Category Archives: Sci-Fi

Godzilla Raids Again (1955) Review

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Godzilla Raids Again

Time: 82 Minutes
Cast:
Hiroshi Koizumi as Shoichi Tsukioka
Setsuko Wakayama as Hidemi Yamaji
Minoru Chiaki as Koji Kobayashi
Takashi Shimura as Dr. Kyohei Yamane
Director: Motoyoshi Oda

Fishing scout-pilots are startled to discover a new monster named Anguirus alongside a second Godzilla. The monsters make their way towards Osaka as Japan can only brace for tragedy and relive the horror of Godzilla once more.

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I was surprisingly impressed with the original Godzilla released in 1954. Despite how old it is, it has aged very well and remains a stunning, thematic and all around great monster movie. It was such a hit that 6 months after its release it got a follow up titled Godzilla Raids Again. Unfortunately it just did not work nearly as well as that first movie despite its moments.

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First of all I should clarify what kind of film Godzilla Raids Again is. Whereas the first Godzilla was a political thriller with a dark and heavy tone, the sequel abandoned that in in favour of being more of a popcorn action flick with a lot of monster fights. It also lacks the thematic weight of the first movie with its themes of nuclear holocaust and the fear of the H bomb, so there’s much less to analyse and unpack. So at its core it is a dumb monster movie, but I don’t necessarily think that approach is a bad thing. Godzilla Raids Again is essentially about Godzilla fighting another new Kaiju monster, which seems like the most basic direction to go with for a sequel, but there’s some potential and novelty in that concept. However even as this, I feel like it could’ve been a lot better. Unfortunately the film just doesn’t really fully commit to campiness as much as it should’ve. The story itself is boring, underwhelming and feels rather dull. The human story in the first movie was surprisingly strong, however the obligatory story in Raids Again is just bad, it just sort of exists and I barely paid attention to it. Really none of the characters are worth getting invested in and it was difficult to stay invested when they were on screen. This movie is also very poorly paced even at 80 minutes long. It spends too much time rehashing the events of the first movie, and it drags when Godzilla isn’t on screen.

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There’s really nothing to say about the human characters except that they are boring and feel one dimensional. There’s really no one to gravitate towards or like.

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The direction from Motoyoshi Oda is a mixed bag. On the surface it does look similar to the first Godzilla movie. Some shots are nice, and the miniature work is impressive. The action is passable but doesn’t have the same gravity or weight that the original did. The fighting between Godzilla and Anguirius (the new monster) can be pretty fun. With that said, on a technical level, Raids Again it has held up worse than the first movie. The effects really do feel dated, and the fight scenes aren’t nearly as hard hitting. The fights particularly feel like two wrestlers in large rubber suits who can’t see anything slamming each other into buildings. Not that some fun can’t be extracted out of watching that however.

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Godzilla Raids Again is a major step down in quality from the previous film. I wouldn’t say that it is bad by any means, I’m guessing that a lot of the Godzilla movies are at this level of quality anyway. However, it is really something when you compare it to the movie that came beforehand. The scenes of the fighting can be entertaining but at the same time its at the film’s expense given how silly it looks now. The plot is uninteresting, the characters are dull, and the film drags despite its short runtime. Even a silly B-level Godzilla movie should be better than this.

The Island (2005) Review

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The Island

Time: 136 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Ewan McGregor as Tom Lincoln/Lincoln Six-Echo
Scarlett Johansson as Sarah Jordan/Jordan Two-Delta
Djimon Hounsou as Albert Laurent
Sean Bean as Dr. Merrick
Michael Clarke Duncan as Jamal Starkweather/Starkweather Two-Delta
Steve Buscemi as James “Mac” McCord
Director: Michael Bay

Futuristic thriller about a contained, seemingly utopian facility in the mid-21st century. The residents hope to be chosen to go to the Island – the last uncontaminated place on Earth, but when one inhabitant discovers that there are sinister forces at work, he and a female friend make a daring escape.

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I had some recollection of The Island, having first watched it many years ago. I remember it starring Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, and being one of the better Michael Bay movies. I decided to revisit it and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

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The Island has an interesting setup and premise, and I found the story to be interesting. I won’t say what the plot is about as I think it’s best going into it not knowing the reveals beforehand. It does have some interesting ideas, and occasionally it attempts to raise some interesting ethical scientific questions about its subject matter. Some of the topics can even be thought provoking. The premise has an interesting sci-fi concept that could’ve been explored and made into something special. Unfortunately by the end, the film is an overblown action movie. The film would’ve been better if it had a stronger focus on the heavier ideas it had. The plot itself seems to be divided into two very different halves. The first half is an intriguing look into a particular facility of people, where the lead characters played by McGregor and Johannsson try to figure out the truth about where they are. There were cool concepts introduced and solid worldbuilding here, in fact the movie takes a surprising amount of time to establish its world and characters. The second half of the movie takes place after most of the major reveals have been given, and turns into a fugitive action flick, with not much story or character development. This is where the film really stumbles, it’s just the two main characters on the run with intense chase scenes and doesn’t do much with the dystopian aspect. The two halves don’t really fit together that well. Second half aside, there are still some other issues with the film. Despite the interesting ideas, The Island doesn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of the genre, and still has a formulaic plot. There are some plot conveniences and some of the dialogue is a little rough. It also lacks in character development, even with the lead characters. It does feel a little too long at around 2 hours and 15 minutes, not helped by the inconsistent pacing. However it does keep you entertained throughout the runtime.

