers barely escaping with their lives ending with the line “This is gonna make us a fortune on YouTube!” made me want to just walk away from this wreck.

    If you’re looking for some Christmas spirit in this film, there isn’t really any. The film’s setting in winter is somewhat important to the story, as the tornadoes appear in December outside of tornado season due to global warming etc. but there’s no other sense of it being Christmas apart from one scene with a mall Santa. The weather is basically summer, and there are no Christmas decorations or anything adorning the scenes. All in all, it just feels like a typical low budget disaster film that fails to really portray any big scope of disaster, focusing instead on a fairly typical family that aren’t ever in any real danger (because they live in an area frequented by tornadoes, so there’s plenty of tornado shelters). Don’t ruin your Christmas spirit by watching this.

  • Film reviews

    #372 – Tomorrow, When the War Began (2012)

    Tomorrow, When the War Began (2012)

    Film review #372

    Director: Stuart Beattie

    SYNOPSIS: Seven teenagers in rural Australia go off into the wilderness for a weekend camping trip, but when they return, they find that while they were away, a foreign army has invaded the country, and rounded up all of their families. The group are hunted by the occupying forces, and must not only find a way to survive, but to fight back and save their town…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISTomorrow When the War Began is a 2012 Australian film based on the novel of the same name. The film centres around a group of teenagers who have to survive when their country is invaded by a foreign power. In the beginning, we are introduced to Ellie, a normal teenager who narrates the story, and is organising a weekend camping trip with her friends into an area of the wilderness literally called Hell. While they are away with no way to contact anyone, a foreign army invades Australia and takes over their town, as well as imprisoning all their families. When Ellie and the rest of the group return home to find everyone gone, they have to find a way to first of all survive, then figure out how to fight back. The film is quite similar to Red Dawn, which really remains the benchmark for these types of films. The plot unfolds steadily and more or less predictably, but given the constant danger that the cast is in, it creates a tense atmosphere in which you can believe that no one is safe, and danger could just be around the corner. The film exclusively centres around the cast of teenagers, and for most of the film they are just trying to survive before they can actually start to fight back. We don’t see their families captured, and neither do they try and free them because they are too busy just trying to avoid getting captured themselves, which sort of makes sense. The film also has a ‘coming-of-age’ feel to it as the characters are forced to grow up and confront adulthood a lot sooner than they were expecting. There is a lot of suspense in many of the scenes throughout the film, and a constant sense of danger that is executed well, driving many of the decisions that the characters take.

    The most interesting part of the film is definitely the characters. Each of the teenagers that make up the group has their own recognisable personality, and a good amount of focus is given to each of them to see how they deal with the situation they find themselves in. The inter-personal relationships between them also get a good amount of attention, and so while some of the characters fall into very stereotypical roles, they develop unique relationships and responses throughout the film, which makes keeps it interesting. Being based on a book, you can certainly see where the characters were specially developed in the text and translated into film well. Sometimes there’s a corny line of dialogue that feels out of place, and takes you out of the drama of a scene, but the overall impression of the characters you get isn’t hampered by this. They really are a balanced bunch with elements of romance and animosity to give it some variety, and plenty of opportunities by the end of the film to overcome their shortcomings and truly ‘come of age’ (even if, again, it sometimes feels a bit corny or obvious). Ellie certainly leaves a strong impression as she starts as an ordinary teenage girl and quickly becomes scarred and hardened by the trouble she goes through (such as having to kill the enemy soldiers), but also has to contend with her still human side. Kevin’s cowardice is a constant burden to the group, but by the end he finally finds something to stand up for. Homer’s unruliness finds a place in executing and planning guerrilla tactics, Fiona is a bit of a princess, but isn’t afraid to confront her humanity and help out despite being aware of her limitations, and Robyn realises that following her religion isn’t so simple when she also has her loyalties to her friends who are also counting on her. Again, these are interesting characters to watch that evolve beyond the familiar stereotypical roles they begin in through well written dialogue and relationships.

    The balance between drama and action is well maintained, and the scenes are well constructed to serve their purpose. There’s some great shots of the Australian wilderness which really define the location well and give it a unique sense of identity (while the themes in the film are familiar, they are rarely set in this part of the world). The soundtrack is full of fitting songs, and the production and direction is well executed. The film never gets too over-the-top, and while not overly violent or gruesome, does not shy away from the harshness of what is going on, which again accentuates the need for these characters to grow up quickly and confront their weaknesses. The plot eventually centres around the group attempting to blow up the only bridge in and out of town, thereby cutting off reinforcements from the nearby port. The film ends with their success, but with the war far from over and their families still imprisoned, they obviously have a long way to go. There were several more books that continued the story, but none of them were adapted into a film, which is a shame because by the end of the film the cast becomes very familiar and you are certainly left wanting more from them. Tomorrow, When the War Began follows familiar themes and tropes, but branches out to develop it’s characters and unique location in an interesting and refreshing way, and keeps the viewer engaged with tense action scenes and emotional drama. There’s the odd line of dialogue or performance which falls flat and interrupts the investment in the film, but overall it’s an entertaining and captivating watch.