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On the whole, the cast play their roles really well. Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson are pretty good as the lead characters despite the lack of character depth and development given to them. McGregor particularly gets to do more in the second half of the movie (without getting into spoilers here). The supporting cast are solid too, Steve Buscemi is entertaining in a supporting role, Sean Bean delivers in the main villain role, and Djimon Hounsou makes for a threatening supporting antagonist as a mercenary sent after the main characters.

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Michael Bay directs this movie, and you can recognise this almost immediately. It contains many of his tropes and trademarks, from the style of cinematography, product placement, and more. However I still think this is probably one of his most restrained movies. The cinematography is slick and it has a near future look and feel to it, where the tech is sci-fi, but doesn’t feel entirely out of the realm of possibility. The action sequences are generally fun and creative, with the chase scenes particularly shining. There is definitely an overload of action by the end, but I don’t have a huge amount of complaints about the action itself. There is definitely quite a lot of shaky cam used and it was a bit much at points, but it does add some urgency to these scenes. Unsurprisingly, the movie also features a large and rousing score from Steve Jacoblonsky and works quite well for this film.

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Despite its ideas and promising premise, The Island is nothing special as far as sci-fi movies go. However, I was still reasonably invested with the plot, the acting is good, the action is fun to watch, and I was entertained throughout. I’m aware that some people really don’t like Michael Bay’s movies, but for what it’s worth, I think it’s one of his best, and definitely worth checking out.

Sunshine (2007) Review

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Sunshine

Time: 107 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] contains violence & offensive language
Cast:
Cillian Murphy as Robert Capa
Chris Evans as James Mace
Rose Byrne as Cassie
Michelle Yeoh as Corazon
Cliff Curtis as Searle
Troy Garity as Harvey
Hiroyuki Sanada as Kaneda
Benedict Wong as Trey
Director: Danny Boyle

A team of astronauts is assigned the huge responsibility of saving the sun. Things, however, take an ugly turn when an accident occurs and the lives of the crew members are endangered.

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I’ve been meaning to watch Sunshine for a while. I knew it was a sci-fi thriller directed by Danny Boyle that a lot of people liked. I went in knowing about the cast, director, and that it apparently had some horror elements. It more than lived up to the praise.

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The script by Alex Garland is great. The movie at its core is about a crew and their mission to save humanity by reigniting the Sun, and doesn’t only shows the events on the large scale, but also shows the crew trying to maintain their sanities and morals during these times of isolation and ethical dilemmas. The film really does well at showing the stakes and emphasising how one small mistake could snowball into a colossal obstacle. The film starts itself off by introducing its characters, exploring their personalities, their roles, and their chemistry. It does a great job at establishing the importance of each crew member, even though some characters definitely get more screentime and attention than others. There is very atmospheric throughout, it’s bleak, emotional and suspenseful. There are also some effectively unnerving moments, with both physical and psychological horror on display. In that sense, Sunshine reminded me of Event Horizon at times, which also had a blend of interesting sci-fi concepts with traditional horror thriller beats, especially in the second half. I thought the horror elements were weaved into the story rather nicely. Where most of the criticism of this movie lies is in the last third, specifically the last act. After the first two acts of fairly serious sci-fi, the film suddenly has something of a slasher-esque climax. While this shift is a jarring mismatch in terms of the film’s tone, it does still work as a great conclusion for the film thematically, and it felt right for the movie.

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The cast is excellent and give wonderful performances. The main cast are the 8 crew members of the ship, and they act very well in their parts. With a small cast and a large amount of special effects, there was a risk that the visuals would overshadow the characters. However the cast hold their own, even though some get to do more than others. There aren’t any weak links, but some characters aren’t given much to do, and a longer running time probably would’ve benefitted the characters more. Rose Byrne, Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Hiroyuki Sanada, Benedict Wong, and more are great, with Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans giving the best performances of the film.

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Sunshine is definitely elevated by Danny Boyle’s stylish direction and visuals. In fact, even for a sci-fi movie, a lot of Boyle’s style can be recognised here if you’ve seen some of his other movies. While it’s not a horror movie from beginning to end, it still manages to be tense and gripping throughout, with a claustrophobic atmosphere. When it becomes a slasher movie it maintains the tension when it could potentially go off the rails quickly. This movie is also visually striking with some amazing cinematography and special effects. The production and set design is also strong too, especially for the interiors of the ships. The editing is brisk, and adds a lot to the movie. The soundtrack by John Murphy and Underworld is magnificent, epic and operatic. It perfectly fits the tone of the movie and further adds weight to some of the most dramatic moments of the film.

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Sunshine is an amazing and visually spectacular sci-fi horror thriller. It is definitely ambitious and I’m not certain if it sticks the landing with everything, but I thought it was great. It holds up well today with some fantastic visuals, it is directed excellently, and I was invested in what would happen from the very start to the very end. The story is given a lot of stakes and weight, and it is further elevated by the excellent performances. One of my favourite movies from Danny Boyle, and one well worth checking out if you haven’t already.

The Wolverine (2013) Review

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The Wolverine

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence & offensive language
Cast:
Hugh Jackman as Logan
Tao Okamoto as Mariko
Rila Fukushima as Yukio
Hiroyuki Sanada as Shingen
Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper
Brian Tee as Noburo
Haruhiko Yamanouchi as Yashida
Will Yun Lee as Harada
Famke Janssen as Jean Grey
Director: James Mangold

Logan (Hugh Jackman) travels to Tokyo to meet Yashida (Haruhiko Yamanouchi), an old acquaintance who is dying. The situation regresses when Yashida offers to take away his healing abilities, but Logan refuses.

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The Wolverine was one of my least watched X-Men movies, and I’m not sure why considering that I liked it quite a lot. I decided to revisit it and I thought it was really good, even better than I remembered. It definitely has some unfortunate issues that hold it back from being great, but I really enjoyed it for what it was.

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First of all, it is worth noting that I watched the Unleashed Edition of the movie, which is rated R. It adds back in some of the violence, language and additional scenes that were cut from the theatrical version. I don’t think I’ve seen the theatrical cut but honestly, I think that this is the definitive version of the film. So make sure to watch this version of the movie. The Wolverine is the second of the solo Wolverine movies, but instead of being a prequel like X-Men Origins Wolverine was, it serves as a continuation from the original X-Men trilogy. One of the most surprising things is that it does something with the aftermath of X-Men: The Last Stand instead of avoiding it completely and it works to put the character in the right frame of mind he needed to be in for this story to be told. The Wolverine is a darker, lower scale and lower stakes comic book movie, especially considering the previous X-Men movies. The number of actual mutants in the movie is very minimal, but it works to its advantage. The smaller scale of the movie allows for greater characterisation, in fact it’s at its strongest when it is focusing on the more human elements. The past X-Men movies portrayed Logan as being a bit tame, but here he’s very much a broken and haunted man. This story really humanised Wolverine and goes in depth, working as a character study. We see a guilt ridden Logan struggling with his burden of immortality, and I really liked where the film went with him. The movie even finds way to make him vulnerable despite his regeneration ability. I also thought the way they worked Jean Grey into Wolverine’s story was well done, and an admirable choice considering The Last Stand was hated by many people. The Wolverine starts off very well with a great opening, focusing on a World War 2 flashback with Logan right in the middle of it. Most of the movie throws Logan into modern Japan, which serves as a very unique setting which I liked seeing. The story is consistently intriguing and keeps things moving over its 2-hour runtime. I liked seeing how everything progressed. Despite it being a dark story, it does have moments of levity while not feeling cheesy. Where the movie really suffers is when it gets into its last act. That’s when it makes the sharp turn into a generic and typical comic book movie climax with much larger action set pieces, feeling rather out of place to what came before. It becomes cartoonish and comic booky, and unfortunately not in a good way. Not only that, but some significant reveals are rushed and underdeveloped. I still found some enjoyment in this segment, but it definitely brought down the movie. There’s a mid credits scene that is worth sticking around for, as it links directly into X-Men Days of Future Past.

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For the most part, the acting is really good. This is one of Hugh Jackman’s best performances as Wolverine, second best only behind Logan. Wolverine as a character is greatly developed here, far more than what the character was in earlier X-Men movies. In The Wolverine, he’s introspective and remorseful, and Jackman is superb here. It was quite compelling watching his journey throughout the film. The other actors are quite good, Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima are particularly great in their parts, though I wish the latter had gotten more screentime. The villains do have issues and feel a little weak. I do admire that most of the antagonists feel very human and are mostly decently developed, but they still aren’t nearly developed enough. My favourite of them is Hiroyuki Sanada’s character, though that might’ve had something to do with the performance more than the role. The one villain I’ll say is straight up bad is that of Viper, a mutant with toxin powers played by Svetlana Khodchenkova. Her character didn’t make much sense, and she’s very out of place in this movie, like she belonged in a different X-Men movie with a very different tone.

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The movie definitely benefits strongly from James Mangold’s direction here. The cinematography is slick, I loved the Japanese setting in the movie and it provided plenty of opportunities for some stunning shots and locations. While the action is pretty sparse, there are some great action sequences with some top-notch stunt work. The highlights for me was one involving a bullet train, and another involving a surgery. As I said earlier, the Unrated version has a real punchiness and impact, along with some added blood. I feel like the action would be toned down in the theatrical version, yet another reason to go with the unrated version. The action in the third act was still entertaining, but not as good as the first two acts. I didn’t really care much for the extensive use of CGI, and it’s much more over the top. However, the action in the first two acts are some of the best action in the whole franchise. The Marco Beltrami score is also great, and really added a lot to the movie.

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I wouldn’t quite say that The Wolverine one of the best X-Men movies, but I think it’s a really good movie nonetheless. I liked the darker tone and the character driven approach, which focuses more on itself than the wider X-Men world. It really is just the third act where it falls apart. While I still found enjoyment in it, it does hold the film back from being great. Of course, James Mangold would take these elements of Wolverine and to deliver a much better movie in Logan, but I still think The Wolverine is worth another look.