  • Film reviews

    #367 – Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo

    Evangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo (2012)

    Film review #367

    Director: Hideaki Anno

    SYNOPSIS: Shinji Ikari wakes up out of a coma to find he has been unconscious for fourteen years. In that time, the world has changed to a point that it is unrecognisable to him. The people he knew do not need him anymore, and his actions seem to have not mattered. As he sinks back into a state of depression, he finds a new friend; one which accepts him completely for who he is. However, fate has another twist in store for Shinji, as he is once again forced to play his part in the machinations of his Father, and the fate of humanity once again falls into his hands…

    THOUGHTS/ANSLYSISEvangelion 3.0: You Can (Not) Redo is a 2012 film and the third in the Rebuild of Evangelion series, which remakes and retells the iconic Japanese animated TV series based around giant EVA robots piloted by a group of selected children. The film opens up where the previous one left off…well, except that it is fourteen years after the events of its climax.  The film is very neatly separated into three acts, almost as If they were episodes of the TV series. The first act opens with Shinji Ikari waking up out of a coma to find out he has been asleep for fourteen years. In this time, it seems that everything has changed, with everyone he knew now working for WILLE, a new organisation dedicated to stopping NERV and the fourth impact, which will bring about the end of humanity. The ending of the second film saw Shinji finding a purpose and doing what he wanted in order to save Rei Ayanami, a fellow EVA pilot, and when Shinji wakes up at the beginning of this film, he finds that not only he didn’t save Rei after all, but he is no longer needed to pilot the EVA, leaving him without purpose. While the two previous films followed the story of the original series quite closely, this film opens up in a completely new world that has deviated from the source material, so viewers will empathise with Shinji’s position. The problem with this is that it essentially renders the ending of the previous film null and pointless. The ending was a powerful moment in that Shinji finally found his voice and purpose, but cancelling that out completely in the opening scenes in this film doesn’t sit quite right, and sets the film back quite a bit. While Shinji can do nothing, Misato, Asuka and the rest of the people Shinji knew go into battle in the EVAs and their new battleship in quite frankly is an amazing, hugely epic battle. The animation is an exemplary mix of 2D and 3D animation, there’s lots of variety in the action, and the soundtrack is grand. It does go on for quite a while, but it really is a spectacle that is extremely busy and full of shouting orders and military execution that again gives no space for Shinji to really do anything.

    Shinji is kidnapped by his Father and told he must pilot a new EVA unit with a co-pilot, another young boy named Kaworu. In his hopeless state of mind, Shinji finds the one person who offers to help and support him unconditionally. After the high stakes, epic battle that consumed the first act, all that energy dissipates to focus on the psychological troubles of Shinji which will not be unfamiliar to fans of the series. The trouble is after the first act and its bombastic battle it struggles to find a footing and feels like a let-down in comparison. There’s a lot of re-visiting of similar themes as Shinji and Kaworu spend time with each other, as well as Shinji’s re-establishing contact with Rei. Again, all these things feel like they were addressed by the end of the second film, and they are being brought up again without adding anything new to the narrative. There’s some effort to make Shinji’s motivations more clear, but this act is very sparse on content.

    The Third act sees Shinji and Kaworu enacting Gendo’s (Shinji’s Father) wish to begin the fourth impact and to initiate the next step of human evolution. The tempo picks up again and there’s a balance between the themes and energies of the first two acts. The story however starts to get really complicated, and difficult to follow: even though this is in typical Evangelion style, it still feels like it is throwing in a lot of exposition and elements that are given little space to be considered by the viewer. The trouble is that the first act demonstrated such a powerful action sequence that the climax just can’t compare with it. It tries, but there’s a complete mismatch. The climax is still filled with drama and action, but it’s a middle ground between the first two acts, and it can’t synthesise the two to move beyond them sadly.

    Overall, Evangelion 3.0 offers a dramatic departure and something different for the series. Whereas the first two films stuck to the pace and structure of the original series, this film throws the viewer, along with the main character into a completely new world, leaving us in the same position as Shinji in order to empathise with him. I have to emphasise again that the way the film immediately renders the payoff of the previous film null and void feels like a bad move, and sends the film back to square one with the characters. The opening act does a good job of balancing the action with the impact of the situation on Shinji’s character, offering the viewer the chance of empathise with him, but the film does feel like it peaks at the end of the first act, and never quite exceeds what it achieves there. Nevertheless, the animation quality (again, mostly in the first act) is spectacular, the music is epic, and it offers a sense of scale and drama (thanks to its large budget) that the series did not do. The story struggles to find its footing throughout in this new direction, and dims the energy of the film series, but the areas it does excel in balance out the weaknesses which leave the film a mixed bag. More should probably be expected of such a highly regarded and renowned series, but it is not completely a write-off, and sets up a final film which hopefully can provide a fitting ending.