Akira (1988) Review

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Akira

Time: 124 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Violence
Voice Cast:
Mitsuo Iwata as Shōtarō Kaneda
Nozomu Sasaki as Tetsuo Shima
Mami Koyama as Kei
Taro Ishida as Colonel Shikishima
Mizuho Suzuki as Doctor Ōnishi
Tetsusho Genda as Ryūsaku (Ryu)
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Biker Kaneda is confronted by many anti-social elements while trying to help his friend Tetsuo who is involved in a secret government project. Tetsuo’s supernatural persona adds the final twist.

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I had been hearing about Akira for a while, with it being one of the most well known anime movies. I decided to check it out, knowing only that it was an anime and that it is incredibly influential. I really didn’t know whether I would like it, partly because I didn’t know what to expect, but also because I was still getting into anime films at this point (with it being the second anime movie I watched). Akira really blew me away on so many levels.

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Akira is an incredibly ambitious film which blends so many elements together, including sci-fi, action, and body horror. Immediately something that is present from the start is the setting of the film, with some tangible and rich worldbuilding. The movie is 2 hours long but it packs so much story and worldbuilding in this runtime, and is so energetic that the runtime flies by so quickly. The story itself is engaging and entertaining, it goes in very different directions that you aren’t expecting, and the characters are likable and have charm to them. Something that is worth knowing going in that the movie might be a little hard to understand and follow at times. This is because Akira never stops with the information gives you from the story to the worldbuilding, and there’s a lot of exposition. While I’m not a big fan of heavy exposition shoved at the audience, they did it in a way where I actually didn’t mind it, even if there’s some details I missed on a first viewing. There is so much happening, especially in the third act. The ending escalates to nothing short of insane, that’s the section that the majority of people will be confused by. This movie also has a lot to say with thought provoking and mature themes, touching on religion, police brutality, corruption, military, and more. With regard to any issues I had from a first viewing, the tone could be a little inconsistent, especially with random humour in some serious moments. I didn’t mind the humour for the most part, but sometimes it was a little out of place. Also some of the characterisation could’ve been a little more thorough, there were a number of side characters I didn’t care much for.

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Akira is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, I don’t know of anything else he’s done, but his work on this film is astounding. First of all worth talking about is the animation, and for an anime released back in 1988, it really holds up well. The animation is gorgeous and enthralling to watch. The movements are smooth, and the backgrounds are beautiful. So much care went into every frame, so much detail is provided and its so dense that it can be overwhelming at times. The setting of Neo-Tokyo is characterised so well, creating a city so rich and complex. Everything about the movie is distinctly cyberpunk. The action sequences are thrilling and filled with adrenaline, with very memorable moments. Something I wasn’t expected was for Akira to be as gruesome as it was, it is a brutal movie with some great body horror. There’s also a great use of sound and silence, in fact some significant moments are done without sound. The musical score is memorable and unique too.

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Akira is known as a masterpiece by many, and I can see why. It has had a significant impact on anime, cyberpunk, sci-fi, and just film in general. Even if you ignore the impact it’s made, it’s a beautiful animated and thrilling film that’s complex and dense in its story and themes. I wouldn’t say its an easy film to have as a gateway into anime with what it does. However, I do think that it is a must see movie, and one I definitely intend to revisit in the future.

Moonfall (2022) Review

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Moonfall

Time: 130 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1]Offensive language
Cast:
Halle Berry as Jocinda Fowler
Patrick Wilson as Brian Harper
John Bradley as K.C. Houseman
Michael Peña as Tom Lopez
Charlie Plummer as Sonny Harper
Kelly Yu as Michelle
Donald Sutherland as Holdenfield
Director: Roland Emmerich

The world stands on the brink of annihilation when a mysterious force knocks the moon from its orbit and sends it hurtling toward a collision course with Earth. With only weeks before impact, NASA executive Jocinda “Jo” Fowler teams up with a man from her past and a conspiracy theorist for an impossible mission into space to save humanity.

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Ever since I saw the trailer to Moonfall and knew that it was directed by Roland Emmerich, I had already figured out what kind of movie it is. I didn’t watch it in the cinema, but I was interested in watching it eventually, because it looked like some dumb fun. It ended up being sillier than I thought it would be, for better and for worse.

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The script is incredibly weak; the story is incoherent with cookie cutter characters, and the dialogue is cheesy and cliché-filled (with way too many references to Elon Musk). It also clearly rips off so many better sci-fi movies like Elysium. I was expecting all the absurdity going into Moonfall; it is another Roland Emmerich disaster movie, and one about humanity trying to stop a moon from crashing into Earth. There is certainly a lot of gloriously silly moments where it defies physics, and it managed to be particularly dumb even by Emmerich standards, which I guess is a plus. However, I wasn’t expecting the movie to be going into conspiracy theories absurdity. I won’t spoil things, but much of the reveals make the plot reminiscent of a rejected Ancient Aliens episode. Despite the silliness, it plays things a bit too seriously than you’d expect, especially when it came to a major aspect and reveal much later in the movie. There is a long exposition dump on the third act which is just grating and hard to watch, really taking away from the movie’s enjoyment. As wild as it makes the movie, it would’ve made for a better movie if it was a straightforward plot about stopping the moon from crashing into Earth. There are plenty of pointless subplots which also bring the movie down. Along with the main plotline with Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and John Bradley going up to the moon, it also focuses on a subplot following their families on Earth. I get why its there, mainly to show off all the destruction on a ground level. However, it was less interesting than whatever was happening on the moon. The movie is too long at over 2 hours in length and would’ve benefitted from cutting down some of the unnecessary subplots.

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The cast aren’t the best here, but they’re mostly passable at the very least, and make the movie more enjoyable. Patrick Wilson and Halle Berry have given far better performances in many other movies, but they do commit to their parts and are decent here. John Bradley is also a third protagonist, playing a conspiracy theorist who gets involved with the wider plot. The character is very cliched as to be expected, but with Bradley’s performance and his large involvement in the plot,  the character became one of the highlight of the film. These three lead actors gave more than they should and made it enjoyable to watch. The rest of the cast unfortunately doesn’t fare as well. Donald Sutherland just shows up for one scene, and Michael Pena is barely in it at all and does not do much.

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This is a Roland Emmerich movie, and you can easily recognise that. There are plenty of large scale and over the top action sequences. The visual effects could be inconsistent however, sometimes they were pretty good, other times the CGI could be awful. That aside, there are some entertaining action with massive destruction, and I liked the design of the aliens and creatures that the humans are up against.

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Moonfall is definitely not one of Roland Emmerich’s best movies and it’s very average. However, the action sequences, some of the ridiculous aspects, and the main trio of Halle Berry, Patrick Wilson and John Bradley made the movie somewhat fun to watch.

Stalker (1979) Review

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Stalker

Time: 162 Minutes
Cast:
Alexander Kaidanovsky as the Stalker
Anatoly Solonitsyn as the Writer
Alisa Freindlich as the Stalker’s wife
Nikolai Grinko as the Professor
Director: Andrei Tarkovsky

In an unnamed country at an unspecified time, there is a fiercely protected post-apocalyptic wasteland known as The Zone. An illegal guide (Aleksandr Kajdanovsky), whose mutant child suggests unspeakable horrors within The Zone, leads a writer (Anatoliy Solonitsyn) and a scientist (Nikolay Grinko) into the heart of the devastation in search of a mythical place known only as The Room. Anyone who enters The Room will supposedly have any of his earthly desires immediately fulfilled.

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I had heard about Stalker for a while. I knew it was a famous film from a director called Andrei Tarkovsky (whose films I hadn’t watched yet), it was Russian, it’s quite long, and it was in the sci-fi genre. After seeing that Stalker has been celebrated as a fantastic movie by many, I wanted to check it out. While I wouldn’t try to pretend that I understand everything about the film, I think it is amazing.

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Writing a review for Stalker is very difficult. First off all, it’s really complex and hard to describe. Second of all, it’s very much something that you will have to experience for yourself as each person can get different things out of it. Essentially, Stalker is about a man with no purpose guiding two other men, who are trying to find purpose, towards a post-apocalyptic wasteland known as The Zone to fulfil their desires. While it does sound very straightforward, there’s an endless amount of things in this movie that can intended as metaphors, and definitely source for analysis. It is very deep, intelligent and thought provoking, and takes you on a philosophical and psychological journey. The film takes quite a steady and solemn approach to its existential questions, with the characters’ frustrations and doubts being conveyed through some beautifully written dialogue, and monologues. I also loved the dialogues between the three characters, and there’s a lot of talking. They talk about a lot, especially philosophy, faith, fear, the purpose of existence, life and the meaning of it all. The dialogue is thought provoking and deep, and very relevant to the themes and events that unfold. It presents some themes that are intriguing and thought provoking, some of the standouts being the disconnect between what we want vs what reality will let us have. Stalker definitely takes its time to unravel, at 160 minutes long and with a very steady pace. While I think this won’t work for everyone, I was surprisingly finding it gripping and I wasn’t distracted or bored.

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The performances are great, as are the writing of these characters. These three characters involved are quite different – the Stalker, the Writer, and the Professor, played by Alexander Kaidanovsky, Anatoly Solonitsyn and Nikolai Grinko respectively. Each character desires something, which is why they travel into The Zone. Even though these characters make this journey, what they think they want is far from what they really desire. It was quite compelling watching these three talk, again the dialogue between them is intriguing and thought provoking.

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from Andrei Tarkovsky, and already I want to watch more of his films because his work here is fantastic. Stalker transports you to an alien world without the use of alien visuals with the help of its non-invasive cinematography, editing, and score. First of all, the film is gorgeous. It is hypnotising to watch, the visuals are both beautiful and haunting, and the camera movement was meticulous. The film presents a dystopian post industrial vision of Russia. All the colour is washed out initially, and when the film enters The Zone, everything becomes luscious and vibrant. The visual storytelling is also excellently done. The score is quite haunting and helps convey the desolate tone of the film. Everything comes together to give such an atmospheric and ambient feel throughout.

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Stalker is a film that I know that I will need to watch again to fully understand but I’m still willing to go ahead and call it a masterpiece like others have. It’s definitely not for everyone, it is slow and ponderous, and it asks a lot from the audience in terms of endurance and investment. However, I just found myself wrapped up in the experience. This is my first Tarkovsky film and I’m looking forward to checking out more from him.