  • Film reviews

    #337 – Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

    The Avengers (2012)

    Film review #337

    dir. Joss Whedon

    SYNOPSIS: While S.H.I.E.L.D. is performing experiments on an object known as the tesseract, a potential source of unlimited energy, it is stolen by Loki, a demi-god who wishes to use it’s power to subjugate the human race. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., assembles a team of heroes to counter this new threat to Earth, but first they must learn to work together before they can take on Loki…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Avengers (or Marvel’s The Avengers or Marvel Avengers Assemble) is a 2012 superhero film that is the culmination of the first series of films establishing the marvel cinematic universe. The previous films mostly dealt with the origins of the characters, while also providing hints about how they will fit into the wider universe. This film has the aim of bringing all these different superheroes together, with their own unique presence, powers, and personalities, and devising a way for them to work together as a team. It is certainly an ambitious project to cross-over all these different worlds and stories, requires a balance to get right with regards to using each character effectively.

    The film starts off showing the S.H.I.E.L.D. agency conducting experiments on an object called “the tesseract”, which played a part in the Captain America film and briefly shown in the Thor film. They are trying to harness its power to produce a limitless source of energy. It suddenly springs to life and opens up a portal through which Loki, the antagonist from Thor, emerges. He takes control of the minds of a number of personnel, and escapes the facility with the tesseract. Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., recognises the severity of the situation, and calls upon the various heroes to track down Loki and the tesseract. The film introduces each of the characters individually, so they are each explored on their own terms and their personal motivations are established firmly. The story structure is fairly standard, with a clear three-act structure that flows as you would expect, but there’s plenty of humour, action and story packed into them that the film nevertheless gives you everything you need. With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, it’s a long one, but every scene is worthwhile in some way, and it could have probably got away with being even longer because there is so much potential with these characters and setting.

    The characters have already been established through the previous films, primarily dealing with their origins and motivations that make them heroes. Even if you haven’t seen all of them, you get a pretty good idea of who they are and what drives the. Captain America comes across a heroic soldier who comes up with a strategy for battle, Iron Man/Stark is the guy with the resources who deflects criticism with his humour. Banner/The Hulk is the smarts who is also an unpredictable element, and Thor is a demi-God out to stop his Brother. Black Widow/Romanoff and Hawkeye/Barton did not have their own films, but appeared in the others so they are somewhat established, but Romanoff especially gets a lot to do in the film to firmly develop her role in the group. Each of the heroes is a big personality, so initially have a hard time finding their feet working together in a group, and it’s fun watching everything come together. The death of agent Coulson, who played a big part in bringing everyone together, is an emotional scene that gives everyone motivation to work with each other, and gives the team a unifying purpose. I think the only character that could have done with more development is Loki, whose motivations are a bit muddled, and his role in a larger scheme is left very ambiguous. In one sense, it works because Loki has a specific goal (to rule Earth) and is a simple one so that the heroes can do what they do best and stop him without too many complications. Loki being used by a bigger evil is also obviously meant to set up future films, but I felt like it could have done with being a bit more clearer. But again theres a flip side, as developing this background more may have distracted from Loki being a focal point and a credible villain, so there’s a fine balancing act that is being struck here. As a standout performance, I enjoyed the portrayal of Bruce Banner/The Hulk as a skittish scientist who everyone also has to be really careful around so he doesn’t transform and pulverise them.

    Even though the story is quite simple, the film as a whole is certainly not lacking in ambition and scope. The final battle covers a significant portion of Manhattan, with a full-scale alien invasion tearing through skyscrapers and the streets of New York City. Superheroes in NYC again is hardly a novel phenomenon (which the film itself pokes fun at with a Stan Lee cameo), but perhaps that’s very much intentional: The Avengers is not attempting to differentiate itself from other superhero films by trying something new and different, but by outdoing every other film in the genre on its home turf; taking all these established tropes and concepts and executing them in such a way that no other film could compete. In short, it becomes the definitive superhero film. The level of destruction is unparalleled, the production makes it feel like a comic book film full of colour and dynamic shots and poses, and there’s some gloriously over-the-tops moments while also retaining plenty of humanity. The film does have some faults as I mentioned, and doesn’t push the envelope in terms of finding a new angle to develop or evolve the genre, but it is an ambitious project that pays off through balancing a colourful cast of characters with large-scale action and an interweaving of stories to create an entertaining tapestry that solidifies itself as the apex of the genre.