Moonraker (1977) Review

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Moonraker

Time: 126 Minutes
Age Rating: 120px-OFLCN_-_PG.svg[1]
Cast:
Roger Moore as James Bond
Lois Chiles as Holly Goodhead
Michael Lonsdale as Hugo Drax
Richard Kiel as Jaws
Corinne Cléry as Corinne Dufour
Director: Lewis Gilbert

After a space shuttle which has been loaned to the United Kingdom is hijacked, James Bond (Roger Moore) is asked to step in and get to the root of the problem.

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After rewatching The Spy Who Loved Me, I was starting to feel good about the Roger Moore era of James Bond. The next film for me to revisit was Moonraker, which is known as the movie where Bond goes to space. This was definitely a move to capitalise off the success of Star Wars. Originally they were going to make For Your Eyes Only, but after the success of Star Wars, they decided to do Moonraker. Moonraker has been given the bad reputation given that it is the “James Bond goes to outer space movie”, and has been criticised as going into self parody. However I surprisingly enjoyed it quite a lot.

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After how good The Spy Who Loved Me was, its not too surprising that Moonraker is not quite at that level. Still there’s a lot of fun to be had here. Much of the movie is standard investigation spy stuff on Earth. Its definitely not one of the strongest Bond plots, but there’s entertainment to be had here. The story is pretty outlandish and silly given that the selling point of the film is James Bond going into space. However its worth knowing going in that he doesn’t go into space until the third act, so you do have to reign in expectations for that. I do like that there’s a fair amount of absurdity before it even gets to space. It does lean more into the humour compared to even The Spy Who Loved Me, but it’s not overblown like The Man with the Golden Gun. It is self aware, and there’s still plenty of one liners, with Q’s final line at the end of the movie being the standout. It only crosses the line of being ‘too much’ a couple times, like when Bond’s gondola drives onto land, there’s a moment where it cuts to a pigeon and its edited to make it look like its doing a double take. When James Bond finally goes into space it is satisfying, as it becomes something of a B-rate Star Wars movie. As far as issues go, the pacing for the first half is a little slow at times, and not a huge amount happens (even though I was still on board with what was happening). Also despite the cheesy tone, there is the odd scene which feels out of place. The one that springs to mind is a scene where the villain Hugo Drax sicks his dogs on a woman to kill her, while it is subtle and doesn’t show much with it (given that it’s PG), it feels particularly dark and haunting for this movie. It’s a very effective scene but it somehow feels a little too dark given that this is the same movie where Bond goes to space.

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Roger Moore once again delivers as James Bond, charismatic and entertaining, and carries much of the movie. Also, in a way he grounds the movie with his passive self awareness, along with his reactions to the absurd things that happen. The Bond girl is this movie is Holly Goodhead played by Lois Chiles, despite the name she’s rather forgettable, but she plays her part well. Michael Lonsdale plays the villain named Hugo Drax. In a way Drax is a variation on Karl Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me, down to his plan. Drax’s plan is to poison the Earth’s population to create a new civilisation in space and develop a master race, it’s like Stromberg’s plan but in space. Ultimately it’s the performance that makes it work. He plays everything and delivers all his lines completely straight like he has no idea what movie he’s in, even the absurd and hilarious lines. While that should make him dull to watch, this straight approach somehow makes him come around to being entertaining and genuinely solid as a Bond villain. There’s also the return of Richard Kiel as Jaws as the henchman, and he’s a great physical threat as always.

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Lewis Gilbert returns as director after the last Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me, and he does some solid work here once again. The cinematography is stunning, making use of great locations, and the set design is amazing, especially in the scenes in space. There’s some fun and over the top action scenes that are well done and entertaining with terrific stunts. A lot of the space stuff doesn’t feel like Bond but it’s a blast, there’s even a laser fight. The visual effects work are good, and the composed score from John Barry is solid as expected.

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Moonraker is not one of the best James Bond movies by any means, but it is quite enjoyable for what it is. The performances are solid with Moore as Bond to the villains as played by Lonsdale and Kiel, and I liked the cheesy and campy nature of it all. It’s certainly not without its issues including an occasionally dragging pacing, but I definitely don’t consider it one of the worst entries in the Bond franchise.

Prisoners of the Ghostland (2021) Review

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Prisoners of the Ghostland

Time: 103 Minutes
Cast:
Nicolas Cage as Hero
Sofia Boutella as Bernice
Bill Moseley as The Governor
Director: Sion Sono

In the treacherous frontier city of Samurai Town, a ruthless bank robber gets sprung from jail by a wealthy warlord whose adopted granddaughter has gone missing. He offers the prisoner his freedom in exchange for retrieving the runaway. Strapped into a leather suit that will self-destruct in five days, the bandit sets off on a journey to find the young woman — and his own path to redemption.

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I was actually quite excited for Prisoners of the Ghostland. One of the biggest selling points (which was used to market the movie) is that lead actor Nicolas Cage said that it might be the wildest movie he’s ever made, which is saying a lot considering his reputation for being in wild movies and/or being wild in some of his movies. So that combined the simple yet over the top premise, I was looking forward to it. The actual film didn’t quite deliver as I hoped it would.

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The premise is straightforward, a bank robber played by Nicolas Cage has bombs attached to him and he’s given a certain amount of time to rescue a woman before the bombs go off. I liked how the film started, and it showed some promise. It is a mash up of genres, with it being a western, samurai and post apocalyptic film, and it’s certainly impressive for that. However I had a sinking feeling as it approached the end of the first act, as its many issues reared their heads. The script is poorly written, and not always in the campy B-movie way. Despite the premise and the over the top nature, Prisoners of the Ghostland is surprisingly dull. It meanders a bit too much in the first half and I had mostly tuned out at the halfway point. Not much actually happens in the movie, and in the scenes where nothing was happening, I struggled to find out what the point of them were. It seemed like it was trying to build lore in these scenes, but even from that perspective the execution was lackluster.  On that comment from Cage, its definitely not one of the wildest movies he’s made but it is on the Weider side. However, it feels somewhat low effort and more like its weird for the sake of being weird, and it comes across rather hollow. It only picks up again when it enters into the climactic final battle in the third act. If the movie was just the climax it would’ve been a highly enjoyable throwback to over the top B-movies. However it is stretched to an entire movie length, and even at 100 minutes long it is tedious to watch.

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Nicolas Cage is in this movie and as expected this movie is definitely trying to play to his skills of being over the top. However to put it bluntly, if I was to make a list of the top 10 over the top Nicolas Cage movies/performances, Prisoners of the Ghostland wouldn’t come close to making it. He’s certainly over the top and lets loose in some moments. Otherwise he seems strangely restrained, probably because there’s not much of a character for him to play here, it’s just like he’s a parody of action leads. He makes the movie easier to sit through, but he somehow feels out of place with the rest of the movie. Sofia Boutella is the only actor in the movie who isn’t over the top, she’s playing the woman who Cage is trying to rescue. She’s decent in her part but she was very underused and not given much to do here. Every other actor is over the top and ‘weird’ but there’s not much of a character for them to play.

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Part of the hype for Prisoners of the Ghostland was the director Sion Sono, I haven’t seen any of his movies but I heard that he’s quite unique and ‘crazy’ as a filmmaker. With this film there’s certainly a lot of flare to his direction. The cinematography is fantastic, the practical sets are impressive, and the action isn’t anything special but is nicely stylised and fun to watch.

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I was rather disappointed in Prisoners of the Ghostland. Despite the premise, its just rather dull to sit through, especially the middle hour of the film. It does have some strengths, Nicolas Cage was enjoyable to watch despite being underutilised, I liked the mash up of different genres, and a lot of the technical aspects are impressive. At the very least, it has me interested to check out Sion Sono’s other work, but by itself, Prisoners of the Ghostland is just fine at best.

Don’t Look Up (2021) Review

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Don't Look Up

Time: 138 Minutes
Age Rating: 860940[1] Sex scenes, offensive language, nudity & drug use
Cast:
Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy
Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky
Rob Morgan as Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe
Cate Blanchett as Brie Evantee
Meryl Streep as Janie Orlean
Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean
Mark Rylance as Peter Isherwell
Tyler Perry as Jack Bremmer
Ron Perlman as Colonel Benedict Drask
Ariana Grande as Riley Bina
Scott Mescudi as DJ Chello
Himesh Patel as Phillip Kaj
Melanie Lynskey as June Mindy
Director: Adam McKay

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

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I remember Don’t Look Up at one point being one of my most anticipated films of 2021. It has a massive cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonah Hill, Meryl Streep, Timothee Chalamet and more. I also liked Adam McKay’s more recent dramatic work with The Big Short and Vice, and I was interested in him doing a full on satire with his latest film. However as it approached its release date, I had my doubts. The trailers weren’t the best and the reactions coming out of it weren’t exactly confidence inspiring. Still I gave it a chance and overall I’m prepared to say that I like it, though I completely understand why some people dislike it.

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I do like the premise of the movie, with the lead characters trying to warn the world about a coming disaster while the world doesn’t listen, definitely works for a satire. It is a comedy, and while I wouldn’t say it failed, most of the humour didn’t work. There are funny jokes throughout but not as many as you’d hope for. I was generally entertained throughout, even if it was never that great in the first two acts, just a mildly funny comedy with very mixed satire (more on that later). The movie is around 2 hours and 20 minutes long, and it really didn’t need to be that long. I wouldn’t say that I was bored during the movie, but it all felt very drawn out and not a lot happens or is said to really justify that length, and the comedy and satire isn’t good enough to fully sustain things all the way through. I feel like on rewatch I’d find it harder to get through. Strangely enough, it gets into much more dramatic territory in the third act, and its surprisingly quite effective, and its far better than what came earlier. Looking back at the rest of the movie, it actually works much better as a terrifying and depressing end of the world downer (with darkly comedic elements) than a smart political and social satire. Another issue is that the tone is all over the place. McKay’s last two movies jumped between drama and comedy as well, but it feels messier in Don’t Look Up. Until the third act, it just can’t seem to decide whether it’s trying to be an apocalyptic drama and a mostly straight-faced satire, or a full on spoof. I think it needed to either be more straight faced about it or lean much further into absurdity.

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While I enjoy the movie, the actual satire is one of the weaker elements unfortunately. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen of Don’t Look Up is that its very obvious and not subtle at all, much like McKay’s last two movies. And I’ll always stay true to my belief that its not inherently bad if a film is more obvious than subtle. Sometimes it is refreshing for a movie to be more direct about things. The problem is that a lot of the satire just feels a bit too obvious, in the sense that its too easy. For example, many of the characters are caricatures meant to represent types or groups of people, but they feel very overdone and a little lazy, the upbeat news anchors, the president and politicians who doesn’t know what they’re doing, dumb celebrities, etc., and McKay doesn’t do anything with them beyond the obvious. There’s nothing particularly daring or insightful said in this film, and the caricatures and not-subtle messaging makes the film hard to be engaging. I will say that some of the ways that people respond in the movie is like how people would respond in real life. However for every one of those moments, there’s moments where the satirising of aspects of today’s society isn’t quite right. An example is when Jennifer Lawrence’s character becomes a meme of sorts, but the memes that are very displayed are outdated top-text and bottom-text meme formats from the 2000s. It doesn’t break the movie or anything but moments like these go towards the film not fully succeeding at being a satire of today. While I wouldn’t say that the movie talks down to people and is condescending (although I can see why people would see it that way), there is a general sense of self-importance, and the feeling that they are more insightful and smarter than they really are. Part of that is the fact that the comet in the film is intended as a metaphor for climate change, and the movie is apparently meant to urge people to take it seriously. If we look at the movie from this perspective, Don’t Look Up really only spreads awareness that climate change exists and does and says nothing beyond that, at most its only preaching to the choir. Also when you really think about it, the comet doesn’t really make for a particularly good metaphor for climate change, especially in the context of the film (without spoiling anything). I wouldn’t normally look this deep into a movie like this, but McKay and his co-writer really seem to believe that they are saying something important about climate change, so I thought it was worth mentioning.

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One of Don’t Look Up’s biggest selling points is its absurdly large cast, which is no doubt why so many people wanted to check it out in the first place. While I wouldn’t say that any of these actors are even close to giving career best performances in this movie, most of them are pretty good in their parts. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play astronomers who discover the comet heading for Earth and try to warn people about it. This is the third of DiCaprio’s more comedic performances after The Wolf of Wall Street and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he has shown himself to be surprisingly great at comedy. He’s also really good here at portraying his stressed and panic stricken character, and he especially has a great and notable rage sequence in the second half of the movie. Lawrence is also great and entertaining, she’s especially good in the scenes of comedy. DiCaprio, Lawrence and Rob Morgan (who is also great) are the best performances in the movie because they were the only performances and characters that actually felt somewhat grounded and felt like actual characters, in contrast to every other actor. When Meryl Streep showed up as the president, at first I thought she was phoning her performance, but I actually think she’s pretty good. I soon came to realise that most major actors in the cast play an over the top and obvious caricature, and so they all feel underutilised to a degree. With that said I think most of them actually work in their parts. The highlights for me were Jonah Hill, Timothee Chalamet, and Cate Blanchett, Ron Perlman is also a scene stealer in his 5 minutes. So while it is disappointing that this stacked cast weren’t really utilised to their fullest potential, at least most of them gave decent performances. Notice that I said ‘most’ instead of ‘all’, the sole exception is Mark Rylance, I have no idea what he was doing in this movie. Rylance plays a tech billionaire, and I definitely get the point of his character. He’s a riff on Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and every other rich tech CEO right now, and it makes sense for that kind of character to be in this movie. However, his performance is so weird and strange from his line deliveries and the way he decides to play the role, and not in a good way. I think the best way I can describe it as he’s trying to play Joe Biden playing Elon Musk. I know that everyone is an over-the-top caricature in this movie, but Rylance is on a completely different wavelength from the others that he feels completely out of place.

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Adam McKay’s directing style in this movie won’t work for everyone. Most notable is the editing, which is very fast, messy, and often cuts to a lot of brief clips and images, similar to what McKay did with The Big Short and Vice. If you hated the editing in Vice, you’ll probably hate the editing in Don’t Look Up too. I will admit that I liked the editing in McKay’s unofficial political trilogy, but while I mostly liked the editing in Don’t Look Up, some of it got on my nerves a little bit at points. However, I will say that it actually does work very well in some moments in the third act and worked to give some parts some emotional punch to them. Editing aside, a lot of the other technical elements are strong. Linus Sandgren’s cinematography is great, for the most part its not really a movie that needs to be particularly well shot, but he does make the most of it when he can. Nicholas Britell is reliably great as the composer, and his score is one of the strongest parts of the film. Its definitely not on the level as his some of his other work like Succession or Vice, but its still great. The budget is absolutely insane at $75 million, and watching the movie, most of the film really didn’t need to have that large of a budget. With that said, the scenes involving large visual effects from comets to rockets were quite good.

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Don’t Look Up is already proving to be incredibly divisive amongst people. If you really aren’t a fan of McKay’s style from his past two movies, I think that you’ll find his latest film to be a struggle. I can completely understand why some people are really disliking the movie. I don’t think it really succeeds, particularly as a satire, and even from a comedy standpoint it could’ve been better. Still, it has its moments (both comedic and dramatic), some of the technical elements are strong, and most of the performances from the cast are decent. I recommend checking it out at the very least.